A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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THE HUNDRED OF PLOUGHLEY
In 1831, before the 19th-century alterations in parish boundaries, the hundred contained about 59,520 acres and 33 parishes, of which one was in Buckinghamshire, as well as a hamlet in the parish of Stowe in the same county. It had a population of 14,050. (fn. 1) Its aspect was described by a contemporary topographer as 'in general flat or relieved only by downy expanses little conducive to pictorial effect'. (fn. 2) This description does less than justice to the scenery: the Cherwell valley with its rich meadowland has a quiet beauty and the many parks, mainly laid out in the 18th century, at Bletchingdon, Kirtlington, Middleton Stoney, Shelswell, and Tusmore, to name the largest, are notable features of the landscape. Until modern times the area, with its predominantly stonebrash soil, has been wholly devoted to agriculture and has produced some experimental farmers of note. Since the mid-18th century, when this part of the county became the centre of the first organized fox-hunting in England, much wealth has been attracted to the district. Among the resident hunting families were the Annesleys at Bletchingdon, the Peytons at Stoke Lyne, and in more recent times the earls of Jersey at Middleton and Lord Bicester's family at Tusmore.
In the 20th century the flat nature of the country and its central position have made it an ideal site for use by the army and air force. The R.A.F. has stations at Upper Heyford (leased since 1951 to the United States Air Force) and Bicester, with a subsidiary station at Weston-on-the-Green and a dormitory site at Stratton Audley. The army's large ordnance depot is mainly in the neighbouring hundred of Bullingdon, but its influence has spread into many Ploughley villages, and the market-town of Bicester, once mainly noted as a hunting centre, has been transformed into a garrison town.
The boundaries of the hundred were largely natural ones. Bryant's map of 1824, the first accurate delineation, shows the River Cherwell bounding the whole of the hundred's western extent. (fn. 3) On the north the River Ouse and a tributary of the Cherwell separate it from Northamptonshire except for a short stretch by Cottisford heath where the medieval highway from Oxford to Brackley and a branch road to Tingewick (Bucks.) formed the boundary. The line separating Ploughley from Buckinghamshire on the east was almost purely artificial, while on the south-east tributaries of the Ray and the Ray itself largely separated the hundred from that of Bullingdon. The highly artificial loop made by the boundary line so as to include Fencott and Murcott is an interesting feature and probably represents a later change after these hamlets had been colonized by the mother village of Charlton. (fn. 4) Earlier maps, such as that of Jan Blaeu in 1663, Robert Morden in 1695, and Richard Davis in 1797, do in fact erroneously show them as lying in Bullingdon hundred. The history of landownership also led to some other peculiarities. Caversfield, though physically in the hundred, has always been administratively outside it, while Lillingstone Lovell and Boycott have been administratively in the hundred though lying in the county of Buckinghamshire.
Unlike most of the other Oxfordshire hundreds, which were named after vills, Ploughley took its name from a barrow in Fritwell parish in the extreme north-west of the hundred. (fn. 5) The first element of the name may be pohhede, meaning baggy, or Pohhede, a personal name derived from Pohha. The second element is hlaw, a tumulus. (fn. 6) Plot noted this tumulus and William Stukeley described it in 1776 as 'a curious barrow, neatly turned like a bell, small and high'. (fn. 7) It lay just inside the county and the hundred, beside the Portway, a pre-Roman trackway, running northwards into Northamptonshire. The barrow was levelled before 1845, but in that year, according to Blomfield, bones dug up on its supposed site were transferred to a new mound about 50 yards away, which was partly in the garden of the Bear Inn. (fn. 8)
A second meeting-place for this large hundred may have been at 'Speech Hill' (Spelleburge) in Bletchingdon parish. (fn. 9) There is little doubt that this hill is the modern Enslow Hill, a notable landmark and also near the Portway, but eight miles south of Ploughley Hill. (fn. 10) The site of Speech Hill not only had natural advantages, but it lay about a mile south of Kirtlington, the royal estate to which the 2½ hundreds of Ploughley (though not so named) were attached in 1065. (fn. 11) Bletchingdon itself, moreover, was a royal vill, and it may perhaps be significant that in 1086 Alwi the Sheriff held 2½ hides of the king in the vill. (fn. 12) Indeed, as Northbrook in Kirtlington was stated in Domesday Book to be in the hundred of 'First Gadre', it is reasonable to suppose that this southern part of Ploughley was originally called the hundred of 'First Gadre', a hundred which was apparently absorbed by Ploughley soon after 1086. (fn. 13)
The name Ploughley does not occur in Domesday, which gives few hundredal rubrics for Oxfordshire. It is first mentioned in the form Pokedelawa hundred in the Pipe Roll of 1169, (fn. 14) and little is known of its composition until the early 13th century. It is, however, indirectly referred to in the Domesday survey, which states that the soke of 2½ hundreds belonged to Kirtlington except for 2½ hides in Launton (given by the Confessor to Westminster Abbey) which used to belong to it. (fn. 15)
The first complete list of villages and hamlets in the hundred occurs in the Hundred Rolls of 1279. (fn. 16) It includes the 32 Oxfordshire parishes and the Buckinghamshire parish of Lillingstone Lovell, which continued to make up the hundred until the mid-19th century. (fn. 17) In addition there is Fulwell, at that time a parish. (fn. 18) With the exception of Newton Purcell and Souldern, all the parishes were Domesday vills. Twelve hamlets, including the Buckinghamshire Boycott, are also described. (fn. 19)
Although this is the earliest complete list, there are a number of earlier references, direct or indirect, which point to the inclusion of many of these villages in Ploughley in the 12th or early 13th century. The appearance on the Pipe Rolls of 1169, 1178, 1184 and 1185 under Ploughley hundred of the monks of Bec and Thame, of the brothers of the hospital (i.e. St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London), of the nuns of Godstow, and of the Knights Templars are the earliest indications that their Oxfordshire properties were in the hundred. (fn. 20) The lands of the first four were respectively at Cottisford, Otley in Oddington, Hethe, and Bletchingdon. (fn. 21) The Templars had property at Bletchingdon, Hampton Gay, and Fewcot in Stoke Lyne by 1185, and all or any one of these holdings may have accounted for the Templars' being mentioned on the Pipe Roll. (fn. 22) As many as 22 parishes and a number of hamlets—Bainton, Bignell, Northbrook in Somerton, and Willaston—were listed for the carucage of 1220. (fn. 23) The absence from this list of Bicester, Chesterton, and Upper Heyford is accounted for by their inclusion in the honor of Wallingford, (fn. 24) and other parishes, such as Cottisford, Islip, and Launton, the property of the abbeys of Bec and Westminster, were no doubt exempted from payment. There can be little doubt that all had been in the hundred from early times. (fn. 25)
The inclusion of the outlying Buckinghamshire district of Boycott and Lillingstone Lovell may be of ancient origin. Both were royal manors at an early date and may therefore have always been a part of the district dependent on Kirtlington: in 1065 Boycott was held by Reinbald, chief of the Confessor's clerks and perhaps his chancellor, and it later claimed to be ancient demesne; (fn. 26) Lillingstone, a 10-hide vill, was divided between Azor and Syric, both Queen Edith's men, and later evidence shows that its church was under royal patronage. (fn. 27) After the Conquest Azor's 5 hides at Lillingstone were given half to Richard Ingania, the king's chief huntsman, and half to Benzelin, a royal usher. (fn. 28) These 5 hides (later known as Lillingstone Lovell), which were listed in 1086 among the Oxfordshire entries, were no doubt already attached to Ploughley hundred. The other 5 hides later known as Lillingstone Dayrell were given to Walter Giffard. They were described in the Buckinghamshire Domesday and became or perhaps remained a part of Stodfald hundred, in which they lay. (fn. 29) A reference on the Pipe Roll of 1188 under Ploughley hundred to the monks of Biddlesden (Bucks.) is the earliest indication that Boycott was in Ploughley: (fn. 30) it had originally been given to Cirencester Abbey by Henry I, but was later given to Biddlesden Abbey. (fn. 31)
Caversfield (5 hides), though lying physically within the hundred, (fn. 32) was attached by 1086 at least to the Buckinghamshire hundred of Rovelai, which was then assessed at 105 hides. (fn. 33) Before the Conquest, when Caversfield was held by Edward, a man of Earl Tostig, it was no doubt in Ploughley hundred along with Stoke Lyne, another of Tostig's possessions. (fn. 34) It remained in Rovelai hundred until it was transferred to Ploughley and Oxfordshire in 1834 and 1844. (fn. 35)
The inclusion of Noke in Ploughley hundred may also have been the result of feudal ties. The Ray forms the natural dividing line between the hundreds of Bullingdon and Ploughley, and it is possible that Noke, which lay on the Bullingdon side of the Ray, may have been drawn into Ploughley hundred, as Westminster Abbey held ½ fee in it and was also lord of the neighbouring vill of Islip, which was in Ploughley hundred. (fn. 36)
The total hidage of the vills found in the hundred in 1279 amounts to 2935/8 hides. This figure excludes Souldern, which has not yet been identified with any Domesday vill, and includes Charlton, Cottisford, Finmere, Hethe, and Shelswell, which were listed by the Domesday scribes under Northamptonshire. If the hidage of the last five vills, which amounts to a total of 42 hides, is subtracted from the Ploughley total, the figure of 2515/8 hides is obtained for the 2½ Domesday hundreds attached to Kirtlington. (fn. 37)
The annual value of the hundred was said to be £5 0s. 6d. a year in 1255, of which £2 1s. was derived from hidage and £2 19s. 6d. from the view of frankpledge,38 a sum which was still derived from the courts in 1652. (fn. 39) The 'rents called certainty money' then amounted to £4 13s. 3½d. with 2 quarters of oats (or 30s.) from Wendlebury and a bushel of oats with a fat goose (or 3s. 6d.) from Ardley. The total revenue was £11 6s. 9½d. The Hundred Rolls and the eyre rolls show how difficult it might be to collect even this small sum and to exact services and other customary payments. It was reported, for instance, that the 1s. which the king used to have from Boycott at the sheriff's tourn had been withdrawn; and that the payments from Finmere, Shelswell, Hethe, and Stoke Lyne had been withheld through the might of the earls of Gloucester. (fn. 40) Similarly at Lower Heyford Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, had usurped the king's rights and had held the view from the time of the Battle of Evesham up to 1279. (fn. 41) Earl Richard was also accused of preventing suit being done by five men and taking all amercements. (fn. 42) The Abbot of Westminster was another of those guilty of usurpation: he had prevented the payment of 2s. or a quarter of hay from Hampton Gay for the king's holding at Northbrook in Kirtlington and had prevented Adam de Gay from doing suit, (fn. 43) while the Abbot of Oseney had opposed the enforcement of the king's rights. He forbade his men of Newton to follow the hue when John FitzNigel, who was distrained to make his suit, seized the distraint. (fn. 44)
The small value of the hundred was due to the number of lords of manors who were either partly or wholly exempt from its jurisdiction. From time immemorial Souldern, for example, had enjoyed exceptional rights. It was described on the Hundred Rolls as a 'free manor' to which bailiffs had no entry save by the king's writ. Its lord could come if he wished to the two great courts of Ploughley hundred to claim 'his liberty for his men,' and also the profits of justice, for they could depart, it is stated, without being amerced. (fn. 45) Members of the honor of Wallingford were other places to claim exemption. The jurors of 1279 stated that the Earl of Cornwall and his predecessors before him had had view of frankpledge 'since the Conquest' at Great and Little Chesterton; (fn. 46) that the earl's lands at Caulcott in Lower Heyford, at Bicester Market End and at Stratton Audley all owed suit to the honor court once a year, while at Mixbury the Abbot of Oseney held the view under the earl (fn. 47) and at Willaston the Abbot of Rewley, as a tenant of the honor, was declared by a jury in 1293 to owe 'no suit or service' to the king's hundred court. (fn. 48) So privileged an abbey as Westminster was naturally exempt. (fn. 49) The abbot held his court at Islip, to which the men of Fencott and Murcott owed suit twice a year, and also had the view at Launton. (fn. 50) In 1316 indeed not only Fencott and Murcott, but also Noke (i.e. half of Noke) and Oddington with Northbrook are listed apart from the rest of the vills of Ploughley hundred as being in the Abbot of Westminster's liberty of Islip. (fn. 51) Such was the abbot's pre-eminence that his court was called the 'hundred of Islip' and its officer bore the title of seneschal. (fn. 52) Other lords who had view of frankpledge were the Damorys at Bucknell (fn. 53) and the lords of Ardley, but only in the presence of the sheriff and the king's bailiffs and on payment of 10s. (fn. 54) The sheriff also went once a year to Middleton, where he took 4s., and to Wendlebury, where he received two quarters of oats. (fn. 55) The Abbot of St. Evroul also claimed exemption for his half of Charlton and claimed his liberty when the sheriff impounded one of his tenants because he lived in a house from which it was alleged suit was owed to the sheriff's tourn twice a year. (fn. 56)
One account of the hundred in action has survived. When a dispute between Oseney Abbey and the lord of Hampton Gay arose over boundaries in 1280, a writ was obtained and the court ordered twelve jurors to set stones and pales between the fields of Hampton Gay and Hampton Stephen (or Poyle) before the hundred. This order was followed by an action begun by a writ of novel disseisin against the Abbot of Oseney and the twelve jurors. (fn. 57)
Ploughley remained in royal hands throughout the Middle Ages. In the Confessor's time the soke of the 2½ hundreds was attached to the vill of Kirtlington, then a royal manor, but when Kirtlington was given away the hundred apparently remained with the Crown. (fn. 58) It was described as the king's hundred in 1255, 1293, and 1316. (fn. 59) In 1594 it was granted by Queen Elizabeth I for 21 years to Sir William Spencer of Yarnton. (fn. 60) He was in possession in about 1606, when his court, held every three weeks at Islip, was called 'curia baronis of the hundred of Ploughley'. (fn. 61) In 1629 the Crown granted the hundred to Gilbert North and others, (fn. 62) but by 1648 Sir Robert Croke held it. He sold it in December 1649 with the office of bailiff and the bailiwick to John West of Hampton Poyle. (fn. 63) The parliamentary survey of 1652 recorded that John West held the courts in fee farm, but that the rents belonging to the hundred had been bought by Col. Henry Martin, M.P. (fn. 64)
In 1697 John West and his wife Elizabeth mortgaged the hundred and the manor to Christopher Clitheroe and John Stevens. (fn. 65) In 1699 the mortgages were taken over by William Lord Digby and in 1702 by the executors of Sir Edward Sebright, Bt. (d. 1702). (fn. 66) In 1714 the hundred was mortgaged along with the manor-house of Hampton Poyle and lands in the parish by Sir Thomas Sebright to Arthur, 7th Earl of Anglesey. (fn. 67) On John West's death in 1717 his widow and the Sebrights sold the mortgage to the earl. (fn. 68) In 1723 the hundred and manor were sold to Christopher Tilson and descended in the Tilson family for several generations. (fn. 69) John Henry Tilson of Watlington Park succeeded to the property in 1774 and in 1795 sold the whole to Arthur Annesley for £25,000. (fn. 70) The Annesleys were still in possession of the hundred and manor in 1808, (fn. 71) and probably later, for Dunkin, writing in 1820, stated that they were holding courts leet at Wendlebury. (fn. 72)
At this time the hundred was composed of the parishes named in the hundred rolls of 1279 with the exception of Fulwell. Most of the hamlets had long disappeared as separate administrative units, and in the 19th century Boycott hamlet alone continued to figure on the list of the constituents of the hundred. (fn. 73) An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1833 to transfer the two Hamptons, Islip, and Noke to Bullingdon hundred on the ground that Oxford, the centre for Bullingdon, was nearer to these places than was Bicester. (fn. 74) In the 19th century Bicester was the centre for the hundred, but there is no evidence about when it became so. (fn. 75) In 1652 the courts leet were usually held at Ardley, Fringford and Wendlebury and the three-week court at Islip. (fn. 76) By 1607 if not earlier the hundred was divided into two high or chief constable's divisions, the north and south divisions. A taxation return of that date gives eighteen parishes with Boycott, Fulwell and Willaston in the north division and fifteen with Bicester King's End in the south division. It omits Lillingstone, but the parish was presumably normally in the northern division. (fn. 77) These divisions were abolished in 1848 when Ploughley became a petty-sessional division.
No court rolls for the hundred have been found and there is little documentary record of the hundred's business in the post-medieval period. Its use for military purposes is seen in 1539, when the returns for the muster of the king's subjects were made, (fn. 78) and for dealing with rogues and vagabonds in the reign of Elizabeth I. (fn. 79) The chief constables were responsible for seeing that the petty constables of the parishes made their returns to quarter sessions on such matters as the good repair of the stocks and pound, the upkeep of bridges and highways, the due observation of watch and ward, proper provision for the poor; and that they generally carried out their duties as the guardians of law and order. To report regularly on recusants was another of their functions, or, as in 1722, to make a special summons to all papists and non-jurors to appear at Bicester to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. (fn. 80)