A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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THE MARKET-TOWN OF BICESTER
The medieval parish covered a wide area, possibly over 5,800 acres, as Stratton Audley (2,088 a.) was included in its boundaries as well as the hamlets of Bicester King's End, Bignell, and Wretchwick. (fn. 1) The parish was first reduced in size in 1454, when Stratton Audley became a separate parish. (fn. 2) In 1901 the Urban and Rural Districts of Bicester, comprising the two civil parishes of Bicester Market End (2,282 a.) and Bicester King's End (1,457 a.), covered 3,739 acres. (fn. 3) The civil parishes were identical in area with the ancient townships, and their boundaries may be regarded as historic ones. (fn. 4) The Gagle Brook formed the boundary on the southwest; on the north and east the parish was separated from Bucknell, Caversfield and Launton by an irregular line with a number of right-angled bends, which indicate that it was fixed after the field furlongs had been laid out. For a short distance in the north the Roman road formed the boundary. In 1932 these ancient boundaries were radically changed and a new civil parish, co-extensive with the urban district, was formed. It comprised parts of the 19thcentury civil parish of King's End (472 a.), of Market End (1,060 a.), and of Caversfield (147 a.), and covered in all 1,679 acres. The rest of Market End was transferred to Ambrosden and Bucknell and the rest of King's End to Chesterton. Thus Bicester's two 19th-century civil parishes were abolished and with them Bicester Rural District. (fn. 5)
The ancient parish was crossed by a network of roads. One, the Stratton road, was a Roman road, running from Alchester to Towcester. (fn. 6) The Launton, Caversfield, Bucknell, and Denton (Bucks.) roads were ordered to be made 40 feet wide by the Market End inclosure award of 1758. (fn. 7) The state of the roads about that time may be judged from Sir Harbottle Grimston's observation that the road between Bicester and Buckingham was 'very bad, almost impassable for a carriage'. (fn. 8) The turnpike acts, however, transformed this situation. Stratton road was turnpiked in 1768–9; the Caversfield road, a part of the coach road from London to Birmingham, was turnpiked in 1790–1 along with the Bicester–Aynho section of this road. The BicesterAylesbury section of it had already been turnpiked in 1770. (fn. 9) When this road entered the parish in the south it followed the line of Akeman Street. Coaches began to run from Bicester to London in 1752 (fn. 10) and by 1795 the 'Old Banbury' coach went through Bicester to London six days a week and there was a weekly wagon passing through from Birmingham to London. (fn. 11) A weekly coach to Oxford for the Saturday market began to run in 1794 and a mail cart in 1798. (fn. 12) The turnpike from Aylesbury to Aynho via Bicester (i.e. the London road) was freed from toll by acts of 1875 and 1876. (fn. 13) The toll-house on the London road was still standing in 1956.
A new arterial road to by-pass the centre of Bicester was built in 1939; it followed the line of the old road through King's End to Crockwell; it was named Queen's Avenue and planted with trees in 1953 in commemoration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. (fn. 14)
The railway first came to Bicester in 1850, when the Bletchley to Oxford line was completed and the London Road station on the L.N.W.R.'s Birmingham line was opened. Bicester North station was opened by the G.W.R. in 1906. (fn. 15) Co-operation between the rival companies was so good after the First World War that until 1940 both stations shared one stationmaster.
The Bicester district was inhabited at an early date: traces have been found of an Iron Age and Romano-British settlement beside the Roman road just inside the southern border of the later parish. (fn. 16) The Anglo-Saxons, however, settled farther to the north. The village was well sited near the Roman road and by a ford over the Bure; it lay on the Cornbrash, just off the Oxford Clay which composes the southern half of the parish, and about 240 feet up. (fn. 17) Its name—originally Bernecestre—means 'the fort of the warriors' or 'of Beorna', some AngloSaxon war-lord. (fn. 18) The form of the name indicates early settlement, though there is nothing else to substantiate the tradition that the village was founded by Birinus, the 7th-century Bishop of Dorchester. There may be more truth in the tradition that the 'burg' or 'bury', as it was called throughout the Middle Ages, was first intended as a frontier garrison of the West Saxons against the Mercians. (fn. 19) According to tradition the original town was on the site of King's End and was destroyed by the Danes. It is possible that Bury End, the older name for Market End, lying on the other side of the Bure, was fortified by Edward the Elder, for its church was dedicated to St. Edburga, probably to be identified with one of the king's saintly daughters. (fn. 20)
Water was plentiful. Apart from the Bure, a feeder of the Ray, there were a number of springs, which kept the town wells constantly supplied. The well of St. Edburg, for instance, early gained a miraculous reputation. It was reached from the village from the late 13th century at latest by St. Edburg's Way. (fn. 21) Another well, Crockwell, described by White Kennett as a 'lively spring . . . arched and vaulted', gave its name to the northern extension of the medieval town. (fn. 22)
The core of the modern street plan has probably altered little since medieval times. The main streets were St. John the Baptist's Street (the later Sheep Street), the Market Square at its southern end, Church Way and the Causeway, running westwards from the square across the ford (fn. 23) and past the parish church and Vicarage. The western end of this street was called le Kynges End at least by 1345 as there lay the manor-house and township of King's End. (fn. 24) The northern limit of the town in the 14th century was probably some way to the south of the present New Buildings. On the site of one of these houses was a hermitage and chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and a field survey of 1399 makes it clear that it lay in open country. (fn. 25) The Crockwell area was also mainly in the fields: the priory had a grange and a sheepfold there with some poor tenants living near. (fn. 26)
The site of the 12th-century manor-house and chapel of the Bassets, lords of Bury End (or Market End as it was later called), was not known even in Leland's time, but it was probably, as tradition had it, near or on the site of the priory, for in the 1180's Gilbert Basset gave crofts and messuages near his fishpond and the free chapel of his curia as a site for a house of Augustinian canons. (fn. 27) There are 13thcentury charter references to other medieval houses which show that they were of two stories with a cellar and solar and were built contiguously. Some lay on the Causeway next to the cemetery of the parish church. (fn. 28) In the 14th century there was an inn called the 'Bell', which belonged to the priory and was let in 1395 for £1 16s. a year, (fn. 29) but its site cannot be determined.
Although almost nothing has survived above ground of the priory buildings, their plan can be partly restored from documentary and archaeological evidence. The main entrance to the priory, which was standing in about 1800, adjoined the churchyard of the parish church. Excavations undertaken in 1819 show that the principal buildings lay between the present 17th-century dovecote and the upper garden wall of Old Palace Yard. (fn. 30) The convent had the usual offices—chapter house, sacristy, locutory, refectory, lavatory, and dormitory. (fn. 31) The last was repaired in 1425 at a cost of £34 17s. 4½d. In 1424 the prior had spent over £20 on materials: timber was obtained from the Breach and Gravenhill (both in the parish), Bernwood, and farther afield; stone from a quarry in Crockwell. (fn. 32) The kitchen wing comprised the kitchen, slaughterhouse, bakehouse, brew-house, dairy, and laundry. (fn. 33) There were also a cellar, a treasury and infirmary. (fn. 34) The cloisters connected the conventual buildings with the priory church.
The guest house may have been detached from the main building. It has been suggested that it was the same as the existing building called Old Priory House. The latter is a two-storied house (41 ft. by 16½ ft.), which appears to have been largely rebuilt in the early 16th century, but retains traces of medieval work in its west gable. (fn. 35)
The prior had his own hall and chamber, garden and stables. (fn. 36) In 1397 his lodgings were enlarged by the insertion of a second chamber between the hall and the upper chamber. (fn. 37) In Henry VI's reign 1,000 bricks were bought to make a chimney for his chamber. (fn. 38)
The conventual church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Edburg, had been built by about 1200. (fn. 39) Early in the next century there are references to its altars to St. Nicholas and St. John as well as to the high altar. (fn. 40) At the turn of the 13th century the church was enlarged: payments by the bursar in 1296 for craftsmen's stipends and for bringing stone from Bloxham for the seats of the church suggest that the work was already in full swing. (fn. 41) A loan raised from Florentine merchants in 1300 may well have been connected with this enterprise, (fn. 42) and in 1304 an indulgence of twenty days was granted to all persons who would give towards the fabric and maintenance of the church. (fn. 43) In 1312 it was reconsecrated by the Irish Bishop of Annaghdown, acting as suffragan to the Bishop of Lincoln. He consecrated three new altars, and a second indulgence was granted. (fn. 44) A few years later a chantry was founded by Master Walter of Fotheringay, who left £40 for a mass. The indulgence obtained in 1323 for those who prayed for his soul may have been sought with the object of obtaining alms to help defray the cost of building alterations. (fn. 45) A window inserted in the 'new chapel' is recorded on a surviving account roll of 1317. (fn. 46)
To this period also belongs the construction of the shrine of St. Edburg, which is now in the church at Stanton Harcourt. It can be dated from heraldic evidence between 1294 and 1317 and may have been a gift from Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, the priory's patron, on the marriage of his daughter to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. It is one of the last surviving pieces of figure sculpture in Purbeck marble. (fn. 47) The beautification of the church was still being carried out in 1320. Roger the painter was then paid £2 for painting an image of the Virgin for the high altar, and £2 14s. was paid for white and coloured glass. (fn. 48) In 1327 and 1333 two more chantries were founded. (fn. 49)
At the end of the 14th century a 'new choir' was constructed. It is not clear from the surviving accounts if this entailed a lengthening of the original church or only interior alterations. Work had begun at least by 1393 for in the account roll for 1395–6 Robert Dryffeld was paid £10 in addition to the £10 paid in each of the two preceding years for his work on the new choir. A smith from Bedford was paid for making the hinges (gemellae) for the stall seats, while Robert Dryffeld received an extra 33s. 4d. for making 30 finials for them. (fn. 50) Work was still being paid for in the account of 1397–8. John Stacy was paid £20 for finishing the end of the choir; sawyers for three weeks' work sawing the boards for the floor which was supported on walls. The masons worked on these for four weeks. John Smyth was employed to mend the hinges (gemewes), and the boards under the 'crestying' of the walls were varnished. (fn. 51) At the same time the old choir was removed and the floor levelled and some unspecified work, described as 'novum opus ultra vestiarium', was carried out. (fn. 52) Work was still going on in 1411– 12, when a new roof was placed over the high altar. The roll refers to purchases of timber and expenses of sawing and carting, which were sufficiently large to be accounted for separately. Carpenters, including one from Brackley, and masons, including a freemason and his mate from Eynsham, were hired; Peter the painter of Banbury and John the painter of Thame were brought in to colour the roof with oil colours supplied by the latter. Gold leaf was bought in Oxford, and 'divers colours' in London. (fn. 53) William Hayle founded a fourth chantry about this time. (fn. 54)
The church was pulled down in 1537; its site and the priory buildings and the medieval hostelry called the 'Bell' were granted to the Duke of Suffolk and in 1537 to Roger Moore. (fn. 55) Various small alterations were made to the house by Moore's son Thomas to fit it for the visit of Elizabeth I. (fn. 56) In the late 16th century the Roman Catholic family of Blount resided there. Sir Richard was followed by Sir Charles Blount, whose children were baptized in the church, and later by Welsbourne Blount. (fn. 57) After 1656 Lord Chief Justice Glynne made it his home. In 1673 his son removed to Ambrosden and the priory mansion was pulled down. (fn. 58)
There was rebuilding generally in the town in the late 16th and 17th centuries. The Town House itself, erected at the south end of the market-place before 1599, was repaired in 1622. (fn. 59) Other houses were evidently built about this time on the open space of the market-place, for it was laid down in 1605 that no one should be allowed to build there, and the removal of a butcher's shop was ordered. (fn. 60) Dwellings were also being put on the lord's waste at Crockwell at the north end of the town, (fn. 61) but the main evidence for the building activity of this period comes from the many surviving houses. They are mostly built of coursed rubble, though brick and timber are also used, and many are concealed behind 18th-century fronts of stucco or variegated brick. Tysul House (now nos. 1 and 3 Church Street), for example, is substantially a 17th-century building with a contemporary newel staircase. Of the same period are nos. 9 and 11, which were originally one building and are inscribed Tni 1676, the Six Bells Inn and the Swan Inn. The last is inscribed EME 1681. (fn. 62) But the oldest building in this part of Bicester is probably the Vicarage. The original late-16th-century house appears to have been L-shaped. It is two-storied and is built of coursed rubble. The north-south wing still retains three ancient stone window-frames with square moulded labels. Sash windows were later inserted in the other wing, and a large bay window was added when the house was enlarged in 1882. At that date the front porch, the corridor, running the whole length of the street front, and the ground- and first-floor rooms at the north-east corner were built. The kitchen wing at the south-west end seems to have been an earlier addition. (fn. 63) The rooms of the old house all led into one another and there was no connecting passage. A Stonesfield-slate roof on one wing was removed in 1955, when the house was modernized inside and divided into two at a cost of over £3,000. (fn. 64)
The greatest number of early houses, however, are to be found in Market Square and Sheep Street: among the oldest are Nos. 46, 48, and 51, which constitute a block of three gabled houses standing with others in a detached group at the north end of the market-place. Nos. 48 and 51 were probably built as one two-storied house with attics in the mid-16th century. No. 51 is timber-framed with brick and plaster fillings. In one of the gables on its north side are the remains of two projecting casement windows of three lights. They have in part the original leaded lights and glass, and side pilasters with enriched carving and plain brackets. The gables have carved barge boards. In the late 17th century or possibly a little later no. 46, a timber-framed house of lath and plaster (now rough-cast), was added to the east side of the 16th-century block. Other houses of 17th-century origin are no. 44, built with an overhang; Waverley House, partly built of brick and timber, and refronted in the 18th century; (fn. 65) and no. 39, the gabled house next door, which has a massive rubble-stone chimney-stack. In the London Road the most interesting early houses are nos. 2, 10, and 17. The first, which has a coachway and so may have been a 16th-century inn, is now the King's Arms Garage. It has two stories and three gables on the street front, and in the centre a massive chimney-stack of moulded stone with three ancient brick shafts set diagonally. Three four-light windows with wooden transoms survive. The Hermitage (no. 17) was originally built in the 17th century, but was remodelled in the 19th century and is now two cottages. It is distinguished by its five small two-light attic dormers and its three-light casement windows in square frames of heavy moulded stone. At the back is a gabled projecting staircase which is lit by casement windows in wooden frames.
Disastrous fires in 1718, 1724, and 1730 (fn. 66) were the occasion of much 18th-century rebuilding, but fashion and prosperity also led many inhabitants to reface their ancient houses of coursed rubble with stucco or, less often, with variegated brick; to put in sash windows, add classic porticoes to their front entrances, and modernize the interiors. No. 10 London Road, for example, though originally an L-shaped 16th-century house, was given a brick dentilled cornice, its front door was embellished with a carved and bracketed hood (recently removed), and a new staircase was inserted. The east wing, which projects to the road frontage, was extended by a rounded bay of two stories. Inside, the rooms were panelled, and the two first-floor ones were decorated with four painted Corinthian columns, which are said locally to have come from Ambrosden Park, destroyed in 1768. The south wing of this house bears the inscription gKe 1770. The 18thcentury bay window was removed during the Second World War, but the 16th-century overhang supported by massive beams with carved ends is still a striking feature of the house. No. 16, inscribed Jsi 1773, and no. 14, which appear to have been originally one house, were evidently modernized at about the same time as no. 10. There are many similar examples in Market Square and Sheep Street. No. 44 the Market Square acquired a stucco front, sash windows, a moulded cornice, and iron balustrade railings. No. 30 was refronted with variegated brick: it is dated rNl 1751. The present offices of the Midland Mart were also largely rebuilt: it is a striking three-storied house of stucco and rusticated stone quoins. Its porch of three stories with an ogee-shaped roof of red tiles is surmounted by a lead ball and weather vane. Its roof is hipped with attic dormers and a stone, inscribed B I M 1698, probably records earlier repairs. Possibly the best house in the square is no. 28, which was refronted in about 1800 with brick. It was the 'Swan', one of the principal inns in the mid-18th century, but later became the private residence of George King, a brazier. To this century too belong in the main the present buildings of the 'King's Arms', one of Bicester's many ancient inns and today its principal hotel. It is a three-story building of stucco. Its main doorway has fluted pilasters, a moulded entablature, and another characteristic feature of the period is its two three-light Venetian windows with moulded wooden frames, one fronting the London Road and one the courtyard. (fn. 67)
New three-storied houses were erected in the less crowded parts, particularly on Market Hill and in the Causeway, (fn. 68) which were the fashionable parts of the town in the 18th and 19th centuries. No. 4 Market Hill is an instance. Its street front is partly of stucco and partly of variegated brick. It has painted stone bands at the first and second floors. The stone architraves and bracketed sills of the windows and the wooden hood of the front doorway with a dentilled cornice on carved brackets are typical of the work of the period. Claremont House, now a part of the Grammar school, is a comparatively elegant specimen of Regency work. There was also new building in Water Lane (now Chapel Street) where the houses were destroyed in the fire of 1724. (fn. 69) Here the Congregational church was erected in 1728. (fn. 70) It is of variegated brick on a stone base; the arched entrance is decorated with rusticated stone and the four long upright windows have stone jambs and bracketted sills. It is likely that New Buildings also (the modern North Street) were erected for the poorer part of the population in the 18th century. White Kennett does not mention them and Dunkin, writing in 1816, observes that they formed the newest part of the town. He noted too that the north end was a poor quarter and that the old houses had been divided by speculators and let at high rents. Sheep Street dwellings generally he described as 'very respectable'. (fn. 71)
The appearance of the town was considerably altered in the 19th century by the loss of the Town Hall and Shambles, destroyed by rioters in 1826, (fn. 72) by the erection of a number of new public and private buildings, and the extension of its streets. (fn. 73) Among the new buildings were the Girls' school (c. 1835), the Wesleyan Methodist church in Sheep Street (c. 1841), (fn. 74) the National school for Boys, designed in gothic style in 1858 by the architect Thomas Nicholson of Hereford, (fn. 75) the Court House (1864) in Sheep Street, the Infant school (1869), the Police House and Magistrates' Chamber (1873) in the Causeway, and finally St. Edburg's Hall (1882) in London Road, which was designed by the architect E. G. Bruton and erected at a cost of £1,200. (fn. 76) Bicester Hall, now the Grammar school, was also built in this century for the Earl of Cottenham as a hunting-box.
There were two 19th-century improvements of note. The town, once notorious amongst hunting men for not having 'ten yards of flagging in its streets', was paved and its streets 'cleared of filth' in the 1860's. In 1845 it had been first lit by gas. (fn. 77) Another change was the covering in of the Bure in the Causeway, which had become foul from misuse. (fn. 78) This 'pretty brook', as a 17th-century visitor called it, had once been one of the town's most attractive features. (fn. 79) Nevertheless, Bicester was still very rural. The local board in 1864 ordered a new gate for the pound, and forbade the washing of pigs on the footpath. (fn. 80)
During the 20th century Bicester has developed considerably. The old town has been little changed and is chiefly remarkable for the variety of styles and materials displayed in its streets, where houses dating from the 16th to the 19th century stand side by side. But there has been much public and private building on the outskirts. Priory Road, for example, dates from the first decade of the 20th century, the council houses on the Buckingham Road from after the First World War, the Highfield estate mostly from the 1930's, but partly, together with the Bardwell estate, from after the Second World War. Between 1947 and 1956 over 600 council houses in all have been erected, of which 300 were especially made to house civilian workers at the Ordnance Depot. (fn. 81)
Among the chief individual works of the century are the Methodist church (1927), the County Secondary Modern school at Highfield, constructed principally of aluminium by B.A.C., Bristol (1952), and the new Police Station. Notable changes occurred in 1910, when the Sheep Street cattle market was transferred to the new market near Victoria Road, and in 1929, when electricity was introduced. (fn. 82)
The ancient parish had three hamlets besides Stratton Audley. They were Wretchwick, Bignell, and Bicester King's End, which was really always geographically an extension of Bicester Market End. Today the first is represented only by Middle Wretchwick Farm, in part a 17th-century house, and the second by Bignell House, a 19th-century mansion, for both hamlets were already in full decline in the 16th century. (fn. 83) Bignell Farm-house, which was regarded locally in the 17th century as the remnant of the ancient manor-house, and a nearby medieval chapel, once a private chapel attached to the manor-house, (fn. 84) survived until 1866, when the present Bignell House was built by the architect W. Wilkinson for the Misses Tyrwhitt-Drake at a cost of £5,500. (fn. 85) The chapel was then pulled down and the farm-house was converted into a gardener's house. Enough of the chapel, though already a ruin in 1695, was standing in about 1816 for Dunkin to say that it was a 14th-century building. (fn. 86) It must have once been used by the Langley family, the resident lords of Bignell from the 13th to the 14th century, (fn. 87) and later by the families of Stokes and Staveley, who also lived at Bignell. (fn. 88) In the 17th century the manor-house was inhabited for some years after 1660 by Samuel Lee, the Puritan divine, who was lord of the manor. (fn. 89) Later residents of note were the progressive farmer William Forster, the Revd. Griff Lloyd, the hunting parson of Newton Purcell, (fn. 90) and in the second half of the 19th century the Tyrwhitt-Drake and Hoare families, who were both well known in the hunting field and in local government. (fn. 91) Mounds and depressions in the field between Middle Wretchwick Farm-house and the main road indicate clearly the site of Wretchwick village and its green, (fn. 92) but no traces of Bignell village have been found so far.
Bicester King's End, though administered as a separate township for most of its history, was divided from Bicester Market End only by the Bure Brook. (fn. 93) The name occurs at least as early as 1316. (fn. 94) It was presumably so named in the 11th century when Kirtlington, of which it was a member, was a royal manor. White Kennett and other historians have erroneously identified Bignell near Chesterton with King's End, a confusion which probably arose from the fact that the names Bignell Field and King's End Field were used alternatively in the Middle Ages for the common field of the two townships. (fn. 95) The hamlet then consisted mainly of the nuns' grange and the cottages of their tenants. The north side of its green, on which the annual King's End fair was customarily held, was inclosed by John Coker in the 1790's when he was rebuilding his house, the former 'Nonnes Place'. (fn. 96) He put up the row of cottages which still stands on the main Oxford road (once the King's End turnpike) to replace those on the green, which he had demolished. The oldest surviving cottages in King's End today are nos. 41– 47, which may perhaps date from the end of the 17th century. (fn. 97) They are all built of coursed rubble with brick chimney-stacks and are mostly thatched. Among the oldest houses are the L-shaped Manor and Home Farms, and Stow House, which may also date from the late 17th century.
Bicester House (known as Burcester Hall in the 17th century) is on the site of the manor-house of the nuns of Markyate and lies a little back from the main street of King's End. (fn. 98) Its history is almost undocumented owing to the destruction of the Coker archives in a fire, but the main developments can be traced from prints and a study of the building itself. The present house comprises 18th- and 19thcentury additions to a 17th-century and possibly older structure. The nuns are known to have leased their estate to a John Griffith in 1530, but in 1584 it was purchased with the house by John Coker, and he settled in Bicester. (fn. 99) In 1665 Burcester Hall was a fairly substantial house for which six hearths were returned, but it was probably enlarged soon after by John Coker (d. 1710), the grandson of the first John Coker. (fn. 100) A contemporary print, depicting what is now the north-west range, shows a twostoried building of four bays, with an extension at the north end. (fn. 101) The date 1682 appears over the porch, which evidently then formed the main entrance to the house. The stable buildings shown at right angles to the front of the house still remain. The northern extension was later destroyed by fire, the position of the entrance way was moved, and the roof raised, probably in the 1780's when the house was reconstructed. It appears from internal evidence that this 17th-century house was half H-shaped with two wings projecting to the south-east from each end of the main north-west range. In two rooms good contemporary panelling and grey marble fireplaces of the William and Mary period survive. White Kennett described the house as a 'commodious seat'.
In the 1780's the old house was considerably enlarged and the pleasure gardens were extended by the inclusion of land which had once formed the village green. The court between the two wings of the 17th-century house was filled up. The new facade can be seen in an engraving of about 1800. (fn. 102) It had a range of ten windows surmounted by a pediment containing an armorial shield. (fn. 103) Work on the house was left uncompleted through the death of John Coker's wife early in 1794, but his seat had already been transformed, as Dunkin put it, into 'the chief ornament of the town'. In about 1820, in the time of Captain Thomas Lewis Coker (d. 1849), there was a further substantial rebuilding after a fire which destroyed two bays of the north-east side of the building. The central porch was removed, and the main staircase was moved to its present position at the south-west end of the building, where the main entrance was made and a large portico in the classical style constructed. The extensive alterations carried out at this date led Gardner's Directory of Oxfordshire to describe the house in 1852 as a 'large modern building'. (fn. 104) Possibly just before the captain's death, but probably at some later date in the 19th century, the rooms on the south-west front were enlarged by the addition of a central three-sided bay of two stories.
The main 20th-century alteration has been the replacement of the regency iron balusters and mahogany handrail of the staircase by oak ones. The original oak treads remain. (fn. 105)
Of the nine outlying farm-houses now in the ancient parish, most date from after the inclosure of the open fields in the late 18th century, but Langford Farm, called after the ford recorded as early as the 13th century, and the three Wretchwick Farms were originally 17th-century buildings. (fn. 106)
As a market-town lying on important roads, Bicester has often been brought into touch with national events and persons. Throughout its existence the priory entertained dignitaries of the church, including an Archbishop of Canterbury, and members of the feudal nobility as well as royal officials. (fn. 107) Many persons of rank were buried in the priory church: Gilbert Basset and his wife Egeline, Philippa Basset, Countess of Warwick, a Lord Lestrange, and members of the Damory family. (fn. 108) In the 16th century the town had three royal visitors: Henry VIII in 1526, Princess Mary in 1543, and Elizabeth I, when on her way to Rycote, was entertained by Thomas Moore in 1568 at his home at the Priory. (fn. 109)
In the 17th century the town was often the headquarters of the contending armies in the Civil War. (fn. 110) In 1643 and 1644 royalist forces were constantly in and about it: there was a skirmish there, for instance, on 6 May 1643; on 21 June the king lay the night in the town; (fn. 111) on the 27th, 4,000 of the king's forces were reported to be there; Prince Rupert had also been in the town on 14 June with 1,000 horses. His men were encamped there for some time, and were said to be scouting up and down and causing the country to bring in victuals daily. (fn. 112) Early the next year Prince Maurice with horse and foot soldiers arrived, and in August men of the parliamentary army under Essex passed through on their way to Gloucester. (fn. 113) By July 1644 Parliament was in control of the neighbourhood; Sir William Waller made Bicester his headquarters and Parliament levied £60 on the town. (fn. 114) It was there that Captain Abercromby is alleged to have said that he would make Oxfordshire so poor that the very children would curse him. (fn. 115) In 1645 Parliament was considering making Bicester 'horse quarters' for the siege of Oxford. (fn. 116)
In 1710 national affairs impinged on the town when Dr. Sacheverell visited it and received a tumultuous welcome. (fn. 117) Later, the Napoleonic war gave rise to the formation of the Independent Company of Infantry (1804–9). (fn. 118) It was in the late 18th century, furthermore, that Bicester became a centre for horse-racing and hunting. (fn. 119) In the next century, the Bicester and Warden Hill Hunt made the town and its fine sporting country widely known. 'Mr. Drake's hounds' (i.e. the Bicester pack) and 'Deakin's' (i.e. the 'King's Arms') have been immortalized by Surtees.
The world wars of the 20th century turned the hunting town into a cosmopolitan and garrison town. Belgian refugees were housed at the George Inn during the First World War and in 1948 a camp for 1,000 European Voluntary Workers was established. The Second World War resulted in the establishment in 1940 at Arncot, three miles away, of Southern Command's Bicester Base Ordnance Depot, which has since been made permanent. (fn. 120)
Among Bicester's most distinguished sons was Sir Thomas Grantham, a naval commander in the service of the East India Company, whose father Thomas Grantham of Bicester was killed fighting for the king at Oxford in 1645. (fn. 121) A contemporary of his was Samuel Blackwell (vicar 1670–91), who was Dean of Bicester Deanery and founder of the town's noted 17th-century grammar school. (fn. 122) His curate and assistant master was White Kennett, the future Bishop of Peterborough and author of many learned works. Many documents in the Coker archives, since destroyed, were transcribed by him, and preserved in his Parochial Antiquities, published in 1695. (fn. 123) In the late 18th century John Dunkin (1782–1846), author of a History of Bicester (1816) and of the History and Antiquities of the Hundreds of Bullingdon and Ploughley (1823), was born and educated in the town. (fn. 124) Another well-known local figure was Francis Penrose, a Bicester 'surgeon' (1718–98), who was one of the first to excavate at Alchester. (fn. 125)
Although not resident at Bicester, the Turners (afterwards Page-Turners) of Ambrosden were closely associated with it for several generations after 1728, when they acquired land in the parish. (fn. 126) Sir Edward Turner was 'one of the best friends to the parish' and his heir received his early education at the Bicester grammar school. (fn. 127) Yet at the great election contest of 1754 the town, whose freeholders had cast a decisive vote for Sir Edward and Lord Parker, and whose vicar was a prominent Whig, was wholeheartedly for the Wenman and Dashwood interest, and the bells were rung backwards when Sir Edward and Lord Parker were reported victors. (fn. 128) It was the Coker family, however, that had the longest and closest association with the town. Since 1584 Cokers have been lords of King's End manor and, except for a period of 70 years after 1849, were resident at Bicester House. They were active in local government and benefactors to the neighbourhood. A John Coker was sheriff in 1749 and another John Coker (d. 1819) was chairman of Quarter Sessions and 'an especial friend to Bicester'. He is particularly remembered for putting an end to bull-baiting in the town. (fn. 129) In recent times Major Lewis Aubrey Coker also played a leading part in local affairs until his death in 1953.
Manors. (fn. 130)
Before the Conquest Bicester was probably part of the possessions of Wigod of Wallingford, but after it land assessed at 15½ hides was held by Robert d'Oilly as two manors (fn. 131) —represented in the 12th century by the manors of BICESTER and WRETCHWICK. Like other D'Oilly estates Bicester appears to have passed to Miles Crispin as the marriage portion of Robert d'Oilly's daughter Maud; (fn. 132) it subsequently formed part of the honor of Wallingford and was later merged in the new honor of Ewelme. (fn. 133) Early in the 12th century the demesne tenant of Bicester was Gilbert Basset, a brother or perhaps a younger son of Ralph Basset the justiciar. (fn. 134) Gilbert, who was dead by 1154, was succeeded by his son Thomas, a sheriff of Oxfordshire who married Alice, daughter of Walter Dunstanville. Thomas died in 1180, and a few years later his eldest son and successor Gilbert founded Bicester Priory and endowed it with part of his demesnes. (fn. 135) Gilbert died in 1205 and his widow Egeline received Bicester in dower. She married Richard Burdun as her second husband, but was a widow again by 1219, when her marriage was in the king's gift. (fn. 136) Eustachia Basset, only child of Gilbert and Egeline, had married firstly Thomas de Verdun, and secondly Richard de Camville, son of Gerard de Camville of Middleton Stoney. (fn. 137) Eustachia was dead by 1215, when as a consequence of Richard's taking part in the baronial rebellion her daughter and heiress Idoine, her only surviving child by Richard, was taken into the king's custody. Idoine's wardship was subsequently granted to William, Earl of Salisbury, and she married his son, William Longespée. (fn. 138) Richard de Camville died about 1219, (fn. 139) and his mother-in-law Egeline may have been dead by 1225, when William Longespée had a house in Bicester. (fn. 140) It was not until the following year, however, when Idoine had come of age, that William was formally granted her inheritance. From 1226 to 1597 Bicester manor followed the same descent as Middleton Stoney. (fn. 141) In 1577 Henry Stanley, Earl of Derby, leased the manor for 21 years to Thomas Wygyns (or Wykyns) of Bicester, and in 1597 William Stanley, Earl of Derby, conveyed it to 31 of his tenants for £750 on a lease for 9,999 years. (fn. 142) The earl later sold the reversion of the manor to trustees of the leaseholders, and in 1605, after Thomas Clements, one of the two nominal purchasers, (fn. 143) and his sons, who held the capital messuage, (fn. 144) had claimed the manorial rights and profits, it was decided that these belonged to the leaseholders. The manor was henceforth administered by a bailiff on behalf of the leaseholders and was consequently known as the bailiwick of Bicester Market End. In the 18th century the estates of the Clements family passed in turn to Thomas Coker of King's End and to Sir Edward Turner, who is said to have attempted to turn some of the leaseholds, or 'Derby holds' as they were called, into freeholds, in order to obtain more votes in the county election of 1754. (fn. 145) By 1816 the Page-Turners and Cokers were the largest lessees of the bailiwick, but the Page-Turners' claim to be lords of the manor of Market End was unfounded, since no single lessee could claim the lordship unless he gained possession of the whole of the original Derby estate. (fn. 146) In 1902 and 1913, however, the Bicester Urban District Council purchased the manorial rights with all the shares in the bailiwick from F. A. Page-Turner and other lessees. (fn. 147)
WRETCHWICK first appears as a separate manor in 1194, when half of it was given in marriage with his daughter Eustachia by Gilbert Basset to Thomas de Verdun. Gilbert retained the other half, which on his death in 1205 passed with Bicester manor to his widow Egeline. (fn. 148) In 1208 Egeline claimed that she had not received a full third part of Gilbert's estate in dower. Egeline subsequently received certain additional estates from her daughter Eustachia and her second husband Richard de Camville. In the calculation of Egeline's third part Wretchwick was treated as part of Bicester manor. She had possession of the half which Eustachia had held, and successfully defended her right to it in 1211. (fn. 149) Shortly afterwards Egeline granted the half of Wretchwick she had originally held to Bicester Priory, a gift confirmed by Eustachia and Richard. (fn. 150) The second half of Wretchwick passed on Egeline's death to William Longespée and his wife Idoine, heiress of Richard de Camville. William gave part of his portion of Wretchwick to Bicester Priory about 1234, (fn. 151) and in 1244 gave the remainder to his daughter Ela on her marriage to James Audley. (fn. 152) James received a grant of free warren in his Wretchwick demesnes in 1252. (fn. 153) Soon after James's death in 1272 Ela gave all her lands in Wretchwick to Bicester Priory and in 1274 confirmed her gift. (fn. 154) In 1279, therefore, the Prior of Bicester held the whole manor of Wretchwick in free alms of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, who held in turn of Edmund of Cornwall's honor of Wallingford. (fn. 155) In Bicester manor at the same time the prior held 1½ hides—Gilbert Basset's original endowment plus later acquisitions —as a tenant of the Earl of Lincoln. (fn. 156)
After the dissolution of Bicester Priory in 1536 the site of the monastery and its demesne lands in Bicester and Wretchwick were granted to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, at fee farm. (fn. 157) In 1537 the duke granted the site of the monastery to Roger Moore and his wife Agnes and sold him nearly 400 acres of demesne for £505. (fn. 158) A number of royal grants followed, including in 1539 that of the reversion of five estates in Wretchwick held on leases from the former prior. (fn. 159) Roger Moore died in 1551 (fn. 160) and his only son, Thomas, who came of age in 1558 or 1559, succeeded to the manor; he was killed in Ireland in 1574. (fn. 161) Roger Moore's widow Agnes married as her second husband Sir Edward Saunders, Lord Chief Baron, who died in 1576. (fn. 162) Agnes was dead by 1583 and the estates which she had held jointly with Roger were divided between her daughters Mary wife of Sir Michael Blount of Mapledurham and Elizabeth wife of Gabriel Fowler of Tilsworth (Beds.). Gabriel Fowler had died in 1582, (fn. 163) and in 1583 Elizabeth conveyed her moiety of what was called the manor of Bicester to Sir John Brockett, (fn. 164) whom she married. In 1589 Sir John conveyed it to Sir Michael Blount and his wife Mary. (fn. 165) Mary died in 1592, and when Livia Ellen Moore, the widow of Thomas Moore, died in 1597 part of her property reverted to Mary's son Sir Richard Blount. (fn. 166) Thus when Sir Richard succeeded his father in 1610 he was in possession of nearly all the original Moore estate, and in 1621 he settled his Bicester lands on his son Sir Charles and his wife Dorothy Clerk. (fn. 167) Sir Richard died in 1628, (fn. 168) and in 1644 Sir Charles, who was with the king's forces at Oxford, was accidentally killed by a sentry. (fn. 169) The family estates were sequestrated in 1646, and in 1649 Sir Charles's elder son Michael died while still a minor. In the following year Sir Charles's second son Walter appealed for the discharge of his lands. Other claims against Sir Charles's estates reveal that his Bicester property was burdened with mortgages, (fn. 170) and though Walter's appeal was eventually successful he was compelled to sell the former priory lands to Chief Justice John Glynne. (fn. 171) From the latter the property, called in the 17th century 'the manors of Bicester and Wretchwick, (fn. 172) descended on his death in 1666 to his son Sir William Glynne, Bt. (fn. 173) Sir William died in 1690, and was succeeded by his sons Sir William (d. 1721) and Sir Stephen (d. 1729), (fn. 174) Shortly before his death Sir Stephen sold his Bicester property to Edward Turner. (fn. 175) The priory estates subsequently followed the same descent in the Turner family as the manor of Ambrosden, (fn. 176) and by the beginning of the 19th century were confused with the bailiwick of Bicester Market End, in which the Page-Turners were among the principal shareholders. (fn. 177)
BIGNELL, though in the parish of Bicester, was a member of Kirtlington manor. Its overlordship followed the same descent as Kirtlington. (fn. 178) In the early 13th century the tenant of Bignell was James le Bret, who made a number of grants to Bicester Priory of lands in Bignell. (fn. 179) In 1279 the tenant holding Bignell as a ¼ knight's fee of the lord of Kirtlington was Walter de Langley, son of Geoffrey de Langley, the notorious justice of the forest. (fn. 180) Walter died in 1280 (fn. 181) and Bignell was then held in dower by his widow Alice. (fn. 182) By 1316 the manor had passed to Walter's son John de Langley, (fn. 183) who about 1325 gave it to his younger son Geoffrey. Geoffrey died leaving a son, also Geoffrey, under age, and the manor was then said to have been alienated by Thomas de Langley, the child's uncle, to William de Bohun, Earl of Northampton (fn. 184) —who as lord of Kirtlington would have been entitled to the custody of Bignell during Geoffrey's minority. By 1354 the earl had granted Bignell for life to Peter Favelore, (fn. 185) on whose death in 1360 it reverted to the earl's son and successor, Humphrey de Bohun. (fn. 186) After holding Bignell for some time Humphrey restored it to the heirs of Geoffrey de Langley. The younger Geoffrey, his only child Joan, and his uncle Thomas were all dead by 1375, when the right heir to the manor was found to be Sir John de Worthe, a great-grandson of John de Langley's sister Christine. (fn. 187) Sir John had obtained possession by 1377, (fn. 188) and died childless about 1390. (fn. 189) In 1409 a Robert Worthe conveyed the manor to a number of feoffees (fn. 190) of whom one, Robert James, was the tenant in 1428. (fn. 191) In 1439 Bignell was held by Humphrey, Earl of Stafford, and John Felmersham, (fn. 192) having perhaps fallen in to the earl as son and heir of the Countess Anne who had succeeded to Kirtlington manor in 1399. By 1446 Bignell had been acquired by John Stokes, (fn. 193) but as he and his wife Alice had no surviving children they arranged in 1465 that after their deaths Bignell should pass to William Staveley, John's friend and, like him, a trusted servant of Edward IV. (fn. 194) John died in 1476 and Alice in 1479. (fn. 195) William Staveley succeeded and settled the manor on his wife Alice for life, with remainder to his son George. By a later settlement, however, the manor was to pass on Alice's death to their sons William and John. (fn. 196) William the father died in 1498 and was buried in the parish church. Alice held the manor until her death two years later, (fn. 197) but in accordance with the earlier settlement it passed to George, the eldest son, (fn. 198) who held it at his death in 1525. (fn. 199) George's son and successor John came of age about 1530, and was resident at Bignell in 1539. (fn. 200) From John, who is said to have sold many of his lands (probably to the Cokers) and who died in 1569, Bignell descended to his son Thomas (d. 1582) and his grandson Thomas (d. 1631). The younger Thomas went to reside on the Leicestershire estate which the Staveleys had inherited through Isabel Strelley, wife of George Staveley, (fn. 201) and Thomas's son Arthur sold what was left of Bignell in 1651, a few years before his death in 1655. (fn. 202) After passing through a number of hands the manor was purchased in 1655 by Samuel Lee, (fn. 203) a Puritan divine who after the Restoration retired from London to live at Bicester and who was probably the last resident lord of Bignell manor. He left Bicester in 1678, migrated to New England in 1686, and died a prisoner in France in 1691. (fn. 204) Bignell manor was divided between his four daughters Anne, Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Lydia and their husbands. (fn. 205) Two moieties were conveyed in 1702 and 1721 by three of these daughters and their respective husbands to John and Samuel Bishop and to Samuel Clarke. (fn. 206) In 1723 the whole manor was bought by Sir Robert Dashwood, who as lord of Kirtlington was already entitled to suit of court once a year. (fn. 207) Towards the end of the century John Coker purchased Bignell farm. His family had already acquired most of the land of the original manor and the fair. (fn. 208) William Forster was a tenant at the end of the century. (fn. 209)
NUN'S PLACE or KING'S END manor was originally part of Bignell and therefore of Kirtlington. It is not known when or from whom the Bedfordshire nunnery of Markyate Priory obtained lands in Bignell, but it acquired property in Oxfordshire soon after its foundation in 1145 (fn. 210) and about the beginning of the 13th century made an exchange of lands at Bicester with Bicester Priory. (fn. 211) In 1279 Markyate Priory held 2½ carucates in Bignell in free alms under Walter de Langley, (fn. 212) an estate valued in 1291 at £2 16s. 10d. a year. (fn. 213) By 1316 the manor was known as King's End. (fn. 214) In 1530 the priory leased the estate to John Griffith, a servant of Cardinal Wolsey, for 21 years at a rent of 10 marks a year. (fn. 215) Markyate Priory was suppressed in 1536, and in 1542 what was called 'the manor of Nun's Place in Bicester King's End' and the reversion of Griffith's leasehold estate were sold by the Crown to John Denton of Blackthorn (d. 1576). (fn. 216) In 1584 John's son Edward conveyed the manor to John Coker. (fn. 217) The Cokers were a West Country family in origin, said to have taken their name from West Coker (Som.), (fn. 218) and were to play a leading part in the affairs of Bicester for more than three and a half centuries. John, who in 1605 acquired a part of the former priory estate from Sir Richard Blount, (fn. 219) died in 1607 (fn. 220) and was succeeded by his son Cadwallader, (fn. 221) who in 1646 compounded for £290 for his delinquency in having contributed to the maintenance of the king's forces. (fn. 222) From Cadwallader (d. 1653) King's End passed to his son John (d. 1710) and his grandson Thomas, canon of Salisbury (d. 1741). In the early 18th century Sir Robert Dashwood, lord of Kirtlington and of Bignell, unsuccessfully claimed the lordship of King's End against the Cokers. (fn. 223) The lord and inhabitants of King's End, however, on account of the ancient connexion of King's End with Bignell and Kirtlington manor continued to owe suit to the manorial court of Kirtlington on into the 19th century. (fn. 224) Thomas Coker's son and successor John died childless in 1767, and King's End descended to his brother Thomas (d. 1798), who, probably because of his age at the death of his brother, made over the property to his nephew John, son of Cadwallader Coker (d. 1780). John died in 1819 leaving an only daughter Charlotte, but the manor, having been entailed on his heirs male by Thomas Coker, (fn. 225) passed to John's nephew Thomas Lewis Coker. The Coker estate of over 888 acres was sold in 1918 and manorial rights lapsed. Bicester House and estates in King's End were in 1957 still in the possession of Mrs. Margaret Coker, widow of Major Lewis Aubrey Coker (d. 1953). (fn. 226)
By the time of Domesday it is likely that cultivation had reached the boundaries of Bicester's territorium, and that the hamlets of Wretchwick and Bignell, although not mentioned, were like Stratton already in existence. (fn. 227) The name Wrec-wic means 'shelter of the exiles' and was probably originally used by men looking after the cattle in the summer months. Bignell—Biga's hill—is derived from a personal name and so is likely to have been settled at an early date. (fn. 228) Something of the struggle of the early settlers to reclaim the land from scrub and marsh is indicated by the field names recorded in later documents: such names as Crocwellmor, Reidemor, Overdemerschelonde, Kyngesmere, Brademor, and Thoftwellmor abound.
The Domesday account of Bicester states that there was land for 22 ploughs in the two D'Oilly manors of Bicester (i.e. Wretchwick and Bicester). (fn. 229) There were 6 plough-teams at work on the demesne, where 5 serfs were employed, while 28 villeins (villani) and 14 bordars owned 16 ploughs. Thus all the available land seems to have been cultivated. Twelve acres of meadow are recorded. There may have been devastation at the Conquest as elsewhere in this area, for the value of the estates in contrast to most estates in the hundred only rose from £15 to £16 in the following twenty years. (fn. 230) But this account does not include the whole of the medieval parish. Stratton, through described in Domesday Book, is omitted here as it later became a separate parish; it had its own field system and manorial courts and its early agrarian history will be found below in the account of Stratton Audley parish. Bignell is also omitted, as Domesday gives no details about the hamlet, which was probably included in the account of Kirtlington. (fn. 231)
The Hundred Rolls survey of 1279 records a number of developments. Bicester Priory, by then lord of Wretchwick manor, had 10 virgates in demesne and 18½ virgates held by 25 villein virgaters and half-virgaters. The rents and works of each were worth 10s. or 5s. There were also 2 cotlanders, each owing rents and works worth 4s., and 5 cottagers with rents of 1s. to 2s., who may have owned a few acres as well. In Bicester Market End the Earl of Lincoln had 3 carucates in demesne and had 7 villein virgaters, a half-virgater, and 6 tenants with 5 acres each. The prior held 1½ hides in free alms of this manor, and there were two other recorded free tenants: Robert Clerk with a virgate, and Robert Puff the miller, who paid a rent of 5s. to the prior. (fn. 232) The earl's villein tenants may have been rather better off than the prior's: only payment of rent is mentioned and this was 2s. lower than that exacted on the prior's manor. (fn. 233)
In the south-west of the parish, Bignell manor was remarkable for the number of its free tenants, a consequence no doubt of its status as ancient demesne. Walter de Langley held 2 carucates in demesne with meadow and pasture. He had 12 villein virgaters, who each paid a rent of 2s. 2d. and owed works and tallage at the lord's will. Beside these there were 3 free virgaters and 3 free half-virgaters, paying rents of 10s. the virgate and 5s. the ½-virgate. In addition the Prior of Bicester had 16 acres and the Prioress of Markyate (Beds.) had a small manor. She held a carucate of land in demesne and had 11 villeins, who held 6 virgates between them. They paid rent at the rate of 5s. the virgate, owed works and tallage at will, and were bound to pay fines if their sons left the manor (redimere pueros). (fn. 234) This is the earliest account of the settlement, which is later known as Bicester King's End, though the nunnery must have been granted its estate here before 1212, and may have held it since its foundation in 1145. (fn. 235) Its grange and the hamlet of King's End might, therefore, date from the mid-12th century.
There were about 35 recorded virgates on the Kirtlington fee (i.e. in Bignell), and 56 in the Market End and Wretchwick manors, assuming that the prior's 1½ hides in Market End can be equated with 6 virgates. Thus 91 arable virgates were recorded. As the virgate on at least one of the manors equalled 28 or 30 acres, it is possible that roughly 2,730 field acres were under cultivation at this time. (fn. 236)
The Hundred Rolls account of the tenants is incomplete. Domesday records 47 peasants on the Market End and Wretchwick manors, the Hundred Rolls only one more, although numbers elsewhere in Ploughley hundred had risen considerably since 1086. A comparison of the figures given in the 1279 survey with those given in an extent of Market End manor in 1310 shows that most of the free tenants, probably free craftsmen and traders living on the market, were omitted from the 1279 survey of the estate. (fn. 237)
Early charters, 14th-century extents and custumals, court rolls, and tax lists provide miscellaneous information about the topography of the fields and the manorial organization of the estates. The number of persons taxed and the amounts paid in the first half of the 14th century give a clue to the relative wealth and at least a minimum figure for the size of the town and its hamlets. In 1316 at Market End 122 contributors paid £9 1s. 7d., 35 at King's End paid £4 18s. 10d., and at Bignell 11 paid £20s. 11d, (fn. 238) On this and other occasions Wretchwick appears to have been included in Market End. (fn. 239) After the reassessment of tax payments in 1334 Market End paid £10 19s. 10d., King's End £5 5s. 2d., and Bignell £2 3s. 11d. (fn. 240)
A manorial extent of 1310 shows that the Earl of Lincoln's Market End manor contained a messuage with fishpond worth 10s. a year, a dovecot worth 2s., 160 acres of arable valued at 3d. the acre, 16 acres of meadow valued at the high price of 3s. the acre, and 'several' pasture worth 2s. The earl's 22 free tenants rendered £3 15s. 8d., (fn. 241) the 20 villeins £5 0s. 10d., while their summer and autumn works were valued at £1. Their annual tallage was £1 6s. The total value including the profit of the market was given as £17 16s. 10d. (fn. 242) The prior's manor of Wretchwick was worth £20, but he also held 4 carucates of arable of the earl, 20 acres of meadow and a water-mill, which were valued at £40. (fn. 243) Thus, since 1279 it appears that the earl's demesne had decreased and the prior's holding had increased from 1½ to 4 carucates. (fn. 244)
The Prioress of Markyate's King's End manor, comprising 10 virgates (fn. 245) or about 300 field acres, was valued in c. 1325 at £7 11s. 8¼d. Of this £1 14s. 6d. came from the rents and services of the customary tenants and £3 4s. 6¾d. from leaseholders. (fn. 246)
When Bignell manor was extended in 1361 it had 120 acres of arable, each acre being worth 2d.; 7 acres of meadow, worth 1s. 6d. an acre; separate pasture worth 2s.; and common pasture for 2 carthorses, 8 oxen, and 120 sheep. The rents of free tenants amounted to £2 5s. 2d.; those of 3 virgaters and 6 half-virgaters to £1 4s. 9d. The customary tenants also owed an aid of 9s. at Michaelmas. Five cottagers paid a rent of 13s., but 4 villein cottages and 2½ virgates of land were tenantless and their produce had been sold for 8s. 1d. (fn. 247)
It is clear that the ancient parish, excluding Stratton, (fn. 248) originally had two sets of fields: one for Bicester Bury End, or Market End as the town came to be called, although the fields were always decribed as in Bury End throughout the Middle Ages; and another set for the townships of Bignell and Bicester King's End.
One of Gilbert Basset's foundation charters implies that there were two fields on his Market End estate in the 12th century, and a survey of c. 1325 shows that Bignell had two fields, a North and a South Field, (fn. 249) which were shared by Bignell manor and the nuns' King's End manor. The survey's mention of 'Oldfield' suggests that the ancient twofield system had undergone some reorganization, but a Bignell extent of 1361 describes the demesne arable as half sown and half fallow, and so indicates that there was still a simple two-course rotation. (fn. 250) On the Market End demesne, however, two parts of the arable were stated in 1349 to be sown each year. (fn. 251)
By 1399 there were certainly three fields in Market End as well as signs of variations in the normal threecourse rotation. A number of furlongs could be sown each year if it was so agreed', and another furlong could be sown only with the consent of the tenants. (fn. 252) The prior's land was unequally distributed among the three fields: he had 153½ acres and 3 butts in North Field, 60 acres in Langford Field, and about 110 in East Field. Each acre is said to contain 2 selions, while 4 and sometimes more roods made an acre and 5 to 8 butts according to their size went to the acre. (fn. 253)
The main crops grown were wheat, barley, beans, and peas, with barley taking an easy lead on at least part of the priory lands. The grange account of 1397, for instance, shows that 301 quarters of barley were threshed, 178 of wheat, and 57 of beans and peas. (fn. 254)
There is some evidence about manorial organization and customs. The survey of the Markyate manor records that the prioress had seven hereditary free tenants and six who held for life. The latter appear to form a class of especially privileged craftsmen and women, among them Maud the tailoress and John the baker and his wife. The demesne was leased on various terms: some tenants held for life by copy, some by indenture, and some at will. (fn. 255) Full details are given about the customary services of the villeins. A villein tenant owed one ploughing service in winter, one mowing service, and a 'we[e]d bedrip' with food at the lady's will and a half-day's mowing. He was entitled to 'evenyngs', i.e. a virgater or a half-virgater with a companion could carry home as much hay as he could lift on his scythe, and also to a breakfast (jentaculum) at the lady's expense. All the customary tenants had to turn, lift, and cock the hay in 'Gilberdesham' meadow. Each had to cart four cart-loads of hay to the lady's court. A virgater also owed three boon-works in autumn—one boon-work without food with three men, one boon-work without food with one man, and a third with his whole family except for his wife. If he was a binder he was entitled to a sheaf of corn when the last sheaf was bound; if he had food he was not to have a sheaf. He had to carry four cartloads of corn in autumn to the lady's manor and was given breakfast. He could be tallaged annually at will, he might not sell a male horse or an ox of his own breeding, nor put his son to learning, nor marry his daughter without licence. If the prioress was in residence the customary tenant had to supply her with food and drink at her will for as long as she stayed in the county. In addition the half-virgater owed an annual rent of 2s. 6d. (fn. 256)
On the prior's manor of Wretchwick it was customary for a widow to keep her husband's holding as long as she remained unmarried. (fn. 257) But this was contingent on her being able to pay the heriot and having sufficient capital to carry on. In the case of a villein virgater, whose heriot was an ox and a cow, priced at 13s., the jurors reported in 1344 that his widow could not hold the messuage and land on account of poverty. (fn. 258) Another Wretchwick custom was that if the land was sown on the death of a tenant and his widow could not find sufficient pledges to support her claim to the land they had jointly held, then the lord should choose who should be invested with the land. (fn. 259) Fines on entry were probably of varying amounts, but a fine of £3 6s. 8d. was exacted on at least two occasions for entering a villein messuage and virgate. (fn. 260) A fine of 10s. was paid by a virgater for licence to marry a widow. (fn. 261)
From an early date there was a marked tendency to inclose pasture and meadow, although lot meadows also persisted. (fn. 262) Apart from the inclosed crofts attached to each messuage, which were commonly found in most villages, the demesne pasture of the Bassets was inclosed in the late 12th century, as the foundation charter of Bicester Priory shows. Gilbert Basset granted the priory both demesne and common pasture for 400 sheep, and also the right to depasture three teams of oxen in his demesne. (fn. 263) Then early in the next century William Longespée, the successor of the Bassets, made a grant of land in Wretchwick (tota cultura ... quae vocatur Horscroft) with the adjoining demesne meadow so that the canons might inclose it. (fn. 264) In 1309 there was a dispute over this or another inclosure with the tenants of Market End manor, who claimed common of pasture for their cattle in the prior's field in Wretchwick called the Breach. (fn. 265) Another dispute over pasture rights, this time with the canons of Ashridge, had ended a few years earlier with Bicester Priory being allowed to appropriate and inclose 3 acres of common in Wretchwick. (fn. 266)
Fourteenth-century records also show that there was much inclosed land, particularly in Wretchwick. Court rolls of 1343 and 1348 for Wretchwick, for instance, contain many fines for trespass in the lord's separate pasture, (fn. 267) and there is evidence that in addition to the Breach, there was a large 'New Close' which was later (1425) being farmed for as much as £3 6s. 8d. (fn. 268) There are also many references to closes on the Market End manor. The lord allowed the priory and also the lords of Caversfield's two manors rights in his separate pastures beyond Bucknell Bridge and the 'old ford'; in exchange he and the priory had pasture rights in Caversfield. In two other separate pasture grounds, called Twyfold More and Langford Hawes, the priory had had rights since its foundation. (fn. 269) In the early 15th century it was probably a shortage of pasture which led to the priory's being deprived of these rights, but in 1405 after protest it was given a demesne meadow, Cowbridge Mead, in exchange. (fn. 270)
There are signs that economic decline had already begun before the economy of the parish was disorganized by a very severe visitation of the Black Death in 1349. Rents from customary tenants on the Wretchwick manor amounted only to £3 6s. 8d. in 1345, (fn. 271) a good deal less than in 1296 or 1303, when the annual rent was over £4 3s. in addition to an aid each year of about £4. (fn. 272) The priory, indeed, may have been inclosing because of the difficulty of finding tenants: in 1345 vacant land was being leased for 23s. 5d. to men of Blackthorn in the neighbouring parish of Ambrosden. (fn. 273) Nevertheless, the decline must have been accelerated after 1349. The death-roll was clearly high: two priors and the parish priest died, (fn. 274) and Roger Lestrange's inquisition post mortem shows that the rents from the free tenants of his Market End manor had dropped from £5 12s. 5d. to £3 12s. owing to deaths in the pestilence. (fn. 275) Their lands lay 'fallow and uncultivated' and were valueless. The rents from villein tenants had dropped even more catastrophically; they were worth £1 instead of £4 2s. No new tenants could be found to take up the holdings of the dead men, 'for almost all the men in these parts are dead in this pestilence'. Cultivation of the demesne land suffered: only 5s. was forthcoming for the autumn works of the tenants. Both the toll from the market and the receipts from the court had diminished on account of the depopulation.
The first clear intimation of the disaster which had overtaken the whole parish, however, is the comparatively large tax abatements allowed in 1354. Wretchwick was remitted 4s., King's End (including Bignell) 3s., and Market End 2s. Only to Tusmore and Kirtlington in Ploughley hundred were larger sums remitted. (fn. 276) In 1356 and in later bursars' accounts of the priory there are references to the repayment of sums paid for the 15th, (fn. 277) and in 1412 part of Wretchwick's 15th for the 'prior's gift' was remitted. (fn. 278) The details given in the account for the year 1433–4 show that this hamlet had failed to recover its former prosperity: several tofts and crofts had not been taken up that year and were in the lord's hand; only £2 3s. 4d. had been received from vacant lands, meadows, and pastures in Wretchwick fields, owing to the poverty of the tenants and because much land (multe et quamplurime) lay untitled. Fines levied in the manorial court were remitted and 3s. 4d. was given by the priory towards the payment of the 15th to the king. (fn. 279) A rental of 1432–7 giving the names of men renting tenements and crofts in Wretchwick shows that the community was small. Never more than ten names a year are listed. Moreover, vacant tenements are again in evidence. The rental for Michaelmas 1432 under the heading 'tofts and vacant crofts' lists 12 of which 10 were rented by other Wretchwick tenants and 2 were still vacant. It is significant that the rents of some of the 'vacant' tofts show a progressive decline. One, for instance, which was let for 4s. in Michaelmas 1432 was let for 2s. in Epiphany 1433. (fn. 280) Vacant land was again recorded in 1447, and in 1452 customary rents only amounted to £2 19s. 8d., while £1 15s. 5½d. was received from vacant land leased to men of Blackthorn 'to be sown'. (fn. 281) Part of this poverty was evidently due to murrain among the sheep and cattle, which was probably worse on the heavy clay soil of Wretchwick with its many streams than on the Cornbrash in the rest of the parish. It was recorded as 'grevious' in 1409, and 1446 and 1452 were other exceptionally bad agricultural years. (fn. 282) In 1412 there had been floods. (fn. 283)
Bignell also suffered from economic difficulties. In 1361 2½ virgates of villein land and four cottages were in the lord's hand for lack of tenants. (fn. 284)
It is likely that the lack of tenants in the 14th century encouraged an increase in sheep-farming. Sheep flocks had long been an important part of the economy on the priory lands. The priory's sheepfolds at Crockwell to the north of Bicester and at Wretchwick in the south are recorded in the 13th century, (fn. 285) and the prior had been among the religious from whom a loan, mainly on wool, had been demanded for the war with France in 1347. (fn. 286) In 1409 a new sheepcote and shepherd's house were built at Wretchwick, but it is no tclear if this was an extension or merely a modernization of the old buildings. (fn. 287) At least by 1447 the priory had a grange near its Crockwell fold. (fn. 288) The surviving 15thcentury accounts of the priory contain regular entries concerning the care of the sheep and the disposal of their products. (fn. 289) The guest house was supplied with mutton and lamb; skins and wool were sold. In 1424–5 the receipts from the sale of wool amounted to £11 10s. 6d. The chief purchaser was an Oxford merchant, who bought 23 tods of pure wool at 9s. 6d. the tod. (fn. 290) In 1447 as many as 28 men and women were hired for sheep-washing at Wretchwick. (fn. 291)
Cattle as well as sheep were pastured in the Wretchwick closes. By the 15th century and probably earlier the Breach (an inclosure of 40 acres) (fn. 292) was being used as a dairy farm. An account of 1406–7 kept by Henry and Joan Dey, the dairyman and woman, gives details of the farm. The payment of 17s. 9d. to ploughmen shows that it was a mixed farm; cheese and butter worth £3 7s. 6d. were sold to the priory, and calves and old cows to the butchers of Bicester and Launton. The Deys' receipts were £4 13s. 7½d., and their expenses £7 7s. 5d. (fn. 293) In the year 1424–5 the bursars' account records the receipt of £1 15s. 6d. from the Deys, but by 1433–4 the system of running the farm with paid servants—the Deys' stipend was 13s. 4d.—had been abandoned and it was leased for £6 a year. (fn. 294)
A decision to inclose more land at Wretchwick appears to have been taken at the end of the 15th century. In 1517 the prior was accused of having pulled down five houses in the hamlet in the year 1489; it was said that he had inclosed 200 acres of arable there, and that he had converted to pasture the lands of the messuages, each messuage having at least 30 acres of arable land. Three plough-teams had thus been put out of work and eighteen persons had lost their livelihood; they were obliged to wander wretchedly (dolorose) and seek their bread elsewhere. (fn. 295) The alleged value of the land was £6 13s. 4d. A worse disaster overtook the canons themselves between 1520 and 1530. The community was mortally attacked by the sweating sickness. The sheep also died off and it was reported that there were few or none, and that the prior intended to buy as many as he could afford. (fn. 296) But demesne farming was by this time on a small scale. In 1535 the priory had only 49 acres of inclosed pasture and meadow, mostly in Wretchwick, in hand, and had leased for a term of years to a Bicester draper and others a number of closes, which had formerly been demesne land. The land in hand brought in £6 17s. 7d. The receipts from leased land were £22 4s. (fn. 297)
The process of inclosure may have continued during the second half of the century, but the evidence is contradictory. In 1608 the vicar complained in Chancery 'that whereas Wretchwick had been heretofore well manured and inhabited with at least 30 several tenants... whose small tithes would be worth 100 marks', the manor was depopulated owing to the misdeeds of the Blounts. (fn. 298) The defendants replied that any conversion to pasture, if any there was, was done before the dissolution of the priory. (fn. 299) Wretchwick, however, was certainly all inclosed long before the Parliamentary inclosure in the second half of the 18th century of Market End and King's End fields. A pre-inclosure map of 1753 of Bicester Fields shows that there were also already extensive inclosures, named King's End Mead and King's End Inclosure, in the Bignell or King's End Field. The present Bignell House, the supposed site of Bignell hamlet, was also surrounded by inclosed land. Indeed, the hamlet's final decline seems to have occurred during the 16th century. The evidence of the court rolls and the subsidy lists points to this. Until at least 1549 a Bignell tithing seems to have attended the Kirtlington leet court. In Henry VII's reign the hamlet's name appears on the roll. On the next surviving roll of 1515 it was presented that George Staveley and the inhabitants of his vill of Bignell had defaulted in their suit and there was a similar presentment in 1520. (fn. 300) Nevertheless Bignell though no longer separately entered appears to be included in the two tithings of King's End until the end of Henry VIII's reign, when a return was made to the old form of entry. (fn. 301) In Elizabethan times and later only two King's End tithings are ever represented instead of the former four. (fn. 302) By Elizabeth I's reign, too, the hamlet of Bignell had become too small to be assessed separately for taxation, (fn. 303) and by 1695 White Kennett wrote that there was only one farm left. (fn. 304)
The treatment of the common arable land seems to have been conservative. There are indications that some tenants on the Markyate manor had accumulated by sale or exchange numbers of contiguous strips by 1325, but for the most part holdings remained minutely subdivided, and in 1579 an account of Michael Blount's lands in King's End fields shows that his 29 acres were still almost all divided into ½-acre strips. (fn. 305) The court rolls of Kirtlington for the Tudor period and later also show that the open fields of King's End were being managed in the traditional way. The stint of sheep and horses was a common subject for regulation, and presentments for pasturing animals on prohibited grounds were frequent. In the first half of the 17th century Cadwallader Coker was several times presented for making small inclosures. (fn. 306) A roll of 1609 throws light on how the regulations, enrolled from time to time by the courts, were drawn up. It was then agreed that all the inhabitants of Bicester King's End and Bignell should meet at King's End cross on New Year's eve and agree 'upon some good orders', which were to be delivered to the steward. (fn. 307) An observation of Robert Plot's, however, shows that 17th-century farmers at Bicester could sometimes be inventive. He says that dry land was commonly broken with a beetle after harrowing, but that at Bicester they had a much quicker way and used a weighty octangular roll, 'the edges whereof meeting with the clods would break them effectually. (fn. 308)
In 1758 the agricultural scene and practice were transformed by inclosure. Sir Edward Turner and others had obtained an act for inclosing the field and commons of Market End in 1757. (fn. 309) By the award Sir Edward received about 230 acres and Christopher Metcalfe about 236 acres out of a total of some 1,200 acres. There were four allotments of between 99 and 62 acres; four of 30 to 20 acres, and 27 allottees received smaller allotments, some of a few rods only. Nine men were given 2 rods in the Moor as compensation for loss of common rights for a horse and cow. (fn. 310)
It was not until 1793 that an act was obtained for inclosing the common land at King's End, on the grounds that the land of the proprietors was so dispersed in small parcels as 'to be incapable of any considerable improvement'. (fn. 311) The award was made in 1794. The area inclosed was 1,302 acres; the chief allottees were John Coker, who as lord of the manor was entitled to the waste and common pasture 'by determinate stints' (631 a.); Sir Gregory PageTurner, the lay rector (168 a.); the vicar (54 a.), and Dame Elizabeth Dashwood, who held the residue of the open land (433 a.). Some small allotments of 10 acres and under were made to Richard Pates, the churchwardens, the constable, and the tithingmen. (fn. 312)
At the turn of the century Bicester fields were on the whole exceptionally well farmed. John Coker, with land at neighbouring Wendlebury as well as at Bicester, had large-scale dairy farms. He kept a breed of long-horned cattle, which was considered particularly suitable for the poorish soil, and was noted for his butter and cheese production. (fn. 313) The whole district was in fact reputed for its butter, and Arthur Young recorded that weekly wagons of butter were sent to London. William Forster at Bignell was another successful farmer; Young considered him 'one of the best cultivators in the country'. His longhorned cattle fetched high prices; his cross-bred sheep were successful; and he was exceptional in using heifers for ploughing. He experimented in grass seeds—white clover, hay seeds, and sainfoin. The last he valued highly and grew much of it. He used the Norfolk four-course rotation of turnips, barley or oats, clover, and wheat. Young especially admired him for sinking so much capital in the thorough drainage of his land: he dug drains 4 feet deep, by blasting with gunpowder. (fn. 314)
After inclosure the arable was normally divided into seven parts,1/7th under sainfoin, 2/7ths under seeds, 3/7ths under corn, and 1/7th under turnips. (fn. 315) The new crops most commonly used were turnips and clover, though some continued with the old rotation of wheat, beans and barley, common on the strong land before inclosure. (fn. 316) Rents of farm land at Bicester trebled at the end of the 18th century, but nevertheless by the 1820's agriculture in the parish was suffering from a severe depression. (fn. 317) The national need in the Napoleonic War had led to a great expansion of arable farming, and population had greatly increased. Now the market had collapsed and in 1822 owners and occupiers of land met at the 'Cross Keys' and passed a number of resolutions on the distressed state of agriculture. They regretted their inability to employ their increasing number of labourers, 'whose miserable and degraded subsistence is now derived from parochial contributions, tending to make them dangerous members in society and disloyal subjects'. Meanwhile the committee of the Bicester Agricultural Association was preparing petitions to both Houses opposing the free importation of agricultural goods from Ireland. (fn. 318) Later in the century, in the 1860's, it was reported that Bicester was predominantly a grazing parish and 'a great many men' were out of work and that some left their homes altogether to seek employment elsewhere during the summer months. (fn. 319)
The pattern of land-holding in the late 18th and early 19th centuries showed little change. The influence of the town and bailiwick in Market End fields was noticeable. In 1786 there were about 140 owners, of which 64 were owner-occupiers. The only big landowner was Sir Gregory Page-Turner; out of a total land tax of £411 16s. 11d. (of which £20 came from Excise duty), he paid over £171. He leased his land to eleven tenants. The return for 1800 gives details about some of the small town owners: typical of them was Sarah Penrose with her tax of £2 12s. for her house and 10s. for the surrounding land, which was let to two tenants. By 1816 owneroccupiers had increased to about 85, and in 1832 it is stated that 'all the estates and property in this township consist of about 62 freeholds and the remainder is held by leases for long terms of years at peppercorn rents (if demanded)' of 1d. a year, dating originally from 1597. In King's End there were 18 owners of whom 7 were owner-occupiers. There were 19 tenants and the total land tax amounted to about £92. The largest landowners were the Revd. Mr. Coker, paying over £42, Sir Henry Dashwood, paying over £29, and Sir Gregory Page-Turner, paying £11 odd. By 1816 Dashwood had sold his land to John Coker and others. (fn. 320)
By 1851 there were some largish farms: Langford farm in Wretchwick, for instance, comprised 500 acres and employed 14 men; King's End Field farm in Bignell comprised 400 acres and employed 13 men and another King's End farm was over 400 acres. There were at least ten other farms of between 100 and 260 acres. (fn. 321) Mr. C. T. Hoare, who bought Bignell House and park in 1884, was a well-known farmer. By 1929 he farmed about 1,460 acres and kept a fine stud of shire horses and a large flock of Hampshire Down sheep. He laid down extensive plantations in and around the park. (fn. 322)
In 1881 the Ordnance Survey map marked nine farms. In 1955 there were still nine, but most of the land belonging to Home farm had been taken for the Western Development Scheme, and the War Office had bought land from Manor, Langford, and Wretchwick farms for the Arncot Depot. (fn. 323)
In 1086 two mills together valued at £2 were recorded as part of the D'Oilly holding. (fn. 324) These mills are later found attached to Wretchwick and Market End manors.
In about 1180 Gilbert Basset gave a little meadow and a mill-pond to Bicester Priory so that it might make a mill on the site of the old one or near by. The flow of water had been recently increased. (fn. 325) Later Basset consented to an agreement made between the prior and Basset's men of Wretchwick whereby the men were granted 2 acres of meadow at the head of their crofts beside the stream, so that they might make a mill-pond and a way to the mill. It was agreed that if the mill should be abandoned the acres were to be returned to the canons, who undertook to level the ground as before. (fn. 326) The agreement was confirmed in 1315 by the king. (fn. 327) The mill continued in the canons' possession until the Dissolution. (fn. 328) It was afterwards granted to Roger Moore with the priory buildings and estate. It was then valued with the Bell Inn at £6 14s. (fn. 329) It followed the descent of the manor of the Moore family and passed to the Blounts, the Glynnes and Turners. (fn. 330) In 1609 when the Blounts were in possession it was valued at £4 14s. (fn. 331) It was situated in Water Lane (later Chapel Street), where the mill stream can still (1956) be seen.
The other Domesday mill was given by William Longespée to the priory in c. 1245. (fn. 332) It was then held of him by a free tenant Robert Puff, whose family was to continue as millers for several generations. (fn. 333) The grant to the priory reserved free multure to Puff and his heirs. (fn. 334) A confirmatory charter by the overlord in 1286 reveals that there had been some evasion of suit to this mill by the tenants of Wretchwick manor. A fine of two 'sous' was ordered to be imposed on those who carried corn elsewhere. (fn. 335) In 1279 the Puffs were paying a rent of 5s., (fn. 336) a rent which exceeded any in the district, probably because the custom of the townsmen made the mill valuable. This mill lay on the stream near Langford Bridge on the Aylesbury road, and traces of it could be seen in the 1880's. (fn. 337)
The priory accounts contain numerous references to a water-mill, but whether they are to both mills or only to the Water Lane one is uncertain. In 1326–7, for instance, freestone, lime, and iron were purchased for the mill-gate; in Richard II's reign a great wheel and a cog-wheel were renewed; in 1424–5 and again in 1432–3, 26s. 8d. was received for the lease of the Water Lane mill. (fn. 338)
Besides the water-mills, there was a horse-mill within the priory grounds for the convent's own special use. This was farmed in 1407–8 for £4 13s. 4d. and in 1411–12 for £4. (fn. 339) In 1424–5 only 36s. was obtained for the farm on account of the falsity of the miller, who after occupying it for a half-year and more fled without making any payment. (fn. 340) In 1432–3 the bursar recorded the receipt of £6 4s. 4d. from the horse-mill, then in the priory's hands. (fn. 341) It was last recorded in 1545. (fn. 342) It must have been one of these mills which the prior leased to the Couplands (or Coplands) at some date before 1535, when Margery Coupland was imprisoned in Wallingford jail for sedition. (fn. 343)
There was also a windmill. It is first recorded in 1285–6, when Henry de Lacy gave his Bicester windmill to the priory. (fn. 344) In 1396–7 this mill was either renewed or a new one was erected at a cost of £20 14s. (fn. 345) It was made by a carpenter named William Thompson and full details of its construction are given on the account roll. The following points may be noted here: 'Estrygebord' and canvas for the sails had to be bought in London; two millstones were bought at Islip; iron came from Banbury; keys were made at Woodstock and Bicester. (fn. 346) The mill was farmed this year for 26s. 8d., but in the year 1411–12 nothing was received because the mill had been assigned with the prior's consent as an endowment for William Hayle's chantry. (fn. 347) It may have been on the site of the one shown in a map of 1753, which lies to the north-east of the town. (fn. 348)
Another windmill belonged to Bignell manor. It is first recorded in 1279 when it was worth 13s. 4d. (fn. 349) In about 1280 Alice de Langley, lady of Bignell, granted a building site in the town, but reserved suit of court and of mill with all wheat and barley. (fn. 350) The descent of this mill followed that of Bignell manor. (fn. 351) The surviving court rolls of the Tudor period often refer to the Staveleys' miller. In 1521–2, for example, he was presented for taking excessive toll. (fn. 352) The mill is known to have been in use in the 1570's, when Thomas Staveley was lord. (fn. 353) It appears to have passed with other land in Bignell manor to the Cokers: in 1819 they were stated to have two windmills, one possibly Bignell mill and the other the onetime priory mill. (fn. 354) A 'post windmill', which was at work and up for sale in 1836, may have been one of these two. (fn. 355) A windmill near the Middleton road in King's End (or Bignell) field was finally blown down in 1881. (fn. 356) It was clearly the one depicted by Thomas Williams on his map of 1753.
Markets and Fairs.
William de Longespée obtained from the king in 1239 the grant of a market for his Bicester manor. (fn. 357) As the jurors stated at the inquiry of 1279 that Henry III had granted the market, it is probable that this was the original grant and not a confirmation. (fn. 358) De Longespée like other founders of market-towns no doubt hoped to profit from the market dues and an increase in rents. The vill already enjoyed certain advantages which might be expected to assist its development: it lay at the meeting of two of the main lines of communication between the south and the Midlands; (fn. 359) as a part of the honor of Wallingford it shared in the privileges of the honor, and its tenants were free from toll and other dues normally exacted from traders in 'foreign markets' as well as from many royal taxes. (fn. 360) The presence of the monastery, moreover, and the maintenance of a household not only for the canons themselves but for visitors of all ranks, guaranteed a constant demand.
The grant of the market was followed in 1252 by a licence to hold a fair for three days on and about the feast of St. Edburg (18 July). (fn. 361) There is no direct evidence that the earl offered traders any special privileges beyond the free market, but it is more than likely that he tried to attract settlement by offering building sites in return for money rents only. Indeed, early charters show that some of the inhabitants enjoyed a privileged form of tenure resembling burgess tenure; they might give or sell their tenements freely to anyone (religious men and Jews are sometimes excepted); they owed no service beyond an annual rent, which was sometimes one of 12d., an amount common in newly founded towns of this period. (fn. 362) In some cases houses were granted with the right to bequeath freely, and there is also at least one instance of a grant with a clause, often found in charters relating to urban property, which stipulates that if the grantee should wish to sell then he must first offer the property to the grantor or his heirs at a lower price than to others. (fn. 363)
The venture was successful. A community developed which was far larger than that of the ordinary agrarian village and which must have depended to some extent on trade. The Hundred Rolls apparently omit all record of the market community, but it is significant that among the villein tenants of the earl and the prior were three called Chapman, who held only ½ or ¼ virgate each, and that one of the five cottars of Wretchwick, who paid rent only, was Philip the Merchant. One of the few free tenants recorded was Robert Clerk, the local scribe, (fn. 364) whose brother, William the Shipman, was apprenticed in London. (fn. 365) Other surnames show that families from the neighbouring villages of Cottisford, Stratton, Wendlebury, and Drayton (Bucks.) had been attracted to Bicester. But the first definite evidence for the growth of the market comes from an extent of 1310, which records the comparatively large number of 22 free tenants, rendering £3 15s. 8d. and probably 'living on the market', and a Friday market worth £1. (fn. 366) The early 14th-century tax lists, with a high number of contributors in Bicester Market End compared with those in Bignell or King's End, and the relatively large sum at which the parish as a whole was assessed, are, however, the best evidence for the progress which had been made. In 1316 the total tax was over £16 and in 1344 £18 8s. 11d., compared with £11 17s. 9d. paid by Charlton and its two hamlets, which was the heaviest-taxed rural parish in the hundred. (fn. 367) But the community remained too humble a one to make any effort to obtain selfgovernment. In 1327 the largest contribution from a townsman was 3s., except for that of Jacob Daniel, who was surely a Jew. (fn. 368) Many of Bicester's traders were also partly dependent on agriculture, for their charters show that some had 'great gates' to their town houses, which probably opened on to yards for cattle and horses, and that they had many acres in the fields. Even so they were less well off than many of the inhabitants of rural villages. (fn. 369) The limited scope of the market at this time is, moreover, indirectly revealed by the priory accounts. They make few specific references to it, and though probably more was bought and sold in Bicester than appears, it is clear that for all luxuries and for most necessities the priory went regularly to other markets and fairs in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, or Northamptonshire as well as to the annual Stourbridge fair. (fn. 370)
Notable among the trade names recorded in the 14th century are the following: barker, currier, skinner, glover, fuller, dyer, webber. (fn. 371) There are some references to individual tradesmen such as Richard Skinner, who purchased skins; Thomas Tanner and 'other merchants in the market', who bought ox-hides; Robert Brasier, who sold red wine, and Thomas Draper, who sold cloth hoods. (fn. 372) At least one foreigner was settled in the town by the early 15th century—the Brabanter Hans Taillour of 'Merebek', and it is possible that the Gilbert Janekyns taxed in 1316 may have been an earlier immigrant. (fn. 373)
The severity of the Black Death of 1349 both in Bicester parish and the surrounding villages considerably reduced Market End's prosperity. (fn. 374) The toll from the market fell off and was stated to be 'no more than 30s. on account of the pestilence'. (fn. 375) It is possible that the market suffered further loss after 1377, when the king granted Sir John de Worthe of Bignell a Monday market and a three-day fair about the feast of St. James (25 July), (fn. 376) but although it was customary for markets not to be set up within five miles of one another, there is no record that the lord of Market End protested against the infringement of his market rights. The Bignell market was confirmed to its lords in 1439 and 1463–4, but is not heard of later. (fn. 377) In 1441 a 'new' Friday market in Bicester Market End was granted to the king's servant Robert Brooke for life. He was to have picage, stallage, boothage, and toll with the assize of bread and ale and all the profits therefrom for an annual 6s. 8d. to the king. (fn. 378) There is no recorded explanation of this 'new market'. It is possible that it refers to the beginning of the Sheep Street Market for sheep and cattle (see below), the old market continuing as a general market in Market Square. The lordship of the market continued in the possession of the lords of Market End manor.
Evidence from the 16th and 17th centuries indicates that the town was prospering. Out of the 108 contributors in the parish to the subsidy of 1524, 84 were listed under Market End and 21 under King's End. Many farmers and peasants, of course, lived in both ends of Bicester, but the majority of contributors in both parts must have been traders and craftsmen. (fn. 379) Indeed, when Leland visited Bicester about this time, he especially commented on the 'common market', and in 1622 an anonymous writer described Bicester as a 'very good market for all manner of cattle and well supplied with all kinds of trades'. (fn. 380) By this time the market was no longer controlled by the lord of the manor, but by a bailiff appointed by the various purchasers, some of them tradesmen, of the Earl of Derby's manorial rights. The owners of the bailiwick, as it was called, did not enjoy corporate rights and the absence of incorporation was said to be an advantage to traders. (fn. 381) Towards the end of the 17th century White Kennett, who had lived in Bicester, wrote that the Friday market was 'a great resort and a good vend for all country commodities, especially all sorts of cattle', which were sold in Sheep Street. (fn. 382)
The market's prosperity, however, was seriously checked in the 18th century, when the smallpox epidemic of 1704 nearly ruined it. Grass grew in the market-place so that it looked like 'a meadow'. (fn. 383) This disaster was followed by the great fire of 1724, which destroyed quantities of stores of malt, barley, beans, oats, tobacco, flax, hemp, hay, candles, household and other goods. The loss was computed at £2,231. (fn. 384) In the middle of the century Sir Edward Turner's Horned Cattle Bill inflicted another blow. In 1752 he wrote that Bicester 'hath suffered more than any other in the county by the prohibition of markets'. (fn. 385) In 1790, however, the market could still be described as large, and the spring and autumn markets for the sale of sheep as 'very large', with graziers coming from distances of 20 miles. (fn. 386) In the early 19th century 300 to 500 sheep and 40 to 50 cattle were still brought to the market each fortnight, but as a general market for butter, cheese, and other commodities it had declined. (fn. 387) The decline was accelerated by the severe cholera outbreak of 1832, which inflicted lasting damage. It cost over £700 to overcome and resulted 'in a total stagnation of trade'. (fn. 388)
Bicester's industries were the product of the custom attracted to the town by the market. Local produce—wool, skins, barley—encouraged particular trades such as glove-making, saddle-making, tanning, and malting, while those dependent on wool were many. (fn. 389) The clothworker, fuller, weaver, woolman, woollen draper, and clothier are found in 17thcentury records. (fn. 390) The following tradesmen are among the many others also recorded in this period: draper, linendraper, collarmaker, fellmonger, cordwainer, joiner, bodicemaker, slatter, plumber, mason, chandler, hempdresser, mercer, grocer, and grazier. (fn. 391) Two mercers, it may be noted, a vintner, a glover, and a tanner were among the town's aristocracy at the beginning of the 17th century. (fn. 392) Many townsmen were, of course, poor men, who left at their death chattels worth £6 and less, (fn. 393) but the feltmaker, whose stock of hats, hatbands, and household goods was valued at about £55 in 1637, was representative of a substantial number of lowermiddle-class men. (fn. 394) Some like Thomas Paxton, haberdasher, left goods valued at over £260, and in 1688 when a Bicester collarmaker petitioned the justices for help, because of the destruction of his house and stock by fire, his property was valued at £195. (fn. 395) A minor indication of trading activity is the special 'tokens' which were issued by some tradesmen in the second half of the century. Two of the influential Clements family—one a grocer and the other a draper—were among those to do so. (fn. 396) This family had tried to acquire sole control of the market and other manorial rights, and though defeated theirs must have been a predominant influence in the town. (fn. 397) In 1665 Richard Clements and William Potter paid tax on nine and twelve hearths, the highest numbers recorded except for those of the lord of the manor, Sir John Glynn, and two gentlemen.
A large proportion of the town's inhabitants who were taxed had houses with three hearths or less and so were less well housed than many a yeoman farmer. Of the 88 householders listed in Market End, sixteen were discharged on account of poverty. Six were listed in King's End. (fn. 398) In 1662 the tax had been paid by 124 in Market End and King's End together. (fn. 399) Of the real poor, who would certainly be more numerous in a town than in a village, there is no record. The value of the hearth-tax returns for the population of Bicester is dubious. A list of suitors of King's End to the Kirtlington court of 1592 gives 27 persons of which 26 bear different surnames; a list of about 1750 gives 41 names, 37 having different surnames. The hearth tax of 1662 lists only 12 names. (fn. 400) The figure of 844 adults given by the Compton Census of 1676 probably represents the total population of Bicester rather than the adult population, but as no nonconformists were recorded in this stronghold of nonconformity, the number is almost certainly an under-estimate. (fn. 401) A calculation based on Blomfield's analysis of the parish registers shows that the population increased little between 1670 and 1750. There were 3,440 baptisms as against 3,298 burials. Epidemics and infantile diseases (the number of monumental tablets in the church to young children is noticeable) helped to prevent growth until the last decades of the 18th century, when there was a definite advance. Between 1770 and 1800 there were 1,674 baptisms and 1,253 burials. (fn. 402) The incumbents' returns during the 18th century also indicate that there was an upward trend: they reported 200 houses in the 'town' in 1759; 400 or 500 in 1771; and 423 families and 2,046 souls in 1808. (fn. 403) The official census figures for 1801 had been 1,946.
With the 18th century new trades such as the peruke-maker's appeared and some exponents of old crafts acquired a more than local fame. (fn. 404) John Warcus, carpenter, who was employed at the Fermors' house at Tusmore in about 1789, should be noted. (fn. 405) His family was well established in Bicester at least by 1747, when William Warcus had a 'handsome dwelling house' and sought licence to make a small gallery for himself in the church. (fn. 406) The Hemins family should also be noted. At the end of the 17th century Edward Hemins, senior, made Islip's church clock and others. (fn. 407) His son Edward (d. 1744), who made lantern, long-case, and turret clocks, added bellfounding to the family business and supplied bells to Oriel College, All Saints' and St. Clement's churches in Oxford as well as to Ardley and a number of other villages in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Northamptonshire. The market bell, which once hung in Bicester shambles and is now at the Garth, was also made by him. The business closed in 1743 after casting a bell for Ambrosden, (fn. 408) but Bell Lane, where the business was, remains. Another notable clockmaker was William Ball, who was working round about 1760. (fn. 409) The family continued in the trade into the 19th century. (fn. 410) William Musselwhite was another late-18thcentury clockmaker and Thomas Tomlinson was working at the end of the 18th century and in the early 19th century. (fn. 411)
The town derived great benefit from improved communications. The construction of turnpikes was followed by that of the Oxford canal in 1790 with a wharf at Lower Heyford, six miles away. This was particularly valuable as it brought Bicester into direct connexion with the Wednesbury collieries and ensured a supply of cheap coal. (fn. 412) The railway followed in 1850. Minor manufactories in the 18th century were concerned with clothing, sacking, and leather slippers. The manufacture of sackcloth and the combing of jersey, which had been important, were declining by 1790, when most of the poor were being employed in the lace trade. (fn. 413) At this time the manufacture of the common leather slipper was the town's most important business. The Universal British Directory of Trade noted that it is supposed that at Bicester 'more are made than in any other place in the kingdom'. The directory's list of Bicester trades includes lacemen, sackcloth-makers, soapboilers, breeches-makers, stay-makers, hempdressers, a flaxdresser, a wool-sorter, a mantuamaker, a basket-maker, a cabinet-maker and all the common trades. (fn. 414)
Many of the town's traditional crafts suffered from the industrial revolution, otherwise the town was only indirectly affected. Its population in 1801 was under 2,000, and nearly half those gainfully employed were agricultural workers. By 1891 the peak figure for the century of 3,343 was reached. (fn. 415) Agriculture continued to be Bicester's chief occupation. The census of 1851 revealed that it employed the largest number of workers; the next largest group consisted of carpenters and masons. The mason's was an old trade: the priory had used a quarry at Crockwell throughout the Middle Ages, and in 1700 'Bissiter paving' was used in building the offices of Winslow Hall (Bucks.). (fn. 416) In the mid-19th century the women of the poorer classes were mainly employed in the home industries of lacemaking, dressmaking, tailoring, and millinery. (fn. 417) Lacemaking, however, is said to have declined somewhat in the early part of the century and to have been replaced by the new business of straw-plaiting, a subsidiary to the manufacture of straw hats. (fn. 418) This represented a social improvement, for lacemaking was regarded by enlightened persons as detrimental to the health of women and children. The ancient craft of brewing was by now conducted on a fairly large scale. Two brewers and seven maltsters were listed early in the century and by 1846 Shillingford's brewery, which acquired a considerable reputation, had been established. (fn. 419) In 1866 the manufacture of pale ale along with clothing and sacking were mentioned as Bicester's three chief manufactures by Fullarton's Imperial Gazetteer.
As an antidote to beer the 19th century encouraged popular reading. In 1846 Bicester had eleven booksellers and stationers, one of whom had 'news and reading rooms', while there was also a Depository for Christian Knowledge. (fn. 420) A small printing business had been in existence since 1790 and its owner, George Smith, had published the first Bicester Directory in 1819. The first local newspaper, the Bicester Advertiser, appeared in 1855 and the Bicester Herald four months later. The first was discontinued in 1866, but restarted in 1879; the other, published for most of its existence by George Hewiett or his son, came to an end in 1917. Two more papers were published in the town in the 19th century: the Illustrated Oxfordshire Telegraph, later called the Oxfordshire Telegraph, which ran from June 1859 to June 1894; and the Midland Mail, later called the South Midland Mail, which ran from 9 June to 5 October 1900. (fn. 421)
Among the minor industries were tanning, ropespinning, patten and clogmaking, the making of wooden ploughs and harrows, milling, coach-making (in spite of the new railway), and brickmaking. The railway introduced new employments: in the middle of the century well over 30 persons were directly occupied on railway work, most of them as labourers, while many like the coal merchants were indirectly dependent on it. (fn. 422)
Like other 19th-century market-towns Bicester had the usual group of professional men and civil servants. Chief among them were William and Thomas Tubb with Messrs. Kirby and Wooten, who had opened their bank in 1793. Tubb's bank issued its own notes until 1918, when it was taken over by Barclays bank. Until the 20th century it was without a rival; the Oxford and Buckinghamshire bank then opened a small sub-branch; in 1919 Lloyds and the Midland bank opened branches. (fn. 423)
Much of the town's prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries was due to the local horse-races and to the Bicester and Warden Hill Hunt. The races were being run at least as early as 1718. (fn. 424) They were said to have been held then in King's End Field, but later they were held at Northbrook in Kirtlington parish, on Bucknell Cow Common, or on Cottisford Heath. (fn. 425) They were an important social event and brought much trade to the town. Erasmus Philipps wrote in 1721 of the 'Plate Balls' in the Black Boy Inn and of the distinguished company there, which included leading members of London society, 'Martha of the Cocoa Tree' among them, as well as Oxfordshire gentry. (fn. 426) In 1755 it was the races on the 'adjacent plain' together with its excellent 'maltliquors' which were the only two points of interest about Bicester thought worthy of record by the Universal Magazine. In the early 19th century the Bicester Hunt organized races which were the first hunt races in the county; the 1837 meeting also made sporting history by opening two races to horses of the Bicester Troop. (fn. 427)
The Bicester and Warden Hill Hunt goes back to 1778, when John Warde kept a pack of hounds at Weston-on-the-Green and hunted the Bicester country. The hunt became known as the Bicester when the kennels were moved to Bicester in the early 19th century. (fn. 428) A number of trades—saddlers, harness-makers, farriers, horseclippers, breechesmakers, sporting tailors, ostlers and grooms—were in some cases almost entirely dependent on the work the hunt provided. (fn. 429) The hunt's reputation was maintained well into the 20th century, and since about 1930 the Boxing Day meet in the Market Square has become an outstanding event in the Bicester year. (fn. 430)
Another popular feature of 19th-century Bicester was its seven annual fairs. St. Edburg's three-day fair originated in 1252 and the King's End fair in 1377. (fn. 431) The last was granted to the lord of Bignell manor and was held 'in the manor of Bignell'. As he had property in King's End, the fair may always have been held in the main street of King's End and on the green, as it was in White Kennett's day. (fn. 432) Kennett stated that formerly it was of 'great note'. (fn. 433) It was still one of the best in the country in the early 19th century, according to Dunkin, although it had declined in importance during the Napoleonic wars. He states that it had been noted for its sales of leather, and that on account of the great numbers attending, watches had had to be appointed in Bicester and the surrounding villages to keep order. (fn. 434) Sheep and pony sales were still an important part of the fair in the early 20th century, but it has since degenerated into an amusement fair. (fn. 435) It was sold with the greater part of the Coker estate in 1918. (fn. 436)
In 1769 the steward of Market End appointed three additional fairs, to be held in Easter week, June, and December. (fn. 437) However, by the early 19th century only the Easter fair, which was noted as a cattle fair, and the autumn fairs were much attended. (fn. 438) Towards the end of the century Blomfield notes that an October fair was held for hiring servants. (fn. 439) There were nine fair days in 1939. (fn. 440)
As might be expected in a market-town, Bicester, since the days of the medieval 'Bell', has had many inns. (fn. 441) The market and fairs had always provided them with plenty of rough custom, but in the 18th century the races and coaching brought them a better-class clientele. The 'Swan', for example, was a prosperous inn with 'the greatest rent . . . in the parish'. Its innkeeper claimed that it was a 'well accustomed inn and that often times travellers of good custom and condition pass their Sundays there' and that he, therefore, ought to have a certain pew in the church, which had long been regarded as the inn's private property. (fn. 442) It later lost its custom because of the 'insolent remonstrances' of the landlord to Lord Abingdon and others, who brought their own wine when they came to the King's End races. (fn. 443) In 1847, in addition to the two leading inns, the 'King's Arms' and the 'Crown' (described in 1790 as 'capital'), there were eighteen others. (fn. 444) The decline of the market and of road traffic in the 19th century did not result in ruin, as the Bicester Hunt and the Heythrop Hunt, for which the town was within easy reach, provided new custom. The fame of the hunt under a succession of celebrated masters brought many visitors during the hunting season: Bicester stables were then full, inns were hardpressed, and the wine-merchants flourished. (fn. 445)
In 1921 in the Urban District 141 men were engaged in commerce and finance, 120 in transport, 77 as builders and bricklayers, 49 as metal workers, and 186 in agriculture. Of women, 159 were employed in personal service. This pattern of employment has since been considerably altered. Bicester's business has been expanded by the development of the R.A.F. station. It was first constructed in 1917, when it was a training-depot station for the Southern Army Command. It was closed in 1920 and reopened as a bomber station in 1928. A Station Headquarters was formed at Bicester in 1938. In 1939 it was being used as an operational training station and after 1945 as a supply centre for the British air forces in Germany. In post-war years agriculture, particularly the breeding of pigs and the cultivation of root crops, has been practised on an extensive scale at the station. (fn. 446)
Another great change has resulted from the establishment in 1941 of the Ordnance Depot at Arncot. It was completed shortly before 'D Day' in 1944 and in 1950 the War Office decided to make Bicester a peace-time garrison town, and barracks were built. (fn. 447) A camp for European Voluntary Workers was also established in 1948. These developments and the existence of the United States Air Force at Upper Heyford have had a noticeable effect on business. The café is now as conspicuous as the inn, a cinema flourishes, the taxicab-hire-service has been expanded, and motor and electrical engineers appear in Bicester's list of traders.
The Model Laundry, opened in 1938 and employing 50 persons, is one of the chief new businesses. The newest arrival is the firm of Norman Collisson (Contractors) Ltd. It was established in 1951 by Mr. N. Collisson, formerly of Banbury and the descendant of a family of masons, who have been master men in the trade in Northamptonshire or Oxfordshire since at least the early 17th century. The firm has an average of 160 employees and specializes in the restoration of historic buildings. (fn. 448)
Population has increased rapidly in recent years. The decline which followed 1891, the peak year for the 19th century, was arrested after 1918 and numbers rose rapidly after 1945. The population in 1951 of the Urban District, which is much smaller in area than the ancient parish, was 4,171. (fn. 449)
Throughout the medieval period the main organs of local government were the manorial courts of Bicester's four manors. (fn. 450) Few records of these have survived: a number of priory rolls for courts held at Bicester exist for the years beginning in 1286, 1308, 1340–3, 1356, 1360, 1403–5, and for 1431–3. (fn. 451) A few excerpts from rolls, now lost, of courts held at Wretchwick have been printed, (fn. 452) and a number of rolls of courts held at Kirtlington, to which Bignell and King's End owed suit, from the time of Henry VI are among the records of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Dashwood archives. (fn. 453) Leet jurisdiction was divided between the honor of Wallingford (later Ewelme) and Kirtlington. The steward of the honor held an annual view at Bicester, one of the six places in Oxfordshire where the honor's views were held. In Henry VIII's reign the 'bailiwick of Bicester' was one of the divisions of the honor. (fn. 454) The manors of Wretchwick and Bicester each paid 6s. 8d. certainty money. (fn. 455) Bignell and King's End, which included the nuns' manor, owed suit twice a year at Kirtlington and paid 13s. 4d. certainty money. (fn. 456) A constable and four tithings (two from Bignell, one from the nuns' manor, and one from King's End), attended the court; after the Reformation the number of Bicester tithings decreased and in the 17th century only two King's End tithings attended. (fn. 457) As early as 1517 the lord of Bignell had been presented in the court for sending no tithingmen. (fn. 458) In the Tudor period presentments concerned the usual breaches of the assize of bread and ale, including the selling of ale with unsealed measures. Millers were occasionally charged with taking excessive toll; others were charged by the verderers with offences in the king's park (i.e. at Kirtlington), or with breaking the common pound of King's End, or with assault. Pleas of debt and covenant were also heard. Among the orders of the court was one to remove from King's End a man of evil fame who had lately come to the village, another was to see that the archery butts were made, and numerous regulations about the management of the open fields were drawn up. (fn. 459)
A hayward and fieldsmen (two supervisores camporum and two enumeratores pecorum) were elected in the Elizabethan period; (fn. 460) in the early 18th century the tithingmen were called 'Third Boroughs'. (fn. 461) The court leet and baron was being held as late as 1819. Out of the fine of 13s. 4d. the lord of King's End paid 1s. 8d., Bignell Farm (the old manor house) 1s. 8d., and each cottager 4d. (fn. 462) After the Reformation the town's affairs continued to be conducted in the various manorial courts, and by the vicar and churchwardens, but the charity feoffees were by then another body which played an important part. (fn. 463) A suit brought in 1529 by John Bodicote, Benedict Wygyns, Richard Sherman, Nicholas Rowell, John More senior, William Walker, and Henry More, who were apparently acting on behalf of the charity, is the earliest example of their joint action. (fn. 464) Of these men Bodicote was by far the wealthiest, but Wygyns, probably one of the founders of the charity, Walker, and Sherman were also men of substance. (fn. 465) The management of the fund provided the townsmen with a measure of experience in self-government. In 1551 in an apparent attempt to increase efficiency the feoffees agreed to elect Thomas Bodicote, Humphrey Hunt, and two others for the coming year to be the 'rulers and governors of all the said lands and tenements . . . and the issues and profits thereof to receive and the same to distribute'. (fn. 466) Nevertheless abuses occurred. A commission of inquiry in 1598 found that much of the fund had been used to build the town hall, and to pay the wages of the mole-catcher and the sexton. (fn. 467)
The purposes of the fund were set out anew by the commissioners, who laid down that the poor and impotent, whose relief was the first charge on it, were to be relieved by the feoffees with the consent of the vicar, the churchwardens, and the overseers of the poor and with the consent of four inhabitants that were rated highest in the subsidy book. The feoffees also had to submit an annual account to the vicar and his associates. Their records were kept in a coffer in the church porch. (fn. 468) The charity account book of 1682 shows that by that date the vicar was himself acting as one of the feoffees along with John Coker, Ralph Clements, and the two collectors of town rents. The management of the fund involved the sale and purchase of land from time to time, and in the 18th century the building (presumably) of the workhouse, which was let to the overseers of Market End. (fn. 469)
The influence of the townsmen was considerably increased in 1597, when the Earl of Derby granted a 9,999 years' lease of Market End manor to his 31 tenants. (fn. 470) The manorial rights included the control of the markets and fairs with all the profits arising from toll, picage, and stallage, and rights over the waste of the manor. The profits were said to be worth as much as £50 a year and in 1752 were still worth over £35 in spite of the decline of the popularity of the Bicester market. (fn. 471) Among the biggest leaseholders in 1596 were John Lacy (yeoman), Thomas Wilson, Walter Hunt (glover), Edmund Bodicote, Ralph Hunt, Humphrey More (vintner), and Thomas Clements (yeoman). (fn. 472) Edmund Bodicote was the biggest leaseholder and was almost certainly wealthier than most of the others. It was alleged in a Chancery suit in 1623 that Bodicote, then dead, had lands and tenements in Bicester worth £1,500 a year. (fn. 473) But the other leaseholders mentioned above were substantial men and there is little doubt that they became the ruling oligarchy in Bicester. When the powerful Clements family, of which the head was then Thomas Clements, tried to secure the manorial rights for themselves they were opposed by other members of the oligarchy, including two members of their own family, one a tanner and the other a mercer. (fn. 474)
A contemporary opinion was that the town profited by having no corporation: 'it is the richer thereby for such as be in debt and danger need not shun it, neither are there any polling officers to draw fees and sconcing money to enrich themselves and impoverish others, which maketh a market town to flourish so much the more.' (fn. 475) The purchasers of the bailiwick, or the liberty as it was sometimes called, (fn. 476) normally appointed the bailiff, but the first known bailiff, John Lacy, one of the largest shareholders, was made bailiff by a Chancery decree in 1605 'so as to avoid all disputes' and was empowered to act for one year. (fn. 477) The bailiff's duty was to receive the profits of the bailiwick and distribute them to the shareholders in proportion to their respective holdings. The property included the town house, the guardhouse, or lock-up, all shops and houses built on the waste, all shops and sheds in the market-place, and the profits of the courts and market. The court baron of 'the manor and town' was held by a steward. The title-deeds of the bailiwick and the court rolls were ordered by Chancery to be kept in a chest with three locks in the church porch. (fn. 478) By the same decree the tithingmen of Market End were to have the grass from the 'Yield Mead' and were to pay the bailiff £1 6s. 8d. half-yearly for it. At the inclosure of Market End in 1758 the tithingman was allotted land for which £1 was being paid in the 19th century. By the 18th century the shareholders were reduced to ten in number, including John Coker, lord of King's End manor, besides the trustees of the poor who had by then acquired two shares. The shareholders leased the bailiwick in 1752 to Jacob Thomas, ironmonger, and George King, brasier, for seven years for £250 10s. (fn. 479) Thus, these two leading tradesmen acquired the valuable right of controlling the market and fixing the stallage charges.
Following the Local Government Act of 1858 Bicester became a Local Government District in 1859. King's End and Wretchwick, though the latter had always been associated with Bicester, objected and were at first exempted from the operation of the act. (fn. 480) Since time immemorial King's End had been separately administered. It had its own churchwardens and contributed a fifth to the necessary sum for church repairs; it maintained its own poor and highways. (fn. 481) The Local Government Act was adopted by King's End in February 1859 and by Market End in October 1862. Each district continued to maintain its own poor and highways, elected its own overseers, churchwardens, and guardians. There were separate boards of health for each township and some charities were kept separate. (fn. 482) The Burial Board and the Turnpike Trustees acted for both areas.
Market End's Local Board consisted of twelve members. Its first chairman was a Bicester chemist, R. B. Sandiland; its clerk W. Foster, a solicitor, was paid a salary of £30 a year; its first meeting was held in October 1862 in the clerk's office. The board's chief business was public health and arrangements for improving sanitation, but it had a variety of other responsibilities. Among them was the lighting of the town and keeping the highways, the pavements, and the market square in repair. Towards the upkeep of the last a request for a contribution was made in 1866 to the bailiwick. In 1869 the Board decided to afford facilities for carrying a telegraph line to the Post Office. One of its failures was the decision not to make a recreation ground, for which the vestry had made a grant of money in 1867. The money was said to have been spent on other 'interests of the ratepayers', and with a rate of 1s. 6d. and often one as low as 1s. in the £ it was clearly impossible to satisfy all interests. (fn. 483) The functioning of the Board was in fact not entirely satisfactory: in the course of seven years, 27 meetings had had to be abandoned because fewer than three members were present.
In 1875 the King's End Board was amalgamated with the Board for Market End, and the hamlet of Wretchwick was also included, under the name of the Bicester District. (fn. 484)
Under the Local Government Act of 1894 the Board gave place to the Urban District Council, which still rules Bicester. (fn. 485) It consists of twelve councillors including the chairman, of which onethird are elected each year. Its activities are limited by the low product of the penny rate: in 1945 it produced just under £80; by 1953 it had risen to £87. (fn. 486) Since 1946, when the town was given the Garth, formerly the residence of the Keith-Falconer family, the Council offices have been established there. Since 1888 the County Council has gradually been absorbing the functions of the old boards, which were numerous even in so small a place as Bicester. The Bicester Turnpike Trusts ceased to function in 1867 and 1877; the Highway Board and the Burial Board in 1896 and 1899; the Board of Guardians in 1939—the old workhouse was later converted into flats. (fn. 487) Until 1941 there was a Joint Fire Brigade Committee for the Bicester Urban and Rural District Council. Education and the care of the old and children are now the business of the County Council. The U.D.C.'s chief remaining business is housing. At present (1956) it has in hand the Western Development Scheme, a joint scheme with the War Department, for housing Arncot workers. A new sewerage scheme was begun in 1953. (fn. 488)
The justices of the peace for the Ploughley area still meet in Bicester, but the town is no longer the head of a county-court district. The court used to meet monthly at the 'King's Arms', until the Court House was erected in 1864. It ceased to meet in about 1926. (fn. 489) Throughout the 19th century a court of summary jurisdiction for the Ploughley Division met at the 'King's Arms'. Petty Sessions were held fortnightly on Fridays with a number of special sittings to deal with applications for remands and other urgent business. Since 1950 Petty Sessions have been held weekly, but are called the Magistrates' Court of the Bicester Division. In the 19th century the landed gentry, including the Earl of Jersey, and the clergy formed the majority on the bench. Now eight active magistrates on the commission for the County and two ex-officio magistrates are allocated to the Bicester bench. Businessmen and housewives are prominent. (fn. 490)
Bicester became a sub-division of the Banbury Constabulary, one of the three Oxfordshire divisions formed in 1857 when the Oxfordshire Constabulary was formed. (fn. 491) The members of its present force are the successors of the medieval constables regularly elected in the manorial courts. In 1827 the Vestry had appointed a parish bedel whose duty was to watch the precincts of the market-place and generally keep order. He had a blue coat and staff. (fn. 492) In 1837 there were at least two constables and the old lockup may still be seen in the London Road, near the Hermitage. (fn. 493) In 1857 one inspector and five subordinates were appointed for Bicester. In the 20th century Oxfordshire was a pioneer in the use of women special constables and Bicester regularly employs them. In 1953 the need to look after 1,200 aliens in the Bicester district led to the opening of a new police station. (fn. 494)
From an early date many voluntary societies have supplemented the work of the local government officers. In 1813 the Bicester Benevolent Society for the Relief of Poor Lying-in Women was founded and continued in existence until 1911. A Sick Visiting Society and Dorcas Society had been organized by 1869 and its work of supplying soup and clothing to the aged and poor also went on until 1911. The recreation of Bicester's inhabitants has been looked after by numerous active local organizations. A Rifle Range, one of the best known in the country, was founded in 1906. The Unemployment Relief Committee of 1933 was responsible for the provision of a public swimming-pool. Other sports were organized by the Bicester Bowling Club, the Cricket Club (founded in 1871), and the Football, Hockey, and Tennis Clubs. The clubs have a fine sports ground provided by private enterprise. Dr. G. N. Montgomery initiated the scheme in 1922 and was supported by a number of local men. In 1929 the trustees of the Bicester Sports Association bought for £900 the ground formerly rented from Major Aubrey Coker. The club has no paid officials.
Public Health. The earliest information about measures taken to deal with public health appears in 1752, when as a result of a virulent outbreak of smallpox the pest-house was built. (fn. 495) The cholera outbreak in 1832 led to the formation of a Board of Health under Viscount Chetwynd, who was then residing at Bicester House. Sixty-four deaths occurred, a higher number in proportion to the population than in any other town in England. Fortunately, Bicester had in Chetwynd a man of intelligence and energy to cope with the situation. Relief was organized, the affected areas cleansed (the crowded quarters of Crockwell and New Buildings were the worst), and the dead buried. (fn. 496)
In 1853 the Sanitary Committee, after a careful survey of the town and especially of the quarters inhabited by the poor, reported that it was in a 'very unsatisfactory state' and that there was a general disregard for the 'existence of filth'. In 1854 there were letters of complaint about sanitary conditions, about the bad state of the Brook and the drains, and there were reports of typhus fever. In 1855 several cases of smallpox occurred in the workhouse. (fn. 497)
An act of 1848 had ordered the drainage of large towns, but it was not until an amending act (1858–9) extended the order to towns like Bicester that the root cause of epidemics was tackled. At its first meeting in October 1868 the new Market End Board initiated a drainage scheme. By July 1863 work in Market Place and Water Lane (i.e. Chapel Street) was in hand. The scheme was later extended throughout the town at a total cost of £2,827. Plans by Mr. Selby of Oxford and the tender of Messrs. Hartland and Bloomfield of London for the first scheme were accepted by the Board in 1863. (fn. 498) The Board provided the main sewers but the householders had to provide the drains leading into them. These were supplied at cost price. Smallpox, nevertheless, continued to be a scourge, particularly in Crockwell, and the Board coped with it by sending families to the pest-house and ordering the purification of their homes. It was for health reasons too that in 1867 it ordered the collection of refuse and in 1891–2 the emptying of earth closets once a week. Horses and carts for these purposes were provided at the public expense. (fn. 499) Outbreaks of typhoid led to an agitation about the water-supply. Piped water finally came in about 1905 and waterworks were built. (fn. 500) Plans for building a fever hospital near the workhouse were made after 1872 and tenders were being received in 1881. (fn. 501)
Poor Relief. In the Middle Ages the priory made some provision for the sick and indigent. £6 1s. 8d. was distributed annually among the poor on the anniversary of Gilbert Basset and there was an annual distribution of 13s. 4d. to the poor and lepers on Shrove Tuesday. (fn. 502) After the Reformation the overseers of the poor were responsible for relief, though the charity feoffees, acting under the overseers, evidently played an important part in relieving poverty. (fn. 503) By the mid-18th century, when growing population and the strain of war had aggravated the problem, a workhouse for 40 paupers was built, probably by the charity feoffees. (fn. 504) In 1761 a rent of £10 was being paid to them; in 1826 £16. (fn. 505) In 1782 the poor were set to work there on spinning wool, jersey, and coarse linen for the Witney 'manufactory'. (fn. 506) In 1809 Henry Chandler, a plumber and glazier, undertook to look after the poor in the workhouse for a year. He agreed to supply them with food, clothing, and proper attention in health and sickness, though 'surgery and physick in all casualties, distemper and illnesses' were excepted. He also agreed to live in the workhouse and teach the children to read. His salary was £3 10s. a week for 20 paupers or less and 3s. 6d. a week for each extra pauper. He was to benefit from the labour performed by the poor in his charge. (fn. 507)
The inexperienced attempts of the Vestry to deal with increasing poverty during the Napoleonic war had led to the introduction at Bicester of the Speenhamland system with the result, as the Poor Law commissioner later observed, that 'the evils, which result from a system which destroys the connexion between work and wages, flourish more vigorously in Oxfordshire than in its original home in Berkshire'. Nowhere, he declared, had he seen the relation between employer and employed so disturbed as round Bicester. The opinion of the farmers was that unless some change was made labourers, who derived under the system no benefit from industry and good character, would cease to work altogether. At a special Vestry meeting in 1821 Sir Gregory O. PageTurner proposed to end the practice of employing 'roundsmen' and making up their wages from the rates in proportion to the size of their families. He offered to extend his stone quarry and brick field at Blackthorn and employ there all labourers for whom the farmers could not find piece-work. This scheme reduced the rates by half. (fn. 508) Local distress came to a head on 15 December 1827, when the labourers on the roads assaulted their foreman for withholding part of their wages and were supported by a 'great part of the labouring population' of Bicester. The leaders of the riot were taken to Oxford jail, 28 special constables were sworn in to preserve the peace, and 300 'respectable persons' were stated to have patrolled the town all night. A nightly patrol of ten was afterwards set up. (fn. 509) In 1830 the disastrous but common expedient of farming the poor was adopted. £1,000 was paid by the Vestry for the employment and maintenance of the poor in the workhouse and elsewhere, and in 1831 £1,200. Lord Chetwynd, who considered that more harm had been caused by this expedient than by 'five years of ordinary mismanagement', used his influence to end the system both in Bicester and in the country generally. (fn. 510) Another method of dealing with the problem, though not as it turned out an entirely successful one, was the free emigration scheme to the U.S.A. organized in 1830 by the Bicester Emigration Committee. In May, 71 adults and 40 children were conveyed in wagons to Liverpool, £1,000 having been borrowed from the rates to finance the scheme. But some lost heart and worked their way back to Bicester to become once more a burden to the Vestry. It set them to work fetching coals from Heyford wharf. (fn. 511) It is not surprising to find that in 1832, the year of the cholera outbreak, outdoor and permanent relief reached its height. A fifth part of the residents was declared paupers and expenditure on poor relief rose to £3,752, (fn. 512) compared with £332 in 1776.
More efficient management began in 1835 when the first Bicester Union Board of Guardians was formed. (fn. 513) It held weekly meetings at the Black Boy Inn under the chairmanship of Viscount Chetwynd. The chief business was first to build a new workhouse for '350 paupers' for the new Bicester Union, which included 38 parishes or townships, (fn. 514) and then to control its management. The architect John Plowman, junior, of Oxford, was appointed at a fee of £50; the contractor was James Long of Witney, whose tender was for £4,140. Local stone was used and he undertook to employ as much pauper labour as he could. The work was completed by the end of 1836. A governor and matron at a salary of £70 and £30 respectively were appointed and also a schoolmaster and schoolmistress. The guardians desired to have either a tailor or shoemaker as master so that the children might be taught a trade. The governor was to see that they were later apprenticed to trades. The guardians were farmers, clergymen, the landlord of the 'Crown', and Shillingford, the owner of the Bicester Brewery. The clerk was a Bicester solicitor with a salary of £100 a year. (fn. 515) The magnitude of their task is revealed by the fact that in time of peace in 1868 the proportion of paupers to population was stated to be one in eighteen in the Bicester Union. (fn. 516) In Bicester itself 161 persons were receiving outdoor or indoor relief by 1879, compared with 437 in 1816. (fn. 517)
The tradition that the church dated from the 7th century may be exaggerated, and the architectural evidence for a late Saxon building cannot be accepted without question. (fn. 518) That there was a church before the Conquest cannot, however, be doubted, and like the town it probably belonged to Wigod of Wallingford and after him to Robert d'Oilly. (fn. 519) The church's early importance is indicated by its relations with the dependent chapels of Stratton and Launton, and particularly with the latter. Until 1435 the parishioners of Launton were obliged to take their dead to Bicester for burial. The mother church is unlikely to have secured this privilege after the grant of Launton to Westminster Abbey by the Confessor. (fn. 520) Moreover, by the end of the 12th century at latest Bicester had given its name to a deanery comprising 33 churches. (fn. 521)
Soon after 1182 Gilbert Basset, then lord of Bicester and Stratton, gave the church with its dependent chapel at Stratton to his newly founded priory of Austin canons at Bicester. (fn. 522) The priory appropriated the church before 1226 (fn. 523) and retained the rectory and advowson of the vicarage until its dissolution in 1536. (fn. 524) The Crown then granted the rectory to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, (fn. 525) who in turn granted it to Roger Moore and his wife Agnes. (fn. 526) The advowson was granted by the king to Roger Moore alone. (fn. 527) On Roger's death in 1551 the rectory remained in the possession of his widow Agnes and the advowson passed with Roger's Bicester manors to his son Thomas. The latter was killed in 1574 before his mother's death, so he never obtained the rectory. (fn. 528) After her death in 1583 it passed to her daughters, Mary wife of Sir Michael Blount of Mapledurham, and Elizabeth wife of Gabriel Fowler of Tilsworth (Beds.). In 1583 Elizabeth Fowler, by then a widow, conveyed her moiety of the rectory, and that of the advowson, which she had inherited from her brother, to Sir John Brockett, whom she subsequently married. (fn. 529) In 1589 Brockett conveyed this moiety to Sir Michael Blount of Mapledurham, his brother-in-law, and the holder of the other moiety. (fn. 530) The rectory and advowson descended with the Bicester manor to Sir Michael Blount's descendants and were sequestrated in 1646. (fn. 531) After the family had recovered its estates the rectory and advowson followed the descent of its Bicester manor, passing from the Blounts to the Glynnes and later to the Turners and Page-Turners. (fn. 532) When the PageTurner family sold its Bicester property in 1930 the advowson was not sold; in 1941 the patrons were the trustees of the estate, Mrs. M. F. Strode and E. C. Charleton, Esq. (fn. 533) In 1953 Mrs. Strode of Shere (Surr.) was sole patron. (fn. 534)
The patrons have not always presented. After Bicester's dissolution and the death of the incumbent in 1537 the Crown failed to exercise its right and the Bishop of Lincoln collated. (fn. 535) Later, the right to present was occasionally sold. Benedict Wygyns and Thomas Shoer presented John Wykyns in 1541; Agnes Wentworth presented in 1559; Ann Chamberlain in 1564 and 1565. (fn. 536) In 1605 the patron, Sir Michael Blount, presented. (fn. 537) His son and daughter-in-law were recusants, but he seems to have conformed. In 1654 the Parliamentary Commissioners 'put in' William Hall. (fn. 538) Thereafter the patrons always presented except in 1835 when the Crown did so on account of the lunacy of Sir Gregory Page-Turner. (fn. 539)
Although the rectory was burdened with the payment of various pensions, it was worth more than most others in the neighbourhood: in about 1220 it was worth £13 6s. 10d.; in 1254 and in 1291 it was valued at £8 and £12 respectively, after the various deductions had been made. (fn. 540) No separate valuation of the rectory was made in 1535 when it was included in the valuation of the priory's other Bicester property. (fn. 541)
A part of the parish's tithes was given away at an early date. Robert d'Oilly gave two parts of his demesne tithes in Bicester and Wretchwick in 1074 to his church of St. George in Oxford castle. (fn. 542) These later passed to Oseney Abbey, but in 1300 after long litigation they were transferred for an annual pension of £3 to Bicester Priory. (fn. 543) The pension was still being paid in 1535. (fn. 544) Other tithes were also given away in the early 12th century. Gilbert Basset (1100–35) gave the tithe of colts reared in his demesnes to Abingdon Abbey, where his brother was a monk. (fn. 545) To Eynsham Abbey he gave two parts of the tithe of Stratton, then in Bicester parish, and the tithe of wool and cheese in all his lands; (fn. 546) in 1228 these were commuted for a pension of 12s. (fn. 547) Furthermore, the tithe of the demesne of Bignell was given by Jordan de Sai and his wife to Aulnay Abbey when they gave it Kirtlington church. (fn. 548) By 1291 Bicester Priory appears to have purchased these tithes in return for a pension of £1 6s. 8d. to Aulnay. (fn. 549) In 1304 Aulnay agreed that Bicester should have the tithes of sheaves in Bignell at a perpetual farm of £2 a year. (fn. 550)
Little is known about the rectory estate. In the reign of Edward III it comprised 50 field acres and when the open fields were inclosed in 1758 (Market End Award) and in 1794 (King's End Award) the rectorial glebe was consolidated, and the tithes commuted. (fn. 551) In 1758 Sir Edward Turner as rector impropriate received 158 acres and the vicar received over 39 acres for small and vicarial tithes due from Sir Edward's property; in 1794 Sir Gregory PageTurner received 33 acres for rectorial glebe and he and John Coker, the lord of the manor of King's End, received 135 acres and 87 acres respectively for tithes. (fn. 552)
When the vicarage was ordained in or before 1226 the following arrangements were made: the vicar was to have a stipend of £2 for himself, his chaplain and clerks, and sufficient food. The priory was also to give the vicar provender for a horse; the offerings (i.e. 1d. for a burial, a marriage, and a purification; 3d. on Christmas Day; 2d. on Easter day, and at each of the other two principal feasts 1d.). It was also to allow him the offerings at confession or from bequests up to 6d.; any surplus receipts were to be divided between the vicar and the canons. The priory further undertook to provide a suitable house outside the priory and bear all the 'burdens' of the church except those belonging to the parish. (fn. 553) Later evidence shows that it became the custom for the priory to provide two cart-loads of hay a year and four of wood. (fn. 554)
Particularly early accounts of the vicarage and its dependent chapel at Stratton Audley have been preserved. The receipts were £14 15s. 8d. in 1340, of which over £10 went to the prior and convent. The vicar and his chaplain received £2. The money was derived from dues, from offerings, and from small tithes. The vicar's stipend, which had remained unaltered since the early 13th century, was increased in 1357, probably as a result of the Black Death and the subsequent impossibility of finding a chaplain to undertake the church at the old stipend. Thereafter the vicar, his chaplain, and clerk received a payment of £11 6s. 8d. a year. In the financial year 1362–3 the priory's total receipts were £24. 7s. 5¼d. and its expenses £17 1s. 3d. (fn. 555) Some time later, possibly as a measure of economy, the practice of boarding the vicar in the priory instead of providing him with food and drink was adopted. It was condemned at the visitation of 1445. (fn. 556)
A new arrangement over the vicarage was made in 1455. (fn. 557) The direct money payment to the vicar was abandoned and he was relieved of the duty of serving the chapel at Stratton, the parishioners of which had long desired independence. In future the vicar was to have all small tithes and offerings from Bicester and its two hamlets of Bignell and Wretchwick. The convent reserved all the great tithes in Bicester and its hamlets, and all tithes in Stratton, as well as the small tithes from closes in its own hand.
From later evidence it appears that the priory provided the bread and wine for the parish church: at the visitation of 1520 the delivery of wafers at Easter was said to have been withheld, and after the dissolution a payment of 30s. a year was made out of the county revenue for bread and wine. In 1631 John Bird claimed that he was owed £10 by the Exchequer on this account, (fn. 558) and in 1635 an order was made to pay him £12 for his pension of 30s. a year, due for the past seven years. (fn. 559) This Exchequer payment was being made as late as 1782. (fn. 560)
In about 1608 John Bird brought a chancery suit against Sir Michael Blount and his son Sir Richard for not carrying out the composition of 1455. (fn. 561) The case was partly a result of the confusion which inevitably arose about payment of tithe after land had been inclosed. (fn. 562) Bird alleged that the defendants had not only refused to pay tithes themselves but had required their leasehold and customary tenants not to do so; that they had withheld the customary grants of wood and hay and had prevented their lessees from paying tithe of 400 sheep. Moreover, he declared that through the depopulation of Wretchwick he had lost tithes worth 100 marks at least. The Blounts' answer was that since the Dissolution tithe had been retained first by the king, then by Roger Moore, and that no tithe had been paid from Wretchwick since before the Dissolution. They further disputed the vicar's right to any tithe from inclosed land. Early in 1609 the court decreed that Sir Richard Blount ought to pay tithe of mills, woods, furzes, orchards, hemp in the fields, and small tithes, and that a rate of £20 should be paid for the closes, then rented for nearly £600 a year. The vicar was assigned various closes of his own. The dispute dragged on, however, until May 1609. The vicar complained inter alia that the defendants' tenants defrauded him of his tithe of lambs and calves by moving their animals out of the common field into the closes just before their young were born and that they also pretended that the closes were tithe-free, so doing him a 'double wrong'.
Although the court issued a decree in the vicar's favour, the vicarage remained a poor one. In 1254 it had been valued at £1 10s.; in 1291 at £2 13s. 4d.; in 1535 at the comparatively large sum of £16; but by 1656 it was worth no more than £40 a year. (fn. 563) During the Commonwealth the vicarage was further damaged by the sequestration of Sir Charles Blount's estates as the vicar used to receive 1s. 6d. in the pound in lieu of Sir Charles's tithes. The county commissioners, therefore, requested in 1654 that £18 a year should be paid to him out of the Blount estate, but the Committee for Compounding was unable to accede to the request. (fn. 564) In 1657, however, the trustees for the maintenance of ministers ordered that the vicar's stipend should be increased by £50 to be paid out of the profits of the impropriated rectory. (fn. 565) Even so, in Queen Anne's reign the vicarage was discharged from the payment of first fruits and tenths. (fn. 566) Their small value may well have induced Sir Stephen Glynne to drop the claim, which he had revived in 1727, to a part of the endowments of the vicarage. (fn. 567) In 1758 the vicarage was worth £120 a year. The vicar's small tithes were commuted in 1758 and 1794 for some 125 acres, and by 1815 glebe and some remaining small tithes produced an annual income of £308 10s. (fn. 568) About 38 acres of glebe were sold to the G.W.R. company in 1905–6 for £2,000, when the railway was built, and the rest was sold later at an unknown date. (fn. 569) In 1882 Blomfield gave the gross value of the vicarage as about £320. (fn. 570) A part of this sum (£25) was derived from rents of lands at Langford farm bequeathed to the vicar in perpetuity in 1868 by Sir Edward PageTurner. (fn. 571)
In 1957 Bicester and Caversfield were held in plurality. Between 1920 and 1924 the Vicar of Bicester was curate-in-charge of Caversfield. He has been vicar since 1924. Since 1955 he has also been curate-in-charge of Bucknell. Thus three parishes are served by a vicar and curate who are both resident in Bicester. (fn. 572)
As a result possibly of the poor endowment of the vicarage, Bicester's vicars were seldom well-educated men in the Middle Ages and resignations after short periods of office to take better cures were common. (fn. 573) In 1412 a proposed exchange was opposed by the prior, who journeyed to London to prevent the institution of Master Geoffrey Dankeport of Oxford, accused by the prior's friends of 'many misdoings'. (fn. 574) No vicar served Bicester for longer than fifteen years before John Adam's long incumbency, which lasted from 1434 until his death in 1479, (fn. 575) a circumstance which may probably be accounted for by the fact that he was the first to benefit from the increase in endowment made in 1455. Nor were there any graduate vicars until 1481, when Master Thomas Kirkeby was presented, and after him Master John Stanley (1512—at least 1526) and Master Florence Volusen' (post 1526–1530). Both Kirkeby and Volusen', it may be noted, received on their resignations annual pensions from their successors of £17 and £5 respectively. (fn. 576)
The medieval incumbents had a chaplain to assist them: one is recorded as early as c. 1152. (fn. 577) The original ordination of the vicarage (c. 1226) refers also to clerks, but in 1357 it appears that the vicar had a chaplain and one clerk only. (fn. 578) Some of the vicars were clearly not poor men: Robert de Burton, for example, gave 5½ acres to the priory; another vicar gave £5 towards the expenses of rebuilding the canons' dormitory in 1425, and another £5 in 1430 for the rebuilding of the bakehouse. (fn. 579)
In 1423 the vicar was threatened with a loss of income when his Stratton parishioners began to bury their dead at Stratton. The priory took the affair seriously: the prior himself spent a week in London taking counsel and after much expenditure judgement was given by the Bishop of Worcester at Bicester. It ended with the exhumation of two corpses buried at Stratton and their reburial at Bicester. (fn. 580) But discontent evidently did not end, for in 1455 Stratton seems to have been given parochial status. (fn. 581) There is evidence at this date that the vicar sometimes supplemented his income by acting as private chaplain to the lord of Bignell: in 1454 he was licensed to solemnize the marriage between William Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt and Elizabeth Stokes, daughter of John and Alice Stokes. (fn. 582) He does not appear to have had any connexion with the chapel of St. John the Baptist at the north end of the town, which was tended by a hermit when it was first recorded in 1355. (fn. 583)
At the visitation of 1520 it was found that a canon, William Billington, was serving the cure, and the bishop enjoined that he should remain in the monastery until the prior had shown by what authority he sent brothers to serve cures. (fn. 584) As a secular priest, John Stanley, had been admitted as vicar in 1512 and was still in office in 1526, the canon must have been acting as his assistant. In 1526 Stanley had two assistants, Thomas with a stipend of £6 13s. 4d. and Richard Worthing with a stipend of £2 13s. 4d for the half-year, but neither was a canon. (fn. 585)
It was in 1520 also that another irregularity was recorded: both the canons and certain of the parishioners were stated to have withdrawn land and contributions of barley which belonged to the church. (fn. 586) It is likely that these irregularities were the result of the priory's weak financial position, which is also indicated by the ruinous state of their buildings at this date. (fn. 587)
After the Dissolution the spiritual life of the parish appears to have been troubled. Between 1537 and 1584 there were at least six different vicars and by the 1580's serious differences had arisen between the vicar, Robert Phipps, and his flock. (fn. 588) Doctrinal matters were apparently the cause of the trouble, for it was the vicar's association with a 'preacher' which made a parishioner call him a 'plagye knave' in 1584. (fn. 589) In 1593 the churchwardens complained that Phipps had held no services for over a month and more, and that he had refused to do so or to let anyone else do so, as no one would guarantee his safety in going to and coming from the church. In the following year he was suspended and his church sequestered because he still refused to hold services. Later he was again presented for encouraging the parishioners to refuse payment of oblations to the sequestrators, for 'disordered speeches', for deriding the minister sent to replace him during his suspension, and for libelling one of his parishioners. (fn. 590)
His successor John Bird (1605–53) was a pluralist, holding Bicester with the neighbouring village of Wendlebury, where he lived. (fn. 591) He had a curate at Bicester, William Hall, 'a godly and painful preacher', who was made vicar in 1654 by the Cromwellian Commissioners. Hall appears to have resided until his death in 1670. (fn. 592) His successors until 1768 were all resident, and like Hall they often had resident curates; one was White Kennett, the future bishop of Peterborough and the historian of the neighbourhood. (fn. 593) The vicars of this period were all scholarly men and notable for the grammar school which they conducted, and for the excellent classical library which they formed and housed in the church. (fn. 594) They also subscribed to and encouraged the charity school. (fn. 595) Their office in a town where dissent was so strong called for tact and vigilance and they undoubtedly considered their educational work as a means of combating nonconformity. Thomas Airson, for instance, reported in 1738 that the good influence of the charity school was a cause of the decline of Presbyterianism. (fn. 596) He was active in carrying out his spiritual duties: he preached two sermons on Sundays for most of the year; catechized every Sunday and twice a week in Lent; administered the sacrament once a month and on the main festivals. He had no regular curate, but a Mr. Penrose of Christ Church came out when required. (fn. 597) His successor John Princep reported in 1759 that the monthly number of communicants was about 40 and that there were about 140 at Easter and Christmas. (fn. 598) He was the last resident vicar until the 19th century and by 1771, after three years of nonresidence, his curate's return shows that the number of communicants was already falling off, (fn. 599) although the curate was attentive to his duties, holding services three times a week and on holidays, and administering the sacrament once a month. By 1808 communicants, in spite of an increase in the population, numbered only 60 or 70 on festivals and about 30 at other times. (fn. 600) At this date there was once again a resident vicar. John Smith, instituted in 1800, began to reside in 1805. In 1816, however, he obtained leave of absence and the parish was served by a licensed curate, who lived at the Vicarage and received an annual stipend of £100. (fn. 601)
By 1817 there were signs that a revival of religious life had begun: there were 130 communicants on festivals and a Sunday school had been started. (fn. 602) In 1835 absenteeism ended. (fn. 603) Significant of the new spirit was the establishment of the Bicester Bible Society in 1822 and of a 'depository' of the S.P.C.K. (fn. 604) soon after. The long incumbency of J. W. Watts, vicar from 1843 to 1881, was particularly fruitful. The church building was restored and the cost of restoration was paid for partly by local contributions. Congregations grew, as Watts was a 'powerful preacher of the Evangelical school'—a school of thought long favoured by Bicester people and adhered to in spite of Bishop Wilberforce's influence. (fn. 605) It may be noted here that Wilberforce conducted an ordination at Bicester in 1869. Watts held three services on Sundays, attended by average congregations of 800, 1,000, and 400; catechized weekly, and held monthly communion services as well as on the four great festivals. There were generally 100 or more communicants. He was fully alive to the importance of education: he wanted to get an infant school opened and reported to his bishop that the state of his schools was a source of 'constant anxiety'. (fn. 606) Watt's successor, J. B. Kane, did good work in getting St. Edburg's Hall built. It comprised reading, refreshment, and assembly rooms. (fn. 607) He was also active in the poverty-stricken Crockwell district, where there was a mission room. But his high church doctrine led to bitter divisions in the congregation in the 1890's. These, however, were quickly healed by G. P. Crawfurd (1894–1907), a moderate and devoted man. He held two services daily; had two choirs in addition to the ordinary male choir, one for men and women and one for girls, and a Church Lads' Brigade, while his wife organized the St. Edburg's Guild—a missionary guild and working party. There was a weekly children's service for about 300 children and two Sunday schools. His efforts to influence the teaching in the local schools was opposed by the dissenters, but he was ultimately successful. (fn. 608) Owing to his initiative Bicester had a Church Council of 25 members. It was nominated by the vicar and was useful in raising funds, particularly for the curate's stipend. (fn. 609)
The parish church of ST. EDBURG (fn. 610) now consists of a chancel, clerestoried nave and transepts with north and south aisles, a vestry (the former north chapel), a western tower and a north porch. (fn. 611) At the eastern end of the north arcade there is a small arch with a roughly built triangular head which has often been regarded as a relic of the pre-Conquest church. This may be the case, but the ascription of the arch to the Saxon period cannot be regarded as established, and it may well be of later date. In the 12th century the building consisted of chancel, nave, transepts, and central tower. Of this Romanesque church there survive three of the tower arches, parts of the transepts, and portions of a stringcourse with chevron moulding between the arches on the north side of the nave arcade. During the next century the chancel was enlarged and a priest's door was made in its south wall. A south aisle was also added: its four arches supported on clustered pillars are characteristic examples of the period.
In the 14th century octagonal pillars with moulded capitals were inserted in the north wall of the nave when the north aisle and chapel were added. The chapel (now the vestry) is entered through a wide arch in the north wall of the chancel. It once had an upper chamber, perhaps intended to lodge the sexton, which was later used as the vicars' grammar school. The doorway and external stair turret by which the upper room was reached still remain; so also does the perpendicular window in the east wall. The wooden screen, now dividing the vestry from the transept, is of the same date as the original chapel. A doorway in the north wall of the chapel has been blocked up.
Extensive alterations to the church were carried out in the 15th century. The central tower was taken down, its western arch was removed, and the space formerly occupied by the crossing was thrown into the nave. The clerestory was added and the prolonged nave was reroofed with the existing lowpitched timber roof, supported on stone corbels. (fn. 612) The external walls of the building were surmounted by a parapet, and the western tower (75 ft. high) and its graceful interior arch were built. Its upper story is battlemented and it has panelled and crocketed pinnacles of similar design to those at New College, Oxford. In this century also a large Perpendicular window was added in both the north and south transepts, and a north porch with crenellated parapet and a chamber above, the last destroyed in 1863, (fn. 613) were built.
There is documentary evidence that some repairs, though perhaps only minor ones, were undertaken in the 1630's, since church vessels were sold in 1634 to defray the expense. (fn. 614) Later repairs included the provision of the rainwater pipes, one of whose heads, bearing the date 1655, survives on the north side of the nave. Two adjoining heads are dated 1704.
The wainscoting and black and white marble paving in the chancel, which were removed at the restoration of 1863, were probably added in the 17th century. (fn. 615) It may have been this beautification which led the vicar, Samuel Blackwell (1670–91), and others to complain that the churchwardens had spent 'great sums of money', with the result that the wardens undertook not to spend more than £5 in future without the consent of the parishioners. (fn. 616) The I H S 'within a splendid glory of red and yellow', which was once painted over the communion table, (fn. 617) may also have dated from this period, for interest was certainly being taken in the furniture of the church. In 1685 Sir William Glynne gave a large carpet of purple velvet with gold and silver fringe, a purple velvet cushion with gold and silk tassels for the communion table, and a similar cloth for the pulpit. At the same time the chancel was decorated with the hatchments and banners of the Glynne family. (fn. 618)
At the end of the century, during the incumbency of Thomas Shewring (1691–6), a faculty was sought for 'erecting' a vestry (16 ft. by 16 ft.) and for the removal of the font. The petition stated that the position of the pulpit and clerk's seat had been already altered. (fn. 619) In 1693 a west gallery (25 ft. by 16 ft.), which was largely paid for by Sir William Glynne, Ralph Holt, and the vicar, was erected. A gallery warden was appointed to look after it. (fn. 620)
The ever-growing congregation and the desire of the better-off for more comfort led to the transformation of the interior of the church in the 18th and early 19th centuries by the addition of galleries. Faculties for two private galleries between the pillars of the north aisle were sought in 1739 and 1747; a third was erected over the north door, a fourth at the east end of the south transept, a fifth was constructed in 1810 across the chancel arch, and a sixth was added to the south aisle. (fn. 621) Two of the galleries were used by the singers and the charity-school children, (fn. 622) but the others were for the private use of various tradesmen.
Another change was the removal of the tracery in the medieval windows in order to lighten the church. The windows in the south aisle were damaged in the great storm of 1765 and the occasion of their repair may well have been taken to remove their mullions and tracery. (fn. 623) By 1820 the tracery of the east window had also been cut out and a semicircular arch had been turned on the outside. The tracery of the clerestory windows had similarly been removed. (fn. 624) The lighting in the church had already been improved early in the 18th century by the gift of a brass chandelier, which was hung in the nave in memory of Robert Jemmett (d. 1736). (fn. 625) It was removed in 1862–3.
Rising standards led the parish to buy in 1770 for £50 from Sir Gregory Turner a fine organ, which had been at Ambrosden House. It was placed in the west gallery and superseded the bassoon bought in 1744. (fn. 626)
A thorough restoration took place in 1862–3. A beginning had been made in 1842, when the box pews had been cut down and the seating increased. (fn. 627) (Many of these high-backed pews had been installed in the 18th and early 19th centuries and had been appropriated to particular tradesmen's houses.) (fn. 628) But the church remained in 'a sadly dilapidated state' and a discredit to the parish. (fn. 629) The restoration, undertaken by the architect C. N. Beazley in consultation with G. E. Street, cost £3,214. (fn. 630) The builder was Fassnidge of Uxbridge. (fn. 631) The work consisted of the repair of the roofs, walls, and flooring of the body of the church; the chancel was completely reroofed and new tiled. The tracery of all the windows in the chancel and the north and south aisles was restored in 'Geometrical' Gothic style. The galleries, 'a chaos of uplifted boxes', (fn. 632) were removed and the whole church was reseated. Heating and gas lighting were installed. The vestry was beautified later with a wooden screen with painted panels, dated 1882. In 1896 an iron chancel screen, which must also have been installed at this time, was removed on the advice of G. F. Bodley and T. Garner. (fn. 633)
The church is large and impressive but is not richly furnished. A 15th-century piscina in the south transept marks the site of a demolished altar; a loft to St. George, recorded in the 16th century, (fn. 634) and the roodloft over the chancel screen, to which access was gained by a staircase in the south transept, together with the screen have also gone; (fn. 635) so has the stained-glass window in memory of John Wykyns, vicar (1541–59), recorded in 1660. (fn. 636) Rawlinson mentioned coats of arms, painted on wainscoting in the north aisle, commemorating the local families of Staveley, Moore, and others, which are no longer in situ. (fn. 637) A fragment of medieval glass, a figure blowing a trumpet, remains over the priest's door in the chancel.
The font, a plain polygonal one, probably dates from the 13th century. Early in the 20th century it was raised on two steps and the baptistery was panelled in oak in memory of the Revd. G. P. Crawfurd (vicar 1894–1907) and of his family. (fn. 638) The church once had a wooden three-decker pulpit, which was removed at the restoration in 1862, when the present stone and marble pulpit was installed. (fn. 639)
Recent stained-glass windows commemorate the death of Major Lewis Coker (d. 1858), Sir Gregory Page-Turner, Bt., and other members of the family, the Revd. John Watts (vicar 1843–81), Thomas Tubb and family, General Gordon (d. 1885), and C. A. Keith-Falconer (d. 1920).
Some fragments of medieval sculpture have been preserved. Built into the wall over the south nave arcade are two panels from a 14th-century tombchest with figures of knights for 'weepers', illustrated by Dunkin, and the effigy of a medieval lady stands against the west respond of the north aisle. (fn. 640) These are reputed to have been removed from the priory church at the time of the Dissolution. An unidentified Elias of Bicester and his wife were buried in the church and an indulgence was granted in 1302 to those who prayed for their souls, (fn. 641) but no memorial has survived.
There are brass inscriptions to the following: William Staveley (d. 1498), lord of Bignell, and his wife Alice (d. 1500); Roger Moore, Esq. (d. 1551), lord of the priory's manor, his wife Agnes Hussey (Husye) and son Thomas (d. 1574), with coats of arms; William Hartt or Hortt, gent. (d. 1584); Humphrey Hunt (d. 1601) and his wife Elizabeth; Rafe Hunt (d. 1602) and his two wives; John Coker (d. 1606/7) and wife Joane (d. 1618); John Lewes (d. 1612) of Lyn in Carnarvonshire who desired to be buried near John Coker 'for the love he bare' him; Richard Clarke (d. 1624/5), and Cadwallader Coker (d. 1653) and his two wives. (fn. 642) There are a large number of other memorials of which the most imposing are those to Robert Carver (d. 1698), the father of White Kennett's wife; to Sir Thomas Grantham (d. 1718), by Delvaux and Scheemakers; (fn. 643) to Sir Edward Turner (d. 1766) and his wife Cassandra (d. 1770). (fn. 644) The last, a large marble monument by J. Wilton with medallion portraits and an urn, was once in the chancel, but is now in the vestry. There is also a wall tablet to Sir Edward G. T. Page-Turner, 5th Bt. (d. 1846).
Seventeenth-century and later inscriptions to the Cokers include the following: Catherine Coker (d. 1682), John Coker, gent. (d. 1710); Hearst Coker (d. 1719); Cadwallader Coker, citizen of London (d. 1780); an undated memorial to another John Coker and his wife Catherine and their elder sons Cadwallader and John; (fn. 645) John Coker (d. 1819); Thomas Lewis Coker (d. 1849); John Cadwallader Coker (killed in action 1914); Lewis Edmund Coker (d. 1924); and Major Lewis Aubrey Coker (d. 1953).
There were once tablets to three vicars: William Hall (d. 1670); Thomas Forbes (d. 1715); Thomas Airson (d. 1752); there is still one to the five children (d. 1677–84) of a fourth vicar, Samuel Blackwell, and his wife. Among the inhabitants of Bicester who are commemorated are Anne wife of Richard Clements (d. 1652); Ralph Clements (d. 1683); Gabriel Burrows (d. 1676/7), who shares a memorial with William Finch (d. 1692) and John Finch, grocer of London (d. 1707/8); Sarah Kennett (d. 1693/4), daughter of Robert Carver and wife of White Kennett; (fn. 646) William, son of Stephen Glynne of Merton (d. 1704); Mary, wife of John Burrowes (d. 1706); Mary, wife of John Burrowes, jr. (d. 1724); John Walker (d. 1783), and his son John (d. 1810). George and Susannah Tubb, well-known benefactors of the town, have a memorial erected in 1887 by 'the poor of this parish'.
There is a monument to Thomas Russell (d. 1718/19), 'late of St. James's, Westminster'. His connexion with Bicester has not been established. A 20th-century memorial commemorates Commander R. G. Fane (d. 1917), Capt. H. A. Fane, M.C. (d. 1918), and Major O. E. Fane, M.C. (d. 1918) of Wormsley (Bucks.), whose family were the tenants of Bicester House. They were killed in action. (fn. 647)
In 1552 the church was reported to have 2 silver chalices, 2 latten candlesticks, a latten censer, 5 copes, and 8 vestments. (fn. 648) In 1956 there was a silvergilt Elizabethan chalice (1571); a service of silver comprising an enormous chalice and paten-cover, a large paten with foot, and a pair of large tankard flagons all hallmarked 1684. The flagons were given by Sir William Glynne. There were also a pair of silver chalices and a flagon inscribed 'Bicester Church 1873'. (fn. 649)
In 1552 there were four bells and a sanctus bell. (fn. 650) There is a local tradition that a ring of bells, probably the four at Ambrosden in 1552, was removed there because too heavy for Bicester's tower. If true, the bells must have gone before the erection of the present tower in the mid-15th-century. (fn. 651) In 1956 there was a ring of eight: four of the bells were made in the 18th century, three by the Whitechapel foundry, and one in 1715 by Richard Chandler of Drayton Parslow, Bucks. The churchwardens' accounts record recasting bells in 1708 and 1714 and 'mending the chimes' at a cost of £14 in 1766; they also show that there were six bells by 1714. (fn. 652)
In the Middle Ages a'lampe light' (to burn perpetually before the Blessed Sacrament) had been endowed with lands valued in 1552 at 4s. 8d. The donor was not then known. (fn. 653)
The registers begin in 1539, the year in which Cromwell ordered the keeping of registers, and are among the earliest in the country. (fn. 654)
There is little record of any Roman Catholicism in the parish until the 19th century. A certain John Butler of Bicester was fined £60 for recusancy in 1582 (fn. 655) and in the early 17th century many of the Blount family were prominent Catholics. (fn. 656) Elizabeth, wife of Richard Blount, was returned as a recusant in 1605, and their son, Sir Charles Blount (d. 1644), paid heavy fines between 1623 and 1626. (fn. 657) His son Walter claimed that he was not a Roman Catholic, but in 1650 his estates at Mapledurham and Bicester were sequestered for his supposed recusancy, and in 1651 twothirds of his woods there were ordered to be felled and sold. (fn. 658) His brother Lister also had great difficulty in clearing himself from the charge of recusancy, but was eventually discharged from sequestration for his lands in Bicester in 1654. (fn. 659) Four papists were recorded by the Compton Census of 1676; two papist families by the incumbent in 1738 and a third where the wife and children only were papists. (fn. 660) In 1768 there were said to be only two families—a farmer's and a brazier's—and in the early 19th century 'a few papists', who used the Tusmore chapel. (fn. 661) In 1869 the Hon. William North of Wroxton Abbey, later Lord North, a convert, endeavoured to revive the Roman Catholic mission in Bicester. Through his initiative Father Robson of Hethe started to celebrate mass in a cottage in Sheep Street. His successor Dr. Philip Sweeney built in King's End in 1883 St. Mary's School, which was also used as a chapel. The total cost was £900. Sweeney was followed by Father Glossop, who for twelve years served Bicester from Souldern.
In 1902 'South View' in the Oxford Road was lent to some Benedictine Olivetan nuns, exiled from France. In 1907 they moved to a new site near the Priory and opened a school. Their chapel, the present (1956) church, was opened to the public in 1908.
At the beginning of the 19th century the few Bicester Roman Catholics were served from Begbroke by fathers (fn. 662) of the Servite monastery there. In 1904 a Basque priest settled in the town (fn. 663) and was later joined by French Fathers of the Sacred Heart. In 1920, when the religious persecution in France had subsided, the French nuns and priests returned to France. The nuns' chapel continued to be used as a parish church.
The mission was again served mainly by priests from Begbroke until 1931, when Bicester began to share a parish priest with Hethe, Father Ignatius McHugh. In 1937 he was succeeded by Father Stephen Webb, who moved to Bicester in 1942 to a house bequeathed to the mission. In 1943 Bicester became a Roman Catholic parish. (fn. 664)
In 1948 the work of the mission was immensely increased by the arrival of 1,000 European Voluntary Workers, mostly Polish. By 1949, when General Anders visited his compatriots and presented to the church of the Immaculate Conception a painting of 'Our Lady of Czestochowa', they had a Polish chaplain. The Roman Catholic parish was still growing in numbers in 1955 owing to the influx of workers from Ireland and elsewhere to meet the local demand for labour. (fn. 665)
St George's Chapel at the garrison, just outside Bicester, is used for worship by the Jugoslav community (20 civilian families and 130 Jugoslavs from the camp for European Voluntary Workers). Services conducted by their own priest are held there every four or six weeks, and burial services are sometimes held there. For the great festivals the community attends services in London, but there is a special celebration of the Orthodox Christmas Eve in Bicester. (fn. 666)
The history of Protestant dissent in Bicester seems to go back to the reign of Elizabeth I, when trouble, apparently over doctrinal matters, broke out between the vicar and his parishioners. (fn. 667) Order was restored, and the next record of nonconformity occurs in 1654, when the Cromwellian commissioners appointed vicar the 'godly and painful' preacher William Hall, who had been curate in Bicester for some years. (fn. 668) After the Act of Uniformity of 1662 an 'illegall conventicle was set up: in 1669 'separatists', numbering one or two hundred, are said to have met in the barn of a baker, Thomas Harris. A pulpit, seats, and a gallery were erected, and the incumbent reported that numbers were increasing 'by reason of their (i.e. the separatists') impunity'. (fn. 669) Dr. Thomas Lamplugh, Rector of Charlton-onOtmoor, wrote in alarm of the boldness and daring of the 'sectarians' and of this public meeting-place, where 'there is a greater number every Sunday than in the church'. He also complained that sectarian influence from Bicester had infected most of the neighbouring parishes. (fn. 670) Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the Compton Census of 1676 and Bishop Fell in about 1685 recorded no dissenters. (fn. 671) The preachers at Bicester were the ministers ejected from neighbouring churches—Edward Bagshawe, Samuel Wells, George Swinnock, John Dod, John Troughton, and Thomas Whateley. (fn. 672) Samuel Lee, the eminent Puritan divine who was resident at Bignell between 1664 and 1678, also 'sometimes kept conventicles at Bicester'. (fn. 673) Troughton, a learned Oxford theologian, respected for his moderation even by the Anglican clergy, was licensed as a Presbyterian preacher in 1672, and his house as a meeting-place; he died in 1681 and was buried in Bicester parish church. (fn. 674) Henry Bornish, another well-known Puritan preacher, became in 1690 the first pastor of the Bicester congregation. (fn. 675) A contemporary pamphlet says he preached 'for profit's sake (his salary was £30 a year) to silly women and other obstinate people'. (fn. 676) Less prejudiced observers remarked on the community's intelligence and vital religion. (fn. 677) Cornish lived 'very loveingly' with his flock, until his death in 1698. (fn. 678) John Troughton the younger followed him. (fn. 679) He had occasionally assisted Cornish and was later responsible for building the new chapel. It was licensed in 1728 in place of the old house 'now ruinous'. (fn. 680) He was buried in its cemetery in 1739.
The denominational history of the Bicester congregation is of exceptional interest. After the Toleration Act of 1689, Presbyterians and Independents in the country generally formed the 'Happy Union', which terminated in acrimony in 1694. (fn. 681) In Bicester, on the contrary, the records show clearly that late into the 18th century Presbyterians and Independents continued to work together, and sometimes brought preachers of other denominations into their fellowship. The bond of union was their common aversion to the Established Church. Local opinion was uncertain how to designate the nonconformists; in 1738 and 1759 the vicar described them as Presbyterians; in 1808 he said they described themselves as Independents. (fn. 682) The earliest surviving minute-book, under the date 1771, speaks of 'the Congregation or Society of Protestant Dissenters from the Church of England commonly called Presbyterians'. (fn. 683) In Cornish's time the church's income was derived from the Presbyterian and Congregational (i.e. Independent) Common Fund, and at least as late as 1827 it came partly from the Presbyterian Fund and partly from the Independent Board, as well as from private benefactions. (fn. 684)
The congregation was even more catholic in the choice of its ministers and preachers. John Ludd Fenner, pastor from 1771 to about 1774, was a Unitarian; that 'dear man of God', Edward Hickman (d, 1781), 'was quite Calvinistical in principle, but of a truly catholic spirit'; (fn. 685) and another minister was of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion. (fn. 686) As for preachers, 'they had all sorts . . . Calvinistic, Arminians, Arians, Socinians, Baptists, and Methodists'. (fn. 687) In the 19th century the church was served by Independents or Congregationalists, as they were beginning to be called locally. Yet between 1810 and 1855, of seven young men (fn. 688) who entered the ministry from Bicester chapel, three became Baptists, and as late as 1903 the deacons of the chapel would have appointed a Baptist as their regular pastor, had not the Congregational Union refused permission. The chapel, however, did not tolerate the Antinomians, who seceded from it in 1812, or the Antipaedobaptists. (fn. 689)
A study of the earliest baptismal register suggests that Bicester was a centre for Nonconformists in a wide area; children were brought from Buckingham, Tingewick (Bucks.), Fritwell, Charlton, and other villages. (fn. 690) In spite of a decline after Troughton's death in 1739 the church became in time the founder of other congregations. In 1789 John Rolls withdrew to form a church at Aylesbury; in 1807 Richard Fletcher's influence led to the founding of a church at Launton; a church at Blackthorn followed in 1825 and one at Merton in 1890. (fn. 691) Open-air preaching in neighbouring villages, begun by John Fenner in Buckinghamshire villages in about 1772, was revived in the 1830's by Henry Davis, assistant to Richard Fletcher. (fn. 692) But its principal exponent was Davis's successor, William Ferguson. He preached himself and tried the method of sending out 'lay agents' to evangelize. (fn. 693) Revival prayer meetings were another characteristic of his work; they were initiated in September 1859 and held six days a week. (fn. 694)
Through Ferguson's energy the Water Lane chapel was enlarged and modernized. (fn. 695) In the face of strong opposition he got it licensed for the solemnization of marriages, only a few years after it had been permitted by law to conduct marriage services in nonconformist chapels. (fn. 696) He collected some £200 towards the upkeep of the chapel, and increased its effective membership from about 27 to 70. (fn. 697) He claimed to have added 111 new members, but some emigrated and some were expelled as unsatisfactory. Under the year 1860, for example, he notes: 'Jessie Carter gone back to sin'. (fn. 698) He was also active in good works in Bicester and the surrounding villages, and founded a missionary and other societies, libraries, Sunday and evening schools, and a clothing club. (fn. 699) His wife kept a young ladies' boarding-school. Such an energetic crusader against the 'fearful and blasting immorality of the town and neighbourhood' —his own description to a select committee of the House of Commons—was bound to meet with opposition. (fn. 700) He was consequently obliged to leave Bicester temporarily. After his return, though he found some of his 'crew very unmanageable', he stayed until 1860. (fn. 701) Another important pastor of the 19th century was W. H. Dickenson (1864–74 and 1887–8). His ministry was especially notable for its Good Friday anniversary gatherings, for good relations with the Anglicans, and for the building of a schoolroom and the restoration of the chapel building. (fn. 702)
A few of the pastors were less worthy: Samuel Park (1739–c. 1766) was 'gay and light in his practices, fond of convivial company'; (fn. 703) David Davis (1768–71) was 'a slave to his ale and pipe', and finally absconded with his debts unpaid. (fn. 704) T. H. Norton (1899–1902), who abandoned his wife for the wife of one of his deacons, caused a scandal from which the church did not fully recover until the stable ministry of Thomas Smith (1915–25). (fn. 705) Later, there was another set-back when the church was without a regular minister for about eight years, a period which ended with the part-time appointment in 1952 of the Revd. S. G. Burden, who was also pastor of Launton. (fn. 706)
The congregation fluctuated both in numbers and influence during the centuries. In the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century the dissenters were influential and respected: they included several gentlemen, such as Metcalfe, Wilson, and Jonathan Sayer, the son-in-law of the elder Troughton. (fn. 707) They were 'a little company of true disciples', which was joined for a time by Col. Gardiner, the commander of troops quartered in the town before the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. (fn. 708) A list of chapel trustees of 1749 includes bakers, glovers, a hempdresser, and a mason. (fn. 709) William Rolls, a currier, to take another example, was a deacon and church secretary for many years in the mid-18th century; his son wrote an account of the early history of the church and formed a church at Aylesbury, and his grandson Samuel Rolls, a pawnbroker, was a deacon in Ferguson's time. (fn. 710) Another notable family was the Gurdens: father and son taught for a long period in the Sunday school, which the elder Gurden (d. 1830), a deacon, helped to establish in 1792. (fn. 711)
Nonconformity declined in the mid-18th century. The vicar reported in 1759 that the Presbyterians were 'so reduced in numbers and property that they could not support a teacher had he not a fortune of his own'. (fn. 712) In 1767 the congregation petitioned for outside help with the payment of their minister's salary. They declared that even with help from the funds at London it was a heavy burden, and that they were now unable to raise £130 needed for the repair of the meeting-house and the purchase of a house for a Latin school, which is 'proposed as the only possible way of continuing the interest amongst us'. (fn. 713) The vicars' returns to episcopal visitations repeatedly refer to diminishing numbers: in the early 19th century there were said to be no more than about 100 Independents. (fn. 714) This information is supported by Rolls, who accounted for his church's apathy by the dying out of the families once prominent in the movement, by the lack of manufacturing employment in the town, which led many of the younger men to leave the district; but chiefly by the indifference of generations which had not known persecution and were too often obliged to endure poor preachers. (fn. 715) Nevertheless in 1793, when war with revolutionary France was imminent, the Bicester Independents were sufficiently alive to draw up a 'Loyalist Address' of their own rather than co-operate with the 'Gentry, Clergy, and Citizens of the Town'. (fn. 716) And in 1794 they forestalled the Anglican church in giving support to a Sunday school. (fn. 717)
Although numbers were small throughout the 19th century and later, (fn. 718) the congregation included many who played an important part in the life of the town. (fn. 719) Especially notable among them were G. R. Hewiett, editor of the Bicester Herald and a member of the Market End Local Government Board, (fn. 720) and A. F. Lambourne (d. 1949), who was also prominent in local government. (fn. 721)
The Society Of Friends. The earliest reference to Quakers at Bicester occurs in 1676. (fn. 722) Two years later permission was given by the Witney Quarterly Meeting for a monthly meeting to be held in turn at the houses of Edward Thomas and John Harper. In 1679 it was being held regularly in Harper's barn. It was placed in the Banbury Division. (fn. 723) The meeting soon seems to have lapsed, for in 1709 a 'new' meeting was set up, (fn. 724) and it is likely that Jeremy Lepper, labourer, of Bicester, and William Giles of Winslow (Bucks.), a woollen-draper, who were both heavily fined at Quarter Sessions in 1708 and 1709, were connected with the revival. One was fined for having an illegal conventicle in his house, the other for preaching. (fn. 725) In 1738 there were six families of Quakers (of which some members were churchgoers), who met twice a week. All refused legal dues and the incumbents had had recourse five times to the justices. (fn. 726) In 1749 John Griffith of Pennsylvania visited this 'small poor meeting' and found 'little of the life of religion among them'. (fn. 727) Their decline continued: in 1757 the Quarterly Meeting noted that no weekday meetings were held at Bicester, and in 1759, according to the vicar's return to the bishop, the fortnightly meeting was composed of only five families and ten other persons. (fn. 728) Bishop Butler's reference of 1779 to the 'peaceable' and law-abiding characteristics of the Quakers at Bicester are probably less of a compliment than would appear on the surface, for in 1796 the Quakers were said to meet seldom or not at all. (fn. 729) John Dunkin, writing in 1816, said their meeting-house was in a yard off Sheep Street nearly opposite the 'White Lion', but that the meeting had ceased to exist. (fn. 730) It has never been revived.
The Methodists. John Wesley's preaching in Brackley (Northants) in 1748 was indirectly responsible for the origin of the Bicester Methodist church. While there he 'awakened' a certain Mrs. Bowerman, and when she and her husband moved to Bicester they invited the Brackley Methodist minister to preach in the town. (fn. 731) In 1815 a room in a farm-house in Sheep Street was licensed for worship, and in 1816 a building in Sheep Street was licensed as a chapel. (fn. 732) The vicar reported in 1817 that the Wesleyans had no resident preacher and seldom the same one. (fn. 733) The sect prospered and in 1841 a new chapel was built in North Street. (fn. 734) In 1885 a schoolroom was added, in 1892 the chapel was enlarged at a cost of £438, and in 1904 an organ was installed for £270. Early in the 20th century the property in Sheep Street, now called Wesley Hall, together with Wesley cottages, was purchased at a cost of £1,650. In 1927 the church in Sheep Street was opened, the North Street chapel having been sold two years previously. The new red brick building seated 420 and cost £7,921. (fn. 735) Wesley Hall was sold to Messrs. F. W. Woolworth in 1955. (fn. 736)
The Sunday school has long been an important feature of Methodist life in Bicester. For instance, during the Sunday school anniversary of 1860, 'the communion rail was crowded with penitents', (fn. 737) and at the present time (1956) the school's religious and social life has a strong influence on the youth of the town.
As the Methodist movement grew in Bicester, it was threatened with schism. In May 1843 preachers of the Primitive Methodist group from Oxford— 'Ranters'—began to preach in the Market Square. The magistrates complained to the Secretary of State that attempts by Bicester people to stop them preaching had created 'a very great disturbance', and they asked if any legal steps could be taken to prevent this open-air preaching. The group persisted in its visits for eleven weeks, but appears to have been finally deterred by the threat of violence. (fn. 738) Two houses, however, were licensed for dissenting meeting-places in 1843 which may have been connected with this revival, and in 1846 a licence was certainly issued for a meeting-place for the sect. (fn. 739) A much more serious threat to the Methodist movement came in about 1860 from the United Methodist Free Church led by W. A. Ryder, a Bicester grocer. (fn. 740) The group built its own chapel in Sheep Street in 1863, but after about 40 years of separate existence its chapel was taken over by the Wesleyans, and has since been known as Wesley Hall. (fn. 741) In 1883 Ryder had prosecuted several persons for disturbing his congregation. (fn. 742)
The activities of the reunited Bicester Methodists have included special evangelistic services, a sisterhood, a guild, a ladies' working-party and a boys' brigade. (fn. 743) In 1955 the Methodists were the largest of the nonconformist societies in Bicester. (fn. 744)
Plymouth Brethren. This society had a chapel in New Buildings in July 1904. (fn. 745) In the 1950's it met in Gospel Hall in North Street, but ceased to do so in 1956. A rival branch of the society has met in a building in Victoria Road at least since 1938. In both cases membership was small.
The Salvation Army. The Army has been active in Bicester since 1886 at least, and in August 1955 was visited by General Booth. (fn. 746) By 1939, however, its numbers had fallen considerably. In the early days of the Second World War the meeting-hall in Victoria Road was given up and the Bicester branch ceased to exist. Since then members of the Buckingham branch have visited the town annually to make house-to-house collections in their self-denial week.
The United Church. In March 1954 the first known United Church for Christians of all denominations to be set up in Great Britain was established. The church began with an invitation to the Congregational minister, the Revd. S. G. Burden, to hold a service on the premises of the social club of Highfield estate, a newly developed suburb of Bicester. Regular Sunday services followed, conducted by clergy and laymen from the Church of England, the Congregational, the Baptist and Methodist churches, and others. A Sunday school, attended by 100 children, was opened. The experiment has been so successful that the church committee opened a fund in 1955 to purchase land and pay for the erection of a permanent building. (fn. 747)
There may well have been some provision for the education of Bicester boys in the early Middle Ages, but the first indication of it occurs in 1445, when it was reported at an episcopal visitation that the schoolmaster was taking his meals with the canons in their refectory, and that two sons of neighbouring gentry, one a Purcell of Newton Purcell, were being boarded in the priory. (fn. 748) The schoolmaster was probably a chantry priest of the parish church, and his admission to the refectory was considered irregular. (fn. 749)
There is no evidence about what steps, if any, were taken to provide schooling for the children of the town and neighbourhood after the dissolution of the chantries. A private grammar school in the town is first recorded about 1669. The school, preferred by the Verneys of Claydon to Eton, was well supported by the local gentry and tradesmen, and apparently continued until at least 1768. (fn. 750) An endowed elementary school may have been founded earlier than the grammar school. It must have existed before 1688 when George Wickham, mercer of Oxford, left £50 by will 'to the trustees of the charity school of Bicester for the benefit of poor children'. (fn. 751)
As elsewhere the war of the Spanish succession was followed at Bicester by a renewed interest in education. The inhabitants and the local gentry subscribed in 1721 to set up a Church school to teach reading and the knowledge and practice of the Christian religion, since 'profaneness and debauchery are greatly increased owing to . . . want of an early and pious education in youth'. (fn. 752) The charity school which opened in the 'Free School House' adjoining the church was evidently an enlargement of the old school, for it was supported by investments as well as subscriptions. (fn. 753) Like many other schools founded at this period the charity school was called a Blue Coat school, since its boys were provided annually with blue coats, leather breeches, and cap. (fn. 754) In 1725, after a subscriber had declared that he would withdraw his subscription unless the children were employed in some kind of work, a short-lived experiment was made of setting the children to spin jersey. (fn. 755) By 1738 the school was in financial difficulties owing to the deaths of many of the original supporters and it was feared that it might come to an end. Thirty boys were then being educated, and 24 of them clothed; on leaving they went into husbandry or service. (fn. 756) New subscribers, including the bishop, were obtained and the school was flourishing in 1745. (fn. 757)
The number of boys in the school was usually about 30. Those receiving clothes varied in number —in 1748 24 were being clothed, while in 1752 all 30 boys received clothes. In 1748 John Dunkin, who was to become a noted local historian, had been elected a probationer by the trustees and in the following year part of the school was moved to rooms under the Town Hall. (fn. 758) It was later moved to a room over the 'Cage and Engine House' and then to the vestry. (fn. 759) When Dunkin wrote his diary he said that the master of the school in his day, James Jones, was' an excellent writer and arithmatician, who keeps the best school in Bicester', and that all the tradesmen's and farmers' sons were educated there. (fn. 760) The chief subscribers at this period were the Earl of Abingdon, and members of the Dashwood, Turner, and Coker families. In 1761 they subscribed sums varying from £12 10s. to £4 4s. A charity sermon provided £3 17s. out of the income of £32 4s. received in 1783. By 1836 receipts had risen to £87 19s. 11d. (fn. 761) Part of this increase came after 1811 from £16 a year from the Walker charity. (fn. 762) Nevertheless, in 1825 it was recorded that the master's salary of £25 a year had been recently reduced from £30 a year. (fn. 763) In the 1820's the number of boys was fixed at 30, since the schoolroom was incapable of holding a larger number. (fn. 764) The school had presumably been moved by 1833, when it was officially stated that there were 60 boys at a school, which was partly supported by an endowment of £22 a year and partly by voluntary subscription. (fn. 765) The high numbers are probably to be explained by the attendance of fee-paying pupils as well as the 30 charity boys. In 1854 a school, described as the Blue Coat school, was being held in the vestry. (fn. 766)
National Schools. Early in the 19th century efforts were made to convert the charity school into a National school. In 1815 it was reported that 'peculiar circumstances prevent the adoption of the National System at present'. (fn. 767) The difficulties were due to differences between the church and the large nonconformist element in the town. The system was introduced for girls, however, in 1835, when T. L. Coker, the lord of the manor and a strong Anglican, gave ground opposite the church for the school building. (fn. 768) The new school was financed by local subscriptions and a government grant. (fn. 769) This success was followed in 1858 by the opening of a National school for boys and girls. Due chiefly to the efforts of Charles Fowler, a tenant farmer, and the vicar, the Revd. J. W. Watts, over £1,000 was raised and a government grant of £800 was obtained. The building comprised two classrooms, one for boys and one for girls, and a master's house. It cost nearly £2,000. (fn. 770)
In 1861 the Blue Coat School was amalgamated with the new National school. (fn. 771) According to the Deed of Trust the school's Board of Management was to be elected by the subscribers. The nonconformist strength in the town resulted in an annual struggle with the church's supporters to obtain a majority on the board. The nonconformists were doubtless responsible for the stipulation that 'the Bible was to be read daily but that no child was to be required to learn the catechism or other religious formulary'. (fn. 772) They were also strong enough to prevent the clergy teaching in the National schools until the Education Act of 1902 abolished the School Board and they lost their influence. Since the vicar had been designated as the chairman of the Board of Management by the Deed of Trust of 1858, he was able to induce the Board of Education to classify the school as a Church school, (fn. 773) and henceforward the school was managed in accordance with the form prescribed for such schools. Church influence had already gained a victory when the infant school was opened in 1869 in Spring Close off the Bucknell Road. The land was again leased by the Coker family and the vicar and his successor were authorized 'to superintend the religious and moral instruction of all the children'. (fn. 774)
The three 'Rs', geography, history and scripture, and needlework for the girls were taught in the National school. (fn. 775) Fees in 1869 were 1d. to 3d. a week for each pupil, according to the rateable value of the houses in which they lived; by 1882 they had doubled, but in 1891 an Act of Parliament abolished all fees. (fn. 776) Numbers had risen from about 300 in 1862 to an average attendance of 372 in 1890. (fn. 777) By 1906, in spite of there being accommodation for over 500 and no fees, numbers had dropped to 283. (fn. 778) These had so increased again, however, by 1924 that Standard I in the boys' school was moved to the Infant school because of overcrowding. (fn. 779) At this time the Walker Charity was paying £30 a year to the school. Twenty pounds of the charity money was spent on clothing five boys as a reward. (fn. 780)
As a result of the Hadow Report the boys' and girls' departments were amalgamated in 1933 into a new senior school with 146 pupils, and the Bucknell Road premises became the junior school with 268 children. (fn. 781) After the Butler Act of 1944 the Oxfordshire Education Committee assumed full responsibility for the infant and secondary schools, but the junior school continued as a Church school with the status of an 'aided' junior mixed school. (fn. 782) When the Highfield secondary modern school (see below) was built in 1952, the junior school was divided. There has since been a county primary school in the Bucknell Road buildings with 252 pupils in 1955, and a Church of England primary school in the old senior school premises with capacity for 320 pupils. The town was divided into zones allotted to each school. (fn. 783)
County Grammar School. A group of local business men persuaded the Oxfordshire Education Committee to establish at Bicester the co-educational County Grammar school for children who had hitherto travelled daily to Oxford. It opened in 1924 with 42 pupils at Bicester Hall, formerly a huntingbox of the Earl of Cottenham. The number had risen to 113 by 1928, to 247 by 1946 after Claremont House had been brought into use, (fn. 784) and to 277 by 1956. By then the headmaster had a staff of 13 full-time and 2 part-time teachers, and a sixth form with 17 pupils. There were 9 classrooms, a gymnasium, 2 laboratories, a woodwork-room, dining-room, and kitchen. The pupils came from an area of 80 square miles between Buckinghamshire and the Cherwell and from Kidlington to the Northamptonshire border. (fn. 785)
Highfield Secondary Modern School. This school was built in 1952 with accommodation for 510 boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 15. The increased population in Bicester and the neighbourhood, mainly a consequence of the Ordnance Depot, made a new school essential. The children came from Bicester itself and from about 26 villages and hamlets. Highfield opened with 381 pupils and by 1955 there were 460. The original three-form entry had increased to a four-form one by 1955, when the headmaster had a staff of eighteen.
There are 13 classrooms, 8 rooms for various crafts, a canteen, showers, and 2 drying-rooms, an administrative block, and 7 to 8 acres of playingfields and gardens. (fn. 786)
Roman Catholic Schools. As a result of the movement to revive the Roman Catholic mission in Bicester a Catholic private school had been opened in King's End by 1871, (fn. 787) and in 1882 a new school was built there and was opened as St. Mary's School in 1883. By 1894 the average attendance was 86. (fn. 788) Although the school was reported in 1890 to have annual government grants of £42 15s. 2d. and in 1894 to have received increased grants of £61 17s. 6d., it was being carried on at a considerable annual deficit. (fn. 789) After the Education Act of 1902 its financial position was eased as the Board of Education paid the teachers' salaries. At first only a small proportion of the children attending this school was Roman Catholic; in 1930 there were still only 13 Catholics amongst its 50 or 60 pupils, but by 1953, owing to the Irish and continental influx into Bicester, there were 114 Catholic children out of a total of 120, and many children from non-Catholic families had to be turned away because of overcrowding. (fn. 790) Yet the buildings had been twice expanded, once in 1939 when two classrooms were added and central heating installed so as to conform with the requirements of the local education authorities, and again in the 1950's, when the senior school used St. Mary's Hall. (fn. 791) In 1953 the school was taken over by the Presentation Order of Sisters. (fn. 792)
Other Schools. There have been a great variety of other small private schools in Bicester. Among them was the Revd. Mr. Wood's grammar school for young gentlemen opened in 1773. The terms for board and instruction were 16 guineas. (fn. 793) John Dunkin's account of his early education records several other instructors: he learnt his letters at 'old Betty Thornton's in Sheep Street', and 'Master Tooley' taught him 'writing and summing'. (fn. 794) In the early 19th century there were said to be two day schools for dissenters and ten schools kept by women who taught reading to 100 children, who were too young to be taught to make lace. (fn. 795) But the private schools were also concerned with older children. In 1823 two academies for ladies and one for gentlemen were advertised. (fn. 796) In 1829 Mrs. Farnell's seminary is mentioned, in 1839 a Diocesan school for boys was opened in the London Road, and several other establishments were advertised, one kept by Elizabeth Easton, and two by clergymen. (fn. 797) In 1869 Hewlett's Almanack says there were 8 private schools of which 6 were boarding-schools. They included 3 'seminaries' and 2 'commercial schools'. (fn. 798) In the 1870's the Misses Simmons established the Ladies' Collegiate School at Oxford House, where the boarders 'enjoy every home comfort combined with careful training'. A little later, in 1882, (fn. 799) Miss Collis of Sheep Street was receiving 'a select number of young ladies and gentlemen to educate in all branches of a superior education with accomplishments'. She claimed a 'happy method of imparting knowledge' and offered private lessons in music, drawing, and fretwork. (fn. 800) At the same time Miss Kirby at the 'Limes' in Church Street was issuing elegantly printed advertisements for a similar school. Cambridge House Academy was a middle-class boarding and day school for boys. (fn. 801) Schools such as these testify to the growing refinement of manners.
Carlton House, the most successful of Bicester's private schools in the 20th century, was established in the Causeway in 1915. The headmistress in 1955 took boys and girls to the age of eleven. There were 59 pupils. (fn. 802)
Sunday Schools. Bicester took an active part in the movement at the end of the 18th century to provide schools to keep the children off the streets on Sundays. James Jones, who taught Dunkin, is said to have started the first Sunday school and evening school. He taught the 'three Rs'. His appeal to the parish for financial help was refused on the grounds that only scripture should be taught. The Independents, however, offered their help and the school was transferred to their meeting-house. (fn. 803)
After this challenge offered by the dissenters the vicar, Joseph Eyre (1779–97), was able to raise subscriptions for another school. It was held in the building adjoining the church and took about 100 pupils. (fn. 804) In 1808 there were 55 boys and 55 girls attending the Church Sunday school and 20 boys and 30 girls at the dissenters' school. Fifteen boys and girls also attended a night school to learn to write. (fn. 805) In 1815 the Church school had 74 boys and 62 girls, and the incumbent reported 'none are refused'. (fn. 806)
In 1819 the schools were said to be capable of accommodating all the children of the labouring classes; each had 150 children in 1833 and was in receipt of £7 a year from the Walker Charity. By this time the Wesleyan Methodists also had a Sunday school for 54 children; it was supported by voluntary subscriptions and the children's pence. (fn. 807)
The Feoffee Charity, as it was later called, was probably founded in 1529 by John Wygyns (or Wykyns) and Henry More. In that year they conveyed to feoffees property described as land of 'their inheritance', which later sources give as the endowment of the charity. Wygyns gave property in Bicester, Bucknell, Souldern, Stratton Audley, Wendlebury, Woodstock, Wallingford (Berks.) and Brackley (Northants), and More (fn. 808) gave lands in Potterspury, Cosgrove, and Yardley (Northants). The income of these properties was to be applied to the relief of the poor, the marriage of poor girls, the mending of the common highways, and the payment of poor people's taxes. The gift of lands in Bucknell and Wendlebury may not have had effect, for they were not included in a rental of 1553, when the annual income was £8 7s. 8d. (fn. 809) A commission for charitable uses discovered in 1599 that some of the charity money had been used to build a Town House and to pay the sexton and the mole-catcher. The commissioners ordered that in future it should be used primarily to relieve the poor; when this had been done surplus funds might be employed in the other ways envisaged by the founders. The poor were not to be relieved by being allowed to occupy any part of the estate rent free, but might only be assisted out of its income. (fn. 810)
Thereafter the charity appears to have been conscientiously administered: (fn. 811) in 1738 it was reported that the income had lately increased from £80 to £100 a year through the care of the feoffees, and was well applied. (fn. 812) Part of the Wallingford property was sold in 1670, and the Brackley and Stratton Audley estates in 1677 and 1707. In 1755 the income was £268 10s. 6d. a year. (fn. 813) The remainder of the Wallingford property was sold in 1772, and the Woodstock property between 1762 and 1782. The proceeds were partly invested in stock, and partly used to buy an estate in Ludgershall (Bucks.). In 1824 the feoffees still held lands in Bicester, Souldern, (fn. 814) Potterspury, Cosgrove, and Yardley, and a large building in Bicester used as a workhouse. The annual income was then £210 8s. and money was distributed weekly, four-fifths of it to the poor of Market End, and a fifth to those of King's End. In 1823–4, when the payments amounted to £4 a week, there were 37 recipients. No one receiving parish relief might benefit from the charity. (fn. 815) In 1826 the gross income was £271 8s. (fn. 816)
Between 1846 and 1907 the fund administered by the feoffees was increased by the foundation of six new charities. John Shirley by will dated 1846 left £90. This charity seems to have been first paid in 1851, and in 1870 its annual income was £2 14s. By deed dated 1876 George Tubb endowed Tubb's Bicester Charity with £1,000 in stock, giving an income of £30 in 1870. By will proved 1878 Richard Painter left £500; by will proved 1883 Richard Phillips left £50; by deed dated 1886 Henry Tubb gave £1,000; by will proved 1886 Susannah Tubb left £100; (fn. 817) and by will proved 1907 Mary Ann Greenwood left £412. (fn. 818) The gross income of the Charity Feoffees' fund thus rose to £294 11s. 8d. in 1903. (fn. 819)
Bailiwick Rent. In 1824 it was found that the poor were entitled to four shares out of the 34 in the profits of the manor and bailiwick of Bicester. (fn. 820) The date when this grant to the poor was made or the name of the donor are not known. The profits from the bailiwick had amounted to £50 in the 18th century, but had declined by 1824, when it was let for £21. Once every five or six years the poor's shares were distributed in clothing, four-fifths to Market End and a fifth to King's End. At Christmas 1819 about 20 poor women received calico and cloth for gowns worth £5 17s. (fn. 821) The collection of tolls, the chief remaining source of the bailiwick's fund, was abandoned later in the century, and by 1864 distribution of the small remnant of the profits had ceased. (fn. 822)
Poor's Stock. A cottage, possibly a Church House, appears to have been sold by 1767 by the churchwardens. The churchwarden of Market End eventually received £50 in 1792, and it was invested in stock. The dividends were distributed among nineteen poor people of Market End in 1824. (fn. 823)
Weekly Bread. The origin of this charity is unknown, but it was being distributed for many years before 1796 by the owners of property in St. John's Street (i.e. Sheep Street). In 1824 the owner nominated six poor widows of Market End to receive a 2d. loaf each every Sunday. (fn. 824)
Wilson's Gift. By will dated 1735 Mary Wilson gave £1 10s. a year, charged upon property in Bicester and Caversfield, to be distributed in bread to poor widows every year upon St. Thomas's Day. In 1824 60 poor people, most of them widows, received a 6d. loaf each. (fn. 825)
In 1913, by order of the Charity Commission, all those of the above charities which survived were amalgamated under the title of the Feoffee Charity. Since then most of the land of the original charity has been sold and the money invested in stock. The charity is advertised annually and poor people submit applications to a body of eleven trustees, who meet twice a year at least. It was ordered by the feoffees in 1874 that no one outside Bicester should benefit by the charity, (fn. 826) and preference is still given to old residents of the town. In 1956 there were 27 recipients in Market End and £1 10s. was distributed to the poor of King's End. The gross income was £324 6s. 4d. (fn. 827)
Walker's Charity. By deed dated 1811 William Walker gave £1,000 in stock to fulfil the intention of his father John Walker of Hackney (Mdx.) to found a charity for the support of three schools in Bicester, although no provision for this had been made in the latter's will. Of the annual income of £30, £16 was to contribute towards the support of a Church of England charity school, and the remaining £14 was to be divided equally between a Church of England Sunday school and the Congregational Sunday school of the Water Lane chapel. (fn. 828) From the terms of his deed Walker seems to have envisaged the foundation of a new school, but the £16 was paid to the Blue Coat school already established in the town. (fn. 829) In 1952 the annual income of the charity was £29 10s. 8d., of which £8 8s. was paid to four boys, members of the Church of England, recommended by the headmaster of the Church of England secondary school. Formerly the recipients were bought a blue uniform suit; now the parents select clothes to the value of £2 2s. The Church of England and the Congregational Sunday schools each receive £10 11s. 4d. (fn. 830)
Mary Carlton's Charity. By deed dated 1717 Mary Carlton, mother-in-law of White Kennett, gave a rent-charge of £2 12s. 6d. on land in Brill (Bucks.), of which £1 was to be paid each year to the minister of Bicester church for a sermon preached on 2 March in memory of her daughter, Sarah Kennett, and 2s. 6d. to the clerk for ringing the bell that day and keeping the family monuments clean; £1 was to be distributed in 6d. loaves to 40 poor widows after the sermon. In the 1820's the churchwardens added 10s. for bread, since more than 40 widows usually attended. (fn. 831) The charity was distributed annually until 1946 when bread-rationing was introduced, and it had not been revived by 1957. (fn. 832)
Lost Charities. John Hart, lessee of Cottisford manor, by will dated 1664, gave a rent-charge of £10 on the manor for apprenticing poor boys of Bicester. The charity never appears to have been paid. (fn. 833) Richard Burroughs by will of unknown date left £10 a year to the poor. In 1738 it was reported that the charity money was £6 or £6 10s. a year, distributed in clothing to seven poor men and women every year on All Saints day. There were eight recipients in 1750, but no more is known of the charity. (fn. 834) Sir Thomas Grantham (d. 1718) (fn. 835) left £50, the interest to be distributed at Christmas to poor widows. In 1738 the charity produced £2 10s. a year, which was used to buy a Christmas dinner for widows. In 1750 £1 19s. was distributed, but the charity was subsequently lost through the insolvency of the holder of the principal. (fn. 836) At an unknown date Drusilla Bowell left £5 a year for apprenticing poor boys of Chesterton, Bicester and Wendlebury. In 1738 it was reported from Chesterton that the charity had been neglected for several years, and from Bicester that the town could not take its turn unless the villages took theirs. (fn. 837) Neglect evidently continued and the charity was lost.
In 1908 the Cottage Hospital at King's End was built on ground leased at £1 a year by Colonel L. E. Coker at a cost of approximately £1,100. In 1918 Major Lewis Aubrey Coker gave the ground, and in 1927 an extension was added in memory of Henry Tubb through the generosity of his widow. (fn. 838)