A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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The parish lies on the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire border, six miles north-east of Bicester, but with Buckingham as its nearest market-town. (fn. 1) The ancient parish covered only 602 acres, (fn. 2) and was long and narrow, being 1½ miles long and ½ mile broad: it was a comparatively new unit, for at the time of Domesday Book a part of its land lay in Mixbury parish and a part in Fringford. (fn. 3) Its eastern boundary has always been the county boundary, and since at least the end of the 12th century, when there is evidence that Newton had become an independent parish, (fn. 4) its southern boundary has been a tributary of the River Ouse which flows east from Fringford Mill. The old western bounds used to lie just east of Spilsmere Wood, but in 1932 (fn. 5) Newton Purcell was amalgamated with Shelswell to form a new civil parish of 1,424 acres. (fn. 6)
The parish lies between the 300- and 325-foot contour lines: it is almost all on drift gravel overlying the Cornbrash, which appears in a band midway between Newton Purcell and Newton Morrell, and which was quarried for road-stone there in the 19th century. (fn. 7) The soil is stonebrash with a clay subsoil. (fn. 8) Much of the ancient parish was once moorland; (fn. 9) the small Hopyard Spinney is the only wood now lying within it.
The Roman road from Bicester to Towcester traverses the parish. Near the middle of the village it now diverges as a cart-track from the modern road, which was straightened in 1939. (fn. 10) A bridle-track running south of Spilsmere Wood connects Newton Purcell with Shelswell, 1½ miles away, but it does not follow the line of the 18th-century way marked on Davis's map, nor does the road he shows to Finmere exist now. (fn. 11) The turnpike from Bicester to Buckingham, formed in 1813, made the parish more accessible, and a coach between Oxford and Northampton ran through the village daily. (fn. 12)
A station called Finmere, less than half a mile from the village, but in Shelswell parish, was opened in 1899. (fn. 13)
The village of Newton Purcell, 'the new tun', (fn. 14) like its offshoot Newton Morrell, was originally a settlement where the Roman road crossed a spur of higher ground. It took its second name from the Purcel family, who held it in the 12th century, (fn. 15) while its hamlet may have been called after the Morrells, who held land in Addingrove (Bucks.) in the 12th and 13th centuries and at Long Crendon in Henry III's reign. (fn. 16)
Neither can have been a large settlement in the Middle Ages. (fn. 17) In 1662 and 1665 only seventeen and eleven houses were listed for the hearth tax and of these even the Rectory and the two biggest farmhouses had only three or four hearths. (fn. 18) In the 18th century there were probably about 22 houses in the two hamlets. (fn. 19) These had increased to 28 in 1851, but had dropped to 20 by 1901. (fn. 20) The village seems to have once extended farther southwards than at present, for the foundations of buildings were said to have been found there in the last quarter of the 19th century. (fn. 21)
Today (1956) Newton Purcell consists of 27 cottages, which mostly lie on either side of the main road. For the most part they are built of grey rubble stone and are thatched. One bears the inscription w w e 1662. Two groups of cottages at the south end were rebuilt before the Second World War with their original stone and the original type of thatched roof. Another group was similarly rebuilt except that tiles were used instead of thatch. On the east side of the main village street a mound and three sections of a moat mark the site of the medieval manor-house of the Purcels. (fn. 22) In a lane, which makes a loop to the west of the main village street, lie Elms Farm, built above the level of the road on the site of the second manor-house, (fn. 23) the red-brick 19th-century school (1872), and the church. North of the lane is the Victorian Rectory, built about 1844, (fn. 24) and near by some glebe land has been converted into allotments. Farther north still the main road dips into the valley, where the new part of the village lies, quite distinct from the old. Here is the station, the stationmaster's house, and three red-brick cottages, built when the railway was cut; and the Shelswell Inn (P.R.H.A.). (fn. 25)
'Griff' Lloyd (rector 1805–42) (fn. 26) was a well-known hunting parson and for several years acted as deputy to his cousin Sir Thomas Mostyn, Master of the Bicester Hunt. Both men figure in an oil-painting of the first meet of the Bicester Hounds. (fn. 27) 'Griff' Lloyd was a 'character' and stories about him can be found in the books of H. H. Dixon ('The Druid') such as Silk and Scarlet (1856).
Of the 5 hides (fn. 28) of NEWTON manor held by the Purcel family in the 13th century, 2½ were held of the honor of St. Valery, 2 of the barony of Arsic and the remaining ½-hide, a late acquisition, of the honor of Gloucester. (fn. 29) No manor of Newton appears in the Domesday survey and it is clear that the 2½ hides of St. Valery were originally part of Mixbury, held in 1086 by Roger d'Ivry, and that the 2 hides of Arsic were part of Fringford, held by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. (fn. 30) Roger d'Ivry's lands, including Mixbury, passed in the 12th century to the St. Valery family. (fn. 31) In 1213 Thomas de St. Valery gave to Oseney Abbey Mixbury manor, including the homage and service of Robert Purcel for his fee in Newton. (fn. 32) The overlordship of this fee continued to follow the descent of the honor of St. Valery (fn. 33), which was later merged in the honor of Wallingford. Thomas de St. Valery's grant was confirmed by successive overlords, Robert of Dreux and Richard of Cornwall, (fn. 34) and until the Dissolution Oseney Abbey as mesne lord received an annual rent of £1 4s. from the Purcels, who were also responsible for the forinsec service of half a knight. (fn. 35) Odo of Bayeux's Fringford estate passed to the Arsic family, who were overlords of part of Newton until the death of Robert Arsic in 1230. The overlordship then followed the descent of the Grey manor in Fringford. (fn. 36) In 1198 Ralph Purcel was said to hold by sergeanty 1 carucate in demesne in Newton. (fn. 37) The lands attached to the usher sergeanty, which the Purcels held of the king (see below), were in Wallbury (Essex), (fn. 38) and this Newton sergeanty probably represents the lands they held of the Arsics, for in 1227 Robert Purcel undertook that when on duty as an usher at the king's court he would perform certain services for Robert Arsic. (fn. 39)
The Purcels of Newton were descended from Oyn Purcel, an usher sergeant under Henry I. (fn. 40) The sergeanty and the family lands at Catteshill (Surr.) descended to Oyn's son Geoffrey, and Geoffrey's son Ralph, on whose death about 1155 they were granted to his uncle Ranulf. Ralph, however, had married a sister of Robert Burnel of Shareshull (Staffs.), another usher sergeant, and had a son Ralph, to whom in about 1155 Henry II granted the office and lands of his uncle Robert. (fn. 41) Although in 1283 it was asserted in a lawsuit that the Purcels had held in Newton of the honor of St. Valery before the elder Ralph's marriage, (fn. 42) it is more likely that their Oxfordshire lands came to them from Robert Burnel, who in 1130 had been excused payment of danegeld on some 3½ hides in the county. (fn. 43)
Ralph Purcel the younger was still alive about 1180, (fn. 44) but the Ralph who held lands in Newton in 1198 was probably his son and successor, (fn. 45) and was dead by 1213, when his widow Sybil claimed her dower in Newton from his son Robert. (fn. 46) At some time between 1189 and 1199 Robert's father Ralph had acquired 2 virgates in Shelswell from William de Weston in exchange for 2 virgates in Colly Weston (Northants). In 1222 William's widow Alice successfully claimed the virgates in Shelswell as part of her dower, although it was agreed that they should revert to Robert Purcel on her death. (fn. 47) In 1233, however, Alice quitclaimed the virgates to Robert, (fn. 48) and they became part of Newton manor, being held of the lords of Shelswell, who in turn held of the Earl of Gloucester. (fn. 49)
Robert, who also held lands in Bainton (fn. 50) and Westcot Barton, was still alive in 1243, (fn. 51) but was succeeded soon afterwards by his brother Henry. (fn. 52) Henry was dead by 1247 and Newton passed to Otwel Purcel, probably his son. (fn. 53) Otwel was holding Newton in 1279, (fn. 54) but was dead by the following year, when the wardship and marriage of his son Otwel was granted to William and Joan Poure of Oddington. (fn. 55) Otwel (II) became Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1317–18 (fn. 56) and was apparently alive in 1327. (fn. 57) By 1332 he had been succeeded by his son Thomas, who in that year conceded that the Abbot of Oseney might make distraint in the whole manor—not only in the St. Valery fee—for arrears of his annual rent. (fn. 58) Thomas was still lord of Newton in 1340; (fn. 59) a John Purcel was lord in 1375 (fn. 60) and another John in 1425. (fn. 61) The family evidently retained the manor until the 16th century, for a Thomas Purcel of Newton is recorded in 1475, (fn. 62) and in 1521 payment of the annual rent to Oseney Abbey was made by the guardian of the Purcel heir. (fn. 63) Soon afterwards, however, the manor seems to have passed to Richard Duke, who was in residence by 1523. (fn. 64)
After the dissolution of Oseney Abbey, Sir John Wellesbourne was granted in 1541 Mixbury manor and all the Oseney lands in Newton, (fn. 65) in fact Oseney's mesne lordship in Newton, for the manor continued in the tenure of the Duke family. The John Duke who signed the inventory of church goods in 1552 may have been Richard's grandson who held Frankton manor (Warws.) and died in 1565; (fn. 66) but by 1559 Newton was probably held by Roger Duke, perhaps John's brother. His tenure lasted until 1568 at least; (fn. 67) in 1596 his successor Paul Duke and his wife Sabina conveyed the manor to John Sill, (fn. 68) husband of Elizabeth, the granddaughter of Sir John Wellesborne. (fn. 69) The conveyance was later disputed by the Frankton branch of the Duke family, (fn. 70) but the Sills retained the manor. Elizabeth's husband John was dead by 1611 and in 1615 her second husband Edward Mole was holding lands in Newton in her right. (fn. 71) In 1632 Wellesborne Sill, Elizabeth's son, and his step-father Edward Mole conveyed Newton to Richard Blower. (fn. 72) The Blowers were still lords of the manor in 1667 when Robert Blower and his wife Anne conveyed it to Ambrose Holbech, (fn. 73) who in 1677 conveyed it to Samuel Trotman of Siston (Glos.), (fn. 74) son of Samuel Trotman of Bucknell (d. 1684/5). Samuel the younger's only daughter Dorothea married her cousin Samuel, son of Lenthall Trotman of Bucknell, (fn. 75) to whom she brought Newton manor on her father's death in 1720. Samuel was succeeded in 1749 by his nephew Samuel, and on the latter's death in 1775 Newton passed to his nephew Fiennes, son of his brother Edward Trotman of Shelswell. (fn. 76) Thereafter Newton followed the same descent as Shelswell.
As Newton was colonized after 1086, the first record of the community comes from the Hundred Rolls of 1279. (fn. 77) Otwel Purcel then had 18 virgates in demesne. Of his villeins (nativi) 8 held half-virgates for 6s. 8d. a year–3 of them owed labour services as well—and 1 held ¼ virgate for 1s. 8d. Six others, evidently cottars, held only a messuage each for 2s. a year. He had no free tenants, but there were 4 on the estate held of the lord of Shelswell by John Fitzniel. John held 3 virgates in demesne and his 4 free tenants held 4 virgates for suit at the hundred and county courts and for rents varying from 2½d. to 1s. 4d. for a half-virgate. A fifth freeholder in Newton held 3 virgates (possibly part of Mixbury manor) of Bicester Priory, which held of Oseney Abbey. (fn. 78)
There are no manorial extents or court rolls to throw light on the later agrarian history of Newton, but there is one early 13th-century charter which gives some information about the topography of the parish. There was moorland, besides pasture, meadow, and the fields. Some furlong names are recorded, e.g. 'Brocfurlong' and 'Sunistedfurlong', and it is revealed that meadow-land lay near Fringford Mill and was assigned by lot. (fn. 79)
The 14th-century tax lists show as one would expect in so small a parish that the community was neither populous nor rich. Between nine and twelve persons were taxed, of whom only three had much property. Among the three was Otwel Purcel, the lord, but he was not always the biggest contributor. Newton's total contribution in 1327 places it among the poorer parishes in the hundred. Its tax was increased at the reassessment of 1334, but this may denote earlier evasion rather than economic progress. (fn. 80) There had evidently been a decline in population before 1428, when there were fewer than ten resident householders in Newton. (fn. 81) By 1524, when seven small contributors paid to the subsidy, Newton was the lowest-taxed parish in the hundred. (fn. 82) This was in part because of its small area, but also on account of the absence of any marked concentration of wealth. By the middle of the century there are signs that this had been taking place. In 1558 the lord, Roger Duke, paid on £7 worth of land, and one other paid on goods worth £11. (fn. 83)
Little is recorded which throws light on the field system or the process of inclosure. A terrier of 1634 shows that there were three fields: the field towards Finmere, the field 'butting upon the Broad Meadowe', and the field adjoining 'Willaston Lordship'. (fn. 84) As the meadow-land mostly lay along the river bank in the south of the parish, a glance at the map makes it clear that these fields are the North, South, and West Fields mentioned in a terrier of 1679. (fn. 85) This terrier also shows that the Cow Pasture lay south of the village, no doubt where the two presentday fields, Dairy Ground and Long Dairy Ground, lie. (fn. 86) Mowing ground in the West Field is recorded and many acres of furze. Much of the last lay in Morwell, which was close to the ford by Fringford Mill. The villagers were entitled to take furze from South and West Fields for fuel. The parson's terrier also states that besides meadow ground there were 'several hades (i.e. headlands) belonging to each land in every field either at one end of the land or at both wheresoever other neighbours have hades belonging unto theirs'.
As the land still lay dispersed in strips in 1679 inclosure must have taken place after that date, but there is no record of parliamentary inclosure. It is likely that the open and waste land was inclosed by private agreement at the end of the 17th century after Samuel Trotman became lord of Shelswell. (fn. 87)
In the period 1786–1832 there were only two estates in the parish, belonging to the lord of the manor and the rector; they were assessed for land tax at £32 and £6 6s. respectively. Both were occupied by tenant farmers. (fn. 88) In 1851 the parish was divided between three large farms of 429 acres, 317 acres, and 226 acres. (fn. 89) In 1953 there were still three farms, all belonging to Mr. Dewar-Harrison of Willaston Farm. (fn. 90)
In the absence of constables' books or overseers' accounts nothing can be said about local government in the 18th and 19th centuries. The school log book, however, attests that Shelswell Park played a vital part in village life in the last quarter of the 19th century. On 13 December 1878 it records that several children had gone to Shelswell that morning 'to fetch soup', and the villagers still remember this weekly event at the 'big house'. (fn. 91) The charity of Lady Louisa Harrison is also recorded on a tablet in the church.
Agriculture has probably been almost the sole occupation of the villagers. In 1279 one of the villeins of Newton was named William the miller, (fn. 92) but there is no certain record of a mill in the parish. When the parsonage was viewed for dilapidations in 1706 by five craftsmen, not one belonged to Newton. (fn. 93) In 1851, however, the census recorded a grocer and a lacemaker. (fn. 94) In 1953 there were three tenant farmers and the majority of the villagers lived in tied cottages and worked on the Dewar-Harrison estate. (fn. 95)
Population did not increase appreciably during the late 17th and 18th centuries. In 1676 there were 60 adults and in 1738 the rector returned 12 houses in the parish. At the first official census in 1801 there were 93 inhabitants and this number rose to a peak of 143 in 1821. Thereafter there was a steady decline until 1881 when there were 90 inhabitants. In 1911, when Shelswell was also included, there were 172 inhabitants: there were 103 in 1951. (fn. 96)
Architectural evidence shows that there was a church at Newton by at least the mid-12th century, although the first documentary evidence dates from the charter, probably c. 1200, by which Ralph Purcel granted Newton church to Bicester Priory. (fn. 97) His son Robert in 1213 claimed in the king's court that it belonged to him, (fn. 98) but nevertheless later confirmed his father's grant. (fn. 99) Bicester may have remained as patron until its dissolution, but its last presentation was in 1484. After the mid-14th century the priory found the advowson of little value, for on six occasions (1351, twice in 1353, 1492, 1513, and 1531) it allowed the right of presentation to lapse to the bishop; in 1496 Notley Abbey presented, and in 1503 and 1528 the owners of Shelswell manor. (fn. 100) In the post-Reformation period the advowson followed the descent of Shelswell manor, (fn. 101) and from 1573 the two livings were held together. (fn. 102) In 1850 the ecclesiastical parishes were united by an Order in Council, (fn. 103) which gave legal recognition to a long-standing practical arrangement. In 1955 the patron was the lord of Shelswell manor.
In the Middle Ages Newton Purcell was so poor a church that it was not included in the valuations of 1254 and 1291. In 1339 it was taxed at £2 13s. 4d., (fn. 104) and was thus worth less than the 5 marks considered desirable for the maintenance of a parish priest. Even by 1535 it was worth no more than £3 15s. 4d. (fn. 105)
A reason for this poverty was that the parish of Newton was not coterminous with the township. Two tenements of 3½ yardlands and ½ yardland respectively with appurtenances—common and pasture—, though lying in the fields of Newton, belonged to Shelswell parish, to which they paid tithes. The furze and thorns gathered in the fields by the tenants of these holdings were also tithable to Shelswell. Their farm-houses lay in Newton village, and in 1608 the holder of the larger farm was said to be churchwarden of Shelswell 'in the right of his tenement'. (fn. 106) The origin of Shelswell's claims probably lies in the tenurial arrangements of the 13th century, when a half-fee in Newton was held of the lords of Shelswell manor. (fn. 107)
A tithe case of 1614 shows something of the tithe customs of the parish, and discloses incidentally how well each farmer knew his neighbour's business. For every colt born the rector received 1d., for every sheep dying or sold between Candlemas and shearing time ½d., and for every sheep sheared in the parish he received the whole tithe. (fn. 108)
By 1675 the rectory was said to be worth £32, (fn. 109) and in 1716 the combined livings of Newton and Shelswell were worth £66. (fn. 110) In 1847 the tithes of Newton were commuted for £132, (fn. 111) and in 1849 those of Shelswell for £186. (fn. 112)
Part of the income of the living has always come from the glebe, valued at 13s. 4d. in the reign of Edward III. (fn. 113) Terriers of 1601, 1634, and 1679 show that it then consisted of about 35 pieces of land in the open fields, (fn. 114) which were later exchanged for 28 acres. (fn. 115) It was thus smaller in area than the glebe usually enjoyed by parsons, and was not increased after 1850 by any land from Shelswell.
Owing to the poverty of the church in the Middle Ages the living was difficult to fill and the incumbents changed frequently, especially after 1349. The only known point of interest about these incumbents is the sudden succession of eight graduates, who held office between 1462 and 1503. (fn. 116) In the century after the Reformation John Lawrence (1597 to at least 1634) was clearly resident, for he built himself a substantial new dwelling on the north side of the church. (The medieval Rectory, consisting of three bays, stood on the south side.) The new house had stables of four bays, a five-bay barn, and a cowhouse. (fn. 117) Richard Addington (rector 1662–1705), a member of the Addington family of Fringford, (fn. 118) was resident in 1665 when he paid tax on five hearths, and seems to have lived for many years in the parish. (fn. 119) But subsequent rectors did not reside: in 1768 the rector Samuel Trotman, who had been presented by his brother Fiennes Trotman of Shelswell, was reported to be living in Gloucestershire although he frequently officiated at Newton. (fn. 120) He had an unlicensed curate with a salary of 10s. 6d. a Sunday, serving another cure and living a mile away. Nevertheless, there was a service each Sunday at Newton and on other listed days, Holy Communion being celebrated four times a year. In the early 19th century the ruinous state of the parsonage made nonresidence inevitable: Griffith Lloyd, rector from 1805 until his death in 1842, was licensed by his bishop to reside at Swift's House, near Stoke Lyne, on condition that he performed his duties. (fn. 121) As a hunting parson, this arrangement suited him admirably for Swift's House was the home of his cousin Sir Thomas Mostyn, the Master of the Bicester Hunt. (fn. 122)
Of a very different type from Lloyd was his successor, John Meade (1843–83). (fn. 123) As the old Rectory had been converted into four cottages, he at once built a new Rectory, farther to the north of the church. (fn. 124) There he resided continuously and exercised a faithful and fruitful cure of souls. (fn. 125)
The church of ST. MICHAEL is a small stone structure covered with pebble dash. It comprises a continuous nave and chancel with a bell-gable at the west end. Originally a Romanesque building, the church was repaired and 'beautified' in 1813 at the cost of John Harrison of Shelswell House, when most of the ancient features were destroyed. (fn. 126) A restoration by C. N. Beazley in 1875–6 at the expense of Edward Slater-Harrison and the rector, John Meade, almost amounted to a rebuilding, leaving only the foundations of the original walls. (fn. 127) A 13th-century piscina survives and the present 12th-century doorway was moved from the north, where it is shown in Skelton's illustration, to the south side; (fn. 128) it has chevron mouldings and a roughly carved tympanum of a dove and two interlocked snakes. The restoration also included the removal of the old pews and gallery, the restoration of the chancel, and the building of the bell-gable, vestry, and south porch. In 1875 a 13th-century incised stone, now on the north wall of the chancel, commemorating a heart burial and inscribed 'Hic jacet . . .' was discovered in a niche (probably the old aumbry) in the chancel wall. There are two lancet windows at the west end, and a window on the north side contains early 19thcentury glass after Raphael's 'Transfiguration'. The font and pulpit are modern.
There are memorials to the Trotman, Harrison, and Slater-Harrison families, successive owners of Shelswell House. Those commemorated include Edward Trotman (d. 1743); his sons Samuel Trotman, rector (d. 1773), and Fiennes Trotman (d. 1782); Gilbert Harrison, merchant of London (d. 1790), with a marble bust and elaborate emblems of commercial enterprise; Mary, his widow (d. 1825), with a monument by P. Rouw of Regent Street; John Harrison (d. 1834); John Slater-Harrison (d. 1874); and Edward Slater-Harrison (d. 1911); and one to George Tyrwhitt-Drake (d. 1915). (fn. 129)
The church once had some medieval silver: a chalice and paten were listed in 1552. (fn. 130) The chalice was doubtless the one presented by Leonard and Margaret Verney, who mentions it in her will of 1530. (fn. 131) A pewter almsplate has disappeared since 1892, and the plate consisted in 1955 of a silver chalice and paten of 1798. (fn. 132) In 1955 there were two bells, as there were in 1552; both are 14th-century, and one is inscribed 'Ave Maria Gracia Plena'. (fn. 133)
There has been little Protestant dissent. One dissenting family was reported in 1778, and in 1793 a single 'Anabaptist'. (fn. 134) In 1839 a house was licensed as a place of worship, (fn. 135) but there never seems to have been more than about one family of dissenters in the village. In 1854 one dissenter was said to attend church every Sunday morning. (fn. 136)
There was no school in Newton Purcell in the early 19th century. (fn. 137) By 1854, however, there was a dame school supported by J. H. SlaterHarrison, (fn. 138) which was attended by 20 children from Newton and Shelswell. There was also an evening writing-school for 6 boys supported by the rector. (fn. 139) Either the dame school or its successor had 18 pupils in 1871. (fn. 140)
Newton Purcell Church of England school was built in 1873 at the joint expense of the patron, the rector, the Revd. John Meade, and other residents, on ground given by J. H. Slater-Harrison. (fn. 141) It was attended by 14 children in 1889 (fn. 142) and, after being enlarged in 1898, (fn. 143) by 31 children in 1906. (fn. 144) It was reorganized as a junior school in 1929, when the older children were sent to Fringford, and was given aided status in 1952. There were 10 pupils in 1937 and in 1954. (fn. 145)
There are no charities older than the 19th century. (fn. 146) By deed dated 1884 the Revd. John Meade (rector 1843–83) gave £250 in stock. Of the yearly interest £1 was to be paid to the sexton and the remainder was to be distributed at Christmas to widows, the sick and aged poor of Newton Purcell and Shelswell. (fn. 147) In 1954, when the annual income was £6 15s., the charity was still distributed by the rector at Christmas. (fn. 148)