A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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The ancient parish used to cover 1,842 acres, (fn. 1) but in 1888 it was increased to 1,977 acres by the addition of a detached part of Fritwell. (fn. 2) It lies along the banks of the Cherwell about 16 miles north of Oxford with Banbury as its nearest market-town. The Cherwell forms most of the western boundary, but in the north by Aston Mill the line has been drawn east of it and in the south-west the boundary follows the western arm of the river so as to include in Somerton some meadowland on the right bank. Part of the eastern boundary is formed by the ancient dyke of Aves Ditch. (fn. 3)
The parish stands on the limestone escarpment which forms the watershed between the Thames and the Ouse. (fn. 4) Most of it is a bleak and treeless tableland, 300 feet above sea-level, but rising to 400 feet near Somerton village. Here the land falls away steeply towards the Cherwell, where the low-lying valley was once marsh and is still liable to flooding. Several springs rise on the edge of this hill and run into the Cherwell; noted for their fossilizing properties, they excited the interest of Robert Plot, the 17th-century scientist. (fn. 5)
The parish is crossed by a network of roads and by an ancient trackway, the pre-Roman Portway, which runs from north to south. (fn. 6)
The bridges over the Cherwell and its arms were numerous and were kept up by both Somerton and North Aston parishes. The bridge called 'Gambon brugge' (fn. 7) over the western arm on the road to North Aston was first mentioned in the 13th century, and although in Aston parish its upkeep led to disputes with Somerton. As late as the early 17th century it was said to be customary for the lord of Aston to assist with the maintenance of the causeway from 'Cumon's Mill to old Cherwell', and to pay a quarter of the cost of upkeep of the bridge over 'old Cherwell' and of 'six or seven' other bridges adjoining. (fn. 8) By an agreement of 1624 the lord of Aston agreed to maintain the bridge over 'Old Charwell' and the next bridge towards Somerton; the lord of Somerton was to maintain all the other bridges, and the causeway to Somerton. (fn. 9)
The Oxford canal, completed in 1790, runs parallel to the river. (fn. 10) A wharf and weighbridge, now disused, were made near the village and the Cherwell and Somerton lock on the parish's northern boundary. The Oxford—Banbury section of the G.W.R. was completed in 1850 and a station (called Fritwell and Somerton in 1955) was opened in 1855. (fn. 11) It stands on the site of the Domesday mill. (fn. 12)
The village, now without any definite pattern, lies at the north-western corner of the parish. It straggles up the slopes of the steep hill above the banks of the Cherwell: the main village street is the road from North Aston which runs past the Railway Inn to the centre of the village and on to Ardley. The church has a commanding position half-way up the hill. (fn. 13) It is possible that the medieval village lay to the south of it and not as now mainly to the north. In a field slightly north-east of the church and sloping down to the river, mounds and fishponds can still be seen marking the site of the medieval castle of the De Greys. (fn. 14) An extent of 1295 mentions its court, dovecote, fishponds, curtilages, and gardens. (fn. 15) It was presumably uninhabited in the early 16th century, when William Fermor built a new manor-house on another site, but the chapel in the castle yard was still standing in 1580 when Thomas Fermor bequeathed it for use as a school. There is a tradition that the present school-house stands on the site of this chapel. Thirteenth-century pottery was dug up near by in 1954. (fn. 16)
The village was one of the largest and richest in Ploughley hundred in the Middle Ages and remained so until the mid-19th century. (fn. 17) In the 1660's there were at least ten substantial houses besides the manor-house, (fn. 18) of which many survive today. In the 18th century incumbents estimated that there were about 40 houses. (fn. 19) A great amount of building took place in the first half of the 19th century and the number of houses rose from 55 in 1811 to 78 in 1851. But thereafter population declined, and although there has been much new building in the 20th century, houses still numbered 64 in 1951 as they had done in 1901. The village's new council houses lie along the Ardley Road. (fn. 20)
The oldest house in Somerton is probably the present schoolroom. (fn. 21) It is thought to be a late16th or early 17th-century building. It is L-shaped in plan, is constructed of coursed rubble, and retains part of its ancient roof of stone slates. The schoolmaster's house was originally part of the 16thcentury building, but was rebuilt in about 1750 and there have since been 19th-century additions. (fn. 22)
A wall with a two-light window and the remains of tracery in it is all that is left of the village's chief 16th-century house. This was the new manor-house, built early in the century by William Fermor on a new site south-east of the village and near the present Manor Farm. (fn. 23) In 1665 it was returned for the hearth tax as having 22 hearths. (fn. 24) It had a central dining-hall with mullioned windows and 'great' parlour above and flanking wings. The windows of the hall, chapel, and parlour were filled with coats of arms, which Anthony Wood carefully described. (fn. 25) This house was the home of the Fermors until 1625 when Henry Fermor moved to Tusmore. (fn. 26) It was then owned for 30 years by Lord Arundell, and may have been let by him. (fn. 27) The house is marked on Plot's map of 1677, (fn. 28) but by 1738 it was 'almost ruinous' although the chapel was still being used. (fn. 29) Later in the century the house was partly pulled down and stone from it was used for the new Fermor house at Tusmore. By 1827 only a fragment of the hall remained. (fn. 30)
Among the 17th-century houses are Manor Farm, a two-storied house with cellars and a steep-pitched roof covered with stone slates; and Dovecote Farm at the top of the village street. The last consists of three buildings joined at an angle; it has two stories and cellars; is built of coursed rubble like all the older houses in the village and is roofed with Welsh slate. It is named after its dovecote, dated 1719— a square building with a four-gabled roof of stone slates. Each gable has a window and there are 1,100 nests.
The early 17th-century Rectory which once stood opposite the church was replaced in 1847. (fn. 31) It was built in about 1615 by the rector, William Juxon, and was a large stone house with a high gabled roof. The south front had eleven windows and the entrance doorway; dovehouse, stables, and other outhouses adjoined it. (fn. 32) The new 19th-century Rectory cost £2,000 and was enlarged in 1896, but was abandoned as a Rectory for a smaller house built at the top of the hill in 1928. (fn. 33) Other 19th-century additions to the village are the red-brick cottages opposite the church and the Railway Inn near the river, where the wellknown Oxfordshire surveyor for inclosure awards, James Jennings (d. 1832), once lived. (fn. 34) A Somerton victualler was licensed in 1735, but the name of his premises is not known. (fn. 35)
One outlying farm—Troy Farm (fn. 36) —dates from the 16th century. It was probably built on the site of the manor-house known as 'Somertons', which belonged to the 15th-century Astons, (fn. 37) and may have been occupied in the early 17th century by William Tempest, who had land in the parish. (fn. 38) Today its chief interest is a well-preserved turf maze, cut in the garden opposite the house, of which only seven are said to survive in England. The name Troy, used figuratively to denote a scene of confusion, was often given to mazes. (fn. 39)
Mudginwell Farm-house, a stone building on the Middleton Stoney road, close to the Upper Heyford boundary, is no longer in use as a farm-house. It dates from the 17th century.
The parish is noteworthy for its long connexion with a well-known Roman Catholic family, the Fermors, (fn. 40) and for three eminent rectors. Master Nicholas Hereford, rector in 1397, may have been the well-known collaborator of Wycliffe; Robert King (rector 1537–52), the son of a yeoman farmer of Thame, was the first Bishop of Oxford; and William Juxon (rector 1615–33), a noted Episcopalian and President of St. John's College, Oxford, attended Charles I on the scaffold and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 41)
In 1086 Odo of Bayeux and Miles Crispin shared the lordship of SOMERTON. Odo held 9 hides, while Miles held two small estates of 1 hide each. (fn. 42) The latter had been held before the Conquest by Brictric and Ketel, a Dane, but in 1086 Rainald Wadard or Waard was the undertenant of all three estates. Wadard was closely associated with Odo of Bayeux—he appears in the Bayeux tapestry—and was the latter's tenant in several neighbouring Oxfordshire villages besides holding lands of him in five other counties. (fn. 43) After Odo's banishment his Somerton lands appear to have been granted to Manasses Arsic, thus becoming a part of the Barony of Cogges. On Miles Crispin's death his Somerton estates were added to the Arsic lands. (fn. 44)
Throughout the 12th century Somerton remained united and followed the Arsic descent, until in 1230 Robert Arsic died leaving two coheiresses, Joan and Alexandra, between whom the barony was divided. Joan was successively wife of Eustace de Grenvile and of Stephen Simeon, and Alexandra married Thomas de la Haye. (fn. 45) Each held half of the manor, which remained divided until the 16th century.
Sybil de Crevequer, Robert Arsic's widow, held lands in Somerton in dower, but was dead by 1245, for in that year Stephen Simeon and Joan conveyed their share of the manor to Walter, son of Robert de Grey, in exchange for land at Cornwell and 200 marks. Later in the year Walter obtained a charter confirming to him these lands, as well as others granted him by his uncle Walter de Grey., Archbishop of York. (fn. 46) His son Robert succeeded in 1268, (fn. 47) and on his death in 1295 (fn. 48) Somerton was assigned in dower to his widow Joan. She died in 1312, leaving as heir her grandson, John de Grey, a minor. (fn. 49) His wardship was committed to Hugh Despenser until 1322, when John attained his majority. (fn. 50) He was succeeded in 1359 by his son John (III), (fn. 51) who in 1361 entailed the manor on his son John (IV) and his intended wife Elizabeth de Ponynges. (fn. 52) But John (IV) predeceased his father, so in 1368 it was resettled on Elizabeth for life, with remainder to her daughter. (fn. 53) Apparently both Elizabeth and her daughter were dead by 1375, or had surrendered their estates, since after John (III) died in that year Somerton was assigned to his widow Maud in dower. (fn. 54) In 1379 John (II)'s third son Robert, now 4th Baron Grey of Rothfield, obtained licence to settle the reversion of the manor, still held in dower by Maud, on himself and his wife Joan in tail, and did so in 1380. (fn. 55) Robert died seised of the manor in 1388, (fn. 56) leaving an infant daughter as heiress, so that the Grey manor passed into the king's custody. However, his widow Elizabeth married John de Clinton in the same year, and was assigned the manor in dower. (fn. 57) John de Clinton died in 1398 and Elizabeth married as her fourth husband Sir John Russell; (fn. 58) she continued to hold the manor until her death in 1423. (fn. 59) Robert de Grey's only daughter Joan had married John Deincourt, and in 1401, when she came of age, she and her husband were given seisin of the barony. (fn. 60) She died in 1408 and the barony eventually passed to her daughters Margaret and Alice as coheiresses. (fn. 61) Alice, the elder, was wife of William Lovel, and it was to them that the Grey moiety of Somerton reverted on Elizabeth's death. In 1435 William settled the property on himself and his wife, (fn. 62) and when he died in 1455 (fn. 63) Alice married Sir Ralph Butler and continued to hold the manor until her death in 1474. (fn. 64) Her grandson Francis, Lord Lovel, succeeded, but was attainted in 1485 and was probably killed in 1487 at the battle of Stoke. (fn. 65) The manor remained in royal hands until granted in 1512 to William Fermor. (fn. 66)
The other moiety of SOMERTON, which passed to Alexandra Arsic and her husband Thomas de la Haye, was in 1255 held of her by the queen at feefarm. (fn. 67) Her daughter, also Alexandra, had married William de Gardinis by 1279, when he was holding half Somerton, and in theory shared with Robert de Grey the obligation to find three knights for the garrison of Dover castle throughout the year. (fn. 68) In practice, however, Somerton was regarded as only ¼ knight's fee. (fn. 69) William died in 1287, but had already given his son Thomas an estate pur outer vie (fn. 70) in his lands in Somerton. Thomas's daughter Alexandra married John Giffard 'le Boef' of Twyford (Bucks.), and when Thomas died in 1328 the estate passed to their son John Giffard. (fn. 71) The Giffards held Somerton until 1437, but appear never to have lived there. John Giffard the younger and his son played a prominent part in local government in Buckinghamshire, but scarcely at all in Oxfordshire. (fn. 72) In 1361 Sir John obtained licence to settle the manor on his son Thomas, (fn. 73) who succeeded in 1369. (fn. 74) In 1383 Thomas settled the property on his eldest son Roger and the latter's wife Joan, daughter of Baldwin de Bereford of Shotteswell (Warws.), (fn. 75) to whom it passed in 1394, (fn. 76) but in the following year Roger sold it to his mother Sybil, (fn. 77) who held it until her death in 1429. (fn. 78) In the meantime Roger had married Isabel Stretele and had died in 1419. (fn. 79) Their son Thomas succeeded to the manor. (fn. 80) He had been a ward of his mother and stepfather John Stokes, and appears to have conveyed to them part or all of his Twyford estates. (fn. 81) Some time before 1437 John Aston, Thomas Giffard's brother-in-law, acquired sole ownership of these, for he then conveyed them to Thomas and became in exchange a feoffee of Somerton. (fn. 82) The reason for this series of conveyances is obscure: it may have been necessary to solve the problem of tenure created by Thomas's minority.
The Astons had held property in Somerton since at least 1327. (fn. 83) Members of the family had been in the church and in trade in London. (fn. 84) Richard Aston was the lessee of Eynsham Abbey's estate in the early 15th century and John Aston completed the purchase of the Giffards' Somerton manor in 1438. (fn. 85) Before his death in 1459 he conveyed the manor to feoffees, no doubt for his son William and his wife Isabel, daughter of Thomas Clederow, to whom the estate passed in 1465. (fn. 86) They held it until 1504, when they conveyed their moiety of Somerton to a group of feoffees which included Richard Fermor, (fn. 87) who in turn must have conveyed it to William Fermor, his younger brother, for the Astons are said to have held it 'till they covenanted with William Fermor'. (fn. 88) The other moiety, which had been in the king's hands since the attainder of Francis, Lord Lovel, (fn. 89) was granted to William Fermor in 1512 at a yearly rent of £15 11s. (fn. 90) Thus the manor was re-united.
Richard and William Fermor were the sons of Thomas Richards alias Fermor of Witney, a wealthy merchant of Welsh descent who had married the widow of Henry Wenman, another wool merchant. (fn. 91) William played an active part in local government: in 1509 he was appointed coroner and attorney of the King's Bench, in 1511 a Justice of the Peace for Oxfordshire, and in 1533 High Sheriff of the county. (fn. 92) He died in 1552, leaving no children, and his nephew Thomas, younger son of Richard Fermor, (fn. 93) was his heir. By the terms of William's will, however, his widow Elizabeth was to hold Somerton for her life, (fn. 94) and she was still lady of the manor as late as 1568. (fn. 95) By 1573 Thomas Fermor had succeeded her. (fn. 96) It is likely that he leased part of the manor to his sister Mary and her husband Sir Richard Knightley, (fn. 97) and to Robert Austen, grocer of London and the second husband of John Aston's sister Alice. (fn. 98) Though Thomas Fermor was M.P. for High Wycombe in 1562–3, (fn. 99) he took no further part in public affairs, probably because, like his father, he was a recusant. He died in 1580, having provided that Somerton manor should be held by his executors in trust for his young son Richard. (fn. 100)
Richard came of age in 1596, and purchased Tusmore manor, which was to become the principal residence of the Fermor family. (fn. 101) His elder son John married Cicely Compton, but died without issue in 1625, leaving Somerton to his widow in dower. (fn. 102) Cicely married as her second husband Henry, Lord Arundell of Wardour, head of another leading Roman Catholic family, (fn. 103) and in 1627 leased lands at Somerton to Sir Richard Fermor. (fn. 104) When the latter died in 1643 his second son and heir, Henry Fermor, who had already moved to Tusmore, left his sister-in-law in occupation of Somerton. (fn. 105) While Henry maintained a prudent neutrality in the Civil Wars (fn. 106) his kinsmen rallied to the support of Charles I. (fn. 107) Lord Arundell's pro-royalist activities (fn. 108) led to his estates, including his wife's lands at Somerton, being sequestered in 1646. In 1653 Somerton was purchased for £1,609 15s. 10d. from the Treason Trustees on his behalf by his brother-in-law Humphrey Weld of Lulworth (Dors.), for the lives of Arundell and his wife Cicely, (fn. 109) and so Lord Arundell was in possession of Somerton manor-house in 1665. (fn. 110)
Henry Fermor died in 1673, having provided by will (fn. 111) that certain bequests in Somerton would only take effect after Cicely's death. His son Richard inherited Somerton when Cicely died in 1675. (fn. 112) The Fermors, however, continued to live at Tusmore, though they chose to be buried with their ancestors in the south aisle of Somerton church.
Richard Fermor died in 1684, (fn. 113) and was succeeded by five generations of Fermors, who continued the staunch Roman Catholic tradition of the family. (fn. 114) William Fermor, the last of the direct male line, died in 1828, having sold Somerton in 1815 to the Earl of Jersey for £90,000. (fn. 115)
George Villiers, Earl of Jersey, who held the manor from 1815 until his death in 1859, was the principal landowner in the parish but resided at Middleton Stoney. (fn. 116) On the death of his son George Augustus Frederick Villiers, also in 1859, Somerton passed to his son Victor Albert George Villiers, the 7th earl. (fn. 117) After Lord Jersey's death in 1915 his Somerton estate was sold, much of it to Thomas Edwin Emberlin, who became lord of the manor. (fn. 118) In 1955 J. Emberlin Esq. was lord of the manor.
In the 1140's Alice de Langetot, widow of Roger de Chesney, lord of Heyford Warren, gave Eynsham Abbey 3 virgates in Somerton, (fn. 119) held of the honor of Wallingford. (fn. 120) In 1390 Eynsham received 10s. rent for two tenements in Somerton, (fn. 121) and about 1420 Richard Aston of Somerton held 2 virgates there of the abbey for the same rent. (fn. 122) The estate has not been traced subsequently. (fn. 123)
The Anglo-Saxons doubtless chose to settle at Somerton largely on account of the good water-supply and the rich meadowland, which afforded pasture for cattle in the summer months when the uplands in this area were liable to drought. The old English name Sumortun means 'farm used in summer', (fn. 124) and it is possible that it was originally used for a part of the year only by the upland settlement at Fritwell and later permanently colonized from there. (fn. 125) By 1086 at all events the community at Somerton was unusually large for this neighbourhood. On the principal manor of 9 plough-lands there were 2 plough-teams and 1 serf in demesne, while 17 villeins (villani) and 9 bordars shared 7 plough-teams. The survey records a large extent of meadow (40 a.) and, what is more unusual in this part of the country, 156 acres of pasture. The value had risen steeply from £9 to £12 since the Conquest. On each of the smaller Somerton estates, each worth 20s., and now in the hands of one lord, there was land for 1 plough. In one case all the land was in demesne and was worked by one serf. There were 8 acres of meadow. (fn. 126) The total working population thus recorded was at least twenty-eight.
Domesday Book also records a settlement on an unidentified site at Northbrook. A certain Rainald held there of Roger d'Ivri two small holdings of 1 hide and ½ hide. On the larger estate there was 1 plough-team in demesne, and 5 peasants had ½ plough. Its value of 20s. remained unchanged since the Conquest. The figures given for the smaller holding are so high that it is likely that the returns from the two estates may have been partly amalgamated. Though there was only ½ plough-land, there was one plough-team on the demesne and another shared by 9 peasants. The value of the holding had risen from 10s. to 30s. The hamlet was next mentioned in 1220, when it was included in the 12 carucates of Somerton. (fn. 127) A fine of 1244 shows that land there—2 carucates in Somerton and Northbrook—belonged to the Barony of Arsic and became part of the De Grey manor of Somerton, (fn. 128) and the survey of 1279 records that Ardley manor consisted of ½ fee in Ardley and ½ fee in the part of the vill of Somerton called Northbrook. (fn. 129)
By this time Somerton itself had grown in size and its tenurial structure had become more complicated. The De Grey and the De Gardinis manors (fn. 130) held 16 virgates of arable in demesne with appurtenant meadow and pasture. On the De Grey manor 2 villeins held a virgate each for 3s. 8d. rent, owed works and tallage, and had to pay fines at the lord's will if their sons left the manor, while on the two manors 26 half-virgaters held on the same terms but in proportion to the size of their holdings.
The comparatively new class of fifteen free tenants apparently held 18½ virgates. The most important was Simon son of Master, who held a hide by the service of providing in war-time a man to guard Robert de Grey's curia at Somerton for 40 days. There were three other De Grey tenants who probably held about 4 virgates. Seven free tenants of the De Gardinis manor held 7½ virgates between them. Among the free tenants were two members of the De Broke family, lords of Finmere, who each held 2 virgates partly let to undertenants of De Grey and De Gardinis respectively, and had inherited the land from Lawrence de Broke, who had acquired it in the 1230's and 1240's. (fn. 131) Another important free tenant was Eynsham Abbey with 3 virgates, which it was leasing for 15s. a year. (fn. 132) Other religious houses, whose small properties were not mentioned in the survey of 1279, were Merton Priory, with rents worth £1 4s. 8d., and Cogges Priory, with a rent worth 2s. (fn. 133) Thus about 49 virgates of cultivated land are accounted for.
Extents of 1300 and 1312 for the De Grey manor and of 1267 for the De Gardinis manor add further details about the economy of Somerton in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. In 1300 there were 128 acres of arable in demesne, valued at 4d. an acre, 10 acres of meadow valued at 3s. the acre, and pasture valued at 2s. yearly. The fishery was worth 12d. the water-mill 20s., rents of freemen amounted to 13s. 2¼d. and of 20 half-virgaters to 22½d. The last also owed works with 4 ploughs (2½d. a plough), and day-work every second day between the feasts of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist and Michaelmas, amounting to 26 works, each work being valued at 1d. The value of all works and customs was £4 3s. 4d., and the total value of the manor was £10 0s. 10¼d. (fn. 134) In the extent of 1312 there are slight variations. Pasture, for instance, was worth 10s. between Easter and Michaelmas, while free tenants paid 6s. 6d. in rents and a coulter worth 1d., and 48 villeins £3 17s. 5d. in rents. Their works between Midsummer and Michaelmas were worth £3 0s. 1d. Fixed rents were worth £4. 4s. (fn. 135)
On the smaller De Gardinis manor 40 acres of arable were worth 20s., or 6d. an acre, but meadowland (8 a.) was less valuable there than on the De Grey manor, being worth only 1s. 8d. an acre. Free tenants's rents came to £1, villeins' rents to £1, and their works to £1. (fn. 136)
Early 14th-century tax returns indicate a prosperous parish: after the market-town of Bicester and Stoke Lyne, more people (i.e. 53) were taxed than in any other parish in the hundred. (fn. 137) Many of them were substantial men. The population in the late 14th century was also one of the largest in the hundred, for 108 adults were listed for the poll tax of 1377. (fn. 138)
By the 16th century the pattern of land-holding had changed still further. Of the 39 persons assessed for the subsidy of 1524 at least 11 were wageearners. (fn. 139) Later in the century, when the greater part of the parish was owned by the Fermors, a list of the tenants of the manor in 1573 shows that there were 2 non-resident freeholders, Sir John Arundell and the heirs of Nicholas Odill, (fn. 140) and 19 other tenants, 3 of whom were cottagers. They held at will or for life. About 38 virgates were held by the 16 farmer tenants, but 2 of these, it may be noted, held properties of more than average size consisting of 7¼ and 5½ virgates respectively. The average rent was between 10s. and 15s. a virgate. (fn. 141)
Few Somerton families had a connexion of more than 100 years with the parish. The Astons, however, were an exception. William Aston, Esq., the son of John and Isabel Aston and donor of a church bell in 1635, (fn. 142) was probably a descendant of the 15thcentury Aston family, members of which had once been lords of a Somerton manor (fn. 143) and later became tenants of the purchasers, the Fermors. William's mother was a lesses under the Fermors of an estate of 2 yardlands. (fn. 144) Of the sixteen tenants in 1573, not counting cottagers, two-thirds came from families which had been in the parish at least since 1530, while five were from new families. (fn. 145) But 100 years later, in 1665, only three of these families were prosperous enough to be assessed for the hearth tax. (fn. 146) By 1720 only one family, the Hores, remained from the tenants of 1573. (fn. 147) In the 18th century family fortunes changed even more quickly: of the tenants of 1720, only the Collingridges and Hores were assessable for land tax in 1786. (fn. 148) The Hores were thus the one yeoman family which survived as tenants from the 16th to the 19th century. In 1700 there were three branches of them, all with substantial farms, worth together between a quarter and a fifth of the value of the whole parish. (fn. 149) By the end of the century the family held one small farm. (fn. 150)
The Mynnes are of interest as a family which rose into the ranks of the gentry from small beginnings. In the 16th century they were simple husbandmen, although prosperous ones, (fn. 151) renting one farm of 3 yardlands. (fn. 152) William Mynne, on the other hand, the last of the family and a recusant who was buried in the church in 1665, (fn. 153) was a gentleman, who had built up a considerable landed estate in several places. (fn. 154)
Between the 16th and the 18th centuries the Fermors got possession of the whole parish. In about 1720 the total yearly value of James Fermor's estate of 48 yardlands was £478. (fn. 155) Almost all the land was let out, the Fermors only keeping in hand Ladyham Close, some woods and several plots of furze in the common fields. There were 25 tenants, 13 of them smallholders and cottagers, and the rest substantial farmers with farms of between 2 and 5½ yardlands, who paid rents varying between £13 and £50. The hearth-tax returns of 1665 bear out this evidence of a prosperous group of yeomen. Out of 17 householders listed for the tax a high proportion had comfortable houses in the village. Five of them, however, were discharged owing to poverty, (fn. 156) and nine others listed in 1662 were not listed again. The population continued to be comparatively large: 242 adults were recorded in 1676.
Until the second half of the 18th century Somerton was an open-field parish, for an incipient movement to inclose in the 16th century had been checked. In 1512 William Fermor, who was also inclosing at Hardwick, was accused of converting 40 acres in demesne from arable to pasture. (fn. 157) There was talk in 1736 of inclosing about 20 acres of 'poorland', which had been planted with sainfoin. (fn. 158) A little later some new inclosures were made by William Fermor. (fn. 159)
The only evidence for the field system comes from 17th-century terriers. They show that there were four fields in 1634: (fn. 160) one lay north of the road to Ardley and adjoined Fritwell Moor; a second lay on the south side of the Ardley road; and the other two fields were on both sides of the Bicester road. By 1685 the field names had been altered and possibly some changes in cropping practice had been introduced; (fn. 161) by 1734 the glebe was divided among seven 'quarters'. (fn. 162)
There is no clear evidence for the area of the Somerton yardland, but in 1765, when the parish was inclosed, there were said to be 48½ yardlands or about 1,800 acres of common land. (fn. 163) This would make each yardland of arable, meadow, and pasture consist of about 37 acres. It may be noted here that although Somerton's pastures were always fairly rich and comparatively extensive, they were carefully stinted. In the 16th century the holder of each yardland was allowed to keep five horses or oxen at most and 30 sheep on the common in winter. The stint was rigorously enforced by the court, and even the lady of the manor's son was presented in the 1560's for overstocking the common with sheep. (fn. 164)
In 1765 William Fermor obtained an Act of Parliament to inclose the open fields: it was a simple matter as except for the glebe he was the sole owner. How far inclosure contributed to the increase in population which took place in the second half of the century is uncertain. According to Blomfield there was an excess of 68 deaths over births in the period 1670 to 1749, but between 1766 and 1785 there was an excess of 33 births over deaths. (fn. 165) During the Napoleonic war population continued to increase, and by 1821 had reached 400. The cost of maintaining the poor also rose steeply at this time, as elsewhere. The average sum raised between 1773 and 1775 was about £120; in 1803 it was £272. (fn. 166) Another indication of poverty in the early 19th century comes from a note in the Overseers' Book for 1819 to 1823. (fn. 167) It states that all women able to work were to go to the overseer, who would instruct them where to go on their rounds and allow them 6d. a day.
One effect of inclosure was probably to accelerate the process of increasing the size of farms, which was already under way. In 1820 the twelve farms of 1720 had been reduced to five, the largest, Troy farm, having over 600 acres. (fn. 168) This pattern of landholding continued through the 19th century. When the manor was sold in 1919 it still consisted of three large and two small farms, (fn. 169) covering the whole parish except for the glebe land. At present (1956) there are seven farms of which four are over 250 acres. (fn. 170)
The effect of inclosure on farming practice is uncertain. Judging from a map of 1797, (fn. 171) a high proportion of the land was devoted to pasture. This trend continued into the following centuries: in the second half of the 19th century two Somerton farmers were well-known sheep-breeders, and just over half the cultivated land was under grass; (fn. 172) in the 20th century Somerton has had a high reputation for its dairy products. (fn. 173) Its population in 1801 numbered only 254. It fell sharply after 1821 from 400 to 329 in 1841 as a result of the agricultural depression.
It recovered slightly, but fell again after 1871 to 265 in 1901. In 1951 there were 220 inhabitants. (fn. 174)
Although most of the inhabitants of Somerton have always been farmers or labourers, (fn. 175) some had other occupations. Outstanding among these was milling. In 1086 the mill paid a rent of 20s. a year and 400 eels; (fn. 176) in the late 13th century, when it belonged to the De Greys, it was rented for 20s. (fn. 177) By the 15th century there were two mills: one was called Somerham mill, (fn. 178) and the other, since it belonged to John Fuller, (fn. 179) was presumably a fulling mill. In the next century three mills are recorded, Somerham mill and two others belonging to the Fermors. Both then and in the preceding century the miller at Somerham mill was presented in the court for flooding the meadow-land. (fn. 180) By the 18th century there was only one mill left to the Fermors: it was let with the mill-house and meadow for £28. (fn. 181) In the 19th century its rent varied between £90 and £145, and it gave employment to a manager and five men. (fn. 182)
Two 16th-century bakers and a butcher have left a record because they cheated their customers. (fn. 183) In the 18th century there was a shop and a bakehouse, as well as a butcher, a shoemaker, a blacksmith, and a carpenter. (fn. 184) The fuller records of the 19th century supply the names of a number of additional trades: in the first quarter there was a brickmaker; (fn. 185) in 1851 there were a stonemason and a thatcher, two dressmakers, a tailor, a lacemaker, a smockmaker, a wheelwright, an instrument-maker, and a contractor and two men employed on railway work. (fn. 186)
Somerton church must have been in existence by 1074, when a grant was made of the tithes of Northbrook, part of Somerton parish (see below). In 1107 the church with its tithes and the land of William the priest was given by Manasses Arsic to the alien priory of Cogges, (fn. 187) but this grant either never materialized, or the church was later lost by the priory, for in the early 13th century Robert Arsic, lord of the manor from 1205, gave the advowson to the London hospital of St. Thomas of Acon, belonging to the military order of St. Thomas the Martyr. (fn. 188) The canons of St. Thomas obtained possession, but by 1222, when they presented to the church, they were planning to transfer the advowson to a proposed convent at Medley. (fn. 189) This never came into existence, and the advowson returned to the manor.
In 1231 the two Arsic heiresses, Alexandra de la Haye and Joan de Grenvile, and their husbands were disputing about the advowson after Eustace de Grenvile, Joan's husband, had tried to present his nephew. (fn. 190) Finally an agreement was made: the first presentation was to be made together, and the following ones alternately by the two couples and their heirs. (fn. 191) This arrangement continued until the two parts of the manor were united by the Fermors. (fn. 192) Because part of the manor was often in the hands of the king, there were royal presentations in 1392, 1398, 1496, and 1504.
From 1537 the Fermors acted as patrons, but by the end of the 16th century were disqualified from doing so as Roman Catholics. Lord Arundell, who chose the rector in 1660, (fn. 193) was the only lord of the manor after the Reformation to do so, and the advowson frequently changed hands. It was common practice for the purchaser to present either himself or a member of his family. In 1719, for example, Sir Edward Cobb of Adderbury named John Cobb, his younger brother, (fn. 194) as rector; (fn. 195) Barfoot Cotton and Henry Wintle in 1769 and 1804 became rectors on their own nomination. (fn. 196) By 1875 the patron was William Barnes, a banker, (fn. 197) who presented his son, G. E. Barnes, one of the last of the hunting parsons. (fn. 198) The advowson now (1956) belongs to W. G. Barnes of Horsham (Suss.).
In the Middle Ages Somerton was a rectory of medium value. In 1254 it was valued at £5 and in 1291 at £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 199) By the 16th century the value had risen to £15 1s. 9d. (fn. 200) From at least 1291, and probably before, the rector paid a pension of 6s. 8d. to Oseney Abbey. (fn. 201) It came from the demesne tithes of Northbrook, part of Somerton parish which was held with Ardley manor; (fn. 202) two-thirds of these tithes had been granted in the late 11th century by Robert d'Oilly to his church of St. George in Oxford castle, which was given to Oseney Abbey in 1149. (fn. 203) In 1253 Oseney was still collecting these tithes in kind, for when it summoned the lord of the manor before the ecclesiastical court for non-payment he promised to follow the old custom of carrying the sheaves to his barn, having them tithed there and safely kept until the arrival of the tithe-collector. (fn. 204)
The effect of the Reformation on the financial position of the church cannot be assessed, as no valuations have been found, but it is known that in the 17th century the glebe consisted of 2½ yardlands in the common fields, with right of common for 105 sheep and 8 beasts. (fn. 205) In the early 18th century the living was said to be worth about £160. (fn. 206) In 1766, at the inclosure award, the glebe was exchanged for 44 acres, and the tithes commuted for £150. (fn. 207) In the early 19th century, when the glebe and parsonage were let for £75, the rector reckoned that the exchange had not been beneficial and that the tithes on 1,800 acres of inclosed land were worth £800. (fn. 208)
The connexion between the manor and church was especially close in the 14th century, when two members of the De Gardinis family were rectors for many years. In 1323, when Richard de Gardinis was rector (1316–49), the bishop granted eleven days' indulgence to those praying for the souls of William de Gardinis (d. 1287) or his wife, and to those who had contributed to the building of the lady chapel. (fn. 209) In 1330 Richard was given permission to found a chantry in this chapel; the chaplain, who was to be supported by 5 marks' worth of land in Somerton, was to say daily service in honour of the Virgin. (fn. 210) It may also have been Richard who rebuilt the chancel. He died in 1349, probably of the plague. (fn. 211) William de Gardinis (by 1377–92) was a cousin, it seems, of the Giffards, who had become joint patrons, (fn. 212) and is alleged to have committed robbery with violence. (fn. 213)
In common with many other churches Somerton suffered in the later Middle Ages from the abuses of non-residence and pluralism. Robert Marying (by 1401–18) was allowed to be non-resident for seven years and to let his Rectory while he was at the papal court, studying at a university, or in the service of a spiritual lord. (fn. 214) His successor, Richard Compton (1418–?), 'of noble race', was allowed to be a pluralists. (fn. 215) In the early 16th century Robert Nelson though apparently resident was, it seems, otherwise undesirable: he allegedly kept three women in his house. (fn. 216) Later, the distinguished Robert King, (fn. 217) presented to the church in 1537 by William Fermor, held many other offices and had a curate, Thomas Gardiner, at Somerton, who replaced him in 1552. (fn. 218) King is of interest as a conservative reformer, who opposed those who wished to 'pull down the images of the Saints, and who denied that the Virgin and Saints are mediators'. (fn. 219)
Among the post-Reformation rectors, many of whom were above the average in ability, William Juxon probably influenced the parish most. As Vicar of St. Giles' in Oxford he had been much frequented for 'his edifying way of preaching', and after his presentation to Somerton in 1615 (fn. 220) he built a new Rectory and spent six years there before he succeeded Laud in 1621 as President of St. John the Baptist's College. (fn. 221) When president he had a curate (fn. 222) at Somerton, but spent his vacations there until he resigned the living in 1633. (fn. 223) He remembered the parish at his death, when he left £50 for the poor of Somerton. (fn. 224) His religious views were shared by his successor, Thomas Walker, presented by the king in 1633, and probably removed from his benefice in 1647, when the church registers cease. (fn. 225) Although restored later to the Mastership of University College, (fn. 226) he was never reinstated at Somerton. Two dissenting ministers followed him there after 1647: Edward Archer, a moderate, who signed a protest against the execution of the king, (fn. 227) and John Fenwick, (fn. 228) perhaps less moderate, as he was connected by marriage with Joshua and William Sprigg, (fn. 229) two active Independent preachers and pamphleteers. But the survival of the medieval reredos testifies that the sympathy of at least some of the parishioners was not with the Puritans. Influenced possibly by the strong Roman Catholic element, they are said to have concealed the reredos. (fn. 230) In the late 17th century, after 1672 when Samuel Jemmatt (1665–1713) ceased to reside, (fn. 231) the parish appears to have been left mainly in charge of a curate, and in the time of John Cobb (1719–25), Warden of New College, (fn. 232) non-residence must have been the rule for at least a part of the year.
For a good part of the 18th century the parish was fortunate in having a conscientious priest. John Watson (1729–69), still remembered by his charity, lived and worked zealously among his parishioners. Though he laboured so that 'none should be perverted to popery', he did not favour a revival of the penal laws against the large Roman Catholic community. As for his own parishioners he reported that though 'some frequent the church tolerably well', (fn. 233) too many were absent on account of the 'contemporary disregard for religion', and that there was 'too much tippling at the ale-house on Sunday'; in fact he found too many who were 'common drunkards and swearers'. (fn. 234) A persistent absentee from church was the blacksmith; between 1745 and 1760 he was reported as always absent. The miller was another backslider, but he may have been a papist. (fn. 235) The church itself was also kept in decent order: by 1766 it had been whitewashed throughout and a new pulpit set up, while orders had been given for painting the king's arms and putting up the creed and sentences. (fn. 236)
After Watson's death in 1769 there began a long period of non-residence which continued until about 1850, the parish being considered too small and poor to support a resident priest. Barfoot Cotton (1769– 1804), for instance, a pluralist, (fn. 237) was in 1801 accused by the bishop of neglecting the parish by appointing a non-resident curate who was not in orders. The curate, however, supported by the churchwardens, denied the charge that the sacrament had not been administered for several years. (fn. 238) Henry Wintle (1804–31), another non-resident rector, (fn. 239) hired curates, (fn. 240) who resided in part of the Rectory, which had been repaired early in the century after long being uninhabitable. (fn. 241) But it was not until about 1850 that the parish obtained a resident rector. When Bishop Wilberforce ordered Robert Clifton, rector since 1831, to reside he pleaded the absence of a suitable house as a cause of his absence and the 17th-century parsonage was accordingly replaced by a new one. (fn. 242) In 1854 large congregations of between 140 and 190 were reported, and the sacrament was administered monthly, instead of the five times a year customary in the 18th century. (fn. 243) Though the rector later wrote of the need for social activities as a counter-attraction to the public house, drinking being the chief hindrance to his ministry, as many as 220 out of a population of 300 were said to come to church in 1869. (fn. 244)
The church of ST. JAMES is a fine stone building consisting of a chancel, clerestoried nave, north aisle, south chapel, north porch, and western tower. (fn. 245) All that now remains of the original 12th-century church is a blocked-up doorway in the centre of the south wall of the nave. The north aisle was added in the late 12th or early 13th century, and is separated from the nave by an arcade of four arches carried on circular columns. A single late-13th-century window indicates that the chancel was probably rebuilt at that period, but the sedilia and the other windows date from the 14th century. The east window and the chancel arch are 19th-century restorations.
On the south side of the nave are two 14th-century arches which indicate that a south aisle preceded the existing chapel. The spring of another unfinished arch shows that a third bay was intended but never built.
In the north aisle are two early 14th-century recesses: one may have been originally the tomb of Sir William de Gardinis (d. 1287), for in 1323 an indulgence was granted to all persons praying for the repose of his soul at the newly erected altar to the Virgin in this aisle. (fn. 246) Square-headed windows were inserted later in the east and west walls. The tower dates from the late 14th century, but the battlements and pinnacles were added in the 15th century. On the north side there is a shallow niche which contains a finely carved holy rood, (fn. 247) probably of late-14th-century date. The clerestory and a battlemented parapet were added to the nave and aisles in the late 15th or early 16th century, perhaps when the Fermor chantry (see below) was built, and the tie-beam roof of the nave, supported on carved corbels, dates from about the same period. At the beginning of the 16th century the east end of the south aisle, which he probably lengthened, was converted into a chantry by William Fermor; he inserted new windows, made a new entrance, and built the present round-headed arch which gives access to the aisle from the chancel. The aisle became the burial-place of the Fermor family, which was responsible for its upkeep until the end of the 19th century. (fn. 248)
The original high-pitched chancel roof survived until the beginning of the 19th century and was replaced, probably in 1811, by a flat one; (fn. 249) about this time the east window was lowered and the 15thcentury oak seats were removed except for the few that can still be seen (1956) in the north aisle. In 1825 seats were inserted under the gallery for the use of the schoolchildren; (fn. 250) in 1854 £75 was spent on repairs to the church, when the chancel arch was rebuilt and new flooring put down. (fn. 251) By 1889 the church was reported to be unsafe by the architect J.D. Sedding. (fn. 252) The building was conservatively restored in 1891 at a cost of about £2,500, In addition to repairs to the nave and roof, a buttress was added to the north wall of the chancel. (fn. 253)
The 14th-century hexagonal font is unusual. A few medieval tiles have survived. The stone reredos, perhaps of early 14th-century date, is also notable. It represents Christ with eleven of His Apostles at the Last Supper and is similar to an altar-piece at Bampton, which is also made of stone from Brize Norton. In the 17th century the reredos is said to have been hidden to save it from being destroyed by the Puritans, (fn. 254) but in 1658 it was seen by Wood. (fn. 255) In 1822, after having been restored at the rector's expense, it was replaced in its original position. (fn. 256)
The chancel screen dates partly from the 15th century. The loft and vaulting have gone, and the lower panels were restored by J.D. Sedding in 1891. (fn. 257) The shield with Bishop Juxon's arms was added in 1632. Two late 15th or early 16th-century screens separate the south chapel from the nave, and a Jacobean screen completes the inclosure of the Fermor aisle. (fn. 258) The reading-desk was renewed in 1757 and the pulpit in 1764. (fn. 259) The oak screen in the tower door designed by Thomas Garner was erected in memory of the Coronation of Edward VII and the carved oak vestry screen was added in 1915. (fn. 260) Electricity was put in in 1936. (fn. 261) Two glass panels with Juxon's arms were erected in the 17th century in the east window of the chancel; these were later removed to the Rectory. (fn. 262)
The church is chiefly noted for the fine 16thcentury monuments in the Fermor chapel. There is a brass to William Fermor (d. 1552) and his wife Elizabeth Norreys, with figures and shields of arms. There is an alabaster monument to Thomas Fermor (d. 1580) and his wife Bridget Bradshaw, who are represented with their four children. The tomb was originally inscribed in gold lettering and embellished with painted coats of arms; traces of the original colouring can just be seen. The agreement for the making of the tomb between Thomas Fermor's executors and the masons, Richard and Gabriel Roiley of Burton-on-Trent, survives: they charged £40, and Gabriel Roiley and his man spent about six weeks in Somerton putting up the tomb. (fn. 263) There is also a large monument to Sir Richard Fermor (d. 1642/3), with an heraldic escutcheon and the figure of a recumbent man in armour. Of similar design is the tomb of Sir John Fermor (d. 1625). There is an undated wall tablet to James Smith and a floor slab to Colonel Thomas Morgan, husband of Jane Fermor, who was killed at the battle of Newbury in 1643. There are many other inscriptions to members of the Fermor family and their wives: to Henry (d. 1672/3), his son Richard (d. 1684/5), and his son Henry (d. 1702/3). Later holders of the manor buried there are James Fermor (d. 1722), Henry Fermor (d. 1746/7), William Fermor (d. 1806), Richard (d. 1817), and William Fermor of Tusmore (d. 1828), the last Fermor to be buried in Somerton. On the north side of the chancel arch there is a wall tablet to William Mynne, gentleman (d. 1665), and Mary Mynne (d. 1659/60). There is a floor slab to Richard Todkill, gentleman and schoolmaster (d. 1656/7). A stone to James Wilmer, curate (d. 1641), mentioned by Wood, is no longer visible. (fn. 264)
In 1552 the church had three bells and a sanctus bell. It owned a silver chalice, as well as vestments. (fn. 265) In 1955 it had an inscribed silver chalice (c. 1750), which was mentioned in 1757. (fn. 266) Five of the church's ring of six bells were cast in the Chalcombe foundry between 1635 and 1707. All are inscribed, the tenor being given by William Aston, 'esquire', and the fourth by John Hore, churchwarden. (fn. 267)
The registers date from 1627, with a gap between 1647 and 1660. There are churchwardens' accounts from 1778.
The medieval cross in the churchyard has its shafts and steps still intact. It is thought there was once a Roman Catholic burial-ground under part of the school, as several skeletons and a silver cross were found under the floor in the 19th century. (fn. 268)
From the 16th to the 19th century, owing to the influence of its lords of the manor—the Fermor family—Somerton was one of the chief Roman Catholic centres in Oxfordshire. Unlike his elder brother, Sir Richard Fermor of Easton Neston (Northants), (fn. 269) William Fermor did not oppose Henry VIII's religious policy, but rather acted in support of the royal supremacy. (fn. 270) Sir Richard's son Thomas, who succeeded to Somerton in 1552, and his descendants, however, were all staunch adherents of the Roman faith, (fn. 271) but only one member of the family, Cornelia, wife of Sir Richard Fermor (d. 1643), seems to have been fined for recusancy. (fn. 272) In 1700 a commission, appointed to inquire into whether certain recusant estates in Oxfordshire had been used unlawfully for superstitious purposes. (fn. 273) held an inquiry at the White Hart Inn at Wheatley. Among the accused was Henry Fermor, who was said to have given his Somerton lands in trust to the Jesuits of St. Omer. Two local men, tenants of Fermor at Somerton, gave evidence regarding the value of the estate, and of popish practices in the village. The result of the inquiry does not appear, but it is probable that no penalty was imposed. In 1705 Henry Fermor's house was searched to see if he was contravening the law by keeping a horse, and the houses of two farmers, Collingridge and East, were also searched.
During Thomas Fermor's life-time there was a chapel in the courtyard of the old castle, (fn. 274) which may have been the original medieval chapel, or which may have been newly built by Thomas Fermor and used during Mary's reign for Catholic services. (fn. 275)
The chapel in the house, seen by the antiquary Rawlinson before 1718, (fn. 276) was probably built in the 16th century, when it seems to have been in regular use. In an account book of the Fermors there is an entry of 1580 for 10s. paid to the 'prest for his wages', (fn. 277) which suggests that mass was celebrated in the house. There is no other record of a resident priest, but at the inquiry of 1700 it was alleged that a Mr. Weston, who had been in the parish, was a reputed priest. (fn. 278)
Though the Fermors ceased to live at Somerton in about 1625, the chapel in the house continued in use. In 1738 the rector reported that papists met there once a month for services held by a priest from Tusmore (fn. 279) or Godington. Later, when the chapel had become a ruin with the manor-house, occasional services were held in a farm-house by a priest from Tusmore, but generally all the adults worshipped at Tusmore, though some of the younger children attended the parish church at Somerton. (fn. 280)
The Catholic community was probably always a fairly large one. The first recorded recusant was Thomas Bonde in 1577. In 1592 three persons were recorded, (fn. 281) and in 1605 nineteen were fined as recusants. (fn. 282) In 1620 Somerton was considered sufficiently important to be chosen as one of the Oxfordshire centres of the newly formed Roman Catholic Province in England. (fn. 283) Subsidy lists of 1643 and 1644 show that the community was a prosperous one: besides Sir Richard Fermor, there were fourteen Catholics, belonging to ten families, with enough property to be taxed. (fn. 284) Numbers increased: in 1676 there were 51 recorded papists and about 45 in 1706. (fn. 285) Two cases when the penal laws were enforced are evidence of the open practice of Roman Catholicism in the village. (fn. 286) In 1631 Joanna Lovell was warned that she must not teach the children of recusants, and in 1633 the churchwardens were accused of failing either to report Sir Richard Fermor and his family as recusants or to record the birth of two children, one a Fermor, neither of whom had been baptized in church. To the first charge they pleaded that Sir Richard had asked them not to report him—an incident which shows the degree to which the administration of the penal laws was governed by local goodwill or influence.
Visitation returns give some idea of the relationship between the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities in the 18th century. In 1738 the rector reported that there were 47 papists, of whom 19 were members of the Fermor household, and 48 Anglicans; he added the apparently contradictory statement that the papists had formerly formed half the parish, but were greatly diminished, and that during the last five years 10 or 12 had been converted. (fn. 287) As the same family names recur in successive returns, each religious community evidently preserved its own loyalties; intermarriage was, however, common and in 1738 the rector reported that Anglicans and Papists 'are so blended and united together' that a revival of the penal laws would be inadvisable. There is little evidence of religious friction: the Catholics are described as living in a quiet and neighbourly fashion and showing respect and civility towards the rector. (fn. 288) In 1767 among the 42 Catholics listed two were farmers, Collingridge and Jennings, and their families, the butcher's wife, 3 craftsmen, and 3 labourers. (fn. 289) The community still numbered 48 in 1811. (fn. 290)
During the 19th century, after the sale of the manor by the Fermors, there was a gradual decline in numbers. In 1834 there were still eight Roman Catholic families living in the parish; (fn. 291) in 1854 20 adherents were recorded, but at the end of the 19th century only two were left. (fn. 292)
There is no evidence of Protestant dissent until 1834, (fn. 293) when two nonconformists were reported. In 1840 a house was licensed for Wesleyan meetings. (fn. 294) There continued to be a few Methodists, but most of them were said also to go to church. (fn. 295) By the 1870's they had joined the United Free Church Methodists. (fn. 296) In the 20th century there was a cottage meetingplace attached to the Brackley circuit of the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion. It was closed in about 1914 and pulled down in 1915. (fn. 297)
Thomas Fermor, by will proved in 1580, endowed a free school at Somerton for boys to be instructed in 'virtue and learning'. (fn. 298) His executors invested £160 in land in Milcombe in Bloxham parish; and the chapel in the castle courtyard was converted into a school building. (fn. 299) A schoolmaster's house was built in about 1750 and appears to have been maintained by the Fermors, who also appointed the master, and regularly paid his salary of £10 a year out of the Milcombe estate until the beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 300) By 1738 the old custom of the Milcombe tenants bringing the schoolmaster's money to the church porch had been dropped. (fn. 301) The names of several 17th- and 18thcentury schoolmasters are known. (fn. 302)
It is possible that Fermor's original intention was to found a grammar school for the sons of neighbouring yeomen, but for part of the 18th century only reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught, and in 1738 the master teaching these was described as very 'diligent in his office'. (fn. 303) By 1787, however, most of the village children were excluded, as only children who could already read were admitted. (fn. 304) Protests by the rector to William Fermor appear to have been ineffective; the numbers declined and by 1815 the school was attended by four local boys in the summer and about a dozen in the winter. The master supplemented his income by taking in about 20 fee-paying boarders. (fn. 305)
Although in 1833 26 boys (16 of whom were free scholars) attended the school, (fn. 306) the curate found in 1837 that only 5 children were receiving free education, and that no child under 7 years old was admitted, so that the village was not profiting sufficiently by the foundation. (fn. 307) He attempted to check these abuses by instituting a system of halfyearly examinations and in 1838 examined 16 boys in the winter and 12 in the summer, when the numbers dropped because of harvest work. He found that the school was, generally speaking, in a 'very inefficient state', with 'writing tolerably good', but reading 'slovenly and defective and reli- gious instruction poor'. The master responsible for these low standards was John Hore, and on his death in 1861 his son applied for the post of schoolmaster, which had been in the family for a hundred years. (fn. 308)
In 1850 the school was repaired at a cost of £75, paid out of £200 received from the G.W.R. as compensation for the annexation of some school land; in 1864 a further £200 was spent on repairs and in 1870 £60, given by Lord Jersey. (fn. 309) There were 14 boys in the school in 1867; the master was uncertificated and there was no state inspection. (fn. 310) By 1871 the school had been amalgamated with the girls' and infants' schools and had 74 pupils. Religious instruction was then undenominational, but the school was affiliated to the National Society by 1887. (fn. 311) In 1894 it was modernized at a cost of £200. (fn. 312) Average attendance rose from 40 in 1889 to 55 in 1906. (fn. 313) Since the school's reorganization as a junior school in 1930, senior pupils have gone to Fritwell. It was controlled in 1951. There were 18 pupils in 1954. (fn. 314)
In 1815 there were two other schools, one recently opened by Lady Jersey for 12 girls, and the other for 12 children. Two boys attended the National school at Deddington, where, it was said, 9 girls from Somerton were shortly to be admitted. (fn. 315) In 1833 Lady Jersey paid for 20 children and provided clothes, and 5 others were paid for by their parents. (fn. 316) The school was regularly inspected by a panel of lady visitors. (fn. 317) By 1854 Lady Jersey was supporting two schools, one for 24 girls and one for 18 infants: some of the pupils paid small fees. (fn. 318) Between 1864 and 1871 these schools were merged in Fermor's school. (fn. 319)
The rector William Juxon, by will proved 1663, gave £50 to the poor of Somerton, but there is no later record of his charity. (fn. 320) By his will, dated 1766, the Revd. John Watson left £20 in money to buy bread for poor members of the Established Church. The annual income was reported to be 16s. in 1787, when it was said that the principal was to be 'laid out in land'. (fn. 321) This charity was later neglected and lost until 1806, when the Revd. John Martin Watson of Aynho (Northants), nephew of the original benefactor, gave £62, the principal and interest, to the parish. (fn. 322) In 1824 £2 19s. 6d. was distributed to the poor in bread at Christmas. (fn. 323) Watson's charity was still distributed in bread at Christmas in 1954, when the annual income was £1 12s. 8d. (fn. 324) An unknown donor gave £43, which was producing £2 6s. a year in 1787, (fn. 325) but had evidently been lost by 1824.