A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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The parish (1,154 a.) lies along the road from Oxford to Bicester, (fn. 1) which is three miles distant and its nearest market-town. The parish boundaries are mostly very irregular and were no doubt drawn along the limits of already existing fields; the northern boundary follows for part of its course the northern edge of the site of the Roman town of Alchester. (fn. 2) On the east Wendlebury is divided from Merton by the Bure, a tributary stream of the River Ray. No boundary changes have been recorded. (fn. 3)
Wendlebury lies in the area of the Oxford Clay; its soil is chiefly clay, overlaid in places with gravel. (fn. 4) Plot maintained that objects buried in the ground at certain places were petrified and preserved. (fn. 5) The main road from Oxford to Bicester, made a turnpike in 1793, crosses the parish and once ran through the village: (fn. 6) in 1938 it was widened and straightened so as to leave the village to the east of it. The Roman road leading south from Alchester, called 'Buggestret' in the 13th century, crosses the north-east corner of the parish. (fn. 7) A network of footpaths connecting Wendlebury with all the neighbouring villages was confirmed by the inclosure award of 1801. (fn. 8)
The Bletchley-Oxford section of the former L.N.W.R. passes through the parish. In 1851 three railway labourers were returned in the census as lodging in the village, presumably when the railway was being constructed. (fn. 9)
The site of the Roman town was peculiarly damp (fn. 10) and the Saxon settlers, for this and superstitious reasons perhaps, made their settlement to the southwest, close to the western boundary of the later parish, with all their fields lying to the east. A feeder of the Ray runs southwards along the village street and provided an ample water-supply. The Saxon Wændel had his burh or fortified house here and gave the village its name. (fn. 11) Its position on an important highway did not compensate for its small amount of land and the medieval village never became large. (fn. 12) In the 17th century it had two gentlemen's residences: the rector's with its six taxable hearths and Henry Trafford's with seven. There were also two substantial farm-houses, for each of which four hearths were returned for the tax of 1665, and ten other smaller dwellings were listed. (fn. 13) But there were evidently many more which were not taxed. (fn. 14) In the early 18th century 32 houses were recorded, 49 in 1851, and 67 in 1901. (fn. 15) By 1951 these had been reduced to 50. Six council houses were built between 1918 and 1954. (fn. 16)
The appearance of the present village (1955) with its dwellings mainly built of the local rubble stone or mellowed red brick of local manufacture is harmonious and, on account of its open stream, unusual. A few of the cottages and probably the core of the Manor House date from the 17th century. The last was modernized in the 18th century. The present house is of two builds, consisting of a west and an east block with a continuous roof over both. The east block is built of coursed rubble, the west has been faced with ashlar. At the back there are some mutilated rough-cut battlements which are said to date from the early 20th century. (fn. 17) The chief interior feature is an 18th-century staircase in pinewood.
The old Rectory, standing to the east of the manorhouse, was rebuilt in 1840 for £1,150. (fn. 18) It is a two-storied house, built of coursed rubble with ashlar quoins. The 17th-century parsonage was described in 1634 as a house of six bays of building with extensive outhouses; in 1679 it consisted of seven bays including its kitchen and dairy and was flanked by three gardens. (fn. 19)
The 'Red Lion' is an 18th-century building of coursed rubble. It is of two stories with three hipped dormer windows in a slate roof. A 19th-century drawing shows it with an outside flight of steps. (fn. 20) The house was sold in 1732 to Elizabeth Jarvis of Chesterton, and the terms of the sale imply that it had become an inn during the ownership of the seller. (fn. 21) Manorial courts were held there in the 19th century. (fn. 22) Two licences were issued in 1735, (fn. 23) one perhaps to the 'Plough', the 19th-century name of the village's second public house. (fn. 24)
The parish's only outlying farm-house, Starveall, formerly Lone Farm, lies in the extreme south. (fn. 25)
Alchester, excavated by Francis Penrose of Chesterton in 1766, was one of the earliest Roman settlements in Britain, and was a commercial centre rather than a military post. (fn. 26)
Wendlebury's only inhabitant of note was George Dupuis (d. 1839), rector and progressive farmer. (fn. 27)
Before the Conquest WENDLEBURY was held by 'Asgar', who is to be identified with Esegar the staller, Sheriff of Middlesex, (fn. 28) rather than with Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia. (fn. 29) The Conqueror granted the village to Geoffrey de Mandeville, (fn. 30) whose grandson of the same name was created Earl of Essex by King Stephen. The overlordship of Wendlebury followed the descent of the earldom in the Mandeville family, and in 1236 passed with it to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. (fn. 31) It then followed the descent of the De Bohun earls of Hereford and Essex until the death of Humphrey de Bohun in 1373. Eleanor, his elder daughter and coheiress, brought one of the 2 knight's fees of Wendlebury to her husband, Thomas of Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III, who held the overlordship of this fee until his death in 1397, when it reverted to his widow. (fn. 32) Eleanor, together with a son and daughter, died in 1399. (fn. 33) The overlordship of 1 fee in Wendlebury reverted to the Crown, which granted it probably in 1400 to Eleanor's daughter Anne and her husband Edmund, Earl of Stafford, with the rest of her mother's lands. (fn. 34) Edmund possessed the overlordship at his death in 1403, (fn. 35) but there is no later mention of it and it may be assumed to have lapsed. Of the overlordship of the other knight's fee in Wendlebury nothing is recorded after 1373. If it passed to Mary de Bohun, the younger coheiress, it would have been merged in the Crown after the accession of her husband, Henry, Earl of Derby, as King Henry IV.
In 1086 Wendlebury was held of Geoffrey de Mandeville by 'Sasualo', (fn. 36) who was doubtless the Norman ancestor (fn. 37) of the Oseville family, who were mesne tenants of Wendlebury until the mid-13th century, and who commonly bore the name 'Saswallus' or Sewel. A Sewel de Oseville made a grant to the Templars of a stream in Wendlebury between 1156 and 1166 (fn. 38) and was probably already holding 2 knight's fees there of the Earl of Essex. (fn. 39) Another Sewel, perhaps his son, was lord of Wendlebury in 1196, (fn. 40) and a third of the same name, who appears to have been a minor in 1220, (fn. 41) was in possession of the 2 fees in Wendlebury between 1236 and 1255. (fn. 42) This last Sewel is said to have enfeoffed Ralph de St. Amand with his property in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, but Ralph died in 1245, and Sewel was the lord of Wendlebury as late as 1255. In 1256, however, Aymer de St. Amand, Ralph's son, came of age and obtained possession of the Oseville manor of East Ilsley (Berks.), (fn. 43) so that it is likely that he received Wendlebury about the same time by virtue of some agreement between his father and the former lord. In 1279 Aymer was mesne tenant of Wendlebury. (fn. 44) Guy, Aymer's son, succeeded him in 1285, but died only two years afterwards, and was followed by his brother Aymer. The mesne lordship of Wendlebury then followed the descent of the barony of St. Amand until the early 15th century. (fn. 45)
Thomas Poure, who died in 1407, was stated to hold his lands in Wendlebury of the heirs of Aymer de St. Amand, the last of the direct male line, who had died in 1402. Thomas was a minor, and in 1406 Aymer's widow Eleanor had claimed his wardship, since his father Sir Thomas Poure (see below) had held Wendlebury manor of Aymer's manor of East Ilsley. Thomas had in fact been in Aymer's custody for a short while in 1400, but had been abducted, so Eleanor claimed, by William Gernon of whom the Poures held in Black Bourton. (fn. 46) The successors of the St. Amands do not appear to have maintained their claim to mesne lordship, and in 1428 the immediate lords of the tenants to Wendlebury manor were not known. (fn. 47)
By the end of the 12th century the St. Fey family were tenants of one of the 2 knight's fees of Wendlebury. Walter de St. Fey gave land in Wendlebury to Thame Abbey in 1196 and his son Hamon added to his gift in 1202. (fn. 48) The Hamon who held the fee in 1243 (fn. 49) was probably the latter's son, and he appears to have died by 1255, (fn. 50) leaving his daughters, Isabel, wife of William de Grenevile, (fn. 51) and Eleanor, wife of Geoffrey de Lucy, who divided his lands. Eleanor held the fee in 1279 (fn. 52) and she was still alive in 1285. (fn. 53) The descent of the St. Fey fee in the 14th century is obscure: in 1316 it was held by a certain John son of Peter, (fn. 54) and in 1428 by William Pepyr, (fn. 55) perhaps a kinsman of the John Pepar of Wendlebury who was receiving an annual pension from Bicester Priory in the early years of Henry VI's reign. (fn. 56)
The de Pavely family of Paulerspury (Northants) (fn. 57) appear to have been the tenants of the second knight's fee in WENDLEBURY at the beginning of the 13th century. According to later evidence it was granted by Geoffrey de Pavely (d. 1217) to William de Stanford on his marriage to Geoffrey's sister Maud. (fn. 58) William was probably the William son of Aumary who held 1 fee in Wendlebury in 1243. (fn. 59) William's daughter and heiress Alice de Stanford held the fee in 1255, (fn. 60) but in 1258 she conveyed it to Nicholas de Sifrewast and his wife Anne. (fn. 61) They in turn enfeoffed Richard Poure of Charlton-on-Otmoor before 1279. (fn. 62) Another mesne lordship was thus created and was claimed by Nicholas and his descendants at least until 1346. (fn. 63) Richard Poure was dead by 1283 (fn. 64) and was succeeded by his son William (fn. 65) and eventually by Sir Thomas, who died about 1398, leaving a son Thomas and a daughter Agnes. (fn. 66) Thomas, a minor at his father's death (see above), died in 1407, (fn. 67) and his estates passed to his sister. She married, firstly, William Winslow, who died in 1414, and secondly Robert Andrew, who was said to hold only ½ knight's fee in Wendlebury in 1428. (fn. 68) Robert died in 1437, and Agnes, who was still alive in 1441, was succeeded by Thomas Winslow, her son by her first husband. In 1458 Thomas and his wife Agnes granted the manor to their daughter Elizabeth and her husband John, son of James Terumbere or Towker. (fn. 69) John and Elizabeth seem to have died without issue, for the manor passed to Isabel, one of Elizabeth's four sisters and coheiresses, and her husband Humphrey Seymour. From Humphrey it descended to his son Simon or Symond, who died about 1524, (fn. 70) and to Simon's son Alexander. Alexander was dead by 1556 when his widow Isabel was claiming her dower in Wendlebury. (fn. 71) Isabel and Alexander's second son and heir was John Seymour, but what happened to the manor is not clear. (fn. 72)
According to Dunkin it was the Pavely-Seymour manor which was purchased by Lord Williams of Thame, (fn. 73) but the later descent of the advowson, which had followed this manor since the 13th century, suggests that it came into the possession of the Dormers. In 1560/1 John and William Dormer sold it, with the advowson, to William Smyth (or Haddon), a yeoman of Cottisford. The manor passed to Richard Stanley, and later to Thomas, son of Roger Hitch of Kempston (Beds.), who was living in Wendlebury in 1574. (fn. 74) In 1618 he leased 4½ yardlands, 3 of which were accounted part of the ancient demesne land of the manor, to his son John, (fn. 75) and in 1621 John sold it to William Payne. (fn. 76) The manor seems to have been breaking up, for in 1653 1½ yard land demised to Philip Holman for 99 years were said to have been formerly part of it and to have been sold by Thomas Hitch. (fn. 77) In 1656 Philip Holman held the manor, a manor-house, and 4½ yardlands. (fn. 78) In 1717 it was assigned in trust to William Dyer and leased to Toby Chancy. (fn. 79)
The manor held by Lord Williams of Thame passed, on his death in 1559, to his daughter Margaret and her husband Henry, later Lord Norreys of Rycote. (fn. 80) Henry died in 1601 and was succeeded by his grandson Francis, later Earl of Berkshire, the son of William Norreys, who had died in 1579. (fn. 81) From Francis, Earl of Berkshire, the manor descended through his daughter Elizabeth to the Bertie earls of Abingdon, (fn. 82) who held it until 1764. In that year the manorial estate was purchased by Sir Edward Turner of Ambrosden from the trustees of Willoughby, 3rd Earl of Abingdon, for £3,350. (fn. 83) The manor was again sold by Sir Edward Turner's heir Sir Gregory in 1771 to John Pardoe, who had been Sir Edward's steward, for £3,150, (fn. 84) and in 1799 it was purchased by John Coker of Bicester from Pardoe's executors. (fn. 85) It remained in the Coker family until 1856, when it was sold by Lewis Coker to John Leman, (fn. 86) from whom it was purchased in 1862 by the Queen's College, Oxford, (fn. 87) which is at present the chief landowner. Manorial rights have lapsed.
In the 17th century the 'overlordship' of the manor was said to have been held by the Spencers of Yarnton. (fn. 88) This is presumably a reference to the right of the Spencers as lords of Ploughley hundred to receive 2 quarters of oats from Wendlebury. (fn. 89) The 'overlordship' probably followed the same descent as Ploughley hundred and Hampton Poyle manor and passed to the Tilsons and from them, in 1795, to the Annesleys. (fn. 90) In the 1820's Arthur Annesley of Bletchingdon was actually holding the court leet and view of frankpledge of Wendlebury manor, (fn. 91) although the Cokers were lords of the manor. This situation may have been a consequence of the death of John Coker in 1819 and the succession to the property of an absentee nephew. Statements that the dukes of Marlborough were lords of the manor appear to have arisen from the fact that they held the early title-deeds of the manor after 1765, when the custody of the deeds was delivered to George, Duke of Marlborough, by Sir Edward Turner on condition that they should be produced if required to defend the Turner family's title. (fn. 92)
In 1279 Thame Abbey held 5 virgates in Wendlebury, (fn. 93) but in 1317, when Edward II confirmed the abbey's possessions, this estate was not included, (fn. 94) and the abbey held nothing in Wendlebury at the Dissolution. In 1293 Rewley Abbey held 8 virgates and 20 acres of meadow in Wendlebury, (fn. 95) and at the Dissolution it had an estate there worth £1 14s. 6d. in rents. (fn. 96) In all probability Rewley had acquired the Thame estate between its foundation in 1281 and 1293. A sale or exchange between the two houses is the more likely because Thame was closely concerned with the foundation of Rewley and supplied its first abbot and monks. (fn. 97) After the Dissolution Rewley's estate was granted to Thomas Pope of Wroxton. (fn. 98)
Notley Abbey, Bicester Priory, and Studley Priory also held small estates in Wendlebury in 1279, (fn. 99) and retained them until the Dissolution, when Notley's lands appear to have been merged in the manor which Sir John Williams acquired. (fn. 100) In 1540 Thomas Pope was granted the former Bicester and Studley properties. (fn. 101) The latter was subsequently granted to John Croke, (fn. 102) and the former to Roger Moore of Bicester. (fn. 103) Moore sold the estate to John Waterhouse of Bignell in 1542; in 1547 Waterhouse sold it to John Denton of Blackthorn; (fn. 104) and in 1556 Denton sold it to John Marten of Rousham, (fn. 105) after which it cannot be traced. A house in Wendlebury was known in the early 18th century as Prior's House, (fn. 106) and had perhaps belonged to Bicester.
Economic and Social History.
Sewel de Oseville's manor (fn. 107) seems to have suffered from the Conquest, for although there was land for 8 ploughs in 1086, there were only 2 worked by 3 serfs in demesne and a further 3 shared by 4 villeins (villani) and 5 bordars. There was meadow (8×2 furls.), and pasture (15×2 furls.) in addition, which may account for the fact that the holding was then worth £5 as before the Conquest. (fn. 108)
By the end of the 13th century there had been considerable changes. The demesne land had increased: in 1279 Richard Poure held a virgate, Eleanor de Lucy 4 virgates, and the Abbot of Thame 5 virgates—of which the last holding passed to Rewley Abbey soon afterwards. (fn. 109) There had been some sub-infeudation: eight free tenants, six of them virgaters and two half-virgaters, now held of different lords for rents varying from 1s. to 13s. 4d. a year for a virgate. The serfs had been succeeded by villeins; there were 13 altogether, of whom 5 held a virgate or more, and the rest half-virgates, the most usual rent being 6s. 8d. the virgate. Labour services are not recorded and had no doubt been commuted. In all, 27 virgates, including the rector's land (i.e. 6¾ carucates), appear to have been under cultivation compared with a recorded 5 carucates two centuries earlier. (fn. 110)
Early 14th-century tax assessments show that the community was fairly prosperous: there were 24 contributors in 1316 and 23 in 1327. The total assessment of £4 8s. 9d. in 1316 and the later assessment to the 15th fixed in 1334 at £5 2s. 8d. Place Wendlebury among the more flourishing villages of Ploughley Hundred. (fn. 111) If it suffered from the Black Death as severely as some of its neighbours, it would appear to have recovered by 1377, when there were 60 contributors to the poll tax. (fn. 112) The relative prosperity of the village may be attributed to its good arable land, and it is significant that in the 18th century the virgate or yardland in the parish was estimated to contain only 15 statute acres. (fn. 113)
At the beginning of the 13th century the arable was divided into two open fields, East Field and West Field, and a virgate given to Thame Abbey in 1202 consisted of 9 acres in the one field, 13½ acres in the other, 4½ acres of meadow, and 2 butts for a messuage and curtilage. (fn. 114) Two late 13th-century charters (fn. 115) give extensive lists of field-names, including those of Alchester (Alcestre), Cattesbrein, Gurefen, and La Hardelonde. Many survived for centuries: by 1666 Gurefen, for instance, had become Garfine or Garven, and by 1801, Carvens; (fn. 116) while Hardelonde is found in the 17th and 18th centuries as Ardland. Many also throw light on the original character of the land—names such as Longmerse, Wythybedde (willow bed), Rediforlong, and Fernforlong.
There is no record of the date of the change to three fields: in the early 17th century they were called North, South, and West Fields; and later in the century they were described as the fields 'towards Bicester', 'towards Charlton', and 'towards Weston's. (fn. 117) The last-named lay in the angle of the Oxford road and a brook running southwards from Wendlebury village, and appears from Davis's map (1797) to have been divided from South Field by a strip of meadow or pasture. South Field and most of North Field lay between this strip and another brook running south-east from Alchester. A detached part of North Field, called 'old Chester' in the 17th century, lay immediately east of the site of the Roman town beyond a second belt of meadow, and a long narrow strip of pasture lay on the right of the Oxford road, going south-west from the village. (fn. 118)
A three-course rotation was followed in the 17th century: every year one field was sown with wheat and barley, and another with pulse, while the third lay fallow. In 1615 it was estimated that an acre of corn was worth 10s. in an average year, while pulse was worth 6d. a cock. To every yardland there belonged 4 acres of meadow, and each acre usually produced ten cocks of hay worth 6d. a cock. (fn. 119) By 1636 it had been found that the common pasture was seriously overburdened with stock, and a new body of regulations was drawn up which imposed a stint of 6 cattle, 1 calf, and 1 horse to the yardland in the moors, 2 more cattle or horses being allowed after 1 August. Twelve sheep to the yardland could be put on the fallow field and commons between 24 August and 18 October, and 20 between then and 26 April. (fn. 120) The strips in the open fields were called lands in the 17th century, but by the 18th century the term 'ridgers' was the one most commonly used, (fn. 121) perhaps because on the wetter lands of Wendlebury the ridges were very high. (fn. 122) Three 'ridgers' were equal to 1 acre.
Stukeley's account of the site of Alchester throws some light on farming methods in the early 18th century. The site of the city was a common belonging to the inhabitants and everyone had a portion to plough up. 'Whence,' he wrote, 'the land is racked to the last extremity and no great care taken in the management.' Because of the 'prodigious blackness and richness of the earth', however, it bore very good wheat crops. (fn. 123)
Records of population at this period give 101 adults in 1676, and '160 souls including children and hired servants' in 1774. A report of an early 18th-century incumbent described the village as consisting of two small streets with 32 contiguous houses. (fn. 124)
Two substantial families can definitely be said to have lived in the village over a long period—the Traffords and Vennimores. Henry Trafford inhabited the largest house in 1665 (fn. 125) and his successors continued to be freeholders under the earls of Abingdon throughout the 18th century. (fn. 126) By 1801 the family was clearly much reduced, but it continued to live in the parish until at least 1832. (fn. 127) A Vennimore held property as early as 1558 (fn. 128) and the family only sold its land shortly before 1774. (fn. 129) Another family, the Bees, who were mercers and hosiers of Oxford and London, held property from the mid-17th century well into the 18th century. (fn. 130)
In the 18th century, according to one account, the parish consisted of 32 yardlands; according to another, there were 34 yardlands or about 1,200 acres of arable and pasture. (fn. 131) A late 18th-century list of the farmers in the parish gives nine, with farms ranging from 2 to 5½ yardlands. (fn. 132) Ten or 10½ yardlands, or about a third of the parish, belonged to the Abingdon manor. (fn. 133) When the manor was sold in 1764 it consisted of eight farms, the largest of 3 yardlands or 52½ acres of arable, the smallest of ½ yardland or 9¼ acres of arable. (fn. 134) Rentals for 1753–4 and 1761–2 show that the annual value of the rents collected in this period varied between £133 and £165, the greatest part of which came from rack rents. (fn. 135) Early in the century copyholding was the normal method of tenure. In 1728 there were nine tenants, all copyholders except for one leaseholder for lives. (fn. 136) By the 1750's leaseholding had increased and rack-renting had begun. In 1753–4, for example, there were four tenants at a rack-rent, and the nine other tenants, three of whom were smallholders or cottagers, were copyholders or leaseholders for lives. By 1761–2 there were only two rack-renters. (fn. 137) At this time there were four freeholders, of whom the Queen's College was probably the largest, compared with 36 in 1636. (fn. 138)
By the custom of the manor, as stated in 1764, (fn. 139) copyholds were to run for two lives, but it was provided that if the first party died in possession of the land, his widow should 'enjoy the estate for her life, provided she live chaste and sole'. Both parties paid heriot on taking up the estate.
There were two major changes in the 19th century: the open-field husbandry was superseded by modern farming methods and population increased considerably. Comparatively little land had been inclosed before the general inclosure of 1801. The 'Great Close' is mentioned in 1764, (fn. 140) and there are references to Shenstone Close and Little Close, but the suggestion made earlier in the century to turn the 200 acres of common pasture (excellent land) into meadow, and the poor meadow-land into common, came to nothing. (fn. 141) The late inclosure is partly to be explained by the good quality of the arable ground of which the manor chiefly consisted. On this account it was thought in 1764 that the advantage to be derived from its inclosure would fall far short of that to be expected from inclosing Chesterton. (fn. 142) In fact, although the land was valued at 24s. an acre after inclosure compared with 10s. before, the increase in value was not as great as in some of the neighbouring villages. (fn. 143)
Eleven persons received allotments by the award; (fn. 144) there were also allotments for glebe, tithes, and church land, and the poor. John Coker, the lord of the manor, got about 500 acres of the 1,160 inclosed; William Tanner and Richard Curtis, tenants of the Queen's College, received over 100 acres each; four others round about 20 acres and the rest even smaller holdings. Inclosure does not seem to have led to a loss of population, though it may have caused poverty, for in 1811 it was estimated that there were between 30 and 40 families, composed of 'farmers and paupers' and the total population had risen from 146 in 1801 to 181 persons. (fn. 145) The change did not affect the old rotation of fallow–wheat–beansbarley, which continued to be practised by most farmers. Only the Revd. George Dupuis, while cautious in ploughing down the old high ridges, introduced a seven-course rotation: fallow-wheatbeans–barley–clover–vetches–wheat. (fn. 146) In common with the rest of the Bicester area much of the arable land of Wendlebury was converted to pasture in the late 19th century—a trend which continued in the 20th century except during the abnormal conditions of the two World Wars. In 1939 most of the parish was permanent grass; (fn. 147) today (1956) out of 977½ acres of cultivated land 837½ are grassland and the rest arable. (fn. 148)
The character of the village has always been rural and agricultural. An attempt was made in 1790 to set up a brewery, but after being for some years in the hands of William Hartin, a yeoman farmer of Merton, the business failed and was put up for auction in 1809. (fn. 149) In 1820 it was purchased by a Bicester brewer. (fn. 150) The census of 1841 records that out of 241 persons living in the village, 203 had been born there; that the rector took pupils, that a local auctioneer lived in the village, and that there were a village baker, shoemaker, farrier, carpenter, and wheelwright. (fn. 151) In 1851, of 54 agricultural labourers, six were women and two were children under fourteen. Eight girls were described as general servants; they probably worked at either the Rectory or Wendlebury House (the home of a solicitor), the only two large establishments in the parish, or with the two substantial farmers. (fn. 152) The population reached its peak in 1861, when there were 257 inhabitants. Thereafter there was on the whole a steady decline in the number of villagers and by 1901 there were 196 and 67 inhabited houses. The decline continued in the early years of the 20th century, but in 1951 there were 178 inhabitants compared with 148 in 1931. (fn. 153) During this century many of the villagers have found work in Oxford, and at the nearby military depot at Arncot.
It is probable that the church of Wendlebury was originally a chapel of ease to the neighbouring church of Chesterton, to which it paid a pension throughout the Middle Ages. (fn. 154) By the early 13th century, when Wendlebury church is first recorded, Wendlebury was a separate parish. (fn. 155) The advowson in the 13th and 14th centuries belonged to the Pavely family. They were a prominent Northamptonshire family, who also held land in other counties, and seem to have died out in the late 14th century. (fn. 156) They held the advowson because of their rights in the manor. In 1279 the Hundred jurors expressly said they held only the advowson and no land. (fn. 157) The first recorded presentation was made in about 1215 by Walter de Godarville, guardian of Robert de Pavely. (fn. 158) Sir Robert de Pavely presented in 1340, and the next known presentation was in 1402 by Joan Chetwind, perhaps an heiress, who presented again in 1414.
In 1418 Robert Andrew, the second husband of Agnes Poure, who was also connected with one of the Pavelys' Northamptonshire manors, (fn. 159) was patron. When the manor was settled on John and Elizabeth Terumbere in 1458 the advowson was granted to John's father James Terumbere, (fn. 160) who presented in 1461 and 1473. In 1485 Humphrey Seymour was patron, and the advowson passed with the manor to William Haddon (or Smythe), who sold the presentation in 1578. (fn. 161) In 1605 Thomas Hitch, who had bought the manor, presented; and Thomas Aldrich, who held the presentation for that turn, presented John Bird in 1614. (fn. 162) Bird (d. 1653) seems to have bought the advowson, and may have sold it to the Bee family, for Matthew Bee (d. 1674) was the next rector and Thomas Bee was then three times patron. (fn. 163) In 1700 John Bee sold the advowson, and eventually it was bought in 1708 by the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church. (fn. 164) They were patrons until 1923, when the living was united with that of Chesterton. (fn. 165) New College and Christ Church, therefore, now (1956) present alternately.
In 1254 the value of the living was £5 6s. 8d., in 1291 £7, and in 1535 £11 9s. 4d. (fn. 166) At the beginning of the 17th century it was reckoned to be worth £80. (fn. 167) When George Dupuis became rector in 1789, the nine principal farmers in the parish met at the 'Red Lion' and decided to offer him 200 guineas a year for the lease of the tithes and glebe. The rector accepted the offer, as it was ever his 'wish to live upon the best of terms' with his parishioners. (fn. 168) At the inclosure award of 1801 the tithes were commuted for 189 acres and the glebe, which in the 18th century consisted of 1 yardland, (fn. 169) was exchanged for 25 acres, 19 of which lay in Bicester Field. (fn. 170) Dupuis farmed the land himself, (fn. 171) and in 1831 the rectory was valued at £210. (fn. 172)
In the 13th and 14th centuries the living, which was of moderate value, was treated as a family living by the patrons, the Pavely family, three of its members becoming rectors. (fn. 173) The Rectory house, however, was ruinous in about 1518 and the incumbent was non-resident. (fn. 174) He was David Griffith Bye, apparently one of the many men of Welsh descent in this part of Oxfordshire. (fn. 175) But 17th-century parsons appear to have resided, for the Rectory had been rebuilt by 1634 and was occupied by Matthew Bee in 1665. (fn. 176) Many of his family were buried in the church and his youngest son bought the neighbouring rectory of Beckley. (fn. 177) Bee, or his successor Stephen Cupper, bought an additional small house at the other end of the village. It was first recorded in 1679. (fn. 178)
The parish continued to benefit from a resident parson. During the first half of the 18th century it was fortunate in having Robert Welborne (1730– 64). (fn. 179) In 1738 and 1759 he reported that he resided constantly; preached each Sunday, held prayers on all festivals and fasts; administered the sacrament four times a year (sometimes to as many as 43 communicants); and catechized the children. (fn. 180) He was active in raising money for the rebuilding of the church and in making plans for the new building. (fn. 181) In the second half of the century there was some falling off in the amount of duty performed by the rector. Joshua Kyte (1764–88), a tutor at Westminster School, said in 1767 and 1768 that he had not hitherto resided above two months in the year, though he intended to in future. A curate, a student of Christ Church, was paid £36 a year to minister to the parishioners —'industrious farmers and labourious cottagers'. (fn. 182) Communion was now administered on two festivals only, and there was no catechism as the children could not read. Communicants numbered about 20. In 1774, however, the rector was again resident. He once stated that he often held prayers on saints' days and festivals for his family only, as his parishioners, 'whose support depends on unremitting labour, are seldom able to attend these days'. (fn. 183) By 1793 communicants were down to seven or eight, (fn. 184) a state of affairs which may be partly explained by the report of 1808 that except for the farmers the 30 or 40 families in the village were 'paupers'. At this date the rector, George Dupuis (1789–1839), who had had a curate paid £30 a year in 1789, was again resident. (fn. 185) His successor, W. L. Brown, also resided and in 1854 was catechizing adults every Sunday, and the children were being catechized at school by the schoolmistress. Monthly communion had been introduced and communicants had risen to 30; his congregation numbered 80 to 100 persons out of 240 inhabitants; he had a Sunday school and held evening classes during the winter months, but lamented that too few came. (fn. 186) A similar picture of hard work and moderate success is found in 1866, when the congregation had increased to about 150 and there were about 50 children in the Sunday school. The choir had improved and the rector had plans for evening classes for the elder children. (fn. 187)
The church of ST. GILES is an 18th-century building of stone, comprising a chancel, nave, and north transept. It replaces a medieval church of 13th-century date which was cruciform in shape with two transepts and a western tower. The medieval church had an altar dedicated to the Virgin (fn. 188) and a rood-loft approached by a staircase from the north transept. (fn. 189) The structure gave continual trouble, as the church was built on clay, and in 1639 the south transept was demolished as dangerous. (fn. 190) By 1757 the whole building was considered to be beyond repair (fn. 191) and a brief was issued authorizing the collection of money for a new church. (fn. 192) In March 1761 the old church was demolished and by September the exterior of the new one was completed. (fn. 193) The medieval tower was kept, as well as some early decorated windows and a doorway. Part of the old materials were also used.
The new church had a gallery at the back of the north transept which was designed for use as a choir and parochial library, while the ground floor of the tower was to be used as a porch and place for parish meetings. The south transept was reserved for landowners and their sons, with the servants in front. The wives and maid-servants and all children sat in the north transept; labourers and tradesmen sat on the south side of the nave and their wives on the north side. (fn. 194)
Plans were made in 1863 by G. E. Street for the partial rebuilding of what was then considered 'a modern and extremely unsightly church', (fn. 195) but they did not materialize. In 1866 the rector repaired the chancel. (fn. 196)
The foundations of the new church were as troublesome as those of the old one and the cracked and leaning tower was reported unsafe; (fn. 197) it was demolished between 1901 and 1902 together with the south transept. Neither has been rebuilt. At the same time the roof was renewed and new seating installed (architect J. O. Scott). (fn. 198)
There is a plain circular font (fn. 199) and good wooden altar railings.
When Rawlinson visited the original church in the early 18th century he found a stone in the chancel with a poem to John Birde (d. 1653), vicar of Bicester and rector of Wendlebury, and some armorial glass. (fn. 200) The present church has inscriptions to several rectors: Matthew Bee (d. 1674), Stephen Cupper (d. 1676), John Bond (d. 1692/3), and Zachary Hussey (d. 1719); an urn-shaped marble plaque to Robert Welborne (d. 1764), a tablet to Thomas Edgerton (d. 1785), and a marble plaque by Bossom of Oxford (fn. 201) to George Dupuis (d. 1839). (fn. 202) There are also inscriptions to other members of the Bee family, (fn. 203) and one to Mrs. Rachel Stevens, daughter of Zachary Hussey, who died at 94, beloved for her 'charity and benevolence'.
Two coffins, one a rector's, were found when the south transept was demolished in 1639. (fn. 204)
In 1552 the church was poorly furnished with a chalice, two copes, and a vestment. There were three bells and a sanctus bell. (fn. 205) The plate now includes a small Elizabethan chalice and paten cover and a huge bell-shaped chalice and paten of 1730, the gift of Thomas Turner, rector. (fn. 206) Since the destruction of the tower the three bells, two of the 16th century and one of 1695, have been standing at the west end of the nave. (fn. 207)
The registers date from 1579. Robert Welborne, an 18th-century rector, made an alphabetical index to them with comments from 1579 to 1738. (fn. 208) He notes that the earliest gravestone in the churchyard was dated 1667/8.
A number of Roman Catholics were recorded in the late 16th century. In the 1570's Richard Davey, gentleman, and his wife, members of a prominent Roman Catholic family who were patrons of the mission at Overy near Dorchester, were living in the parish. (fn. 209) In 1592 William Bourne of Wendlebury, the brother of John Bourne of Chesterton, (fn. 210) was one of the recusants at liberty in the country, (fn. 211) and in the same year four others, including Bourne's sister, were fined. (fn. 212) Some of the names recur in 17th-century lists until 1612. (fn. 213) Except for a family living in the parish in about 1800, (fn. 214) there seems to have been no later Roman Catholicism.
No record has been found of Protestant dissent until the late 19th century, when there was a small Methodist meeting-place, closed in about 1897. (fn. 215)
In 1808 there was a dame school where children paid 3d. each a week. (fn. 216) This was probably the same school as the one mentioned in 1815, when about a dozen children were being taught to read and write. It was said to be difficult to support a teacher in so small a village, and that parents needed to send their children to work. (fn. 217) Nevertheless, a private school opened in 1826, (fn. 218) and in 1833 there was a school with 10 pupils supported by a private donation. (fn. 219) In 1838 there were about 25 children receiving no schooling at all. (fn. 220) A National school was opened in 1850 (fn. 221) for children aged three and upwards; there were 40 pupils in 1854, (fn. 222) and new school buildings were erected in 1863. (fn. 223) Average attendance rose from 23 in 1871 to 52 in 1906. (fn. 224) The school was reorganized as a junior school in 1927, when senior pupils were transferred to Bicester, and it became controlled in 1952. In 1954 there were 18 pupils, 6 more than in 1937. (fn. 225)
In the reign of Edward VI certain arable lands which had been given in the Middle Ages to maintain a light in the church were confiscated by the Crown. (fn. 226) In 1549 they were granted to a Londoner, (fn. 227) but in 1573 they were bought by the rector, William Brownrig, who gave them to trustees for the benefit of the poor. The income, 3s. 4d. a year, was distributed at Easter and All Saints' Day. (fn. 228) In 1738 the income was £1 15s. and in 1790 the poor received £1 in bread at Easter. (fn. 229) After the inclosure of 1801, when the trustees received an allotment of 2½ acres, the income rose to £6 6s. a year in 1824. At Christmas 1823 123 poor people received 9d. each. (fn. 230) The rent of the allotment was £4 16s. in 1870. (fn. 231)
By will dated 1626 William Eberton left lands to the poor which in 1786 were producing £1 15s. a year. (fn. 232) There is no further mention of this charity.
Wendlebury shared the Bowell apprenticing charity with Bicester and Chesterton, (fn. 233) but it was reported 'long unused' in 1738. By that date three donations amounting to £20 were held by the churchwardens, (fn. 234) but both their origin and their subsequent history are unknown. John Coker (d. 1819), lord of the manor, left £40 for blankets and clothing for the poor. (fn. 235)
The Revd. G. D. Bowles, rector 1865–1902, left £100, the interest to be spent on bread for the poor. (fn. 236) In 1931 T. Holton, who had lived in Wendlebury as a boy, left property to be sold for the benefit of the poor. (fn. 237)