A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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The parish lies on either side of the OxfordBrackley road, roughly mid-way between the markettowns of Bicester and Brackley (Northants). In the early 18th century it was described as of 'not many more than a 1,000 acres', (fn. 1) but the improved surveying of the 19th century showed it to cover 1,493 acres, and in 1948 it was increased to 2,178 acres by the addition of Fewcot hamlet and that part of Stoke Lyne parish which lay west of the Oxford road. (fn. 2) The old northern boundary used to skirt Ardley village until it joined a stream flowing eastwards, which still forms the western part of the northern boundary. (fn. 3) Part of the eastern boundary is also a natural one, the Gagle Brook or the Saxon Sexig Broc, and on the west it is the ancient pre-Roman dyke, Ashbank or Aves Ditch. (fn. 4) A late 10th-century charter granted by Ethelred II shows that the Saxon boundaries corresponded closely with those of the 19th century. (fn. 5)
The present parish is about a mile broad and two miles long. It is a flat tableland, lying between the 300- and 400-foot contour lines, and forming a part of the Great Oolite belt which crosses the country. The Lower Oolite is exposed in the railway cuttings. (fn. 6) The soil is stonebrash and field-names indicate that much of the land was once rough pasture: the part near Aves Ditch was known as the 'great moor' in 1685 (fn. 7) and in the 19th century as the Great Heath. (fn. 8) Here also were Church Furze and Heath Ground, while Pearson's Heath lay in the south, west of the Brackley road, and Margrett's Heath and Little Heath lay in the south-east corner. (fn. 9) But by the early 19th century this land had been reclaimed and was growing good corn crops. (fn. 10) The soil is well watered, for apart from the boundary streams, a third stream rises in the centre of the parish and flows southwards.
Ardley Wood (40 a.) and Ballard's Copse (called Chilgrove in the 17th century, Child Grove in 1797, (fn. 11) and probably to be identified with the 'lytle Ciltene' of a 10th-century charter) (fn. 12) are the remains of more extensive woodland. Ardley Wood was partly cut down in the early 19th century to facilitate quarrying, (fn. 13) but as late as 1881 the parish still had nearly 60 acres of wood. (fn. 14)
From early times the parish was traversed by an important highway—the road from Oxford into Northamptonshire; it is the via regia of an early 13th-century record (fn. 15) and the Oxford Way of 1679. (fn. 16) It was made a turnpike in 1757. (fn. 17) Today it is crossed by branch roads to Fritwell and Bucknell, which follow the line of older roads: the Bucknell road was already hedged in 1797. (fn. 18) The course of the present branch road to Upper Heyford, however, has been straightened since Davis's survey of 1797. The old road was probably the 10th-century 'green way to Heyford'. (fn. 19)
The former G.W.R. main line from Birmingham to London crosses the parish and Ardley station was opened in 1910. (fn. 20)
In the south-west of the parish 86 acres were taken over by Upper Heyford R.A.F. station after 1925. (fn. 21)
Ardley village lies at the extreme northern edge of the ancient parish, near a good spring and crossroads. (fn. 22) There is no evidence for any Roman settlement here, although Roman remains have been found in the parish at Ballard's Copse, (fn. 23) and at least in the early Middle Ages there was evidence for still earlier settlement. The tumulus, called Cwichelmes Hlæw in a 10th-century charter, is thought to have stood near the present Ashgrove Farm. (fn. 24) The Saxons called the settlement Eardulfes lea or 'Eardwulf's wood or clearing', and the remains of the wood still lie just west of the village. (fn. 25) The village seems never to have been very large or rich and in 1662 and 1665 only eleven and nine houses, most of which were humble dwellings, were listed for the hearth tax. (fn. 26) Twenty houses were recorded in 1768 and 35 in 1821. (fn. 27) The 19th-century village was reputed to be a mile long; its thatched two-story cottages built of rubble with brick dressings or only of rubble were scattered along the main road, while the church and more houses lay on a branch road to the west. (fn. 28)
Blomfield thought that the triangular field on the north side of the churchyard, called the Park, marked the site of the medieval manor-house (fn. 29)—the curia of Ralph son of Robert mentioned in the early 13th century. (fn. 30) But it is more probable that it was in the precincts of the 12th-century castle. Of the latter there remains in Ardley Wood just west of the village an almost circular moat with a diameter of 100 yards. In 1823 the antiquary Skelton recorded the existence of subterranean passages on the site. (fn. 31) There is no record of any resident lord of the manor after the Reformation, and no manor-house is marked on Plot's map of 1676. (fn. 32)
Some 17th-century houses remain: there is the Old Rectory, now Ardley House, and Ralph Ford's house to the west of the church, both taxed on four hearths in 1665, and the Manor Farm, taxed on six hearths. (fn. 33) In 1679 the Rectory was described as a house of four bays with a barn and stables attached. In a later terrier the house was said to have six bays (fn. 34) with a kitchen and malt-house of five bays in addition to the barn and stables. It was enlarged in 1860 and entirely remodelled in 1874 by the architect E. G. Bruton at a cost of £1,200. (fn. 35) It was then refronted, although one of the original windows was retained.
The Fox and Hounds Inn, standing at the crossroads at the northern end of the village, was probably built or rebuilt at the end of the 18th century as a result of the turnpike traffic. By 1852 a second inn, the 'Horse and Jockey', had opened and in 1861 a school was built. (fn. 36)
Of the outlying farm-houses, Ashgrove is marked on Davis's map of 1797, and Neville's Farm, Hall's Barn and Scotland Barn were all built by 1839. (fn. 37) Ardley Fields Farm dates from the end of the 19th century. (fn. 38)
The only well-known person connected with Ardley was Master John London, rector (1521–4) and later Warden of New College. He acquired notoriety as 'the most terrible of all the monastic spoilers'. (fn. 39)
In the late 10th century 5 hides in Ardley were held by three brothers. Two of them were slain in resisting the arrest of one of their men as a thief, and the third fled to sanctuary. Their estate fell to the king, Ethelred II, who in 995 granted it in perpetuity to Æthelwig, the reeve (praepositus) of Buckingham. (fn. 40) In 1243 ARDLEY manor consisted of 1 knight's fee held of the honor of Pontefract: ½ fee in Ardley parish and ½ fee lying in Somerton parish. (fn. 41) The latter was described in 1279 as a part of the vill of Somerton called Northbrook. (fn. 42) This Northbroc iuxta Somerthonam (fn. 43) should not be confused with Northbrook in Kirtlington which was held of the honor of Stafford. (fn. 44) In the assessment of 1220, Northbrook was included in the 12 carucates of Somerton, (fn. 45) and a fine of 1244 shows that some part of it belonged to the barony of Arsic and became part of the De Grey manor of Somerton. (fn. 46)
Hugh d'Avranches, Earl of Chester, held Ardley at the time of the Domesday survey, (fn. 47) and the overlordship of the fee descended with the Earldom of Chester until the death of Earl Ranulf de Blundeville in 1232. (fn. 48) Earl Ranulf's vast possessions were then partitioned between his coheirs and their descendants, and the overlordship of Ardley fell to the share of Hugh d'Aubigny, Earl of Arundel, the son and heir of Mabel, Earl Ranulf's second sister. (fn. 49) Of the manors which Hugh received the chief was Coventry, which became the caput of a new honor; (fn. 50) hence in 1236 Ardley was said to be held 'de feudo Hugonis de Auben' de Coventre'. (fn. 51) Hugh died in 1243, and his lands were divided between his four sisters and coheiresses. (fn. 52) Ardley passed to Hugh's fourth sister Cecile and her husband Roger de Montalt, Steward of Chester. (fn. 53) Roger died in 1260, and his son Robert held the overlordship of the manor at his death in 1275. (fn. 54) Robert was succeeded by his sons Roger (d. 1296) and Robert, who in 1327, two years before his death, settled all his estates on himself and his wife for life, with reversion to Queen Isabel, and successively to her son John of Eltham and his heirs, and to the king, if he, Robert, left no male issue. In 1331 his widow surrendered her life interest to Queen Isabel, and in 1335 Robert de Morley, Robert de Montalt's heir, granted her the rents and services due from Ardley manor. (fn. 55) John of Eltham died without heirs in 1336, so that after Isabel's death in 1358 Edward III was the overlord. As early as 1285, however, the mesne tenants, the De Plescy family, were thought to hold Ardley in chief. (fn. 56)
In 1086 Ardley was held of the Earl of Chester by Robert d'Oilly, (fn. 57) and the mesne lordship of the manor followed the same descent as the overlordship of Bucknell, passing from the D'Oillys in 1232 to the De Plescy family and in the 15th century to the dukes of Suffolk. The tenant of Ardley under Robert (I) d'Oilly was Drew d'Aundeley, who also held Hardwick and Shirburn of Robert's own honor. (fn. 58) About 1100 Drew became a monk of Abingdon, and gave the abbey some of his land at South Weston. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, Roger son of Ralph, a nephew of Nigel d'Oilly, his lord. (fn. 59) Roger was followed by Ralph son of Roger, probably his son, who witnessed Robert (II) d'Oilly's charter to Oseney Abbey about 1130. (fn. 60). In 1156 Ralph was pardoned the payment of Danegeld in Oxfordshire, (fn. 61) and in 1166 he was the tenant of one of Henry (I) d'Oilly's three fees of the honor of Stafford. (fn. 62) His wife was named Adelize (fn. 63) and their son Robert had succeeded his father by 1201. (fn. 64) He temporarily forfeited his lands in 1215 when he joined the baronial party opposed to King John. (fn. 65) The date of his death is uncertain, but his son Ralph son of Robert presented to Ardley church before 1218 and in 1221, (fn. 66) and Ralph's brother Guy had succeeded him at Ardley by 1235 when he granted 9 virgates in the manor to Oseney Abbey. (fn. 67)
Guy also held ½ knight's fee of the Earl of Winchester at Shipton-on-Cherwell, besides estates in Warwickshire. (fn. 68) He was escheator for Oxfordshire from 1246 to 1253, (fn. 69) and sheriff of the county in 1248. (fn. 70) In 1243 Guy held ½ fee in Ardley, while his other ½ fee in Northbrook appears to have been held of him by Stephen Simeon and Thomas de la Haye. (fn. 71) Guy was still in possession of Ardley in 1255 (fn. 72), but had been succeeded by his son John by 1268. (fn. 73) If John son of Guy is 'Johannes, heres de Arde de Ardul', (fn. 74) then he was one of the twelve jurors whose returns for Ploughley hundred are embodied in the Hundred Rolls. John son of Guy took part in the Welsh and Scottish wars of Edward I (fn. 75) and was succeeded by 1309 by his son Robert. (fn. 76) Fitzguy, in the form 'Fitzwyth', now became established as the family surname. Robert Fitzwyth died in 1316, and his son Guy, who inherited Ardley, died later the same year, leaving a widow Joan, and an infant daughter Elizabeth. (fn. 77) Ardley may have been held in dower by Joan, who presented to the church in 1318. (fn. 78) By 1326 the manor of Shotteswell (Warws.) was held by John Fitzwyth, possibly a cousin of Guy, who was succeeded there by his son Robert, (fn. 79) who also held Ardley in 1346 (fn. 80) and in 1352 conveyed part of his Warwickshire estates to his nephew Robert and his wife Agnes. (fn. 81) It was this younger Robert who died seized of Ardley in 1362. (fn. 82) The manner of his death was revealed in 1369 when his widow, his second wife Joan, and her second husband claimed her dower in the Fitzwyth manors. He had died as the result of an attack by an armed band led by Roger de Careswell which had carried off Joan to St. Thomas's Hospital, Southwark. Later, she successfully refuted the allegations of Joan, Robert's daughter by his first wife, and her husband John de Beauchamp, that she had willingly lived in adultery with Roger de Careswell, and her claims to dower were upheld. (fn. 83) In 1370, however, she granted her dower in Ardley manor and elsewhere to John de Beauchamp in return for £20 a year in rents. (fn. 84) In 1375 John had his wife's Oxfordshire manors including Ardley settled upon himself and his wife and their heirs in fee tail. (fn. 85)
John, who was the son of Richard de Beauchamp of Holt (Worcs.), fought in the French wars, was appointed Steward of the King's household in 1387 and was created Lord de Beauchamp, Baron of Kidderminster. In 1388 when the Lords Appellant seized power he was attainted and finally beheaded. (fn. 86) Ardley was taken into the king's hand, (fn. 87) but in 1389 Philip de la Vache, during the minority of the heir, successfully claimed the wardship of the manor as overlord on the grounds that it was held in tail, not in fee simple. (fn. 88) Joan de Beauchamp had died a few months before her husband's execution, (fn. 89) and in 1390 Philip de la Vache placed Ardley in the hands of trustees for the duration of the minority of her son John. (fn. 90) In 1398, his father's attainder and forfeiture having been reversed, John obtained his titles and estates, but in 1400 the atainder was reaffirmed and he lost the peerage. He died in 1420, leaving a widow Alice and a daughter Margaret, widow of John Pauncefoot. (fn. 91) Alice received Ardley for life, but was dead by 1428, when Margaret and her second husband John Wysham were in possession. (fn. 92) Margaret had three daughters: Alice, who married John Guise; Joan, who married John Croft; and Elizabeth, who married firstly Thomas Croft, a ranger of Woodstock (d. 1488), and secondly Nicholas Crowemer. (fn. 93) Margaret and her third husband Sir Walter Skull were dead by 1472, and the manor was divided between the three coheiresses. (fn. 94) After the death of Elizabeth without issue, the third of Ardley which she and Nicholas Crowemer had held (fn. 95) was divided between her surviving sisters, for whereas in 1499 John and Joan Croft held a third of the manor, in 1501 they held a half, (fn. 96) and in the same year John Guise died holding the other half. (fn. 97) In 1513 John Croft conveyed his portion to William Billing of Deddington, (fn. 98) and four years later William acquired the other half from John Guise's son John. (fn. 99) In 1533 William died in possession of the whole manor. (fn. 100)
In a letter to Thomas Cromwell written in 1538 Sir Thomas Pope, the future founder of Trinity College, Oxford, referred to his having bought land in Ardley of the value of £8 a year from 'one Billyng' —presumably William Billing's son John. Though Billing challenged the legality of the sale, (fn. 101) Pope appears to have kept him to his bargain. In 1540 Sir Thomas received a grant of the lands in Ardley which had belonged to Oseney Abbey and Studley Priory before the Dissolution, and five years later he was granted certain rents previously reserved in his grant. (fn. 102) By 1555 he appears to have obtained the manor, (fn. 103) and it formed part of his considerable possessions at his death in 1559. (fn. 104) Sir Thomas was succeeded by his brother, John Pope of Wroxton, who died in 1584. (fn. 105) In accordance with a settlement made by Sir Thomas, Ardley next passed to his nephew, Edmund Hochens, and on the latter's death in 1602 it reverted to William, son of John Pope, (fn. 106) then Sheriff of Oxfordshire and later created Earl of Downe (1628). On his death in 1631 his title and lands, including Ardley, passed to his grandson Thomas Pope. (fn. 107) In June 1646 his estates between Oxford and Banbury, presumably including Ardley, were reported to be 'consumed by the King's garrisons', and in 1650 they were sequestered. Ardley, together with the earl's other estates in Oxfordshire, was let by the Oxford County Committee to Edward Twiford. (fn. 108)
Thomas died without male issue in 1660 (fn. 109) and was succeeded by his uncle Thomas who conveyed Ardley manor to Philip Holman in the same year. (fn. 110) Philip was succeeded by George Holman, and in 1698 his widow Anastasia conveyed the manor to George Townsend, who was still lord of the manor in 1718. (fn. 111) In 1753 Ardley was purchased by Charles, Duke of Marlborough, whose descendants held the manor until 1894, when the Ardley estates of the 9th duke were sold by auction. (fn. 112) The manorial rights were offered for sale, but were withdrawn, a bid of £100 being rejected. By 1903, however, C. W. Perryman, who had purchased the advowson, had acquired the manorial rights. (fn. 113)
In 1235 Guy son of Robert granted 9 virgates in Ardley to Oseney Abbey, for a yearly payment of 1s. or a pair of gilt spurs for all services. (fn. 114) This estate, which was administered as part of the bailiwick of Weston-on-the-Green, was held by Oseney until the Dissolution. (fn. 115) It still consisted of 9 virgates in the early 16th century, (fn. 116) when the lord of Ardley manor was receiving 1s. a year from the abbey. (fn. 117) Studley Priory had acquired 3 virgates in Ardley by 1279 (fn. 118) and had 5s. rents there at the Dissolution. (fn. 119) In the 1230's Ralph son of Robert granted Bicester Priory about 11 acres of land, (fn. 120) and at some time the priory must have received more land in Ardley, for it is later known to have held more than 3 virgates. In 1267 it exchanged 2 virgates and 5 acres of this property with William and Joan Paute for property in Grimsbury (Northants). (fn. 121) Although in 1279 the priory still held one virgate in Ardley in free alms of the lord of the manor, (fn. 122) no more is known of this land, and Bicester had no property in Ardley at the Dissolution. (fn. 123)
At the time of the Domesday survey there was said to be sufficient land for 11 ploughs, although 10 were at work, of which 4 were in demesne and 6 belonged to 8 villeins (villani) and 15 bordars. (fn. 124) In view of the comparatively small area of the later parish, these figures are surprisingly high, more especially as there is 13th-century evidence for the clearance of new land. For when Ralph son of Robert granted Bicester Priory in the early 1230's pasture for 200 sheep on the common land, whether it belonged to the demesne or to the villeins, he made an exception of Stockmead and a new assart near his manor-house. These were to be fenced in from Easter to Michaelmas. (fn. 125)
Ralph's charter and a grant of land to Oseney made by Guy son of Robert in 1235 add further details about agrarian arrangements. The 9 virgates which Guy gave to the abbey were held by villein virgaters, who were also granted with their land and families; (fn. 126) there were two fields, North and South Fields, since the 11 acres given to Bicester by Ralph were divided equally between these two fields; there were already small inclosures. Bicester, for example, was given an inclosed (fossatum) piece of ground called 'Southleye' near the manor woods, where a sheepfold was to be made.
The account in the Hundred Rolls of 1279 shows that the lord's demesne had been much reduced. He had 4 virgates in demesne and nine villein virgaters paying a rent of 5s. each and working at will. More than half the recorded land was now held freely; Oseney held its 9 virgates for 12d.; the Prioress of Studley held 3 virgates which were occupied by a free tenant; the Prior of Bicester held a virgate; (fn. 127) and the rector another. (fn. 128) The only lay free tenant was an unidentified Ralph of Chesterton, who held 4 virgates. (fn. 129) Only 31 virgates are accounted for in this survey compared with the 42 recorded in the 17th century. (fn. 130) The 1279 survey is incomplete, however, since Oseney's tenants, for instance, are not recorded.
Fourteenth-century tax assessments (fn. 131) show that Ardley was among the poorer communities in Ploughley hundred. It seems certain that the village was comparatively small then and had dwindled in size by the 15th century, when it was returned as having fewer than ten households. (fn. 132) Early 16thcentury subsidy lists also point to a small and poor population, 10 persons being assessed at a low figure in 1523 and 7 in 1524 compared with 39 at the large neighbouring village of Somerton. (fn. 133) Decreasing population was accompanied it seems by a growth in the size of farms: Oseney's 9 virgates were farmed in the 16th century to 3 tenants instead of nine. One held as much as 4 virgates. (fn. 134) Inclosure too was on the increase. Meadow closes had probably long existed, but in the early 16th century and perhaps before there had been inclosure of the arable. Thomas Prior was accused of inclosing 30 acres worth 10s. and converting it into pasture in 1505, thus depriving six men of occupation. (fn. 135) The movement was checked, for 17th-century terriers of the rectory show that the glebe at any rate was still in strips in the open fields. (fn. 136) The population may have increased by 1676, when the Compton Census recorded 51 adults.
The terriers give other indications of conservative farming practice. There were still only two fields, now called East and West Fields; (fn. 137) meadowland was assigned by lot; much of the land was given up to grazing sheep and cattle. The usual number of sheep to the yardland was 30, (fn. 138) but the rector was allowed commons for 6 beasts and 80 sheep for his two yardlands. (fn. 139) General inclosure must have taken place after 1685 and before 1770 when the whole parish, except for 100 acres, was said to be inclosed. (fn. 140) Davis's map of 1797 shows the inclosed fields with the arable lying mostly to the south of the village and east of the Brackley road. Four of the farms were already fairly large, as they continued to be. In 1839 there were three of between 50 and 100 acres and three of over 250 acres. Of these, a freehold farm, which had once belonged to the Youngs, and two others, now belonged to the Duke of Marlborough. (fn. 141) He had put in good heart the exceptionally large Ashgrove farm (522 a.) and in 1870 its tenant Mrs. Millington won a Royal Agricultural Society cup for the best-cultivated farm in the Midlands. At this time the land of the parish was fairly equally divided between arable (608 a.) and grass (683 a.), and the main crops grown were wheat, barley, oats, and turnips. (fn. 142)
In 1956 there were nine farms, 762½ acres were grassland, 1,083½ arable, and 10 rough grazing. (fn. 143)
In the 18th century all the inhabitants of Ardley parish were said to be farmers or day labourers, (fn. 144) but with the sudden growth of population in the early 19th century, when numbers rose from 109 in 1801 to 191 in 1821, (fn. 145) a few turned to trade or crafts. In the mid-19th century there were two journeymen masons, (fn. 146) a lacemaker, a dressmaker, a carpenter, a shoemaker, a brewer, a baker, a blacksmith, and two innkeepers. (fn. 147) The population declined in the second half of the century and by 1901 there were only the Rectory, two farm-houses and about 30 houses and cottages for the parish's 130 inhabitants. By 1951, owing to the inclusion of Fewcot in the parish, the number of the inhabitants had increased to 318 and of houses to 87. (fn. 148) A wheelwright's works was opened in the 20th century, (fn. 149) and since the Second World War many of the villagers have found employment at the Bicester Ordnance Depot.
There was a church in Ardley by 1074, when a grant of its tithes was made (see below). The first recorded presentation occurs in the early 13th century, (fn. 150) and since then the advowson has, with a few exceptions, followed the descent of the manor. An exception occurred in 1318 when Hugh de Plescy, who perhaps had custody of the manor during the minority of Elizabeth Fitzwyth, tried to present to the church. Joan, the widow of Guy Fitzwyth (d. 1316), contested this claim and the king's court upheld her right. (fn. 151) Other exceptions occurred when the king presented in 1363 after the death of Robert Fitzwyth, and again in 1389 and 1390 because of the attainder of John de Beauchamp. In 1396 Philip de la Vache presented as guardian of John de Beauchamp; in 1435 an unidentified John Blount did so; and in 1441 Walker Skull, the third husband of John de Beauchamp's daughter Margaret. After 1472, when the manor was divided among coheiresses, the advowson was apparently also divided, for the husbands of two of them, Thomas Croft and John Guise, presented in 1484 and in 1497 respectively. In 1510 the bishop collated by lapse and by 1521 William Billing, then lord of the united manor, held the whole advowson.
For some time after 1540, when the manor and advowson were acquired by Sir Thomas Pope, the advowson seems to have been usually leased separately. (fn. 152) From at least 1559 to 1584 the patron was Edward Love of Aynho (Northants), who had also been patron of Stoke Lyne. (fn. 153) He twice sold his right of presentation. (fn. 154) In the early 17th century Nicholas Blount (1622) and Ralph Drope, mercer of Banbury (1629), were patrons. (fn. 155) In 1645 the king presented because Thomas Pope, Earl of Downe, had not taken legal possession of his lands. (fn. 156) The advowson passed with the manor to Philip Holman in 1661, and in 1682 and 1683 George Holman presented to Ardley church. (fn. 157) In 1894, when the Duke of Marlborough's estates in the parish were sold by auction, the advowson was sold for £470 to C. W. Perryman of Farnborough (Hants), (fn. 158) who later bought the manorial rights.
In 1921 the living of Fewcot and in 1933 that of Stoke Lyne were united to Ardley. (fn. 159) Colonel the Hon. E. H. Wyndham, lord of the manor of Caversfield and patron of Stoke Lyne, presents for two turns, and the executors of Mrs. Perryman for one turn.
In the Middle Ages Ardley was one of the poorest parishes in the deanery. In 1254 it was valued at £2, in 1291 at £4 6s. 8d., and in 1535 at £5 12s. 8d. (fn. 160) Its value was thus generally slightly above the minimum level of 5 marks considered necessary for the maintenance of a parish priest. In addition to the glebe, the rector held a virgate of land from the lord of the manor for 6d. a year. (fn. 161)
Robert d'Oilly in the late 11th century granted two-thirds of his demesne tithes at Ardley to the church of St. George in Oxford castle, (fn. 162) which in 1149 was given, with all its possessions, to Oseney Abbey. (fn. 163) A late 13th-century rector, Roger de Schulton (c. 1260–1300), objected to this deduction from his income, and the case was taken to the Court of Arches. There, Oseney's proxy declared that the abbey had been continuously and peacefully in possession of two-thirds of the tithes of the ancient demesne, which lay around the park and grove of the lord John Fitzwyth. (fn. 164) The court's decision has not been found, but by 1291 the Rector of Ardley was paying a pension of 10s. to Oseney; (fn. 165) this continued into the 15th century, but had stopped in the next century. (fn. 166)
The earliest post-Reformation valuation to be found is that of 1751, when the church was worth £80. (fn. 167) In 1839 the tithes were commuted for £285. (fn. 168) There were then 60 acres of glebe which had been allotted instead of the 2 yardlands formerly held in the open fields. (fn. 169) They lay in three arable fields along the road to Bucknell, and were rented for about £30. (fn. 170) They have since been mostly sold. (fn. 171) The rector also had the right to a third of the tithes on a field in Somerton, which were commuted with the tithes of Somerton for 30s. (fn. 172)
None of the medieval rectors was remarkable, and few were university graduates. (fn. 173) An early exception was Master Helias, a physician, presented in 1221 before he was even an acolyte by Ralph, son of Robert. (fn. 174) His successors were rather on the level of vicars, and most of the exchanges of Ardley were for nearby vicarages: for the vicarage of Fritwell, for example, or that of Dinton (Bucks.), but in 1419 it was for a chantry. (fn. 175)
All but one of the 16th-century rectors were graduates. Among the early ones was Master John London (1521–4), probably Ardley's most famous rector. (fn. 176) He was succeeded by Edward Heydon (1524–37), a student who received his degree three years after becoming rector. (fn. 177) The living brought him little immediate profit, as in 1526 out of his income of £8 he paid a curate over £5 and spent, among other things, £1 13s. in repairs. (fn. 178) A few years before there had been complaints that the walls of the church were dilapidated and the churchyard not enclosed. (fn. 179)
There was a tendency for post-Reformation rectors to be absentees: Richard Love (1615–18), a Fellow of Magdalen College, was also Vicar of Stoke Lyne, and in 1615 was chaplain to Sir Ralph Winwood, the Secretary of State; (fn. 180) John Hull (1622–9) was another resident Fellow of Magdalen; (fn. 181) Thomas Drope (1629–45) was Vicar of Cumnor (Berks.), where he lived and was buried. (fn. 182) But Lionel Piggott (1645–82), presented by the king in 1645 (fn. 183) and evidently a royalist, resided in his parish. He may have been dispossessed during the Commonwealth, for there were two nonconformist ministers in Ardley in the 1650's. (fn. 184) He was living there, however, after the Restoration, (fn. 185) when it was recorded that in return for his common pasture rights he had to provide a 'drinking' for the parishioners at Easter. It cost 20s. and took place in the parsonage. (fn. 186)
Eighteenth-century rectors, such as John Percival (1707–53), were likewise often resident. A relative of the lord of the manor, (fn. 187) he resided 'constantly' and in 1738 reported that none was absent from church, that there were two services on Sundays, and usually fifteen or sixteen communicants at the four yearly sacraments. (fn. 188) His successor, however, Benjamin Holloway (1753–78), the first rector presented by the Duke of Marlborough, was also Rector of Bladon with Woodstock, (fn. 189) and in his time Ardley was served by curates, who usually lived in the Rectory and received a stipend of £30. One of these was the rector's son, who was allowed 'more than is generally given to curates'. (fn. 190) It was said that churchgoing had decreased by the early 19th century, but the influence of John Lowe, rector for more than half the century (1815–73) and described in 1864 by Bishop Wilberforce as 'hearty and good as ever', led to a revival. (fn. 191) He instituted monthly communion services and in one year preached about 95 sermons to congregations of 50 to 60 in the mornings and 70 to 80 in the afternoons. Nothing special impeded his ministry, Lowe once reported, except 'unbelief and hardness of heart. These are my great hindrances, and, in a few cases, the love of drinking.' (fn. 192) Another difficulty, however, was the growing hamlet of Fewcot which, although in Stoke Lyne parish, lay much nearer to Ardley church than to Stoke church. In 1846 Lowe offered to take it into his parish if he were paid £10 from the vicarage of Stoke, but the patron refused the offer. (fn. 193) Lowe later complained of the influence on his parishioners of Fewcot's increasing Methodist population. (fn. 194) At about this time Ardley was unusual in having a woman churchwarden, Mrs. Millington of Ashgrove Farm. (fn. 195)
Although the Old Rectory was converted into a large modern house at the end of the 19th century, (fn. 196) it was sold in 1923, as after Fewcot had been united to Ardley the rector went to live in Fewcot. (fn. 197)
The present church, dedicated to ST. MARY (fn. 198) and largely rebuilt at the end of the 18th century, is a stone building consisting of chancel, nave, and western tower. The saddle-backed tower has two stages and dates from the 14th century, though the tower arch appears to be earlier.
The present chancel arch and piscina are part of a 13th-century church, but the chancel windows are 14th century. The south wall has a double piscina and a low side window, now walled up, which was formerly covered by a shutter. The elaborate 14thcentury recess on the north wall may have been a benefactor's tomb and was later used as an Easter sepulchre; it has a shield on each cusp, one bearing two bends, perhaps for Oseney Abbey, which had part of the tithes. (fn. 199)
In the early 18th century Rawlinson found the church 'but ordinary'. (fn. 200) A number of minor repairs were later carried out, (fn. 201) but by 1791 the building was in urgent need of restoration. (fn. 202) In 1792 the original nave with its two aisles and porch were pulled down and the present plain nave with five windows was erected under the direction of the 3rd Duchess of Marlborough. (fn. 203) In 1834 a western gallery was built for the inhabitants of Fewcot. (fn. 204) In 1865 a further restoration was carried out, largely at the expense of Miss Anne Hind, (fn. 205) which was said to remedy the 'vile architectural taste' of the duchess. (fn. 206) A sum of £600 was spent. A new roof was put on the chancel; a new altar, seats, and a heating system were installed; the floor was relaid and the step between the nave and chancel removed. (fn. 207) The organ, once in an Oxford college chapel, was installed in 1874, and in 1888 the roof of the nave and the tower were repaired at a cost of £73. (fn. 208)
The circular font is probably 13th century. (fn. 209) Memorial inscriptions to the following are in the church: Nicholas Marshall (d. 1729) and family; John Percival, rector (d. 1753), and family; Richard Young (d. 1778) and family. (fn. 210) There are marble tablets to Lady Elizabeth Spencer (d. 1812), 2nd daughter of George, Duke of Marlborough; to Thomas Hind, rector (d. 1815), (fn. 211) and to the Revd. Robert Downes (d. 1816). Rawlinson noted a monumental inscription in the chancel to John Norman (d. 1674), Rector of Ickford (Bucks.), but this cannot now be traced. (fn. 212)
The church was poorly furnished in 1552 with one chalice and only one cope, two bells and a 'sakering' bell. (fn. 213) In 1955 the plate included an early18th-century pewter plate; (fn. 214) the tower had a 17thcentury and an 18th-century bell. (fn. 215)
A few Roman Catholics were recorded in the 18th century: in 1738 a carpenter, in 1759 a woman servant, and in 1771 two 'of low condition'. (fn. 218)
Protestant dissent appeared in the 1820's, and in 1829 a private house was licensed as a place of worship. (fn. 219) Later in the century there were a few Methodists, who sometimes attended church but occasionally went to chapel at Fritwell. (fn. 220)
In 1808 a few children were looked after and instructed by a 'poor woman'. (fn. 221) In 1815 21 children attended a school where they were taught the principles of religion at their parents' expense; (fn. 222) there was an attendance of 16 infants and 6 older girls in 1833. (fn. 223) By 1854 there was a day school supported by the Rector of Ardley and the Vicar of Stoke Lyne, and by the weekly pence of 30 pupils. (fn. 224)
In 1861 a school with accommodation for 60 children was built at the expense of the Duke of Marlborough; it was enlarged shortly afterwards with the aid of a donation from Miss Anne Hind. (fn. 225) Although affiliated to the National Society in 1862, it gave religious instruction when required to children who were not members of the Church of England. (fn. 226) The attendance was 65 in 1871, and 29 in 1906. (fn. 227) The school was closed in 1914, when the children were transferred to Middleton Stoney school. (fn. 228)