A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The parish formerly covered an area of about 2,527 acres, of which 188 were detached from the rest and lay between Charlton and Weston-on-the-Green. (fn. 1) In 1932 the detached portion was transferred to Weston parish, while to Chesterton were added 986 acres from Bicester King's End, enlarging it to 3,325 acres. (fn. 2) The ancient parish was curiously shaped, for a narrow arm of land projected southwards from Akeman Street almost to Wendlebury village. In the 18th century its extent was said to be about six miles. (fn. 3) A feeder of the Ray formed the boundary on the extreme east, the Gallows Brook part of the western boundary, and the Gagle Brook used to separate the parish on the north-east from the former hamlet of Bignell in the parish of Bicester King's End. (fn. 4)
The land rises gradually from just over 200 feet in the south-east to over 300 feet in the north-east. The greater part lies on the Cornbrash, but the Forest Marble, Great Oolite, and Oxford Clay are exposed in places. (fn. 5) The soil is mainly stony limestone. Woodland, three furlongs square, was recorded in Domesday. (fn. 6) A carucate called 'le Shortwood' in the 13th century was then partly pasture, but at the end of that century there were at least 80 acres of woodland, which may have been the manor park. (fn. 7) The deer here were killed in about 1590, when the woodland was mostly cleared and divided into closes; by 1760 there were only 12 acres of wood, (fn. 8) and in 1955 there was none apart from a couple of recently planted coppices.
The main road from Oxford to Brackley, a road of considerable importance throughout the Middle Ages, crosses the parish as does the Roman Akeman Street, which is now a modern road connecting Kirtlington with Bicester.
The site of the village is interesting: it lies close to the parish boundary, and its houses are mainly along a line parallel with the Gagle Brook. (fn. 9) The name Chesterton suggests that the Saxons named it after the nearby Roman settlement of Alchester. (fn. 10) The medieval village may have been grouped round a green, since taken into the grounds of the present Chesterton Lodge; its nucleus at all events was clearly the church and the manor-house, now Manor Farm, which lie between the brook and the mill on the east and the village street on the west.
Judging from the early 14th-century tax assessments, (fn. 11) it seems to have been fairly large and prosperous, and in the 17th century there were a number of substantial farm-houses besides the manor-house and the Vicarage. One was taxed in 1665 on five hearths and seven on three or four. (fn. 12) By the beginning of the 19th century there were 73 houses in Chesterton and its hamlet Little Chesterton, and 99 by the middle of the century. (fn. 13) Correspondence between the vicar and New College in 1859 reveals that some of the cottages which had been built on the waste were 'more like pig styes' at this time, but much was later done by the Earl of Jersey to improve the cottages on the manor estate. (fn. 14) Increasing population was accompanied by the opening of new public houses: the 'Ball', formerly the 'Blue Ball', the 'Red Cow', and the 'Fox and Hounds' are mentioned in 1853. (fn. 15) Only one had been licensed in 1774. In the 19th and 20th centuries the village spread northwards along the main road. There stand the 19th-century school and reading-room, and the sixteen cheerfully coloured council houses, constructed since 1945. (fn. 16)
The older cottages, one bearing the date 1769, are rubble-built; many have casement windows and thatched or stone-slated roofs. The 'Red Cow' dates mainly from the late 17th or early 18th century: it is of two stories with ashlar quoins and has an attic dormer. The date 1790 with the initials J.C. is inscribed over the doorway. Home Farm in the main street is probably also 17th-century in origin; the extension at the back with its stone slates is the oldest part. Manor Farm, a two-storied house with attic dormers, stands on the site of the original manorhouse. It is built of coursed rubble, is roofed with brown tiles, and has brick chimney-stacks. Although much restored, it probably dates from about 1700. In the 16th century it was the home of the Maundes, (fn. 17) but by 1665 seems to have been reduced in size, for the Earl of Lindsey, who then owned it, returned only two hearths for the tax. (fn. 18) In the 1680's it was occupied by James Bertie, the 1st Earl of Abingdon, (fn. 19) and early in the 18th century was restored and modernized, according to Dunkin, when it became the home of some of the younger members of the Abingdon family. It is no doubt the 'gentleman's house' marked on a map of 1705. (fn. 20) Soon after the death in 1734 of the Hon. Captain Henry Bertie, M.P., the manor-house was let as a hunting-box. Before the end of the century part of the house was pulled down and the rest was turned into a farm. In Dunkin's day the large tithe barn was still standing and had been roofed by the Berties with the ancient roof of the hall of Notley Abbey (Bucks.). (fn. 21) In 1630 it measured 20 feet by 70 feet. (fn. 22)
The Old Vicarage to the north of the manor-house was enlarged by John Burton, vicar between 1720 and 1726, but it has been much restored and had a new south-east wing added in 1859. (fn. 23) It is a twostoried house of coursed rubble with a roof of stone slates; its north-west side is the oldest.
Dunkin states that in the early 18th century there was a mansion house at the south-east end of the village. (fn. 24) The building and its pleasure-grounds were improved in the middle of the century by Francis Penrose, (fn. 25) and still further at the end of the century, when George Clarke, Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1801, obtained permission to turn the line of the road (i.e. Akeman Street) and so extend his grounds. By 1823 the house was the principal mansion in the village. (fn. 26) Clarke's son, George Rochfort Clarke, lived there for many years, but it was unoccupied in 1887 and was replaced by the present house, built in 1889–90 for Henry Tubb, the Bicester banker; by 1939 Chesterton Lodge, as it was called, had become the property of the Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation, (fn. 27) and by 1955 it was a preparatory school for boys and girls called Audley House.
Little Chesterton hamlet grew up along the stream at the southern extremity of the parish and about half a mile from Chesterton. In the 18th century it was called 'Little Town' and had eleven houses. (fn. 28) By 1955 it was almost a 'lost' hamlet: out of its fifteen cottages nine, stone-built in the late 18th century, were empty, their former inhabitants having moved to the new council houses in Great Chesterton; Grange Farm, a two-storied house built of coursed rubble in about 1700, had been derelict since 1946 and had recently been replaced by a new farm-house on a different site; the 19th-century Tower Farm still survived. (fn. 29)
The parish as it was before the recent boundary changes had nine outlying farm-houses, all apparently built after the inclosure of the open fields in 1768. Except for Chestertonfields Farm (College Farm), none is shown on Davis's map of 1797 (fn. 30) and their buildings appear to date from the 19th century.
The parish is distinguished for its many outstanding incumbents, notably the famous 12th-century writer Gerald de Barry (c. 1146–c. 1223); (fn. 31) for its association in the 17th and 18th centuries with the Bertie family and the earls of Abingdon, and in the 18th and 19th centuries with the earls of Jersey. (fn. 32) An 18th-century resident, Francis Penrose (1718– 98), was an archaeologist and a medical and scientific writer of some repute. (fn. 33) More celebrated was the Chesterton oak, which was said to contain 700 cubic feet of timber; it was purchased in about 1840 and converted into church furniture by the Revd. W. C. Risley of Deddington. (fn. 34)
An estate at Chesterton may have belonged to the Anglo-Saxon alderman Æthelmar. Among the lands which he gave to his new foundation of Eynsham Abbey in 1005 were some which he had obtained from his kinsman Godwin in exchange for 5 mansae at 'Stodleye' and 10 at 'Cestertune'. It is possible, however, that this 'Cestertune' was Chesterton in Warwickshire, or Chastleton, often confused with Chesterton. (fn. 35) Immediately before the Conquest the Oxfordshire CHESTERTON was held by Wigod; by 1086 it was part of the possessions of Miles Crispin, (fn. 36) and it belonged to the honor of Wallingford until the end of the 13th century when it was no longer listed among the fees of the honor. (fn. 37) Miles Crispin's tenant at the time of the Domesday survey was the same William who held under him at Adwell and Henton, at Betterton and Sulham (Berks.), and at Bradwell (Bucks.) (fn. 38), and who as 'William de Suleham' granted certain tithes to Abingdon Abbey. (fn. 39) William's lands passed to Aumary, the Domesday tenant of Britwell Salome, who may either have married William's daughter or have been William's younger brother. (fn. 40) Aumary was dead by 1130 and his lands were divided between his sons Ralph and Robert, Chesterton and Betterton falling to the latter's share. (fn. 41) Ralph seems to have been the elder son, and his descendants from time to time confirmed the various gifts made to religious houses by the junior branch of the family. (fn. 42) Although at the end of the 12th century the lord of the honor of Wallingford had the custody of Chesterton and the wardship of its heir during a minority (see below), the senior branch may not have given up all claim to mesne lordship in Chesterton, for in 1247 William of Sulham recognized Ralph of Chesterton's lawful possession of lands in the manor. (fn. 43)
Robert son of Aumary, tenant of Chesterton manor, gave lands to the monks of Otley at Oddington in 1137, and in about 1151–4, after the removal of their house to Thame, he granted them a large estate in his manor. By his wife Yvice, Robert had at least four sons, William, Robert, Ralph, and Henry. Yvice and William were dead by the date of Robert's grant to Thame, (fn. 44) and he was succeeded, perhaps about 1166, by his son Robert, who confirmed his gifts to the abbey and himself gave more lands in the manor about 1170. (fn. 45) Robert the younger may have been dead by 1173, (fn. 46) and Chesterton passed to his brother Ralph, a benefactor of Oseney Abbey as well as of Thame. (fn. 47) Ralph died about 1189 leaving as his heir a son Robert, who was a minor. In 1193 Chesterton was in the custody of Gerard de Camville, Count John's keeper of the honor of Wallingford, (fn. 48) but in the following year King Richard entrusted the wardship of Robert and the custody of his fees to William de Ste Mère Église, later to become Bishop of London. (fn. 49) Robert was of age by 1207 (fn. 50) and in 1212 held 3 fees in the honor of Wallingford—2 at Chesterton and 1 at Betterton. (fn. 51) Robert held Chesterton until 1222 when he entered religion and when the wardship of his son Ralph was granted to William, Archdeacon of London. (fn. 52) By 1229 Ralph had been transferred to the custody of Henry Foliot, (fn. 53) and by 1235 he was of age and in possession of Chesterton. (fn. 54) Ralph died in 1268, leaving a widow Iseult, (fn. 55) and was succeeded by another Ralph, probably his son, who was holding Chesterton in 1271. (fn. 56) The younger Ralph died in 1273, leaving as his heir a daughter Sarah, wife of John le Bret, (fn. 57) but some time in the year before his death he had sold Chesterton to Edmund, Earl of Cornwall. (fn. 58)
In 1283 Edmund founded Ashridge College (Herts.) (fn. 59) and between 1285 (fn. 60) and 1291 he added Chesterton to his original endowment of that house. (fn. 61) In the latter year the possessions of Ashridge in Chesterton were valued at £12 14s. 7d. a year. (fn. 62) For some years after the death of Edmund of Cornwall in 1300 his widow Margaret claimed a third of the manor in dower against Ashridge, but apparently without success. (fn. 63) In 1309 Ashridge was granted free warren in Chesterton (fn. 64) and in 1320 the college was permitted to purchase lands in the manor which had previously been held of it in fee. (fn. 65) Ashridge College held the manor, valued at £27 13s. 2½d. a year in 1535, (fn. 66) until its dissolution in 1539.
In 1279 Edmund of Cornwall's manor had comprised the two villages of Great and Little Chesterton. (fn. 67) Although the manor held by Ashridge was called simply 'Chesterton' it did not include Little Chesterton, and in 1316 the college shared the parish with Rewley Abbey. (fn. 68) Rewley's manor of LITTLE CHESTERTON had its origin in the estates acquired from 1137 onwards by Thame Abbey from Robert son of Aumary and his descendants. The abbey had a grange at Chesterton and its possessions were rated as 1 hide. (fn. 69) Robert of Chesterton exchanged some lands in the manor with the abbot in 1219, (fn. 70) and although the abbey lands were not specifically mentioned in the hundredal returns of 1279, they were probably among the free holdings recorded. (fn. 71) In 1291, however, Thame had no possessions in Chesterton, whereas Rewley held lands and rents there worth £1 16s. a year. (fn. 72) Rewley was founded by Edmund of Cornwall in 1281, (fn. 73) and although no record of the transfer of the estate to the new abbey has survived, it is probable that Little Chesterton passed from the one Cistercian house to the other with Edmund's approval. (fn. 74) Rewley held Little Chesterton or Chesterton Grange until the Dissolution, when it was worth £7 16s. 8d. a year in rents. (fn. 75)
In 1537 Henry VIII granted the former possessions of Rewley Abbey in Little Chesterton to Sir Thomas Pope, (fn. 76) who reunited Chesterton manor by obtaining in 1540 the lands which had belonged to Ashridge College, and to three Oxfordshire houses —Oseney Abbey, Bicestor Priory, and Studley Priory. (fn. 77) At some time between 1546 and 1557 (fn. 78) the manor passed from Sir Thomas Pope to John, Lord Williams of Thame, who held it until his death in 1559. (fn. 79) By the terms of Lord Williams's will Chesterton passed to his younger daughter Margery and her husband Henry, later Lord Norreys. (fn. 80) Henry died in 1601 and was succeeded by his grandson Francis, created Earl of Berkshire in 1621, on whose death in 1622 Chesterton passed to Elizabeth, his daughter and heiress. (fn. 81) The manor was eventually brought to the Bertie family by the marriage about 1653 of Bridget, only daughter of Elizabeth Norreys and her husband Edward Wray, to Montagu Bertie, Earl of Lindsey. (fn. 82) Bridget's son James Bertie, a boy of four at the time of her death in 1657, succeeded her, and in 1682 was created Earl of Abingdon. (fn. 83)
In 1764 the manor was sold by the trustees of Willoughby, 3rd Earl of Abingdon, who had died in 1760, to George, Duke of Marlborough, for £13,000. (fn. 84) In 1808 the duke sold it to George Villiers, Earl of Jersey, for £51,000. (fn. 85) The manor then followed the descent of the Earldom of Jersey. (fn. 86) Manorial rights finally lapsed when the Jersey estates in Chesterton were split up and sold in 1920–1.
About 1166 Robert son of Aumary granted a hide in Chesterton to Amfridus, son of Richard of Oxford, to be held as 1/5 knight's fee. Within a few years Amfridus, with the assent of his lord Robert son of Robert, granted this estate to Oseney Abbey. Ralph of Chesterton added a small piece of ground (fn. 87) and by 1280, when it was being administered as part of the abbey's bailiwick of Weston, the estate was bringing in a rent of £1 4s. a year. (fn. 88) In the early 16th century the Oseney lands were rented for £2 a year, (fn. 89) which was their recorded value at the Dissolution. (fn. 90) Studley Priory had lands in Chesterton by 1227, (fn. 91) and may have later acquired others—possibly from its patron Edmund of Cornwall—for at the Dissolution it had £1 6s. 8d. a year in rents in Chesterton. (fn. 92) In 1291 Bicester Priory held lands worth 5s. a year, (fn. 93) which it may have been given by Ralph of Chesterton about 1244. (fn. 94) At the Dissolution they were still worth 5s. a year. (fn. 95)
The Anglo-Saxons, attracted by the Roman road, Akeman Street, and the excellent water-supply, probably settled at Chesterton at an early date. (fn. 96) By the time of Domesday, 12 plough-lands were said to be in use, although there was land for 16 ploughs. (fn. 97) The demesne had 2 ploughs and 2 serfs working on it, while outside 22 villeins (villani) and 10 bordars shared 10 ploughs. The manor also had 39 acres of meadow and a wood, 3 furlongs square. The whole estate, with a mill worth 10s., was valued at £10 as it had been before the Conquest.
The deeds of two religious houses add further information about the early agrarian history of Chesterton. A charter of 1137 shows Robert son of Aumary, the lord of the manor, giving the monks of Otley (later Thame) Abbey a part of his demesne by Curtlicgrave; (fn. 98) about fifteen years later he granted more of his demesne (70 a. of 'inland' in all); 20 acres of common land ('warland') by Akeman Street; the meadow near the bridge to Weston; and 10 acres of his demesne meadow. He also gave common for 300 sheep, 16 oxen, and 6 cows; and 20 cartloads of wood. (fn. 99) Robert's second grant, it may be noted, was made with the consent of his family, that of the parish priest and his son, and also with the consent of all the villeins. A few years later Robert's son Robert gave another 69 acres of arable (rated at ½ hide), and meadow land as well. (fn. 100) Thame's property in Chesterton was finally stabilized in about 1178, when Ralph, the brother of Robert (II), allowed the monks a small meadow opposite the door of their grange in exchange for other meadow, and permitted them to keep their sheepfold there provided they took steps to prevent the sheep from damaging his land. (fn. 101) The abbey's grange was probably on the site of the present-day Grange Farm. Its inclosed meadow covered 12 acres; it also had 10 acres in the common meadow and 169 acres of arable. Careful regulations were laid down in a fine of 1219 about the abbot's pasture rights. He was allowed to keep 360 sheep, 19 rams, and 16 cattle in the common pasture, but he renounced all rights in the great meadow, the later Asthills, which was a part of Robert's demesne. (fn. 102)
Of the land which Oseney acquired in about 1170 2 virgates had been held in villeinage in the 1160's and there were 64 acres of demesne, with 16 acres of meadow. (fn. 103) When Oseney received its holding of 4 virgates, the land was all held in villeinage, (fn. 104) but the abbey seems to have turned the former demesne virgates back into demesne. (fn. 105)
Information about the progress of these two monastic estates is missing from the survey of 1279. The whole account is sketchy compared with those of other parishes, perhaps because Chesterton was part of the Earl of Cornwall's honor. There were 70 virgates in the manor, 48 in Great Chesterton and 22 in Little Chesterton. In the former the earl held 12 in demesne, an unusually large amount, while 24 were held in villeinage, 8 were held freely and 4 belonged to the church. In Little Chesterton 8 virgates were held in villeinage and 14 freely, partly no doubt by Oseney and Thame. There were also 28 villein cottagers in Great Chesterton, while the smith was a free cottager, holding 7 acres of land, of which one was meadow. (fn. 106)
An extent of the main manor, made in 1304 soon after it had been given to Ashridge, shows that it was large and valuable. (fn. 107) Valued at £42 13s. 4d., it contained over 50 virgates, and had perhaps between 60 and 70 tenants. The demesne, where the convent had a grange, produced about a quarter of the whole sum. (fn. 108) It consisted of 13 virgates, each valued at 10s. 20 acres of meadow worth 2s. 6d. an acre or £2 10s. in all; inclosed meadow, partly in Shortwood, worth £2 9s.; 2 mills and 2 dovehouses. On the other hand 7 small free tenants held 7 virgates for rents amounting to £1 2s. 7d., and over half the income from the manor (£22 6s. 8d.) came from the 33½ virgates held in villeinage, each virgate, including rents and services, being valued at 13s. 4d. There were also 29 cottages, worth £2 17s. in all.
There are no similar extents for the Rewley (fn. 109) (formerly Thame) and Oseney estates, but there is evidence that these too had granted away a part of their demesne land before the end of the 13th century. In 1280 Oseney was leasing a part for £1 4s., while the rest was kept in demesne and farmed with the grange of Weston. (fn. 110) By 1291 Rewley had land and rent in Chesterton worth £1 16s., while the produce and stock from its demesne was worth £2 10s. (fn. 111) Later both houses followed the common practice of leasing all the demesne. At the end of the 14th century Rewley's land was already all leased out. (fn. 112) By 1535 it was receiving £7 16s. 8d. from a tenant for Grange Farm. Oseney's 4 virgates were leased for £2 at the same date. (fn. 113)
Early-14th-century tax assessment lists point to a large and prosperous community. Forty-four householders were assessed in 1316, the fourth largest number in the hundred; of these 26 had goods taxed at over 3s., an unusually high proportion. (fn. 114) The figures for 1327, and for 1344 when there had been a reassessment, bear out this impression of prosperity. (fn. 115) After Bicester and Bletchingdon, Chesterton with an assessment of £6 6s. 2d. in 1344 was taxed the highest in the hundred. For the poll tax of 1377 Chesterton's return of 79 taxpayers was comparatively high. (fn. 116)
The system of landholding changed greatly between the 14th and 16th centuries. In the 16th century, for example, Oseney Abbey's 4 virgates which had once been held by 4 villeins were rented by one tenant. (fn. 117) A survey of the manor made in 1589 shows that the average holding was larger than the normal medieval holding of a virgate. (fn. 118) Twelve copyholders held 37 virgates divided into two holdings of 4 virgates each, eight of about 3 virgates and two of 2 virgates each. Only six tenants had small holdings of mostly a few acres each. The copy usually ran for the life of the holder and his son, and the rent was roughly at the rate of 8s. a virgate. Fines paid on entry varied from about £1 10s. to £10.
Two important leaseholders at this time were John Bourne, (fn. 119) the tenant of Grange farm, and William Maunde, the tenant of the manor. The latter's property consisted of the house now called Manor Farm, the fishponds and water-mill, 170 acres of common field land, about 100 acres of meadow including the Asthills, and common for 280 sheep. (fn. 120) In addition, he usually farmed the tithes. (fn. 121) The Maundes had been in the parish since the late 13th century, when a William Maunde held a virgate freely. (fn. 122) By the early 16th century John Maunde with taxable goods worth over £6 was the richest man in the parish; he probably acted as bailiff for Ashridge as his son certainly did. (fn. 123) During the 16th century the family rose in social position: Simon Maunde could still be styled a yeoman in 1559, but at his death in 1578 when he left goods valued at £290, he was styled a gentleman, (fn. 124) and his son William (d. 1612) also had a coat of arms. (fn. 125) The Maundes continued to hold the leading position in the parish in the first half of the 17th century: (fn. 126) a vicar said that all their 'generation' was buried in the chancel and that without their consent no one else could be. (fn. 127) In the second half of the century they died out or left; the last Maunde in Chesterton died in 1692. (fn. 128)
The large number of surviving 17th-century court rolls show about fourteen of the leading farmers governing the parish. (fn. 129) Each year the court elected two overseers of the fields, a tithingman for both Great and Little Chesterton, and the hayward and constable. The last two were paid £4 and £1 respectively by the tenants, including widows, who contributed in proportion to the amount of land held. (fn. 130)
The rolls also throw some light on farming customs. The yardland consisted of 34 computed acres or 20 statute acres, and 5 computed or 2 statute acres of meadow. Each yardland had right of common for 30 sheep, 3 cattle (later reduced to 2), (fn. 131) and a horse, although if needed for ploughing another horse could be substituted for 2 cows; part of the fields was to be broken at Michaelmas, the rest on 1 November; no cattle were to be kept in the lot meadows or any ploughed ground until the land was quite clear; no oxen were to be kept in the cow pasture or the balks until Lammas; hogs were to be ringed at Michaelmas, and none was to be kept in the common fields until after harvest.
A complete terrier of the parish made in the 1760's shows only 275 inclosed acres. (fn. 132) They were nearly all meadow or pasture land and had probably been inclosed since the Middle Ages. Of the 2,300 acres surveyed, 1,088 were arable land in the open fields; 112 were common meadow; and 742 were common land, roads, and lanes, the greatest part of which consisted of the unusually large common, the Old Field Leys (571 a.). At this time there were eight fields, each substantial tenant's land being divided among them, although somewhat unevenly. (fn. 133) This complicated system may have resulted from an amalgamation of separate fields belonging to Great and Little Chesterton. The name of the common, Old Field Leys, and its unusually large size, together with the fact that the number of virgates decreased from 70 in 1279 (fn. 134) to 62 in the 18th century, seems to indicate that the amount of arable had decreased.
There had been remarkably little change in the pattern of landholding since the 16th century. Rather less than a third of the land was held by 18 copyholders. Of these, nine held 10 acres or less and there were eight substantial farms of over 60 acres, the largest being 130 acres. Thus, the size of the average copyhold farm had slightly increased since earlier in the century, when the average was 3 yardlands. (fn. 135) The leasehold farms of 1760 were larger: Grange farm consisted of 195 acres and some 500 other acres were divided mostly between three tenants, whereas in 1728 there had been four farms of 4 yardlands each. Only 154 acres, including the Vicarage farm of 82 acres, were held by freeholders. Thirteen cottagers with their dwellings on the waste, four of them at Little Chesterton, complete the list of inhabitants.
Manorial courts were still held, but as elsewhere they were now mainly concerned with admissions. (fn. 136) Heriots of small value were taken from copyholders, in cash rather than in kind, whereas fines on entry had become very heavy, amounting sometimes to several hundred pounds. (fn. 137) Among the tenant families there had been great changes: a comparison of lists of tenants of 1589, 1728, and 1760 shows that, as in many other Oxfordshire villages, families did not usually last for more than a hundred years. (fn. 138) Of the tenant familes of 1589, only two, each holding a half-yardland, survived until 1728. And of the leading tenants of 1728, only two families were still property-holders in 1760. One of these, the Tanners, was still at Manor farm in 1955, and until shortly before Tredwells were tenants of Grange farm as they were in 1760.
In 1768 the open fields, which were reckoned as 62 yardlands, were inclosed. (fn. 139) Out of the 1,975 acres allotted, 1,173 went to the Duke of Marlborough for his holding of 44¾ yardlands; New College got 355 acres for the great tithes and the vicar 173 for the small tithes and 4 yardlands of glebe; about 200 went to the Tanner family for land held by lease and copy; and some 50 acres went to freeholders.
As elsewhere one of the effects of inclosure was to raise rents and another to improve methods of cultivation. The total rental of the manor in 1728 had been a little over £500; this had been increased by a half by 1771 and tripled by 1807, when some 1,500 acres brought in a rent of about £1,550. (fn. 140) As for changes in cultivation, one of the chief difficulties had always been the poor, badly-drained soil. An estate agent had complained in 1728 that except for about 60 acres, the field land was 'poor loam, red, and great part of it very wett'. He also complained of insufficient meadow land and advised laying down a third of the arable with grass. (fn. 141) By 1807 the following rotation was in use: fallow for turnips; wheat; barley or oats with seeds; beans, peas, or vetches; at the end of the course a fifth of the land was to be left in seeds. (fn. 142) When New College farm (c. 350 a.) was leased in 1823, it was a condition that a quarter of the arable was to lie fallow every year, and that the tenant must lay down 30 acres yearly in seed. (fn. 143) There were still complaints about the quality of the land and bad drainage, and even as late as the 20th century Chesterton has had drainage trouble. (fn. 144) The proportion of pasture and meadow to arable has been often affected by the demands of war-time economy, but the proportion of roughly 63 per cent. pasture to 37 per cent. arable found in 1760 and in 1914 is probably what is best suited to the soil. (fn. 145)
Since inclosure the tendency has been for farms to increase in size. In 1807 there were ten farms of over 60 acres, the largest being 475 acres, and by 1850 there were eight of 100 acres and over, of which two were over 400 acres. (fn. 146) There are now (1955) nine farms in the parish as it was before recent boundary changes, of which three have more than 200 acres in Chesterton, while the rest have between 60 and about 150 acres. Mainly mixed and dairy farming is carried on, but there is considerable production of beef cattle and other fat stock. (fn. 147)
Copyholding died out and manorial courts ceased to be held after 1763. The only business of the courts held in 1761–3 was admissions and surrenders; heriots were still exacted. (fn. 148) In November 1832 a court leet was revived, which fourteen tenants attended. A tithingman and hayward were elected for the following year, and orders were made for the removal of dunghills by the roadside and for the impounding of a cow if its owner persisted in allowing it to trespass on the waste. (fn. 149) This revival was probably due to Lord Jersey's interest in his Chesterton estate, as it lay near to his home at Middleton Stoney. (fn. 150)
Population did not increase rapidly until the 19th century. In 1676 the Compton Census had recorded 82 adults in Chesterton, and there may have been an expanding population in the mid-18th century: incumbents recorded 43 houses in Chesterton and its hamlet in 1738 and about 50 in 1768. The sharp rise from 330 inhabitants in 1801 to 435 in 1851 was accompanied by poverty and overcrowding. (fn. 151) In 1820 the parish was 'much in distress for want of cottages', and the vicar feared the arrival of new labourers, 'who are already become frightfully numerous and expensive'. (fn. 152) Thirty poor families were given bedding, and coal was distributed free to the poor, but such was their poverty that they pulled down the hedges to get wood with which to light it. (fn. 153) Later in the century Lord Jersey built new cottages and by the 1870's Chesterton's housing record was one of the best in the hundred. (fn. 154) By 1901 the population had decreased to 352. Since the addition of part of Bicester parish in 1932, and particularly since the establishment of the Arncot Depot, the population has risen sharply. In 1951 it numbered 784 compared with 384 in 1931. (fn. 155)
Apart from scattered references to the miller, no record of village tradesmen has survived before the mid-18th century. In 1760 there was one publican; (fn. 156) in 1807 there were two, one at the 'Blue Ball' and the other at the 'Cow', later named the 'Red Cow'. At this time there was also a village shop, a carpenter, and a maltster. (fn. 157) A few years later seven out of 85 families were in trade or business, (fn. 158) and by 1851 besides the general shopkeeper there were nine people engaged in non-agricultural occupations. These included two dressmakers, a cordwainer, and a railmaker. (fn. 159) Today (1955) the village still has an inn, the 'Red Cow', a general shop, a shoemaker, and a blacksmith.
In 1086 the mill was worth 10s., (fn. 160) and by 1279 a second had been constructed. (fn. 161) In 1294 they were together valued at £1 16s. (fn. 162) One remained until the early 19th century, when it was let for £16 7s., (fn. 163) and was the cause of friction between Lord Jersey and the vicar. The latter claimed that the artificial raising of the volume of water in the stream had caused the flooding of his glebe and the ruin of good grassland. (fn. 164) He further asserted that more money had been spent on it than it was worth: the Duke of Marlborough had tried to supply it from a reservoir at a cost of £500; it had once been converted into a hemp mill at a cost of £200; and recently £300 had been spent on it, (fn. 165) a reference very probably to the installation of the 'elaborate hydraulic machine' mentioned by Dunkin, (fn. 166) and yet it would not grind, or so the vicar said, as much as it did in its original state. Moreover, it was little used, as the miller was fraudulent. (fn. 167) The vicar's complaints were apparently justified: in 1822 the mill was closed and was not replaced. (fn. 168)
The earliest evidence for the existence of a church at Chesterton dates from the grant of its tithes to Bec Abbey in Normandy probably in 1087. (fn. 169) A priest, Osmund the clerk, and his son are mentioned in a mid-12th-century charter, (fn. 170) and architectural evidence indicates that the church was rebuilt in that century. The first record of the advowson occurs in about 1193, when there was a disputed presentation during a minority. (fn. 171) There was a second dispute during another minority in 1223, when William, Archdeacon of London and custodian of the manor, presented. (fn. 172) In the 13th century the lords of the manor, the De Chesterton family, were patrons until Edmund Earl of Cornwall bought the advowson for 80 marks in 1274. (fn. 173) He gave it with the manor to his new foundation of canons at Ashridge. (fn. 174)
This house of Bonshommes presented throughout the 14th century except during a vacancy in 1396, (fn. 175) when the college was in the king's hands, and there was a disputed presentation. It occurred on the death at the papal court of Robert Belage, rector since 1375. (fn. 176) The Pope, according to long-established custom in such cases, claimed the right of providing, (fn. 177) despite the recent Statute of Provisors. (fn. 178) He provided two litigious pluralists, Lewis de Byford and John Bremor. (fn. 179) The latter was actually instituted in 1398, (fn. 180) having been first pardoned by the king for accepting the provision (fn. 181) and then given a royal presentation. (fn. 182) Byford, however, successfully appealed to the papal court against his rival (fn. 183) and by 1401 after some difficulty (fn. 184) had gained possession of the rectory. (fn. 185) Bremor, having failed in two counter-appeals to Rome, (fn. 186) had presumably given way on being offered a pension of £5, which he later received from Ashridge. (fn. 187)
In 1401 and 1402 royal (fn. 188) and papal (fn. 189) permission was given to Ashridge to appropriate Chesterton; the college had pleaded its sufferings from the Peasants' Revolt (fn. 190) and paid £40. It held both rectory and advowson until its dissolution in 1539. In 1545 (fn. 191) the king granted them to Walter Hendle, attorney for the Court of Augmentations, and to Sir John Williams of Thame, (fn. 192) later lord of the manor; and in 1558 New College bought them for £144. (fn. 193) The college, however, was at law in 1563 over the title (fn. 194) and may not have had clear possession until after 1575, when the queen presented to the church. (fn. 195) Until 1923, when the livings of Chesterton and Wendlebury were united, (fn. 196) New College was sole patron, but it has since presented in turn with Christ Church.
The church was a moderately rich one. In 1254 it was valued at £6 13s. 4d., (fn. 197) and in 1291 at £10 13s. 4d. (fn. 198) When it was appropriated by Ashridge, the college got the great tithes, (fn. 199) and although 16thcentury evidence shows that there was some land belonging to the rectory, (fn. 200) in the early 17th century it appears to have had only the great tithes and the tithe barn. (fn. 201) From the early 16th century until the mid-17th the rectory was usually leased by the Maundes, the lessees of the manor, for about £8. (fn. 202) They were followed as lessees in 1662 by William Bayly, a mercer and later a mayor of Oxford, (fn. 203) and in the first half of the 18th century by John Rutton, Vicar of Sandwich. (fn. 204) The latter paid the old rent of £8 plus a heavy fine, and then sublet the tithes, probably to a local farmer, for £80 or £85. (fn. 205)
At the inclosure of 1768 the great tithes were commuted for 355 acres, the land of the newly formed College farm. (fn. 206) In 1829 this farm was exchanged with Lord Jersey for two farms worth between £400 and £500. (fn. 207) In 1894 New College sold the smaller one. (fn. 208)
In the 12th century, judging from a dispute over the living, the parish was evidently considered rich and important. It is probable that it was the mother church of a chapelry at Wendlebury, for the rector received a pension of 13s. 4d. from the early 13th century (fn. 209) until at least the 15th century. (fn. 210) In any case, Gerald de Barry, the famous Welsh writer, (fn. 211) whose presentation to Chesterton by Gerard de Camville, probably in 1193, (fn. 212) was disputed, thought the living worth a struggle. The bishop of Lincoln had doubts about the legality of the presentation, especially as William de Ste Mére Eglise, one of Richard I's trusted officials, (fn. 213) was trying to get possession of both manor and church. After long negotiations, a compromise was reached which Gerald considered most unjust: a vicarage was ordained and the vicar was assigned over £13 of the revenue (probably an exaggerated estimate on Gerald's part), while Gerald as rector was to be paid only £3. He died in 1222 or 1223 and the new rector was assigned a pension of £3 13s. 4d. (fn. 214) There is no further record of the vicarage in the 13th century and it probably came to an end with the vicar's death.
Another distinguished medieval rector was Master William de Ardern (1361–75), a pluralist and Fellow of Merton College. (fn. 215) But after 1403 when the living again became a vicarage it was too poor to attract such men. According to the ordination of 1403, (fn. 216) the vicar was to have the Rectory house with its grounds; the glebe of 4 virgates; the revenue from the altar and the small tithes except those from the manor; and the pension from Wendlebury. On his side he had to bear all the expenses of the church, including the repair of the chancel, an unusual feature which was to cause trouble later. Ashridge had permission to serve the church with one of its own brethren, (fn. 217) but the names of the known incumbents suggest that it never did. Although before the Reformation all vicars were ordinarily bound to reside and from the 13th century took an oath to do so, one early-16thcentury incumbent, who paid a curate £5 6s. 8d., appears to have been non-resident, (fn. 218) and got only about £2 for himself. (fn. 219) It is, therefore, not surprising to find complaints that the chancel needed repair, the entry to the cemetery wanted attention, and the glebe was let to a layman. (fn. 220)
In 1535 the vicarage was valued at £7 8s. 8d., (fn. 221) but after the Reformation it did not benefit from the general rise in prices. Thus, whereas the vicarage had once been more valuable than the rectory, by the early 17th century the rectory was double the value of the vicarage, partly because the profits of the altar had ceased to be of any value. (fn. 222) This poverty led to disputes between New College, the lessee of the rectory, and the vicar, despite the fact that almost all post-Reformation vicars have been Fellows or graduates of the College.
One of the chief causes of dissension was the vicar's responsibility for the repair of the chancel. New College bore the cost in the time of Edward Evans (1604–10), a noted university preacher and a relation of the Maundes, (fn. 223) as it probably did in the 16th century. (fn. 224) But Evans's successor Hudson was said to have paid for the repairs at the request of the Maundes, to whom he was heavily in debt. (fn. 225) Partly as a consequence Hudson ended by being imprisoned for debt and letting the vicarage. (fn. 226) The matter came to a head when a storm damaged the chancel in 1637, (fn. 227) and Philip French (1625–75) was later forced to admit that the repairs were his responsibility. (fn. 228) Relations with the college were further embittered by one of those disputes, so common in the county at this date, over the commutation of tithes. French refused to accept a composition of 7s. 2d. for the tithes of the manor park, valued at £8, and only accepted after a struggle a modus of about 12s. for other tithes valued at £14. (fn. 229)
Although French was a Fellow of New College and also Rector of Shipton-on-Cherwell, (fn. 230) he spent much of his time in Chesterton, where he enlarged the Vicarage. (fn. 231) He was 'outed' during the Commonwealth and replaced in 1654 by the college chaplain, (fn. 232) but was probably restored at the Restoration. (fn. 233) After his death in 1675 the living changed hands frequently —eighteen times in a hundred years. (fn. 234) A few vicars such as John Coxed (1728–30), later Warden of New College, (fn. 235) and John Burton (1720–6) (fn. 236) were men of distinction. In the second half of the century nonresidence became common and the vicars usually let the fine Vicarage (fn. 237) so as to supplement their income. (fn. 238) Nevertheless by 18th-century standards the church appears to have been well served up to 1770. It had two services and a sermon on Sunday, a service on the great feasts, catechism for the children in Lent, and more than the four celebrations of the sacrament a year common at that period. (fn. 239)
From about the end of the century the poverty of the living gave grounds for frequent complaint and anxiety. The main support of the vicars came from Glebe farm (173 a.), which had been created at the inclosure of 1768 when the scattered strips of the glebe were exchanged and the small tithes commuted. (fn. 240) In 1771 this farm let for £111 and in 1805 for £150, but taxes and repairs reduced the vicar's receipts. (fn. 241) The consequence of this meagre endowment was that the vicarage was sequestrated in the 1770's so that the profits might be used to pay off the vicar's debts, (fn. 242) and that later another vicar, Aubrey Price (1826–48), had to be removed for debt, although an 'exemplary pastor and a worthy man'. After a petition from the parishioners he was allowed to remain as curate. (fn. 243) His immediate predecessor Joseph Hollis, who as Rector of Godington was in a better financial position, admitted that if he had known the bishop would require residence, he would not have accepted so poor a living. (fn. 244) Even in the second half of the 19th century, when the value of the farm rose and New College gave the vicar part of the income from the rectorial estate, there was thought to be little 'to tempt a Fellow to accept Chesterton living'. (fn. 245)
Probably partly through Price's influence, the spiritual life of the parish was in a sound state in the 19th century. The number of communicants more than trebled in the first half of the century (fn. 246) and continued to increase in the second half under William Fortescue (1849–89), who even attracted ten non-parishioners to his church. (fn. 247) The fabric was restored in his time and he built the present Vicarage. (fn. 248) He considered that the chief hindrances to his ministry were drinking, 'the neighbourhood of Bicester and Bicester (i.e. nonconformist) influence', (fn. 249) and the very early age at which children, especially boys, started work. (fn. 250) To meet the last challenge, he held during the winter a very successful evening school for boys. (fn. 251)
The church of ST. MARY is a stone building comprising a chancel, clerestoried nave, north and south aisles, western tower, and south porch with an ancient wooden door. The nave has three 12thcentury arches on the north side, supported on round pillars with scalloped capitals. The rest of the church was rebuilt in the 13th century; the loftier southern arcade, which also has round pillars but with plain capitals, and the chancel arch date from this period. In the chancel there are three elegant early-14th-century sedilia with detached shafts and three cinquefoiled arches with ball-flower decoration; a double piscina with aumbry above, and two 14th-century windows on the south side. The fivelight 15th-century east window was replaced in 1852. (fn. 252) The fine timber roof is supported on carved corbels. The tower built early in the 14th century has a parapet ornamented with quatrefoils. The clerestory was added in the 15th century. The squareheaded windows in the south aisle, in which there are two stone brackets for images, were also inserted in the 14th or 15th century. There is a piscina in the north aisle.
Little record of post-Reformation alterations has survived. The chancel was damaged by a storm in 1637; (fn. 253) early in the 18th century the church was said to be 'in tolerable repair'; (fn. 254) in 1757 repairs including a new north door were ordered. (fn. 255) In 1819 the stone screen between the chancel and nave was recorded as decayed; (fn. 256) it has since been removed. In the mid19th century the east window was rebuilt and in 1854 the gallery was removed and the chancel arch restored. (fn. 257) But in spite of this the rural dean, J. C. Blomfield, wrote to the churchwardens in 1865, stating that the church required 'immediate and serious attention' and should be thoroughly restored. The restoration was undertaken by the architect F. C. Penrose. It cost about £1,000. A new pavement was laid down, the east and west windows in the north aisle and the windows in the south aisle were restored, the north door was blocked up and new seating installed. (fn. 258) One box pew was left. A turretstaircase bearing the date 1866 was added to the tower. Later, in 1884, a clock was given by Miss TyrwhittDrake of Bignell.
The plain 12th-century font, surrounded by Jacobean altar rails, is cylindrical, and has an elaborate wrought-iron framework for lifting the lid. (fn. 259) There is a Jacobean altar table. The 17thcentury carved oak reredos came from Brittany, (fn. 260) as did the panelling in the chancel and probably the pulpit. The organ was presented in 1898 by the banker Henry Tubb and his wife. (fn. 261)
A brass to John Maunde (d. 1630/1) and his wife, which had figures of seven boys, was mentioned by Rawlinson when he visited the church in the 18th century, (fn. 262) but has now disappeared. There are still brasses to William Maunde, gentleman (d. 1612), and his wife Ann with effigies and shield of arms. In the chancel are inscriptions to Thomas Prior, steward of New College (d. 1777), and to Joseph Hollis, vicar (d. 1826). The following inscriptions cannot now be traced: to Richard Maunde (d. 1615), the son of George; to George Maunde (d. 1628); to Philip French, vicar (d. 1675); to Robert Snow (d. 1708/9) and Ann, his wife. (fn. 263)
In 1552 the church owned, among other things, a chalice, two copes and two vestments, three bells, a sanctus bell, and two handbells. (fn. 264) Today it has a silver chalice (1712) and paten (1732), inscribed as the gift of Katherine Bertie, and a silver flagon (1753), the gift of Bridget Launder. (fn. 265) The tower has a ring of three bells: the tenor is inscribed with the initials of William Watts of Bedford and dates from about 1590; the second and treble, also inscribed, were made in 1623 by Henry Farmer and James Keene, an unusual combination. The sanctus bell dates from 1715. (fn. 266)
In the Elizabethan period John Bourne of Chesterton Grange was a leading Roman Catholic. He was noted as a recusant in 1577, (fn. 267) and in 1583 was accused of having harboured five priests. (fn. 268) William Bourne, of the Wendlebury branch of the family, (fn. 269) living then at Chesterton Grange, was noted as a recusant in 1599. (fn. 270) There is no further record of recusancy.
Protestant dissent was never important. In 1676 there were two dissenters; (fn. 271) in 1738 there was a Presbyterian farmer and one other dissenter, (fn. 272) and in the 1850's two dissenting families went to chapel at Bicester and possibly more later. (fn. 273)
About 1800 a school was opened for 10 to 20 children and in 1815, after the opening of another, about 51 children between the ages of four and ten received some instruction in reading. (fn. 274) In 1819 there were 36 pupils, most of whom were paid for by Lady Jersey (d. 1867), (fn. 275) who by 1833 was contributing £12 a year to the support of a single school with 41 pupils. (fn. 276) Lady Jersey appears to have built by 1854 a school which was subsequently leased to managers by successive Lords Jersey. (fn. 277) There were 56 pupils in 1871 (fn. 278) and 74 in 1906. (fn. 279) The school was reorganized in 1933 as a junior school, and senior pupils were moved to Bicester. The numbers on the books were 31 in 1937 and 33 in 1954. (fn. 280)
It was reported in 1738 (fn. 281) that at some unknown date Miss Drusilla Bowell of Bicester had left two-thirds of her estate to provide for the apprenticing of two poor boys every year. Great Chesterton–which shared the charity with Bicester and Wendlebury (fn. 282) –was to nominate one boy every other year. Five pounds a year was to be used to assist boys, who had finished their apprenticeship, to set up in trade. The charity had been neglected for some years before 1738 and no more is heard of it.
By 1768 £30 had been given to the poor of Chesterton apparently by one of the Bertie family. The principal was then held by Peregrine Bertie of Weston-on-the-Green, and the interest was regularly distributed to the poor. (fn. 283) In 1786 the principal was said to have been £25 and the interest £1, but payments had then ceased for some years, (fn. 284) and inquiries made in 1824 failed to reveal any record of the charity. (fn. 285)
In 1864 a certain person of unknown sex called Tredwell left stock worth £284 9s. 11d. to the poor of Little Chesterton. The interest amounted to £8 10s. 8d. in 1870. (fn. 286)