A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7, Dorchester and Thame Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Trade and Industry.
The early history of Thame is obscure, but there can be little doubt that it was a place of importance in the early Anglo-Saxon period. Its well-protected position on the bend of a navigable river and its good communications favoured its rise. (fn. 1) Ancient roads such as the Icknield way and London way passed within a few miles, while others from Tetsworth on the London road, Aylesbury, and Chinnor converged on it. The traditional belief that it was fortified by the Danes and retaken by Edward the Elder in 941 has arisen from a confusion with Tempsford (Beds.), (fn. 2) but that Thame was once a royal vill is not improbable. The slight indications in the surviving charters that Old Thame enjoyed a special kind of free tenure allied to the later burgage tenure lends some support to the belief. (fn. 3) That the town became the centre of a group of episcopal estates belonging to the Bishops of Dorchester is generally accepted. (fn. 4) It may be that the Mercian king Wulfhere, who was certainly in the town in 675, (fn. 5) endowed the Mercian bishopric of Dorchester, established between 675 and 685, (fn. 6) with Thame and its dependent villages. If so, this was perhaps no more than a restitution of property first granted by the West Saxon kings when the bishopric of Dorchester was founded in 635. (fn. 7) The importance of the place may be further seen in its relations with the surrounding district: it was the mother church of three others and gave its name to the hundred. (fn. 8) It is likely that it already had an episcopal residence, as it did in later days, for Oscytel, Bishop of Dorchester and later Archbishop of York, died there in 971. (fn. 9) In short, the status of Anglo-Saxon Thame was very different from that of the ordinary rural village.
The town's importance was increased in the time of Bishop Alexander when the church was made a prebend of Lincoln and a Cistercian monastery was established just outside Thame. (fn. 10) Perhaps at this time, too, the new town, novus burgus de Thame, was laid out to the east of old Thame.
Precisely when New Thame and its market were founded is uncertain, but all the evidence points to its being a post-Conquest creation and a 'planned' seignorial borough cut out of the bishop's demesne and paying all dues to him. Such ventures by lay and ecclesiastical lords were common in the 12th century and later, the object being to increase profits from market dues and courts and raise the value of rents by attracting new tenants. (fn. 11) The earliest evidence for the new town dates from the end of the 12th century, but the 1140's would have been a likely time for its foundation, for Bishop Alexander was then in the course of decreasing the extent of his demesne farm at Thame. (fn. 12) Moreover, the establishment of the prebendal household at Priestend and of the abbey would both have encouraged the growth of the market, though as the Cistercians were exempt from the payment of toll and dues in all markets and fairs the bishop's dues would not have been increased in their case. (fn. 13)
The earliest record of the Tuesday market and by implication of the new town, since Tuesday has always been market-day in New Thame, dates from the time of Bishop Walter de Coutances (1183–4). (fn. 14) The market was then well established and was held by prescriptive right. A royal charter granting a market at Thame was not obtained until 1215, (fn. 15) and in 1219 a licence was obtained by Bishop Hugh de Welles to divert the Oxford-Aylesbury road so as to make it pass through 'his town of Thame'. The object of the diversion was to oblige travellers to pass through to the market-place and so increase and facilitate the collection of tolls. (fn. 16) The old route was by Lashlake and Priestend, following the course of the river. The new route was the present one—along Friday Street (now North Street) and into the High Street. (fn. 17)
Whatever the date of the creation of the borough it is evident that it was prosperous and expanding in the first half of the 13th century. According to the hundredal inquest of 1255 Bishop Hugh de Welles had erected houses in 1221 in the king's highway in Thame in order to increase his rents, and these were occupied in 1255 by Geoffrey Taylor and five others. (fn. 18) At the same inquest the jurors of the burgus said that eighteen stalls were erected in the marketplace in the royal way, and that Bishop Robert Grosseteste had been the first offender in 1251/2 and that he was followed by Bishops Henry Lexington (1254–8) and Richard Gravesend (1258–79) and their bailiffs who 'augmented the encroachments from year to year'. (fn. 19) These encroachments evidently marked the beginning of the erection of permanent stalls and houses in the market-place, the modern Middle Row. An earlier account of New Thame, included in the survey of the Bishop of Lincoln's estates in the hundred made in the second quarter of the 13th century, (fn. 20) records that there were already 63 burgesses, and that the rents of assize in Thame brought in 75s. plus a new increase of 4s. 9d., while the issues of the borough (i.e. from courts, markets, and other dues) totalled £17 4s. 1½d. (fn. 21) The increment of 4s. 9d. must refer to new burgage tenements laid out after the creation of the borough and presumably to the buildings in the market. At the time of the survey a few burgesses held more than or less than 1 burgage: Alexander the carpenter has 3½ burgages, another has 3, another a ½-burgage, but the majority held 1 burgage apiece. The uniform rent of 1s. for a whole burgage puts Thame among the many post-Conquest foundations that had this rent and whose customs may have been modelled on those of the Norman town of Breteuil. (fn. 22) The rent here as elsewhere was a ground rent—1s. for each plot of burgage land.
The survey itself and many later 13th-century charters show that the original burgages were field acre-strips. (fn. 23) At the time of the tithe award of 1826 the township of New Thame covered 50 statute acres, (fn. 24) and in view of the well-known permanence of township boundaries it must be supposed that this was the original amount of land cut out of the bishop's demesne. The acres were soon subdivided into half-acre and quarter-acre burgages: their pattern is still clearly visible between Southern Road and Brook Lane on the 25-inch ordnance survey. (fn. 25) It looks as if uniform burgage strips may have once extended as far east as Park Road. The southern boundary is formed by Southern Road and the footpath which continues it. The houses on the High Street almost all have long narrow gardens, of uniform length but varying width, and their boundaries, by analogy from other ancient towns, can confidently be assumed to be identical with those of many of the 13th-century burgage tenements. The length of the present strips is about 700 ft.
The pattern is less clear to the north of the High Street and may never have been so regular. The area immediately north of the market is circular in shape and can never have contained more than a few burgages of 700 ft. long; at present most tenements are 300 ft. or less in length. The permanent houses and stalls erected in the king's highway have already been mentioned. Today Middle Row, with some of its houses fronting on the Butter Market and some on the Corn-market, extends 100 yards along the middle of the town's main street. Here probably was 'le shop rew' with stalls in it recorded in 1345, and 'le Bocher rew' of 1377. (fn. 26)
There is little direct evidence about the development of the town and its trade in the later Middle Ages, but a pointer to its growth is the subdivision of tenements. There is evidence that this subdivision was well advanced before the third quarter of the 13th century. There were then many burgages with several houses built on them, and half- or quarteracre of burgage was frequently being sold. (fn. 27) The new tenants came largely from neighbouring towns or villages, and sometimes from further afield. Men from Berkshire and Buckinghamshire as well as Oxfordshire were among them. Out of seven witnesses to a mid-13th-century charter five came from Abingdon, Chinnor, Hughenden, Tusmore, and Upton. (fn. 28) Other burgesses came from Aylesbury, Oxford, Attington, Fritwell, Mapledurham, Sydenham, and Tetsworth. (fn. 29) The town's development was threatened by the setting up of a rival market at Haddenham (Bucks.), only 3 miles north-east of Thame, but on the petition of Bishop John Dalderby the charter granting a market was withdrawn in 1302, (fn. 30) and in the tax-assessment lists of the early 14th century Thame appears as a prosperous small market-town, easily outstripping its rural neighbours in wealth and population. At the beginning of the century New Thame and Old Thame (which included Priestend) were roughly equal in wealth, the New Town paying £6 3s. 2d. in 1306 and the Old Town £6 1s. 10d. (fn. 31) The returns for 1327 suggest that New Thame, where there was greater space for development and where all the land was freely held, was expanding: there were 50 contributors in Old Thame and 67 in New Thame. (fn. 32) Their combined assessment was £11 11s. 5d. compared with £10 10s. 11d. from the Miltons and their three hamlets, an exceptionally large and populous rural parish. If the assessments of Moreton and North Weston hamlets are added to that of Thame, and it seems certain that at Moreton (fn. 33) at least some of the villagers were partly living on Thame market, the total assessment comes to £16 19s. 10d. When the tax assessments were revised in 1334 New Thame's tax was steeply increased. (fn. 34) This and the disastrous effects of the Black Death on the neighbourhood may have been responsible for the Bishop of Lincoln's efforts between 1351 and 1361 to enforce the payment of toll in his Thame market by traders from villages in the honor of Wallingford and so check a decline in his revenues. (fn. 35)
The poll tax of 1377 clearly reveals the comparative density of population both in Old and New Thame, and emphasizes once again Thame's outstanding position in relation to the ordinary rural village. (fn. 36)
The documents throw some light on the trade and crafts carried on from the 13th to the 15th centuries. For the most part the occupations appear to be those commonly found in other towns. Among the various middlemen recorded were spicers, fishmongers, horsemongers, and victuallers (vyneter); among the crafts were those of fuller, weaver, skinner, couper, tanner, sadler, tailor, lorimer, leadbeater, napper, cordwainer, glover, chandler, goldsmith, parchmentmaker, and baker of white bread. (fn. 37) In a small market-town the brewers and bakers must always have been preponderant, but there is no direct evidence for this until the 15th century. One craft, however, early gained a lasting reputation. William the glazier of Thame is believed to have supplied much of the painted glass for Merton College chapel. (fn. 38) He received £10 2s. in 1307 and 1310 for his painted glass. He also supplied Notley Abbey where fragments of glass similar to the Merton glass have been found. (fn. 39) An Alice and a William the glazier occur in 1309 and 1317. (fn. 40) The tax roll of 1327 lists four glaziers, John the glazier, Adam and another John, all living in New Thame, and a Henry the glazier in Old Thame. (fn. 41) Adam was alive in 1332 when he witnessed a charter, and Thomas Glazier, who was living in 1353, may have been his son. (fn. 42) Although so pre-eminent for glass-painting Thame was far from being able to supply all the skilled hands required, and still less could the materials needed for such enterprises as the church restoration be obtained in the market. When the aisle of St. Mary's was being rebuilt in 1443 lead, for example, was obtained from Aylesbury. (fn. 43) In 1449 a carpenter from Chilton was engaged to make the seats and at a later date William Holden, a smith of Bicester, to repair the clock. In 1502 two mer. from Abingdon were obtained to mend the bells. (fn. 44)
The most influential of the burgesses, however, from the start were naturally the merchants. A ruling hierarchy on a small scale, composed of men whose wealth seems to have been partly based on land and partly on merchandising, is clearly in existence in the 13th century. The names of Thomas Elys, William Pyron, Richard Basset, Richard Dereman, and William Surman constantly appear in the records of New Thame as witnesses. (fn. 45) The Elys family were certainly engaged in the wool trade, and Pyron may have been too. He owned, as 'mesne tenant', part of the land of the new borough: burgages are constantly said to be in his 'fee'. (fn. 46) The merchants and innkeepers stand out as the leaders of the town in the following centuries also. The early 14th-century Edward le Spicer, for example, who was rich enough to begin making a causeway between Thame and Rycote, was a mercer. (fn. 47) But the Elys family was for some generations perhaps the most outstanding of the merchant families. Its wealth and influence was apparently based on land and trade combined, and although members of the family owned many burgages this was probably by way of investment and in order to acquire the freedom of the market. Most of them appear to have lived in North Weston. Richard Elys of North Weston and his son Thomas were among the most frequent witnesses to the surviving charters of the second half of the 13th century. (fn. 48) Thomas Elys, who was accumulating burgages in the town and acres in the field at the end of the century sold in 1311, just before his death, round 400 acres with messuages. (fn. 49) Robert Elys, wool merchant of Thame, was perhaps a younger son. Knowledge of his connexion with the wool trade has been preserved by chance. His sixteen sarplers of wool, shipped in 1316 on the 'Petite Bayard' of London, were lost with the ship to the Admiral of Calais who made an armed attack on it in the channel. (fn. 50) Elys's cargo, valued at £160, was the second largest consignment on the ship which was carrying the goods of sixteen merchants. It is significant of the family's interest in the trade of Thame that when the daughter of Thomas Elys married William Cray of Long Crendon (Bucks.) her parents gave a burgage tenement with her. (fn. 51) Elys' son John Elys (fn. 52) was also an influential man, who almost certainly combined the keeping of sheep flocks with town interests. Like his father, he lived at North Weston. He served on a commission of oyer and terminer in 1351 and was appointed justice to keep the Statute of Labourers in Buckinghamshire in 1359. (fn. 53) In the next century one of the Elys family, a citizen and mercer of London, is found buying wool at Watlington in 1476 in company with Richard Gardener, a mercer and alderman of London. (fn. 54)
The burgess aristocracy of the first half of the 15th century was a select group consisting chiefly of the families of Elys, Benett, King, Wendelborough, Manyturne, Bate, Bonste, and Hall. It was they who gave the largest sums for the reconstruction of the north aisle in 1443 and for the making of the church seats when a collection was made in 1449. (fn. 55) From their ranks came the churchwardens and the bailiffs. (fn. 56) William Bate, to take one example, who was the second highest contributor, was a draper, and his son John Bate was later to acquire gentle rank. (fn. 57)
Relations at this time between Thame and the capital were evidently comparatively close. Grants of land or of burgages in Thame were sometimes made by Thame men to Londoners and vice versa, (fn. 58) and many sons of Thame families went to London and prospered there. Sir John Daunce of London, for instance, was the son and heir of John Daunce of Thame and the owner of burgage land in Thame. (fn. 59) Thomas Wells, citizen and tailor of London was the cousin and heir of John Wells (d. 1488) of Thame; (fn. 60) and Sir Michael Dormer, lord mayor of London, was the son of Geoffrey Dormer (d. 1503) of Thame. (fn. 61) There is some record too that as in later centuries trade was done by Londoners in Thame. Direct evidence for this, however, is only found when bad debts were incurred. A Thame baker was sued by a London citizen, a London fishmonger was owed £2 by a Thame plough-maker, and a London mercer had a debt of £5 10s. owing from a Thame chapman. (fn. 62)
In the 15th century there were two merchants resident in the parish whose importance far outstripped the normal small trader of Thame, though the increasing wealth and importance of some of these is reflected in their brasses in the church. The first was Richard Quatremain, a younger son of Thomas Quatremain of Rycote and North Weston, who had been brought up to trade and was employed in the customs in London before he succeeded to North Weston and became an M.P. and Sheriff of the county. (fn. 63) His experience of trade and connexions with London can hardly have failed to have been useful to the town. He was certainly its benefactor, for he founded six almshouses. (fn. 64) In the last quarter of the century by far the wealthiest and most influential of the Thame merchants was Geoffrey Dormer, member of a family long settled in Thame, and a merchant of the Calais staple. (fn. 65) He bought Baldington's manor-house, 'the Place House', with the manor in 1473 and lived in it until a few years before his death in 1503. (fn. 66) The importance of the family in the town is reflected in the church. The earlier Quatremains and Baldingtons, who were both large landowners in the neighbourhood, had in turn given their name to the south transept, and similarly the north transept, where Geoffrey Dormer's stone tabletomb may still be seen and where later Dormers were buried, was known as Dormer's aisle in the 16th century. (fn. 67) Besides Sir Michael, Geoffrey's second son, his youngest son William Dormer, a benefactor to the church and active in town affairs, seems also to have been engaged in trade and to have had close connexions with the city of London. He was associated, for example, in his dealings over Baldington with John Peers, fishmonger of London and ancestor of the Peers family of Chislehampton. (fn. 68) After his death his widow Elizabeth married Hugh Hollingshed, a London merchant and no doubt another of his London associates. (fn. 69) Hollingshed too made Thame his place of residence. (fn. 70)
Another local family, widespread in the neighbourhood but of less importance, which was said to have been also engaged in trade as well as farming, was the yeoman family of Hester. (fn. 71) Vincent Hester, a cordwainer, left over £64. worth of goods at his death in 1605. (fn. 72) The family was to acquire gentle rank and considerable wealth in the 17th century. (fn. 73) From the time of Henry VII the Hesters were often churchwardens, and under Edward VI and Elizabeth they supplied the church with new service books. (fn. 74)
The price revolution and the religious changes of the 16th century had a far-reaching effect on the town. As elsewhere the century was a period of great prosperity for the yeoman farmers in the Thame area, and Thame market and its tradesmen must have benefited from their prosperity. There is little direct information about the town's development, but there is enough to indicate that considerable progress was made during this century and the next. Early-16thcentury subsidies indicate to what a great extent New Thame had already developed: it contributed almost four times as much as Old Thame. In 1523–4 £15 15s. 6d. was paid by New Thame householders compared with £4. 18s. 10d. at Old Thame (fn. 75) and £9 4s. 4d. altogether from the rest of the hamlets.
Thame Abbey then consisting of an abbot and twelve monks was surrendered to the king in 1539, and town tradesmen may have suffered some temporary loss, for Bishop Longland had recently complained of the elaborate feasts at taverns indulged in by the young monks and of the reckless extravagance of Abbot Warren; (fn. 76) but in the long run the material gain to the town was great. The abbey's lands went to Sir John Williams who also acquired the bishop's lands. (fn. 77) To this moderate and humane man the town perhaps owed during the religious changes of the Reformation period more than appears on the surface. One obvious benefit was the grammar school, founded one must suppose in response to local desire. (fn. 78) Another was the refoundation of the almshouses. (fn. 79).
Evidence for the arrangement of the market place is fuller in this century. The market or moot hall is first recorded in 1509. It had shops underneath it, four of which were leased by Geoffrey Dormer for 20s. from the Bishop of Lincoln; and a clock is mentioned in 1543. (fn. 80) As one would expect, special parts of the market were devoted to the sale of particular wares. Cock Row, the Drapery, and Sheep Row are recorded in 1509; the Butter Market, the Cornmarket, and the Hog Fair, although not recorded until the 17th century, were no doubt in existence. (fn. 81) The market cross stood between the moot hall and the head of Middle Row, with the Drapery 16 ft. to the north. (fn. 82) To the south of the cross was the common well: both were recorded in the 15th century. (fn. 83)
The market brought large numbers into Thame from outside and inns and victuallers must have thriven. One of the innkeepers, John Benett, appears to have been one of the richest men in the community in the first half of the century. (fn. 84) For several generations his family had been a leading one in the town, and like so many Thame people their wealth may have been partly based on their farms: the John Benett who was arrested for debt and pardoned in 1456 was described as a yeoman. (fn. 85) In 1587 there were 20 victuallers in the town, amongst them the Stribblehills, one of the leading families in the town, and the owners of the 'Swan'. (fn. 86)
References to the Michaelmas fair at Thame occur in 1577, when the inhabitants of Aylesbury, where plague had broken out, were forbidden to go to it, and in 1592, when the fair was postponed on account of the queen's visit to Rycote and the fear that London merchants would bring the plague to the Thame neighbourhood. (fn. 87) The growing importance of the cattle-market in this century may be assumed from our knowledge of the increase in pasture farming that took place in the surrounding district during the century. (fn. 88) Its importance in the next century is vouched for by a letter written from Henley in 1644 by Sir James Harrington. (fn. 89) He commented on a proposal of the king to fortify Shirburn saying that this would 'cut off all our provisions from Thame which is our best market for cattle'. It is clear from this letter that Thame market continued during the war despite the fact that the town lay in a disputed area. Anthony Wood, who witnessed many skirmishes in the streets, wrote 'you cannot imagine what disturbances they [the people of Thame] suffered by the soldiers of both parties, sometimes by the Parliament's soldiers of Aylesbury, sometimes by the King's from Boarstall House and at Oxford and at Wallingford Castle'. (fn. 90)
The woollen-draper, the linen-draper, and the mercer are among the most influential tradesmen in this century, and the next. (fn. 91) There is no evidence, however, to suggest that there was anything approaching a clothmaking industry in Thame: the wool seems mostly to have been sold to be made up elsewhere. In 1606 when Lord Norreys obtained a confirmatory grant of the Tuesday market it was called a wool-market. The date fits in well with the conversion of much land in the neighbourhood to sheep farming. (fn. 92) A variety of crafts are also recorded in this period, furrier, capper, armourer, gunsmith, fletcher, cordwainer, and chandler, (fn. 93) but as far as one can tell from the fragmentary evidence there seems to have been no specialization in any particular craft. The milliner and the apothecary are first recorded about this time and the brickmaker also. (fn. 94) In the 1640's if not earlier it was obligatory to have brick or stone chimneys: a man was presented at the view in 1648 for not pulling down an old chimney in his house and having a new brick or stone one made according to the order of the court. (fn. 95) The industry developed and ultimately gave its name to Brickkiln Lane (the modern Park Street). (fn. 96)
The town seems to have made a good recovery from the setback of the Civil War. The climate of religious and political opinion during the commonwealth was favourable to the small and medium trader, and new families were attracted to the town. The Reynolds, Wollastons, and Burrows, for instance, were said to have come from Leicestershire. The Burrows were woolstaplers as well as drapers; they had a business in London with a branch at Thame and were clearly substantial people. George Burrows (d. 1693) is entitled 'marchant' in the parish register. (fn. 97)
The hearth-tax returns of the 1660's show that many of these traders lived in substantial town houses and that New Thame had developed considerably. In 1662 149 householders were listed in New Thame and seven in Old. Thame and Priestend. (fn. 98) Some 30 years later there were said to be 1,300 adult persons in Thame and its two hamlets of Moreton and Weston. (fn. 99) Many of the inhabitants of New Thame were farmers, a reminder of how much a market-town of this kind was dependent on the surrounding countryside, and several of the richest were innkeepers. The keeper of the 'Red Lion', whose substantial hostelry was rated on ten hearths for the hearth tax of 1662, was one of the Thame tradesmen to issue tokens between 1653 and 1669. (fn. 100) Other tokens that have survived were issued by 3 grocers, 2 chandlers, 2 hatters, 2 mercers, 1 draper, and 3 post innkeepers. (fn. 101)
There are many testimonies to the importance of the market in this century, and in the early 18th century. Its prosperity had been threatened in 1657 by a petition for a chartered market at Aylesbury, but Thame traders petitioned against it with success. (fn. 102) The market evidently served a wide area, for it was decided in 1683 that the 'hair' market and horse fair at Thame relieved the necessity of one at Oxford. (fn. 103) 'The New State of England' (1691) summed up the general opinion when it noted that the market was 'eminent chiefly for the buying of cattle, which makes it much frequented by graziers and butchers from London and other parts'. (fn. 104) Defoe described it in 1722 as 'a great corn market', and in 1746 it was said to be 'well furnished with live cattle and all other provisions and necessaries'. (fn. 105) The solid Georgian houses that today line the High Street, the monuments in the parish church, and the charitable foundations still bear witness to the prosperity of the upper-class townsman in the first half of the 18th century. (fn. 106) Disputes over pews are also significant: Mrs. Frances Stribblehill, for example, was presented in 1701 for trying to make several seats into one large pew and keeping it locked for her sole use although it would hold at least twelve persons. (fn. 107)
New trades and professions appear: those of an attorney, a bodice-maker, and a hat-band maker were among those who had wall monuments in the church to commemorate them, (fn. 108) and an apothecary Richard Callis, who sold his practice in 1771 to his journeyman apprentice for £200, described himself as having a 'very considerable business'. (fn. 109) There was also a group of clock-makers—William Lawrence flourished from c. 1740–1770 and a Thomas Lawrence (? a son) was apprenticed to him in 1759 for seven years. Joseph Stockford, also a bell-hanger, made the clock for Ewelme Church; and Thomas Stockford, who was established at Great Haseley in 1764, later transferred to Thame. (fn. 110) Finally, three members of the Stone family were clock-makers. This family was one of the most influential in the second half of the 18th century and the 'Spread Eagle' is said to have been built as their private house. Edward Stone's will (proved 1765) shows that he was a sadler, and that of his three sons one was a sadler, another a watch-and clock-maker, and a third a silver-smith and whip-maker. (fn. 111) The clock-maker was Richard Stone, apprenticed in 1761 to Charles House in London, but after of Thame. One of his clocks is now in St. Nicholas Church, Marston. A John Stone was also making clocks at Thame from about 1760 to 1795 when he seems to have been succeeded by Thomas Stone. A certain Tomlinson was making long-case clocks at the end of the century, but he was not apparently John Tomlinson, watch-maker and gunsmith, who had a shop in the High Street in the mid 19th century. (fn. 112)
As there was no staple trade and the craftsmen and shopkeepers were entirely dependent on the prosperity of the surrounding agricultural area the last decades of the 18th century and particularly the period of depression between 1815 and 1818 were far from prosperous ones for the town. There had been food riots as early as 1766 when the mob attempted to have the prices of bread, cheese, butter, and bacon reduced. (fn. 113) The war bore hardly on the town: between 1786 and 1820 the poor rate increased alarmingly. (fn. 114) In 1785 Lord Torrington found Thame 'a mean and gloomy town' and in 1809 Arthur Young spoke of the 'very depressing poverty' of Thame. (fn. 115) Various local factors, however, assisted in the recovery which was marked in the third quarter of the 19th century. The improvement in the roads and ease of communication after 1800 was great and the inclosure award of 1826 was also beneficial since it allowed greater concentration on grazing and dairy farming, for which the area was particularly suitable and so increased the importance of the cattle market. (fn. 116) The project, mooted in 1828, to build a canal from Aylesbury to Thame (fn. 117) would, if carried through, have done much to relieve poverty, for, as Young noted, the high price of coal, high because of the necessity of bringing it 13 miles by land, was 'greatly against the comforts of the poor'. (fn. 118) Rising population added to the difficulties of the town: it rose from 2,293 in 1801 to 3,053 in 1851, mainly as a consequence of immigration from the neighbouring villages of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, though some immigrants came from as far afield as Scotland and abroad. (fn. 119) Nevertheless, in 1860 Lupton could write of shops well stocked with goods of great variety from poplins to ploughs and of well-to-do graziers doing 'great business' in the streets. (fn. 120) Business was encouraged by two banks that had offices in the town: the London and County Joint Stock Banking Company and the Thame and Aylesbury Old Bank, drawing on Praeds & Co., were open on the Tuesday market day and by 1887 the London & Co. Bank was opened on two days a week and on fair days. (fn. 121) Although the population of the parish remained at about the 1851 level for the rest of the century, the numbers of inhabitants in the town was increasing slightly at the expense of that of the hamlets. (fn. 122)
Although there was no staple trade there were several small local industries in the 19th century. (fn. 123) These were family businesses and though some have declined and disappeared, others have continued until the present time (1959). Chief among them was the wool-stapling business of H. & C. Pearce. In 1860 Henry and Charles Pearce, who had a small business in Bell Lane, took over the business which had been carried on since 1750 by the Payne family at Lashlake. (fn. 124) In 1779–80 Paynes handled 3,376 tods, valued at £2,476; in 1790 4,838 tods, valued at £5,530; in 1800, 6,504 tods valued at £10,118. (fn. 125) H. & C. Pearce purchased wool from the local farmers and in 1939 they handled their maximum amount (including skin wool), for any one year, 1½ million lb. weight at an average price of 1s. a lb. In that year besides local wool (about ½ million lb.) they bought from other English districts, from Ireland and New Zealand. The firm was still thriving in 1958.
The ancient trades of fell-mongering and tanning were still being practised in 1823. In 1857 H. C. Pearce purchased Winchello's tan-yard and it is now used for fell-mongering. Under recent marketing controls this firm, now associated with the Midland Hide and Skin Co., collected from eleven widely scattered abbatoirs from Oxford to London and employed fifteen workers. The nearest fell-mongering centre is Charlbury. (fn. 126)
Another old trade which was flourishing in the 19th century was brewing. (fn. 127) In 1857 Benjamin Field was using the 'malthouse with enclosed kiln etc.', in the High Street, and the Bell Yard opposite for malting and brewing. (fn. 128) Plot declared in his Natural History of Oxfordshire that Thame well-water was unsuited for brewing and that 'their beer will stink within fourteen days', and that if the town were not supplied by the adjoining rivulet, 'the place must needs be in a deplorable condition'. (fn. 129) Certainly the trade never acquired a reputation comparable to Bicester breweries, (fn. 130) and Field's had ceased by about 1880. Malting came to an end in 1904. (fn. 131)
Basket-making and chair-making were successfully carried on for many years by Hunt and Staples of Middle Row. Hunts were basket-makers at least as early as 1804, for in that year William Hunt took as apprentice a poor boy from the workhouse. (fn. 132) In 1823 the two businesses each employed eight or ten men making baskets, parts of chairs, and wooden bowls. Hunt used 8,000 bundles of osiers a year from the Old Town Meadows, Kingsey Bottom, and Thame Park. In 1890 osiers were obtained from Somerset, in 1935 from Algeria, but there was still a local supply for in 1921 the Moreton osier bed had been planted. (fn. 133) The baskets were mainly 'butter flats', and the industry slowly declined after 1865 when rinder pest first caused the local farmers to change over from butter-making to milk production. (fn. 134)
Chairs of beech wood were also made by Fenner of Park Street and Newitt of High Street. The last were making complete chairs and polishing them in 1874 when the business was closed. (fn. 135) Thame chairs had long had a good reputation in the Midlands.
Howlett's coach-building business flourished from 1843 until the beginning of the 20th century. It cut and carried its own timber and even manufactured its own springs. (fn. 136)
The Thame Park brick kilns were opened in the early 19th century and bricks for the county court were made there in 1869. Those for the new Town Hall in 1887 were made at the Christmas Hill works started in the mid-19th century. Both businesses were ultimately killed by cheaper bricks from Peterborough, but in 1934 the Christmas Hill works were restarted as the result of a boom in building, only to be closed on the outbreak of war in 1939. (fn. 137) The kilns and yard were then used for storing war material.
The chief 19th-century representative of generations of earlier carriers was Howlands. Carriers are known to have been going regularly to London in 1600, (fn. 138) and Howlands claimed that they had been doing so since 1676. They delivered to London agricultural produce from the surrounding villages and the markets of Marlow, Wycombe, and Thame. The firm still (1959) flourishes and deals mainly in hay, corn, and fertilizers. (fn. 139)
Lace-making was never so important in Thame as in the surrounding villages, particularly the Buckinghamshire ones, (fn. 140) though some pillow lace was made in the 19th century and purchased by London dealers. (fn. 141) Young, writing at the beginning of the century, observed that 'a very few' at Thame made lace and that 'there is nothing flourishing in the fabric'. (fn. 142) The Napoleonic prisoners continued the trade, but it was dwindling away by 1860, and by 1884 it was almost extinct. (fn. 143) In 1905 there was an exhibition of the Thame lace industry at the Albert Hall, but there were no lacemakers left in 1958. (fn. 144)
Since 1856, when the Thame Gazette was first published, printing has been among the leading Thame trades. It was first printed by Charles Ellis, then by Meers, and in 1910 the business came into the hands of F. H. Castle, the brother of the present owner. The firm of Castle & Sons now has 30 employees of whom 24 are engaged in printing. (fn. 145) In the 1880's the Thame Observer and the South Oxfordshire News also began to appear.
Since the earliest times inn-keeping has been one of the town's chief occupations. The port-moot rolls of the 15th century have many references to overcharging by the victuallers and in one case overcharging for horse fodder as well as for the man's food is specifically mentioned. (fn. 146) These inns depended entirely on the market and the country people and traders that it brought into the town. They provided stabling and accommodation for the night—the 'Swan', for example, still has the remains of stabling for 30 or 40 horses—and not one was a coaching inn. Fifty-nine different names of inns have been traced, (fn. 147) but this does not necessarily mean that there were 59 different hostelries. Inns often changed their names: the 'Spread Eagle', for one, was stated in 1882 to have been formerly the 'Oxford Arms'. (fn. 148) However, the number of inns must always have been great: in 1906 there were 35 and 30 in 1914, nearly three times the average for the county in relation to the population. (fn. 149)
The chief inn in Tudor and Stuart days was the 'Red Lion'. It stood opposite the Market-house on the south side of the High Street. The officials of the peculiar held their courts there. (fn. 150) In the 18th century its reputation was poor: in 1785 Lord Torrington called it a 'bad inn'. (fn. 151) Nevertheless, the turnpike trustees held their mettings there and it was the chief posting house and social centre in the early 19th century. (fn. 152) It closed in 1860: it was in 1959 the offices of Messrs. Lightfoot & Lowndes. (fn. 153) Its position as principal inn had been usurped by the 'Greyhound' since at least the beginning of the century. In 1816 with the 'Bull', 'Crown', 'Anchor', and 'Swan', the 'Greyhound' was one of the five inns at which the churchwardens were to hold their feasts in rotation. (fn. 154) The inclosure commissioners put up there in 1823–6, but by 1852 it had become a shop and the 'Spread Eagle' was the leading hostelry. (fn. 155) Until the Town Hall was built in 1888 most of the town's public functions and festivities were held in its large assembly rooms. (fn. 156)
There were also many people whose livelihood depended on the market and fairs. Besides the regular Tuesday market there had long been two fairs. (fn. 157) In the 19th century there appear to have been at least three. (fn. 158) The statute fair for the hiring of servants was on 11 October and was continued on the two following Tuesdays. This fair was also noted for the sale of horses and fat hogs. Other fairs, held on the Tuesday in Easter week and the first Tuesday in August, were principally for cattle. In 1852 the wool market is said to have been discontinued for several years, (fn. 159) but a Christmas fatstock market, held on the first Tuesday after 6 December had come into existence, certainly by 1849. (fn. 160) Among the tradesmen and business men listed in Gardner's Directory of 1852 were two auctioneers, three corn dealers, a cattle dealer and a horse dealer.
During the last third of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th the market was carried on under many difficulties: rinder pest broke out in November 1865 and no cattle were brought to the market for a year. Many later closures were necessary on account of outbreaks of rinder pest in 1877, of foot and mouth disease in 1883, and of swine fever in 1894. (fn. 161) The Board of Agriculture threatened to close the market in 1903 unless accommodation was made for cattle on a surface impermeable to water, so that it could be efficiently washed and disinfected. The right of the market authority, Sir Francis Bertie, to break up the highway for the necessary paving was denied by the Council, but eventually the work was carried out by him with their approval. An area 100 × 6 yds. was paved along the north of the High Street for cattle, a piece 60 × 4 yds. opposite the Fox Inn for sheep and two areas for pigs in the centre. In 1904, when the paving was complete, posts and chains were erected to keep cattle off the pavement. (fn. 162) There were never pens or stalls for cattle. Throughout the 20th century Thame market has ranked third in the county in general importance. Until 1939 livestock was auctioned, and dairy produce, corn, eggs, hay, straw, hides, poultry, and wool were sold wholesale by private treaty. There was also a small retail market. Average weekly figures were: cattle 40–120 (150–200 in best weeks); sheep 120–700; pigs 150– 400; calves 60–160. During 1934 2,234 cattle, 19, 135 sheep, 15,221 pigs, and 4,342 calves were entered for sale. Supplies came from the Vale of Aylesbury, the Chiltern Hills, South Oxfordshire, and North and Mid-Bucks. Nearly all fat beasts were disposed of for export to other districts, buyers coming from Aylesbury, Reading, London, and the central Midlands. In 1919 a 100 horses would be auctioned, but in 1935 not more than three or four, and by 1959 none. (fn. 163)
After the Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933 the method of distribution was changed greatly. Store stock was not controlled, but no fat stock was auctioned; it was only graded. When the areas for the marketing of fat cattle were determined Oxford gained at the expense of Thame. There are now no private sales of hides and wool, the sales of hay have diminished, and none is now exported to London. During the First World War the production of fat cattle was discouraged in favour of wheat, but in 1950 a distinct return to fat-stock production was noted. In 1949 the Thame Fat Stock Show was resuscitated, and the keen interest in it revealed a desire to return to pre-war conditions as regards fat-stock. With the diminution of auctioning, attendance at the market decreased. (fn. 164)
After many years of controversy an enclosed market has been established on a site of about 4 acres in North Street at a cost of £35,000. It is equipped to deal with fat-stock and dairy cattle: there are a sales ring, auctioneers' rostrum, and offices. For dairy cows and calves there is a covered building containing 40 stalls and there are sheep and pig pens and accommodation for poultry. The retail market has moved from the Cornmarket to the old site of the pig and cattle market. Average annual stall tolls between 1945 and 1952 totalled £450. Cattle tolls during the same period averaged £80 per annum, to which must now be added £1,100 per annum from the auctioneers for the rent of their offices. (fn. 165)
But since the Second World War Thame has become far less dependent on its market. It remains the natural centre for the surrounding area of about 6 miles in radius, though its services have been modified by modern manufacturing and marketing methods and transport. It has become more than ever a residential town: in 1952 140 people worked at the Cowley Pressed Steel and Morris Motor Works and some in Oxford, Aylesbury, and Haddenham. (fn. 166) Rateable properties, excluding dwelling houses and farm land, numbered: commercial 162, inns 22, industrial 10, public utility 6, educational and cultural 6, entertainments 3, and miscellaneous 14. (fn. 167) There were few industries in the town, but the total number employed in them was relatively high. Thame Mill Laundry employed 200, mostly women, and four or five other firms including agricultural machine repairing, printing, and building 30 to 35 each, and four others including fell-mongering, agricultural merchanting, and light-engineering 10 to 15 each. (fn. 168)
Of the commercial firms 84 are shops doing the normal country-town business. The fifteen bespoke tailors of 1846 have been replaced by two, the six iron smiths by one, but the last in addition to shoeing has a local reputation for ornamental iron work, particularly gates and signs. Garages, electrical and wireless shops are comparatively new ventures. The British Fan and Electric Co. Ltd. in Park Street deals in fume and dust extraction and employs about fifteen in staff. The latest arrival is Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd. which opened its offices in 1958 for the distribution of petroleum products in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. There are about 45 employees. Almost all businesses are privately owned. (fn. 169).
Population has increased rapidly in recent years. The decline which followed 1891, the peak year for the 19th century, was arrested after 1918 and numbers rose rapidly after 1945. The population in 1951 of the Urban District, a much smaller area than the ancient parish, was 4, 171. (fn. 170)
The town has an active social and sporting life. There is a public recreation ground of nearly 9 acres under the control of the Urban District Council. A sports' club, and cricket and football clubs flourish. (fn. 171) The town has a cricket pitch certainly by 1825 when seven men were convicted for using it for bull baiting. (fn. 172) A rifle club, instituted in 1908, has declined, (fn. 173) but hunting is still popular. The town lies in the country of the South Oxfordshire Hunt: the Earl of Abingdon first hunted this country from at least about 1770, but he limited himself to the area between Thame and Tetsworth and kept his pack at Rycote. (fn. 174)
The great annual event of the year is the Thame Show. It is claimed that it is the second largest single-day show in the country. (fn. 175) It was instituted in 1855 when the Thame Agricultural Society was founded.
Agrarian History. (fn. 176)
Although Thame was undoubtedly the centre of a large estate supplying food rents in the early Anglo-Saxon period to the Bishop of Dorchester, there is no direct evidence for its economic life before Domesday Book. (fn. 177) It may be noted here, however, that its economic ties with the villages of Towersey in Buckinghamshire and Sydenham in Lewknor hundred, both daughter churches of Thame, may once have been much closer than they were by the 11th century, and that though Thame's dependent villages of North Weston, Attington, Moreton, and Tetsworth are not mentioned in Domesday, there is no reason to suppose that they were not already in existence. The fertility of the soil would encourage early settlement (fn. 178) and the form of the names of the villages and the number of plough-lands recorded in 1086 supports this view. Attington derives from Eatta's hill (O.E. Eattan dun), Moreton from Mor-tun, Tetsworth from Tætel's worp and Weston is the west tun, i.e. west of Thame, with North added to distinguish it from South Weston, a Domesday village. (fn. 179)
In 1086 there were 37 hides in the bishop's demesne manor of Thame and land for 34 ploughs, but only 24 were in use. The bishop had 5 in demesne and 5 serfs, and his customary tenants, 27 villani and 26 bordars, had 19 ploughs. There was a mill, worth £1, and the meadowland, always highly prized in the rich Thame valley, was worth £3, a tenth of the value of the whole manor. The preConquest valuation of Thame was £20, but when received by Bishop Remigius the estate had so suffered that its value had fallen to £16. (fn. 180) Of the 23 hides held by the bishop's knights, it is said that there were 10 ploughs in demesne, and that 16 viliani with 21 bordars and 8 serfs had another 10 ploughs. These holdings were in an area that included North Weston, Moreton, Attington, and Tetsworth. (fn. 181)
The size of the bishop's manor was diminished in the 12th century by a number of grants: first, Thame Abbey received 3 carucates on its refoundation in 1139 or 1140, when Bishop Alexander gave his park at Thame so that the Cistercian monks of Ottley in Oddington might have a more favourable site; (fn. 182) second, the new prebend of Thame was endowed with 4 carucates by Bishop Alexander by 1146, (fn. 183) and possibly about this time part of the bishop's demesne was set aside for the foundation of the burgus of New Thame. (fn. 184) The remainder appears to have continued as a demesne manor, administered by the bishop's servants, probably until 1509, when it was farmed to Geoffrey Dormer. (fn. 185) Details, however, are lacking except for a few scattered notices. Apart from an account of the sale of corn in 1181–2, entered on the pipe roll as the manor was in the king's hands during a vacancy, (fn. 186) there is no further information until the detailed description given of the manor in the survey of the bishop's estates made in the second quarter of the 13th century. The bishop then had 7 free tenants, 5 at Thame and 2 at North Weston, holding between them 14½ virgates and paying assised rents of 73s. 2d. The Thame tenants were also bound to do carrying services: Roger, son of Lete, for example held 3 virgates for 18s. rent and carried the lord's writs as far as Banbury, Buckend (Hunts.), Biggleswade (Beds.) and Wooburn (Bucks.); he also carried, with the bailiff, the bishop's money.
Of the customary tenants of Thame, (fn. 187) 10 held 10½ virgates, 21 half-virgates and 4 tofts; 16 were cottars. There were 16 villein virgaters in North Weston. No comparison can profitably be made with the number of tenants in 1086, for the manor had been reduced in size. The account of the rents and services given illustrates the transitional period when the villein might be doing either week-work or paying a money rent and doing an agreed amount of boon-work, presumably according to the lord's needs.
The bishop had 5 plough-lands in demesne and could have 200 sheep and 20 cows. He drew some of his permanent as well as seasonal labour from his customary tenants. Two of the half-virgaters were to be the lord's ploughmen if he wished and for this were quit of all other services. Two others were liable to keep the lord's cows and his sheep, and one of the cottars was the lord's gardener and was quit of the services which the other cottars owed. Another virgater was not liable for week-work, because he made the ironwork for 4 ploughs, providing the iron himself. Some of the tenants may have been famuli, who had been provided with some land, for 2 men who held tofts were called ploughmen (carucarii). Since the time of Bishop William (1203–6) the cottars had been allowed to rent a certain meadow for 3s. in lieu of the hay they used to receive from the bishop at mowing time. All customary tenants paid dues to the bishop when they succeeded to a holding or married a daughter, and they paid fines for fornication and gave an 'aid' when the lord wished.
The North Weston villeins owed much the same services, but paid only 5s. when they held a virgate at farm. (fn. 188)
The hundredal inquest of 1279 reveals a number of developments on the bishop's manor and in its dependent hamlets. The bishop had 4 plough-lands in demesne with a mill and two weirs, and 38 recorded tenants as against 46 in the earlier survey. The half-virgater class of tenant was not mentioned as such and there were now 21 virgaters and 17 cottars, who held 4 acres each. No services are recorded and the whole entry is of the briefest kind, since the king had little interest in the bishop's manor. The amount of customary land under cultivation had remained much the same. The holders of 1 virgate paid a rent of 5s. and their services were valued at 3s. As at the time of the earlier survey some 50 years before, the bishop had 4 free tenants in Thame besides Geoffrey de Lewknor, tenant of 1/6-knight's fee, but the jurors made no mention of services other than scutage and suit to the hundred of Thame. Others holding of the bishop in Thame were the rector, i.e. the prebendary, who had 16 virgates in villeinage, and the abbey, which had 3 carucates in alms. The 4 carucates assigned to the church seems to be an error and simply a repetition of the prebendary's holding. (fn. 189)
More detailed accounts are given of the bishop's property in the hamlets of Attington, Moreton, and Weston. The bishop had 9 virgaters in Moreton, although most of the manor's land there had been subinfeudated: Nicholas de Segrave held 10 virgates by military tenure, and had 7 virgater and 6 half-virgater tenants paying a rent at the rate of 12s. a virgate. (fn. 190) Thame Abbey was the other chief tenant, holding Moreton (and Attington) for ½-knight's fee. In Moreton it had 32 tenants, but only 5 of these, including the smith and the miller, held as much as 10 acres to a virgate. The rest of the 21 tenants had only a messuage or a cottage, with a few acres attached, and may have been craftsmen, partly dependent on the market at Thame for their livelihood. Among them were at least one weaver and two carpenters. In Attington the abbot had an estate of 6 virgates and 12 tenants, of whom 1 held 3 virgates for 30s., scutage, and suit of court; and 3 others held 25/6 virgates between them and paid rent at the rate of 10s. a virgate. The abbot also had 8 cottagers paying rents ranging from 2s. to 5s. On a second estate in Attington of over 4½ virgates, belonging to Alexander de Hampden, there were no cottagers. The virgaters held from 1¼ virgates to ½-virgate each and likewise paid rent at the rate of 10s. a virgate (24 a.). (fn. 191)
In North Weston William Quatremain held the manor to which were attached 15 virgates in Ascot, in Great Milton parish. His 7 demesne virgates and fishery, however, were certainly in North Weston, and he had there 2 customary tenants and 5 free tenants who owed small-rents, scutage, or suit of court. William son of Henry held 8 virgates and a fishery of the bishop, but had granted them to subtenants. John Basset, who held a hide in socage of the bishop, had done likewise. The bishop himself had 8 customary tenants and 2 tenants besides John Basset. These too held in socage and owed suit of court for a virgate and ½-virgate respectively. The bishop's customars held on the same terms as his Moreton ones, but Quatremain's 2 customars paid 5s. rent and did services worth 3s. for 1 virgate. The 3 customars of William, son of Henry, owed the same rent and services; his 3 cottars paid 4s. and their services were worth 1s. (fn. 192)
The early years of the 14th century as elsewhere seem to have been disastrous for the farming community at Thame. The abbey, more able than most to cope with adversity, was heavily in debt, perhaps owing to bad seasons and murrain among the sheep. (fn. 193)
A record of a sale of a farm and stock in 1311 for £104 5s. provides interesting information both about farming practice at this time and on the way in which a rich Thame landholder, who had invested in land in the fields and town alike, seems to have got into financial difficulties. The property, which included burgage tenements, belonged to Thomas Elys of Thame and North Weston, a son of Richard Elys, clerk, a leading man in the town and parish. (fn. 194) Thomas Elys had 38½ acres sown with corn and wheat; 36½ acres of barley, drage (barley mixed with corn), beans, and oats; and there must have been a certain amount lying fallow. He also had 142 acres of meadow and 55 acres of pasture. There were considerable stocks of grain, malt, and hay in his three granaries, 16 head of cattle, 131 sheep and lambs, as well as poultry and pigs. His farming equipment was extensive and is listed in detail. (fn. 195) In the same year he sold another 92 acres and 7 messuages and tofts, (fn. 196) but as his son John continued to hold land in Old Thame and North Weston (fn. 197) it is evident that only a part of the family property was sold.
Although small flocks of sheep, like Elys' or the flock of 200 that the Bishop of Lincoln might keep, (fn. 198) may have been common form the main emphasis at this period appears to have been on arable farming. The lands of the Cistercian abbey were possibly an exception. The order's addiction to sheep-farming is well known, and the abbey's interest in the wool trade is exemplified in 1224 by the grant of a licence to export wool despite the general prohibition in force. (fn. 199) Although Thame Abbey had other property besides its Thame lands, it is likely, particularly in view of the evidence there is for the consolidation of its open-field land, and because of the large extent of its park land, that much of its wool came from Thame, where the soil was so well suited to grazing. (fn. 200)
Some light on the relative wealth of the hamlets in the 14th century is thrown by the tax-assessment lists. New Thame and Old Thame with 67 and 50 tax payers respectively in 1327 easily take the lead. North Weston has 27, Moreton 20, and Attington 16 contributors. The respective totals paid are £6 7s. 11d., £5 3s. 6d., £3 2s. 11d., £2 5s. 6d. and £2 2s. 4d. (fn. 201) The reassessment of 1334 led to a somewhat drastic change: the respective totals were then £9 2s. 8d. for New Thame, £3 7s. 9d. for Old Thame, and £2 14s. 6d. for North Weston. (fn. 202) Developments at Moreton and Attington cannot be gauged as they were taxed together in 1344. (fn. 203) Whether these reductions should be attributed to the influence of the bishop or to a real decline in production is a matter for speculation. In 1354 the comparatively high abatement of 6s. for Attington compared with 6s. for Weston, 3s. for Moreton and 40s. for Old Thame and Priestend may indicate that Attington's population was already declining. (fn. 204) The poll tax of 1377 shows that both Attington and Weston with 27 and 49 adults respectively were small hamlets compared with Moreton with 69 adults. At Priestend and Old Thame there were 211 tax payers and 325 at New Thame. (fn. 205)
Contemporary evidence for the field system is slight, but it seems that the arable fields were divided into five groups, those of Old Thame, North Weston, Moreton, Attington, and Priestend. Four of these sets of fields, those of Old Thame, North Weston, Moreton, and Attington are apparent from the account in the hundred rolls (fn. 206) and references in the charters, but the first explicit mention of Priestend is in a document of 1412 which deals with 7 acres in 'the fields of Priestende called Lapersdon' (i.e. Lobbersdown). (fn. 207) The Priestend fields lay between Moreton and Weston, from the Cuttle Brook on the east to Lobbersdown Hill in the south-west corner of the parish, and probably originated in Bishop Alexander's grant of 4 carucates to the church in c. 1146. (fn. 208)
Early deeds give many furlong and other field names, but except for East Field and West Field recorded at Old Thame in about 1150 (fn. 209) they throw little light on the field system. The fact that in 1348 the bishop had 208 acres of arable in one course and 252 acres in another may indicate that a two-course rotation was still practised in Old Thame. (fn. 210) The evidence in the 14th century is insufficient to say how far consolidation of strips had gone, but there was certainly some although much of the open-field land still lay in ½-acre strips at the end of the century. (fn. 211) Thame Abbey, for one, had certainly been consolidating its holdings since the mid-12th century. At that time it made an exchange of land with the men of Moreton and in c. 1190 another exchange is recorded. (fn. 212) A late-13th- or early-14th-century account of the abbey's Moreton estate, which was attached to its Home Grange, shows that consolidation was by then well advanced. In one furlong (stadium) there were 36 lands ('rugges'), in another 38 lands, and in a third 13 butts. (fn. 213) Later in the 15th century, references to 7-acre strips described as contiguous (conjuncti) occur. (fn. 214)
A terrier of the mid-15th century (1441–53) of Attington lands held by the Abbey and Drew Barantyne also shows some consolidation. Attington Field contained 477½ field acres and was divided into three inclosures separated by ditches. The first South Close (141½ a. and 1 gore), lying between Attington village and Copcourt, contained 8 furlongs, varying in size from 13½ to 42 acres. The second inclosure was a little close called North Close, containing over 92 acres. It lay between Attington and Horsenden Hill. There were 7 furlongs in it varying in size from 1¾ to 23 acres. The third inclosure, 'the other great close', was called West Close; it lay between Attington village and the London-Tetsworth road and contained 70 acres, 3 roods in 12 furlongs, varying in extent from 1½ to 23 acres. There was also a number of furlongs, totalling 35¼ acres, described as lying outside the West Close, of which over 5 acres belonged to Tetsworth Grange (i.e. the abbey's farm in Tetsworth). Although much of the land was held by the ten tenants of the abbot and Drew Barantyne in scattered ½-acre strips, there were many blocks of 2 to 4½ acres, and much of the abbot's demesne was held separately and had been so held since the 'foundation' (i.e. 1139). In Broke furlong in the North Field Thame had 19 out of 20 acres separate all the year except from 1 August to 25 March; in 'Le Combes' furlong 20 acres of separate land. The abbot held in all 214 acres, 3 roods and Drew Barantyne had 180 acres, 2 roods. There was also a piece of pasture called Mede acre lying between Wallingford Way and Tetsworth Field. This was divided into 13 lots of which the abbot held 52/3 and Barantyne 7½ lots. (fn. 215)
Considerable changes occurred in the last quarter of the 15th century, when Geoffrey Dormer, wool stapler, was building up a large estate. In 1473 he acquired Baldington manor in Thame (fn. 216) and Attington manor at about the same time. From then on he steadily accumulated land in all the Thame fields, mostly by purchases of a few acres at a time. (fn. 217) In 1498 his manor comprised 7 messuages and over 700 acres of arable, meadow, and pasture. (fn. 218) In 1509 his son, Geoffrey Dormer, acquired the lease of the bishop's demesne manor of New Thame, and continued to buy up more land. (fn. 219) By 1552 Baldington's manor was said to comprise 2,200 acres, and although this figure cannot, perhaps, be taken at its face value it may be accepted that the property was unusually large for this part of the country, and that the emphasis laid on meadow and pasture (1,100 a.) has some significance. (fn. 220) The Dormers were noted inclosers elsewhere, (fn. 221) and had almost certainly been inclosing at Moreton and Attington at the end of the 15th century or in the early 16th century. Geoffrey Dormer was presented, for instance, in 1481 for inclosing a common pasture at Moreton to the great inconvenience of the other tenants. (fn. 222) In 1481 his Attington manor had three times as much pasture as arable, and early 16th-century deeds state that the Dormer manor was commonly called Attington pasture and that its appurtenances were 'meadows, leasurs, and pastures'. (fn. 223) In this connexion, furthermore, the names Dormer Leys farm and Dormer Leys Great Ground are also significant. The information given in a 1557 lease that the manor had formerly been leased to Owen Robotham, a butcher, suggests that the rich meadow pastures were being used to fatten beasts for the Thame and Oxford markets. (fn. 224) Again, in 1592 when Baldington manor was sold, 30 acres of 'inclosed several ground' were mentioned and other new closes are recorded about the same time. (fn. 225)
Thame Abbey or its lessees were certainly active inclosers: its estate valued in 1535 at £19 6s. 8d. in Thame, at £46 16s. in Moreton, and at £21 6s. 8d. in Attington, then all leased out, consisted mainly of pasture and meadow closes. (fn. 226) Some of these dated from the late 15th century or before: in 1477–8 the abbey was leasing three pasture closes to tenants for £4 each, a high price compared with the rent of £10 it was receiving for the Home Grange at Moreton; in 1480 the abbot was presented for encroaching on the lord's common in Moreton called 'Somerlake' and 'Redelond', and in 1535 'le Reddlands' are listed as inclosed pasture. (fn. 227) Other inclosed pastures in Moreton and Thame were listed and the name of Shepecott farm testifies to the abbey's one-time interest in the wool trade. (fn. 228) In 1544 the bishop leased Sheplease meadow for £4 a year. (fn. 229)
Land in the south-west at 'Chelyngdon' had also been inclosed by 1490, when 7 acres there were said to be 'several at all times', though men might go through with cattle by licence. (fn. 230) On the eastern boundary there had been inclosure at Cotmore Wells, for it was probably the 'Cotnour', where 11 acres were inclosed for pasture and a messuage destroyed in 1493; and inclosure of commons was reported in Old Thame in 1503. (fn. 231) At North Weston inclosure may have been completed in the 16th century: in 1538 Sir John Clerke, lord of the manor, obtained a pardon for depopulation ('ruins, decays, and voluntary devastations') and inclosure for pasture both at North Weston and in New Thame, (fn. 232) and in 1542 Nicholas Clerke's lease of North Weston manor to Sir John Williams included 2,900 sheep and cattle. (fn. 233)
Inclosures such as these and the high price of corn produced the discontent which led to the agrarian rising of 1596. An armourer from Thame was one of the ringleaders and Lord Norreys of Rycote was one of those especially singled out for attack. (fn. 234)
Inclosure at Priestend and Old Thame continued into the 17th century. In 1623 every tenant who had land in a certain part of Priestend Field was ordered by the homage to make a quickset hedge round his holding. (fn. 235) In the same year the leys which had become widely scattered and intermixed were redivided and allotted on a permanent basis. (fn. 236) The stints at this date are interesting on account of the large number of sheep allowed; the holder of a yardland could put on the commons 60 sheep, 8 cattle, and 6 horses. (fn. 237) The result was that there were complaints of the commons being overburdened. (fn. 238) More extensive inclosure took place in 1651 when some 23 tenants agreed to exchange their strips and to fence off their land for pasture in Lobbersdown Field, one of the Priestend fields. (fn. 239) The chief promoter of the scheme was Edward Wray, lord of the manor. The tenants' reasons are of interest: they complained that the field, about 2 miles from Priestend, was too far away to be manured, and so should be laid down to pasture; they also claimed that inclosure with ditches and hedges would increase the supply of wood, which was very scarce. Other tenants conspired to throw down the inclosures and combined in 'a violent manner', but eventually agreed with the majority. Common rights were abandoned and a certain amount of common was set aside for cottagers. The agreement was confirmed by Chancery decree and enrolled. (fn. 240)
The period was undoubtedly one of great prosperity for the country's yeoman farmers in general and Thame farmers were no exception: John Woodbridge, yeoman of North Weston, for example, left goods valued at over £1,739 in 1647; (fn. 241) in 1662 the tenant of Thame Park Grange left about half that sum; (fn. 242) and in 1699 the tenant of Old Thame manor farm paid £400 for a renewal of the lease. (fn. 243) This prosperity is reflected in the hearth-tax returns of the 1660's. Moreton appears to have been a village of small yeoman farmers or husbandmen with houses taxed on two hearths or less, but in North Weston, Old Thame, and Priestend there were many substantial farmhouses taxed on four hearths and more. (fn. 244) New Thame also had its farmhouses, but here wealth may have come more from a combination of trade and farming. The tax returns also reveal some of the effects of inclosure: North Weston, for instance, has shrunk in size and only 10 persons were listed there for the tax of 1662, when the fullest returns were made. (fn. 245) Attington had virtually disappeared; only Richard Cornish, the tenant of part of the manor, paid tax either in 1662 or 1665. (fn. 246)
Information about conditions in the early 18th century is provided by a survey made in 1728 of the Earl of Abingdon's estate in Old and New Thame and in Priestend. He was one of the successors to Lord Williams's manors. He owned 1,487 acres in Old Thame and 831 acres in Priestend; the old value of the farmlands in Old Thame is given as £878 4s. 2d. and its real value in 1728 was estimated at £1,075 16s. 2d.; the old value of Priestend lands was £668 and the new £769 12s. 6d. (fn. 247) Five-sixths of Old Thame was arable. All the field land was described as good on the whole. It was usually let at 10s. an acre, but the bailiff noted that the times being now bad for farming the tenants begin to scruple at that price. He recommended that one source of increased rent would be to inclose those meadowlands which still remained common, as this part was the better land and the inclosures would be of particular value to the town 'for the convenience of keeping horses, as well others as their own'. (fn. 248) There were about 60 copyholders and 10 leaseholders with land in Old Thame: nearly half of these held small holdings of between 10 and 36 acres, and about a third held under 5 acres. One leaseholder, the tenant of Thame farm, held as much as 486 acres of which 424 acres (or 12 yardlands) were open-field arable. (fn. 249)
Part of Moreton was included in the survey (4 copyholds), but the rent of land there, which was partly a poor clay, was only about 8s. an acre. (fn. 250) At Priestend a higher proportion of land, three-sevenths, was meadow and pasture. Part of Lobbersdown Hill, where Priestend inclosures lay, was described as 'a parcel of land lying together' of which the soil was naturally poor and had been made worse by overploughing. The land was used as pasture and rented at 20s. an acre, but the bailiff considered it worth no more than 12s. (fn. 251) Stints were very much reduced compared with the figures given in 1623: in 1728 only 20 sheep were allowed to the yardland, and 4 cows and 4 horses. (fn. 252) The rotation practised in the Priestend open fields was two crops and a fallow. The yield was good as the soil was good, although badly drained. The rent was 10s. an acre, but the bailiff considered that the acre must be a small one or the rent very low, for similar, but inclosed land, was let for 20s. an acre and the common difference between field and inclosed land was reckoned as a third. Meadowland was rented at 40s. an acre and was 'very good'. The land was tenanted by 33 copyholders, 1 leaseholder, and 1 freeholder. Eleven tenants held between 30 and 70 acres, and the rest under 30 acres. Rents ranged from 4s. to £2 a year. (fn. 253)
There is no comparable description of Attington and North Weston, but the North Weston estate was sold for £4,000 in 1749. The hamlet's field was completely divided into closes by this time and over half of it was estimated to be pasture and meadow. (fn. 254) Attington, also completely inclosed and mostly pasture and meadow, (fn. 255) was largely farmed by the Cornish family. Richard Cornish had been the only substantial tenant in the 1660's, and in 1754 a Cornish was the only 40s. freeholder. (fn. 256) In 1785 members of the family were tenants of the main estate (the former Abbey manor) and paid 1/6 of the total land tax for their freeholds. (fn. 257) Their house, Dormer Leys Farm, is the only one shown on Davis's map of 1797. (fn. 258)
Variations of soil and of farming practice in the various parts of the parish are reflected in the landtax valuations at the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century. North Weston and Thame Park had higher valuations (£160 and £127 respectively) than the open-field hamlet of Moreton (£61 12s.) and the partly uninclosed Priestend (£93 6s.). In North Weston the two landowners had 6 tenant farmers between them. Thame Park was owned and farmed by the Wenmans and there were only 3, and later 2, tenant farmers occupying Wenman land outside the Park. In other parts of the parish the land was mostly in the hands of small tenant-farmers. Several like the Loosleys, Hedges, Barnards, and Eustaces occupied land in several hamlets and had in fact fair-sized farms. There were still some men, however, who held only a yardland or a half-yardland. (fn. 259) One of the largest farms in the parish was Manor farm at North Weston, which was leased by the Revd. Thomas Plaskett, whose views and experience were frequently cited by Arthur Young. Plaskett used a 5-course rotation and grew turnips, swede and rape, but only one-third of North Weston was under plough at this time (i.e. 1809). Plaskett himself kept a flock of 300 sheep of the New Leicester breed, and milking cows were no doubt also kept, for, as Young remarked, the land round Thame was good for dairy farming. (fn. 260)
Davis's map of 1797 shows that it was mainly the pasture land that was inclosed and that the arable was still open-field land. (fn. 261) Another 18th-century map shows that there had been some consolidation of strips in Moreton field: groups of 3 or 4 acres were common and there were 30 acres in the largest block, the Earl of Abingdon's. (fn. 262) Pasture and meadow were scarce judging from the lease in 1795 of Balliol College's small property, which specified that a yearly rent of £5 must be paid for each acre converted to arable. In 1817 the high price of corn led to this rent being increased to £20 an acre. (fn. 263) Although Attington had been long inclosed inclosure of the old Thame, Priestend, and Moreton fields did not begin until 1823 and was not completed before 1826, but in the preceding years many tenants were in fact cultivating part of the open fields separately in 'hitches'. (fn. 264) There had also been some further inclosure of meadowland and some land had been taken in from the waste since 1797, but there remained 2,180 acres in the open fields, old inclosure amounting to 2,857 acres. In addition to the openfield arable and meadow 150 acres of waste were allotted. Priestend and Moreton each had three open fields and Old Thame had four; West Field, Barley Hill Field (a division of West Field), and Black Ditch Field, and Little Field, which had developed out of East Field. (fn. 265)
To meet the expense of inclosure the commissioners sold 126½ acres, 80 acres of which Miss Wykeham bought. Two of the chief allottees were the Earl of Abingdon, lord of Thame and Priestend manors, and Miss Wykeham, who held Moreton manor and the prebendal tithes. They received 4½ and 5½ acres respectively for manorial rights (equal to 1/10 of the waste). Miss Wykeham was allotted 532 acres for the impropriate tithes, and about 185 acres for her freehold estate in Moreton. The Earl of Abingdon received 110½ acres for his freehold estate and another 62 acres for the copyhold estates of 9 tenants, which had come into his hands since the inclosure Act. The vicar received some 113 acres for his vicarial glebe and Thame tithes. Allotments were made to about 57 other persons in respect of 39 Abingdon leasehold and copyhold estates (797½ a.) and 23 freehold estates (c. 400 a.). Of these the trustees of James Meadowcroft, one of the Abingdon estate tenantfarmers, received 272 acres, and Joseph Way received 137 acres. About 22 allottees, among them Balliol College and Thomas Philip Wykeham, were awarded between 10 and 50 acres. The other allotments were under 10 acres and included 2½ acres for Moreton poor and 6 acres for the Thame churchwardens. (fn. 266)
A survey of the Earl of Abingdon's estate in 1827 shows the position immediately after inclosure. The land is described as 'in hand' or 'out on lives'. Thus in 1827 1,503 acres in Thame and Priestend were leased for lives as against 388 acres 'in hand', and the annual values are given as £2,130 and £678. In North Weston, as a result of earlier inclosure, all Lord Abingdon's land (220 a.) was in hand, and was worth £278 a year. The totals are 609 acres in hand and 1,680 acres on long leases or for lives. (fn. 267)
By 1844, however, many of these leases had fallen in and the major part (1,413 a.) of Lord Abingdon's land was let on yearly tenancies at a total rent of £2,372. The 958 acres valued at £1,750 a year, still let on leases for lives, produced £44 16s. in quit rents. In spite of these changes in the form of tenure there were still a large number of very small holdings, even amongst the tenants who paid rack-rents. Lord Abingdon owned only 4 farms over 200 acres. Fifteen of his tenants held between 51 and 100 acres, and only three had 100 to 200 acres. (fn. 268) This was roughly the position in the parish as a whole. The 1851 census showed that most farms were between 100 to 250 acres, but that many still had under 100 acres. There were three large farms of over 250 acres and one of 870, employing 37 labourers. (fn. 269)
By the late 19th century there were only 19 substantial farmers in the parish (fn. 270) and one at Attington, and by the early 20th century most holdings under 100 acres had disappeared. The North Weston farms of the Abingdon estate were all over 200 acres in 1913 and another North Weston farm was 325 acres. (fn. 271)
The outstanding advantage of inclosure was that it enabled farmers for the first time to put to the best use the mixed soils of the area. Kimmeridge Clay, Portland Beds, Lower Greensand, and Gault made a variety of farming possible, but the suitability of the district for grazing and dairying could now for the first time be fully exploited. Along the river towards Waterstock the clay, modified by sand and gravel, produces some of the best grazing in the county and the meadows along the Cuttle Brook are of almost equal value. After inclosure therefore the trend was towards a conversion from arable to pasture. In 1844 the proportion of pasture to arable was already 139 and by 1914 three-quarters of the farmland in the parish was permanent pasture. (fn. 272) The new emphasis on dairying and stockbreeding was greatly assisted by the opening of improved communications, especially those with London. (fn. 273) Until 1865 butter and cheese were the main products of the dairies, but the rinderpest disease that broke out in that year caused London buyers to seek suppliers farther afield. Thame farmers very largely turned over to the production of milk, which was sent by rail to London from Aylesbury and Tiddington stations (fn. 274) until motor transport superseded the railways in the 20th century. All types of farmers were encouraged by the formation of such societies as the Thame Agricultural Society in 1855 and the Heavy Horse Society in 1914, and advance was made, particularly on the larger farms, in the breeding of stock. (fn. 275) Another characteristic of 19th-century farming in the Thame area, as elsewhere, was the increased use of machinery of improved types. Threshing mills were replaced by the steam threshing machine, while iron ploughs, harrows, drills, and so on came into general use. (fn. 276) This change combined with the turn over to pasture and the amalgamation of farms bore hardly on the agricultural labourer. Less labour was needed and unemployment resulted. It was noted in the report of the Poor Law Union in 1892 that where one farm had employed ten regular men it then employed two only although it had been amalgamated with two other farms. (fn. 277)
In the 20th century farming continued on the whole to be of a very varied and individual character, but mixed farms with the emphasis on sheep and cattle and occasionally horse-breeding prevailed. (fn. 278) The rich pastures along the River Thame are still (1959) given over purely to grazing. In 1935 on the arable land a four- or five-course rotation was almost universal; wheat, oats, barley, and leguminous crops were those mainly cultivated, but there were notable exceptions. By 1952 one farmer used a three-course rotation, another no rotation at all, using dung instead; one grew sugar beet, another kale; one grew crops only for fodder, one sold half his crops, one sold only wheat and so on. As a consequence of government subsidies the land put down to wheat has tended to increase, and root crops and barley have diminished. (fn. 279) In 1952, however, most of the land (76 per cent.) was still permanent or convertible pasture and grass. The total number of cattle to the 100 acres had risen from 28 in 1914 to 42 in 1952; cows and heifers had risen from 11 to 18. (fn. 280) The number of sheep fell from 51 to 33, and fewer pigs were kept than in 1914 although the efforts of the Pig Marketing Board had done something to encourage the small local farmer. (fn. 281) Thame farms were of moderate size: in 1952 out of 22 holdings in the parish and 3 in Attington 7 were farms of over 150 acres and 8 were over 100 acres. About half were occupied by tenants. (fn. 282) Since the First World War Thame Show has become the second largest single-day show in the kingdom, but its social importance is its chief aspect. (fn. 283) The County Agricultural Show, which is of far greater value to farmers, was held every ten years at Thame before 1939. (fn. 284)
There was one mill worth 20s. a year on the bishop's Thame estate in 1086. (fn. 285) By 1225 there were two mills on his Thame manor, worth £17 10s. 10d. a year, (fn. 286) but as his manor extended over several villages it is not certain that they were both in Thame. Peter the miller, recorded in the survey of about this time, was a Thame man who had to make 1 quarter of malt from the bishop's own grain as well as pay various agricultural dues. (fn. 287) In 1279 the bishop is said to have a mill and two weirs in Thame, and Thame Abbey presumably had another mill as it had a miller among its tenants. (fn. 288) By 1509 both of the bishop's mills were farmed out for £5 a year; (fn. 289) the same rent was paid for them in Queen Elizabeth's time when the estate was held by the Norreys family. (fn. 290) In 1594 the homage of Old Thame said that the lord's malt mill was an ancient mill and that the greater part of Thame town had used the mill for grinding their barley, but whether they did so of their own choice was not known. (fn. 291) The tenants of Old Thame were said to have been accustomed to use the lord's water-mill and it was maintained that they would wish to do so in the future if the miller did his duty by them. (fn. 292)
The water-mill in Old Thame on the Aylesbury road seems to have been called Lashlake. (fn. 293) The tenants in the first half of the 18th century were the Cripps family, millwrights of Haddenham (Bucks.), who also held Thame windmill. (fn. 294) They held the water-mill together with the malt millhouse and one acre of land on a 99-year lease for £10 a year. (fn. 295) The Earl of Abingdon agreed in the lease to assign timber for the repair of the mill; the tenant was to keep the earl's spaniel or greyhound at the millhouse when it was sent. (fn. 296) This mill continued in use until the 20th century. (fn. 297) By 1920 it was driven by water and steam. (fn. 298) In 1924 it ceased working and shortly after was converted into Thame Mill Laundry. (fn. 299)
Bernard Cripps of Kingsey (Bucks.) built the windmill in Barley Hill Field in the early 17th century. (fn. 300) It was still held by his descendent John Cripps of Haddenham in 1739, when it was apparently granted to Thomas Juggins. (fn. 301) It may have been one of the mills recorded in the first half of the 19th century, (fn. 302) but was not in use later. (fn. 303)
There was another mill in West Field which was first recorded in 1594 when Robert Dormer was ordered to move his mill in the West Field. (fn. 304) It was marked on maps of 1797 and 1880. (fn. 305) It ceased to function at the end of the century and the buildings were later incorporated in the isolation hospital. (fn. 306)