A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 8, Lewknor and Pyrton Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The modern parish of Pishill with Stonor was first formed in 1922 and was augmented in 1931 by the addition of Warmscombe (278 a.), hitherto a detached part of Watlington, and so came to cover 2,890 acres. (fn. 1) Before that date Pishill had been a small independent parish, comprising 793 acres, (fn. 2) since at least the 12th century. The northern and western boundary of both the ancient and modern parish are identical. The line follows Pishill Bottom and Patemore Lane to Howe Hill, it goes south by Red Lane and then east to Russell's Water, and from thence it descends by the ancient 'Green Way' to Maidensgrove and the 'Five Horse Shoes' (fn. 3) as far as Lodge Farm. At Lodge Farm the ancient boundary turned abruptly north, leaving Warmscombe to the south, and followed a zigzag course northwards with Stonor on the other side of the boundary. Stonor is now included in the new parish so that the county boundary, once the boundary of the ancient parish of Pyrton to which Stonor belonged, now forms the eastern boundary of Pishill. Pishill's western boundary today continues southwards from Lodge Farm following Warmscombe Lane to join the Stonor to Henley road. This would seem to be a reversion to the Anglo-Saxon boundaries of an estate granted to Worcester by King Offa, supposedly in 774, and preserved in a charter forged in the late 10th century. (fn. 4) The account of these boundaries includes Grenanweg and Stanoranlege. This last is very possibly an allusion to old Stonor Park which until the 18th century lay immediately south of Maiden's Grove and Doyley Wood in Pishill. (fn. 5)
Before the formation of the parish of Pishill, which apparently took place soon after the Domesday survey, Pishill's land seems to have been divided between Pyrton and Watlington, and it is likely that the two manorial estates of the 13th-century parish preserved the old division, Pishill Venables being the part that was included in the grant to Worcester and the D'Oilly manor being the part that was included in Watlington in 1086. (fn. 6)
The whole of the ancient parish which alone is the subject of this article is on the chalk hills of the Chilterns and is largely covered in beech woods with a little pasture between the woods. There is cultivated land in the centre round Nutall Farm. The south-west edge of the parish runs along a spur of the Chilterns which gradually descends from 650 feet at Russell's Water to about 615 feet at Maidensgrove. (fn. 7) Here is open common and the road commands magnificent views over Bix Bottom towards the Thames. This road is the Grenanweg mentioned above, and besides being the parish boundary was once the boundary line between Pyrton and Ewelme hundreds. (fn. 8)
The north-eastern side of the parish reaches about 700 feet. The road from Watlington to Stonor descends to 370 feet at Pishill village, which lies almost on the boundary line with the old parish of Pyrton. The chief Woods are Doyley Wood, named after the D'Oilly family which held the manor in the Middle Ages, Pishillbury Wood, and Long Wood.
Pishill village lies in an isolated wooded valley which ascends from Stonor to the heights above Watlington. (fn. 9) The nearest railway station is at Watlington, 5 miles away.
The Crown Inn, Pishill Farm, and Bank Farm are on this road and the mid-19th-century school (now closed) and some cottages, while the church lies on the hillside overlooking the village. The 19thcentury Rectory (now a private house) stands above it on the crest of the hill. The modern hamlet is to be identified with Pishill Napper, one of the parish's two hamlets that are recorded in the hundredal survey of 1279, for the lord of this hamlet was once also patron of the church. Behind the modern Rectory are the remains of a medieval flint building with a 13thcentury transomed window of two lights. Within there is a splayed sill with window seats, which shows that the building was a domestic one. A door jamb is visible on the exterior of the south wall. (fn. 10) This building may have been part of the D'Oilly's manorhouse, of which there is a record in 1406 when a private chapel there was licensed for divine service. (fn. 11) In the 18th century more extensive medieval buildings may have been standing, for Rawlinson was informed that there was 'an Abbot and six monks belonging formerly to the parish' and that the ruins of the abbey remained. (fn. 12) This erroneous tradition of an abbey's existence probably originated in the fact that Dorchester Abbey was given the patronage of the church and was an extensive landowner in the parish.
The hamlet of Russell's Water is picturesquely situated round an open green on a ridge of the Chilterns. It is likely to be on the site of the 13thcentury hamlet of Pishill Venables, but it is said to have taken its name from the brick-works once owned by the Russell family. (fn. 13) The pool of the works and the old kiln-house of brick, recently converted into a private house, can still be seen. A Pishill brickmaker is recorded in 1665 and 1682, and brick-works are mentioned as still operating in 1854. (fn. 14) The Beehive Inn, built of plaster, is an older house, probably dating from the late 17th century. It was originally three cottages and became an inn at the end of the 18th century. (fn. 15) Other cottages, Thatcher's for example, are built of brick and flint, and there is a row of these with gable porches near an 18thcentury house at the southern end of the Common. The house was originally a farmhouse, but since 1939 it has been a part of the Kathleen Slesinger Home for delicate children from London. A residential school has been built opposite. (fn. 16)
Maidensgrove, another hamlet, also lies on a ridge and overlooks Stonor. Maiden's Grove Farm, now a private house, dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. Both brick and flint mixed and plain brick have been used in its construction. Near the hamlet's second farmhouse, Lodge Farm, there are a row of brick-and-flint cottages of one story with attic dormers, possibly of late-18th-century or early- 19thcentury date, and an older picturesque cottage, possibly dating from the late 17th century.
The chief interest of this rural and isolated parish has been its connexion with the well-known Oxfordshire families of D'Oilly and Stonor, and in the Middle Ages with the Cheshire family of Grelle which held under the Constables of Chester. In the later Middle Ages both manors in the parish belonged to the Stonors.
For a brief period in the early 19th century the parish had a curate of some eminence, Henry Gauntlett (1762–1833), a close friend of Rowland Hill and an important supporter of the evangelical revival. (fn. 17)
PISHILL NAPPER, (fn. 18) the chief estate in Pishill in 1279, (fn. 19) was probably represented in Domesday Book by an estate assessed at 3½ hides in Watlington. (fn. 20) In 1086 this estate, although belonging to the fief of William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford (d. 1071), was in the king's hands, because of the rebellion in 1075 of the earl's son. (fn. 21) It was never restored to the family, but was attached to Wallingford honor. This was no doubt because the tenant in 1086 was Robert d'Oilly, lord of Watlington, and Watlington with many other of his manors was attached to the honor after his death. (fn. 22)
By the mid-12th century the demesne tenant was a Stephen of Pishill who gave Pishill church to Dorchester Abbey some time between 1146 and 1163. (fn. 23) He may have been the same man as the Stephen Fitz Riulf who was joint tenant with Philip de Westmordele of a ½-fee of Wallingford honor in 1166. (fn. 24) Philip de Westmordele's successors held a ¼-fee in Wormsley later (fn. 25) and it has been suggested that Stephen Fitz Riulf's portion was in Pishill. (fn. 26) A Stephen son of Ralph, perhaps the same man, was alive in 1195, (fn. 27) but by 1201 Robert Napper (Le Napier) held Pishill for 1 fee by service of a napkin. (fn. 28) In 1212 it was explained that he held by right of his wife, (fn. 29) who may, therefore, have been Stephen of Pishill's daughter. The fee was said to have been turned by a royal charter into a tenure by serjeanty, the tenant being bound to provide a napkin (nappa) or pay 3s. a year to the Exchequer. (fn. 30) Robert Napper was still in possession in 1219 (fn. 31) but by 1236 Thomas Napper had succeeded and was returned in 1240 as holding 1 carucate in Pishill. (fn. 32) He was still in possession in 1247 (fn. 33) and was presumably the Thomas Napper, described as the king's sergeant, who was alive in 1249, (fn. 34) but nothing further is heard of him or of this family in connexion with Pishill. By 1276 a John d'Oilly held the serjeanty and carucate of land, (fn. 35) and it is possible that he had acquired the property through marriage with the Napper family. In 1279 his brother Robert d'Oilly held the serjeanty and 2/3-carucate and paid John d'Oilly's daughter Eva 21s. a year for half the estate and all services. (fn. 36) In 1284 Eva and her husband quitclaimed half the rent due from Pishill to Robert d'Oilly and his wife Christiana, (fn. 37) and probably gave up all rights in the estate about this time. Robert d'Oilly held the serjeanty in 1285, (fn. 38) but the date of his death is unknown. Richard d'Oilly, said to be Robert's son, (fn. 39) presumably succeeded his father, and he may have been the Richard d'Oilly who was a juror of Bixbrand in 1341. (fn. 40) He was still alive in 1357. (fn. 41) His son Thomas, who bought Ewden in Hambleden (Bucks.) which later became the family seat, (fn. 42) succeeded and was holding in chief on his death in 1384. (fn. 43) Thomas's son William seems to have settled Pishill as dower upon his mother Alice, for in 1406 she received licence to have divine service in her chapel at Pishill. (fn. 44) William apparently lived first at Hinton near Brackley (Northants.) and later at Ewden, (fn. 45) but in 1420 he was described as 'of co. Bucks, Esq., alias William Doille of Picell, co. Oxford', and in 1423 he was still in possession. (fn. 46) On his death in 1424 his heir was his second son Richard (d. 1435), who was succeeded by a son William (d. 1449) and a grandson John (d. 1492), (fn. 47) but whether they in fact held Pishill is not known. Some time before 1474 a Geoffrey d'Oilly (Doyley), whose exact connexion with the family has not been traced, sold Pishill manor to 'my cossyen Thomas Stonar'. (fn. 48) This sale may have been connected with the negotiations by which Thomas Stonor sold Greenlands manor in Hambleden to the D'Oillys (Doyleys) (fn. 49) and thus enabled both families to consolidate their estates. From this time until the present day Pishill Napper has followed the descent of Stonor and the other Pishill manor which the Stonors acquired in 1335, although it was several centuries before the two Pishill manors came to lose their separate identities. (fn. 50)
A second Domesday estate in Pishill, called PISHILL VENABLES in 1285, (fn. 51) must have been included in 1086 in the 40 hides of Pyrton, (fn. 52) for it was one of the later dependent manors of Pyrton, owing suit at the manor court. (fn. 53) It counted as one of the 4½ fees for which Pyrton manor was held and the overlordship and mesne tenure were that of Pyrton manor, being held by the Grelles and their successors under the Earldom of Chester. (fn. 54) Pishill Venables was closely connected with Stonor which it adjoined, being owned by the Stonors from the 14th century, and this no doubt accounts for the absence of its name from the court rolls of Pyrton manor. Instead, Stonor occurs as being held for 1 knight's fee, (fn. 55) although it was not previously held as although it was not previously held as such. (fn. 56) It is likely that the Stonors did homage for both Pishill and Stonor and that the fee was, in reality, owed for Pishill. In the early 16th century Pishill Venables was said to be 'now known and called the manor of Stonor'. (fn. 57)
From the 12th century, at least, this Pishill manor was held by under-tenants. The Venables who gave the manor its name left no other trace of their tenure, but it is likely that they were a Lanchashire or Cheshire family connected with the overlords or with the later under-tenants who also held land in Cheshire. (fn. 58) It is significant that a Roger Venables witnessed a grant in Cheshire (fn. 59) to Adam de Dutton of Warburton Dutton (Ches.), a tenant of the constables of Chester, (fn. 60) and who seems to have been an under-tenant of the manor. The Duttons certainly held Pishill under the Grelles in 1279. It is not clear when this under-tenancy was created, but it seems likely that it was in existence at the end of the 12th century when Adam de Dutton married a daughter of Roger Fitz Alured of Cumbray, from whom he obtained Warburton. (fn. 61) Fitz Alured (fl. 1163), the 12th-century tenant of Shirburn, (fn. 62) was demesne tenant of Pishill and was also a dependent of the constables of Chester. (fn. 63) His son Ralph Fitz Roger held Pishill property and granted dower there to his mother Maud de Frodsham in 1204, but reserved his demesne land. (fn. 64) The property, however, both in Pishill and Shirburn descended to his sister's heirs, the Duttons. (fn. 65) Adam de Dutton, who became seneschal of the constable, died towards the end of John's reign and was followed by his son Geoffrey (d. 1248) and his grandson Geoffrey. (fn. 66) The younger Geoffrey was still alive in 1275, (fn. 67) but dead by 1279 when 1 fee in Pishill was held of his heirs by Thomas Salley, (fn. 68)who also held in 1282. (fn. 69) Dutton's heir was his son, Sir Peter de Dutton, with whom the alternative family name of Warburton first came into use. (fn. 70) He granted the manor to John Stonor of Stonor, the Lord Chief Justice, at a yearly rent of 40s. some time before 1315, when Stonor was granted free warren there. (fn. 71) In 1335 his son Geoffrey (III) renounced all claims to the rent. (fn. 72) The descent of Pishill Venables, therefore, has followed the descent of Stonor up to the present day (1960). (fn. 73) It was among the lands put in trust by Ralph Stonor in 1390 and received back by him in 1393. (fn. 74) From 1420 to 1422 the manor was leased out, (fn. 75) but in general the Stonors kept the manor in demesne and after 1474 Pishill Napper as well. In the 16th century the Pishills were among the lands disputed by Sir Adrian Fortescue. (fn. 76) Both were part of the dowry of Lady Cecily Stonor in 1566, (fn. 77) and in all late Stonor deeds the two Pishills invariably appear together. The family continued to hold the lordship: in 1960 Major the Hon. Sherman Stonor, the son of Lord Camoys, was lord of the manor. (fn. 78)
Agrarian and Social History.
The soil is mainly chalk with some areas of loam and gravel, and much of it has always been covered with woods or uncultivated common. The name of Pishill, meaning 'the hill on which peas grow', suggests that in Anglo-Saxon times its soil was considered unsuitable for most crops. (fn. 79) The parish consequently can never have been thickly populated. Nevertheless in the Middle Ages there were two hamlets, Pishill Napper and Pishill Venables, which were the centres of the two manors. No separate survey of the townships was made at the time of Domesday, and they were probably included in the accounts of Pyrton and Watlington. (fn. 80) The Pyrton part of Pishill cannot be distinguished in the Domesday account from the rest of the Pyrton estate, but there is little doubt that the land held by Robert under the Earl of Hereford in Watlington, which was rated at 3½ hides, represents a part of the later Pishill parish. There was land for 3 ploughs there, which was worked by 8 villani with 2 bordars and 2 serfs. The steep rise in value from 40s. to 100s. suggests that there had recently been much clearing of woodland. (fn. 81)
In the hundredal survey of 1279 the hamlets are only partially surveyed. Thomas de Salley, lord of a fee in 'Pishill hamlet' (or Pishill Venables), held 3 hides in demesne, of which 6 acres were woodland. He had 4 free tenants, one being the Abbot of Dorchester, who held 3¼ virgates between them. All owed service at Pyrton for 1 day with 1 man, and 3 owed a money payment in lieu of ploughing-service for the lord of Pyrton. There is no mention of the services of villeins of the lord's Pishill demesne. The Abbot of Dorchester held 1 virgate in demesne and had 8 tenants of which 3 themselves held of 2 other tenants. The account is defective, but these tenants held 15 virgates, 13 acres at least. Four owed services at Pyrton. (fn. 82)
On the manor of Robert D'Oilly in Pishill Napper hamlet there were 22/3 virgates in demesne and the Abbot of Dorchester had 1⅓ virgate. It is of interest that all this land, which was held of the honor of Wallingford, was not hidated. Robert had 6 free tenants and the abbot one. Some of them owed rent and suit, or rent or payments in kind only. Richard Stonor and three others owed the services of 17 men for 1 day at the lord's custom in autumn and of 1 man for washing and shearing the abbot's sheep. (fn. 83) At this date there were apparently 24 villeins at least in the hamlets and possibly 8 of the free tenants lived in Pishill. (fn. 84)
Fourteenth-century tax assessments provide little information about the relative wealth or population of Pishill as the place does not appear to have been taxed separately until 1334: one of its manors may have been taxed with Pyrton and the other with Watlington. (fn. 85) In 1334 the village was assessed at the very low figure of 24s. 6d. (fn. 86) In 1377 only 24 adults were taxed and in 1523 there were no more than 11 contributors to the subsidy. (fn. 87)
There is little evidence for the agricultural history of the parish: the management of its woods and fields is closely connected with that of neighbouring estates in Pyrton and Watlington and since the 15th century particularly with the Stonor estate at Assendon. (fn. 88) Portions, however, belonged to other manors such as Minnygrove in Bix and to Shirburn. (fn. 89) The extent of the 18th-century Stonor estate in Pishill may be seen on an estate map of 1725: (fn. 90) the family held a farm leased to William Holand in 1698, which spread into Pyrton as well, and Pishill farm. (fn. 91)At the tithe award of 1847, out of 759 acres of tithable land 360 was arable, 250 common, 134 woodland, and 10 meadow. Lord Camoys held 105 acres of wood in hand and 312 acres of farm land. (fn. 92) As late as 1849 Lord Camoys held seven holdings in the parish of which one was a large farm of over 312 acres.
The population of Pishill over sixteen years of age was registered as 54 in 1676. In the 19th century it rose from 96 in 1801 to 217 in 1871, and then declined to 139 in 1901. The advent of the motor car reversed the decline and in 1921 the population numbered 147. (fn. 93) Later census figures are uninformative, since the parish was united with Stonor in 1922.
Pishill, a vicarage in Aston deanery, was in Dorchester peculiar until the peculiar jurisdiction came to an end in the 1840s. (fn. 94) In 1854 the ecclesiastical parish was considerably enlarged by the addition of the detached portion of Pyrton called Assendon liberty, containing Stonor Park and the hamlet of Upper Assendon; of three parts of Watlington, two of which (Warmscombe liberty, and Patemore Field and the Poor Allotment) were detached; and of a detached portion of Britwell Prior. (fn. 95)
Pishill church was first mentioned in a papal confirmation of a grant to Dorchester Abbey, made between 1146 and 1163, by Stephen of Pishill, the lord of Pishill Napper manor. (fn. 96) If, as seems likely, Pishill Napper was once in the parish of Watlington (fn. 97) the creation of the parish of Pishill and the building of its church must surely have taken place before 1129 when Oseney was founded. After that date the permission of the abbey, the Rector of Watlington, would have been required and there is no record of this in the cartulary. (fn. 98) Since the land and tithes belonging to the church were granted with it, as well as a carucate of Stephen's demesne, appropriation probably followed immediately. A vicarage was never endowed, and Dorchester kept the rectory until its dissolution in 1536. (fn. 99)
Immediately after the Reformation the descent of the rectory is obscure: in 1545, when it was in the tenure of Roger Hatchman, the Crown granted it to Roger and Robert Taverner. (fn. 100) By 1615 the rectory, including the right of presentation, was in the possession of the Stonor family. (fn. 101) Pishill was their nearest church, and the acquisition of the rectory and advowson would therefore be desirable. Sir Francis Stonor settled the rectories of Pishill and Nettlebed on his eldest son Henry in 1620. (fn. 102)
From the 13th century Nettlebed, also a chapel of Dorchester, and Pishill, although separate parishes, were usually considered as one benefice: in 1537 Pishill hamlet and the rectory of Nettlebed were rated together; in 1540 Pishill was even called a chapel of Nettlebed; and in 1718 Rawlinson described it as annexed to Nettlebed. (fn. 103) Nevertheless in 1811 Nettlebed and Pishill were certified as distinct benefices. (fn. 104)The benefice was a curacy, either perpetual or a donative: in 1718 Rawlinson was told that it was a donative at, £15 a year, (fn. 105) but on other occasions it was thought to be a perpetual curacy. (fn. 106) Since the bishop did not institute to the living, there are few records of presentations, but it seems probable that before the 19th century the Stonors, in spite of being Roman Catholics, usually acted as patrons. Thomas Stonor certainly did in 1681 (fn. 107) and another Thomas Stonor was planning to do so in 1789, when he asked Lord Macclesfield if he knew of a suitable curate. (fn. 108) In 1738, however, the patronage was granted for twenty years to Benjamin Bathurst (fn. 109) and in the early 19th century Thomas Stonor considered himself legally unable to appoint, and in 1811 he leased the right to a Protestant friend. (fn. 110) Apart from the position under English law, the Roman Catholics decided at an episcopal assembly in 1810 that it was unlawful for a Catholic to nominate a Protestant to a benefice. (fn. 111)
In 1811, owing to the difficulty of finding a minister to serve so poor a living, the legal position of the benefice came under review. The rectory had belonged to the Stonors for about 200 years, but a thorough search of the family papers and the public records failed to reveal how or from whom it had been acquired. (fn. 112) It was noted that it had long been the custom to pay the curate £35 a year, but the origin of this arrangement could not be found and therefore its legal validity was uncertain. (fn. 113) Nor was it certain whether Pishill and Nettlebed, once separate, were then one or two livings; (fn. 114) and legal opinion was divided about the laws affecting donatives. (fn. 115)
Stonor was faced with a complex situation. If he left the churches without a curate for more than six months, either the official of the peculiar of Dorchester might appoint someone 'who will give me trouble', or the bishop might excommunicate him for his failure to appoint. (fn. 116) If he increased the stipend to £50, which he was not anxious to do, he feared that he might commit himself for the future; (fn. 117) and if he had the living augmented by Queen Anne's Bounty, it would bring it within the bishop's jurisdiction and that might result in interference, 'expense or inconvenience'. (fn. 118) To Stonor it was 'perfectly indifferent' who served the churches, but he wanted to protect his right to the tithes. (fn. 119)
The problem was partly solved in 1814 when Thomas L. Bennett, who held a rich Lincolnshire benefice, accepted the living on condition that he could buy the right of presentation and 20 acres on which to build a house. (fn. 120) Soon, however, Stonor and Bennett were hotly quarrelling: the plan of building the house fell through and Bennett complained about the smallness of the stipend and Stonor's bad faith concerning it. Stonor replied that however small the stipend might be, any claim to have it increased would be 'resisted'. (fn. 121) Nor could the two parties agree over the sale of the advowson and negotiations dragged on for years. In 1820, when Bennett suggested that Stonor give a £300 bonus when he sold it, Stonor answered that the repugnance he felt at parting with the patronage had become 'unsurmountable' now that a bonus was asked of him. (fn. 122) Bennett still had not got it in 1828, when he was threatening legal action against Stonor if the sale was not completed. He had offered £50 for it, 'far more than it is worth'. (fn. 123) Soon after this Bennett became patron, (fn. 124) and in 1853 the advowson was bought from his heir by the Revd. C. E. RuckKeene of Swyncombe. (fn. 125) Capt. C. E. Ruck-Keene vested it in trustees in 1919, and in 1955 it was transferred to the Diocesan Board of Patronage. (fn. 126)
The benefices of Nettlebed and Pishill were formally separated in 1853. (fn. 127) By 1854, when institutions by the bishop began, Pishill was considered a perpetual curacy rather than a donative, and in 1868 it became a vicarage. (fn. 128)
In the Middle Ages the rectories of Nettlebed and Pishill were valued together at 6s. 8d. in 1254, and at £6 13s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 129) The lay rectory was not sold with the patronage in the 19th century, and in 1849, when the tithes of Pishill were commuted, Lord Camoys received a rent charge of £47 10s. The 275 acres belonging to the parish were tithe free. (fn. 130)
Lands belonging to the church, and granted with it to Dorchester, consisted in 1279 of a third of a carucate, (fn. 131) and Pishill church house, mentioned in a 1596 deed, may also have belonged to the rectory. (fn. 132) When the Stonors got possession of the rectory, it lost its separate identity and became part of their own estate. (fn. 133)
In 1526 the curate was receiving £5 6s. 8d. and a few years later £6 for both Pishill and Nettlebed. (fn. 134)
In 1681 Thomas Stonor allowed the curate the tithes of Pishill, (fn. 135) but this was not the usual arrangement. Throughout the 18th century, and until about 1820, the Stonors paid the curate £35: £15 for Pishill and £20 for Nettlebed. (fn. 136) In 1824 Pishill was augmented £1,000 by Queen Anne's Bounty, and in 1831 by £400, half from Queen Anne's Bounty and half from the Revd. T. L. Bennett. (fn. 137) However, when Pishill and Nettlebed were separated in 1853, these augmentations were given to Nettlebed, leaving Pishill with £20 a year from the lord of the manor, and a rent charge of £28 from the vicarial tithes of Assendon, which were transferred from Pyrton to Pishill when Pishill was enlarged. (fn. 138)
In the later 19th century the patron, the Revd. C. E. Ruck-Keene, who rebuilt the church, augmented the living by £300, giving also land for a parsonage and Glebe farm (26 a.). (fn. 139) The Ecclesiastical Commissioners gave matching grants, and further augmented the living in the 20th century so that by 1954 it was worth £438. (fn. 140)
The names of the medieval clergy are not known: Dorchester Abbey may at times have served the church with its own canons, as it did some of its other churches, but it more probably hired secular chaplains. (fn. 141) In 1301 the abbey was given permission to serve three of its churches, including Pishill and Nettlebed, because of their poverty, with chaplains instead of vicars, but this was a confirmation of a long-established custom. (fn. 142) The shortage of priests resulting from the Black Death is likely to have been responsible for the suit of 1356, when Richard d'Oilly, lord of one Pishill manor, and the parishioners, were trying to force the abbey to supply a resident priest. (fn. 143) In the later Middle Ages there was probably one curate for both Pishill and Nettlebed as there was in the post-Reformation period, when complaints were made about the lack of services. In 1587, for example, the curate read services at Nettlebed on two Sundays and on the third he read evening prayers at Pishill. (fn. 144) Around 1620 the churchwardens several times presented that there were no prayers every other Sunday. The parishioners then went to Bix or Swyncombe, 1½ mile distant. (fn. 145) When the curate admitted that he said prayers on alternate Sundays at Pishill and Nettlebed 'the cures being small and the curate's wages as slender', he was told that, if he could not serve both cures properly he must resign one. (fn. 146) Reform followed, for in 1626 it was certified that Pishill was sufficiently served. (fn. 147)
In the 1680's Pishill had its own curate, but he was suspended for performing illegal marriages, evidently with the consent of the churchwardens and the parish clerk. He was compelled, he said, to do this to provide necessaries for himself and his family. (fn. 148) In 1799 there was an equally unsatisfactory curate, who was said to spend many of his Sundays in London, and the state of the parish can hardly have been good earlier in the century, for in 1726 there was no pulpit and in 1749 there was no register as thieves had burnt all the parish records after robbing the church. (fn. 149)
The church history of the early 19th century was unusual. In 1801 Thomas Stonor appointed to the joint living William Marsh (1775–1864), later to become well-known as 'millenial Marsh' and an 'impressive' preacher of evangelical doctrines. (fn. 150) Although Marsh also had a curacy in Reading, he served his Oxfordshire churches once every three weeks, spending the Saturday night at Stonor Park, where he discussed theology with Thomas Stonor and his Roman Catholic chaplain, and borrowed sermons from the library. (fn. 151) When Marsh could no longer take the services himself, he hired substitutes at such an obvious financial loss that it was alleged that he was being subsidized by a dissenting society. (fn. 152) In 1805 his curate was a Mr. Flockton, described as a 'ranting, methodistical extempore preacher', who called himself a gospel preacher. By omitting parts of the church service and inserting changes, Flockton was said to have made the church seem like a dissenting meeting-house and caused more harm than good, 'especially to servants', while the more 'reputable and steady people' were very dissatisfied. (fn. 153) He was followed by Henry Gauntlett (1762–1833), another important supporter of the evangelical revival. (fn. 154)
In 1811, owing to a quarrel between Marsh and his curate George Scobell, services in both churches seem virtually to have stopped. Scobell alleged that he had been abruptly dismissed without thanks or pay. Marsh, who was considered to have 'shamefully' neglected the parishes, resigned in consequence and the churchwardens were blamed by the official of the peculiar for allowing the churches to be left for so many Sundays without complaining. (fn. 155) As the living was so poor it was difficult to find a successor: in 1813 it had been vacant for several months, and in 1814 the wardens were at a loss even to get anyone to say Sunday services. (fn. 156)
Thomas L. Bennett, who accepted the living in 1814, was of a different type, and Stonor wrote of him that he was of the 'true sort' and hated 'Methodists as he does moduses'. (fn. 157) Bennett lived and died (1844) at Highmoor Hall in Nettlebed, (fn. 158) from whence he used to ride over to Pishill every Sunday to take the service. By 1820, however, he was anxious to give up these wet and 'dangerous' winter rides, and although he broke his collar-bone in 1822 it was not until 1830 that he hired a separate curate for Pishill. (fn. 159)
In 1854, after the separation of Pishill and Nettlebed and the addition of Assendon to Pishill, it was decided that a resident clergyman was desirable, partly in order to counteract the growth of Roman Catholicism. (fn. 160) At first part of a farmhouse was converted for the vicar's use, but it was so exposed and so damp in winter that he found it barely habitable, and accordingly in about 1871 the Vicarage was built. (fn. 161) Services were regularly held twice on Sundays and Communion was given monthly; between 1866 and 1878 the number of communicants increased from 35 to 65 and in both years the congregation, estimated at 100 in 1866, was said to be decidedly increasing. Hindrances to church attendance, apart from 'Romanism' and 'the influence of property', were beershops (as distinguished from public houses) and the system of selling beer on the common. (fn. 162)
From the end of the 19th century the parish was served by the Revd. G. M. J. Hall, who died at the age of 97 and is described on his memorial tablet as vicar and friend of the parish for 58 years. For most of the time he was assisted by his wife, who was a devoted church worker and organist, and by William Rockall, chorister and church worker. (fn. 163) Not the least of the vicar's merits was the friendly relations he established with the Stonors. Soon after his death Julia (née Stonor), Marquise d'Hautpoul (d. 1950), the friend of George V and Queen Mary, was buried in Pishill churchyard. (fn. 164)
In 1954 a reduced population and the amalgamation of the livings of Pishill and Bix led to the sale of the Vicarage and the vicar's removal to Bix. (fn. 165)
Pishill church which is of unknown dedication lies at the top of a hill overlooking the hamlet. It is a flint-and-stone building of Norman origin, but was largely rebuilt in the 19th century. It now comprises a chancel, north transept or chapel, and a south porch.
It was called in 1819 'a decent rural building with whitewashed walls', (fn. 166) and in 1850 Parker described it as a small plain church with Norman walls and a small round-headed Norman chancel arch. The east window of the chancel had a two-light window of 'Transition' style and a low side window; the 'Stonor' north aisle was originally Norman Transition work, but had been much modernized. There was a stone bench-table along the walls of the nave. (fn. 167) The Stonors, although Roman Catholics, were the patrons and Roman Catholics were occasionally buried in this aisle. Rawlinson noted that the pavement of it was all dug up. (fn. 168)
In 1854 the Revd. C. E. Ruck-Keene rebuilt the church at his own cost. It was enlarged to seat 150 instead of 100. (fn. 169) It is in the Early English and Decorated styles and parts of the outer walls are all that remain of the medieval church.
A faculty to install electric light in memory of the vicar G. M. J. Hall was obtained in 1948. (fn. 170) Memorial inscriptions include those on the floor of the Stonor aisle to Simon Doe (d. 1659), Mathew Haskey (d. 1752) and his wife Mary (d. 1760), and Matthias Haskey (d. 1797). On the chancel floor are stone slabs to John Jerningham, son of Sir George Jerningham, Bt., who died at Stonor in 1757; Dom Mathias Molineux (d. 1759/60); Frances Cary (d. 1808), daughter of Thomas Stonor and widow of George Cary, Esq., of Torr Abbey, Devon; (fn. 171) and Father J. B. Mortoire (d. 1830). The last was Roman Catholic chaplain of Stonor for 30 years and his gravestone was moved from the churchyard to the chancel. (fn. 172) Most of the other memorials mentioned are also to Roman Catholics.
There are brass tablets to two vicars, C. E. RuckKeene (1792–1880), and G. M. J. Hall (d. 1946), and another to William Rockall (d. 1948). The memorial windows in the chancel are to the memory of Mary Bell (d. 1871), Harry Davidson (d. 1871), and the one in the Stonor aisle is to Anne Hall (d. 1925), wife of the vicar, in remembrance of 37 years of devoted work for the church.
In 1552 there were two small bells; there is now one bell cast by Messrs. J. Warner of London and erected in 1911. (fn. 173)
The silver chalice owned by the church in 1552 has gone, and the present 19th-century chalice and large paten were given to the church in 1815 by the vicar Thomas Leigh Bennett. (fn. 174)
There are fragmentary remains of an old register (1763–83). Thereafter the registers for baptisms and burials date from 1783 and for marriages from 1784. (fn. 175) There are transcripts from 1666, but they have many gaps. (fn. 176)
After the Restoration there were three families, probably Protestant despite the influence of the Roman Catholic family of Stonor, which persistently refused to attend the parish church. (fn. 177) Six nonconformists are recorded in 1676: (fn. 178) it is not known to which sect they belonged. Nonconformity continued to thrive in the village and this was no doubt owing to the incumbents' neglect. (fn. 179) In 1799, a licence was granted for a meeting-house in 'Maiden's Grove', (fn. 180) and in 1823 another licence was conceded for a Wesleyan meeting in the same hamlet. (fn. 181) A Wesleyan-Methodist chapel was built at Russell's Water in 1836. It could seat 54 members. Twenty-seven were recorded in 1851 as attending both in the afternoon and evening. (fn. 182) In 1958 the chapel had a membership of 5, (fn. 183) and was served by a minister on the ThameWatlington circuit. (fn. 184)
At the beginning of the 19th century there was no school of any kind at Pishill. Some children went to Assendon where there was a school kept by a member of the established Church and a Roman Catholic charity school, where Protestant children were also admitted. (fn. 185)
In 1818 the poorer classes were said to be in want of sufficient means of education and to be anxious to possess them. A Sunday school had been established in the village in which 21 children were taught, the number rising to 24 in 1833, but there was no day school at Pishill until a National school was opened in 1854. It was held in a cottage on to which an extra schoolroom was built in 1855. (fn. 186) The Revd. C. E. Ruck-Keene, patron of the living of Pishill, observed in 1853 that he had not been able to get a schoolroom through fear of offending the Roman Catholic Lord Camoys; that the whole of the Protestant population was being trained as Romanists at the Roman Catholic school, there being no other school within three miles; and that more than half the 64 papists in the parish had become so in the last twelve years. Ruck-Keene had obtained a ten-year lease of part of the only ½-acre of land in the village which did not belong to Lord Camoys, and said that he was hoping that Christ Church would help in the building of a schoolroom and that he was then looking for a school-mistress. (fn. 187)
Besides the day school, the vicar reported in 1878 that a night school was held twice a week during the five winter months and that he himself gave 'cottage lectures' in outlying parts of the parish. (fn. 188) The numbers at the National school, where there was accommodation for 60, had increased from 30 in 1867 to 45 in 1887. (fn. 189) After this date the attendance figures dropped from 25 in 1902 to 7 in 1938 and the school was closed in 1939. (fn. 190) Since then the children of Pishill have gone to school at Stonor (i.e. the former Assendon). (fn. 191)
By 1718 Henry Kebble, of South End in Turvill, had settled in trust £5 for the poor. (fn. 192) It appears that by the late 18th or early 19th century the capital was represented by £25 stock, but that distribution of the income had been suspended. T. L. Bennett, on becoming vicar in 1814, recovered the arrears and added them to the capital which thus mounted to £33 6s. 8d. Distribution was resumed at Christmas 1821, in the form of doles to the poor, whether relieved or not. (fn. 193) The capital had increased to £58 12s. 7d. by 1870 (fn. 194) and so remains. (fn. 195) In 1883 vouchers of 2s. to 4s. value, amounting to £3, were distributed. (fn. 196) The charity was regulated by a Scheme of 1951 which provided for gifts to the poor of the 'ancient' parish of clothes, blankets, fuel, or food, or temporary assistance in cases of emergency. (fn. 197) It was not distributed in 1956. (fn. 198)
Mrs. Catherine Phillips, by will proved 1850, left £100 for the purchase of stock, the proceeds to be distributed at Christmas to poor persons chosen by the rector. (fn. 199) In 1951 the charity was regulated by the same Scheme as Kebble's charity. (fn. 200) In 1956 £9 of the accumulated balance was distributed in coal to the aged. (fn. 201)