A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 8, Lewknor and Pyrton Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
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Wheatfield is a small elongated parish lying at the foot of the Chilterns between Watlington and Thame. The modern acreage is 740 acres, but until 1886 when Lower Rofford (48½ a.), a detached part of Wheatfield, was transferred to Chalgrove, (fn. 1) the parish comprised 789 acres. (fn. 2) The only natural boundary is the Haseley Brook which separates Wheatfield from Tetsworth and Adwell in the north and east. (fn. 3) The parish lies mostly between 350 and 240 feet and is characterized by its rich meadows and fine trees. A road from Tetsworth to Stoke Talmage, running from north-east to south-west, bisects the parish and a branch road runs southwards past the church of Wheatfield and then eastwards to Adwell. A further road that runs southwards from the Adwell road to South Weston and Lewknor was made in 1860. The alternate limes and sycamores along it were planted by the lord of the manor, the Revd. Charles Vere Spencer. (fn. 4)
Today the church, Park Farm, the old Rectory or Wheatfield House, as it is now called, and a few cottages are all that is left of the former village. It can never have been large and by the early 18th century it was no more than a hamlet— 'a pleasantly situated one' as Rawlinson noted. (fn. 5) William Burgess's estate map, drawn in 1700 for Sir Thomas Tipping, then lord of the manor, shows that there were eight houses in the village besides the manor-house. (fn. 6) Two farm houses of which one is now (1960) Lower Farm, lay in the fields to the north of the village and four lay in the south-east on the Adwell boundary. One of these last is at present Upper Farm and another lay close beside it. The old village lay along the road that runs past Wheatfield House and along a branch road to the manor-house, through the park where mounds still denote the sites of a few former buildings. In 1778 there were said to be two farmhouses and eight cottages. (fn. 7)
There is now no ancient manor-house, but something is known both of the 17th-century house and its late-18th-century successor. Since 1594 the Tippings had lived at Wheatfield and when Lady Dorothy Tipping died in 1637 the house is described in her inventory. It consisted of a great parlour, hall, great chamber, drawing-chamber, and five other principal chambers. These seem to have formed the front part of the house. In addition there was a beer cellar, buttery and wine cellar, and nine other chambers, and various offices such as the bakehouse and brewing kitchen. The principal living-rooms, judging from the valuation of the furniture in them—£40 in each case—were the great parlour, the drawing-chamber, and the second chamber. (fn. 8) In 1662 the Tippings returned fifteen hearths for this house; Burghers's map of the county depicts it and the arms of Tipping are given in the border. (fn. 9) William Burgess's map of Wheatfield manor in 1700 shows the house and flower garden lying directly to the west of the church. (fn. 10) The west front of the house, which was T-shaped, faced on to a 'new pond'; a square flower garden lay to the north and to the south were a bowling green, wilderness, warren, walks, &c. The whole covered 29 acres. (fn. 11) In the middle of this garden was the 'new fountain'; there was a new dovehouse to the south-west of the house, and beyond the garden to the north was a hop garden surrounded by a canal. On the map an avenue of trees runs north from the manor-house to Scholar's Bridge meadow on the Tetsworth boundary, but this seems to have been a project which was never carried out. There is no trace of any such avenue now, and the fact that on Burgess's map hedges cut across the avenues makes it probable that it was not then in existence.
John Rudge, Member of Parliament for Evesham and a London merchant, bought the manor in 1727, and came to live in Wheatfield. (fn. 12) It was he who was probably responsible for rebuilding the manor-house and the present stables. On his death in 1740 he was commemorated in the church by an elaborate monument. (fn. 13) When his son Edward died in 1763 the house was described as having ten rooms on a floor, with a dovehouse, coachhouse, and all other convenient offices. The gardens and wood walks still covered about 30 acres. Edward Rudge and his father were said to have laid out at least £10,000 on the house and gardens, and it was estimated that its grounds and the timber and underwood, which were worth £500, would fetch at least £3,000 even though the house were pulled down. (fn. 14)
There is a sketch of the house by William Burgess on his Stoke Talmage map, drawn in 1750. It depicts a typical Georgian house of two stories with dormer attics in the roof, five bays of building and a central doorway. (fn. 15)
It was probably the Rudges who planted so many of the fine trees described in an account of 1853 and of which many still flourish. This account by Mrs. Glanville of Wheatfield refers to the chestnut-tree walk, a remarkable silver fir tree, 110 feet high, and an elm-avenue leading across the fields to Shirburn castle, which had been cut down before 1853 as the large trees interfered too much with the cultivation of the fields. Mrs. Glanville also states that cottages had been pulled down and rebuilt on a new site, some time in the second half of the 18th century, with the object of giving Wheatfield House a more extensive view of parkland. An embankment was thrown up to conceal the road from the house's view. (fn. 16)
In 1769 the house was leased to Lord Charles Spencer, the second son of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, and as the purchase of Wheatfield Manor was completed in 1770 (fn. 17) it may be supposed that the old manor-house was then partly rebuilt. An architect's plan shows that a north wing with a bow front facing eastwards continued up to the second story was added to the Rudge's early-18th-century house and that the older south wing was altered and adapted internally. (fn. 18) The new wing contained the drawingroom and dining-room with billiard-room and bedchamber above. On the south side there was a library and 'Bird Room'.
Lord Charles Spencer was in residence by 1771 (fn. 19) and a view of the new house was published in 1787. It is depicted with a lake in front of it, which must have been constructed since 1700 for Burgess's map shows no ornamental water. This view later appeared in Picturesque Views of the Principal Seats of the Nobility and Gentry and was accompanied by a brief description that stated 'that for the beauty of the situation and the charms of nature which owe little to the touch of art, few places exceed this small but elegant Seat'. (fn. 20) Fire destroyed the whole on 1 January 1814. (fn. 21) Owing to the severe frost which had frozen all the water, the efforts of the villagers, organized by a French officer and his men who were prisoners of war on parole at Thame, and of the fire engines from Shirburn and Watlington, failed to save the building. The officer's proposal to blow up part of the building to save half was rejected by Lord Charles as he feared for the safety of the large crowds of people and of the church. (fn. 22) The detached offices and stables are now all that remain, though in dry weather traces of the groundplan of the mansion are discernible in the grass between the stables and the church. (fn. 23) The remaining brick buildings, now occupied by Park Farm, form three sides of a square of which the north range consists of a square brick coach-house with wide doors framed with engaged Doric columns of wood. They support an entablature and pediment with a brick tympanum and central circular window. Above there is a central clock-turret of wood with a square base and octagonal cupola. These stables were probably built early in the century by the Rudges. There are also an 18th-century barn and other farmbuildings to the west.
The other gentleman's house in the village was the Rectory. It was rebuilt by Adam Blandy (1709–22), the rector who was so civil to the antiquary Rawlinson when he visited the church in about 1718. (fn. 24) The old Rectory must also have been a good house in its day for it was taxed on six hearths in 1662. (fn. 25) Blandy's house was described in 1763 as an 'exceeding good house and garden in extraordinary good repair', but by the early 19th century it was 'shamefully dilapidated'. (fn. 26) It was 'much improved' in 1807 when C. L. Kirby was rector, (fn. 27) and it was in this house that Lord Charles Spencer and his family took refuge at the time of the fire at Wheatfield Park. (fn. 28)
The house is built of brick with a central door under a slender Doric porch. (fn. 29) It was enlarged and partly rebuilt by the rector Frederic Charles Spencer in 1823 in preparation for his marriage to Mary Ann Bernard-Morland, but incorporates the south front of Blandy's Queen Anne Rectory. When the stucco was removed in 1960 the difference in the brickwork clearly revealed these two periods of building. After Spencer's early death in 1831 Mrs. Spencer married the Revd. Edward Fanshawe Glanville, the new Rector of Wheatfield, and continued to live at the Rectory. The iron veranda shown in a watercolour by her was probably a Victorian addition, which has since been removed. (fn. 30) Since 1928, when the Rectory was sold to Lt.-Col. Spencer, the lord of the manor, (fn. 31) it has been used as the manor-house and has been renamed Wheatfield House.
Several notable families held the lordship of Wheatfield and resided in the village. In the Middle Ages the knightly family of De Whitfield, many of whom were important in the royal service, took its name from the place. From the 16th to the 18th centuries the family of Tipping, originally from Lancashire, but long established in Oxfordshire, was settled at Wheatfield Park. Many of the children of Sir George Tipping (d. 1627) were baptized in the church, and he and his wife were buried there. (fn. 32) During the Civil War the family was divided in its loyalties. The Tippings on the whole were royalists, but Sir George Tipping's second son, born at Wheatfield in 1598, supported the parliamentary party and was known as 'Eternity Tipping' because of his theological writings. At this time he was established on the family estate at Draycott. (fn. 33) Wheatfield was in an area that was hotly disputed between the conflicting armies and on one occasion when the royalist forces passed through, Charles I, according to tradition, breakfasted in the park there, and Mrs. Glanville, writing in 1853, relates how a clump of beech trees had been planted to commemorate his visit. (fn. 34)
At the end of the century Sir Thomas Tipping, baptized at Wheatfield in 1653, was member for the county and for Wallingford. He was said to have supported the Prince of Orange by raising a regiment for his service, (fn. 35) and was afterwards created a baronet. His eldest daughter made a good match and married Samuel Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys. (fn. 36)
Another important family also had a connexion with the village in the 17th century. Thomas Isham of Radclive (Bucks.) and Wheatfield, to whom there is a memorial in the church, was the son of Sir Euseby Isham of Pytchley (Northants.). (fn. 37) In 1649 he compounded 'in his own discovery', doubting whether he was liable to sequestration for anything said or done in the Civil War. (fn. 38) He married Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Thomas Denton of Hillesden (Bucks.), and he and his wife are often mentioned in the Verney letters. A letter from her to Sir Ralph Verney in 1662 has been preserved. 'I could wish you here,' she wrote, 'as you might drink some of the cider as is here about us: it is so good.' She informed Sir Ralph that his was made too soon and that the best cider is made just before Christmas. (fn. 39) The Ishams' son Thomas, probably born at Wheatfield, became a bencher of the Middle Temple. (fn. 40)
The Rudge lords of the manor, father and son, not only rebuilt the house and landscaped the park, but also remodelled the church and refitted the interior. Their successor, Lord Charles Spencer, made his new mansion house a centre of culture. His son John married his cousin Elizabeth, daughter of the 4th Duke of Marlborough. (fn. 41) She is depicted in a conversation piece by Sir Joshua Reynolds at Blenheim. A smaller replica of the same picture, also perhaps by Sir Joshua, is in the possession of her descendant, Lt.-Col. Vere Spencer, at Wheatfield House. This match, the Duchess of Bedford is reported to have said, was the 'most charmingest match that can be, that Mr. Spencer is a good actor, a good musician and a good Composer'. (fn. 42) It was he probably who played the organ at Wheatfield House—a visitor described it in a letter as 'roaring loudly' (fn. 43)—and his interest in musicians may be seen in a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth in 1804, asking for Lord Dartmouth's interest on behalf of Andrew Loder, a violin player of Bath. (fn. 44) The family's attachment to amateur theatricals led to the disastrous fire which destroyed their home: the house was filled with guests for a play to be performed on New Year's Day 1814 when fire broke out. This fire was graphically described by Mrs. Glanville, whose first husband was Lord Charles Spencer's grandson, Frederic Charles Spencer, Rector of Wheatfield. (fn. 45)
Apart from the eminent families living at the manor-house, Wheatfield is of interest on account of the learning of two of its rectors, John Ellis in the 17th century and Henry Taylor in the 18th century. (fn. 46)
In 1086 a manor at WHEATFIELD, assessed at 2 hides, was part of Robert d'Oilly's fief. (fn. 47) Subsequently it was lost to the D'Oillys and by 1166 was in the honor of Wallingford. (fn. 48) Until the 19th century Wheatfield, as a member first of Wallingford and then Ewelme honor, attended the honor courts and paid 2s. cert money. (fn. 49)
The demesne tenant of Wheatfield in 1086 was a certain Peter, who also held 1 hide in Lewknor of Robert d'Oilly (fn. 50) and was perhaps the Peter who was sheriff in the 1090s. (fn. 51) He was one of Robert d'Oilly's knights and the ancestor of the De Whitfield family. Members of his family are often found as witnesses to D'Oilly charters. (fn. 52) Peter was succeeded by his son Robert (fl. 1130–5), (fn. 53) and by his grandson Geoffrey, probably by 1154. (fn. 54) In 1166 Geoffrey was returned as holding 2 hides, i.e. Wheatfield manor, of the honor. (fn. 55) His son Robert de Whitfield was a royal justice and Sheriff of Oxfordshire from 1182 to 1185. (fn. 56) Robert may have been dead by 1193, (fn. 57) and he certainly was by 1194 when Henry de Whitfield, his brother and heir, owed 60 marks as relief for Robert's lands. (fn. 58) This Henry, who was buried in Thame Abbey, (fn. 59) probably died in 1226, when his son Elias paid 25s. relief and did homage for his ¼-fee in Wheatfield. (fn. 60) Elias, a knight, was still alive in 1243; (fn. 61) his heir was Henry de Whitfield, who was dead by 1264, leaving a young son Elias. (fn. 62) It was this Elias who was lord of Wheatfield in 1279. (fn. 63) He also was a knight and lord of Bosmer manor in Fawley (Bucks.). (fn. 64) He was still alive in 1289, (fn. 65) but by 1300 had been succeeded by his son John, (fn. 66) who was returned as lord of Wheatfield in 1316. (fn. 67)
There were two John de Whitfields: the elder was probably the John de Whitfield who was an adherent of Thomas of Lancaster and was a Member of Parliament for the shire (fn. 68) and had died by c. 1345; (fn. 69) the other, also a leading man in the county, was dead by 1361, when there was some dispute as to what should be done with the manor. (fn. 70) It was eventually granted for life to the younger John's widow Katherine, who married as her second husband Lawrence de Lynford. (fn. 71) On her death in 1390 (fn. 72) Wheatfield was divided between her first husband's heirs. He had left two daughters, whose marriage the Black Prince, who then held the honor of Wallingford, granted in 1362 to Master John Streatley, one of his officials and Dean of Lincoln. (fn. 73) The dean was a member of the Streatley family of Creslow (Bucks.), (fn. 74) and he immediately married Joan de Whitfield to Hugh Streatley, (fn. 75) evidently a younger brother, since he did not inherit the Streatley lands. He thus became lord of Wheatfield. Both Joan and Hugh were dead by 1390; their son Edmund Streatley was aged seventeen, and received his half of Wheatfield with the advowson when he came of age in 1393. (fn. 76) His share evidently included the manorhouse, for Wheatfield became the home of this branch of the Streatleys. (fn. 77)
Edmund Streatley was followed some time after 1428 by John Streatley, who was still alive in 1455, (fn. 78) and by John's son Thomas (d. 1479). Thomas Streatley's heir was his uncle, Thomas Streatley, who was succeeded by his son John (d. 1515), (fn. 79) and by his grandson Edmund. Edmund was obliged to mortgage Wheatfield in 1536 to William Body, (fn. 80) which involved him in subsequent litigation, (fn. 81) and at about the same time he mortgaged and lost Bosmer. (fn. 82) His son John later mortgaged Wheatfield to Anthony Carleton, Esq., of Brightwell Baldwin. (fn. 83) Edmund Streatley was alive in 1552, (fn. 84) but both he and his son and heir John were dead by 1568 when John's heirs claimed the manor against Anthony Carleton. (fn. 85) The heirs were John's two daughters: Margaret, who married firstly Richard Lee and secondly, by 1571, William, a younger son of Sir Leonard Chamberlain of Shirburn, and Elizabeth, the wife of Bartholomew Piggott the younger of Aston Rowant. (fn. 86) In 1571 the Chamberlains and the Piggotts each held a quarter of the manor. (fn. 87) Robert Lee, who was living at Wheatfield in the 1570s and was the only contributor to the subsidy of 1577, may have been Margaret's son. (fn. 88) During these years this part of the manor was the subject of a number of Chancery suits, in which the Piggotts, the Lees, George Streatley, John's brother, and Anthony Carleton of Brightwell Baldwin all took part. (fn. 89) They came to an end in about 1576, when Thomas Tipping, who was also to acquire the other half of the manor, bought the Streatleys' half. (fn. 90)
Meanwhile, in 1390, the other moiety of Wheatfield manor had been released to John de Whitfield's second daughter Elizabeth, (fn. 91) probably the Elizabeth, wife of Reginald de Grey, mentioned in a fine of 1377 by which half the manor was settled on the Greys. (fn. 92) She evidently married as her second husband Baldwin de Bereford, a prominent knight, (fn. 93) and after his death in the early 15th century she held a moiety of the manor and advowson until her own death in 1423. (fn. 94) Her heir was her daughter Maud (presumably the daughter of her first husband, for she did not inherit the De Bereford lands), the wife of John Barrow, (fn. 95) and in 1428 he held 1/8-fee in Wheatfield. (fn. 96) The Barrows, whose name is spelt in many ways (fn. 97) and eventually became Abarrow, lived at Charford (Hants), and their half of Wheatfield followed the descent of that manor (fn. 98) until sold in 1571 by Edward and Anthony Abarrow. (fn. 99) In 1576 or 1577 it was bought by Thomas Tipping, (fn. 100) and the two halves of Wheatfield were united.
The Tippings were originally a Lancashire family. Thomas, a younger son of William Tipping of Merton, (fn. 101) bought a number of manors in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire. On his death in 1601 (fn. 102) they were divided among his two sons, George the elder inheriting Wheatfield and several other manors. (fn. 103) Since 1594 Sir George had been living at Wheatfield, (fn. 104) and on his death in 1626, (fn. 105) Wheatfield was inherited by a young grandson Thomas, whose father John was already dead. Thomas, who was knighted in 1660, lived until 1694. (fn. 106) After the death of his widow Elizabeth in 1698, (fn. 107) their son Thomas, a Member of Parliament and the first baronet to be created by William III, (fn. 108) came into possession of Wheatfield. He lived at Pyrgo in Havering (Essex), his wife's inheritance, and died in 1718. (fn. 109) His Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire properties, heavily mortgaged, were settled on his widow, (fn. 110) and in 1727, after the death of her son Sir Thomas, with whom the male line of the family came to an end, Wheatfield, Thomley, and Worminghall were sold to John Rudge. (fn. 111) Rudge was a member of a London merchant family and Member of Parliament for Evesham, who was in the fortunate position of having £26,000 left by his mother-in-law, Susannah Letten, for the purchase of landed property. (fn. 112)
John Rudge (d. 1740) was succeeded by his son Edward, also member for Evesham and a member of the Royal Society. (fn. 113) On Edward Rudge's death without children in 1763 the estate reverted to Mrs. Letten's heirs at law, (fn. 114) who in 1769 sold Wheatfield for £21,000 (fn. 115) to Lord Charles Spencer, the second son of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, and for 40 years member for the county. (fn. 116) His son John, who had married his cousin, Lady Elizabeth Spencer, succeeded him in 1820 and died in 1831 a few weeks after his eldest surviving son, Frederick Charles, Rector of Wheatfield. John Spencer's young grandson, Charles Vere Spencer, was heir to a heavily mortgaged estate; he was made a ward of Chancery and much of the family's land was sold to preserve Wheatfield intact. (fn. 117) He later became Rector of Wheatfield and was followed in 1898 as lord of the manor by his son Aubrey John Spencer (d. 1935), barrister-at-law and an examiner of the High Court of Justice, and then by his grandson, Lt.-Col. Aubrey Vere Spencer, D.S.O. (fn. 118)
The manor was never co-terminous with the parish and 6½ virgates of Wheatfield formed a quarter of the South Weston fee held by the Fitzwyth family. (fn. 119) From at least 1279, and very possibly from a much earlier date, the lords of Wheatfield, the De Whitfield family, were the demesne tenants of this fee. (fn. 120)
Agrarian and Social History:
A good mixed soil on a subsoil of Upper Greensand and Gault Clay, the proximity of an ancient trackway, the Icknield Way, the presence of streams and sheltering hills all made Wheatfield a favourable spot for early settlement. (fn. 121) The Anglo-Saxons gave it its name of 'white' field, doubtless on account of the productive crops for which it is still noted. (fn. 122)
The Domesday survey gives precise details of only one estate in Wheatfield. The rest of the township's land, the 'Weston fee', (fn. 123) was almost certainly surveyed with South Weston and its plough-lands and peasants were included in the total figures for Weston. Thus no clear picture of Domesday Wheatfield emerges. It is recorded that the lord of Wheatfield manor had a plough with 1 serf in demesne, and that 2 villani and 2 bordars had half a plough-team. (fn. 124) It is probable that these peasants shared a plough-team with those attached to the Weston fee, and that the rest of their team is included in the 6½ plough-teams assigned in the survey to Weston. The number of teams is in any case very high for the small fields of Weston, which never covered more than 400 acres. (fn. 125) The consequences of this early connexion between Wheatfield and South Weston can be traced throughout their histories. In 1841 South Weston landowners still had the right to the first crop on Weston Red Veal, a meadow in the middle of Wheatfield parish, and each parish had small detached pieces of land lying in the other parish. (fn. 126)
The hundredal survey of 1279 makes the position clearer by surveying the 'Weston fee' in Wheatfield in detail, as well as Wheatfield manor's land, and entering them both under Wheatfield. (fn. 127) The lord of Wheatfield manor, Elias de Whitfield, was in fact by this time the immediate lord of the 'Weston fee'. This ¼-fee consisted of 6½ virgates of which 5½ were held of the lord in villeinage and 1 virgate by a free tenant. (fn. 128) The remaining 18 virgates recorded made up Wheatfield manor and of these Elias had 12 virgates in demesne with meadow and pasture in addition. As the arable land of the parish is known from later sources to have amounted to about 27 virgates, including the glebe which is not mentioned in the survey, nearly half in 1279 was manorial demesne.
The average villein holding was a virgate: there were five virgaters attached to the 'Weston fee' and one half-virgater. The virgater paid a rent of 10s. and in addition owed moderately heavy services: between Michaelmas and Christmas he was to do three ploughing services at his own cost and after Christmas one harrowing service. He was to harrow an acre of pasture land; mow in the meadow until he had done 7 'sweyes' (swathes) in the day at his own cost; find a man to hoe all the lord's grain; find two men to lift hay; and himself carry the hay and make a rick. After Lammas when the lord was ready to reap, he was to find two men to reap for five days a week and was to come to the great boon with his whole household, except for his wife and shepherd. He was to be in charge of the reapers and see that they worked and was to have a feast with the lord. With a horse and cart he was to carry the grain for a half-day. After all the grain had been harvested he was to find a man to collect the stubble or straw.
Other obligations were to find two men to collect apples, and to carry timber from the wood to the manor-house. On Christmas day he ate with the lord, but the day after he had to make a present to the lady of the manor of 3 hens, 1 cock, 2 loaves of bread, and 2 flagons of beer; on the day after Easter he gave her a present of 40 eggs and 2 loaves. In addition to these obligations he was bound by the usual restrictions of villeinage: he must get the lord's licence to marry off his daughter and to sell a horse or an ox born on the manor.
In the manor itself there were also six villeins, each holding a virgate, and a free virgater. (fn. 129) The freeman held with his wife for life on condition that if they had an heir the heir should pay a heriot on succession, and that if there was no heir the virgate should revert to the lord. Each villein had the choice of paying a high rent of 22s. a year in lieu of all service except reasonable aids, when the lord knighted his eldest son or married his eldest daughter, or of paying 10s. rent and doing services. The services on the manor were much the same as those on the fee. Different obligations were that the villein was to find a man to help in making cider and when he himself brewed ale for sale (chepale) he was to give the lord 2 gallons of ale as tolcestre. He was also to pay cornbote at Michaelmas, i.e. 2 sheaves of wheat and 2 of oats. If he damaged the lord's corn he was to make amends in accordance with the judgement of his neighbours. (fn. 130)
Wheatfield at this period with its resident lord, rector, and at least twelve villeins and two freeholders with their households formed a small and prosperous village. The tax assessment of 1316, for example, shows that considering the size of the parish the comparatively large number of eighteen villagers was taxed. Of these, eight paid a relatively high tax of 6s. or more and four paid over 3s. (fn. 131) A class structure was more pronounced here than, for example, in the neighbouring parish of Stoke Talmage. The parish's later assessment of £2 18s. 6d. was also a large one, (fn. 132) and the 60 adults returned for the poll tax of 1377 (fn. 133) indicate that the community, if it had suffered from the Black Death, had largely recovered from its adverse affects.
In the early 16th century Wheatfield's economy was drastically disturbed by the inclosure in 1505 of 160 acres of arable by John Streatley, lord of one part of the manor and tenant of the other part. (fn. 134) It was alleged that 7 messuages had each had 20 acres of arable sown with corn since before the memory of man, that these tenements had been inclosed with hedges and ditches and converted into pasture land, and that 9 ploughs were rendered useless and 54 peasants were made idle and homeless. It may have been in connexion with these inclosures that 'a riot' took place and 'divers murders and felonies' were done in Wheatfield of which Richard Grey, a tenant of John Streatley was suspected. Grey and others fled, but Grey's wife was arrested. (fn. 135) A number of closes are also mentioned in a Chancery case in which George Streatley was involved in the 1570s. (fn. 136) There is insufficient evidence to say whether these inclosures in the 16th century marked the end of a considerable movement or the beginning. Wheatfield was not among the villages with under ten households in 1428, (fn. 137) but the returns for the subsidy of 1523 indicate a reduction in the number of taxable inhabitants since the 14th century. (fn. 138) In 1577 only Robert Lee, lord of the manor, was assessed for the Elizabethan subsidy and there were no yeoman farmers of sufficient wealth to qualify. (fn. 139) The smallness of the parish had facilitated concentration of the ownership of the land and encouraged radical changes in husbandry. It is significant that in a list of the yardlands on which Wheatfield was rated in about 1607, out of 9 yardlands 4 were said to be 'in pasture'. (fn. 140) However, although inclosure was extensive and much of it was for pasture, many inclosed fields were used for arable during the 17th century and some openfield land survived until the 19th century.
One consequence of inclosure and the consequent decrease in population may have been the closing of the medieval mill. It belonged to the lord of the manor in the early 13th century. He gave it to Thame Abbey with the promise that those using it should have right of way over his lands, but the abbey returned it in 1212 in exchange for land. (fn. 141) The last mention found of the mill is in 1574: (fn. 142) it clearly lay on the pool near Upper Farm, and its memory survived in the field names of Great and Little Mill closes. (fn. 143)
From 1594 and throughout the next century the Tippings were resident and the life of the parish was entirely centred round the Great House. Part of the land was leased to tenants and part was kept in hand. (fn. 144) Some deductions on the influence of the family and on the husbandry of the time may be made from the inventory of goods valued at over £1,490 made on the death of Lady Dorothy Tipping in 1637. The size of the manor-house with its brewing kitchen, bake-house, mill-house, stables for 11 horses, maids' chamber, and servingmen's chamber gives an indication of the amount of employment it provided. As for husbandry the most highly valued part of the demesne farm was its flock of over 543 sheep worth £355. Wheat in the barns and wheat and 'fatches' (vetches) in the ground were valued at £320. Summer corn was valued at £36. (fn. 145) The tenant farmers were husbandmen of comparatively modest means. One, for example, left goods worth £107 in 1615 and another goods worth £156 in 1624. (fn. 146) In the second half of the century the returns for the hearth tax of 1662 show that in spite of partial inclosure and the losses which must have been incurred during the Civil War from the requisitions made by both sides, (fn. 147) there was still a small farming community. Sir Thomas Tipping's losses in the war very probably account for the mortgaging of some of his valuable Wheatfield meadows in 1663. (fn. 148) Besides the manor-house and Rectory seven other houses were rated, and three householders were discharged from payment 'because not in the liberty'. (fn. 149) That these seven represented the substantial part of the community is supported by the evidence of the glebe terrier of 1685 which was signed by eight inhabitants besides the rector and Sir Thomas Tipping. (fn. 150) Of these, Richard White, the churchwarden, and Thomas Minchin were probably the leading tenants: closes about the village are named after them and two others and White's house can be identified on an estate map of 1700. (fn. 151) It was again eight heads of families, it may be noted here, who attended the honor court of Ewelme in 1714. (fn. 152) The map of 1700 shows the whole parish divided into hedged fields and apparently fully inclosed, but the accompanying terrier and the evidence of an earlier glebe terrier seem to prove that this was probably not so. According to the glebe terrier of 1685 two-thirds of the glebe (10 a.) still lay in fifteen parcels in the common fields—in 'the field next the town', in 'Eighteen Acre Field' and in the Upper Field. Other farmers, including Sir Thomas Tipping, also had land in these fields although their holdings were more consolidated than that of the rector. The lord held blocks of 5 and 6 acres together, the others blocks of 2 and 3 acres. There was lot meadow by the Haseley Brook and common pasture. (fn. 153) These and the three fields can be located on the map of 1700.
The traditional husbandry used on clay lands and land called 'maumy', both of which were to be found at Wheatfield, has been described by Plot, who also noted that a special kind of triangular harrow was used there, which was considered especially suitable for ground infested with squitch-grass. (fn. 154) Plot also wrote in 1681 of a kind of wheat 'plentifully sown in the vale between Thame and Watlington called 'mix'd lammas', which yielded considerably better than most other wheats and yet was unknown to the farmers in the north and west of the county. (fn. 155) Early in the 18th century Rawlinson was another witness to the good husbandry that had been practised on the 'very rich' soil at Wheatfield. (fn. 156)
Until the death of Edward Rudge in 1763, the Rudge family, who were the successors to the Tippings, remained sole lords of all the land in the parish with the exception of the glebe, and farmed the demesne lands themselves. (fn. 157) In 1763, however, the demesne, except for the manor-house with 30 acres of woods and gardens, was divided between the two tenant farmers on the estate. John Webb, tenant at will of Lower farm at £200 a year, farmed its 236 acres, which were all pasture and meadow land. These lay in a compact group in the north of the parish and undoubtedly included the Streatley inclosures of the early 16th century. The surveyor considered this farm 'as good a farm as any in the county' although its tenant, 'a sloven', did not make the best of it. The rent had been £200 a year for some time, but its value had greatly increased owing to 'the great rise in the price of butter'. Webb also had on a three-year lease 119 acres of White's farm, which had been in hand in Edward Rudge's time. This farm was mainly arable and over half lay in 'lands' in Mousells Common Field, Town Field and Weston Windmill Field. The other farm, Hall farm (i.e. the demesne farm and the modern Upper farm), was about a third pasture and again had 'lands' in the three common fields. (fn. 158) It was leased to Thomas Cowper on a nine-year lease of £240 a year and comprised 264 acres. This farm and White's consisted partly of 'very good' arable land lying in closes and in the remnant of the open fields, which at this date still covered over 140 acres. (fn. 159) There had in fact been little, if any, change in the topography of the fields since 1700, for the figures given in the terrier of about 1765 are based on those of the map of 1700. (fn. 160) With one owner (except for the glebe) and only two tenants final inclosure could not be long deferred. The Act inclosing parts of Wheatfield, South Weston, and Stoke Talmage was not passed until 1854, (fn. 161) but the open fields had been abandoned earlier. The tithe award map of 1841 shows the whole parish divided into fields shared between three farms of roughly the same size—Upper and Lower Wheatfield farms and the Manor farm. (fn. 162) Some years earlier they had each been let for over £200 a year. (fn. 163) In 1851 there were two large farms of 280 acres and 233 acres respectively, employing twelve and eight labourers, and a small holding of 22 acres. (fn. 164)
The utilization of the land had changed little since 1700: in 1841 there were approximately 20 acres of wood, 238 of arable, and 456 of meadow or pasture; in the 1760s there had also been a trifle less arable and in 1700 perhaps rather more. (fn. 165) There were at least 400 acres of mead and pasture in 1700 and the tendency was probably towards an increase of grassland: eleven acres of grass, for example, are marked on the map as 'formerly arable'. (fn. 166)
After the outbreak of cattle disease in 1865 which led London buyers to seek for milk supplies in Oxfordshire, Wheatfield farmers, in common with others in the neighbourhood, probably produced more milk and less butter and cheese than before. (fn. 167) In the 20th century the emphasis continued to be on milk production and Friesian herds were generally kept. In 1960 there were three average-sized farms—Park farm (172 a.), Upper farm (212 a.), Lower farm (241 a.), and the small Glebe farm (35 a.). Park farm had a flock of Clun sheep. There were 188 acres of arable, 471 acres of pasture, and some 40 acres of woodland, water, and roads. (fn. 168)
Until the 19th and 20th centuries no great changes in population seem to have taken place after the 16thcentury decrease. In 1676 the Compton Census recorded 48 adults; in 1738 the rector reported that there were about a dozen houses in the village, inhabited by farmers and labourers; in 1790 besides the manor-house and Rectory there were two farms and nine cottages; and in 1801 a census enumerated 89 inhabitants. (fn. 169) After reaching a peak of 105 persons in 1831 the population fell to 72 in 1901 and to 40 in 1960. (fn. 170)
This decline in population and other social changes have led to the disappearance of the patriarchal village life of the early 19th century described by Mrs. Glanville, the wife of two successive rectors. She wrote an account of Wheatfield in 1853 for Charles Vere Spencer, her son by her first husband, Frederick Charles Spencer, who was about to take up residence in Wheatfield as rector, 'a fit representative of your father in his house, his property and his parish'. She relates how there were yearly school meetings under a gigantic walnut tree and other feasts of which the most remarkable had been those on the occasions of Mrs. Spencer's marriage to Mr. Glanville, the Coronation of Queen Victoria, and the coming-of-age celebrations of Mrs. Glanville's sons George and Vere. In 1838 the parishioners of Adwell and Wheatfield met for a dinner given by the two lords of the manor and the Revd. E. F. Glanville. There was dancing and the old people enjoyed their 'pipes and snuff boxes', and in 1848 on the coming-of-age celebrations of Vere Spencer tents were set up near the church and dancing, cricket, foot sports, and fireworks followed. (fn. 171)
Wheatfield church, a rectory in Aston deanery, was in existence and had a rector by about 1200. (fn. 172) It may have been a recent foundation, for in 1240 or 1241, when the first presentation is recorded, it was still called a chapel. (fn. 173) The advowson then belonged to the De Whitfield family and has always followed the descent of the manor. (fn. 174) When in 1390 the manor was divided, the advowson was also divided between the Streatley and De Bereford families. They made alternate presentations, although in the late 15th and 16th centuries the right of presentation was several times sold by the Streatleys. (fn. 175) John Pollard, who was rector from 1553 to 1577, acquired a grant of it from Edmund Streatley. In his will he left this to Thomas Tipping, who had recently bought the manor, and requested him to present some 'honest, discreet, and quiet man' to the living. There had been so much 'strife and conten tion' over the divided manor that he hoped this would produce 'quietness and peace'. (fn. 176) Tipping therefore presented in 1577 on the rector's death, (fn. 177) and since then the advowson has been held by the Tippings, the Rudges, and the Spencers. In 1928 the living was united to that of Stoke Talmage, since when the Earl of Macclesfield and Lt.-Col. Vere Spencer have presented alternately. (fn. 178) According to the terms of the union, the detached part of Wheatfield became part of the ecclesiastical parish of Chalgrove. (fn. 179)
The rectory was valued at £2 in 1254, at £6 13s. 4d. in 1291, and at £9 10s. 8½d. in 1535. (fn. 180) By the late 17th century it was worth about £80, (fn. 181) and in 1769 Lord Charles Spencer leased the tithes (except those of the detached part) and the glebe for nearly £105. (fn. 182) At about this time the advowson was valued at £960, eight times £120, the annual income from the living. (fn. 183) In 1841, when the tithes were commuted, the rector was awarded a rent charge of £232 12s. (fn. 184) The rector was also entitled to tithes on 15 acres in Tetsworth, and when in 1842 the tithes of Tetsworth were commuted the rector of Wheatfield received a rent charge of £4 10s. 6d. (fn. 185) The rector was also entitled to the tithes of a meadow in Stoke Talmage called Crendon Piece, (fn. 186) and it may have been in connexion with this that a late-13th-century rector was at law with Thame Abbey, the owners of Stoke Grange. (fn. 187)
The glebe, when it was surveyed in 1685, consisted of 20 acres of inclosed land lying next to the Rectory and 10 acres in the common fields, with meadow and pasture rights. (fn. 188) In the 19th century the glebe still consisted of 32 acres; (fn. 189) it was sold in 1942. (fn. 190) In addition to this Wheatfield glebe, the rector had a field acre of glebe in Tetsworth, next to the land there which paid tithes to him. (fn. 191) It was probably this land which caused trouble in the 18th century: in 1756 the rector asked the bishop how he could 'perpetuate the evidence of some elderly persons in the parish' so that it could be used as legal evidence; (fn. 192) in 1793 he was still trying to get accurate information. It was said that it had once been exchanged for land in Wheatfield; if this was done before 1685, he wrote, the terrier of 1685 'deserves to be burnt'. (fn. 193) In 1842 the rector still held about an acre of glebe in Tetsworth. (fn. 194)
What evidence there is about medieval rectors, some of whom held the living for many years, suggests that they usually lived in the parish. (fn. 195) Simon, for example, the first recorded rector, witnessed a local charter in about 1200; (fn. 196) Laurence de Belsted (fl. 1291–1316), who was at law with Thame Abbey over tithes, was living in Wheatfield in 1316, when he paid a 6s. tax on his goods there, (fn. 197) and John le Vaal (d. 1359), who acted as feoffee of the manor, (fn. 198) may have been a nephew of the elder John de Whitfield. (fn. 199) Several of the 15th-century rectors were graduates and one, like so many Oxfordshire priests, was a Welshman. (fn. 200) In the 16th century George Longshawe (1505–52), who saw many of the changes of the Reformation, also lived in Wheatfield. He was accused of not saying the services at the proper times and of neglecting to keep his house in repair. (fn. 201)
In the post-Reformation period until the 20th century Wheatfield has rarely had a non-resident rector, and many of its rectors died and were buried there. (fn. 202) John Pollard resigned or was deprived about 1554, but he was restored by 1559 and enjoyed the living along with South Weston as well until 1577. (fn. 203) His successor Anthony Maunde (rector 1577–1629) held the living for the longest period. An inventory of his goods, valued at nearly £50 and including a cow and a pig, but few books and little furniture, suggests that he was a country pastor with little education. (fn. 204) John Ellis (1629–47), in contrast, was a theological writer of some repute. (fn. 205) Two of his works were written while he lived at Wheatfield, of which one was dedicated to Thomas Tipping, his patron. (fn. 206) He married Rebecca Petty of Stoke Talmage, (fn. 207) and Anthony Wood, to whom he therefore became related, described him as 'siding with all parties and taking all oaths'. (fn. 208) During the years of the Commonwealth the parish evidently had a rector with Puritan sympathies, for William Bird (or Burt) (1647–60) took the Covenant and resigned on the Restoration. (fn. 209)
Later rectors included Nathaniel Penn (1666–1709), who was buried beside his wife under the altar; (fn. 210) his successor Adam Blandy (1709–22), who rebuilt the Rectory; (fn. 211) and Henry Taylor (1737–46), who was to become well known as a theological writer. (fn. 212) He only held the living in trust for the young nephew of the lord of the manor. (fn. 213) This was Benjamin Rudge (1750–1807), who married a daughter of Ralph Church, Vicar of Pyrton, and lived for over 50 years in the parish and was buried in the family vault. (fn. 214) He held the usual number of services: two on Sundays with one sermon; three or four sacraments a year, with between eight and twelve communicants; and catechism for the children in Lent. He had few complaints to make of his parishioners except that, being tenant farmers and labouring poor, his congregations were small. (fn. 215) At this period, as had also been the case in the 16th century, (fn. 216) there was only one churchwarden, and he usually served for many years. (fn. 217)
In the 19th century the connexion between church and manor was very close. After Cranley L. Kerby had left Wheatfield for Stoke Talmage in 1820 Frederick Charles Spencer, heir to the manor, became rector; he died in 1831, and his widow married Edward Fanshawe Glanville, who was rector from 1836 to 1852; Charles Vere Spencer, Mrs. Glanville's son by her first husband, was rector for nearly half a century (i.e. 1852–98) and was at the same time lord of the manor. (fn. 218) As Wheatfield House had been burnt down in 1814 he lived at the Rectory. (fn. 219) As he was also curate of Adwell he preached on alternate Sundays at each church. At Wheatfield there was an attendance of 30 to forty. He administered communion six or seven times a year, and catechized the children every other Sunday. (fn. 220) In his later years he served Wheatfield only, increased the number of communion services to twelve and held evening classes. (fn. 221) On his death it was arranged that his widow should stay on in the house and so there was no resident rector until after her death in 1907. (fn. 222)
The ancient church of ST. ANDREW comprises a chancel, nave, west porch, and bell-cot. It stands in Wheatfield park and formerly stood close to the manor-house, which was burnt down in 1814. (fn. 223) The church, small and well cared for, is a medieval building, which was remodelled in the first half of the 18th century, when the Rudge family were lords of the manor. Of the medieval building there remain the walls, the chancel arch, a 14th-century south doorway and a later north window, both visible from the outside only. Let into the floor beneath the south window of the church is the medieval stone altar with crosses carved at each corner.
Externally the walls have been stuccoed and battlements added both to the gable ends and to the side walls. (fn. 224) The east window of three lights is of the kind known as 'Venetian'. The other 18th-century windows are round-headed with keystones and have original wrought-iron frames and leaded lights of clear glass. The ceilings are plastered and have kingpost trusses exposed in the nave.
All the fittings date from the 18th century. (fn. 225) The chancel is wainscoted and the altar rails are of turned wood. The altar table stands on four console brackets with winged angel heads. On either side of the altar are boards with the Commandments, Lord's Prayer, and the Creed. There is a two-decker pulpit and reading-desk. In the nave are the remains of box pews: on the north side they face the altar, but they did not do so originally as a sepia drawing of 1852 shows. (fn. 226) On the south side they face the aisle and those nearest the altar have open-work carving with a leaf design and the coat of arms of the Rudges.
Above the chancel arch are the royal arms of George II. The hatchment to the right bears the Spencer arms impaled with those of Bernard-Morland, since Lord Charles Spencer's grandson Frederick Charles Spencer married Mary Ann Bernard-Morland. (fn. 227)
There is some notable coloured glass. In the south window of the chancel 'is one of the most beautiful and interesting pieces of armorial glass in the diocese'. It is probably the shield of Sir John de Whitfield (d. c. 1361), a lord of the manor, and once fitted into the tracery of a 14th-century window. A fragment of medieval glass also survives in the north-west window. In the west window is a large 18th-century piece of armorial glass (4 ft. by 2 ft. 9 in.): it depicts the arms of Rudge, Letten, Howard of Hackney, and others. (fn. 228) The shield is surmounted by a scallop shell and crest.
This small church is rich in monuments. Those to the Tippings, lords of the manor, include ledger stones on the chancel and nave floors to Sir Thomas Tipping (d. 1693/4); Dame Elizabeth Tipping (d. 1698), wife of Sir Thomas; Mary (d. 1714/15), one of Sir Thomas's sixteen children and wife of John, Lord Brereton; and George Tipping (d. 1714/15). On the chancel wall there is a cartouche to Sir Thomas Tipping (d. 1718), of which the inscription states that the bodies of his father Sir Thomas and of his grandfather Sir George Tipping lie in the same grave. There is also a cartouche to Sir Thomas Tipping, Bt. (d. 1725/6), eldest son of Sir Thomas and Dame Anne. It is surmounted by a coat of arms and crest. A coat of arms also surmounts the memorial to Elizabeth (d. 1725), wife of William Tipping, Esq. (d. 1729), of West Court, Ewelme, and second son of Sir Thomas and Dame Elizabeth. There is an elaborate monument by P. Scheemakers to John Rudge, M.P. (d. 1739/40), merchant of London, and his son Edward Rudge, M.P.(d. 1763). (fn. 229) There are memorials to Thomas Rudge, gent. (d. 1754), Benjamin Rudge (d. 1807), rector for 58 years, and Samuel Rudge (d. 1817), by Clark of Watlington. There are several memorials of the Spencer family: Rt. Hon. Lady Elizabeth Spencer (d. 1812), daughter of George, Duke of Marlborough and wife of the Hon. John Spencer (by Knowles of Oxford); the Rt. Hon. Lord Charles Spencer (d. 1820), George John Spencer Esq. (d. 1820); Frederick Charles Spencer, rector (d. 1831); John Spencer, Esq. (d. 1831), eldest son of Lord Charles Spencer; Charles Vere Spencer, rector (d. 1898); Aubrey John Spencer (d. 1935). (fn. 230)
Memorials to families other than those of lords of the manor include cartouches to Thomas Isham (d. 1670/1) (fn. 231) and Adam Blandy (d. 1722), twelve years rector; and a ledger stone to Thomas Cornish (d. 1737), Rector of Wheatfield and Vicar of Great Milton. (fn. 232)
In 1552 the church's goods consisted of a tin chalice, two candlesticks, three vestments, a cope, and a surplice. Edmund Streteley, the lord of the manor, was reported to have for his own use a silver chalice, a copper cross, and other goods, the names of which are now illegible. (fn. 233)
The turret contains one bell, hung for chiming. It is inscribed 1636 and was cast by Ellis Knight (I) and is similar to bells at Balliol College and elsewhere. (fn. 234)
In 1729 John Rudge, Esq., 'out of his pious zeal for the honour of God and His most holy religion' gave a flagon, chalice, cup and cover, and a salver, all of silver gilt. This silver was destroyed in the fire of 1814 as it was kept in Lord Charles Spencer's house for greater security. (fn. 235) Lord Charles Spencer gave in 1814 a chalice and silver paten to replace those lost. The chalice is of the baluster step type (probably 1649) and is engraved 'Wheatfield Church The Right Honble Lord Charles Spencer 1814'. (fn. 236)
The registers date from 1721 for marriages and 1722 for baptisms. The bishop's transcripts date from 1639. (fn. 237)
The influence of the Tipping family probably accounts for the absence of Roman Catholicism in this small parish. (fn. 238) Wood records that Nathaniel Greenfield of St. Edmund Hall, author of The Great Day or a Sermon setting forth the desperate Estate and Condition of the Wicked at the Day of Judgment, was afterwards preacher at Wheatfield (c. 1615), (fn. 239) and that William Tipping, second son of Sir George Tipping of Draycott and Wheatfield, was 'puritanically affected'; he was made a Visitor of the University in 1647 and became known as 'Eternity Tipping' after publishing A Discourse of Eternitie (1633). (fn. 240) They left no followers, and, except for one Methodist reported in 1808, (fn. 241) there is no record of any further nonconformity in the parish.
There is no mention of a school in Wheatfield before 1784 when the poor children were said to be 'schooled by a weekly donation'. (fn. 242) A Sunday school was started in 1790 where boys and girls were still being taught to read in 1808. (fn. 243) There were, however, only eight children of an age to attend the school and by 1815 it was no longer held. (fn. 244) The population at this date was very small and the few children capable of receiving instruction attended a school at Tetsworth kept by a dissenter. (fn. 245) In 1818 it was reported that there was still no school at Wheatfield, but that the poor who were desirous of education for their children might send them to the neighbouring parish. (fn. 246) A Sunday school supported by Mrs. Spencer, the wife of the rector, was restarted with 20 children in 1824, and a day school was opened in the same year, where in 1833 four boys and seven girls were being educated at their parents' expense. (fn. 247) This day school is presumably the dame school reported in 1833, where the children paid, although much support was given by individuals both in and out of the parish. There was also a Sunday school which was attended by all the children: it was held in a cottage, there being no school-room. The curate was working to get a proper school-room, and was also active along with the S.P.C.K. in supplying books and tracts. The village had a lending library. (fn. 248) In 1854 a dame's school with six scholars was reported and also a Sunday school for twelve or thirteen children under a schoolmaster paid by the rector. (fn. 249) In 1878 two of the incumbent's household helped him in the Sunday school and evening classes were held on Sundays and on two week-days. (fn. 250) There is no further mention of any school in Wheatfield after this date and the children have attended schools at Tetsworth, Lewknor, or Stoke Talmage. (fn. 251) In 1956 all were going to Tetsworth, but in 1960 they were transferred to Watlington. (fn. 252)
In 1679 Sir Thomas Tipping gave a rent of £4 to the poor, (fn. 253) charged apparently upon the estate of Edward Rudge. (fn. 254) Distribution ceased during the incumbency of Thomas Cornish (1722–37) (fn. 255) and in 1768 the charity was considered to be lost. (fn. 256) In 1771 the rector said that he distributed the money to poor cottagers, (fn. 257) but there is no later reference.