A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 9, Bloxham Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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This narrow, spear-shaped parish (2¼ miles long by ¼ to ¾ mile wide) of 742 a. is unusually small and its boundaries have apparently remained unaltered since they were laid out. (fn. 1) It lies on the Warwickshire border in the Middle Lias clay belt at a height of between 400 and 500 feet. (fn. 2) Until Shenington was incorporated in Oxfordshire in 1845 the Sor Brook marked both Alkerton's western boundary and the Gloucestershire border. (fn. 3) The landscape, though still bare in aspect for the most part, was improved in the 18th and 19th centuries by tree planting around the village and on the northern borders, where there were two coverts of c. 4 a. each by 1882. Afforestation schemes were also being carried out in the 1960s on the Upton estate at Shenington Hirons and Christmas Gorse. (fn. 4) Extensive heath in the north of the parish, where the poor once had the right to cut furze, was brought under cultivation in the 18th century. (fn. 5)
Banbury, the nearest market town, lies 5½ miles to the south-east and the main road connecting it with Warwick crosses the northern end of Alkerton parish; the road was turnpiked in 1743–4. (fn. 6) The 'White Lion', licensed in 1782, (fn. 7) may have been on this road; the 'New Inn' now stands at the point where the road enters Wroxton parish. (fn. 8) A secondary road branches off the main one and runs southward towards Shutford and Newington and another connects with Alkerton village and Shenington.
Alkerton was probably always the smallest village in Bloxham hundred; (fn. 9) in 1641 it was expressly stated that 29 was the number of all the men (of 18 and over) in the parish, while 69 adults (of 16 and over) were recorded in 1676. (fn. 10) The usual growth in population and increase in dwellings took place in the 18th century: incumbents reported that in 1738 there were 6 farm-houses and c. 'eight town-houses besides'; in 1759 5 farm-houses and 10 cottages; in 1768 23 houses; and in 1831 38 houses. (fn. 11) The population increased from 135 in 1801 to 201 in 1871 and then fell during the agricultural depression to 105 in 1901. (fn. 12) By 1951 it had dropped to 88. (fn. 13)
In the 17th century there were several gentlemen and substantial farmers living in the village; in the 18th century there was 'no one of note'; (fn. 14) for most of the 19th century not even the rector resided there and the village consisted of tenant-farmers and labourers. (fn. 15) In the 20th century agricultural changes, such as the introduction of machinery and the amalgamation of farms, again entirely altered the character of the village. It attracted a number of professional people, either retired or working outside Alkerton, and its 17th-century farm-houses and cottages have been modernized and restored as private residences. They are strung out along a terraced road, which is cut out of a hill-side of red ironstone, and look across the Sor Brook valley to Shenington on the crown of the opposite slope. The road runs southward from the 12th-century church, 17th-century Rectory, and manor-house (Tanner's Pool), past Alkerton House to Barn House. (fn. 16)
There is no trace now of the Town Green, mentioned in the 18th century. (fn. 17) The houses and cottages, including the 19th-century school, are all built of local rubble or ironstone ashlar and are mostly thatched or stone-slated in the traditional manner. One cottage of 1½ story, built on a two-unit plan with parlour and kitchen, has an inscription I.E. 1716. (fn. 18) Brook Cottage still retains its stone-mullioned windows. Both were probably built for small farmers. The 'poor cottages' commented on in a parliamentary report of 1867, which are likely to have been put up for labourers after inclosure of the open fields in 1777, have been pulled down. (fn. 19) Electricity was brought to the village in 1939. (fn. 20)
Of the 6 sizeable houses assessed for the hearth tax of 1665 4, including the rectory-house, were owned by the Lydiat family. (fn. 21) Christopher Lydiat, a citizen of London, acquired the manor in 1567 and retired there. His son lived at the manor-house after him. (fn. 22) Their house was probably the present Tanner's Pool, which was a farm-house in 1852. (fn. 23) It seems to have been originally built on an Lshaped plan, like so many other houses in the neighbourhood, with the entrance on the north, rooms on either side of the hall, and an extension at rightangles on the south side. Later wings have been added on the north and east. (fn. 24) There are fishponds nearby.
Another of Christopher Lydiat's sons was the 17th-century mathematician, Thomas Lydiat, who was rector from 1612. (fn. 25) He rebuilt the rectory-house in 1625. (fn. 26) A contemporary account says that it had three bays with a lean-to of one bay, a largish barn of four bays, and an orchard on either side. (fn. 27) The present house is of two stories and is built of ironstone ashlar with a stone coping. It is entered on the north side by its original moulded doorway with cambered arch and lozenge-shaped stops to the label mould. The two ground-floor rooms (17 ft. square) were once the hall and kitchen. They are separated by a central double fire-place, of which one has the date 1625 in the spandrels. A similar but smaller fire-place, is in the bedchamber above, and this would account for the return of 3 hearths for the tax in 1665. (fn. 28) Lydiat's house was repaired in 1692, when the roof was slated, and enlarged in 1748, (fn. 29) when a two-storied kitchen wing was added at right-angles. The present Alkerton House may have belonged to the Goodwin family, another of Alkerton's principal families, since it has the letters B.G. 1633 on the end wall. (fn. 30) The Goodwins, later found in several north Oxfordshire villages, were settled in Alkerton in the early 16th century. Thomas Goodwin (d. 1531) and his son Richard (d. 1560) were both buried in the churchyard. Thomas was of sufficient standing to leave money to eight churches, of which Alkerton was one, and his grandson, another Thomas (d. 1581), left a legacy to the poor of the village. In the 16th century the Goodwins had two houses in Alkerton and in 1665 were living in one of the two largest houses there. (fn. 31) Alkerton House was partly rebuilt at the end of the 18th century when it belonged to John Anderton, in whose family it remained until 1883. (fn. 32) It was restored in 1834; the date is carved on the Gothic porch which was added at that date.
During the Civil War the village was several times raided by Parliamentary troops based on Compton Wyniates. (fn. 33)
In 1086 Miles Crispin held an estate assessed at 6 hides in Alkerton. (fn. 34) From it descended ALKERTON MANOR which was reckoned as a ½ fee and was first recorded in the 13th century. The overlordship followed the descent of other of Crispin's lands under Wallingford honor. (fn. 35)
In 1086 the mesne tenant was Richard Fitz Reinfrid, Miles Crispin's tenant also at Appleton and Eaton (Berks.), and at Chearsley, Draycott, and Ickford (Bucks.), with which Alkerton continued to be associated as a feudal holding. (fn. 36) Fitz Reinfrid died at Alkerton in 1115 or 1116 and his heir was his son Hugh of Appleton and Eaton. (fn. 37) In 1166 Alkerton was evidently included in the 2 fees Hugh held under Wallingford honor. (fn. 38) He was succeeded by his son Richard of Appleton, (fn. 39) and by 1201 by his grandson Thomas of Appleton (d. ante 1209). (fn. 40) Thomas's heir Geoffrey held the 2 fees in 1211, but he may have forfeited his Alkerton property, as he certainly did Appleton, for his part in the revolt of 1215 against John. (fn. 41) He was still alive in 1217, when he had letters of safe conduct to parley with the Earl Marshal, but he had died by 1218. (fn. 42) In 1226 his heir was still a minor, but by 1235 he was evidently of age, for a Thomas of Appleton was in possession of the Buckinghamshire property and presumably also of Alkerton. (fn. 43) In 1270 Thomas included Alkerton among property which he alienated to Denise de Stokes. (fn. 44) In about 1293 Denise and her son Master Robert de Stokes alienated their holdings, which included a carucate in Alkerton, reckoned as ½ fee, to the king, receiving them back as his tenants. (fn. 45) Master Robert still held the fees in 1300, (fn. 46) but there is no further mention of the family in connexion with Alkerton.
By the mid-13th century the Alkerton ½ fee was held by under-tenants. In 1242 Hugh son of Henry of Abingdon, a member of a family closely connected with Abingdon Abbey, was returned as tenant. (fn. 47) In 1247 he sold 1 carucate in Alkerton and 2 yardlands in Balscott to Master Simon of Walton, who already had property in Balscott; Simon and his heirs were to hold it for a ½ fee's service and homage, but Hugh was not to claim relief or custody of the land and heirs. (fn. 48) Simon became Bishop of Norwich in 1258 and before his death in 1265 granted Alkerton to his son Sir John Walton. (fn. 49) The Walton's main estate was in Walton, a hamlet of Wellesbourn Hastings (Warws.), which was encumbered with debts contracted to the Jews by a previous tenant. (fn. 50) In 1271 Walter Giffard, Archbishop of York, purchased the debts and thus obtained a claim against the Walton's property, including Alkerton. Sir John was obliged to convey Alkerton and other property to Giffard, receiving them back as tenant. (fn. 51) After John's death in 1277 his relict Isabel, Henry le Foun, her second husband, and John's heir Maud made similar acknowledgments to the archbishop. (fn. 52) On Giffard's death in 1279 his heir was his brother Godfrey Giffard, Bishop of Worcester, who claimed custody of Maud Walton. (fn. 53) He granted Alkerton to Walter de Mandeville (d. by 1288) with reversion to himself if Mandeville should die without heirs. (fn. 54) There is no later reference to the Giffard or Mandeville interest in Alkerton.
Another claim to the manor, however, was put forward by Thomas, son of Gervase Walton. His relationship to other members of the family is unknown, but he derived what rights he had in Alkerton from Master Simon of Walton; in 1285 he sold them to Sir John of Ladbrooke, a Warwickshire landowner and neighbour of the Waltons. (fn. 55) Until his death in c. 1310 Sir John of Ladbrooke was recorded as a mesne tenant of the manor and ½ fee, (fn. 56) but there is no record of his descendants claiming it.
For the next century or more Alkerton followed the descent of the Walton estate in Walton. Maud Walton married successively, (fn. 57) Sir John de Stradling, Sir John Lestrange (d. 1309), who became Lord Strange of Knockin (Salop.) in 1299, and Sir Thomas Hasting of Leamington Hastings (Warws.), recorded as one of the lords of Alkerton in 1316. The last was dead by 1348, (fn. 58) and Maud's property reverted to the Lestranges, descendants of her second husband. In 1376 John Lestrange, lord of Walton, apparently a member of a collateral branch of the Lestranges of Knockin, granted his Alkerton estate to a Roger Lestrange and others, perhaps as part of a settlement. (fn. 59) No record of Alkerton's descent for the next century and a half has been found, but it probably continued to follow that of Walton. (fn. 60) Thomas Lestrange, lord of Walton (d. 1485), (fn. 61) left two daughters who must have been heirs to Alkerton also: in 1542 Anne, one of the daughters, and her heirs, and Barbara, daughter of Anne's sister Margaret, with her husband Robert Mordaunt, sold Alkerton manor to Robert Hopper of Henley. (fn. 62) Hopper's descendants held the manor for over a century and the following were lords: Robert's son Thomas (d. 1573), his grandson Thomas (d. 1596), (fn. 63) and his great-grandson also Thomas (d. 1618), whose brother John sold the manor in 1619 to another member of the family, Timothy Hopper (d. 1628). (fn. 64) There were Hoppers in the parish in the 17th and early 18th century (fn. 65) and in 1719 Elizabeth Hopper, widow, and John Hopper granted their rights in the manor to George Wheeler and John Barnesley. (fn. 66) There is no further record of these manorial rights and it is likely that the manor was merged in the other Alkerton manor.
A second ALKERTON MANOR descended from a 3½ hide estate granted after the Conquest to Bishop Odo of Bayeux. In 1086 it was recorded as of his fief, although he himself had been under arrest and his property confiscated since 1082. His tenant was one Ralph. (fn. 67) The Conqueror redistributed many of Bishop Odo's fees, and it is reasonable to suppose that this Alkerton manor was granted to Wadard, a tenant of Odo at South Newington, since the two estates of Alkerton and South Newington were held by Wadard's descendants as a knight's fee. (fn. 68) Wadard's son was probably Walkelin Wadard, whose heirs were his two daughters Eloise and Denise; in 1168 Walkelin Hareng, the son of Eloise by her first husband, was in possession of the fee. (fn. 69) He was dead by 1190 when Ralph Fitz Geoffrey, the husband of Maud de Lucy, niece and coheir of Walkelin Hareng, was holding the fee. (fn. 70) Walkelin's other heirs were Miles of Fritwell, the husband of another niece, and William le Brun, who was probably a nephew. In 1200 the three coheirs were summoned to warrant the ¾ fee in Alkerton and ¼ fee in South Newington to the respective tenants. (fn. 71) They gave up their rights in the ¾ fee in Alkerton and the tenant William of Alkerton did homage directly to the king. (fn. 72)
William's father Walter of Alkerton (d. c. 1201) had been tenant of Alkerton since at least 1194, and William himself or a son still held in 1230. (fn. 73) In 1233 the land of Thomas, son of Walter of Alkerton was in the king's hands, presumably because of a minority. (fn. 74) In 1235 Amaury de St. Amand was returned as lord of one fee. (fn. 75) His possession was warranted by David, son of Thomas of Alkerton, who lived in Scotland. (fn. 76) The overlordship of Alkerton for the rest of the Middle Ages remained with the St. Amand family and until the 15th century followed the descent of their Adderbury manor. (fn. 77) Like Adderbury Alkerton was sold in 1418 by Eleanor, the relict of Amaury (d. 1402), to Sir Thomas Wykeham, who was returned as lord in 1428; (fn. 78) similarly Alkerton passed to John Danvers of Epwell, who was building up a large estate in north Oxfordshire. After his death c. 1448 Alkerton's history diverged from that of Adderbury, Alkerton passed to John Danvers's son Sir Robert, Recorder of London, a noted judge, and M.P. for Oxfordshire and London. (fn. 79) In 1473 two of Sir Robert's daughters and coheirs quitclaimed their thirds, probably as part of a settlement on another daughter Joan Danvers. (fn. 80) Joan had married Sir Henry Frowicke of Gunnersbury (in Ealing, Mdx.) and their daughter Margaret, wife of Sir Michael Fisher (d. 1549) of London and Clifton (Beds.), inherited. (fn. 81) The Fisher's son died before them and their grand-daughter Agnes succeeded to their property. She married Oliver St. John of Bletsoe (Beds.). (fn. 82) They were in possession of Alkerton in 1556 and 1559, the year Oliver was created Baron St. John of Bletsoe, but by 1567 he had sold Alkerton to Christopher Lydiat. (fn. 83) Lydiat died in 1612 or soon after and his son Richard, being imprisoned for debt, mortgaged the manor in 1625 and then sold it in 1630 to Robert Burden of Balscott, yeoman. (fn. 84) Robert Burden died aged 81 in 1677. (fn. 85) In 1703 William Burden of Braunston (Northants.) mortgaged land in Alkerton and in 1706 Richard Burden, clerk, of Braunston and Francis Burden of Rugby sold Alkerton manor and advowson to Richard Capel of Shenington. (fn. 86) Capel (d. c. 1712) left his property in trust for his two sisters, and Alkerton eventually became the portion of Susannah, wife of William Townshend of Oxhill (Warws.). (fn. 87) Townshend was lord of the manor in 1718, but died before his wife, who was succeeded in 1751 by their son John Capel Townshend. (fn. 88) The latter was obliged to mortgage the property, which had been encumbered with various charges, and in 1778 he sold the manor to Robert Child of 'Childs', the banking house, who had an estate in the neighbouring hamlet of Upton in Ratley (Warws.). (fn. 89) Robert Child died before 1783 when his widow Sarah was in possession. (fn. 90) She married Francis Reynolds-Moreton, Baron Ducie of Tortworth, in 1791, but after her death in 1793 the property eventually came to Robert Child's grand-daughter and heir Sarah Sophia Fane. (fn. 91) Sarah Fane, one of the great heiresses of her day, married George Villiers, later Child-Villiers, Earl of Jersey (d. 1859). (fn. 92) She retained Alkerton until her death in 1867 and was succeeded by her grandson Victor Child-Villiers, Earl of Jersey (d. 1915). (fn. 93) He was lord of the manor in 1891, but had sold it by 1903 to A. R. Motion of Upton (Warws.). (fn. 94) On Motion's death in 1934 the Upton estate, which extended into several parishes on the Oxfordshire-Warwickshire border, was sold to Walter Horace Samuel, Viscount Bearsted (d. 1948) and in 1959 was held by his son Marcus Richard Samuel, Viscount Bearsted. (fn. 95)
Another Alkerton manor was recorded in the 13th century and followed the descent of the lay manor of Horley and Hornton. (fn. 96) It was held in the mid13th century by Henry Lexington, Bishop of Lincoln (d. 1258), and passed to his nephew William Sutton who held ALKERTON MANOR in 1258. (fn. 97) There is no further record of the Suttons in Alkerton, but the Horley manor, held by the Grevilles, had appurtenances in Alkerton in 1398, which may represent this holding. (fn. 98)
In 1775–6 £28 out of £37 10s. raised was spent on poor relief; but by 1783–5 the sum had more than doubled. In contrast to the position in neighbouring parishes the amount spent on relief had dropped slightly by the beginning of the 19th century to £38 on out-relief and £14 on removals and law charges. The rate was 2s. in the £. In 1802–3 5 adults and 2 children received permanent out-relief, and 2 adults occasional relief, 4 of this total being either over 60 or disabled by illness. (fn. 99)
Expenditure had risen sharply by 1834–5, however, and must have been even higher in the intervening years: of £185 raised £106 was spent on relief in that year. The parish became part of the Banbury Union after the 1834 Poor Law Act. In 1835–6 £100 out of £112 was spent on poor relief (fn. 100) and £74 in 1851–2. (fn. 101)
It is evident that the expansion of arable cultivation was slow in both the Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods. In 1086 much of Alkerton's soil was uncultivated; although there was land for 11 ploughs, only 6 were recorded, and the fact that the value of Alkerton had remained unchanged since before the Conquest suggests that under-stocking was not a recent development. Of the two estates in the parish in 1086 the larger one of Richard Fitz Reinfrid had 4 out of a possible 6 ploughs working, but a third of his land may have been in Wroxton. (fn. 102) The smaller one, later the St. Amand manor, had only 2 out of a possible 5 ploughs. The only other asset mentioned was meadow (10 a.) on Fitz Reinfrid's holding. The recorded population of 4 villani and 11 bordars was small and confirms the picture of a comparatively unprosperous village. (fn. 103)
There is no record of Alkerton in the hundredal survey and other information about its development in the 12th and 13th centuries is meagre. In 1220 the two estates were assessed on 4½ and 3 ploughlands respectively. (fn. 104) When the Walton manor was surveyed in 1279 it was worth £9 2s. 9d. a year: 60 a. of demesne (£1 10s.), assized rent (£7 4s. 9d.), and works (8s.). (fn. 105) In 1310 this manor had a manorhouse worth 6s. 8d. and 60 a. still in demesne, but said to be worth only 20s. a year or 4d. an acre. There were 3 a. of meadow worth 2s. an acre, some several pasture, a water-mill worth 13s. 4d., 3 free tenants paying 7s. 3d. a year, and 10 customary tenants who paid £5 a year. The total value of the manor was £7 16s. 9d. (fn. 106)
A survey of the other manor was made in 1331, when there was a manor-house worth 12s. a year and 1 carucate of land. As the arable (c. 91 a.) was only worth 2d. an acre when sown, the soil cannot have been very productive. Meadow (4 a.), valued at 1s. 8d. an acre, was of less than normal value in the neighbourhood. Pasture worth 1s. was inclosed from 25 March to 1 August. The manor had 6 free tenants, who together paid 4s. 1½d. rent a year, 3 customary tenants (nativi) and 2 cottars (cotelli), whose combined rent came to £1 10s. At Christmas the nativi paid churchscot and bread to the lord worth 15s. a year. Their works were valued at 3s. 11½d. a year. Any week-work there may have been seems to have been commuted since only harvest and carrying services were enumerated. (fn. 107)
In 1316 there were 19 contributors to the sixteenth, two-thirds of whom paid between 2s. and 4s., while the lord of the Walton manor paid 8s. (fn. 108) In 1327 there were 20 contributors to the twentieth, most paying between 1s. and 2s. (fn. 109) Alkerton's assessment was fixed at £1 16s. 2d. in 1334 and was the lowest in the hundred except for Drayton. (fn. 110)
The village clearly declined like many other small townships during the 14th century, for in 1428 it was returned as having fewer than 10 households. (fn. 111) It is possible that the population had decreased since the poll tax of 1377 when 39 adults were returned. (fn. 112) The greatest loss, however, is likely to have resulted from the Black Death, which raged in the north of the county in 1349. As elsewhere there was definite recovery in the 16th and 17th centuries. Population increased but the subsidy lists with their small number of contributors provide evidence for the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few husbandmen. Apart from the tenant of the manor there were 8 names in the assessment of 1523, all assessed on goods, and there were not more than 5 contributors to the later16th-century taxes. (fn. 113) In 1665 only 6 householders were assessed for Hearth Tax: all had fair-sized houses of 3 to 5 hearths, while the cottagers described as labourers in the parish register were evidently not taxed. (fn. 114)
A selection of 17th-century inventories gives totals for the value of some of the parishioners' chattels ranging from £11 to over £165 for Timothy Hopper, lord of an Alkerton manor. One of the Lydiat family, whose ancestors had owned much of Alkerton, was worth £73 in goods when he died in 1715. (fn. 115)
There is no evidence for early inclosure and Alkerton remained an open-field village until 1777. The yardland seems to have been of normal Oxfordshire size of c. 24 field-acres, since in 1331 a carucate consisted of some 91 a., and in 1776 there were said to be 38 yardlands or c. 1,000 field-acres. (fn. 116)
The medieval field system is not known, but early-17th-century terriers show that the fields were divided into lands, ridges, 'hades' and leys, lying in furlongs and described as being either on the south or north side of the town. (fn. 117) One yardland of glebe, for example, was divided in 1647 into 21 pieces lying on the south side and 19 pieces on the north side. (fn. 118) By 1725, if not earlier, the furlongs were grouped into four 'quarters'. In Alkerton in 1725 the quarters were North, South, East, and West. (fn. 119) In both the 17th and 18th centuries much land in the open fields was in leys, i.e. laid down to pasture. In 1647 3 of the leys of the glebe land had been recently ploughed up, but on the whole leys seem to have been fairly permanent pasture. (fn. 120) Eight lands were also in the Water-furrows, which indicated that there were water-meadows in Alkerton. (fn. 121) At least some meadow land was lot meadow: in 1619 lot meadows lay north and south of the town, and there was a meadow called 'Three Lots'. (fn. 122) There were also lots both of fuel and furze in the heath, which covered at least 90 a. as late as 1774. (fn. 123) Crops grown in the parish included wheat, rye, barley, pulse, and oats. (fn. 124)
The small number of farmers made it comparatively easy to inclose in 1777. The total allotment was 689 a. of which 32 a. were common or waste. Two acres were awarded for manorial rights to plant and cut timber on the waste land. The rector received some 104 a. as rector, and 99 a. were allotted for his 8-yardland holding; there were five allotments of 40 to 99 a. and nine of 1 to 20 a. (fn. 125) The immediate result of inclosure was an increase in production. Davis's map of 1797 shows that even Alkerton heath was used for arable, (fn. 126) and in 1809 Arthur Young cited Alkerton as a parish where the wheat yield had increased. (fn. 127) The cultivation of turnips, for which the soil was well suited, probably also increased.
A casualty of the re-organization following inclosure may have been the mill. It was transferred by Timothy Hopper, lord of the Walton manor, to Richard Lydiat, lord of the St. Amand manor, in 1624; (fn. 128) it was recorded in early-18th-century deeds, (fn. 129) but had disappeared by 1778. (fn. 130)
Inclosure appears to have had little effect on the pattern of landholding: at the beginning of the 19th century there were usually about 6 chief proprietors, who on the whole let out their land to tenantfarmers. (fn. 131) In 1851 there were 5 farmers, 4 with farms of 100 to 150 a. and a fifth with only 16 a., (fn. 132) and until the 1920s the parish continued to be divided into 5 or 6 farms. (fn. 133) Labourers' wages averaged 12s. to 13s. a week; in summer, however, there was free beer, and produce from cottage gardens and allotments supplemented the low wages. (fn. 134)
By the end of the 19th century difficult communications added to the difficulties of the farmers. It was stated in an agricultural survey of 1916 that Alkerton was too distant from Banbury and too hilly for large quantities of feeding stuffs and manures to be brought, or for frequent sending away of produce. (fn. 135) More recently there have been considerable changes: traditional village craftsmen, such as the cooper, carpenter, basket-maker, and stonemason enumerated in the 19th century, (fn. 136) have disappeared, as also has the small farmer. The greater part of the farm land in 1959 was held by two land-owners. Alkerton Heath Farm and Manor Farm were farmed as part of the Upton estate which lay partly outside Oxfordshire. The Oxfordshire Ironstone Company was the other chief proprietor; its land was leased and farmed by Passmore & Nunnelly of Balscott. (fn. 137)
There is no documentary evidence for the history of the church until 1233, (fn. 138) but there are some features in the church building which point to a 12th-century origin at least. No change in status occurred, apart from the institution of a temporary vicarage in the 13th century, (fn. 139) until the living was united to the neighbouring rectory of Shenington in 1900. The new rectory came to be known as Shenington with Alkerton. (fn. 140)
From at least the early 13th century the advowson was attached to the St. Amand manor. The first recorded presentation was a royal one in 1233, proabably during the minority of the lord of the manor. (fn. 141) After two further presentations by Sir Mathew de Coudray, the guardian of the St. Amand's heir, the advowson descended with the manor until the late 19th century. (fn. 142) When the manor passed out of the Earl of Jersey's family the advowson was retained. As Shenington was also in the patronage of the Earl of Jersey the union of the two parishes in 1900 did not affect the patronage. (fn. 143) It was transferred to the Diocesan Board of Patronage in 1952. (fn. 144)
Although in about 1087 Miles Crispin granted the demesne tithes of his Alkerton manor to Bec Abbey (fn. 145) there is no record of the abbey receiving them, possibly because Alkerton church was already in existence and the grant was disputed. The rectory was in fact endowed with all the tithes in the parish and with a small glebe, but because the parish was so small the rectory has always been poor. In 1291 it was valued at £4 6s. 8d. and in 1535 at £6 3s. 8d. (fn. 146) In 1716 its annual value was £60. (fn. 147) At inclosure in 1777 the tithes were commuted for about 92 a., and the yardland of open-field glebe was exchanged for 11 a. (fn. 148) This farm, containing some of the best land in the neighbourhood, formed from this time until its sale in 1901 the endowment of the rectory. (fn. 149) Its value varied with the price of agricultural land: in 1808 it was rented for over £130, in 1869 a rent of £175 was considered too low by £45, but by 1900 only £104 could be obtained. (fn. 150) When in that year the living was annexed to Shenington, the value of the new benefice was more than three times that of Alkerton rectory. (fn. 151)
In the 13th century Alkerton had two educated rectors: Master William (1233–43/4), who was surgeon to Henry III and to Bishop Grosseteste, (fn. 152) and Master Robert of Clifton (1291–8), an Oxford graduate. (fn. 153) On the other hand another rector, Reinotius, presented in 1250–1, was found on examination by Bishop Grosseteste to be poorly educated (minus literatus) and barely able to speak English. The bishop insisted that a temporary vicarage be ordained and that a better qualified minister should serve the church. The vicar was to receive all the income from the parish and bear all the expenses, but was to pay 5 marks a year (half at least of his income) to the rector as long as the latter was well behaved in orders, and did not accept another benefice. (fn. 154)
As the living was a poor one, it did not attract members of the St. Amand family; only one, John de St. Amand (resigned 1250–1), held it, nor were any university graduates rectors between the end of the 13th century and the late 16th century. (fn. 155) Except for the case of Reinotius there is no direct evidence for either pluralism or non-residence during the Middle Ages. Possibly one 15th-century rector, who was a Canon of Wroxton, (fn. 156) may have lived at the abbey. Two early-16th-century rectors, on the other hand, were certainly resident. One had his brother and sister-in-law living with him in the rectory house at the time of the bishop's visitation c. 1520; (fn. 157) the other, Thomas Williams (1537–56), started the parish register, (fn. 158) left 12d. to every house in the parish, and was buried in the chancel. (fn. 159) He was a witness of the Reformation changes, among them the disappearance of the church light; in 1549 its endowment (4 a. of land worth 6d. a year) was sold. (fn. 160)
In the 17th and 18th centuries when the patrons often lived in the parish, they frequently presented their connexions to the living. During the 17th century, in particular, this system gave the parish several able rectors and one outstanding one, Thomas Lydiat, commemorated in The Vanity of Human Wishes. (fn. 161) He was presented to the living in 1612 by his father, Christopher, (fn. 162) and spent most of the rest of his life in the village. From the rectoryhouse, 'my home', he corresponded with his friend Archbishop Usher and there wrote many of his chronological and astronomical works as well as 600 sermons on the harmony of the gospels. Many of these sermons he probably preached in Alkerton church. (fn. 163) After rebuilding the rectory-house, (fn. 164) he fell into grave financial difficulties and spent from at least 1629 to 1632 in prison for debt, partly at Oxford. (fn. 165) Lydiat had friends on both sides in the religious controversies of the 17th century: (fn. 166) but during the Civil War he was a royalist and episcopalian. In a petition of 1644 to the governor of Banbury castle, about his house in Banbury, he wrote that he had tried to keep 'true allegiance' to the king and to persuad others to do the same. His house had been four times pillaged by Parliamentary forces and he had been twice imprisoned. He signed himself as the 'old and weak minister' of Alkerton (fn. 167) and two years later he died there. (fn. 168) He left goods valued at only £169, of which £50 was for books. (fn. 169)
Lydiat was followed by several other learned rectors: the first, Richard Burden, had studied seven years at Oxford and come in 1646 to Alkerton with the reputation of being a 'painful and diligent' minister. (fn. 170) His successor was Thomas Lydiat's nephew Timothy (d. 1663), a former Fellow of New College, and a 'faithful pastor', (fn. 171) and after him came John Pointer (1663–1710), the son of a Puritan preacher of the same name. (fn. 172) He repaired the chancel and the rectory-house in 1692 and his neat handwriting in the parish register shows that he was usually resident. (fn. 173) His elder son John later acquired a reputation as a learned antiquary (fn. 174) and his younger son Malachy succeeded his father as rector (1711–20). (fn. 175)
Although residence continued to be the rule in the earlier 18th century there was some falling off in zeal. Francis Townshend (1733–42), a younger son of the squire, usually held two services on Sunday, administered the sacrament three times a year 'according to the custom of the parish', and frequently catechized the children (fn. 176) but his successor decreased the number of services to one, since he also served Shutford chapel. He never had more than five or six communicants, (fn. 177) he catechized only in Lent, and refused to repair the churchyard wall or the church fabric. (fn. 178) The dispute over the repair of the wall was long: in 1752 the churchwardens reported it as constantly out of repair for the last ten years. (fn. 179)
By this time there was only one churchwarden, instead of the two wardens of the 16th century, (fn. 180) perhaps as a consequence of a declining population. The wardens changed frequently until 1780, when it became customary for the person chosen, usually one of the leading farmers, to serve for many years. (fn. 181) In the 19th century, if not before, the warden was chosen by the rector or his curate. (fn. 182) One of the warden's responsibilities was the handling of the lands given for the repair of the church. (fn. 183) These are mentioned in the early 18th century, when they had been used to lower the rates, (fn. 184) and by 1809 they were of sufficient value to make a church rate unnecessary. The churchwardens also managed a small coal fund. (fn. 185) The parish clerk had an endowment: before inclosure this had been a cowcommon and the right to cut furze on the heath. By the inclosure award he received over 2 a., and this land, which in 1831 was worth about £3 and in 1869 about £10, (fn. 186) made him comparatively well paid.
When John Capel Townshend, the lord of the manor, became rector in 1775, there began the long association with Shenington which was to lead to the union of the two parishes. The Jacobean rectoryhouse at Alkerton was too small for him and he lived 'with every convenience' in his own house at Shenington. As it was in an elevated position overlooking Alkerton he was perhaps correct in saying that 'not a bell can ring or anything happen but I hear it from my own house'. (fn. 187) He also stated that he was often in Alkerton two or three times a day, yet he held only one service on Sundays and catechized once a year. (fn. 188) Nor did he at once display great energy about the upkeep of the church. There were no Commandments, Lord's Prayer, or 'Belief' painted up in the church in 1755 and the same complaint was made in the next year, when the porch was also out of repair. Later Townshend remedied these things. (fn. 189) From 1804 he sometimes had a curate at Alkerton since he spent much time at Wroxton Abbey as domestic chaplain to Lord Guilford. (fn. 190) He died in 1821, leaving a somewhat unclerical reputation behind him. It was later said that he used to play whist in Alkerton church porch while waiting for a funeral, and that after afternoon service he always finished the day playing whist with Lord Guilford at Wroxton. (fn. 191)
After Townshend's death the church was served by the rectors of Shenington. (fn. 192) By 1866 the number of communion services had been increased from four in 1854 to twelve a year, and the church was 'tollerably well filled' although much of the congregation came from Shenington, because most of the religious poor of Alkerton were dissenters. (fn. 193) When in 1869 both Alkerton and Shenington livings became vacant, Lord Jersey presented his friend Arthur Blythman to Shenington and proposed to unite the livings. (fn. 194) A protest was signed by over 70 people, however, 10 from Shenington and the rest from Alkerton. (fn. 195) Their case was that the villages were 'perfectly distinct' and a deep valley lay between them, making the journey from one to the other 'most tedious and difficult', especially for the old and infirm and those from outlying farmhouses. 'Through the forethought of our ancestors' each village had its own church, and the petitioners could see no reason for the union except to increase the value of Shenington rectory, 'already amply sufficient'. They thought Alkerton a suitable living for a clergyman 'of modest means and views'; and that a rector constantly resident among his people would 'confer many benefits', and would be preferable to a curate. Behind the petition was apparently the fear that Alkerton church would eventually be closed and pulled down.
Blythman, supported by the churchwarden of each parish, answered the petition by pointing out that of the signatories one of the leaders was a Roman Catholic, about half were dissenters, and some were non-resident landowners. He promised to appoint a resident curate, and stressed the advantage of a well-paid rector and a curate over two poorly paid rectors. (fn. 196) He was defeated, however, when the Bishop of Worcester (in whose diocese Shenington lay) (fn. 197) withdrew his support after the petition was sent in, largely, it was thought, because by transferring Shenington to Oxford diocese his officers would lose parochial fees. (fn. 198) Alkerton therefore obtained its last resident rector, Benjamin J. Smith (1870–1900), who held the two desired Sunday services. By 1878 the number of communicants had risen to 26, but he was dissatisfied with the small size of his congregations, which he attributed to the strength of dissent and the rise of the Agricultural Union. (fn. 199) He laboured unremittingly to get his church building restored, contributed handsomely himself, and collected funds over a period of fourteen years, a difficult task as the parish had no resident gentry. (fn. 200)
In 1900, when the living was again vacant, no objection was raised to its union with Shenington, or to the transference of Shenington to Oxford diocese. (fn. 201) Blythman, who was still at Shenington, served the two churches until his retirement in 1926 at the age of 85. (fn. 202) Although there is only one parochial church council, Shenington and Alkerton technically remain separate ecclesiastical parishes.
The church of ST. MICHAEL is built of local iron-stone and consists of a nave with south aisle and porch, a central tower, and a chancel. (fn. 203) The chancel is at a considerably higher level than the nave; there are steps between the chancel and the tower, and between the tower and the nave. The earliest part of the building is the tower, its lower story dating from the 12th century. Its north and south walls stand on plain Romanesque arches. The northern arch is blind, as was the southern until 1889, and there is no evidence that transepts were ever built. Towards the end of the 12th century the nave was enlarged by the addition of the south aisle of two pointed arches, and early in the 13th century the Romanesque arches in the east and west walls of the tower were replaced by Gothic arches. The western of these two arches is elaborately moulded and springs from slender clustered columns of 'Early English' design. The present chancel dates wholly or largely from the 17th century, but probably stands more or less exactly on the foundations of its medieval forerunner.
Early in the 14th century the two upper stories of the tower were added, and later the nave was rebuilt. It is lighted by a clerestory consisting of four windows on the south side and two on the north. It is roofed by a low-pitched timber roof resting on corbels, and decorated externally by a parapet resting on a cornice of Hornton stone sculptured with grotesque figures of men and animals. The cornice resembles those at Adderbury, Hanwell, Bloxham, and elsewhere in north Oxfordshire. Although its iconographical significance is obscure, it is unlikely that, as has sometimes been supposed, any allusion to the life of the Black Prince was intended. (fn. 204) The porch appears also to be an addition of the 14th century.
In the early 17th century Thomas Lydiat (rector 1612–47) 'rebuilt' (fn. 205) or partially rebuilt the chancel in a Perpendicular style. No further large-scale alterations were executed before the general restoration of 1889, but the following parts of the church underwent minor repairs: the nave roof in 1683; (fn. 206) the porch in 1756; (fn. 207) the roof in 1813 and 1814; (fn. 208) the north wall of the tower in 1833; (fn. 209) and the foundations in 1843 when they were underpinned. (fn. 210) The lower part of the south wall was also rebuilt, externally only, before 1824 and two windows were blocked up. (fn. 211) All the whitewash and plaster was removed from the interior and the windows were repaired in the early 1840s. (fn. 212)
The poverty of the parish prevented a general restoration before 1889, although the roof was reported to be decayed both in 1855 and 1868. (fn. 213) The architects Bodley and Garner reported in c. 1878, (fn. 214) and the Diocesan Church Building Society was applied to for a grant in 1889. It was proposed to rebuild the roofs, restore the mullions of the windows and other stonework, underpin the walls and tower, build an organ chamber and a vestry, put in new floors, new sittings in place of the existing high pews, and install heating. The bells were to be rehung, the west gallery, probably an 18th- or early 19th-century addition, removed, and an organ provided. (fn. 215) When the diocesan architect reported on the plans he noted that the south porch had fallen away from the aisle wall and that extreme care would be necessary in restoring the tower. The architect employed for the restoration was J. A. Cossins of Cossins and Peacock, Birmingham. (fn. 216) All this work appears to have been carried out and the southern tower arch now opens into the vestry and organ chamber: the ancient south doorway of the tower was re-erected in the south wall of the vestry. (fn. 217)
There are memorial inscriptions to the following: John Pointer, rector (d. 1710); Malachy Pointer, rector (d. 1720); Timothy Lydiat, 'faithful pastor' (d. 1662/3); and Hannah, the wife of Richard Burden, pastor (d. 1653/4). (fn. 218) Thomas Lydiat was buried in the chancel (1646/7) beside his father and mother. In 1669 the Warden of New College had an inscription put over Lydiat's grave but it has been obliterated. (fn. 219)
The silver Elizabethan chalice with paten cover is considered to be the work of a provincial goldsmith whose work is found in many Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire churches. (fn. 220)
There is a chime of four bells of which one is a fine medieval bell c. 1400 and one is of 1618. (fn. 221)
Apart from a small gap in the marriage register for the period 1784–1803, the registers are complete from 1544. (fn. 222)
There were 6 Protestant nonconformists in 1676 (fn. 223) but the only others recorded in the 17th or 18th centuries were a few Quakers, (fn. 224) an Anabaptist gentleman farmer in 1768 (his wife and family went to church), and a dissenter of unknown sect in 1784. (fn. 225) In 1802 there was one Presbyterian. (fn. 226) Probably Alkerton people were attending the Methodist chapel in Shenington from the time of its foundation in 1819. (fn. 227) In 1854 a cottage in Alkerton was being used as 'a meetinghouse for Ranters', (fn. 228) and by 1866 most of the poor were said to be Primitive Methodists. (fn. 229) In 1869 the rector blamed the 'historically Puritanical associations' of the neighbourhood and pointed to the proximity of Shenington Primitive Methodist chapel, built 'as nearly as may be between the two villages'. (fn. 230) It is not known what proportion of that chapel's congregation came from Alkerton.
In 1811 there was a small subscription school. (fn. 231) A Sunday school was established in 1813, supported by voluntary subscriptions; there were 20 girls and 16 boys attending in 1815. It was stated that the teachers were willing to learn and practise the National Society's new plan of instruction, but that if more children were collected from neighbouring villages to profit by it, the small chancel of the church, where classes were held, would no longer be adequate as a schoolroom. (fn. 232)
The problem was only partially solved in 1818, for although the parish had joined with Shenington in establishing a National school, supported partly by subscription and partly by the parish rates, it was stated that the poor were 'without means of affording their children education'. (fn. 233) In 1834 Alkerton children still attended, both daily and on Sundays, the school at Shenington, which was within half a mile of most of their cottages. (fn. 234) They paid only fines for non-attendance, which were divided once a year, either among the good ones or those who were most regular. (fn. 235) In 1861 Sophia Hughes and Mary Wilson bequeathed £269 and £223 15s. 6d. respectively to the National school for the poor children of Alkerton and Shenington. In 1905 sufficient stock from Sophia Hughes's bequest was sold to produce £50, which was gradually replaced by the accumulated dividends of the remaining stock. (fn. 236)
By 1868 education at Shenington National school was supplemented by a night school held in the winter at Alkerton, but the rector, while admitting the existence of such a school, disclaimed all knowledge of its operation. He thought that it would have been possible to retain many more children in the Sunday school after leaving day school if a larger building had been available. (fn. 237) At the age of 9 boys were apt to leave school to work a 12 or 13 hour day in the fields, where, it was said, their health benefited from the excercise. Girls were not employed as agricultural labourers in Alkerton. (fn. 238)
In 1871 Alkerton's first mixed elementary school was established in conjunction with the National Society and the Church of England: it had accommodation for 58 children, (fn. 239) but was attended by no more than seventeen. The rector gave daily religious instruction and there was a certificated schoolmistress. The school was built by the ratepayers' subscriptions. (fn. 240) By 1890 half the financial support was received from a Government grant; rates and subscriptions and the small endowment mentioned above provided the rest. The average attendance had dropped to fourteen. (fn. 241) In 1905 the school was closed. The children returned to the school at Shenington, which continues as a mixed elementary school now known as the Shenington with Alkerton school. (fn. 242)
At inclosure in 1777 c. 7 a. worth £5 a year was given for fuel for the poor. (fn. 243) This was the 'Poor Land', one parcel of which was sold in 1906 for £93 and another in 1945 for £280. In 1963 interest on this invested capital was bringing in £11 which was distributed in coal. (fn. 244)