Wootton hundred

Pages 1-5

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 11, Wootton Hundred (Northern Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1983.

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Wootton hundred covered some 70,000 acres of central Oxfordshire, bounded on the east by the river Cherwell, on the north by its tributary the Swere, and on much of the south by the rivers Thames and Windrush. Part of the western boundary passed through the royal forest of Wychwood. The landscape varies from the flat meadows and oolitic gravels of the Upper Thames in the south to the rich 'red land' of the ironstone uplands around Deddington in the north; between them is the undulating stonebrash of the limestone hills, cut through by streams which provided good meadow land and powered the many water mills of the region.

The parishes of the northern part of the hundred treated here were predominantly agricultural communities, looking to small markets at Deddington or Woodstock. Weaving and malting at Deddington were on a small scale, and slate mining at Stonesfield and gloving near Woodstock were developments of the 17th century and later. Though there was some early inclosure for sheep farming the area was largely one of nucleated villages surrounded by open fields until parliamentary inclosure in the 18th century or early 19th; groupings of two open fields later becoming quarters were usual, as was the introduction after the Middle Ages of convertible grassland in leys. A feature of the area was the development within a single vill of two separate sets of fields, usually called ends, notably at Deddington, Duns Tew, and South Newington. There were large parks at Heythrop, Rousham, and Great Tew and smaller parks of the 18th century or earlier at North and Middle Aston, Glympton, Ledwell, Sandford, and Tackley; notable country houses survive at Heythrop and Rousham. Associated with some of the larger estates were 'closed villages' like Great Tew, Rousham, and Sandford, whose development contrasted sharply with that of 'open' neighbours such as Middle Barton, Stonesfield, Steeple Aston, and Wootton.

The villages are built of local stone, ironstone in the north and paler limestone in the south, roofed with thatch or stone slate. The opening of the Oxford canal in the late 18th century led to increased use of brick and blue slate, and in the 19th century there were small local brickworks at Deddington and elsewhere, though much of their product was land drains. In the 20th century many villages were enlarged, using a wide variety of building materials, to provide homes for people employed in Banbury and Oxford. The extent to which such development was encouraged underlined the difference between open and closed villages in the area.

Wootton hundred c.1845

In the mid 19th century Wootton hundred, according to the census enumerators, comprised 34 parishes; they covered 69,215 a. (28,011 ha.). (fn. 1) The borough of Woodstock (62 a.) and the extra parochial district of Blenheim Park (2,269 a.) belonged historically to the hundred but were included by the enumerators in an otherwise unrecorded 'liberty of Oxford'. (fn. 2) The hamlet of Nether Kiddington (756 a.) and the deserted hamlet of Showell (798 a.) had likewise belonged to Wootton hundred (fn. 3) but were included with their respective parishes of Kiddington and Swerford in Chadlington hundred. (fn. 4) By contrast Heythrop township, which had earlier belonged to Chadlington hundred, was included in Wootton hundred, to which part of Heythrop parish (i.e. Dunthrop township) had always belonged. (fn. 5)

With those exceptions the hundred of 1841 was unchanged since the 13th century, when its constitutents first become known. For the carucage of 1220, from which monastic and many other properties were exempt, 33 vills in Wootton hundred were assessed. (fn. 6) Eyre rolls of the mid 13th century provide the names of other vills in the hundred and clarify the line of its southern boundary with the Northgate hundred of Oxford. (fn. 7) The hundred rolls of 1279 surveyed 54 vills, and in 1316 as many as 56 were listed; (fn. 8) to the larger total are to be added Dunthrop, Hensington, Ilbury, Nether Kiddington, and Nethercote (in Middle Aston), all included in the hundred in 1279, Woodstock, included in 1220, Middle Barton, separately taxed from the 14th century, and settlements such as Nethercott (in Tackley) and Slape (in Glympton) known to have existed at that time. (fn. 9) By 1665 only 47 places in the hundred were separately taxed, (fn. 10) and of the c. 65 early 14th-century vills over a third became wholly deserted or very shrunk settlements, the highest incidence of depopulation among Oxfordshire hundreds. In so varied a landscape many causes may have been at work, but 14th-century plagues were directly responsible for depopulation at Tilgarsley (in Eynsham) and probably began the 'retreat from the margin' in other parishes such as Glympton, Tackley, and Wootton. At Dunthrop and Showell, properties of Bruern abbey, Cistercian sheep farming seems to have been a cause, while at Water Eaton (in Kidlington) the inclosing activities of a 16th-century entrepreneur were blamed. (fn. 11)

Though not named in Domesday Book Wootton hundred may be identified with the three hundreds dependent on the royal manor of Wootton in 1086 and sometimes called the three hundreds of Wootton in the later 12th century. (fn. 12) The Domesday assessment of places known later to belong to the hundred was over 350 hides and for the carucage of 1220 the hundred paid as a triple hundred on 320 ploughs. (fn. 13) Though Wootton manor had been granted away from the demesne in 954 and in 1086 was a relatively small royal manor, (fn. 14) its proximity to the important royal hunting lodge at Woodstock presumably explains its choice as an administrative centre. The amalgamation of three hundreds was not reflected, as sometimes elsewhere, in larger juries or quarrels about changes in hundredal centres, (fn. 15) and the original meeting places of the hundreds are not known.

In the late 12th century the hundred was held with Wootton manor (fn. 16) by William Paynel (d. 1184), passing to his widow Eleanor de Vitré, countess of Salisbury, on whose death in 1232 or 1233 it escheated to the king. Thereafter it long remained a royal hundred, closely linked first with Wootton manor, then with the royal manor of Woodstock of which Wootton was a member; it was administered variously by farmers, by the bailiffs of Woodstock manor, or by the stewards of courtiers to whom it had been granted for lives or years. In 1705 it was granted to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, in whose family it remained. (fn. 17)

The foot levies of Wootton hundred were mentioned in the 13th century. (fn. 18) By then the hundred bailiff held three-weekly courts, and there were 'great hundreds' twice each year, near Easter and Michaelmas, at which the sheriff viewed the frankpledge. Probably then, as in the 14th century, the courts met at Old Woodstock, (fn. 19) presumably at a gate of the royal park. By the 17th century the hundred court was called the Park Gate court. (fn. 20)

Numerous franchises were established in the hundred by charter, custom, or usurpation. (fn. 21) In 1232 Eleanor, countess of Salisbury, was trying, apparently without success, to recover the suit of Nicholas de Moels of Over Worton and two other tenants in serjeanty. (fn. 22) By the 1270s the principal franchises included Queen Eleanor's Hanborough manor, which was free from all outside interference, and Edmund, earl of Cornwall's numerous manors in the hundred, for which he held pleas, including those of vée de naam, at a three-weekly court at North Oseney, while from some manors he also claimed suit at a biannual view at Yarnton 'hundred'. Though the withdrawal of suit by some of the earl's tenants was challenged, (fn. 23) the North Oseney court continued to serve effectively as the hundred court for manors in Barton, Rousham, Cassington, Worton, Somerford, Whitehill, Ludwell, Northleigh, and Yarnton. (fn. 24) The assize of bread and of ale was claimed by the lords of Deddington and Stanton Harcourt, and at Eynsham by the abbot. Gallows were claimed at Deddington and Eynsham, and a view and waifs at Stanton Harcourt. At Great Tew, presumably because of the earl of Chester's influence, the lord claimed gallows and a view without interference from the hundred bailiff, and at Kidlington Hugh de Plessis claimed similar rights without entry by the sheriff. The abbess of Godstow at Godstow and Wolvercote was exempt from the royal bailiff except by writ, and had a fair, tolls, infangthief, and outfangthief. The abbot of Oseney had a view at Hensington and Little Tew, and was quit of suit for Worton (in Cassington) by charter. There were several other small monastic franchises. Some were challenged, however: the abbot of Bruern was fined in 1284–5 for withdrawing his suit of Dunthrop, (fn. 25) and the abbot of Eynsham had to submit to and pay for annual entry by the sheriff and hundred bailiff for a view at Eynsham. (fn. 26) Similar entry rights were retained over the de Gray manors at Cogges and Wilcote and over manors at Barford St. Michael and Cassington. There were numerous lesser franchises, for which the lords had to demand their liberty each year at the hundredal view and submit to annual entry by the sheriff and bailiff. In that category were manors at Steeple Aston, Glympton, Nether Kiddington, South Newington, Showell, Duns Tew, Little Tew, and the Wortons.

The profits of the hundred were farmed for £12 in the 1240s, (fn. 27) but later were sometimes accounted for fully by the bailiff of Woodstock. In 1271–2 the income of c. £13 included £5 hidage, £3 from pleas and perquisites of court, 32s. from fines from those allowed to withhold suit, 29s. and 6 qr. of oats paid as cert money at the views, 14s. for ward penny, 10s. for chiminage, and 8s. from sale of hay from an unidentified meadow belonging to the hundred. (fn. 28) Profits of c. £16 were recorded in the early 14th and late 15th century, (fn. 29) and in 1606 the income of c. £13 included £9 10s. from hidage and wardsilver, 28s. from suit fines, and £2 from cert money for 'foreign views', paid for the most part by the same manors and in the same amounts as those recorded in 1279. (fn. 30)

Vestigial payments continued to be made at the Park Gate court until the mid 19th century, but thereafter the court seems only to have appointed tithingmen; it last met at the gate in 1925 after a lapse of many years. (fn. 31) In the mid 19th century 'foreign views', held by the duke of Marlborough's steward and sometimes confused with the manorial courts, (fn. 32) were held on a single day at Glympton, Barford St. Michael, South Newington, Little Tew, and Over and Nether Worton, when payments were made and tithingmen appointed. In the later 19th century and until 1925 the views were held at Barford St. Michael. (fn. 33) Separate courts deriving from the 'foreign view' were held at Cassington and Steeple Aston, where they conducted a wider range of business, similar to that of a court leet. The Cassington court ceased c. 1870 and the Steeple Aston court in 1925. (fn. 34)

For purposes of county administration the hundred was divided into north and south parts by the 17th century, each having a chief constable appointed at the sessions. (fn. 35)


  • 1. V.C.H. Oxon. ii. 222–3.
  • 2. Ibid. 224. Woodstock was included with the hundred in taxes of 1220 and 1665: Bk. of Fees, i. 318; Hearth Tax Oxon. 105–35.
  • 3. e.g. Bk. of Fees, i. 318; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 875, 877; O.R.O., QSM II/7, p. 455; Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1883 and later edns.) s.v. Kiddington; O.S. Area Bks.
  • 4. Census, 1841–1901. Nether Kiddington and Showell are reserved for treatment in a future volume.
  • 5. Below, Heythrop, intro.
  • 6. Bk. of Fees, i. 318; A. Tomkinson, 'Carucage of 1220 in an Oxon. hund.', Bull. Inst. Hist. Res. xli. 212–16.
  • 7. P.R.O., JUST 1/695, m. 22; JUST 1/700, mm. 8–9; H. Cam, Liberties and Communities, 114.
  • 8. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 842–77; Feud. Aids, iv. 163–4.
  • 9. Below, Steeple Barton; Tackley; Glympton.
  • 10. Hearth Tax Oxon. 105–35.
  • 11. Deserted Villages of Oxon., passim; Nethercote (in Middle Aston), Slape (in Glympton), and an unnamed site in Duns Tew have been identified in Wootton hund. since that list was compiled.
  • 12. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 374, 400; Pipe R. 1174 (P.R.S. xxii), 14; Cam, Liberties, 76, 95.
  • 13. Bk. of Fees, i. 318; Bull. Inst. Hist. Res. xli. 212–16.
  • 14. Below, Wootton, manors.
  • 15. Cf. Cam, Liberties, 111–12.
  • 16. Below, Wootton, manors.
  • 17. Ibid. Duke of Marlborough Estate Act, 3 & 4 Anne, c. 6.
  • 18. e.g. Bk. of Fees, i. 589.
  • 19. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 842–77; Eynsham Cart. ii, pp. 97–101.
  • 20. e.g. P.R.O., E 134/5 Chas. I Mich./4. It is not known which gate was used.
  • 21. Para. based on Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 33–4, 46–7, 842–77.
  • 22. Close R. 1231–4, 150.
  • 23. e.g. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 664.
  • 24. Ministers Accts. of Earldom of Cornwall, 1296–7 (Camd. 3rd ser. lxvi), 142–8; cf. V.C.H. Oxon. iv. 279.
  • 25. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 663.
  • 26. Eynsham Cart. ii, pp. xlv–xlvi, 40, 97–101, 214.
  • 27. P.R.O., SC 6/962/4.
  • 28. Ibid. SC 6/962/7. For chiminage see Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 848.
  • 29. e.g. P.R.O., SC 6/962/20; SC 6/963/11–12.
  • 30. Ibid. LR 2/197, f. 134v.
  • 31. Blenheim Mun. B/M/208–236 (Woodstock manor and honor ct. rolls and min. bks. 1618–1925).
  • 32. Below, Steeple Aston, loc. govt.
  • 33. Blenheim Mun. B/M/291 (presentment bk. of Wootton hund. ct. 1840–1925); D. Royce, 'South Newington', O.A.S. Trans. (1875), 33.
  • 34. Blenheim Mun. B/M/291; below, Steeple Aston, loc. govt.
  • 35. Oxon. Justices (O.R.S. xvi), 67 and passim. For a list of places in each division in 1830 see O.R.O., QSM II/7, p. 455.