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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Stonesfield, widely known for its roofing slates, lies 12½ miles north-west of Oxford and 4 miles west of Woodstock on the river Evenlode, which touches the southern edge of the parish. The ford on the Evenlode at Stonesfield, however, was of no more than local significance: Akeman Street, which forms the south-east boundary of the parish, runs north of the river at that point. (fn. 1) The land lies on the Great Oolite, rising from 90 m. in the south on the Inferior Oolite to 120 m. in the north where there are ridges of Sharp's Hill beds and Chipping Norton limestone. (fn. 2) The slate beds stretch c. 2½ miles from east to west and c. 1 mile from north to south; they extend beyond the parish boundaries, but the most accessible deposits occur very close to Stonesfield village. (fn. 3) The soil is stonebrash, varying from shallow soil suitable for sheep to heavier corn-growing soil.
The area of the parish is only 817 a. (330.6 ha.). (fn. 4) The boundary follows natural streams and declivities on the south-west and north; an ancient road from Chipping Norton joins Akeman Street to complete the south-east boundary, (fn. 5) and the north-east and north-west boundaries, which partly follow ancient lanes, were presumably established when King's Wood was added in the 13th century. (fn. 6) That late annexation accounts for the parish's unusual shape. The parish was thus extremely small before its extension. That it was a chapelry and the church not recorded or built before the 13th century suggests dependence on another parish, perhaps North Leigh, whose rector claimed jurisdiction in Stonesfield in 1238. (fn. 7)
The ancient road from Chipping Norton to Akeman Street, known locally as Norton Riding or Norton Old Road, may have been part of a salt way from Droitwich (Worcs.) to Princes Risborough (Bucks.). (fn. 8) In 1800 the WoodstockCharlbury turnpike road was established through the north end of the parish. (fn. 9) Only a short stretch of Akeman Street seems to have been in use by the 18th century, (fn. 10) and that became redundant, along with Norton Riding, after the parliamentary inclosure of Stonesfield in 1804 which created a new road running north-east from the village to join the turnpike at Ditchley gate. At the same time a road was made from Stonesfield to Combe, partly on the line of an older road. (fn. 11) Stonesfield ford is approached from the village by an ancient hollow way. The footbridge there, the first known on the site, was built c. 1896; (fn. 12) previously there had been a small bridge further downstream. (fn. 13) Village carriers were recorded from the 1770s, and in the 19th century there were regular links with local towns and Oxford. The nearest railway stations were 3 miles away, at Charlbury and Hanborough, both opened in 1853, and Combe halt, opened in the early 1930s. (fn. 14) Those at Charlbury and Combe were still open in 1979. A bus service through Stonesfield began c. 1935. (fn. 15) The village post office was established by 1853. (fn. 16)
Stonesfield lies within the compass of Grim's Ditch, an earthwork erected about the time of the Roman invasion. (fn. 17) The parish lies also in an area rich in Roman remains, and the sites of two villas have been found there. That in the north-east corner of the parish, straddling the WoodstockCharlbury road, was a small corridor house, possibly of the 1st century a.d. The other, discovered amidst great excitement in 1712, lay ½ mile south-east of the village, just north of Akeman Street. It was found to have four elaborate and well-preserved tessellated pavements, baths, and a hypocaust. The site was ploughed over and destroyed soon after its discovery. (fn. 18)
Stonesfield ('Stunta's', i.e. foolish one's, 'field') (fn. 19) presumably began as a clearing in Wychwood Forest, and forest clearances continued to play an important part in its history. Stonesfield formed part of the western portion of the royal forest in the 13th century, (fn. 20) and in the 17th century it was claimed that the area had been disafforested since the reign of Richard III; attempts to reimpose forest laws were resisted vigorously. (fn. 21) As one of the seven demesne townships forming the honor of Woodstock, Stonesfield received privileges but was liable to special taxation and an obligation to provide minor services in Woodstock park. (fn. 22) The continued ownership of the parish by absentee landlords, and its industrial character which encouraged its people to be outward-looking and independent were also important in its history. Although essentially an agricultural community Stonesfield was also a source of unique roofing slates and a centre of the local gloving industry. The financial independence thus acquired by the villagers sometimes caused misgivings among their social superiors, who hinted at its effect on their moral condition. (fn. 23) The presence of industry made contraction in the 19th century less severe than in more agricultural villages. After the Second World War the village increasingly attracted commuters, gaining a reputation beyond its boundaries for welcoming newcomers into village life.
Only 8 people were enumerated at Stonesfield in 1086, (fn. 24) but in 1279 tenants and jurors numbered 36, suggesting some expansion but a community smaller than most of its neighbours. (fn. 25) In 1377 there were 60 people over 14, suggesting that Stonesfield had suffered less heavily from plague than many Oxfordshire places. (fn. 26) There may have been some decline by the mid 16th century when there were only 48 communicants, (fn. 27) but a recovery is indicated by the 56 adult males recorded in 1642, the 31 householders taxed in 1662, and the 107 adults recorded in 1676. (fn. 28) The population grew in the 18th century: there were 257 inhabitants in 1771 and 374 in 1801. (fn. 29) Presumably Stonefield's expansion owed something to migration, which continued in the first decade of the 19th century; thereafter, although the population rose to a peak of 650 in 1861, emigration largely balanced natural increase. In 1845 15 Stonesfield people were among those drowned in the sinking of a ship taking migrants to Tasmania. (fn. 30) Between 1861 and 1871 the population fell by 12 per cent, attributed to migration to manufacturing towns, and in the 1890s there was another sharp fall to only 491; numbers then remained static until the Second World War. (fn. 31) In the late 19th century and early 20th many Stonesfield people emigrated to Canada, mostly to British Columbia. (fn. 32) Between 1951 and 1971, as the village became a dormitory for people working in Oxford and elsewhere, the population more than doubled to 1,170. In 1979 the population was 1,340. (fn. 33)
The village stands in an exposed position in the south-west corner of the parish overlooking steep slopes to the south and west. Despite extensive building in the 20th century the ancient plan of the village is discernible, an outer perimeter of streets forming an irregular ellipse from the junction of the Riding and Pond Hill in the north to the junction of Brook Lane and Church Fields Road in the south. Peaks Lane and High Street cross the ellipse from east to west. A semicircular back lane east of the Manor House (formerly the rectory house) fell out of use after the inclosure of the parish in 1804 when new roads to Combe and Woodstock were laid out across it; part of it survives as a driveway into the Manor House grounds from the north. Otherwise the village plan was little altered, the houses lying within or around the ellipse. (fn. 34)
As late as 1806 it was said that no house in the parish was further than 200 yds. from the church. (fn. 35) The greatest concentrations of houses were in the east around the church and in the west around Boot Street and Laughton's Hill, connected by High Street. The number of 18thcentury cottages bears witness to expansion stimulated by the success of the slate industry. In the 19th century barns and stables were being transformed into additional living space. (fn. 36) Many of the older cottages are clustered in small, inward-looking groups, often retaining their barns and sheds and sometimes sharing a garden; in Boot Street and Church Fields Road there are terraces of cottages end-on to the road. Such density of building on restricted plots further emphasizes the industrial aspect of the village's character. Except for the church and former rectory house the buildings are small scale and domestic. Most are of two storeys, of rubble with brick chimney stacks and casement windows. Roofs are mostly of local slate, although the cost of repair and the ready market for secondhand slates caused some roofs to be replaced by Welsh slate. The houses were said in the 19th century to be of high quality because of the local availability of good stone. (fn. 37) Some cottages contained stone staircases which have almost all been replaced. (fn. 38)
In 1973 there were 109 houses built before 1900, of which 22 had been incorporated in larger properties; (fn. 39) in the 1950s, for example, Evenlode in Well Lane was converted into a single house from four cottages. (fn. 40) The oldest dated house, in High Street opposite the new school, bears a partly illegible date reputed to be 1604. Other notable houses are two adjoining cottages at the foot of Laughton's Hill; one of them, dated 1722 and built by Thomas Howes, slatemaker, (fn. 41) is representative of the more substantial cottages, two-storeyed with attic dormers, its Stonesfield slate roof intact; the other is typical of the smaller properties, built of the same materials and with later extensions of variable quality. Protestant House, near the church, is a 17th- or 18thcentury building, the date 1879 on the facade presumably referring to later alterations; its name was reputedly a provocative comment on the High Church leanings of a former rector.
The chief 19th-century additions to the village were the old school (1833) in High Street, the two Wesleyan chapels (1827 and 1867), and the Primitive Methodist chapel (1853). Although most modern building was on the outskirts of the village there has been some infilling in the centre. Church Fields Road contains a haphazard mixture, including small 18th-century cottages, and, on spacious plots, red-brick houses of c. 1900, the substantial new rectory house of 1931, and several large suburban modern houses and bungalows. In the village generally the use of reconstituted stone, yellow brick, and grey roof tiles denotes an attempt to make new buildings unobtrusive. The new school, however, is a single-storey building of brick and glass with a prominent water tower.
In the 18th century there were two greens in Stonesfield, the Great or Upper green north of the village and a green south of Peak's Lane where the school field was later placed. (fn. 42) The Great green, later reduced to a small triangle at the junction of the Riding and Pond Hill, formerly contained a cross. East of the church is a small stone lock-up of unknown date, with a studded wooden door; its roof is corbelled on the interior, presumably to prevent escape by the removal of slates. A war memorial stands at the junction of the Combe and Woodstock roads. Two outlying farmhouses were built after inclosure, Callow Barn Farm shortly after 1804 (fn. 43) and Kingswood Farm in the late 19th century. Within the village only Charity and North Farms were still working farmhouses in 1979.
In the 19th century Stonesfield's water supply from wells and springs was regarded as better than most of its neighbours'. (fn. 44) In 1897 water was piped from a spring at Ruddywell to a village tap which was still in position in 1979. In 1938 water was piped to the village from a spring at Fawler, and in 1960 a mains service using Thames water was installed. (fn. 45)
The remains of the slate industry are visible in the form of overgrown banks of chippings on the outskirts of the village particularly to the southeast and south-west. In the 19th century the heaps of debris were said to give Stonesfield the appearance of 'a bit of the Isle of Purbeck set down in Oxfordshire', (fn. 46) but in the 1950s and 1960s most of the chippings were used for road making.
The oldest known inn was the Rose and Crown, on the south side of High Street, visited by Thomas Hearne in 1712 and demolished c. 1959 for a new schoolyard. (fn. 47) The Chequers, now a private house on the south side of Laughton's Hill, was licensed from the mid 18th century and was apparently the favourite resort of entertainers travelling through Stonesfield; it had ceased trading by 1847. The Boot, on the west side of Boot Street, was licensed from the mid 18th century until 1972, was restored and reopened in 1974, but closed in 1979. (fn. 48) By 1753 there were four licensed houses, the fourth being perhaps the Maltster and Shovel, on the south side of High Street, where there was certainly a malt house by 1771. (fn. 49) In the 19th century the annual court leet dinner was held there and beer was brewed on the premises until they were sold in 1939. (fn. 50) By 1860 there were six public houses, the newcomers being the Marlborough Arms and the Black Boy, both recorded in 1847, and the White Horse, recorded in 1853. The Black Boy was burnt down c. 1850 and rebuilt as the Black Head, the name it retained in 1979. (fn. 51)
A village friendly society was founded in 1765, (fn. 52) meeting at the Rose and Crown and later at the Black Head. There were 13 founder members and numbers grew to 86 in 1803. (fn. 53) In 1879 a peak of 139 members was reached, declining to 64 by 1910. Quarterly subscriptions were 3s. 3d. and sickness benefits were 9s. a week for a year and 4s. 6d. for a second year; those receiving benefit were said to be 'on the box'. There were also funeral grants. The success of such an early rural friendly society owed much to the industrial character of Stonesfield. The society owned a small estate in the village and made loans from surplus funds; in 1797 £289 was on loan to eight people, and in 1825 £100 was lent for church restoration. In 1912 the society was incorporated into the Ancient Order of Foresters.
The almost complete lack of gentry (fn. 54) or of grand houses in Stonesfield provoked various dismissive verdicts in the 18th and 19th centuries: it was a 'wretched little village' with 'not one family above the rank of a common farmer'. (fn. 55) The villagers, however, valued their relative freedom from interference, and several families of yeomen lived in Stonesfield for many generations; of the local families in 1979 the Laughtons may be traced in Stonesfield for over four centuries, and the Osbornes for almost as long.
In 1086 STONESFIELD, reckoned as 1 hide, was held of Robert of Stafford by Aluric. (fn. 56) Aluric was succeeded at Stonesfield, as elsewhere in Oxfordshire, by the d'Oillys, who enfeoffed the Boterels there with 1 knight's fee. In 1164 Henry II, seeking to consolidate the royal estates near Woodstock, made an exchange with Henry d'Oilly, receiving Stonesfield and granting in return that Ralph Boterel should have 1 knight's fee under d'Oilly at Wednesbury (Staffs.). (fn. 57) Thereafter Stonesfield formed one of the seven demesne townships attached to the honor of Woodstock, and with the honor was granted to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, in 1705. In the Middle Ages Stonesfield was referred to frequently as a hamlet, part of Woodstock manor, (fn. 58) but seems to have had its own courts and separate administration. The d'Oillys had a house in Stonesfield in the early 12th century; there was, however, no manor house by 1279, when the demesne included a vacant house site. (fn. 59)
Stonesfield was frequently the subject of grants for life or terms of years. Fawkes de Breauté held the manor until his disgrace in 1224. (fn. 60) In 1233 the farm was granted for life to Godfrey de Craucombe for a combined rent, with Combe, of £14. (fn. 61) Following the death c. 1261 of another grantee, Roger de Haverill, the people of Stonesfield petitioned the king to be granted the farm themselves, but the outcome is unknown. (fn. 62) In 1403 Stonesfield was granted to Queen Joan, who, in 1411, demised the farm to Thomas Chaucer. (fn. 63) From the mid 15th century Stonesfield, along with the other demesne townships, was granted and regranted to a succession of royal favourites, notably Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, Ralph, Lord Sudeley, John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, and George Neville, later archbishop of York. (fn. 64)
The Tudors followed the later policy of Edward IV in appointing royal officers as stewards or receivers of the manor. When the stewards were prominent local figures such as Sir Henry Lee, however, there was difficulty in preventing them from acting almost as de facto owners of the manor. (fn. 65) The office seems to have become virtually hereditary in the 17th century. (fn. 66) In 1650 Woodstock and its appurtenant manors, including Stonesfield, were sold to Colonel Charles Fleetwood, (fn. 67) and were resumed by the Crown in 1660. Since 1705 Stonesfield has formed part of the Marlborough estate. (fn. 68)
The chief area of open field (Home field) lay east of the village in the angle formed by Akeman Street and Norton Riding. A suggestion that Home field was for some time the only field in cultivation (fn. 69) seems unlikely in view of the proximity and convenience of Church field west of the village. Church field, however, was so small that holdings there were insignificant by comparison with Home field, and the chief farmhouses stood on the east side of the village, with direct access to Home field. (fn. 70) Shortage of space forced the people of Stonesfield to look elsewhere for land. Arable was found across the parish boundary in Fawler, rented from Eynsham abbey, and in Wootton Wood, held of the king. (fn. 71) Together with the tenants of other demesne towns, Stonesfield men had the right to graze their livestock on the commons and waste of the honor of Woodstock and of Eynsham manor, and on assarts in Fawler, Charlbury, North Leigh, Ditchley, Kiddington, and Glympton. (fn. 72) Although other parishes lost their rights, that of Stonesfield tenants to common grazing on North Leigh heath was confirmed in the 16th century, and the North Leigh inclosure award made an allotment in its place. (fn. 73)
After 1232 King's Wood, formerly part of Bloxham Wood (a detached part of Bloxham parish) was included in Stonesfield parish, thereby doubling its size. (fn. 74) It was presumably there that assarting was recorded in the later 13th century, resulting in the creation of a new field, known as the Callow, in the southern part of King's Wood. In 1272 assarts by 22 men were reported, and in 1279 all the tenants held assarts. (fn. 75) Later assarts were made on the western boundary of the parish; a perambulation of Wychwood Forest in 1298 recorded Gerner's Wood where the field called Jenner's Sarts was later to be, (fn. 76) and clearance of the wood perhaps dates from that period. Jenner's Sarts was distinct from the other fields in being completely freehold. No freeholders were recorded in 1279, and although parts of Home field, Church field, and the Callow were later freehold, those fields remained mainly copyhold. (fn. 77) A survey of 1609–10 reported that Home field comprised 219 a., presumably customary acres, Church field 41 a., the Callow 45 a., and Jenner's Sarts 25 a. Together with other closes, meadows, and commons a total of 520 a. was recorded. (fn. 78) The small total, which excluded woodland, explains why Stonesfield people continued to hold property widely in neighbouring parishes. (fn. 79)
There was little consolidation of strips in the open fields. In the 17th century the glebe lay scattered in small pieces of an acre or less among the equally dispersed holdings of others. (fn. 80) As late as 1792 even the duke of Marlborough's holdings, despite some consolidation, were widely scattered. (fn. 81) Although the parish was shown in 1797 as inclosed and almost entirely pasture, it was uninclosed in 1792, with fields divided into furlongs and strips; (fn. 82) the only closes mentioned in the award of 1804 were those around the village. (fn. 83)
In 1086 woodland covered 5 furlongs by 2, (fn. 84) and King's Wood was an additional large tract of which the remnant still covered c. 300 a. in the 19th century. (fn. 85) Pigs and goats were commoned in the woodland by the villagers as of right. (fn. 86) In 1256 and 1272 Stonesfield people, including the priest, were singled out as among the worst transgressors of forest laws, particularly in stealing wood. (fn. 87) Commoners' rights were valued highly, and attempts to exclude villagers from the forest were sternly resisted. (fn. 88)
In the early 13th century the demesne produced oats and wheat on a small scale. (fn. 89) Later in the century assarts seem sometimes to have been sown only with oats. (fn. 90) By the 17th century a greater variety of crops was grown: in 1684, for example, a farmer left corn, barley, peas, and wheat to the value of £100, (fn. 91) and barley, in particular, became an increasingly important crop. (fn. 92)
In 1166–7 Stonesfield sent 550 sides of bacon to London; (fn. 93) later references confirm the importance of pigs in the parish. (fn. 94) Assessments of pannage in and after 1279, (fn. 95) however, suggest that pig-keeping may have declined in the later 13th century, possibly because of woodland clearances. Rights of common for pigs caused disputes in the 16th century when restrictions were attempted: complaints were made that Stonesfield men gave 'lewd word when they have been told'. (fn. 96) Goats were kept in the 13th century, (fn. 97) but forest clearances presumably affected them too. Cattle were of little importance, for meadow was scarce and Stonesfield's poorquality grass was better suited to sheep. In 1581 there was a complaint to Sir Henry Lee that the Stonesfield sheep commons were being over burdened. (fn. 98) Sheep stints, at 100 to a half yardland in 1607, were very high and presumably included animals pastured on Stonesfield commons in neighbouring parishes. (fn. 99) Few flocks seem to have been at the maximum, though large flocks, usually owned by wealthier farmers, were recorded regularly. (fn. 100) Arable farming remained important: Robert Laughton, for example, who died in 1684 holding one of the parish's larger estates, left sheep worth £60 but crops worth £100. (fn. 101)
In 1086 Stonesfield was assessed at 1 hide only; there was land for one ploughteam, but two teams were kept, one worked on the demesne by 2 serfs and another by 4 villeins and 2 bordars. The additional team presumably contributed to the estate's increased value, 30s. compared with 20s. in 1066. (fn. 102) The demesne was still farmed separately with the single team in the early 13th century, (fn. 103) but in 1227 the demesne and assized rents were granted to the inhabitants for £5 a year. (fn. 104) Stonesfield and Hordley, in Wootton parish, were the only townships of the seven forming the honor of Woodstock in which the demesne was let to tenants. (fn. 105)
By 1279 the demesne (42 a. of arable and a house site, presumably the former manor house) was held by 24 men at a rent of 21s. There were 27 customary tenants, 11 holding ½ yardland each, the others with smallholdings of a messuage and an acre or two. Each tenant was said to hold 2½ a. of new assart. Services formerly owed to the royal steward were commuted to money rents of 2s. 6d. for the half yardland. Some of the smallholders paid part of their rent in kind, usually two chickens. No freeholders were recorded, and only one landholder, a non-resident, was subletting. Four holders of cotland were named but there may have been more, for in 1272 Stonesfield people were prominent among the 'innumerable' cottars accused of stealing wood from the forest, and of the Stonesfield men amerced for forest offences in that period several were not named in 1279. (fn. 106)
The income from Stonesfield manor rose during the 13th century from £6 to £9 a year, (fn. 107) and in the later Middle Ages there seems to have been no difficulty in finding tenants for assarts. (fn. 108) Manorial receipts were unusually high in 1472–3, perhaps reflecting the rigorous reforms of Edward IV's receiver, Richard Croft, (fn. 109) but receipts had fallen again by the end of the decade. (fn. 110) The absence of a lord did not, as sometimes elsewhere, lead to the growth of a class of richer peasants through the amalgamation of small estates: in 1447 the largest holding of assart land was one of 13 a., (fn. 111) and as late as 1607 the largest single landholder held less than 37 a., most holdings being very much smaller. (fn. 112)
In 1176 Stonesfield was assessed for aid at 2 marks, lower than any of the neighbouring demesne townships, (fn. 113) and its relative position until the 14th century declined. (fn. 114) In 1327 18 Stonesfield people were assessed at a total of 33s. 4d.; the average assessment (2s. 10d.) was the lowest among the demesne towns apart from Hanborough, but the lowest individual assessment was 1s. (fn. 115) For later medieval taxes Stonesfield was assessed at £2 10s. 6d. (a tenth, because it was royal demesne). (fn. 116) By 1524 its assessment had grown comparatively. Only six men were assessed, all on goods, at a total of 16s. of which 9s. was payable by one man, William Hodges; the lack of small taxpayers despite plentiful evidence of numerous small-scale landholders in the parish suggests that the assessment bore little relation to the real wealth structure. (fn. 117) In 1662, with no gentry houses, Stonesfield had fewer hearths to households (60 to 31) than neighbouring parishes. (fn. 118)
In 1607 there were 17 customary holdings amounting to 245 a., and 19 freeholds comprising 74 a. One customary holding was 1½ yardland, but most, as in 1279, were ½ yardland or less, the home closes and gardens forming the largest part of some. Even richer families such as those of Hodges and Lardner which figured prominently in 16th- and 17th-century tax assessments held only small estates. Services required from the customary tenants were lighter than those imposed on other demesne towns, comprising only the carriage of hay in Woodstock Park, for which they were paid 1s. and a cartload of hay a day. Freehold was customary, tenure being by copy of court roll rather than by charter, and according to the custom of the manor but not at the will of the lord. Only one Stonesfield freeholder held land by charter. Freeholders by copy seem not to have been liable to the fines, heriots, and services imposed on other tenants. (fn. 119)
Of the six surnames in the subsidy of 1524 four had disappeared by 1607, including two traceable from the 14th century; (fn. 120) only six families figured both in 1607 and 1665. By the late 18th century none of the families of 1665 were among the landholders of the village, but by then the pattern of landholding was changing, with the growth of one or two larger estates. The development occurred late in Stonesfield. In the 1580s Sir Henry Lee acquired a small amount of inclosed land in the north end of the parish, (fn. 121) but in 1607 there was otherwise little land in the hands of outsiders. (fn. 122) In the 17th and 18th centuries, however, there was some consolidation both by local families and outsiders. The estate said above to be freehold by charter was known from the 16th century as Pomeroy's; in 1587 it comprised 41 a. in Stonesfield and c. 45 a. in Wootton Stonesfield assarts, and by 1674, when it was bought by Francis Nourse of Wood Eaton, it was said to comprise c. 140 a. in Stonesfield and Wootton. The estate was bought in 1774 by George Spencer, duke of Marlborough. (fn. 123) By 1728 the Perrots of North Leigh had accumulated an estate of 90 a. in Stonesfield and Fawler, let to Thomas Boughton of Stonesfield, who may later have purchased it; he left lands of unspecified extent to his grandson, Thomas Burborough, who became one of the larger landowners in Stonesfield. (fn. 124) In 1792 there were 33 landowners, including institutions. By far the largest was the duke of Marlborough, with 697 a.; Thomas Burborough and Sarah Busby held 58 a. and 56 a. respectively, and there were two holdings of 40 a. or more and three of 20 a. or more. The rest were mostly less than 5 a. (fn. 125)
The duke, who was considering the parliamentary inclosure of the parish from at least the 1790s, promoted an Act in 1801. (fn. 126) The award of 1804 inclosed and divided 739 a. between 29 people and institutions. The duke received 339 a. and the rector 138 a. for tithes and glebe. Holloway's School in Witney received 47 a. for an estate (formerly the Hodges family property) given to the school by John Holloway in 1723; the land formed the nucleus of the farm later known as Charity farm. (fn. 127) Sarah Busby received 41 a., Thomas Burborough 30 a., there were three allotments of between 20 and 30 a., and the rest were less than 10 a.
The number of landowners remained relatively stable after inclosure, partly because many smaller owners had already sold out, particularly to the duke, whose assessment for land tax rose from c. £4 to nearly £16 in the period 1785– 1803. (fn. 128) His successors remained the largest landowners thereafter. In 1851 four principal farmers were recorded, of whom only one occupied more than 60 a.: George Vincent employed six labourers on his 127-acre farm. By 1871 three farmers held more than 100 a.; the Davis family, with only 21 a. in 1851, had accumulated 186 a., and Thomas Gardner had increased his farm from 60 a. to 108 a. (fn. 129)
In the early 19th century Arthur Young wrote approvingly of the progressive farming methods of William Southam, a Wootton landowner who farmed in Stonesfield. Southam rotated turnips, barley, clover and grass, winter wheat, and oats, peas, or beans; he also grew sainfoin, which yielded 1½ ton to the acre in the parish. Swedes were grown and sheep were fed on the after-grass until mid October. (fn. 130) In 1914 three-quarters of the cultivated area was arable, the chief crops being barley and wheat; oats, swedes, turnips, mangolds, and potatoes were also grown in considerable quantity. On the permanent pasture sheep were predominant, but Stonesfield also had many pigs, 16 for every 100 a., a proportion which suggests that most cottages kept pigs. (fn. 131)
Because the parish was small and relatively populous many men went outside it to work, notably in Fawler, Combe, Glympton, and Wootton. (fn. 132) Some took on dry, relatively warm, work in the slate mines during winter. In the 1820s a team of young Morris Dancers would leave Stonesfield in the summer to make a long progress through Oxford and Reading to London, helping with the haymaking in Middlesex before dancing back through Berkshire and Wiltshire, where there was work with reaping early wheat. Some continued on to Gloucestershire and Warwickshire to help with the later harvesting. (fn. 133)
In October 1868 there were reported to be 20 unemployed men in Stonesfield, with little prospect of work until the following hay harvest. (fn. 134) In the 1870s the village strongly supported the National Agricultural Labourers' Union: there were 73 members by 1872. (fn. 135) Enthusiasm was probably encouraged by the agitation in Wootton, (fn. 136) where a number of Stonesfield labourers worked. Their independence was also easier because nearly all labourers owned their own cottages or enjoyed protected copyhold tenure. In 1868 there were only c. 10 tied cottages in the village. (fn. 137) Allotments were important; in 1868 there were 31 a., of which 17 a. were provided by the duke of Marlborough, let to 137 tenants. In 1895 the parish council rented 70 a. below Callow Barn to provide allotments at 30s. an acre; the commonest crops grown were barley and potatoes, with some beans and peas. There were 37 tenants in 1895, rising to 45 in 1914. After the Second World War holdings were increasingly amalgamated and used by farmers or smallholders. (fn. 138)
The slate industry in Stonesfield, (fn. 139) wrongly supposed to have originated in Roman times through failure to distinguish Stonesfield's frosted slates from common, unfrosted 'presents', has left no medieval record. (fn. 140) The characteristic Stonesfield slate, created by the splitting action of frost on fissile rock, was in use by the 17th century. (fn. 141) The frosting process was probably introduced then, when a similar process was discovered at Collyweston (Northants.). The large-scale production of high-quality slates thus became possible at a time when there was rapid building development in the region.
The first deposits to be worked were those in rocky outcrops along the slopes south and west of the village. Later, horizontal shafts were driven and by the late 18th century pit shafts were being sunk, (fn. 142) although horizontal galleries were still in use in 1820. Some shafts reached a depth of 65 ft. Between Michaelmas and Christmas the slate diggers produced the raw material for the small number of full-time slate makers working on the surface. The stone was laid out in the fields, wetted, and covered with earth to keep it damp until a frost. The size of the workforce is uncertain, for most diggers spent much of the year as agricultural labourers. In 1801 only 7 slate diggers and 2 slate makers were recorded, but there were 57 unspecified labourers. In 1811 'trade' engaged 51 people, including 22 of those described as labourers in 1801, probably a fairer indication of the number of slate workers. In 1831 there were 20 slate makers and an indeterminate number of diggers, but thereafter the numbers seem to have declined. (fn. 143) Though Stonesfield men were said to be 'chiefly employed in the slate pits', (fn. 144) in 1851 there were only 10 slate makers, with the diggers presumably concealed among 120 agricultural labourers. By 1871 there were 9 slate makers, of whom 1 was unemployed. (fn. 145) The industry declined in the later 19th century, faced with competition from Welsh slates and clay tiles. In 1895 only two pits were in use, (fn. 146) and the last was closed c. 1911. Ironically the closures led to a sharp increase in the price of Stonesfield slates, particularly as demand grew for the correct restoration of older properties.
As lords of the manor the dukes of Marlborough leased the right to dig slate. In 1774 a lease from the duke to Robert Fowler allowed a shaft to be sunk in Well Furlong and stone to be extracted for 10 years; Fowler was to pay the duke £30 and the tenant of the land £1 5s. a year, and was to supply the duke each year with 10,000 slates at a guinea a thousand. (fn. 147) References in wills and deeds suggest that such arrangements were common. Subletting was also practised, and among those profiting from the mines in the 19th century were the rector, a publican, and several farmers. (fn. 148) Wages compared favourably with those for agricultural labourers: in 1782 a good slate maker could earn 10s. 6d. a week. In 1854 the rector, himself a pit-owner, complained that the 'large wages' were being wasted in public houses. (fn. 149) By the later 19th century, however, the wages were considered inadequate to attract men into the industry. There was a strong family tradition in slate-making; careful provision was made in wills for the handing on of tools, (fn. 150) and some families were involved in the industry continuously from the 18th century. Joseph Griffin was a 'slate man' in 1781 and Thomas Griffin, last of the slate makers, died c. 1946. (fn. 151)
Stonesfield provided many outworkers for gloving firms in Woodstock and elsewhere. (fn. 152) The work, performed exclusively by women and girls, involved sewing and finishing gloves by piecework. (fn. 153) Gloveresses in Stonesfield were mentioned in the 1820s, (fn. 154) and, despite reports of depression in the glove trade following the removal of tariffs on foreign gloves in 1826, there were 114 gloveresses in the parish by 1831, representing almost half the female population. In both 1851 and 1871 there were 118 gloveresses, a slightly lower proportion. (fn. 155) Girls frequently began work at the age of 10 or 11. (fn. 156) Pay was low and a 'good sewer', working up to 12 hours a day, earned c. 5s. a week, less than half an agricultural labourer's wage. Some of the glovers expected their workers to take wages in the form of groceries purchased from them at inflated prices. (fn. 157) In the late 19th century and early 20th, when machine sewing became increasingly common, Stonesfield maintained a reputation for the quality of its hand sewing. (fn. 158) In 1954 it acquired its own gloving factory; in 1979 Pickard's Gloves Ltd., manufacturers of golf gloves, employed 27 workers in the factory and c. 45 outworkers, of whom 13 lived in Stonesfield. (fn. 159)
Other non-agricultural occupations in the 18th and 19th centuries included blacksmiths, butchers, bakers, shoemakers, and tailors. (fn. 160) In the 1840s there were 4 tanners, but none was reported in 1851. In that year the building trades were represented by 6 carpenters, 5 masons, and 3 sawyers. Two shopkeepers were recorded between 1810 and 1820, but thereafter only one until 1871 when there were three. There were at least 2 carriers in the village from the 1770s. In 1831 there were only 7 domestic servants, 4 of them employed by the rector. Multiple occupations included publicans combining their trade with farming and slate mining, while one villager was a baker, farmer, and gravestone-cutter, and another a slater, plasterer, and carrier. (fn. 161) In the 19th century many villagers supplemented their income by selling fossils from the slate pits to visiting collectors. (fn. 162)
The advent of a motor bus service by 1935 brought the shops and services of Oxford within easy reach, and after 1945 the village became increasingly the home of commuters. In 1969 a local firm, Acorn Studios Ltd., established a studio for the design of electronic circuits; in 1979 the firm began work on a new factory in Church Fields, expected to raise employment locally from 11 to 25 people. (fn. 163)
The only known mill in Stonesfield was built in the 1820s by William Somerton. A William the miller was recorded in 1279, but no other evidence of a mill in Stonesfield at that time has been found. Somerton's mill changed hands frequently, seems not to have been successful, and closed c. 1850. The stone base of the mill remained in 1930, but it was demolished shortly after. (fn. 164)
Courts leet and views of frankpledge were held in Stonesfield by the royal officers in the 14th century and presumably earlier. (fn. 165) In the 19th century an annual leet dinner was held, (fn. 166) and courts continued into the 20th century for the collection of quitrents and the transfer of land.
There were the usual parish officers, and, in 1742, a hayward. (fn. 167) In 1795 and 1796 the overseers were presented at the quarter sessions for refusing to relieve the families of two Oxford men serving in the militia as substitutes for Stonesfield men. In 1802 an overseer was fined £20 for falsifying his accounts. (fn. 168) As in other places expenditure on poor relief rose rapidly in the late 18th century, from only £16 in 1776 to £428 in 1813; in that year there were 61 people on permanent relief, compared with 20 in 1802–3. No other parish's in the area had so sharp an increase in expenditure, but the parish's rise in population restricted the cost per head, which in 1803 was only 14s. In 1824 the cost fell to 7s. and it was never more than 19s. No other village in the area had a capitation rate always under £1. (fn. 169) In 1834 Stonesfield became part of Woodstock poor law union; in 1894 it was included in Woodstock rural district, in 1932 in Chipping Norton rural district, and in 1974 in West Oxfordshire district. (fn. 170)
The church was recorded from the early 13th century and the advowson, like the manor, was held by the Crown until 1705 and thereafter by the dukes of Marlborough. In the 13th century Stonesfield church was sometimes referred to as a chapel, (fn. 171) and in 1238 the rector of North Leigh claimed jurisdiction there, an attempt blocked by the king. (fn. 172) Whereas other churches on royal demesne were frequently called chapels and were exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, Stonesfield's rectors were instituted by the bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 173) The invariable use of the term church from the 14th century suggests that by then Stonesfield was accepted as a parish in its own right. (fn. 174)
The benefice was poor, valued at 2 marks in 1219, and 1 mark in 1254, although it was reportedly worth £5 in 1241. (fn. 175) In 1526 the rector was taxed on £6, and in 1535 the living was valued at £4 19s. 8d. (fn. 176) In 1607 and the 1630s the living was valued at £30 and £50, presumably gross, and its continued poverty is reflected in its augmentation by £40 a year during the Interregnum. (fn. 177) A report of 1675 that its clear value had fallen to £28 added a plaintive rider, 'one of the poorest livings of a rectory within your lordship's diocese'. (fn. 178) In the early 18th century the value was £40, and in 1759 the resident rector reported that he could afford to live on the income only by residing for some of the year in Wales. (fn. 179) Although the rector acquired a moderate estate at inclosure the living was still valued at only c. £130 net in the mid 19th century, and later augmentations brought the net income to only £365 in 1939. (fn. 180)
The glebe, fewer than 10 a. of open-field land in the 17th century, (fn. 181) had increased by 1792 to 17 a., which was exchanged at inclosure in 1804 for 8¾ a.; (fn. 182) at the same time 129 a. were allotted to the living for tithes, and by 1887 there were 143 a. of glebe in all. (fn. 183) Much was sold in the early 20th century, leaving c. 50 a. which in 1979 was let in allotments. (fn. 184) In 1634 the rectory house was a slate-roofed building of four bays, with a dovecot. (fn. 185) It was taxed on three hearths in 1665. (fn. 186) A new rectory was built in the early 18th century, a five-bayed, two-storeyed building with attics; a new east wing was added in 1817. The rectory was sold in 1927 and later renamed the Manor House. (fn. 187)
A modus was agreed, for milk tithes at least, in the 18th century. (fn. 188) Tithes were leased, yielding £30 a year in 1759 and 1768. (fn. 189) A poor rate in 1794 assessed wood tithes at £22 and hay tithes at £10. (fn. 190) Tithes were finally commuted at inclosure in 1804, for land and a yearly payment of c. 7s. from 16 cottagers. (fn. 191)
Few of Stonesfield's rectors seem to have been pluralists, but in the later Middle Ages more incumbents resigned than died in office. (fn. 192) One rector was accused in 1256 of breaking the venison laws. (fn. 193) Stephen Sottewell, rector from 1358, was appointed to a chantry, worth £5 a year, in the royal chapel at Woodstock. (fn. 194)
From the later Middle Ages more of the incumbents were identifiably university men, but few devoted their whole careers to the parish. The rector c. 1517, who also held Chastleton rectory, was reported for neglecting churchrepair and for having a woman in his house. (fn. 195) John Kirke (rector 1606–27) and Thomas James (1644–61) were possibly members of Stonesfield families. (fn. 196) Kirke, who farmed the glebe himself, at his death left personalty worth a modest £103, including a library valued at £10. (fn. 197)
After 1705 rectors were closely associated with the Blenheim interest. (fn. 198) Successive rectors were members of Woodstock corporation, and were placed by the dukes on the local Bench. James Reading (1771–90), John Gregory (1790–1806), and William Mavor (1806–10) (fn. 199) were all at some time masters of Woodstock school, the latter the author of the English Spelling Book (1801). Mavor was Woodstock's first clerical mayor, and held the office ten times in all; as a magistrate he was an enthusiastic convictor of trespassers upon the duke's property. Francis Robinson, rector 1834– 82 was the son of Thomas, a partner in the Old Bank in Oxford and a firm supporter of the Blenheim interest there. (fn. 200)
There was the usual decline in church life in the 18th century. William Bradshaw, rector 1731–71, held six communion services a year, attracting c. 18 communicants, and he catechized throughout the year until age and illness intervened and the number of services and communicants declined. (fn. 201) In 1789 there were complaints that services were infrequent and at uncertain hours, and in 1798 the bishop rebuked the rector for neglecting his own parishioners 'to serve some neighbouring church to oblige some gentleman of your acquaintance'. (fn. 202) Reading and Mavor lived in Woodstock but served Stonesfield in person. Cathechizing was restricted to Lent, even though Mavor was reputedly a pioneer of catechetical instruction; he did begin a Sunday school, however, and he donated religious booklets to the children. (fn. 203) He also repaired the church and improved the rectory grounds, planting firs and beeches. (fn. 204)
Under Walter Brown (1810–34), who held another living (fn. 205) but resided in Stonesfield, there were seven communion services in 1811, and the number of communicants rose steadily to 97 in 1823. (fn. 206) Brown extended the rectory in 1817 and carried out a major renovation of the church in 1825. His successor Francis Robinson, also a resident pluralist, (fn. 207) continued the revival during his long incumbency; he was a domineering but conscientious minister, holding four Sunday services and daily services during the week. (fn. 208) Under his guidance the Sunday school flourished, evening schools and bible classes were started, church attendance increased, and the church was restored.
The church of ST. JAMES THE LESS comprises chancel, aisled nave with north chapel, south porch, and a prominent western tower. (fn. 209) Except for the north aisle and the south porch all were built or rebuilt in the 13th century, some of the work being of fine quality, notably the chancel arch, the south arcade of two bays, and windows in the north chapel. An 18th-century tradition that the earlier church was on the site of the north chapel and aisle, (fn. 210) is not supported by architectural evidence.
The age of the earlier north aisle is uncertain, but it was evidently in existence by the 14th century when the arch between it and the north chapel was built. Other 14th-century work included new windows in the chancel and the south aisle and an unusual treatment of the north window of the north chapel, where a square headed three-light window was placed outside a two-light 13th-century rear arch. In the 15th century the tower was heightened and an elaborate west window inserted in its lowest stage; the east window and the chapel roof are also 15th-century work. The insertion of a 15th-century carved oak screen in the rectangular opening between chancel and chapel may have followed a rebuilding of the dividing wall, which is oddly narrow and may have once contained an archway. The plain clerestory appears to be post-medieval and was perhaps added or refenestrated in the 17th century.
In 1717 the church was said to be 'out of repair and in great danger', (fn. 211) and was again in poor condition in the early 19th century. In 1807 George Spencer, duke of Marlborough, gave £150 for repairs and in 1814 a further £50 towards the cost of new pews, (fn. 212) presumably replacing the enclosed pews which the church had contained since at least the 16th century. (fn. 213) Also in 1814 the rector, Walter Brown, repaired the paving and the west end of the chancel. (fn. 214) In 1825 the north aisle arcade was removed and the aisle enlarged to provide space for a gallery; (fn. 215) some of the masonry of the former arcade was used to create a tall rectangular opening surmounted by a wooden beam. The aisle has been much criticized for destroying the small scale of the church. The gallery soon lost its popularity, and by 1872 it was decided to remove it. (fn. 216) A restoration of 1876 probably included the removal of the gallery and of plaster ceilings of uncertain date in the nave and chancel, the insertion of tall windows in the north aisle, the restoration of the north chapel and the screen between chapel and chancel, and the rebuilding of the south porch and doorway. (fn. 217) The former porch and doorway, described in 1846 as 'modern and very bad', (fn. 218) probably dated from the early 19th century. (fn. 219) There were several major repairs and restorations in the 20th century, including the restoration of the north chapel as a Lady chapel in 1933. In 1956 a vestry was built on to the west end of the north aisle. (fn. 220)
The church contains a 13th-century piscina in the south aisle and a 14th-century one in the chancel. The octagonal 14th-century font in the north aisle formerly stood at the south door. There is a carved oak pulpit dated 1629. The east window of the chancel contains some medieval stained glass, and there is 16th-century armorial glass in the south-west window of the chancel and in the clerestory; the glass represents families unconnected with Stonesfield and was placed there by Francis Robinson, who had inherited it from William Fletcher of Oxford, a collector. (fn. 221) The plate includes a chalice of 1575, (fn. 222) and there are six bells, of which one was given in 1783 after 'a large and liberal subscription of the young people of the parish'. (fn. 223) Until c. 1925 the tower contained a single-handed clock, probably of the 17th century, reputedly brought to Stonesfield from a house in Woodstock in 1743. (fn. 224)
There are memorial inscriptions to several rectors, the earliest being Thomas Ashfield (d. 1704). The churchyard, which was extended several times from 1856, (fn. 225) contains some notable 18th-century headstones.
By 1613 the parish owned a house, close, and ½ a. of land whose income was for church repair. (fn. 226) The church land increased to c. 8 a. and four cottages, (fn. 227) and at inclosure in 1804 the land was exchanged for 6 a. (fn. 228) The churchwardens usually granted short-term leases, but in 1807 the donation by the duke of Marlborough for church-repair was met by a 21-year lease of the church land. (fn. 229) Income from the property was usually sufficient for the ordinary expenses without a church rate. In 1891 the church owned only two cottages, and they were sold in the 1950s; the land was still let in 1979. (fn. 230) From 1882 the church choir benefited from the interest on £80 given by John Stewart. (fn. 231)
The Quakers George and Robert Weston were excommunicate in 1663, and in that year George Weston was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. (fn. 232) In 1683, speaking on behalf of Quakers in the parish, he told the rector that the Scripture commanded them to withdraw from the Church of England, which was not the true church. (fn. 233) Six dissenters were reported in 1676, and in 1682–3 three or four, mostly Westons. (fn. 234) There are two isolated references to Quakers in the parish in the 18th century. (fn. 235)
Houses were registered for Methodist meetings in 1800 and 1802, and in 1808 there were nine or ten Methodists. (fn. 236) There seems to have been no regular preaching until 1825, and in 1827 a small chapel was built by Michael Osborne, whose father, together with David Oliver, another founder of the new chapel, had signed the certificate of 1802. The chapel, which belonged to Witney circuit, had a membership of 15 and a congregation of c. 150. (fn. 237) A Primitive Methodist meeting room was registered in 1846 and a chapel built in 1853. (fn. 238) In 1854 the rector claimed that dissenters timed their services to interfere with those of the parish church, and enticed children from the school. (fn. 239) A new Wesleyan chapel was built in 1867, the old continuing in use as a Sunday school and temperance hall. (fn. 240) In 1869 the rector complained that Dissent was his greatest problem; membership of the chapels may have been only c. 35, but many more parishioners attended nonconformist services. (fn. 241) Congregations diminished in the late 19th century and early 20th, and long before the union of Methodist churches in 1932 the Primitives gave up their chapel. The former Wesleyan chapel remained in use in 1979.
The Salvation Army worked Stonesfield from Charlbury in 1886, meeting in an outbuilding of the Boot inn. From 1897 they rented the Primitive Methodist chapel, which they bought in 1934. It was closed in 1949, and in 1979 was in use as a shop. (fn. 242)
A single papist was recorded in 1676, (fn. 243) but there was no tradition of Roman Catholicism in the parish thereafter until modern times. In 1979 the Roman Catholics in the village were served from Charlbury, and held an afternoon Mass in the north chapel of the parish church on Sundays.
In 1738 the rector and a Mr. Tipping paid for seven pupils at a small school in the parish; local farmers were said at that time to welcome schooling for their future labourers. (fn. 244) In 1771 only three or four children were being taught, at the expense of a Quaker from Plymouth whose connexion with Stonesfield is not clear. (fn. 245) In 1808 two dame schools taught 20 or 30 children. (fn. 246) A Sunday school supported by voluntary subscriptions was established in 1811, attended by 25 boys and 25 girls, although it was thought that c. 90 children required education. A third dame school was recorded in 1815, raising the number of day pupils to 36. (fn. 247) Although the number had doubled by 1819 the rector considered educational facilities in the parish inadequate. (fn. 248)
In 1833 pew rents from the gallery in the church were used to support a Sunday school for 52 children and an associated day school, the latter begun in 1832; there were 64 day pupils and 97 on Sundays, and the schoolroom was probably the north chapel of the church. (fn. 249) In 1833 a new school was built in High Street, largely through parishioners' contributions in cash, materials, and labour; it was presumably overcrowded, since later official estimates credited it with space for only 56 children. (fn. 250) In 1854 it was reported that numbers had declined to 60 in winter and fewer in summer, and that an evening school was hampered by the unusually long working hours of the young men. (fn. 251) In 1866 there was one certificated master, and the children paid 2d.–4d. a week depending on whether they wrote on paper or used slates. (fn. 252) The following year a Parliamentary grant was first received. (fn. 253)
In 1868 the rector observed that because of glovemaking no girl over 10 attended school regularly. The early employment of boys also hampered their education: three working on the Marlborough estate attended school on alternate weeks. Three evening classes a week were provided to teach basic literacy to children under 12. (fn. 254) The school was enlarged in 1871 and again in 1899 to provide a total of c. 170 places, but in the late 19th century and early 20th attendance remained static at c. 70 boys and c. 40 girls. (fn. 255)
In 1902 the school managers, unable to finance improvements required by the new Board of Education, closed the school and it was reopened as Stonesfield council school. (fn. 256) In 1927 it was reorganized as a junior school, the senior children going to Charlbury. Attendance in the 1930s was c. 45, but the expansion of the village after the Second World War increased numbers to 65 in 1954 and 137 in 1971. In 1967 a new school and playing fields were built across the road from the old school. (fn. 257)
Charities for the poor.
In 1733 an anonymous donation of £11 was made for the poor of Stonesfield. The money was at first loaned out, but in 1759 the churchwardens bought a house in the village, devoting the income to the poor. (fn. 258) In 1771 William Bradshaw, rector, and in 1774 John Nourse of Wood Eaton, each bequeathed £5 to the poor of Stonesfield. All three benefactions were combined and administered as a single charity, the money being loaned out on bond and the interest distributed in amounts of 6d. or 1s. to poor people not in regular receipt of poor relief. (fn. 259) In 1857 the legal costs of a dispute over the charity seem to have hastened its extinction. (fn. 260)
Thomas Burborough, by will of 1809, left a rent charge of £2 10s. to provide bread on Christmas Day for 20 poor people. (fn. 261) By 1869 the rent charge was being withheld and the charity lapsed. (fn. 262) A rent charge of £1 for poor widows, left by Sarah Busby in 1817, was last mentioned in 1826. (fn. 263) A charity of unknown date, known as Castle's, comprised the interest on £20 given to provide bread for 20 poor widows. In 1857 the capital was lent to the churchwardens to enlarge the churchyard. In 1859 the rector agreed to pay part of the interest while the churchwardens continued to pay the rest out of revenue from the church lands. (fn. 264) The next rector advised the churchwardens to discontinue payment, and the charity lapsed. (fn. 265)