A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 11, Wootton Hundred (Northern Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1983.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Steeple Aston, a parish of 1,973 a. (789 ha.) lying along the western banks of the river Cherwell, comprises the civil parishes of Steeple Aston and Middle Aston. Although remaining one for ecclesiastical purposes, Steeple Aston and Middle Aston became separate for civil purposes in the 18th century, and from the 19th century Middle Aston has been classified as a distinct civil parish. (fn. 1) The former hamlet of Nethercote, in Middle Aston, is represented by Grange Farm. Steeple Aston village lies 13 miles (21 km.) north of Oxford, on high ground between the Oxford-Banbury road and the river; Middle Aston lies ¾ mile further north and Grange Farm yet a further ¾ mile north-east, against North Aston. On most of the north-east, and south the parish boundary follows the river Cherwell and its tributaries, but for a short distance adjacent to Upper Heyford it follows the Oxford canal which took the line of the river there. On the south-west the boundary follows the Oxford-Banbury and Enstone-Bicester roads; on the west the boundary with Steeple Barton and Duns Tew parishes is marked initially by a stream at Barton Bushes, but at Brasenose Farm it follows a footpath west, turning northward to follow the line of field boundaries. The boundary between Steeple Aston and Middle Aston, across the middle of the parish, follows a stream in the east but otherwise looks artificial and may be relatively late. (fn. 2)
From the river meadows the ground rises steadily to c. 110 m. at the parish church, reaching c. 150 m. at the western boundary. The western half of the parish lies on Great Oolite limestone edged with the Northampton sand on which Steeple and Middle Aston villages are built. Below the villages are Upper and Lower Lias clay, marlstone rock beds, and the alluvium of the river meadows. (fn. 3) Remains of ridge and furrow east of the villages show that most of the parish has at times been used for arable, but the stonebrash soil of the upland is better suited to it, and the low-lying clay land has always provided better pasture. The parish is noted for its plentiful supply of water, even on higher ground, from streams and springs. (fn. 4)
The Oxford-Banbury road crosses at Hopcroft's Holt in the south-west corner of the parish the Enstone-Bicester road, turnpiked in 1793 and disturnpiked in 1876. The latter road was known in the early 18th century as Shamblesway. (fn. 5) Steeple Aston is connected by minor roads with North Aston to the north and Rousham to the south. There are no through roads running east towards the river from either Steeple Aston or Middle Aston; a causeway runs from Grange Farm in the north-east corner of the parish across the river to Somerton, (fn. 6) and there were presumably tracks from Steeple Aston and Middle Aston to the fords at Upper and Lower Heyford. It was claimed in the 19th century that North Street in Steeple Aston originally swung south-east instead of north-east at the school, passing south of the manor house and on to Upper Heyford by way of Duckworth's well. From Duckworth's well it was also possible to go by Fishpools spinney and Cuttle mill to Heyford Bridge. (fn. 7) The road from Steeple Aston to Middle Aston went by way of North Street westwards along Fen Way before turning north to pass behind Middle Aston House into the village. The modern road to Middle Aston was formerly a bridleway which stopped at the boundary with Middle Aston, where a gate barred entry to the grounds of Middle Aston House. Only after the demolition of the house in the early 19th century was the road continued through. (fn. 8) The modern road from the centre of Middle Aston village to North Aston was in use from the 17th century or earlier. Another road or track formerly ran parallel to it from the western edge of the village, and a third came from Steeple Aston, crossing the fields in the west to join the Oxford-Banbury road before turning north-east to North Aston. (fn. 9) The section of the Oxford canal at the eastern edge of the parish was opened in 1787. (fn. 10) The railway line from Oxford to Banbury passes through the eastern part of Steeple Aston township. The line was laid out in 1846 and opened in 1850. (fn. 11) The nearest station was at Lower Heyford. Regular carrier services to Woodstock, Oxford, Banbury, and Bicester were in existence by the early 19th century. (fn. 12)
An Iron Age burial site near Hopcroft's Holt provides the earliest evidence of settlement in Steeple Aston. The remains of a tessellated pavement of the later Roman period in the same area were uncovered by the plough in the 17th century, and in the 19th coins, pottery, and a burial site were found near the church and on the site of the infant school. (fn. 13)
The name Aston, east tun or village, presumably refers to the parish's position adjacent to the river Cherwell. The only tangible evidence of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Aston is three clay loom weights found south of Middle Aston House. (fn. 14) In 1086 Steeple Aston formed an estate of 5 hides, Middle Aston, including Nethercote, 6, and North Aston 9. (fn. 15) A suggestion that Nethercote once formed part of a 10-hide North Aston estate (fn. 16) is dubious since Nethercote was assessed at 11/8, not 1, hide. It seems likely that there was initially a single 20-hide Aston estate later divided into the Domesday holdings. The earliest settlement was probably at Steeple Aston, followed by North Aston and, finally, Middle Aston. The name 'Steeple', referring to the church tower, first occurs in 1220. (fn. 17)
In 1086 Steeple Aston contained 20 recorded inhabitants, and Middle Aston, including Nethercote, 23. (fn. 18) In 1279 there were 31 tenants in Steeple Aston, and 39 in Middle Aston. (fn. 19) There had been a sharp fall in population by 1377 when poll tax was paid by only 52 adults in Steeple Aston and by 55 in Middle Aston. (fn. 20) The Protestation Returns of 1642 (91 adult males) and the Compton Census of 1676 (198 adults) suggest a rising population in the parish as a whole in the 17th century; the number of households assessed for hearth tax in 1662 (27 in Steeple Aston, 17 in Middle Aston) imply that Steeple Aston had outgrown Middle Aston, perhaps for the first time since the Conquest. (fn. 21) The development of Steeple Aston as an open and of Middle Aston as a closed village is clear by 1759 when there were said to be 267 people in the former and only 100 in the latter. (fn. 22) Those figures indicate a slight fall in population since the later 17th century, but by 1801 the total population of the parish had grown to 423, of whom 333 lived in Steeple Aston. Steeple Aston's population continued to grow, reaching a peak of 749 in 1871 before a steady decline in the late 19th century and early 20th brought the total in 1911 to 551. The population remained at approximately that level until the 1950s when an increasing number of commuters moving into the village pushed up the population to 628 in 1961 and to 795 in 1971. Middle Aston's small population, sensitive to changes of policy or fortune at Middle Aston House, rose slightly to 121 in 1831, fell to 86 by 1861, and increased again to 104 in 1891. By 1901 it had fallen sharply to 58, and the total fluctuated thereafter, rising to 97 in 1931 but falling again to 46 in 1971. (fn. 23)
The control exercised by successive owners of Middle Aston over the development of the village was in sharp contrast to the unrestrained growth of Steeple Aston for much of the 19th century. The disparity was given ironical point in the 1840s when the lord of Middle Aston manor, Charles Cottrell-Dormer, bought the Steeple Aston estate of Charles Harris, one of the lords of Steeple Aston manor, leaving Harris enough land to build Harrisville, a row of artisans' cottages reminiscent of those in industrial towns. (fn. 24) In 1861 Cottrell-Dormer owned every house in Middle Aston; in Steeple Aston 55 landlords owned the 156 dwellings there. More than a third of the landlords, owning more than a quarter of the properties, were non-resident. No cottage in the entire parish was owner-occupied. (fn. 25) Despite the willingness of speculators to provide accommodation, however, Steeple Aston lacked the industrial base to grow further. It was a frequent complaint of the better off that the township was a dumping ground for the unwanted labour of neighbouring closed parishes, and it was perhaps because Steeple Aston could offer them little beyond accommodation that there was a rapid turnover of population among labourers; between 1861 and 1871 almost half the cottages in Steeple Aston acquired new occupiers. (fn. 26) Poverty was of continual concern in the 19th century. In 1840 the vestry recommended that 29 households, more than a quarter of those in the township, be exempted from poor rates. Emigration, to manufacturing districts in England or abroad, was promoted by the vestry. (fn. 27)
Steeple Aston village is built on both sides of a small, steep valley through which runs a shallow tributary of the river Cherwell. The main streets, North Street (or North Side) and South Street, are c. 250 m. apart at the closest point and are joined at their east and west ends respectively by Paine's Hill (or Paine Street) and Water Lane; a narrow footpath, Tuer Lane, traverses the centre of the valley. The stream forms a convenient boundary to the house plots and closes which run down the hillsides. Some closes have been thrown together but several survive intact and provide visible evidence of the layout of the early village. The earliest settlement was presumably on the high ground around church and manor house, which face each other across the east end of North Street. The village grew in conventional fashion along its main street at first, and it was probably only after the quartering of the manor in the 16th century and the subsequent arrival of gentry families from outside the parish that the demand for good quality housing led to the development of South Street. Paine's Hill, possibly named after John Paine, butcher, auctioneer, owner of the Fleur de Luce inn, and a leading figure in the 18th-century life of the village, (fn. 28) was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, mostly along its east side since the west was occupied by ancient closes. Water Lane remained almost untouched until the 20th century. (fn. 29) Housing development in the later 20th century has mainly been away from the old village, along the Heyford road, and north of North Street, but at the junction of South Street and Water Lane a site that formerly commanded an impressive view across the valley to the church has been filled by modern estate housing. The older houses in the village are built of local limestone and ironstone rubble. A few retain thatched roofs but most have been given Stonesfield slate or Welsh slate roofs. In the 19th century one or two substantial houses were built of traditional materials, but labourers' cottages were usually of brick. Brick and reconstituted stone have been the predominant building materials of the later 20th century. A pleasant appearance, easy access to the Oxford-Banbury road, and proximity to the U.S. air base at Upper Heyford have made the village attractive to business, professional, academic, and service people. As a result many of the older houses have been restored.
North Street contains, besides the church, Radcliffe's almshouses and school. (fn. 30) Among converted farmhouses in the street are the former manor house, (fn. 31) and Cedar Lodge (formerly the Lodge), a two-storeyed house of the early 19th century which incorporates an older building at its west end. The interior was remodelled c. 1960. The house was the home of the Lamley family, farmers in Steeple Aston and elsewhere. At inclosure in 1767 Judith Lamley obtained by exchange closes on either side of the property, thereby securing extensive grounds which were added to in the later 20th century. The improvements of the early 19th century may have been the work of Judith's grandson, the Revd. Robert Lamley Kening, who scandalized the neighbourhood by preaching from the pulpit on the virtues of the French Revolution. (fn. 32) Randolph's, a plain three-storeyed house fronting directly on the street at the junction of North Street and Water Lane, was the house of the Wing family, owners of Westfield farm and one of the most prominent families in the parish from the 17th century. The house was brought c. 1902 by George Randolph, High Sheriff for Oxfordshire 1924–5. (fn. 33) Opposite Randolph's, the Grange is an extraordinary house, originally of the 18th century but much extended in piecemeal fashion during the 19th century. Built on a site supposedly once owned by Studley priory, it was the home of the Davis family. Thomas Davis (d. 1863), surgeon to William IV, spent twenty years from 1824 extending and altering the house, adding balconies and embattled brick towers, and placing ornamental stone figures and carvings on the walls. Doorcases, mantlepieces, and mouldings are of very fine 18th-century work; some were said to have come from Kew Palace when it was demolished in 1827, but the Gothic style of the palace (rebuilt from 1801) makes it an unlikely source. Metal window-tracery in the house, however, could have come from there. North of the house is a large gabled cottage, formerly used by the butler. (fn. 34) The grounds have been used to build a modern housing estate. North Street also contains one- and two-storeyed cottages including, on the south, Holly Cottage and its western neighbour, both dated STH 1729. The front door of Holly Cottage is said to have been taken from the former Middle Aston House. (fn. 35)
South Street contains no large buildings but is interspersed with houses of good quality. Manor Farm, towards the north-west end is the only working farmhouse remaining within the village. Built in the late 17th or early 18th century, it has moulded stone chimney stacks, continuous moulded string course, and blind oval windows to the front and side. A rear wing was added in the 19th century. The farm buildings are north and east of the house. It has been assumed, on what evidence is unknown, that Manor Farm was the manor house of the Marten family and their successors, owners of a quarter of Steeple Aston manor. (fn. 36) At inclosure in 1767, however, the house belonged to the Buswell family, who were awarded land directly across the street. It probably belonged previously to the Standard and Belcher families and was assessed at 8 hearths in 1662. (fn. 37) The farm was known as Southfield farm from inclosure until the late 19th century (fn. 38) when it seems to have acquired the name Manor farm, perhaps as a result of its purchase by the CottrellDormer family, by then lords of the whole manor. At inclosure the Martens' successor, Jacob Watson, owned a house, close, and outbuildings towards the other end of South Street. (fn. 39) The house was possibly that later known as Southside and in 1981 as Acacia Cottage, a relatively small 18th-century building of two storeys, with a decorative lunette between its first-floor windows. Among other notable houses in South Street is Grange Cottage, east of Manor Farm, a two-storeyed 17th-century house in local ironstone. The front of the house has stone mullioned windows; the end windows on the ground floor appear to have been lowered. An attic storey was added in the 19th century, and a two-storeyed range, also of ironstone, dated 1865, on the west. Orchard Lea, typical of many houses in the street in building style and materials, contains in its garden an 18th-century neo-Gothic gazebo of stone and red brick, possibly the work of John MacClary, one of the surveyors for the Steeple Aston inclosure, and chief gardener at Rousham when the gardens were laid out there. He bought Orchard Lea c. 1760. Thomas Mitchell, the Classics scholar, lived there 1835–45. (fn. 40) The south side of the street was not much built on before the 19th century. The Methodist chapel was built in 1852, (fn. 41) and Harrisville, mentioned above, was built c. 1840; most of the cottages have been demolished and replaced by modern houses. Harris moved from the former Marten and Watson house to a new house on the outskirts of the village in Heyford Road. Standing c. 80 m. east of the junction of South Street and Paine's Hill, and dated CH 1836, the house is an asymmetrical three-storeyed building of coursed rubble with Welsh slate roof. In the later 19th century it became the Co-operative Stores. It was still a house and shop in 1949, (fn. 42) but by 1981 it had been remodelled as two houses.
In Paine's Hill building seems to have started in the late 18th century and early 19th at each end of the street and there has been frequent later infilling. At the south-east corner a large house and shop, the Co-op in 1981, has a rounded front with a stone hood over the doorway, and a hipped roof. Towards the top of the hill on the northwest side stands Paine's Hill House, a tall ashlar building of notable quality with moulded cornice and parapet. Built c. 1806 by Dr. Thomas Perry, its front is said to incorporate materials taken from the front of the former Middle Aston House. (fn. 43) Across the road North Dickredges, formerly Minerva House, faces south across the valley. Built c. 1840 as a hunting lodge, possibly as another of Charles Harris's speculations, it was originally a three-storeyed, three-bayed building of coursed rubble, and has been considerably extended since. (fn. 44) The street also contains 19thcentury brick semi-detached houses, a pair of gabled semi-detached houses of a type usually found on rural estates, rubble cottages, and modern bungalows and houses.
West of Water Lane and set in extensive grounds stands Hill House. It has ornate window hoods and a heavy neo-classical porch. The present building appears to be mainly of the 19th century. In 1767 there was a smaller house on the site, and, earlier, there had been two dwellings and a malthouse. The house was owned in 1767 by John Davis, brother of Thomas of the Grange. (fn. 45) It was enlarged more than once in the 19th century. Its owners included Vice-Admiral William Lechmere, who had served at the battle of Trafalgar. (fn. 46)
Brasenose Farm, west of the Oxford-Banbury road, and Lower Field Farm, east of the village towards the railway line, were built in the early 19th century. Lower Field Farm, a stone house of two storeys, had been demolished by 1981. (fn. 47) A folly, comprising three pinnacled ironstone arches, was built c. 1740 in the fields north-east of the village, and Cuttle mill was given its Gothicized exterior, to provide eyecatchers as part of William Kent's design for Rousham gardens. The extensive beech plantation near Heyford bridge was originally planted as part of the same scheme. (fn. 48) An infant school was built on the east side of Fir Lane, leading to Middle Aston, in 1875, and a technical school nearby in 1894. In 1955 new school buildings were erected across the road. The technical school became the village hall in 1969. (fn. 49)
Middle Aston in 1682 (fn. 50) had one or two houses on both sides of the street at the eastern edge of the village. It is not clear whether Home Farm existed, but there were cottages and farm buildings on the site. There were also two rows of cottages on the south side of the west road out of the village, and one or two detached cottages on the north. By the late 18th century the houses on the eastern outskirts had gone, but the basic layout of the village was unchanged and has remained so into the later 20th century. (fn. 51) In the mid 18th century there were c. 20 houses in the village; by 1831 the number had risen to 25 and it has fluctuated around that level since. (fn. 52) Middle Aston House, set in its own grounds south of the village, is discussed below. Home Farm is a twostoreyed house of coursed ironstone rubble with a stone slate roof. The south front has a gabled central projection with a two-light stone mullioned window and sundial above. The groundfloor window to the west, also stone mullioned, has an unusual fluted tympanum surmounted by a semicircular keystoned head. (fn. 53) The original 17th-century building may have been asymmetrical, extending only one bay east of the central projection. It was probably extended eastwards and reroofed in the 18th century. The house was still a single range in 1881. (fn. 54) The large twostoreyed cottage at the western end of a row north-west of Home Farm is of 17th-century origin and retains two central stone mullioned windows. Other cottages in the village are of the 18th and 19th centuries. On the north side of the street, west of the junction with the road to North Aston, is a thatched cottage dated GE 1728, possibly for Giles Eginton (d. 1729). (fn. 55) One or two houses were built in the village c. 1957 by Spillers Ltd., owners of Middle Aston House, and two or three were built privately west of the road to North Aston in the late 1970s. Farm buildings west and north-west of Home Farm were extended in the 19th century, and new buildings included the long range with a clock tower. Further buildings were added in the 20th century. A three-sided farm building c. 500 m. west of the village was in existence by 1881; it was rebuilt by Spillers in 1964. In the 1950s Spillers built poultry sheds west of the road to Steeple Aston, and further west, an experimental pig unit. (fn. 56) In the north-west corner of the township, east of the Oxford-Banbury road, Warren barn was in existence by the late 18th century. Two cottages were later built there and a farmhouse added in 1956. (fn. 57)
Grange Farm, in the north-east corner of the parish, stands on the site of the former settlement of Nethercote ('lower cottage'). (fn. 58) Only 4 bordars were recorded there in 1086. In 1279, when Nethercote was described as a hamlet, the demesne comprised a house and 2½ yardlands. Ten free tenants held land, but only two of them can be said with confidence to have been living there. Nethercote shared in the open fields of Middle Aston. (fn. 59) In 1522 Nethercote, 'otherwise called the Grange', was said to comprise 6½ yardlands and 3 houses, suggesting that there had been little change in the size of the place since 1279. (fn. 60) By 1682 only one house, the Grange, remained. (fn. 61) From the mid 18th century, when Middle Aston's fields were inclosed, Grange farm formed a separate farm within Middle Aston. (fn. 62) The site of the early settlement can be seen in the banks and hollows north-west of the farmhouse. (fn. 63) There is a row of 19th-century cottages north-west of the house.
There was a house at Hopcroft's Holt by 1708; it was an inn by 1754 when the licensee and his wife were murdered there. (fn. 64) In 1758 there were three licensed victuallers in Steeple Aston and one in Middle Aston; the licence for Middle Aston was not renewed thereafter. In 1774 the inn at Hopcroft's Holt was said to be called the King's Arms; the Fleur de Luce and the Chequers were also mentioned. The Fleur de Luce seems to have ceased trading in 1787, and the last reference found to the Chequers was in 1816. (fn. 65) The Red Lion, at the south-west corner of Water Lane, was licensed by 1837. (fn. 66) In the mid 19th century there were three inns: the King's Arms, the Red Lion, and an inn on the Heyford road. (fn. 67) In 1866 and later the rector complained that there were seven public houses in the village and 'great drunkenness'. (fn. 68) One house, the Dun Cow, was in the smithy at the north-west corner of Paine's Hill. The licence was revoked in 1939 and in 1981 the premises were the Old Forge stores. (fn. 69) In 1981 there were three public houses: the White Lion, south-east of the junction of Paine's Hill and the Heyford road, the Red Lion, and Hopcroft's Holt. Hopcroft's Holt, which seems to have dropped the name King's Arms in the 1850s, is a three-bayed, two-storeyed building of c. 1800 with various extensions and outbuildings. Of coursed ironstone with a stone slate roof, it has a string course across the front and keystoned heads to the windows. In 1938 six gables were added to the front. (fn. 70)
The parish stocks, in South Street, were still in use in 1830. The pound was at the bottom of Paine's Hill, on the east side. Steeple Aston was one of seven parishes which combined to buy a fire engine in 1831; it was kept in Steeple Aston, where it still remained in 1929. (fn. 71)
In March, 1644, a troop of the king's horse was billeted at Steeple Aston, (fn. 72) but nothing more is known of any activity in the parish in the Civil War. In the 19th century there were a number of flourishing societies. A clothing club and a coal club were founded in 1830. The Steeple Aston Friendly Society, a benefit club for tradesmen, was founded in 1831, and the Heyford and Aston Friendly Society, for labourers, in 1836. The Deddington and Steeple Aston Self-Supporting Dispensary, providing medical attendance for the poor, was established in 1835; a surgeon was employed for each parish. In 1836 the Deddington and Steeple Aston Anti-Mendicity Society was established. (fn. 73) The agricultural distress of the later 19th century encouraged support in the parish for the union of agricultural workers; in June, 1872, a meeting in the parish was attended by 600 people. (fn. 74)
Manors and Other Estates.
An estate of 5 hides in STEEPLE ASTON was held in 1086 by Odo of Bayeux. (fn. 75) On or before his death in 1097 he was succeeded in the overlordship of the estate by his former tenant there, Adam son of Hubert de Rys. The estate passed shortly after to Adam's brother Eudes the steward. It escheated to the Crown on Eudes's death in 1120, and was granted by Henry II to his chamberlain, Warin FitzGerald (d. c. 1159). Warin was succeeded by his brother Henry and nephew Warin (d. 1218), whose daughter Margaret took the estate to her husband Baldwin de Rivers (d. 1216). (fn. 76) Margaret's second husband, Fawkes de Breauté, held the overlordship until his disgrace in 1224. (fn. 77) Thereafter the overlordship descended, through Margaret's son Baldwin de Rivers, earl of Devon, with the earldom. (fn. 78) On the death of Isabel de Forz, countess of Aumale and Devon, in 1293 the overlordship passed to the de Lisles of Rougemont. (fn. 79) In 1368 Robert de Lisle surrendered all his fees, including Steeple Aston, to the king. (fn. 80) William Montagu, earl of Salisbury (d. 1397), was said to hold 1 knight's fee in Steeple Aston, possibly as a result of a life interest in the lordship of Wight or in connexion with the grant to him of the farm of the honor of Woodstock, to which Steeple Aston had been attached. (fn. 81) In 1517 the manor was said to be held of the Duchy of Lancaster. (fn. 82)
In 1086 Adam was mesne tenant of the estate. (fn. 83) Another mesne tenancy had probably been created by 1166 when Philip of Leybourne held 7 fees of Henry FitzGerald in Kent and Oxfordshire. (fn. 84) In 1236 Steeple Aston was stated to be one of 7 fees held of Margaret de Rivers by Philip's great-grandson Roger (d. c. 1242). (fn. 85) Roger was succeeded by John, possibly his son, and by the latter's brother Roger (d. 1271), who was succeeded by his son William (d. 1310). (fn. 86) William's heir was his granddaughter Gillian of Leybourne, on whose death in 1367 the mesne lordship passed to her grandson and heir John Hastings, earl of Pembroke and Lord Leybourne. (fn. 87)
Humphrey was demesne tenant in 1086, but no successor has been traced until Alan son of Geoffrey of Aston in the late 12th century. (fn. 88) Alan's son Matthew, called both of Aston and of Romney or Romilly, held land in Steeple Aston in the early 13th century, (fn. 89) but by 1242 Alan of Romney was holding the manor as 1 knight's fee. (fn. 90) Robert of Romney was lord in 1279, but by 1301 he seems to have been succeeded by his son Robert who sold the manor in that year to Thomas Adderbury or Abberbury (d. 1307). (fn. 91) Thomas was succeeded by his brother Walter and his nephew Richard. (fn. 92) Richard died in 1333, Steeple Aston passing thereafter with the family's manor of Souldern until its partition in 1501 among the four coheirs of Sir John Dynham, his sisters Elizabeth Sapcotes, and Joan, Lady Zouche, and his nephews Edmund Carew and John Arundell. (fn. 93)
Elizabeth Sapcotes's share of the manor passed on her death in 1516 to her son Richard Sapcotes. (fn. 94) In 1539 Richard sold it to Sir Michael Dormer of London, who settled it on his third son John of Steeple Barton in 1547. (fn. 95) John sold the share, possibly in 1577, to Thomas Greenwood (II) of Oxford, attorney, who died in that year. The sale seems to have been completed by Greenwood's father, Thomas (I). (fn. 96) The subsequent descent is uncertain, but presumably the share passed from Thomas (II) to his son Thomas (III) of Brize Norton (fn. 97) and was still in the hands of the Greenwood family in 1634 when it seems to have been forfeited by Thomas Greenwood (IV), a recusant, and leased by the Crown to a George Greenwood. (fn. 98) The share seems then to have passed to Daniel Greenwood, rector of Steeple Aston from 1654 until his death in 1679. He was probably closely related to the earlier Greenwoods, both branches originating in Yorkshire. (fn. 99) He was succeeded by his son, also Daniel (d. c. 1723), whose coheirs were his daughters Elizabeth, wife of John Chambers of Derby, Mary, wife of Job Charlton of Staunton (Notts.), and Rosamund. In 1725 the Chambers purparty was bought by Job Charlton and Rosamund. In 1729 the whole quarter share of the manor was sold to Thomas Davis (d. 1747) of Steeple Aston. At that time the manorial estate comprised, besides manorial rights, a manor house with three closes of meadow adjoining, and 3½ yardlands. (fn. 100) The house and land, heavily mortgaged, were sold in 1750 by Davis's widow Elizabeth to Francis Page. The quarter share of the manor was sold by her to Sir Charles CottrellDormer in 1767, (fn. 101) since when it has descended with Rousham. (fn. 102) The manor house was demolished soon after its purchase by Page. The site and three closes adjoining were exchanged with the rector in 1756, (fn. 103) and may have lain on the south-west side of North Street on a large plot held by the rector at inclosure in 1767. (fn. 104)
The Zouche share had passed to the Croke family by 1584, when John Croke settled it on George (d. 1642), his brother. (fn. 105) The family had in 1539 acquired the former Steeple Aston estate of Studley priory. (fn. 106) George was succeeded by his nephews Sir Alexander and Francis Croke, both of whom died in 1672. The quarter share passed to Francis's son Nathaniel (d. by 1691) and the latter's son Charles (d. 1726). The estate then comprised, besides the quarter-manor, 3¼ yardlands and a number of dwellings. (fn. 107) Charles Croke devised the estate to his sister Joan Newell, who in 1732 sold it to Thomas Davis. (fn. 108) Davis thus acquired half Steeple Aston manor, but strained his resources in doing so, and both estates were mortgaged as soon as purchased. (fn. 109) In 1733 Davis sold the quarter-manor to George Hopkins of Middle Aston. It was resold to Richard Benyon of London two years later, and was bought in 1762 by Richard Prentice, a Steeple Aston tallowchandler. In 1764 it was bought by Francis Page, who had in 1750 purchased the land formerly belonging to the quarter share of the manor. (fn. 110) It afterwards followed the descent of Middle Aston manor. There is an unsubstantiated tradition that the Crokes' manor house stood on the site of Studley priory's former buildings, supposedly at the north-west end of North Street, opposite Water Lane. (fn. 111) Francis and Nathaniel Croke both lived in the parish, in houses which in 1662 were of moderate size, with 5 and 6 hearths respectively. (fn. 112) The house later known as the Grange, built on the priory's supposed land by Thomas Davis in the 18th century, seems never to have been regarded as a manor house. (fn. 113)
The Carew share was probably conveyed in 1512 with other of his former Dynham estates by Sir Edmund Carew to Sir William Compton. (fn. 114) Sir William's son Peter held a quarter of Steeple Aston manor at his death in 1544. (fn. 115) Peter's son Henry, Lord Compton, appears to have conveyed the property in 1583 to Edward Grenville and Michael Chambers. (fn. 116) In the late 16th century and early 17th the manorial estate seems gradually to have been acquired by the King and Fox families of Steeple Aston. Robert Fox was said to be one of the four lords of the manor in 1631, and the quarter of the manor, with an estate of 5 yardlands, was purchased in 1674 by Sir Robert Jason from Thomas Fox and Ferdinando King, (fn. 117) since when it has followed the descent of Middle Aston manor; the five-yardland estate and manor house were among the property exchanged in 1756 by Francis Page for glebe and tithes in Middle Aston. (fn. 118) In 1711 two yardlands of a threeyardland estate formerly Compton's were sold by Ferdinando King to the Deacon family, and in 1766 all 3 yardlands were bought from John Deacon by Sir Charles Cottrell-Dormer. (fn. 119) The former manor house of the Adderburys became attached to the Carew quarter of the manor. The house, extensively rebuilt, stands south of the church across the street. It is of coursed ironstone rubble with stone slate roof and red brick stacks. It was built, possibly in the late 14th century, as a hall house with cross wings, the screens passage probably to the east. Some roof timbers survive but the original doorways and windows, and much of the walling, have been rebuilt. A trefoilheaded arch, presumably reused, survives on the first floor of the east wing. During restorations in 1874 the chimneys, floors, and stairs were found to be relatively modern, presumably of the 17th or 18th century. After 1756 the house served as the rectory farmhouse, and was later extended eastwards and converted into three tenements. The three cottages were still in use in 1949, but were uninhabited in 1981. (fn. 120) Courts leet of the hundred of Wootton were still held there in the late 19th century. (fn. 121)
Sir John Arundell sold the fourth quarter of the manor in 1576 to John Marten (d. 1599) of Rousham and Edmund Hutchins of Chipping Norton. (fn. 122) It descended to Marten's son, also John (d. 1640), and to the latter's second son Edmund (d. 1682) of Steeple Aston. Edmund's son John died without issue in 1706, leaving the estate to his younger sister Mary and her husband Jacob Watson. Mary and Jacob both died in 1730 and were succeeded by their son Jacob Marten Watson and his son Jacob (d. 1803). Jacob's son John Marten Watson died without issue in 1828, leaving the estate to his cousin Charles Harris (d. 1851) of Adderbury. Harris became heavily indebted and in 1837 sold the estate to Charles Cottrell-Dormer. (fn. 123) Although the quarter of the manor was specifically exempted from sale Harris sold it in 1840 to Cottrell-Dormer, who thereby became sole lord of Steeple Aston manor. (fn. 124)
In 1086 Robert of Stafford held 3 hides and 2½ yardlands in MIDDLE ASTON. (fn. 125) The manor descended for most of the Middle Ages with the barony of Stafford. (fn. 126) The barony's fees were later described as small fees of Mortain, a Norman barony whose fees were deemed to be 2/3 knight's fee. (fn. 127) In 1427 Anne, sister of Humphrey Stafford, earl of Stafford, and widow of Edmund Mortimer, earl of March (d. 1425), was said to hold the chief lordship of Middle Aston, in the tenure of William Stokes, as of the Mortimer honor of Wigmore. (fn. 128) Stokes's manor of Brimpton (Berks.) was indeed held of the honor of Wigmore, (fn. 129) and it is possible that Middle Aston was assumed to be held of the same tenure when in fact it was still held of the barony of Stafford. The Stafford estates were forfeited in 1483 following the abortive rebellion of Henry, duke of Buckingham. (fn. 130) In 1491 Middle Aston was said to be held of John de la Pole, duke of Suffolk (d. 1491); possibly the manor was granted to him for life in 1483 and retained when most of the Stafford lands were restored on the accession of Henry VII. In 1494, 1502, and 1606 the manor was said to be held of the Crown, as of the Duchy of Lancaster. (fn. 131)
In 1086 the demesne tenant of Middle Aston was Gilbert, who also held land of Robert of Stafford in Staffordshire. (fn. 132) The later descent is somewhat conjectural. In 1166 Middle Aston was said to be held in demesne as 2/3 knight's fee, i.e. 4/9 ordinary knight's fee, by Gilbert's son or grandson William, who was succeeded by his brother Robert (I). (fn. 133) It seems to have been subinfeudated, for Hamon of Longford (d. 1165) was said in 1195 to have held 2/3 fee in Middle Aston. (fn. 134) The mesne lordship passed to William's nephew Robert (II) (d. by 1198), whose wife Alice may have been one of Hamon's daughters and heirs. (fn. 135) Her grandson Robert's widow Lettice married secondly Richard of Draycott, who had the mesne lordship in 1279, (fn. 136) and Alice's greatgrandson Robert of Bec was lord in 1336. (fn. 137)
The demesne lordship of Hamon of Longford was divided between his daughters Agnes and Eve: in 1203 Agnes quitclaimed a moiety of Middle Aston to Eve, (fn. 138) who in 1208 made an agreement with Alice about their estates. (fn. 139) Eve married c. 1155 Robert of Brimpton (d. by 1195) and secondly Adam of Whitfield. From her son and heir Adam of Brimpton, Middle Aston descended with Brimpton manor (Berks.) until the death c. 1380 of Thomas Brimpton, leaving an infant son Thomas. (fn. 140) In 1392 Ellis Brimpton, whose exact relationship is unknown, conveyed Middle Aston manor to William Holt, Henry Inkpen, and John Hall. (fn. 141) Brimpton manor seems to have descended to Elizabeth, said to be the daughter of Adam Brimpton, who married William Stokes of Wiltshire. By 1407 Stokes had obtained joint ownership with John Hall of two-thirds of Middle Aston manor. (fn. 142) After Elizabeth's death Stokes seems to have owned Middle Aston in his own right. (fn. 143) He was succeeded on his death in 1427 by his son John, who became sole owner of the two thirds on the death of John Hall. By 1459 he was owner of the whole manor and settled it upon his great-nephew Robert Dyneley. (fn. 144) Robert was succeeded by his son Edward (d. 1485), whose wife Sanchia lived until 1494. Their son Thomas came of age in 1500 but died two years later leaving an only daughter Elizabeth. (fn. 145) She married first George Barrett and secondly Sir John Baker (d. 1558), Speaker of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer. (fn. 146) Middle Aston passed to Sir John's younger son John (d. 1606) and the latter's son Sir Richard, the historical writer. Under a mortgage made by Sir Richard the manor passed to Sir Robert Jason of Broad Somerford (Wilts.). (fn. 147) He was succeeded on his death in 1675 by his son, also Sir Robert, who sold the manor in 1678 to his friend Sir Richard Hawkins, later alderman of London. (fn. 148) He died in 1687, his estate passing to his eldest son Richard for life, with reversion to his younger sons John and Matthew. In 1714 Richard and John sold the manor to Sir Francis Page, a Justice of the King's Bench. (fn. 149) Page settled his estate on his nephew Francis Bourne, on condition that he change his name to Page. Bourne did so on Page's death in 1741 and inherited accordingly. Page, M.P. for Oxford University 1768–1801, died unmarried in 1803, and under the terms of Sir Francis's settlement he was succeeded by the Revd. Sir John Wheate, nephew of Sir Francis's wife Frances. Sir John had been in debt for 30 years, and in the 1790s had mortgaged his reversionary interest in the Middle Aston estate. In 1804 his creditors sold the estate to John Hosier, who two years later sold it to Sir Clement CottrellDormer. (fn. 150) Middle Aston then descended with Rousham until 1896 when the estate was sold to the widow of the recently deceased rector of Steeple Aston, the Revd. J. H. Brookes. Manorial rights were not sold with the estate but were transferred to Mrs. Brookes a few years later. (fn. 151) The 'rights' seem to have comprised an obligation to maintain the north chapel of Steeple Aston church. (fn. 152) The last known manorial court seems to have sat in the early 17th century. (fn. 153) The estate was sold c. 1930 to L. Robson who sold it in 1954 to Spillers Ltd. (fn. 154)
The Brimptons seem not to have had a manor house attached to their manor of Middle Aston, possibly making use of a house held by them on the former de la Mare estate there. (fn. 155) In 1427 the manorial buildings were said to comprise a hall, chamber, and barn. (fn. 156) They were rebuilt in the late 16th century or early 17th by John Baker or his son Sir Richard; the new house was assessed at 16 hearths in 1662. (fn. 157) It was rebuilt again in the early 18th century by Sir Francis Page and was described in 1772 as of brick, two storeys high, with nine windows to the front. (fn. 158) A painting of 1774 shows, on the south-west, a long, low range of eight bays with four dormers which adjoined a two-storeyed block with square bays surmounted by a parapet and dormers. The east front seems to have had a central porch with two flanking bays. Both fronts may have been casing an older structure. In the 18th century the house enclosed a courtyard. (fn. 159) The south-west wing was apparently used as a picture gallery, and plaster work in the house was reputedly of very high quality. The house and stables and dovecot to the north-west were demolished by Sir Clement Cottrell-Dormer in the early 19th century. A farmhouse and outbuildings of the 17th century behind the house were retained for use as the Home Farm until 1893, when they were incorporated in a new house, built slightly west of the old one by C. W. Cottrell-Dormer. The new house is two-storeyed, of coursed rubble with ashlar dressings and stone slate roof. In the late 17th century the house was surrounded by trees, with, to the south, the ponds which had presumably been there since the Middle Ages. In the 18th century there were reputedly 'images, summer-houses, and palisadoes', and it has been suggested that the fall of the land away from the house to the south and east would have made it suitable for landscaping in the manner of Rousham. The largest, easternmost pond seems to have been extended eastwards, almost to the road, in the 18th century. (fn. 160)
In 1377 the rectory and in 1399 the vicarage also of Steeple Aston were appropriated by Cold Norton priory, which held them until it was dissolved in 1507. They passed in 1513 to Brasenose College, Oxford, which, on reinstating the rectory, (fn. 161) retained two yardlands in Steeple Aston. (fn. 162)
Bicester priory was given, possibly in the later 12th century, an unspecified amount of land in Steeple Aston, and purchased land there from Matthew of Aston c. 1220. (fn. 163) After the priory's suppression in 1536 the estate, comprising a house and 1 yardland, was granted to Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. By 1553 it had been acquired by Sir George Owen and William Martin, from whom it was bought by Brasenose College in the same year. The yardland was merged with the former Cold Norton land and leased as a single estate, usually to the rector of Steeple Aston. (fn. 164) At inclosure in 1767 the 3 yardlands were exchanged for 78 a. in the north-west corner of the township, west of the road from Oxford to Banbury. (fn. 165) Known as Upper Field farm or Brasenose farm, it was sold by the college to W. A. Taylor in 1941. (fn. 166)
In 1226 Matthew of Romney gave 1 yardland in Steeple Aston to Studley priory. By 1279 the priory held 1½ yardland. The priory's estates, including its Steeple Aston property, were bought in 1539 by John Croke. The family later obtained a quarter of Steeple Aston manor, and the 1½ yardland were presumably merged with the manorial estate. (fn. 167)
In 1296 John of Ludwell sold to Henry son of William Spicer 12 a. of meadow in Steeple Aston held as of Wootton manor. The meadow, which lay south-east of the village against the Cherwell, was sold by Henry in 1317 to Richard of Hunsingore who gave it in 1321 to Balliol College to provide a chaplain to pray for him. At inclosure in 1767 the 12 a. were exchanged for 10 a. of meadow, 10 a. of pasture, and 1 a. of coppice known as Fishpools Spinney, near their pre-inclosure holding, immediately west of the later railway line. The land was sold in 1867 to Charles Cottrell-Dormer. (fn. 168)
The rent from ½ yardland in Steeple Aston was given, probably in the early 13th century, to Ashby priory (Northants.) by Matthew of Romney. The rent was worth 9s. in 1344 and 8s. in 1536. (fn. 169)
In 1086 Hugh held 1 hide and ½ yardland in NETHERCOTE of Odo of Bayeux. (fn. 170) Nothing further has been found until 1236, when the estate was held as ¼ knight's fee of William Buffin. In 1242 the fee was held by Thomas Buffin, presumably William's son, who in 1257 granted it to Chetwode priory (Bucks.). (fn. 171) The estate, still 2½ yardlands in 1279, was held by serjeanty of carrying a banner before the foot levies of Wootton Hundred. The service had been commuted, apparently before 1257, to a payment of 3s. to the sheriff. By 1279 Chetwode had received a further 2 yardlands, from William son of Arnulf. That estate, too, was a serjeanty, similarly commuted for a payment of 3s.; the service had been that of providing for 40 days a serjeant with iron helmet and lance. Both serjeanty estates were largely in the hands of free undertenants. (fn. 172) In 1347 Chetwode added to its estate a house and 3½ yardlands in Middle Aston granted by Thomas of Somerton, rector of Steeple Aston. (fn. 173) In 1460 the priory was merged with the wealthier house of Nutley abbey (Bucks.), which retained possession until the Dissolution. (fn. 174) By then Nethercote Grange as it was known comprised 3 houses and 6½ yardlands and was said to be held of Woodstock manor. (fn. 175) It was granted in 1542 to William Paulet, lord St. John, who sold it in the same year to William Fermor of Somerton (d. 1552). (fn. 176) Fermor, who was childless, left Nethercote, after the death of his wife Elizabeth, to his nephew Jerome Fermor, who had succeeded by 1575. (fn. 177) In 1612 Sir Richard Fermor sold the estate to Sir Richard Baker, who united Nethercote with Middle Aston. (fn. 178) It passed with Middle Aston until 1806 when it was bought by Oldfield Bowles of North Aston, whose son Charles sold it in 1823 to Margaret, widow of Clement CottrellDormer. (fn. 179) Nethercote descended thereafter with Middle Aston until sold by Spillers Ltd. in 1970. (fn. 180) Grange Farm lies in the north-east corner of Middle Aston, south of the stream which forms the parish boundary with North Aston. It was built, probably in the early 18th century, as a two-storeyed, seven-bayed house with a singlestoreyed rear service wing. Fenestration was altered in the early 19th century and an additional storey put on the rear wing. In the later 19th century the two western bays were reconstructed and reduced in height.
The Domesday estates of the English thegn Saric in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, including 1 hide and 1 yardland in Middle Aston, formed a serjeanty by the late 12th century. The service was usually referred to as that of usher of the king's hall, although on one occasion the Middle Aston serjeanty, held as of the fee of Alvescot, was said to be the custody of the king's women. (fn. 181) The estate was held in the late 12th century by Richard de la Mare (d. by 1219), who was succeeded by his son Henry (d. 1236 x 1239). In 1242 Paulinus of Bampton was said to hold 1 ploughland and 3 a. in Middle Aston given by Gunnore de la Mare, presumably Henry's daughter. Paulinus, whose wife Joan may have been Gunnore's daughter, was also said to have been given ½ hide and 30s. rent in Middle Aston by Gunnore and her husband Geoffrey son of William. (fn. 182) By 1279 the estate, still called the Alvescot fee, was held of Roger Paulin. It was said to comprise 5 yardlands, 13½ a., and a croft, fragmented among 14 freeholders and their undertenants. Adam of Brimpton, lord of Middle Aston, held a yardland and a house, perhaps the chief house of the estate. (fn. 183) No further reference to the serjeanty in Middle Aston has been found, and it was presumably absorbed into other landholdings there.
An estate of 1 hide held in 1086 by Goisbert of Robert of Stafford (fn. 184) seems soon after to have become part of Middle Aston manor.
Steeple Aston and Middle Aston developed agriculturally along similar, though separate, lines. Both operated the two-field system usual in the region, the fields known in each case as Upper (or Over) and Lower (or Nether), and situated west and east respectively. In Steeple Aston the fields seem to have been separated on the north by the village and the lane towards Middle Aston, and on the south by field boundaries east of the OxfordBanbury road. (fn. 185) Steeple Aston's fields were divided into quarters by the mid 18th century when Slatterford quarter and Longfurlong quarter, both in Upper field, were mentioned, and the division in the 17th century of a two-acre holding into two separate lands in Upper field and two in Lower field may indicate that the two fields were already in quarters. (fn. 186) Middle Aston's fields were divided by a lane to North Aston west of the modern road and no longer in existence. In 1682 Upper field was said to be 355 a. and Lower field 223 a.; large closes of arable south and east of the village may have been newly inclosed, mostly from Lower field. (fn. 187) The hamlet of Nethercote, in the north-east, shared in the open fields of Middle Aston. The yardland in both Steeple Aston and Middle Aston in the 17th century was c. 25 a. In the early 18th century there were reckoned to be 37½ yardlands in Steeple Aston and 29¼ in Middle Aston, presumably excluding glebe. (fn. 188) The Middle Aston figure corresponds fairly closely with the 1½ ploughland and c. 24 yardlands recorded in 1279. In Steeple Aston only c. 30 yardlands, perhaps an underrepresentation of the true total, were recorded in 1279. (fn. 189)
Shortage of pasture in the 17th century was met by the conversion of some arable strips to leys, which by the 18th century had become permanent. Leys were mainly on the clay of the lower fields. In 1700 almost every piece of rectorial glebe in Steeple Aston Lower field comprised arable and greensward, but in Upper field only one. (fn. 190) The location of permanent common pastures in Steeple Aston is not known. In Middle Aston, where 12 a. of pasture were recorded in 1086, (fn. 191) there was a common pasture at Holywell in the south-west, near the OxfordBanbury road.
The abundant meadow flanking the river Cherwell lies mostly on the Steeple Aston side. The importance of meadow rights is indicated by the comparatively low value of a yardland of rectorial glebe to which no such rights were attached. (fn. 192) In 1086 there were 29 a. of meadow in Steeple Aston and 22 a. in Middle Aston. (fn. 193) The chief meadows in Steeple Aston, North and South meadows, were separated by Meadow Road, which ran towards Upper Heyford. (fn. 194) Some of the meadow, including 3½ a. of rectorial glebe, was permanently bounded. (fn. 195) Parts of Steeple Aston meadows were subject to rights of outside ownership. Balliol College owned 12 a. adjoining the river in North Meadow, (fn. 196) and from the 13th century or earlier Wootton Yards meadow, an uninclosed meadow at the south-east corner of North Meadow, belonged to Wootton parish. In an arrangement similar to that between the parishes of Duns Tew and North Aston, the hay crop was taken by Wootton, the afterfeed by Steeple Aston. Unlike that in North Aston, however, the meadow was considered until 1835 to be part of Wootton parish, and the Steeple Aston inclosure award of 1767 gave 8½ a. of meadow to Wootton landowners. (fn. 197) All of it was acquired by Steeple Aston men, the last piece by an exchange in 1864. It was still held as copyhold of Wootton manor in the late 19th century. (fn. 198) The largest river meadow in Middle Aston was Great mead (56 a. in 1682), which was still lot meadow in the 18th century. (fn. 199)
There seems to have been little consolidation of holdings in Steeple Aston before inclosure. In 1648 an estate of 1 or 1½ yardland comprised 43 separate arable strips, and was divided between the owners' daughters by splitting each strip. (fn. 200) In 1726 a holding of ¼ yardland comprised 12 strips of arable, only 2 of which were adjacent. (fn. 201) A few exchanges of land aimed at consolidating holdings were registered in the vestry. (fn. 202) In Middle Aston in the later 17th century Sir Richard Hawkins inclosed some land, probably south of Middle Aston House, but even so in the early 18th century manorial demesne, freehold, leasehold, and copyhold land still lay intermingled in the fields. (fn. 203) Complete inclosure followed the acquisition of the whole of Middle Aston by the Pages.
In 1086 the five estates in the parish appear to have been fully exploited and they had increased in value since the Conquest. Steeple Aston, with 5 hides, had land for 9 ploughs, but there were 10 ploughteams at work, 4 on the demesne with 6 serfs, and 6 others operated by 12 villeins and 4 bordars. The estate had increased in value from £10 to £14. The largest Middle Aston estate, that held by Gilbert, comprised 2 hides and 2½ yardlands. There was land for 4 ploughs. There were 2 ploughteams and 3 serfs on the demesne, and a further 2 ploughs held by 2 villeins and 4 bordars. Its value had remained unaltered at £3. The single hide held by Goisbert had land for 1 plough. There were 3 villeins. No ploughteams were recorded but its value had increased from 15s. to £1. Saric's estate of 1 hide and 1 yardland was said to have land for 10 oxen. There were 2 demesne ploughteams and 2 serfs, and 1 villein and 4 bordars with no recorded plough of their own. Its value, £2, had doubled. Nethercote, reckoned to be 1 hide and ½ yardland, had land for and maintained a single ploughteam, worked by 4 bordars. Its value remained at 20s. The five estates, assessed in all at 11 hides, made up a 20hide unit with North Aston (9 hides), and may have been a single estate at the time of the original hidation. (fn. 204)
By 1279 the landholding population at Steeple Aston had increased to 31, and the structure of landholding had changed markedly. The additional holdings were formed from the demesne, half of which had been alienated, rather than by bringing new land into cultivation; the amount of arable, c. 30 yardlands in 1279, may have decreased since the days of 10 ploughteams in 1086. Twenty-nine free tenants now comprised the great majority of landholders. Members of the family of the manorial lord, Robert of Romney, held 3½ yardlands of demesne. An estate of 4½ yardlands, created almost equally from demesne and non-demesne land, was held by Roger Young, who also rented to undertenants a further ½ yardland and some small parcels of land. There was a holding of 2 yardlands and two of 1½ yardlands, but the commonest holding was of 1 yardland or ½ yardland, of which there were 9 and 6 respectively. Five smallholders held between 3 a. and 9 a. The 4 bordars of 1086 were possibly represented by 2 cottage holdings of 2¼ a. each, and by 2 messuages with crofts. Two villein yardlanders, as the only non-freeholders, served as reeves. They rendered the only services owed, ploughing and harrowing at the lord's will.
Middle Aston similarly showed little increase since 1086 in the amount of land under cultivation. The number of landholders, however, had increased more sharply than in Steeple Aston, from 23, including serfs later enfranchised, to 39. Middle Aston manor, comprising the Domesday estates of Gilbert and Goisbert, further contrasted with Steeple Aston in the number of villeins there. Its tenurial structure was more traditional, with a demesne of 1½ ploughland, 13 villein yardlanders and half-yardlanders holding 8½ yardlands, 13 freeholders holding 3½ yardlands and 21¼ a., and a cottar with 1 a. The villeins paid rent of 3s. a yardland and owed ploughing and harrowing services; the cottar owed 2 days' weeding and 2 days' reaping. Four freeholders with self-sufficient holdings of ½ yardland or more had no other land in Middle Aston, but the majority necessarily also held land of the two serjeanty estates. On the Alvescot fee, where the whole estate of 6 yardlands, 15¼ a., and a croft was in the hands of freeholders, a complex tenurial structure had arisen. (fn. 205) Adam of Brimpton, lord of Middle Aston manor, had been said in 1275 to hold a yardland freely and a yardland in villeinage of the Alvescot fee. (fn. 206) By 1279 the villein yardland seems also to have become free and was leased by Adam's son, also Adam, to an undertenant. A yardland held by Alan Gilbert, carrying with it an obligation to attend the Wootton hundred court, may, with the Brimptons' land, represent the former demesne. Several small holdings were held on undertenancies, five of them from Alan Gilbert. The absentee lord of the fee, Roger Paulin, had burdened most holdings with payment of substantial rents to one or more grantees. One holding was charged with a rent of 6d. to the fabric of Steeple Aston church. On the Nethercote fee, by contrast, the priory of Chetwode retained 2½ yardlands of demesne, the other 1¼ yardland and 23¼ a. being divided between 10 freeholders. It was stated that 3 holdings on the Nethercote fee and 2 on the Alvescot fee were held freely by hereditary descent. (fn. 207) In Middle Aston township the holdings of the manor and of the Alvescot fee continued to be closely linked while those on the Nethercote estate remained more distinct.
By 1307 there were no villeins in Steeple Aston and the number of free tenants had fallen to 21. The amount of manorial demesne, which had been reduced still further, was said to comprise 120 a., presumably representing 1 ploughland. Only 10 or 11 of the holdings of 1279 remained with the same families. The Romney family, although no longer lords of the manor, continued to hold land there. (fn. 208) In the later 14th century the rectory estate, held by Cold Norton priory and not accounted for in 1279, was probably farmed for the most part directly, although some rents were received. By then farmwork was carried out by hired labour under the supervision of the priory's bailiff. (fn. 209) In Middle Aston the amount of land held directly by the Brimptons remained unchanged in 1336. The rent from villein land remained virtually the same as in 1279 but services had been commuted for money payments. (fn. 210)
Subsidy returns of the early 14th century indicate that Steeple Aston and Middle Aston were communities of similar size and prosperity. Though it is possible that people assessed at less than 1s. were omitted altogether, the returns for 1316 and 1327 indicate a general level of moderate prosperity and the existence, already evident in 1279, of a relatively small and wealthy group of manorial and ecclesiastical landlords. The assessment of £4 10s. for the whole parish in 1334 placed it among the more prosperous of the second-ranking parishes in Wootton hundred. (fn. 211) The subsidy returns of 1524 reveal two apparently still similar communities, with 15 taxpayers paying £2 5s. 4d. in Steeple Aston, and 16 paying £20s. 6d. in Middle Aston. In fact the two communities had developed differently; both had absentee landlords, but whereas the quartering of Steeple Aston manor in 1501 led to an active land market and the emergence of yeoman estates, Middle Aston was gradually transformed into a single large estate. Initially Middle Aston land was leased to one or two wealthy yeomen farmers. Thus, in 1524, Robert Balam, probably the lessee of the Nethercote estate, was assessed at £20, almost half the entire Middle Aston assessment. William Tredwell, presumably holding much of the manorial estate, was assessed at 20 marks, two thirds of the remaining assessment. More than half Middle Aston's taxpayers were assessed on wages. (fn. 212) Only five of Steeple Aston's taxpayers were assessed on wages, and wealth was spread more widely than in Middle Aston; seven were assessed at between £6 and £16. In the early 17th century holdings in Middle Aston seem to have become smaller and more regular, usually of c. 1½ yardland. Thomas Iveto, who had succeeded to Nethercote farmhouse, held in 1638 only a third of the 8 yardlands which the farm was then said to comprise. John and Timothy Hicks, bailiffs of Middle Aston's owner, Sir Richard Baker, leased 1½ yardland each. The copyhold tenures of William Tredwell, Thomas Fox, and Giles Penn were also of 1½ yardland. The prolonged confusion that followed Baker's bankruptcy in 1625 brought a succession of landlords to the manor house but no great changes for the tenant farmers. (fn. 213) The period did, however, see the decline of freeholding by yeoman and husbandman families in the township. In 1635 John Fox sold 3¼ yardlands to John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, lessee of Middle Aston manor. (fn. 214) In 1663 Thomas Fox sold another yardland of freehold to Sir Robert Jason, owner of the manor. (fn. 215) In the late 17th century there were said to be 151 a. of non-manorial freehold, of which 94 a. belonged to the earl of Shrewsbury, and 28 a. to the rector. There were 6½ yardlands of copyhold. The remaining land was leased. The Shrewsbury freehold had been sold by 1731 to Sir Francis Page, who became thereby virtually the only landowner in Middle Aston. (fn. 216)
The few successful yeoman families in Middle Aston usually held land elsewhere. The Fox family throve in all three Astons from the 16th century to the 18th. John Fox (d. 1522) leased Nethercote from Nutley abbey, leaving at his death flocks of 200 sheep 'in the field of Middle Aston' and at Dornford (in Wootton). (fn. 217) Although his descendants frequently leased Nethercote, or part of it, they did not enjoy uninterrupted possession. Their long-standing importance owed much to their freehold land in Middle Aston mentioned above, and the purchase, early in the 17th century, of a share of a 5-yardland estate in Steeple Aston. (fn. 218) In 1662 men named Thomas Fox were taxed on two houses in Middle Aston, one in Steeple Aston, and one in North Aston. The houses included not only Nethercote but probably Steeple Aston manor house and Fox Hall in North Aston. (fn. 219) Though most of their freehold land was sold in the 17th century, Foxes remained as successful tenant farmers in both Middle and Steeple Aston until the early 18th century. In 1711 John Fox of Steeple Aston left an estate valued at c. £340, including a flock of 100 sheep and crops in the ground to the value of £100. (fn. 220) John Hicks (d. 1634), member of another prominent family, held, besides 1½ yardland at Middle Aston, 1 yardland at North Aston, and land at Shipton (presumably Shipton-on-Cherwell). His estate included wood at Arncot, in Ambrosden parish. (fn. 221) His son Timothy succeeded to the lease of the 1½ yardland, and also leased part of the Nethercote estate, and a hopyard adjoining Middle Aston manor house. (fn. 222) Isaac Hicks (d. 1698) left an estate valued at £275. (fn. 223)
A lack of prosperous yeomen in Middle Aston is indicated by the hearth tax of 1662 for which no house other than the manor house was assessed at more than 3 hearths. In Steeple Aston, where opportunities were greater, there were two houses of 4 hearths, two of 5, one of 6, two of 7, and one of 8. (fn. 224) Available land was sometimes taken up by outsiders, usually neighbouring gentry families such as the Beckinghams of Westcott Barton, the Cuppers of Glympton, and the Standards of Tackley in search of small estates, probably for younger sons. (fn. 225) Often such families leased their land to tenants, some of whom managed to purchase their leases. William King, for example, was a copyholder in the late 16th century, possibly of the former Carew moiety of the manor. By the mid 17th century his descendants had acquired the former manor house south of the church and an estate described in 1658 as 160 a. of arable, 12 a. of meadow, and 30 a. of pasture in Steeple Aston and Middle Aston. (fn. 226) Much of the land was sold in the late 17th century and early 18th. In 1712 Ferdinando King left an estate of 3 yardlands, (fn. 227) but the family had sunk into obscurity by mid century. Estates in Steeple Aston in the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries were mostly from 1 to 4 yardlands, but that accumulated from the late 17th century by the Davis family, butchers and graziers, was exceptional. Starting with the purchase of smallholdings of ¼ or ½ yardland, the Davis estate reached its greatest extent in 1732 when Thomas Davis bought two quarter-shares of Steeple Aston manor with their land, comprising 6¾ yardlands. He had, however, over-stretched his resources, and the consequent reduction of the family property culminated in the sale in 1750 of the 6¾ yardlands to Francis Page of Middle Aston. (fn. 228) On the eve of inclosure the Davis family held only 3½ yardlands, and its later prosperity was based upon a successful medical practice. (fn. 229) In 1756 Page exchanged c. 9½ yardlands in Steeple Aston, including the former Davis estate and land bought from Ferdinando King's son Samuel, for the rector's glebe and tithes in Middle Aston. (fn. 230) The exchange made the rectory estate, estimated at 12½ yardlands by the inclosure commissioners, the largest in Steeple Aston. The land was rented from the rector, as it had been from Page, by the Fox brothers, Richard and Thomas. (fn. 231) The manor house formerly occupied by the King family became the rectory farmhouse.
The Lamley family seems to have become established in Steeple Aston in the early 17th century. By 1662 Henry Lamley, husbandman, occupied a six-hearth house, possibly that on the south side of North Street known as the Lodge in the 19th century and as Cedar Lodge in 1981. (fn. 232) In the 18th century the Lamleys styled themselves gentlemen, an unusual affectation in Steeple Aston, and rented out their 2½-yardland estate; presumably they owned other land elsewhere. (fn. 233) Among other prominent freeholding families in Steeple Aston were the Martens and their successors the Watsons, owners of a quarter share of the manor and of 4¼ yardlands. William Belcher seems to have acquired the 4½ yardlands of Henry Standard after his death in 1631; it was bought in 1722 by Edward Buswell. The Wings of North Aston seem to have moved to Steeple Aston in the 17th century to a farm of 2½ yardlands. (fn. 234)
Brasenose College's Steeple Aston estate of 3 yardlands was leased almost continuously from the mid 16th century to the mid 17th to the Parsons family, who had rented Bicester priory's estate before its acquisition by the college. The family were also tenants of the Beckingham land in Steeple Aston. The low and almost unchanging rent charged by the college, and the easy terms for renewal, made the estate an attractive proposition for tenants, but from the 1670s it was almost invariably leased to the rector. (fn. 235) The estate was presumably worked from the farmhouse and close owned by the college at the south-west corner of Water Lane and North Street. It was sold to John Davis of Hill House, probably in the late 18th century, and was demolished in the mid 19th century. (fn. 236)
Wheat, rye, dredge, oats, and pulse were grown on the rectory estate in the 14th century. Most was for consumption by Cold Norton priory but some was given to benefactors, and small surpluses of wheat, dredge, and malt were sold. (fn. 237) The growth in the late 16th century of wheat and barley in the same field, and the repeated mention thereafter in wills and inventories of wheat, barley, and peas suggests that by then a four-course rotation of crops was in use in both Steeple Aston and Middle Aston. Oats were also grown, and, less usually, rye, maslin, and vetches. (fn. 238) By the 1760s clover, sainfoin, and turnips were regularly grown. (fn. 239)
Sheep were raised in the 14th century, though apparently not on a very large scale: 16 lambs were produced on the rectorial demesne in 1384–5, and tithes produced a further 24. There were on the rectory estate 3 sows, 9 store pigs, and 45 piglets including 11 from tithes and 8 in payment of entry fines. There were 7 horses, and 7 oxen. A large stock of poultry produced more than 2,000 eggs, and there were 400 doves and 2 beehives. (fn. 240) The right to keep a bull was restricted in the Middle Ages to the lords of Steeple and Middle Aston manors. (fn. 241) As elsewhere, sheep became increasingly important to the mixed farming of the parish. John Fox's flocks have been mentioned, and he also kept a ploughteam and a few cattle. (fn. 242) In 1549 Henry Bostock, a merchant of the Staple, built a woolhouse on Brasenose College land in return for a 20-year rent free lease of it. He seems not to have made use of it, however, and the woolhouse was usually leased to the rector. (fn. 243) In 1616 the rector, Richard Buckfield, owned 203 sheep, but his stint, like others, was reduced later in the century, and by 1700 the rector's entitlement was 140 sheep. (fn. 244) Flocks of 100 sheep were recorded in Steeple Aston in 1667 and 1710, and of 300 and 150 sheep in Middle Aston in 1616 and 1673. (fn. 245) It was commonplace even for cottagers to keep livestock other than sheep. Margery Carter (d. 1582) of Steeple Aston was fairly typical in leaving 14 sheep, 2 calves, 2 pigs, poultry, and bees. (fn. 246)
The lack of manorial supervision in Steeple Aston following the division of the manor in 1501 seems to have led to the use of vestry meetings for the regulation of the open fields. Surviving minutes of such meetings for the 1760s (fn. 247) show that matters of common policy were settled among the leading farmers. Exchanges of land were recorded, regulations drawn up, and officers appointed to supervise them. Three farmers acted as fieldsmen and a field-keeper was hired to look after livestock, to maintain boundaries, 'to look after the crows and catch the moles if he can'. Transgression of the regulations was met by a series of fines payable to the constable, who was also responsible for the purchase of clover seed for the fallow field from a common fund. The regulation of stints was a particular concern. In 1648 the allowance was 5 cows or horses, 25 sheep, and 10 lambs to the yardland, but it may have been widely exceeded, for in 1683 a similar stint of 4 cows, 1 horse, and 30 sheep was said to be 'after the usage of the township of rating and setting a lower stint to every yardland for the better keeping of their cattle'. (fn. 248) By 1762 arrangements were stringent. The stint was reduced to 1 horse, 1½ cows, and 20 sheep; headlands were commonable only after Lammas; livestock was counted twice a year; a new horse hitch was chosen each year at a special vestry meeting. (fn. 249) At Middle Aston a similar concern for the conservation of pasture was evident, although presumably more easily enforced. Not all yardlands there had full rights of common, the rectorial glebe, for example, having no cow commons. The stint in 1663 was 3 cows, 2 horses, and 35 sheep. By 1684 it had been reduced to 2 cows, 2 horses, and 30 sheep. (fn. 250) Throughout the parish sheep commons seem only rarely to have been exploited to their full extent, but horse commons and particularly cow commons were more fully exploited.
Inclosure was easily achieved at Middle Aston where, following an exchange of land and tithes with the rector in 1756, Francis Page became sole landowner. (fn. 251) By 1763 Middle Aston had been formed into three farms. Great House farm comprised 212 a. adjoining and south of Middle Aston House; Town farm (295 a.), based on Home farmhouse in Middle Aston village, occupied a large strip of land running west-east across the centre of Middle Aston; Grange farm (336 a.) occupied the remaining land as far as North Aston. (fn. 252) Great House farm and Town farm were soon afterwards worked together, from the farmhouse in the grounds of Middle Aston House, until 1893 when Middle Aston House was rebuilt and Home Farm became the farmhouse. Grange farm continued to be worked separately. (fn. 253) It was tenanted initially by Joseph Preedy, whose son Benjamin became tenant of the home farm in the late 18th century. The tenant farmers of Middle Aston were for the most part able and wealthy men. Benjamin Preedy was also tenant of the rectory estate in Steeple Aston, and Joseph, who owned freehold land in Duns Tew and Claydon and leased a farm in Steeple Barton, settled a substantial fortune on his children at his death in 1795. (fn. 254) Benjamin Preedy's successor, William Faithorn (d. 1829), a former doctor, was a notable breeder of rams. His successor, William Cother (d. 1871), was by 1857 farmer of the whole of Middle Aston. He was one of the most influential farmers in the region, a celebrated breeder of Cotswold sheep and Hereford cattle. (fn. 255)
Steeple Aston township was inclosed in 1767, under an Act of 1766. (fn. 256) There were already 22 small closes in and around the village amounting to 28 a., but few closes in the fields. By far the largest award was that made to the rector, whose glebe had been much enlarged by the recent exchange with Francis Page. The rector was awarded 189 a. in exchange for 12½ yardlands of glebe, and 167 a. for tithes. The other major allotments were to Jacob Watson (116 a.), Lucy Buswell (84 a.), Brasenose College (78 a.), Sir Charles Cottrell-Dormer (63 a.), Judith Lamley (56 a.), Elizabeth Davis (53 a.), and William Wing (50 a.); seven others received between 3 a. and 26 a., and a cottager received 1 a. in exchange for 1 cow common. There were several small allotments of meadow to Wootton landowners with meadow rights in Steeple Aston. The inclosure commissioners were praised for the relative inexpensiveness of the award, but their task was made easier by the village's topography, most of the leading farmhouses facing into the open fields along North Street and South Street, their closes backing on one another on either side of the brook. The commissioners were able to set out a number of relatively compact farms with direct access from existing farmhouses. Jacob Watson was allotted land east and south-east of the village adjacent to his farm closes in South Street and Paine Street. Although Lucy Buswell received 28 a. in the Lockwell area, north-east of the village, 55 a. lay opposite her house at the north-west end of South Street. William Wing's farm stretched irregularly from his house at the south-east corner of Water Lane and North Street westwards across the turnpike road to the boundary with Steeple Barton. The decision to allot most of the northern part of Steeple Aston to the rectory farm involved some inconvenience for others with farmhouses in North Street. Judith Lamley of the Lodge was awarded 47 a. in the south-west, in an L-shaped block along the turnpike road and the road to Lower Heyford, and 9 a. north-east of the village. Elizabeth Davis received 18 a. adjoining the Grange on the north, but also 35 a. straddling the turnpike road south of the road to Steeple Barton. Sir Charles Cottrell-Dormer's allotment lay in the southeast, within easy reach of Rousham. (fn. 257)
No new farmhouses were needed initially in the newly inclosed fields. Brasenose College farm, west of the turnpike road, and the rectory farm were leased together and worked from the rectory farmhouse opposite the church. The farms were separated in the early 19th century, and at some time between 1815 and 1833 the college built a farmhouse immediately west of the turnpike road. A new rectory farmhouse, Lower Field Farm, was built in the fields west of the village at about the same time. (fn. 258)
The value of farms increased sharply as a result of inclosure. The annual value of the rectory farm, for instance, excluding the allotment for tithes, grew immediately from £120 to £190, and that of Brasenose farm from £35 to £64. Prosperity, however, was not invevitable. The rector borrowed £1,200 from Brasenose College to meet inclosure expenses; his farming was inefficient and eventually he left the parish in poverty. (fn. 259) Jacob Watson also found difficulty in meeting the cost of inclosure and was forced to sell land. (fn. 260) The labouring population were reckoned to have suffered, at least in the short term, from inclosure, and the poor rate increased sharply for a period after 1767. (fn. 261) Inclosure had little effect on the number of freeholders in Steeple Aston. They had decreased slightly from 22 in 1760 to 17, of whom 10 were owneroccupiers, in 1786. By 1831 there were 21, including 14 owner-occupiers, an increase that in part reflected the establishment in Steeple Aston of a number of professional and service families. (fn. 262) Although the number of landowners fluctuated only slightly, the balance of landownership was altered by the acquisition of much farmland, including the former Watson and Buswell estates, by the Cottrell-Dormer family. By 1841 Charles Cottrell-Dormer was owner not only of the whole of Middle Aston but of 364 a. in Steeple Aston. He, the rector (434 a. including the Brasenose College land), and William Wing (99 a.) owned most of the land in Steeple Aston. (fn. 263)
In the later 19th century and 20th the number of farms in Steeple Aston changed little, although their size fluctuated with changes of tenancy. (fn. 264) The former Watson farm was broken up, and in 1871 there were five farms in Steeple Aston: Brasenose farm, Lower Field farm (the rectory farm), Southfield farm (formerly Buswell's), Westfield farm (Wing's), and Hopcroft's Holt farm, a farm of c. 100 a. set up by 1837 by Charles Cottrell-Dormer and attached to the inn. (fn. 265) Southfield farm, renamed Manor farm and comprising 124 a., was sold in 1896 to Joseph Kinch, whose descendants continued there in 1981. Hopcroft's Holt inn and 68 a. were also sold, in 1876, to Hall's brewery of Oxford. (fn. 266) The Wing family sold Westfield farm and left Steeple Aston c. 1900. (fn. 267) In 1919 Rectory farm (c. 300 a.) was bought by Richard Taylor, whose grandson farmed it from Westcott Barton in 1981. Brasenose farm was bought in 1941 by Richard's son W. A. Taylor. (fn. 268)
Middle Aston's farms were little changed until the estate was bought in the 1930s by Lawrence Robson. Warren Barn was made a separate farm and was bought in 1954 by G. Preston, who in 1958 built the farmhouse there. The rest of the estate was bought in 1954 by Spillers Ltd. as an experimental farm. Most of the land was sold in 1970 to T. Davis of Grange Farm. (fn. 269) In 1801 arable and pasture in Steeple Aston, 458 a. and 449 a., were evenly divided; in Middle Aston there were 345 a. of arable and 458 a. of pasture. (fn. 270) There had been a small increase in the amount of arable in both places by 1876, and in 1914 there was slightly more arable than pasture. Barley and wheat were the most important crops, each occupying almost a quarter of the arable in the parish, and oats and root crops were also grown. The number of cattle kept, 16 for 100 a. of cultivated land in 1914, was average for the area; the number of sheep (54 for 100 a.) was slightly above average. (fn. 271)
There is evidence of unemployment and poverty in Steeple Aston throughout the 19th century. The parish was not immediately affected by the Swing Riots of 1831, but the burning of hay ricks, for which a Steeple Aston labourer was executed in 1832, may have been connected. (fn. 272) In 1834 many families were said to be barely subsisting. (fn. 273) In 1846 a petition was sent by the vestry to the Home Secretary complaining about the movement into Steeple Aston of poor labourers forced out of neighbouring parishes which were in the hands of single proprietors. (fn. 274) In 1852 the vestry agreed to offer £3 each to up to eight young people who would be prepared to emigrate. (fn. 275) Steeple Aston cottages, none of which were owner-occupied in 1861, were often built on cramped plots and said to be habitually in poor repair, despite high rents. Cottages in Middle Aston, a 'closed' village, were in much better condition. (fn. 276) Steeple Aston was caught up in the agitation for agricultural trades unions in the 1870s, but seems not to have played a leading role. (fn. 277)
Apart from labourers the usual trades and occupations associated with an agricultural community are to be found from the 16th century, notably blacksmiths, wheelwrights, masons, carpenters, weavers, maltsters, and bakers. In the 18th century the parish also included a tailor, a milliner, and a cordwainer. Tradesmen and artisans frequently combined their businesses with smallholdings. (fn. 278) In the early 19th century Steeple Aston was less of a purely agricultural community. There was an unusually large number of tradesmen and artisans: in 1811 heads of households who were engaged in trades and crafts (44) outnumbered labourers (27). There were 4 shopkeepers, 3 shoemakers, a tailor, a miller, a tallow chandler, and 3 teachers. By 1821 there were also an apothecary and a watchmender. Middle Aston was more conventionally agricultural, although it, too, had a shopkeeper and a milliner. (fn. 279)
There were 41 domestic servants in Steeple Aston and 4 in Middle Aston in 1851, and the several 'mansions' in the parish were an important source of employment. In the later 19th century agricultural labourers once more formed an increasing proportion of the population, but tradesmen and small industrial businesses continued to flourish, particularly in the building trade. A small brickyard on the east side of Paine Street was in operation by 1861, and was still in use in 1889. (fn. 280) In Steeple Aston, as elsewhere, most trades and crafts disappeared in the 20th century, and for a time the parish depended almost entirely again on agriculture. In 1902 it was remarked that young people were leaving Steeple Aston to enter service or to work in towns. (fn. 281) In the later 20th century Steeple Aston and, to a lesser extent, Middle Aston expanded to accommodate commuters and their families, but there was little new employment within the parish. In 1981 there were a few shops and a riding centre in Steeple Aston. At Middle Aston, Spillers Ltd., food manufacturer, had its central training establishment at Middle Aston House. There were also a tile warehouse and an estate agent's office in Middle Aston village. (fn. 282)
Cuttle mill, in the south-east corner of the parish, north-east of Heyford bridge, was in existence by at least 1279; (fn. 283) it may have been named after the stream on which it stands. (fn. 284) The mill presumably descended with the manor until 1501 when ownership seems to have been divided with that of the manor. In the late 17th century sole ownership of the mill was obtained by John Davis. (fn. 285) It was bought c. 1740 by James Dormer and remained in his family's ownership in 1981, but it had ceased working by 1929. (fn. 286) The mill, a two-storeyed, thatched building of ironstone rubble, was transformed c. 1740 into a 'temple of the mill' as part of William Kent's overall design for the gardens at Rousham. Intended as an eyecatcher to be seen in conjunction with the sham ruined arch to the north, the mill was given a pinnacled gable and flying buttresses, which it retained in 1981. Its thatched roof was replaced by stone slate in the 19th century. Pillars of rough stone on top of the buttresses, often admired for their effect as a picturesque ruin, were also added in the 19th century, probably for structural reasons. (fn. 287)
There was a windmill in Steeple Aston in the early 18th century. It had apparently gone by the later 19th century, when only the site was remembered. (fn. 288)
Middle Aston mill, c. 500 m. south-east of Middle Aston House, existed by 1275 when it was owned with the manor by Adam of Brimpton. (fn. 289) It had gone by the mid 17th century, its position possibly affected by the construction upstream of fishponds for Middle Aston House. (fn. 290)
A court held c. 1633 for Middle Aston manor was the first within memory and failed to transact any business. (fn. 291) The only discovered record of a manorial court at Steeple Aston was that held in 1567 for Sir Henry Compton, owner of a quarter of the manor. (fn. 292) A belief in the 19th century that courts held on behalf of the duke of Marlborough were manorial stemmed from confusion about the duke's jurisdiction as lord of Wootton hundred. (fn. 293) In 1279 the sheriff and the bailiffs of Wootton hundred had the right to hold view of frankpledge annually in Steeple Aston, and to receive hospitality there. (fn. 294) Such 'foreign views' continued into the 19th century, when the duke's steward was holding so-called courts leet annually at the former Steeple Aston manor house; the duke's jurisdiction was said variously to stem from the lordship of Wootton hundred and from a position, apparently invented, as 'paramount lord' of Steeple Aston manor. (fn. 295) The confusion over title was rectified in the official records from 1872 when the duke was referred to only as lord of the hundred. The court last sat at Steeple Aston in 1925. (fn. 296) The miscellaneous business transacted by the court suggests that it was accepted as a useful instrument of local government. Nuisances were regulated, fines levied for encroachments, quit rents received, and constables and tithingmen appointed. There was close co-operation between the court leet and the vestry, and the distinction between their functions was not always clear. When the vestry decided on perambulations of the township boundaries in 1840 and 1854 it turned to the leet jury to conduct them. (fn. 297) Although the constable was appointed by the court leet until the practice was abolished by statute in 1842 (fn. 298) his accounts were scrutinized by the vestry. (fn. 299) Regulation of the fields of Steeple Aston township was dealt with in the vestry. (fn. 300)
There were usually two surveyors of highways and, in the 1830s, two collectors of taxes. (fn. 301) There were two churchwardens, one nominated by the rector, the other by the parishioners. In 1683 the second churchwarden was said to be nominated alternately by the inhabitants of Steeple Aston and Middle Aston, but in the 18th century he was always from Middle Aston. Complaints in the 19th century that the people of Steeple Aston were thereby deprived of a churchwarden of their own led to the appointment from 1819 of a third churchwarden, but that practice was disallowed in 1830. (fn. 302)
Steeple Aston and Middle Aston were united for poor law purposes until 1791 when Francis Page, owner of Middle Aston, secured their separation. There had previously been one overseer for each township; records were kept separately but signed by both overseers. From 1791 a second overseer was appointed in each place and administration became completely distinct. In the mid 19th century there were several attempts by the ratepayers of Steeple Aston to return to the old arrangement, for reasons set out below. The proposal was rejected by magistrates, (fn. 303) and the two civil parishes have since remained distinct.
In 1757–8 only £5 was spent on the poor in Steeple Aston township, but inclosure in 1767 was said to have thrown many out of work temporarily and expenditure rose to £71. (fn. 304) By 1776 expenditure had fallen to £35. It rose to £176 in 1803, but the cost of 10s. a head of population was relatively low for the area. The cost per head rose only to c. 15s. even in the depression following the Napoleonic wars. In 1831 it stood at 11s. a head (£240). Middle Aston spent proportionately more than Steeple Aston on its poor in the late 18th century and early 19th, when the cost per head was nearly double that in Steeple Aston. (fn. 305)
In 1803 only 9 adults received regular relief in Steeple Aston and 5 in Middle Aston. The total for Middle Aston remained low thereafter, but it increased in Steeple Aston, to 17 in 1815 and to 25 in 1823. Able-bodied labourers in Steeple Aston were said in 1833 not to request relief unless they were sick or had large families, but the exemption from rates of as many as a quarter of the village's houses indicates widespread poverty. The roundsman system was in use in Steeple Aston by the early 19th century. (fn. 306) Seven parish houses, probably rent-free cottages, were recorded in Steeple Aston in 1816. In 1836 there were 10, all of which were sold in that year. (fn. 307)
After the passing in 1846 of the Act amending the law on settlement (fn. 308) Steeple Aston's ratepayers sent to the Home Secretary a memorial complaining of the expulsion of paupers from neighbouring closed townships, and presumably from Middle Aston in particular, to their own open township. That complaint lay behind the attempt in 1860 to have Steeple Aston and Middle Aston treated once more as a single unit for poor law purposes. The dispute was not resolved until the Union Chargeability Act of 1865 spread the responsibility over a wider area. (fn. 309)
In 1834 Steeple Aston and Middle Aston became part of the Woodstock poor law union. They were included in Woodstock rural district in 1894, in Banbury rural district in 1932, and in Cherwell district in 1974. (fn. 310)
The church existed by c. 1180 when Alan son of Geoffrey of Aston promised the advowson to Eynsham abbey. (fn. 311) It descended, however, with the manor until 1362, when it was granted by Richard of Adderbury, with 4 a. of land in Steeple Aston, to Cold Norton priory. (fn. 312) The priory was allowed to appropriate the church in 1377 when a vicarage was ordained, and because of the priory's financial position the vicarage itself was appropriated in 1399. (fn. 313) Church, rectory, and vicarage were held by Cold Norton until its dissolution in 1507, when its property was granted by the Crown to St. Stephen's chapel, Westminster, from which it was purchased in 1513 by William Smith, bishop of Lincoln, and given in the same year to Brasenose College, Oxford. The college reinstated the rectory, returning glebe and tithes to the incumbent. (fn. 314) The advowson remained thereafter with the college, although it occasionally allowed others to present to the living. (fn. 315) In 1977 the benefice was united with those of North Aston and Tackley, whose patrons presented to the united benefice jointly with Brasenose. (fn. 316)
In the early 13th century the right to tithes from Nethercote was claimed by both Steeple Aston and North Aston. The tithes were shared by agreement until the early 14th century, when the dispute arose again and seems to have been settled by Steeple Aston taking the tithes in exchange for a small amount of land in Nethercote. (fn. 317) In 1254 the rectory was valued at £7, and in 1291 and 1341 at £10 13s. 4d. (fn. 318) Cold Norton priory had been given the demesne tithes of Middle Aston by Adam of Brimpton in 1262, (fn. 319) so that after its appropriation of the rectory the priory was owner of all tithes in the parish. In 1536 the rectory's value was £16 13s. 4d., but generous endowments by Brasenose College, concerned to make the living comfortable for the senior members of the college who usually occupied it, had raised the value to £120 by the early 17th century. (fn. 320) By 1704 tithes had been compounded for money payments. (fn. 321) The tithes from Wootton Yards meadow were shared with the rector of Wootton. (fn. 322) In the early 17th century rectorial glebe amounted to 3 yardlands in Steeple Aston and 1, or 2, in Middle Aston; uncertainty about Middle Aston derived from confusion over what was rightfully the rector's and what belonged to Brasenose College. By the end of the century it was established that since one of the yardlands enjoyed rights of cow common it could not be glebe; Middle Aston glebe traditionally lacked such rights. (fn. 323) In 1756 Middle Aston glebe and tithes were exchanged with Francis Page, chief landowner there, for a farm of 9½ yardlands in Steeple Aston. (fn. 324) At the inclosure of Steeple Aston in 1767 the rector was awarded 189 a. for glebe and 167 a. for tithes. (fn. 325) There were occasional sales of small amounts of land but the rectory farm remained in the later 18th century and 19th the basis of a living whose value fluctuated between £500 and £600. (fn. 326) Most of the glebe was sold in 1919 for £9,000, invested to provide the incumbent's income. (fn. 327)
The former rectory house stood west of the churchyard. Assessed at 7 hearths in 1662, (fn. 328) it was described in 1683 as a stone building of two storeys with cocklofts, part thatched and part stone-slated. The parlour was oak-wainscotted and had a board floor; the kitchen had a stone floor and the other ground-floor rooms had earth floors. Extensive outbuildings included a slated dovecote and a thatched gate house. In 1695 a hall and entrance with rooms over were also mentioned. (fn. 329) The rectory was 'in great measure newbuilt' in the mid 18th century and appears from a drawing of 1823 to have been L-shaped and to have had at least one two-storeyed, stone-slated bay window. (fn. 330) The rectory was demolished and a new one built in 1832–3 north-west of the church, (fn. 331) a large two-storeyed building of coursed ironstone rubble with hipped Welsh slate roof; a wing was added on the north, probably in the later 19th century.
The first known rector of Steeple Aston, Henry of Aston (fl. c. 1180), was the brother of the lord of the manor. (fn. 332) Thomas of Somerton, instituted in 1304 although 'from the look of his face he appeared to be a minor', remained rector until 1350, when he entered Chetwode priory, of which he had been a benefactor. (fn. 333) His successor, William of Linley, had a varied career which included the theft at Rousham in 1355 of £200 from Sir William Shareshull, son of the Chief Justice. In 1368 William was licensed to go on pilgrimage abroad, and died in that year. (fn. 334) After appropriation in 1377 the church was served, probably inadequately, by canons from Cold Norton priory. In 1473 the prior leased the church to a Steeple Aston woman and her son who undertook to see that services were provided. (fn. 335) The church seems still to have been leased during the early years of Brasenose College ownership, (fn. 336) but by 1526 a rector had been instituted. (fn. 337) In 1530 the college presented to the living the first of an unbroken series of its fellows, John Hawarden, rector until 1566. Many rectors thereafter were absentees, and one, George Atkinson, may have been a Catholic, (fn. 338) but there is no evidence that Steeple Aston was persistently neglected. Most absentee rectors took an active interest in the parish, visited it regularly, and supplied conscientious curates who for the most part went on to enjoy exemplary careers in the Church. The most distinguished rector, Samuel Radcliffe, 1617–48, was principal of Brasenose College, Oxford, from 1614, and as a Laudian and royalist was ordered out of his college office in 1648 by the parliamentary Visitors but died before he could be ejected. Radcliffe's reputation as college principal has been controversial, (fn. 339) but his endowment of a school, two almshouses, and a loan charity testify to his interest in Steeple Aston. (fn. 340) One of his curates, Isaac Fritt (d. 1637), kept a library of 41 books at the rectory. (fn. 341) Thomas Sixsmith, 1648–51, and Edmund Highfield, 1651–4, were among the 13 fellows expelled from Brasenose, but both seem later to have conformed. (fn. 342) Daniel Greenwood, rector 1654– 79, was also owner of a moiety of Steeple Aston manor. (fn. 343) A nephew of Daniel Greenwood, who was installed as principal of the college in the purge of 1648, he conformed at the Restoration and was 'regularly' instituted in 1662. He seems, however, to have adhered to many of his earlier opinions; a funeral sermon preached by him in 1672 was Presbyterian in tone and emphasized the doctrine of predestination. (fn. 344) Greenwood's residence in the parish was contrasted by parishioners with the prolonged absences of his successor, Richard Duckworth. Duckworth, another Presbyterian installed as fellow of Brasenose by the parliamentary Visitors, was one of only six Oxfordshire clergymen to read James II's Declaration of Liberty of Conscience. (fn. 345) Forceful, but tactless and unsympathetic, Duckworth became embroiled in continual disputes with his parishioners. They complained in 1682 that services were neglected; that when he came to the parish Duckworth hid in the rectory, even on Sundays; that he refused to appoint a curate; that he involved his parishioners in lawsuits; that he neglected parish customs. It was said to be customary for the rector to provide entertainment at christenings and to provide cakes and ale when the inhabitants paid their small tithes. The rector also customarily gave a dinner on Christmas morning to all married folk in Steeple Aston, in the evening to their children and servants; the entertainment was repeated the following day for the inhabitants of Middle Aston. Duckworth countered that there was no terrier; that the church was out of repair; that the parish records were in private hands; that the pulpit had been moved to the darkest corner of the church; that the parish clerk's seat had been removed so that he was forced to 'lean over the back of some seat which caused much irreverence in divine service, others . . . imitating that indecent posture'. Beneath the bickering lay the question of tithes, Easter offerings, and surplice fees, about which Duckworth felt his predecessors had become lax. (fn. 346) His litigation reputedly improved the value of the living, but at the expense of his relations with his parishioners, and he was forced c. 1692 to leave the parish. (fn. 347) He was, however, a benefactor to the church and to the school and improved the parish's streets and water supply. (fn. 348)
For most of the 18th century Steeple Aston was unusual in being served by conscientious, resident rectors, some of whom also appointed resident curates. Services were more frequent and communicants more numerous than in neighbouring parishes. Thomas Beconsal, rector 1706–9, and George Freeman, rector 1709–45, married local women. Under Freeman there were two services and a sermon every Sunday, and communion five times a year; the catechism was taught regularly. (fn. 349) John Eaton, rector 1745– 61, claimed 50–60 communicants. (fn. 350) John Noel, rector 1761–90, was beset by financial difficulties. From 1776 he was vicar of Duns Tew, and in the 1780s he also served Upper Heyford. Although he lived in Steeple Aston and employed a curate there, the number of communicants had been halved by 1784. (fn. 351) James Armetriding, rector 1790–1832, was said to be 'a quaint divine of the fox-hunting, port-wine-loving type'. An openhanded, popular figure, he resided at the parsonage for most of the year but was absent for long periods in the summer. His services were lackadaisical, and he was known on occasions to combine Sunday service with a funeral, yet the number of communicants increased, and his curates ran a Sunday school with 51 pupils in 1831. (fn. 352) Joseph Burrows, rector 1832–62, was less eager than his parishioners for church reform. The rectory was rebuilt and the church restored, but he was a man 'of the old school', unwilling to meet the increased demands on his office. He preached the same sermons repeatedly. The parishioners complained in 1854 about the paucity of services and in 1855 about the lack of parish visiting. Thomas Curme, the evangelical vicar of Sandford St. Martin, took it upon himself to interfere in Steeple Aston until rebuked by the bishop, who eventually persuaded Burrows to appoint a curate. (fn. 353) John Henry Brookes, rector 1863–96, was by contrast a tireless visitor of his parishioners, and always employed a curate. In a sometimes unruly parish not noted in the later 19th century for religious zeal Brookes achieved wide respect. Congregations increased from 160 in 1851 to 250 in 1869, and by the end of the century there were a well attended communion service and children's service every Sunday, three services on Holy Days, and special services in Advent and Lent. (fn. 354)
The church of ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL (fn. 355) occupies a commanding position on high ground at the north-east end of Steeple Aston village. It is built of both limestone and ironstone and comprises a chancel with north chapel, nave of three bays, north and south aisles, south porch, and west tower, all battlemented. (fn. 356) Of the 12th-century church nothing identifiable now remains except, perhaps, at the south-east corner of the nave where the 13th-century aisle is built against the quoins of an unaisled building. The font, decorated with diamond and chevron patterns, may also be of the 12th century, although apparently recut in the later 17th century. (fn. 357) The church had a tower at the latest by 1220, when the prefix 'Steeple' was attached to the name Aston. (fn. 358) The church was altered extensively in the 13th century when north and south aisles and arcades were built, a new chancel arch was inserted, and the chancel was extended eastwards and supported at its eastern end by low angle buttresses. In the mid 14th century the spacious north chapel was built; despite later alterations to the chapel the east window, with its fine reticulated tracery, remains, as do the arches connecting the chapel with the chancel and north aisle. The chapel contains an unusual double piscina with cusped arches decorated with a ram's head. The south aisle was rebuilt in the 14th century; the piscina, on the south wall, and the south doorway still remain. Rebuilding continued in the late 14th century and early 15th when the north aisle was widened to match the north chapel. On the south wall of the chapel a corbel depicting a woman's head wearing headdress of the early 15th century suggests that the chapel was reroofed then. To the same period belong the building of the south porch and the rebuilding of the tower, and it is possible that a clerestory was also added, although it was regarded as late work in the 19th century when it was removed. (fn. 359) The whole church was surmounted by battlements, presumably after rebuilding was completed in the early 15th century.
The medieval church contained an altar dedicated to St. Catherine, probably at the east end of the north aisle, and there seems to have been an image of Our Lady, with a light, in the north chapel. There was also a light, its location unknown, dedicated to St. Nicholas. (fn. 360)
In the later 17th century the rector, Richard Duckworth, complained strongly about the church's poor state of repair. (fn. 361) He partly rebuilt the chancel in 1686, (fn. 362) but parishioners claimed that in doing so he had taken materials from the north chapel, leaving it open to the elements and so ruinous that it had to be propped up. Duckworth's rebuilding also reputedly destroyed a crypt, piscina, and sedilia in the chancel. (fn. 363) The new work was remarkable for its adherence to a style of Perpendicular prevalent a century and a half earlier. The ruined chapel was taken over in 1723 for a mausoleum by Sir Francis Page of Middle Aston. (fn. 364) The north wall was rebuilt and the arches between the chapel and the chancel and north aisle blocked, access being by small doors. Some sort of partition between the chapel and the chancel had presumably been built by Duckworth to keep out the weather, but it may have been rebuilt by Page since pieces of alabaster possibly belonging to two tombs seen c. 1720 by the antiquary Richard Rawlinson were discovered when the arch was reopened in 1842. (fn. 365) The tombs were those of a priest, perhaps Thomas Adderbury (d. by 1362), a member of the family then lords of the manor, and of a knight and lady. (fn. 366) The chapel was given a flat ceiling by Page, cutting off the apex of the east window. The Page monument, dominating the chapel, was commissioned from Henry Scheemakers on the death of Page's wife in 1730. It depicts Page and his wife reclining within a classical portico. Beneath the chapel floor is a large vault containing the remains of Page and his family. Responsibility for the chapel's upkeep was attached by him to ownership of Middle Aston House, and £1 a year was allowed to the parish clerk for cleaning the chapel and locking it. (fn. 367) In 1719 Page had also erected a large gallery and private staircase at the west end of the nave and had enlarged the north doorway of the church for his own use. (fn. 368)
The chancel roof was repaired in 1833 and the nave roof in 1835. (fn. 369) There were further, makeshift, repairs to the church in the 1830s, (fn. 370) and in 1842 there was a major restoration of the church to designs of John Plowman of Oxford from money raised by public subscription. Great care was taken to model the work on the existing architecture. The north aisle was completely rebuilt in Perpendicular style, its eastern window re-used and made the model for the others. The north arcade was taken down and rebuilt, the clerestory removed, and the nave given a higher roof. The west gallery was removed, the south aisle was partly rebuilt and its windows given new tracery, and the outer walls of the porch were rebuilt. The church walls were plastered. The old pews were broken up and their 16th-century traceried panels, reputedly among the finest in Oxfordshire, used as bench ends on new pews. A new pulpit similarly incorporated tracery from its predecessor. (fn. 371) The chancel was restored in the following year at the rector's expense. The work included reroofing, restoration of the windows, and the opening up of the Page chapel. (fn. 372) The restraint of the restorations won general approval. (fn. 373) Work on the tower, postponed in 1842, began in 1867. Roughcast was stripped off, the walls repointed, a new belfry window inserted, and new floors built for the bell-ringing and clock chambers. In 1873 there was a further restoration of the chancel, to designs by Charles Buckeridge. A tiled reredos was erected and the chancel floor tiled. The floor tiles were later covered by black and white marble. (fn. 374) In 1909 the Page chapel was restored and a two-storeyed vestry, incorporating a new organ, built on the north side. Page's flat ceiling was replaced by a coved ceiling of oak and plaster, a 17th-century wooden altar was installed, the walls were lined with oak panelling of the late 17th or early 18th century, and a communion rail of the same period, formerly in the chancel, was fitted. (fn. 375) Electric lighting was installed in 1932. (fn. 376)
The church contains a 15th-century chancel screen said to be unique in Oxfordshire in having its lower as well as its upper panels open. The crucifix and a gilded image of the Trinity in the rood loft attracted bequests from parishioners in the early 16th century. The screen was restored in 1842 but the rood loft staircase was not discovered until 1909. (fn. 377) An 18th-century brass chandelier in the chancel, formerly in Cuckfield church (Sussex), was given by the Revd. F. J. Brown, rector 1896–1918. The only stained glass in the church earlier than the 19th century comprises two small roses in the north-east window of the north aisle. The glass in the chancel and in the east window of the south aisle is by C. E. Kempe. (fn. 378) Among the monuments in the church are brasses and plaques to John Fox (d. 1522) and his wife Joan, members of the Greenwood, Marten, and Watson families, and to various rectors. The church plate includes a silver chalice and paten of 1575, a silver paten of 1693 given by Richard Duckworth, and a silver flagon of 1722 given by Sir Francis and Lady Page. (fn. 379) A fine 14th-century cope owned by the church and on permanent loan in the Victoria and Albert Museum is divided by embroidered stems of oak and ivy into panels depicting scenes from the Crucifixion and the martyrdom of saints. The cope was cut up at an unknown date for use as altar hangings. (fn. 380) There are six bells, the earliest dated 1674. A ringers' gallery was built by Duckworth, author of Tintinnalogia, or the Art of Ringing (1668). (fn. 381) There was a church clock in the 17th century, apparently replaced in the early 18th; (fn. 382) in 1981 the church tower carried an electric clock.
The churchyard was extended in 1865 and 1891. (fn. 383) At the east end there is a 13th-century slab bearing emblems which have been claimed to represent an axe and set square, possibly indicating a master builder. (fn. 384) Opposite the south porch of the church stand the base and shaft of a cross, possibly of the 15th century.
The Greenwood family, owners of a moiety of Steeple Aston manor in the later 16th century and early 17th, were probably Roman Catholics. (fn. 385) So, possibly, was George Atkinson, rector of Steeple Aston 1567–79; in 1577 he was reported to be living in Oxford and absenting himself from church. (fn. 386) In the early 17th century Robert Tempest, member of a Yorkshire Catholic family, was said to be of Steeple Aston, (fn. 387) and was perhaps living with the Greenwoods, whose family also originated in Yorkshire. Seven Catholics, three of them members of the Fox family, were reported in the late 17th century. (fn. 388) The only recusant reported in 1706 was Benedict Calvert of Middle Aston. Calvert, whose father, Lord Baltimore, had been deprived of his American estates for recusancy, presumably rented Middle Aston House. (fn. 389) Roman Catholicism seems almost to have died out in the parish in the 18th century. In 1759 there was one Catholic, an old woman, and in 1796 a labourer's wife. (fn. 390)
Daniel Greenwood, principal of Brasenose College, lived with his nephew, rector of Steeple Aston, after his ejection from the college in 1660. (fn. 391) Six nonconformists were reported in 1676, most of them perhaps Quakers of the Watts and Nichols families. (fn. 392) By 1759 there was reputedly only one dissenter, a woman whose husband attended church. (fn. 393) In the early 19th century Methodist meetings were held in the house of William Robinson, a tailor, and itinerant preachers visited occasionally. By 1817, however, meetings were said no longer to be held in Steeple Aston. (fn. 394) In 1838 and 1839 well attended meetings to hear Primitive Methodist preachers met with organized opposition from uproarious crowds. (fn. 395) In 1852 a Wesleyan chapel was opened in South Street; the certificate was signed by the Reformed Methodist J. M. Crapper of Oxford, but in 1875 the chapel did not belong to the Wesleyan Reform Union and probably never did so. (fn. 396) In 1866 the rector claimed that there were fewer than six dissenting families, but nonconformist opposition to church rates was growing and nonconformity was probably vigorous. (fn. 397) The chapel continued in use until 1968, when it became a shop. (fn. 398)
An account of the grammar school founded in 1640 by Samuel Radcliffe, rector of Steeple Aston and principal of Brasenose College, is given elsewhere. (fn. 399) The school, a tall rectangular building of three bays with attic dormers, stands east of Radcliffe's almshouses in North Street. Of roughcast rubble, the building retains stone mullioned windows of the 17th century, and, at the upper west end, an oval moulded window of the late 17th century or early 18th. In 1877 a single-bayed extension with a bellcot was built in matching style on the east, and a new schoolroom added on the north. Inscriptions recording the school's foundation and a restoration of 1688 by the rector, Richard Duckworth, survive. A cartouche of Radcliffe's arms on the south front of the extension was recorded in 1949 but had gone by 1963. (fn. 400)
By 1808 there were also two private schools, attended by 18 pupils who were taught English, writing, sewing, and knitting. By 1814 there was only one such school, but in 1831 there were again two. In 1833 three private schools taught 50 children, 16 of whose fees were met by a small group of parishioners. Radcliffe's school was attended then by 42 boys and 8 girls, some of whom remained until the age of 14. (fn. 401)
Because of deteriorating standards and attendances (fn. 402) Radcliffe's school was reorganized by the Charity Commissioners in 1863 into a mixed National school with 60 pupils. In 1870 there were 99 children on the school roll and an average daily attendance of 87; the trustees expressed satisfaction with the school, despite complaints from the rector that some children missed school to help with farmwork. (fn. 403)
In 1875 a National infant school, funded by public subscription with the aim of ensuring the continuation of church teaching, was built opposite the north-east corner of the churchyard. (fn. 404) In 1894 a surplus of £1,000 from the Winchmore Hill estate (Mdx.), Radcliffe's original endowment, was used to build a technical school next to the infant school, to provide day and evening classes in art and science. (fn. 405) A senior school for children from Steeple Aston and neighbouring parishes was begun in 1920, housed in temporary classrooms behind the technical school. New classrooms were built in 1927 when all the schools were amalgamated into a central Provided Church of England school for 15 villages. (fn. 406) There were 192 pupils at Dr. Radcliffe's school, as it was known, rising to 271 in 1954. In 1955 new buildings were erected on the west side of Fir Lane to serve as a secondary modern school. By a reorganization of 1969 Dr. Radcliffe's school became a voluntaryaided church primary school. Only the former secondary school buildings were used; the original grammar school was sold, the technical school became the village hall, and the infant school was used for a play group. In 1979 Dr. Radcliffe's school had 123 pupils, and senior children went to Warriner Comprehensive school in Bloxham. (fn. 407)
Three Steeple Aston rectors endowed loan charities: John Carpenter (d. 1596) left £7 to be lent for a maximum of two years to two poor men who lost a horse or cow; Samuel Radcliffe by will proved 1648 left £10 to be lent to two poor tradesmen; Thomas Sixsmith (d. 1651) left £4 the interest from which was to be distributed to the poor. There is no indication that Radcliffe's bequest was ever implemented; the other two were last recorded in 1745. (fn. 408) Radcliffe also bequeathed £400 from the sale of an estate, to be spent by Brasenose College on building and endowing two almshouses next to his school in North Street. The sale of the estate, however, raised only two-thirds of its anticipated price and nothing was done until a Chancery decree of 1661 ordered that the bequest be reduced by a third. The college built the almshouses in 1663, Radcliffe's executors making up the outstanding amount. Two poor widows were nominated almswomen and received an annual stipend of £4 each. (fn. 409) Brasenose continued the annual payment thereafter, occasionally making exgratia contributions towards the cost of repairs. Under a Scheme of 1973 the college redeemed its liability by investing £1,000 in the Charities Official Fund. (fn. 410) The almshouses, of coursed ironstone rubble with stone slate roof and stone mullioned windows, seem originally to have been single-storeyed, the upper storey being apparently of a later date. The letters 'S' and 'R' are carved over each doorway, and there is a sundial dated 1814.
A coal fund for supplying the poor with winter coal at summer prices was started in 1830 and remodelled as an endowed charity in 1845. A coal barn had been erected in Paine Street in 1838 and it and the fund were administered by the vestry. In 1873 the fund's capital stood at £100. The fund was still in existence in 1940. (fn. 411)
Emma Bradshaw of the Grange, by will proved 1911 bequeathed investments of £450 stock, the income to be distributed to the poor. Grocery vouchers were distributed until 1960, when it became difficult to find recipients, and the income, by then £14 a year, was diverted to the maintenance of the almshouses. Under the Scheme of 1973 £600 was transferred to the almshouse account of the Charities Official Fund. (fn. 412)