A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 11, Wootton Hundred (Northern Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1983.
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North Aston lies 8 miles (13 km.) north-east of Woodstock and 2 miles (3 km.) south of Deddington on the river Cherwell, which forms the eastern boundary of the parish. (fn. 1) The name Aston ('east village') (fn. 2) presumably reflects its position, with its neighbours Middle and Steeple Aston to the south, as the easternmost settlement against the river. The land slopes from a height of c. 150 m. in the south-west corner of the parish to c. 140 m. at the village before falling away to c. 90 m. in the north and c. 75 m. at the river. The parish comprises 1,288 a. (521.3 ha.) (fn. 3) in an area where the limestone country to the south merges into the north Oxfordshire claylands. The clay in the north and east is marked by broad fields of pasture and meadow, with smaller, arable, fields in the west. The village is built on a tongue of Chipping Norton limestone and Northampton sand projecting into the clay which predominates to the north and east. North-east of the village is a separate outcrop of Chipping Norton limestone and Northampton sand on which the modern Manor Farm has been built. Along the eastern edge of the parish is the alluvium of the Cherwell valley, still liable to flooding. The north part of the parish is traversed by the parallel Dane Hill and North Aston faults, running from the west to the north-east. Between the faults clay is replaced by Chipping Norton limestone, Great Oolite limestone, on which stands Dane (or Dean) Hill Farm, and Northampton sand. (fn. 4)
The parish is regular in shape on three sides, the eastern boundary mostly following the meanderings of the Cherwell. The boundary leaves the main stream of the river c. 400 m. north of North Aston mill, probably following the line of what was described as 'old Cherwell' in the 17th century. (fn. 5) The boundary rejoins the main stream south of the Somerton road, but leaves it again south of Horsemoor to follow a tributary stream to its junction with another stream, flowing west-east, which forms the southern boundary as far as Middle Aston Lane. The remaining southern boundary follows field boundaries to Duns Tew. The boundary with Duns Tew was marked by mere stones in the 13th century, (fn. 6) presumably as far as the road between the villages; north of the road it is completed by a stream and the OxfordBanbury road. Deddington brook, which divides North Aston from Deddington in the north was straightened in the north-east corner in 1974. (fn. 7) In the mid 19th century the parish was bounded by a ring fence. (fn. 8)
The road from Oxford to Banbury passes through the west of the parish. It was turnpiked in 17545 and disturn piked in 1875. (fn. 9) North Aston is connected by ancient roads to Middle and Steeple Aston, Duns Tew, and Somerton, and there are paths to Clifton in Deddington from the village and from North Aston mill, crossing the stream at the northern parish boundary by a bridge known in the 16th century as Bamon's Bridge and later as Bowman's Bridge. (fn. 10) Gambon's Bridge, at the mill, is first mentioned in the 13th century. (fn. 11) The bridge formed part of a causeway whose upkeep was the subject of dispute between North Aston and Somerton. (fn. 12) The whole causeway seems to have been rebuilt by the Oxford Canal Co. at the time of the canal's construction in 1787. The mill bridge was adopted by the county council in 1868, and the bridge between it and Somerton in 1887, after it had collapsed. (fn. 13) As late as the 18th century access to Bestmoor, the most important meadow in the parish, was by ford only, maintained by the freeholders of Duns Tew who had rights of hay there. (fn. 14) There are a number of small foot-bridges giving access across streams to other meadows in the east of the parish. The Oxford canal, a small part of which lies within North Aston, skirts the parish to the east; it was opened in 1787. The railway line from Oxford to Banbury was completed in 1850 and a station opened just over the parish boundary at Somerton in 1855. (fn. 15) In the 19th century and early 20th there was a regular carrier service to Banbury. (fn. 16) There was a post office by 1853. (fn. 17) North Aston was one of the seven parishes which, in the wake of the Swing Riots, combined to buy a fire engine in 1831. (fn. 18)
In 1086 25 inhabitants including 7 serfs were recorded, and in 1279 27 landholders. (fn. 19) By 1377 there were only 58 persons over the age of 14, indicating that the total population had fallen to c. 100. (fn. 20) The population was apparently little changed in the mid 16th century, and accusations of depopulation of the village may have been exaggerated. (fn. 21) Only 15 households were recorded in 1662, but the Protestation Returns of 1642 (37 adult males) and the Compton Census of 1676 (82 adults) suggest a total population of c. 120. (fn. 22) In 1738 there were 34 houses recorded, indicating c. 150 people in all. (fn. 23) By 1801 there were 49 houses and a population of 220, rising to a maximum of 308 in 1851. There was a steady decline thereafter, despite a slight recovery in the 1880s, until by 1901 there were 207 people. The population then changed little, and there were 199 inhabitants in 1971. (fn. 24)
The village lies along both sides of the road from Somerton, opening out in the west onto the village green, around which a few houses are scattered. The church and North Aston Hall stand in parkland to the south-east. Traces of house platforms, hollow ways, and medieval pottery c. 180 m. south of the church may indicate the remains of some of the 12 houses said to have been abandoned because of inclosure in the later 15th century. (fn. 25) Several cottages, including the vicarage, remained there into the 19th century. (fn. 26) Apart from the church and North Aston Manor with its fish ponds, nothing survives of the medieval village. Some houses and farm buildings, probably of the 17th and 18th centuries, were demolished following the purchase of North Aston in 1862 by William Foster-Melliar. The most important was a large, two-storeyed, 17thcentury stone house with mullioned windows (fn. 27) which stood next to the west wing of North Aston Hall, north of the church; it may have served as a farmhouse. A farmhouse and buildings at the south-east corner of the village green were mostly demolished, although part was remodelled as a school in 1872 and another range remains as a row of cottages at the top of the drive to the hall. One or two small cottages on either side of the village street were also removed, including, north of the street, two parish houses for the poor. (fn. 28)
Most of the houses that remain are small oneand two-storeyed 18th- and 19th-century cottages of coursed rubble, roofed with thatch, stone slate, or Welsh slate. A cottage on the south side of the street below the post office contains a beam with the date 1714. (fn. 29) Lower House, south-east of the North Aston Hall farm buildings, was once a farmhouse. In origin probably of the 17th century, it was extended in the 18th century and again in the 19th to form two tenements; it was reconverted to a single dwelling c. 1930. FosterMelliar built several pairs of semi-detached stone houses in the village. Those east of the green were built by 1881, as was the single-storeyed lodge at the junction of the drive to the hall with the road to Somerton. By 1907 there were also houses north of the green and west of Lower House. (fn. 30) The drinking trough at the top of the drive from the hall to the village was built probably in the 1860s. The other major changes of the late 19th century and early 20th were to North Aston Hall, the manor house, and the vicarage, all of which underwent substantial alterations. (fn. 31)
The earliest outlying farmhouse was Foxhall, which existed by 1682. It was later the Fox inn and was known temporarily as Park Farm in the later 19th century. (fn. 32) The present west front of the building is of the late 18th century, with, on the north, additions and alterations of the 19th century. Hendon Farm, a plain two-storeyed building in local stone, was built in 1730 by the tenant, Isaac Mobbs; (fn. 33) east and west wings were added in the 19th century. Dane Hill Farm and Coldharbour Farm are probably also of 18thcentury origin, although much altered in the 19th century and in the 20th Manor Farm, north-east of the village, was built c. 1930 by Capt. J. V. Taylor. (fn. 34) North Aston mill is two-storeyed, of coursed rubble with a stone slate roof. The mill cottage forms a north-east wing and is of a single storey with thatch roof.
Modern development has mostly been south of the green. The widespread use of stone or reconstituted stone betokens an attempt to match existing materials, if not styles. Two cottages were built west of the school cottages c. 1920 and four cottages west of them c. 1950. Behind them several detached houses were built in 1966. (fn. 35) By 1980 a large new stone house had been built in Folly Field, south-east of the hall. Most of the older houses in the village were renovated in the 1950s by Lt.-Col. A. D. Taylor. Thatched roofs, until then almost universal, had become ruinous and were replaced by tiles, and mains water was supplied to the houses for the first time. The village green, which remains the focal point of the village, was formerly well wooded and in the late 17th century bore several walnut trees planted by Basil Brooke, lord of the manor, 'for the boys in the parish . . . to gather the walnuts without any interruption'. Many trees blew down in storms in 1916. (fn. 36)
The green retained traces of ridge and furrow in 1980 and was probably larger at one time: part of it was inclosed by the lord of the manor in the early 16th century. (fn. 37)
The first recorded licensed victualler in the parish was Joseph Rose in 1695; a licence was still held by the Rose family in 1754. The Fox inn was licensed from 1701 to c. 1914. Held initially by the Fox family, it passed by 1753 to Richard Weston, who held it until 1800. Another inn, the Fox and Crown, was held by Job Swetman in the later 18th century; its location has not been discovered. (fn. 38) In the mid 19th century the vicarage was for a short time licensed as a beer shop. (fn. 39)
In 1644 two soldiers wounded in a skirmish between Clifton, in Deddington parish, and North Aston were buried at North Aston. (fn. 40) In the First World War refugees from Belgium stayed in the village, as did c. 10 evacuees from London in 1940. (fn. 41) Timothy Kendall (b. c. 1550), son of William and Alice Kendall, owners of the rectorial estate, was the author of Flowers of Epigrams (1577). (fn. 42) Bernard Gates (16851773), choirmaster of the Chapel Royal and friend and patron of Handel, bought North Aston Manor in the mid 18th century, retiring there in 1758. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, and a memorial was erected in North Aston church by his pupil and successor at North Aston, Thomas Dupuis (173396), organist and composer to the Chapel Royal. (fn. 43) At North Aston Hall Oldfield Bowles (d. 1810), 'painter, musician, botanist, and scientific farmer', was a prominent figure in the artistic world. The painting 'Miss Jane Bowles' by Reynolds is of one of Bowles's daughters. (fn. 44) In 1774 he built a small theatre for performances given by him and his friends. (fn. 45) The site of the theatre has not been discovered; it may have been among the buildings near the hall which were later demolished by Foster-Melliar. The latter was long remembered as an eccentric squire. His tombstone in the churchyard with the inscription 'Here Endeth the First Lesson' alludes to his extraordinary readings in North Aston church. He used to ride to the hunt in his carriage, alternately consulting the Bible and Jorrocks's Jaunts. (fn. 46) The frequent leasing of North Aston Hall in the 19th and 20th centuries brought there several members of the Irish peerage in search of an English seat in good hunting country. (fn. 47)
North Aston was one of the last parishes in the Cherwell valley to retain mixed ownership of meadow land. The annual mowing by men from neighbouring parishes and the subsequent freefor-all at dusk were a highlight of the parish year. (fn. 48)
Manors and other Estates.
In 1086 NORTH ASTON, comprising 9 hides, formed part of the extensive estates held by Edward of Salisbury in southern and western England. (fn. 49) With Steeple Aston and Middle Aston it may earlier have formed part of a single 20-hide estate. (fn. 50) The overlordship of North Aston, held of the manor of Amesbury (Wilts.), passed to Edward's son Walter and grandson Patrick, earl of Salisbury (d. 1168), descending eventually to Margaret Longespe, great granddaughter and heir of Ela, countess of Salisbury (d. 1261). Margaret's husband Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, held North Aston in right of his wife; at his death in 1311 he was said to be chief lord of 1 knight's fee there, held of the manor of Amesbury, of his honor of Pontefract (Yorks.). (fn. 51) The overlordship passed to Margaret's daughter and heir Alice, wife of Thomas of Lancaster. After Thomas's execution in 1322 his enemy Hugh le Despenser the younger obtained 2 knights' fees in North Aston. Following the fall of the Despensers in 1326 the manor seems not to have been regranted to Alice and her second husband Sir Ebles Lestrange (d. 1335); it was not mentioned among her possessions at her death in 1348 and may have been granted by the Crown, with the earldom of Salisbury, to William de Montagu. It was still held of the earls of Salisbury as of their manor of Amesbury in 1389. (fn. 52) In the late 14th century and early 15th a single knight's fee in North Aston, part of the barony of Clifford castle (Herefs.), was held by the earls of March. (fn. 53) The association of North Aston with Clifford presumably began with the inheritance of the barony by Margaret Longespe, heiress not only of the earldom of Salisbury but also, through her grandfather Walter de Clifford (d. 1263), of the barony of Clifford. (fn. 54) The barony was confirmed to Margaret's daughter Alice in 1331. (fn. 55) After her death in 1348 it was probably granted by the Crown to Roger Mortimer, earl of March, who had possession before 1356. (fn. 56)
Edward of Salisbury's tenant in 1086 was Anketil de Gray who held much land in the county. By 1151 the manor had passed to William of Aston whose grandson, also William, granted a life-tenancy in 1202 to Robert of Aston and his wife Alice de Chesney. (fn. 57) In 1205 Robert was said to be overseas in the service of the chief lord of the manor, William Longespe, earl of Salisbury. (fn. 58) Robert still held the manor in 12423, but by 1279 the demesne lordship had passed to William Trivet of Chilton (Som.). (fn. 59) Chilton, like North Aston, had previously been held by Anketil de Gray. (fn. 60) In 1316 the manor was held by Thomas Trivet, passing by 1327 to John, who was granted free warren there in 1353, (fn. 61) and by 1372 to Sir Thomas Trivet, who died in 1388 leaving as co-heiressess his daughters Anne and Joan. In 1422 his widow Elizabeth held it, (fn. 62) but by the mid 15th century it had passed to the Anne family. (fn. 63) It seems likely that John Anne (d. 1441), second son of Sir William Anne of Frickley (Yorks.), was the first of the family to hold North Aston and that he was succeeded by his son William (I) who died without issue in 1451, his younger son John (I) (fl. 1485), and grandson William (II) (d. 1508). William (II)'s son John (II) died in 1554 and the manor was conveyed by his son William (III) to Sir Robert Brooke of Madeley (Salop.), Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, (fn. 64) perhaps by settlement on the betrothal of Grace, the only surviving child of Edward Anne, William's son, to Sir Robert's son John. (fn. 65)
John Brooke held the manor at his death in 1598, when it passed to his son Sir Basil (d. 1646). (fn. 66) Sir Basil's son Thomas, though a Royalist, managed to protect his estates for a time by leasing them to relatives and friends, but in 1653 North Aston was sequestrated and sold to Major John Wildman, a speculator in forfeited lands. (fn. 67) The manor may have been recovered as early as 1655, following Wildman's imprisonment for conspiracy: Thomas Brooke's sister Frances was married at North Aston in 1656, and his proxies presented to the living there in 1663. (fn. 68) Thomas's grandson and heir Basil succeeded to the estate by 1687, dying in 1700. His widow Winifred died in 1716 and left North Aston to her niece Henrietta Fermor, sister of James Fermor of Tusmore. (fn. 69)
The Brooke family resided irregularly at North Aston. They seem to have rebuilt North Aston Hall, apparently using it in the later 17th century as a dower house. Henrietta Fermor sold the manor soon after 1716 to Anthony Rowe of Muswell Hill, in Hornsey (Mdx.), Clerk of the Green Cloth, whose daughter and coheir Mary took North Aston to her second husband Trevor Hill, Viscount Hillsborough. (fn. 70) The estate was leased to Catherine, widow of Sir Robert Howard of Ashtead (Surr.), and her husband Dr. John Martin, rector of Somerton. (fn. 71) They presumably left when Dr. Martin resigned Somerton in 1719, for Lady Hillsborough was living at North Aston in the 1720s. (fn. 72) Her husband sold the estate shortly after 1733 to Charles Oldfield, a Jamaica merchant who gave it at his death c. 1740 to his friend Charles Bowles. (fn. 73) Bowles was succeeded at his own death in 1780 by his son Oldfield (d. 1810) whose son Charles Oldfield Bowles, faced with the need to provide for 8 sisters, rented North Aston Hall to a succession of tenants. Among them were Welbore Agar, earl of Normanton (d. 1868), and Richard Chetwynd, Viscount Chetwynd (d. 1879) whose mother Charlotte was the daughter of Thomas Cartwright of Aynho (Northants.), the owner of large estates in the area. Thomas Scott, earl of Clonmell, died at North Aston in 1838. Bowles returned to live at North Aston but sold the estate shortly before his death in 1862 to William Foster-Melliar. (fn. 74)
After the death of Foster-Melliar in 1906 North Aston, which included an estate of 990 a., was purchased by Capt. John Taylor of Grovelands, Southgate (Mdx.). Manorial rights were said to extend over c. 1,280 a. but there is no indication that they had been exercised for some time. In 1911 Capt. Taylor sold North Aston Hall, 200 a., and part of the village to Thomas Pakenham, earl of Longford, moving his own residence to North Aston Manor. The hall was sold to W. L. Hichens, chairman of Cammell Laird & Co., shipbuilders, in 1929 and remained in his family's possession in 1980. (fn. 75)
It is not clear which of the two main houses in North Aston occupies the site of the original manor house. There are indications, and a local tradition, that it was the house at the eastern end of the village street, called North Aston Manor since the 19th century. References in 1574 and 1720 to the arms of Anne and Giffard displayed in 'the ancient house of Anne' seem to refer to North Aston Manor since North Aston Hall was probably rebuilt in the 17th century. In that case the Brooke family presumably transferred to the hall in the late 16th or early 17th century. (fn. 76) It is possible, however, that North Aston Hall, in a more important position adjacent to the church, was the original North Aston manor house and that North Aston Manor was the manor house of Bradenstoke priory. (fn. 77)
There was presumably a substantial house occupying the eastern end of the site of North Aston Hall in the 15th century, when its presence restricted the building of the church tower, and the house was assessed for taxation in 1662 on 27 hearths. (fn. 78) It is unlikely that any surviving part of the house is earlier than the 17th century. To that date may belong the underlying plan, which is of double depth with a thick spine wall. The house appears to have been remodelled in the late 18th century, probably by John Yenn, when a small single-storeyed extension was added on the north and an imposing Classical porch on the south. The house was a plain stone building of three storeys, with 10 bays on the south front, and a stone-slated, hipped roof. The main, south, front was remodelled c. 1867 in late-16th-century style, an entrance porch was added on the west, and the 18th-century addition on the north was enlarged and carried up to the full height of the house. (fn. 79) The outbuildings include a substantial coach-house and farm buildings of the early 19th century. A small grove and pond known as the Folly were placed c. 400 m. south-east of the hall in a field later called Folly field, probably by a member of the Bowles family in the later 18th century. There may have been an eye-catcher there, but nothing remains. In the later 19th century an ice-house was built c. 200 m. northwest of the hall. (fn. 80)
In the mid 12th century William of Aston gave to Bradenstoke priory (Wilts.) 50 a. land in North Aston and the advowson of the church. (fn. 81) The priory had been founded by Walter of Salisbury, and under the patronage of successive earls of Salisbury a valuable estate was acquired in North Aston. (fn. 82) In the 15th century BRADENSTOKE manor, said to comprise 340 a., (fn. 83) was leased by the priory to the Anne family, lords of North Aston manor. During a dispute in the early 16th century John Anne denied that the estate was properly a manor. The priory had been given the right to hold its own court baron in the early 13th century, however, and still exacted manorial dues from its tenants in the late 15th. Confusion may have arisen because the priory mistakenly thought for a time that it was lord of North Aston manor. (fn. 84) Following the dissolution of Bradenstoke priory in 1539 the manor was sold by the Crown in 1540 to Richard Ingram of Wolford (Warws.). (fn. 85) By 1550 it had passed to William Kendall of North Aston. (fn. 86) Kendall seems to have held it at the time of his death in 1570, but by 1572 it was owned by Henry Sheppard, probably a relative. (fn. 87) Sheppard soon disposed of the manor, selling it in 1574 to John Brooke by whom the two manors were united. (fn. 88)
The rectorial estate, in the hands of Bradenstoke priory, was said in the 13th century to be worth 5, derived partly from lands and partly from the great tithes. (fn. 89) The land, perhaps comprising 4 yardlands, was leased out. (fn. 90) The great tithes were usually, although not invariably, retained. Those from Nethercote, in Middle Aston, were settled upon North Aston vicarage. In 1229 Bradenstoke and Merton priory agreed to share hay tithes from meadows in North Aston forming part of the fee of Duns Tew. (fn. 91) The rectorial estate was said to be worth 8 a year c. 1540. (fn. 92) By then the tithes were completely secularized, and the land gradually became merged with the dissolved priory's secular estate. The tithe award of 1843 reported four holders of impropriate tithes in the parish. The greater part was held by the lord of the manor, Charles Oldfield Bowles, who merged them with the manorial freehold. Sir George Dashwood, as chief landowner in Duns Tew, owned half the hay tithes arising from Bestmoor. The tithes from two other small pieces of meadow belonged to estates in the neighbouring parish of Somerton. The tithes were commuted for rent charges totalling 51. (fn. 93) Shortly after his acquisition of the manor in 1862 William Foster-Melliar bought out the other recipients and restored all the rent charges to the church. (fn. 94)
The identity of Bradenstoke priory's manor house in North Aston is, as has been indicated above, uncertain. It was leased from the late 15th century to the 17th with the rectorial estate as the parsonage. (fn. 95) In the 16th century the house was presumably occupied by the Kendall and Sheppard families, owners of the rectory and Bradenstoke manor. By the mid 17th century the house was that later known as North Aston Manor, leased to tenants until it was purchased by Bernard Gates in the mid 18th century. After the death in 1796 of Gates's heir, Thomas Dupuis, the house was bought by Oldfield Bowles and leased to tenant farmers, notably the Hill family who held it until c. 1851. (fn. 96) The Taylor family lived in the house from 1911 to 1977. The central range of North Aston Manor (fn. 97) was built as an open hall in the late medieval period. At its south end a contemporary cross wing and staircase turret survive, with an additional room of the 17th century to the east. There is a 15th-century doorway on the west front, probably to the screens passage, and another inside the hall to the south. A first floor was installed c. 1600. At the north end the original service rooms were removed, perhaps in the early or mid 18th century when a new principal room and cross wing added. There were further extensions between 1843 and 1881, (fn. 98) and in 191112 a north wing was added. (fn. 99)
In 1639 Sir Basil Brooke sold c. 100 a. in the north of the parish to Sir Robert Dormer of Rousham. (fn. 100) In 1776 the land was given to the vicar of Rousham as glebe. By 1843 the estate, leased to tenants, had been increased to 146 a. (fn. 101) The estate, later known as Coldharbour farm, was sold in 1921 to Mr. B. Deeley, and bought in 1963 by Lt.-Col. A. D. Taylor. (fn. 102)
In 1681 86 a. in the south of the parish adjoining Middle Aston and 17 a. south of Coldharbour farm were bought by the executors of the will of Robert Daniel of Hendon (Mdx.) to endow his almshouse at Hendon. The farm was sold by the Hendon charity trustees in 1960 to Mr. A. Hichens, who later exchanged with Lt.Col. Taylor the 17 a. inclosure adjoining Coldharbour farm for a field of similar size adjoining Hendon farm. (fn. 103)
North Aston's medieval field system was probably a conventional one of two fields; grants and sales of land to Bradenstoke priory in the 13th century invariably refer to a north and a south field. (fn. 104) Mention of an east field in the early 13th century (fn. 105) may be a mistake, since the place mentioned, near the modern Coldharbour farm, is in the north of the parish and more to the west than the east. There seems, however, to have been a third field by the late 15th century when the north and south fields comprised 300 a. and 400 a. respectively. (fn. 106) The road from Duns Tew would have formed a convenient boundary between north and south fields, a third field presumably comprising the land between North Aston village and the Cherwell. (fn. 107)
In the 13th century Bradenstoke priory appropriated by agreement a small part of the south field for a walled inclosure, perhaps a sheepfold, but extensive inclosure was begun in the 15th century by John Anne and his son William (d. 1508), owners of the manorial estate and lessees of the priory estate. It was claimed in 1509 that the whole of the north and south fields had been ditched and inclosed; although the Annes disputed the amount of inclosure it is clear that they were following a policy of conversion to pasture. (fn. 108) The process was continued by their successors the Brookes, culminating c. 1650 in the inclosure and redistribution of 14 yardlands. (fn. 109) Part of the open field arable was converted to leys, probably for additional hay as well as pasture; (fn. 110) North Aston's meadows gave plentiful hay, but the largest and richest of them along the Cherwell were subject to the rights of neighbouring parishes. In 1086 there were said to be 30 a. meadow; that figure may be an underestimate, for part of North Aston's meadow is possibly included in the 54 a. meadow assigned to Duns Tew. (fn. 111) Certainly by the early 13th century it was established custom for the tenants of the fee of Duns Tew to take most of the hay crop from the largest meadow in North Aston, Bestmoor, in the north-east of the parish. The origin of the custom remains obscure. The traditional explanation in the 18th century was that the right to take hay had been exchanged for land in Duns Tew. In the early 13th century there had been a tithe dispute over an area on the boundary between the parishes, but it is not known that the disagreement derived from an earlier exchange of land. (fn. 112) Bestmoor was reckoned to contain meadow for 63 yardlands, 42 for Duns Tew and 21 for North Aston. It was divided by two base lines into three 'sets', in each of which blocks of 42 poles for Duns Tew alternated with blocks of 21 for North Aston; a yardland's share was a pole in every group of 42 or 21. Names such as the Crown, Millrind, Snipe, and Rabbit, given to groupings of poles, perhaps evoke a time when lots were drawn using counters marked with those symbols, but the divisions seem usually to have followed a fixed order. The pole used to measure out the meadow was modelled on a mead pole of 13 ft. 8 in. kept at North Aston manor house. Two men, carrying the pole on their hips, trod a track through the grass from the base line to the edge of the meadow, or, in the case of the middle 'set', to the other base line. Parallel strips could be made with ease by one man walking along the track made by his partner for the previous strip. Awkward corners of the meadow had special uses, Meter's Hook given to the measurers, the Hull held in turn by the three lords of Duns Tew, whose duty it was to oversee the meadow. Mowing, strictly regulated, had to be completed in a single day in July. The rights of the lord of North Aston were safeguarded by a system of fines for breach of the bye-laws regulating use of the meadow, and the commoners of North Aston had the right of after-grass. (fn. 113) In 1864 almost all the mowing rights were bought up by William Foster-Melliar, lord of North Aston manor. (fn. 114) Two other meadows, Ney, or Neigh, Meadow and Ladyham, were subject to mixed ownership, between North Aston and estates in the neighbouring parish of Somerton. (fn. 115)
There was a common cow pasture, possibly the inclosure known as the Common in the northeast of the parish, on the western edge of Bestmoor. There was a common for horses at Horsemoor, south-east of the village. The stint seems to have been three cows to a yardland, although by the late 16th century common rights could be sold independently of land. The allowance for horse-commons was approximately the same as for cattle. Cows and horses were turned onto the meadows at Lammas, after the hay had been mown. Cow-commons were usually fully exploited, horse-commons less so. In the 13th century the lord of the manor seems to have had his own pastures for his oxen, cattle, and sheep; William of Aston allowed Bradenstoke's plough beasts and 200 sheep to graze with his provided that the priory kept them at other times in its own sheepfold. There were also the usual rights of common for sheep, although the stint is not known. The village green was used in the 17th century for commoning sheep and pigs. Fuel on the commons was divided according to the number of cow commons held. (fn. 116)
North Aston, rated at 9 hides in 1086, (fn. 117) must have been cleared extensively for arable, for there was enough land for 20 ploughs. The parish was seriously understocked in 1086, containing only 8 ploughs. There were 3 ploughteams and 7 serfs on the demesne; the other 5 ploughs were held by 6 villeins with 2 Frenchmen and 10 bordars. Despite its underexploitation North Aston's value had increased from 10 to 12. There was a valuable mill and fishery worth 30s. a year.
In the Middle Ages the demesne of both North Aston manor and Bradenstoke priory was scattered among the common fields. In the early 13th century the priory was given licence to divert streams to irrigate its strips. There were 3 ploughlands of manorial demesne in 1279 and 10 villeins held 1 yardland each at a rent of 4s., paying aid and working on the demesne at will. Since the mid 12th century Bradenstoke priory had acquired a large estate at North Aston, said in 1279 to comprise 2 hides. (fn. 118) The services owed to the priory were the same as those of the 'serfs' of William Trivet, lord of the manor, a reference to his 10 villein yardlanders. Since 1086 a diverse group of freeholds had become established in the parish. The most important freeholder family was the Talenant family, active in land transactions in North Aston in the 13th century and landholders in Middle Aston. In 1279 Richard Talenant held 2 yardlands himself and rented a further yardland and a smallholding to other tenants. There were 9 other free tenancies in 1279: one, of hide, was held at a rent of lb. pepper; 5 were of a single yardland each, held at rents varying from 3d. to 6s. 8d.; another yardland was held by 4 tenants; there was a single holding of yardland; the mill and its holding of 1 yardland paid rent of 3 marks. (fn. 119)
The subsidy return of 1316, (fn. 120) with two contributions of 4s. 3d., and most of the remaining 15 contributions ranging from 2s. to 4s. indicates a fairly even distribution of wealth in a relatively prosperous community. Eleven years later North Aston was still prosperous, but the community was more sharply divided. One man, Roger Chaunteclere, was assessed at 28s., by far the highest assessment. He may have been the wealthy merchant and London citizen of that name whose financial interests in Oxfordshire included a rent in Great Tew. At North Aston he rented the dower land of the widow of the former lord of the manor. The three men next to him in wealth, including John Trivet, lord of the manor, were assessed at only a fifth or sixth of his figure. Three others were assessed at 3s. and the remaining 11 at 1s. 10d. or less. (fn. 121) The apparent consolidation into a few large estates was to be the pattern in North Aston, particularly under the Anne family, who succeeded to the manorial estate in the mid 15th century. (fn. 122) Apart from an estate of c. 70 a. belonging to the Somerton family (fn. 123) the Annes and Bradenstoke priory were virtually the only landowners in the parish by the late 15th century. In 1484 John Anne obtained a 30-year lease of the priory's lands and shortly afterwards began to inclose much of the parish for pasture. Bradenstoke repeatedly complained about the inclosure of its land and asserted in 1509 that in the parish as a whole 12 houses had been made ruinous and 7 ploughs taken out of use, so that c. 700 a. in all had been converted to pasture. (fn. 124) The reply, that the inclosures had taken place well before the Statute of Inclosures, (fn. 125) a contention supported by the absence of any reference to North Aston in the Domesday of Inclosures of 1517, did not dispute the growing dependence on a pastoral economy. The priory estate was not given over completely to pasture. Under William Kendall, its owner in 1550, it comprised 200 a. each of arable and pasture, and 40 a. meadow. (fn. 126) In the parish as a whole, however, pasture predominated. South field, for example, held by William Sheppard of Steeple Barton c. 1550, was completely pasture, with 800 sheep and 10 cattle feeding upon it. (fn. 127)
On the death of John Anne in 1554 his son William granted 61-year leases of Mill field, apparently containing much of the land in the east of the parish, South field, and the remaining land in the south of the parish to a creditor, Henry Duncombe of Tiscot (Herts.). The lease of Mill field was sold soon after and resold in 1594 to William Denton of Blackthorn. Denton seems not to have lived at North Aston although his son John did until the 1640s, possibly renting the manor house from Sir Basil Brooke. (fn. 128) The land in the south of the parish was rented from Duncombe in the late 1550s and 1560s by Edward Busby in trust for William Sheppard's son John. (fn. 129) In the later 16th century the land was divided among Duncombe's family, the farming of the land apparently being left in the main to branches of the family, the Moores and their recent relatives the Sheppards. In 1616 the farming of the whole of the land was taken over by Francis Gregory. In 1620 the lease was bought by Richard Bull, a London fishmonger, for 620. It was a sound investment, for Bull was able to charge Gregory a rent of 158. (fn. 130)
Sir Robert Brooke had therefore in 1556 purchased an estate of which perhaps two-thirds was let out on long leases still with their full term to run. Sir Robert's son John made further long leases, of land in the north of the parish. (fn. 131) John Brooke's successors, in response to financial pressures, began to sell land as the leases fell in. Some freeholds thus formed became the basis of modern farms, notably Coldharbour farm in the north of the parish and Hendon farm in the south. (fn. 132) The largest purchase seems to have been that made in the late 17th century by William Cartwright of Aynho (Northants.) who obtained two farms comprising c. 300 a. in all in the south and south-west of the parish, straddling the road from Oxford to Banbury. The farms had been in the occupation of the Wing family since the 16th century. By 1714 the two farms were managed as one. (fn. 133) In the mid 18th century much of the farm, apart from some rights in Bestmoor, passed to James Lovesey, who was by 1753 the largest landowner in the parish. Another large estate, including the house later known as North Aston Manor, was acquired by 1754 by Bernard Gates, master of the children of the Chapel Royal. (fn. 134)
In the later 18th century the lords of the manor, Charles Bowles and his son Oldfield, recovered much of the land alienated by their predecessors. The Lovesey estate was probably acquired at the death of James Lovesey in 1773, (fn. 135) and the Gates estate in 1796. (fn. 136) Foxhall and its farm of c. 100 a., held by a local yeoman family, the Foxes, probably since the 16th century, later formed part of the estate of Sir Francis Page of Middle Aston and was bought at auction in 1804 by Oldfield Bowles. (fn. 137) In 1787 Bowles owned approximately a third of the land in the parish; by 1843 his son owned almost three quarters. (fn. 138)
In 1843 there were six farms in the parish: Manor farm (158 a.), based on the former Gates estate, Dane Hill farm (164 a.), Fox inn farm (121 a.), Home farm (367 a.), formerly Lovesey's, worked from a house south-west of the junction of the road from Duns Tew and the drive to North Aston Hall, Coldharbour farm (146 a.), and Hendon farm (110 a.). (fn. 139) William FosterMelliar seems to have broken up Home farm soon after he arrived at North Aston, dividing it between Fox inn farm, known thereafter as Park farm, Manor farm, and Dane Hill farm. (fn. 140) In 1907 most land in the parish except Coldharbour farm and Hendon farm was bought by Capt. J. V. Taylor. He sold North Aston Hall and c. 200 a. to the south in 1911 to Thomas Pakenham, earl of Longford, from whom they were bought in 1929 by Mr. W. L. Hichens. Hendon farm, adjoining on the south, was bought by Mr. A. Hichens in 1960, since when it and North Aston Hall farm have been farmed together. Coldharbour farm was bought by Lt.Col. A. D. Taylor in 1963, so that it, Park farm, Dane Hill farm, and Manor farm were brought for the first time into single ownership. In 1980 Mr. J. Taylor farmed them together from Coldharbour. North Aston Manor and the Fox inn were sold as private residences, and Dane Hill farmhouse and Coldharbour farmhouse kept as part of the estate, which comprised 920 a. in all. (fn. 141)
In the 17th century there were sporadic attempts by some leaseholders, resisted by the Brookes, to reconvert pasture to arable. (fn. 142) Arable land seems usually to have been about a quarter of the total land in the parish. Wheat, barley, oats, peas, and beans were grown, and, in the 18th century, sainfoin, clover, turnips, and potatoes. Fields were of 1020 a. (fn. 143) In the 1660s Col. Edward Vernon, then living at North Aston Hall, grew safflower, drying it and selling it for use as a red dye. (fn. 144) Oldfield Bowles, widely respected in the late 18th century as a progressive farmer, tried out a variety of ploughs for corn and leguminous plants, and experimented with crop rotation. (fn. 145) North Aston was remarkable for the number of its orchards; there were 15 on the manorial estate in the 16th century, and in the 17th an orchard formed a large part of the vicarage glebe. (fn. 146) An apple from Normandy, the Nonpareil, was established at North Aston c. 1600. It was intensively cultivated by Col. Vernon and disseminated throughout England as the North Aston apple. (fn. 147) Pasture, however, remained predominant. In the late 18th century Manor farm was three-quarters pasture and meadow, and new inclosures were still taking place. Hendon farm and Coldharbour farm were entirely pasture and meadow. In 1801 the parish contained 910 a. of grass and only 261 a. of arable. (fn. 148) Oldfield Bowles was associated with the experimental breeding methods of Robert Bakewell of Leicestershire and his disciple Edmund Creek, a near neighbour of Bowles at Rousham. Bowles was also particularly interested in the use of different grasses on new pastures, acquiring a personal collection of more than 100 specimens. (fn. 149)
An increasing amount of land was ploughed in the later 19th century, but in 1914 permanent pasture, 66 per cent of the cultivated area, was one of the highest in the area. The importance of dairy farming was demonstrated by the fairly high number of cattle, 22 for 100 a. cultivated land; the number of sheep, double that of cattle, was about average for the area. Barley was the most important crop, almost a quarter of the arable given over to it, and wheat, oats, and root crops were grown. (fn. 150) In the later 20th century the Taylors' land in the north and west of the parish has been given over more to arable, the Hichens's land in the low-lying areas to the south-east being used mostly for dairy farming, with a small amount of arable.
The concentration of land, after the break-up of the Anne and Bradenstoke estates, in the hands of outsiders who did not settle permanently in the parish made it difficult for a settled class of wealthy farmers to emerge from local families. Those of longest standing were the Wings, part of a family well established in the area, who farmed at North Aston from the 16th century to the 18th. Beginning in the early 16th century with a smallholding of 1 yardlands the family were by the end of the 17th century also tenants of the two Cartwright farms in North Aston. (fn. 151) The North Aston Wings, however, seem never to have been very wealthy. The Churchill family achieved greater wealth but showed less durability. Better known elsewhere, they were prominent in North Aston in the early 17th century but of little significance thereafter. Henry Churchill was tenant of the manor house and farm, and at his death in 1628 his estate, which lay mostly in sheep and cattle, was worth c. 200. (fn. 152)
In the late 18th century Edward Mobbs was tenant of the Hendon charity trustees at Hendon farm, his descendants continuing there until the mid 19th century. A branch of the family held Dane Hill farm from the early 19th century, adding the tenancy of Coldharbour farm in the early 20th and remaining in the parish until 1920. Apart from the Rose family at the mill, no other tenant families remained in the parish for as long. The Hill family, successful graziers, leased closes of meadow and pasture in the east of the parish in the later 18th century, and held Manor farm from c. 1796 until the 1850s but seem to have left soon after. (fn. 153)
The bulk of the population always worked as day labourers. A fuller was mentioned in 1590 and there were from the 16th to the 18th centuries several shepherds, graziers, and masons; local masons were responsible for repairs to the church throughout the 18th century and there is a notable collection of 17th- and 18th-century gravestones in the churchyard. In the mid 18th century there were two shoemakers, a tailor, and a maltster. There were still extensive commons in the parish, although they were being inclosed by the late 18th century, and many villagers kept a few sheep or cattle. (fn. 154) The villagers were, on the whole, reckoned to be poor, describing themselves in 1762 as 'few in number and almost all tenants . . . burdened with a numerous poor'. (fn. 155) Neither the Oxford-Banbury road nor the Oxford canal, completed in 1790, brought much commercial benefit to the parish. The chief beneficiary was probably the Fox inn, used regularly throughout the late 18th century for meetings of the trustees of the Kidlington-Deddington turnpike, and occasionally used by the canal company. (fn. 156)
In the 19th century and early 20th the overwhelming majority of men were still employed as agricultural labourers. One or two masons continued to work in the village, but other normal village occupations such as shoemakers, grocers, bakers, and publicans were thinly represented. A small limekiln west of the Oxford-Banbury road was worked by a family living in the cottage east of the road. There were also two or three quarries, used irregularly. The Goodman family, maltsters from at least the mid 18th century until c. 1871, worked at premises at the north-east end of the village street, south-west of North Aston Manor. There was almost no employment for women other than domestic service at North Aston Hall and casual labouring jobs. Glovemaking or dressmaking seems to have provided work only for the occasional individual. (fn. 157) In the later 20th century the village has increasingly housed people whose jobs lay elsewhere, most notably at the nearby airforce base at Upper Heyford.
A mill was recorded at North Aston in 1086. (fn. 158) It stood at the eastern edge of the parish, on a cut taken from the river Cherwell; it was held for most of the 13th century by the Gambon family, and retained the name Gambon's mill in the late 18th century. (fn. 159) In 1227 Simon Gambon was said to hold two mills but only one was recorded in 1279; the earlier reference may have been to a mill with two water-races and wheels. (fn. 160) A double mill seems to have been in use from the later 16th century to the early 18th, sometimes with separate tenants. (fn. 161) One mill was said to be worthless to the tenant because it was let at rack rent, but families continued to hold it for long periods and in 1618 John Fitchett left an estate valued at 86. (fn. 162) The other mill was held by the Sleamaker family in the 17th and early 18th centuries, and may have been more valuable for a time, John Sleamaker's estate being worth 105 at his death in 1663. (fn. 163) The double mill was last mentioned in 1733. (fn. 164) The Rose family were millers from the mid 17th century until c. 1938. (fn. 165) By 1955 the mill had been converted to private use, although restored machinery remained in 1980. (fn. 166)
Bradenstoke priory and the lords of North Aston held manorial courts for their tenants, but no reference to their operation later than 1484 has been found. (fn. 167)
There were the usual parish officers. The churchwardens, whose accounts survive from 1751, were concerned with routine matters of church maintenance. Money was raised by a parish rate varying from 1d. to 3d. in the pound. The highest expenditure was 45 spent on church repairs in 1858, but average annual expenditure ranged from c. 5 in the mid 18th century to c. 20 in the late 19th century. (fn. 168)
In 1702 the parish built a cottage for a destitute family who had become a charge on the rates. (fn. 169) By the later 18th century there were four such cottages, two of which, on the north side of the village street, remained in 1843. In the 1770s the vicarage was rented by the overseers for the use of the poor, and aged or disabled parishioners were occasionally sent to the Banbury workhouse. (fn. 170) Relief was more usually given at home, however, and in 1775 regular relief was given to eight women and one man. By the early 19th century the number of adults on permanent relief had risen to c. 12. (fn. 171) The roundsman system was in use by 1775 when two or three labourers were so employed; by 1800 the number had risen to 18. (fn. 172) In 1835 North Aston was cited as an example of the abuse to which the roundsman system was open: a man working for the brother of an overseer was paid only 10d. by his employer and 9s. by the parish. (fn. 173)
In 1776 expenditure on the poor was 79. As elsewhere expenditure grew rapidly in the late 18th century, reaching 235 in 1803, a cost of 1 1s. per head of population. (fn. 174) Expenditure in North Aston, unlike other parishes in the area, fell back in the period immediately following the Napoleonic Wars; by 1819 it had fallen to c. 13s. a head, a total of 199. In 1820, however, expenditure leaped to c. 23s. a head (342). It remained high thereafter, reaching a peak of 1 16s. a head (583) in 1832, relatively one of the highest figures for the area. (fn. 175)
In 1834 North Aston became part of the Woodstock poor law union. In 1894 the parish was included in Woodstock rural district, in 1932 in Banbury rural district, and in 1974 in Cherwell district. (fn. 176)
The church existed by the mid 12th century when William of Aston (fl. 1151) gave it to Bradenstoke priory. (fn. 177) Appropriation took place in 1227 when a vicarage was ordained. (fn. 178) The advowson of the vicarage and the appropriated rectory descended with Bradenstoke manor (fn. 179) until the 17th century when, because of their recusancy, the Brooke family exercised their patronage through proxies. Thus Daniel Bitterton, presented in 1618 by William Elliots of Madeley Court (Salop.), referred to Sir Basil Brooke as 'my worthy patron'. (fn. 180) On Bitterton's death in 1637 a presentation was made by John Southby of Carswell (Berks.), but his nominee was never inducted and the presentation then and in 1643 was by Richard Colchester of Gray's Inn. (fn. 181) Presentations in 1663 and 1678 were made by Basil Fitzherbert of Norbury (Derb.) and John Purcell of Madeley, close associates of the Brooke family; the presentation in 1687 was by Fitzherbert, Purcell, and Basil Brooke. (fn. 182) In 1693 and 1702 presentations were made by the Crown following the lapse of the living. (fn. 183) Presentation in 1711 was by Nathaniel Pigott, probably on behalf of Lady Winifred Brooke. (fn. 184) In 1729 Charles Bowles arranged with the patron of Fritwell for the livings to be held by a single incumbent, to be presented by them alternately. That informal arrangement lasted until 1833. (fn. 185) Thereafter the advowson passed with the manor until 1932, when, under an order in council of 1921, the benefice was united with that of Duns Tew; the patron of North Aston was to present two times in every three. That union was dissolved in 1977 when the benefice of North Aston was united with those of Steeple Aston and Tackley. The joint patrons were Brasenose College, St. John's College, and Lt.-Col. A. D. Taylor. (fn. 186)
At the time of appropriation the vicarage was worth 5 marks, derived from altar-dues, a house, 6 a., the tithes of two mills, all the small tithes of North Aston, and half the tithes of Nethercote in Middle Aston. (fn. 187) Bradenstoke priory was in effect endowing the vicarage with those revenues which it had most difficulty in collecting; the tithes of the mills and of Nethercote were the subject of prolonged litigation. (fn. 188) The settlement of those disputes may be indicated by the doubling in value of the vicarage by 1291 to 6 13s. 4d., which remained its value until the 16th century. (fn. 189) In 1526 the value was said to be 8, but that may be a reference to the rectory, and in 1536 the vicarage was once more assessed at 6 13s. 4d. (fn. 190) In the later 16th century the small tithes were commuted for money payments, perhaps explaining the increase in value of the vicarage to 50 at the beginning of the 17th century. (fn. 191) By the early 18th century, however, the value had fallen to 40, of which 6 derived from glebe. (fn. 192) The glebe comprised a house and orchard, a close of 45 a., 1 a. in Middle Aston, presumably in exchange for the Nethercote tithes, and as much hay from Cross Meadow as could be drawn in one load by four horses. (fn. 193) By 1806 the glebe had been reduced to the house and garden, a close of 3 a., and two cow commons, worth 12. Small tithes were valued at 98. (fn. 194) In 1850 the house and glebe, which lay east of the church, were exchanged for a house and land north of the junction of the roads from Duns Tew and Middle Aston. (fn. 195) The old vicarage house was a simple cottage. In 1618 the incoming vicar bought from his predecessor's widow not only all the glass in the house but also the wood used recently to build a loft over the kitchen. (fn. 196) In the mid 19th century the house was used as a beer shop, and was demolished soon after the exchange of 1850. (fn. 197) The new vicarage house, a plain 2-storeyed ironstone building of c. 1800 with a smaller range at its east end, was considerably extended in the later 19th century. The house and glebe were sold in 1975. (fn. 198) The 1 a. in Middle Aston were not mentioned at the inclosure of Middle Aston in 1756, and although they were acknowledged in 1841 no one knew where they lay. (fn. 199) In 1843 the vicar was awarded 187 for small tithes. William Foster-Melliar restored the great tithes, valued at 51 in 1843, to the church c. 1863. (fn. 200) In 1907 the gross value of the living was said to be 237; in 1914 a grant from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and a private benefaction increased the net value to 214. (fn. 201)
In 1548 there was an endowment of lands worth 1s. 8d. a year for a light in the church; its origin had long been forgotten. (fn. 202)
The living at North Aston was not prosperous enough to attract those with influence at Bradenstoke and the priory often appointed local men. Most incumbents resigned North Aston for better livings; an exception was William Thomas, who died of the plague in 1349. (fn. 203) William Felton (146270) was a master of grammar at Oxford and rented the scola philosophiae naturalis there in 14556. (fn. 204) In the early 16th century two successive vicars employed curates, apparently to the detriment of the parish. (fn. 205) Matters improved under Nicholas Pye (153859), William Best (156972), and Edward Giles (15851617), who were all resident at North Aston and appear to have served the parish conscientiously. (fn. 206) Giles married a local woman and the daughter of his successor, Daniel Bitterton (161737), married a member of the Wing family. (fn. 207) The patrons of the living from 1574, the Brookes, were Roman Catholics, but there is no evidence of any attempt to install crypto-Catholic clergy. In 1650 the vicar was probably ejected in favour of a Parliament appointee, the subject of hostile comment in the parish register: 'Mr. Allbright, the minister of North Aston as he says himself, but the townsmen doth not take him to be so'. (fn. 208) From the later 17th century non-residence was usual. Nicholas Profett (16614) and Richard Byfield (166478) were fellows of Magdalen College for whom the parish was simply a source of income. (fn. 209) The reason for the connexion with Magdalen is not clear, but it continued in 1678 with the presentation of John Hough, later bishop of Worcester. Hough was in the same year appointed domestic chaplain to James Butler, duke of Ormonde, and his preferment to both posts was probably due to the close association between the duke and Col. Edward Vernon, stepfather of Basil Brooke; Vernon was living at North Aston at that time. (fn. 210) Hough's distinguished career kept him permanently away from North Aston until his resignation in 1687, and it is perhaps significant that his incumbency there is almost totally ignored by his biographers. (fn. 211)
Hough's successor, Nathaniel Bevan (1694 1702), fellow of Jesus College, was another nonresident. He experienced extreme difficulty in obtaining any income from the benefice, despite serving the parish himself from Oxford. (fn. 212) In an attempt to solve the financial problems at no cost to himself, the patron of the living, Charles Bowles, agreed with the patron of Fritwell in 1729 that the two parishes should be held together. William Vaughan (171140) was the first incumbent of the joint benefice. He was succeeded by his son, also William Vaughan (1740 63), James Hakewill (176399), and Henry Linton (17991841), who resigned Fritwell in 1831. (fn. 213) The scheme may have improved the financial position of the clergy but it did little to reorganize and enhance church life at North Aston. The Vaughans and Hakewill all lived at Fritwell, although serving North Aston personally. There was usually one service on Sundays, occasional catechism, and three or four communion services a year attended by only c. 20 communicants. (fn. 214) The minimal fulfilment of their obligation by the vicars did not necessarily stem from laziness. Hakewill, for example, was also vicar of Chesterton, Weston-on-the-Green, and Cumnor (Berks.), and rector of Tusmore. He was remembered in the 19th century as riding busily about the countryside on a Sunday, trying to cram in as many services as possible. (fn. 215)
Henry Linton neither lived in nor took much interest in North Aston, staying permanently on his other living at Dinton (Wilts.). North Aston was served by a string of curates, one of whom, John Mavor of Lincoln College, caused considerable scandal in his later career and died in Oxford gaol. (fn. 216) During Linton's long incumbency there was never more than one service on Sundays. The situation improved with the appointment of Robert Brown as curate in 1839. He was forbidden by Linton to hold more than one Sunday service lest future curates should ask for an increased stipend, but he reintroduced morning prayer. (fn. 217) Brown succeeded Linton as vicar in 1841 with, in the bishop's words, 'nothing in his favour', neither decent income nor house. (fn. 218) Nevertheless he held no other benefices and, serving the parish from his home at Kidlington, increased the number of services on Sunday to two and stimulated larger attendances. (fn. 219) The revival continued under his successor, Charles Rede Clifton (18471901), who introduced daily services in Advent and Lent, and fortnightly communion services. In the later 19th century the congregation increased to 8090 people. (fn. 220) The revival was enthusiastically encouraged by William Foster-Melliar, who restored the great tithes to the living, provided a house, and extensively restored the church. The south chapel in the church was converted to a Lady chapel, and North Aston was known into the 20th century for its High Church inclinations. (fn. 221)
The church of ST. MARY is narrowly separated from the east end of North Aston Hall. The church was first mentioned in the mid 12th century, but the present building dates from the 14th. It comprises chancel, nave, south and north aisles and chapels, south porch, and a narrow embattled tower at the west end. (fn. 222) The chancel of three bays is, unusually, longer than the two-bayed nave and perhaps represents the non-functional application of monastic practice to a parish church by its owners, Bradenstoke priory.
In the late 14th century the south aisle was extended to form a chapel adjoining the chancel. The wall between chancel and chapel was pierced towards its western end by a squint. (fn. 223) Stone used for the church c. 1484 and allegedly stolen by John Anne from buildings belonging to Bradenstoke priory (fn. 224) was perhaps used for the tower. The tower was built partially inset into the nave, presumably because development westwards was restricted by the proximity of the house. The clerestory was perhaps added at the same time. An arch was made between the chancel and the east end of the south chapel to accommodate the Anne tomb, and the chapel was given a new east window. A new window was also inserted in the north aisle, presumably at the east end. The church contained a rood screen but the dates of its construction and removal are unknown.
Extensive restoration was carried out c. 1711 (fn. 225) by Lady Catherine Howard, lessee of North Aston Hall. The chancel was paved and a roundheaded single-light east window inserted. A low plaster ceiling was installed in the chancel, blocking the top of the chancel arch. The chancel was wainscotted, pews were introduced, and the altar railed in. A painted Grecian screen and a new pulpit and reading desk were installed. The south chapel was also ceiled, the church roof painted, and the walls whitewashed. (fn. 226)
A major restoration took place in 18667 under the supervision of G. G. Scott and at the expense of William Foster-Melliar. The plaster ceilings were removed and new wooden roofs installed, although some older beams appear to have been retained. In the south aisle a matching arch was built west of the earlier one between the south chapel and the chancel. The north aisle was extended to match the south aisle and chapel, the extension incorporating an organ chamber and vestry. The north aisle was linked to the chancel by two arches, necessitating the removal of two windows, one of which appears to have been reused in the vestry. The remaining north window of the chancel was replaced or heavily restored. The east end of the vestry contains a re-used 15th-century window; it seems too large to have come from the original east end of the north aisle (fn. 227) and may have been taken from the west wall of the tower, where a new, larger window in 15th-century style was inserted. The east window of the chancel was replaced by a pointed window of three lights. The upper doorway of the roodstairs was restored and blocked. The altar railings, pulpit, and chancel screen were replaced and a matching screen placed between the north aisle and chancel. The church was repewed, although some bench ends survive. On the outside of the church the angle buttresses at the east end of the chancel, the pinnacles on the tower, and the elaborate rainwater heads are part of the same restoration.
There is a 14th-century piscina in the south chapel. The font is possibly also of the same period. (fn. 228) There are fragments of late 15thcentury stained glass depicting the arms of the Anne and Giffard families in the east and southeast windows of the south chapel. (fn. 229) Between the chapel and the chancel is an alabaster tomb supporting the figures of a knight in armour and a lady. Around the tomb are 14 monks, and three angels support armorial shields. An inscription, now lost, bore the names of John Anne and Alice his wife, and the date 1416. That date cannot be correct, because of the tomb's style and because the Anne family were not at North Aston by that date. Armorial and documentary evidence suggests that it was for John Anne (fl. 1485) and Alice Giffard. (fn. 230) Among other monuments are floor slabs and wall plaques to members of the Brooke, Bowles, Foster-Melliar, and Taylor families, to a servant of the Bowles family, to Richard Wootton (d. 1667), and to Bernard Gates (d. 1773). There is a notable collection of 17th- and 18th-century gravestones in the churchyard. The plate includes a silver chalice and paten cover of 1583, a silver paten given by Lady Catherine Howard in 1719, and a pewter plate. (fn. 231) In the early 18th century there were three bells, melted down in 1741 to make two new bells. Two further bells were given in 1866 by William Foster-Melliar. (fn. 232) In 1979 one of the 18th-century bells was recast, two new bells were added, and a bell-ringing floor built at the expense of Col. A. Taylor. (fn. 233) A single-handed clock, given by Lady Howard, was replaced in 1867. (fn. 234)
From the mid 16th century to the early 18th North Aston was in the hands of leading Catholic families, the Annes and the Brookes. (fn. 235) In 1676 there were 14 Catholics in the parish, almost a sixth of the adult population. (fn. 236) That high figure was doubtless due to the residence there of Elizabeth Brooke. In the late 17th century and early 18th the number of Catholics remained high and in 1706 it was reported that a priest said Mass in the parish on most Sundays. (fn. 237) In 1716 North Aston passed to Henrietta Fermor of Tusmore, a member of a strongly Catholic family related to the Brookes. (fn. 238) The Fermors, however, took little part in North Aston life and the number of Catholics there dwindled to a single family by 1738; in 1780 there was one Catholic in the village. (fn. 239) In 1817 four North Aston Catholics travelled to Tusmore to worship (fn. 240) but thereafter the once strong Catholic tradition in the parish seems to have died away completely.
The opinion expressed by the churchwarden Thomas Burton in the 1650s that the intruded minister, Mr. Allbright, was unacceptable to the parish may not have been unanimous; Allbright's successor, Robert Lytler, a Presbyterian, had little difficulty in replacing Burton when he resigned in 1658. (fn. 241) The religious views of the new churchwarden, William Baseley, are not recorded, but his descendants who lived at Coldharbour farm for much of the 18th century were Presbyterian. (fn. 242) In the early 19th century there was a strong contrast between the sluggish life of the Church of England in North Aston and a flourishing community of c. 20 Methodists. (fn. 243) Many of the Methodists also attended the parish church, but they had a meeting house of their own, which in 1834 was the house of a shopkeeper in the village, visited by a teacher on Sunday afternoons. (fn. 244) There were c. 30 nonconformists in 1860, but they no longer had their own place of worship. (fn. 245) In the later 19th century North Aston formed part of the Deddington circuit of the Wesley an Reform Union. Services were held possibly at the house of Jesse French, treasurer of the circuit and North Aston postmaster. (fn. 246)
In 1759 a voluntary charity school failed for lack of support. (fn. 247) By 1815 there were two mixed schools in the village; one, established c. 1785, had 18 pupils, the other, established c. 1799, had twelve. In both the teachers were paid by parents, although some children were taught at the expense of the earl of Normanton, lessee of North Aston Hall; other children attended the National Society school at Deddington. (fn. 248) There were still two day schools in 1834, one for 20 children taught at their parents' expense, the other for 10 girls supported by Henrietta-Louisa Scott, countess of Clonmell, then living at North Aston Hall. A Sunday school recently established by the curate received wider assistance than the day schools, and was supported by the vicar, the lord of the manor, and local farmers. (fn. 249)
A new school was built in 1844, but standards at that time were low and 'sitting still was the chief thing taught'. (fn. 250) The school was placed under diocesan inspection and, supported by Col. Charles Oldfield Bowles who had returned to live at North Aston Hall, there was a marked improvement. In 1854 it was attended by c. 40 children. There was also a small private school. A Sunday school for girls was held at North Aston Hall; the boys had a small building of their own. The vicar tried unsuccessfully to run an evening school for adults, and it had failed by 1878 for lack of support. (fn. 251)
In the 1860s there were twice as many girls as boys at the school, partly because girls stayed on until the age of 13 whereas boys left at ten. (fn. 252) In 1872 a row of cottages on the south side of the village green was converted into new school buildings by William Foster-Melliar, lord of the manor. In 1875 the school was attended by 14 boys, 19 girls, 20 infants. Some children went to school at Steeple Aston. (fn. 253) Annual government grants were received from 1876, and thereafter the school was financed by grants, fees, and subscriptions. (fn. 254)
In 1902 there were 48 pupils, but the numbers declined thereafter. (fn. 255) In 1923 the school became a junior school only, with 19 pupils. Seniors went to Steeple Aston. The school had an excellent reputation, but the declining number of children in the village led to its closure in 1955, when the remaining pupils were transferred to Steeple Aston. (fn. 256) The school building reverted to private accommodation.
William Kendall by deed of 1570 gave a rent of 6s. 8d. from 1 a. of meadow, later known as Poor's Plot, for distribution among the poor of the parish, the remaining income from the land to be used for the payment of any taxes due from the poor. By 1706 the rent had risen to 18s.; 6s. 8d. was still distributed to the poor, but the remainder was regularly misappropriated by the trustees. (fn. 257) For most of the 18th century the land was let to the highest bidder and the whole rent, usually c. 2, was devoted to the poor. By the late 18th century the rent was fixed at 2 10s. (fn. 258) The income from Poor's Plot was amalgamated with that from another charity, known as Poor's Stock. The latter derived from a gift of 10, later invested in stock, made by Henry Churchill (d. 1628). (fn. 259) Interest of 10s., combined with the Poor's Plot money, was distributed at Christmas in the form of firewood, a loaf, and 1 lb. of beef to every poor family. In the 19th century coal or blankets were dispensed. (fn. 260) By 1890 the 3 had become a rent charge on North Aston Hall. (fn. 261)
Robert Brown (d. 1847), vicar of North Aston, by will left 40 to be invested in stock, the interest to be divided among the aged poor of the parish; those named Robert or Mary (his wife's name) were to receive a double portion. (fn. 262) Interest was 18s. in 1890 and 1 in 1979. (fn. 263) In the later 20th century Poor's Plot and Stock, and the Brown charity were administered by the parish council and the funds spent on ecclesiastical purposes. (fn. 264)