A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Bladon, about 8 miles (12 km.) north-west of Oxford, lies on the east bank of the river Evenlode, immediately south of Blenheim Park. The ancient parish (1,518 a.), which extended from Akeman Street in the north-east to Burleigh wood in the south-west, (fn. 46) curved round the southern end of the park, which had clearly been carved out of it at an early date. (fn. 47) It included the township of Hensington and the borough of Woodstock, which was taken out of Hensington township in the later 12th century. Woodstock, which is separately treated below, and Hensington, which is included in the present account, were distinct from Bladon township for civil purposes, but the whole area remained a single ecclesiastical parish. For most of its history the parish was dominated by Woodstock and by the royal and later ducal estate centred first on Woodstock manor house and then on Blenheim Palace.
The northern parish boundary followed Akeman Street probably by the 13th century. (fn. 48) On the south the ancient boundary ran through Bladon heath and Burleigh wood; in the 13th century the wood was farmed with Bladon, but was later successfully claimed by Godstow abbey, and by the 18th century lay mostly in Cassington. (fn. 49) The boundary through the wood may thus date from the 14th century or later. On the east the 18th-century boundary followed Rowel brook, field boundaries, and Sansoms Lane, part of an ancient track running from north Oxfordshire perhaps to Oxford; in the 11th century the boundary near Hensington probably left the lane, running c. 1/4 mile west of its later course. (fn. 50) Much of the western parish boundary followed the river Evenlode, earlier the Bladon, from which the village was named (fn. 51)
Before the park was formed the parish evidently stretched northwards on both sides of the river Glyme. East of the river the borough of Woodstock was taken from Hensington township in the later 12th century, and much of the lower park, then known as Hensgrove, was probably annexed in that period; it was alleged that there was further imparkment from the Hospitallers' land in Hensington in the 1320s. (fn. 52) West of the Glyme Bladon's fields stretched northwards into the area of later park known as the Lince, and included the narrow strip of meadow on the north bank of the Evenlode known as Long Acre, all of which remained within the parish in modern times; (fn. 53) until 1576 the parish also included an undetermined area at the south end of High Park, where Bladon wood and Heynes close were imparked by Sir Henry Lee, who built a new wall to the Glyme perhaps on the line of the modern parish boundary. (fn. 54) Immediately after inclosure in 1767 the duke of Marlborough extended the park southwards, incorporating all the land north of Bladon village between Long Acre and Eagle Lodge; the parish boundary remained unchanged, presumably marking the line of the earlier park wall on both sides of the Glyme. (fn. 55)
A 16th-century tradition, perhaps correct, stated that in exchange for the site of Woodstock and the park the king gave the Templars the area called Hordley Hill, on the northern boundary of the parish, which had formerly been part of Hordley in Wootton. (fn. 56) That area was part of Hensington by c. 1200 when a meadow near Stratford bridge was in the township, but Hordley men claimed right of common there in the 16th century and later. (fn. 57) The alteration of the eastern boundary, whereby the parish was extended into Shipton-on-Cherwell, probably took place at the same time. In 1583 the boundary between Woodstock and Hensington at Starting Grove south of the corporation meadows and at Horse Fair in the Oxford road was disputed; (fn. 58) Starting Grove had been part of Hensington in 1512, and both it and Horse Fair seem to have been in the township by 1750. (fn. 59)
The boundary between the townships of Bladon (851 a.) and Hensington (605 a.) followed the Witney-Bicester road from the eastern parish boundary turning north-westwards at the lane to Bladon Gate to meet the river Glyme. (fn. 60) In 1886 part of Hensington on the east side of Woodstock was taken into the borough, and in 1894, under the Local Government Act, it was declared a civil parish, Hensington Within (45 a.), while the rest of the former township became Hensington Without (560 a.). (fn. 61) A Local Government Order of 1954 transferred 40 a. of Hensington Without to Blenheim parish, including the strip of land east of the Glyme imparked c. 1767; the remainder of the almost detached south-western part of Hensington (26 a.) was transferred to Bladon, reducing the area of Hensington Without to 493 a. (200 ha.) and increasing that of Bladon to 877 a. (355 ha.). In 1985 Hensington Without became part of Woodstock. (fn. 62)
Most of the ancient parish lies between 70 m. and 100 m. above sea level, sloping from higher ground in the east to the valleys of the Glyme and the Evenlode in the west. The land falls to 80 m. at the Glyme in the north, and to just below 70 m. at the Evenlode in the south-west. In the east it rises to 110 m. at Round Castle on the southern boundary, to 102 m. at Akeman Street in the north, and to 103 m. at Sansoms Lane on the eastern boundary. (fn. 63) Bladon township is mainly composed of Oxford clay, with a patch of boulder clay at Bladon Heath; along the Glyme are bands of cornbrash and forest marble, and along the Evenlode one of alluvium. Hensington lies mainly on the great oolite, with a strip of alluvium along the Glyme and one of forest marble along the eastern boundary. (fn. 64) The forest marble has been exploited for building stone since the Middle Ages. (fn. 65) Both Bladon and Hensington villages lie mainly on the cornbrash.
The parish contained large areas of woodland, notably in Bladon wood between the Evenlode and the Glyme and in Burleigh wood on the Cassington border in the south-west, as well as furze and scrub on Bladon heath in the south-east. The first element of the name Hensington appears to be 'hens', probably referring to wildfowl hunted in wood or scrub. (fn. 66) Although most of the ancient parish was outside Wychwood forest, it bordered it, and in the 13th century several Bladon and Hensington men were amerced for forest offences. (fn. 67) Bladon wood, said to be between Woodstock Park and Wychwood forest in the 1240s, was in 1279 within the regard of the forest. (fn. 68) It was taken into the park in 1576. (fn. 69) In the late 1630s the men of Bladon, with those of neighbouring parishes, protested, apparently successfully, at the extension of the forest or forest law over their lands, and at the spread of the red deer which had 'almost destroyed the country'. (fn. 70) A few areas on the northern edge of Bladon heath had been planted with trees by 1772, and the whole of it was wooded by 1876 and remained so in 1985. (fn. 71)
The former main road from Aberystwyth to London, which ran from Chipping Norton through Glympton and Wootton, formed the north-eastern boundary of the parish for a short distance. It was turnpiked in 1729 and disturnpiked in 1878. (fn. 72) The Oxford-Woodstock road, part of the road to Stratford, was turnpiked in 1719 and disturnpiked in 1878; (fn. 73) it was the main road through the parish in 1985. The Witney Bicester road, called the Gloucester road c. 1760, ran through the parish just south of the park; it was turnpiked in 1751 and disturnpiked in 1870. (fn. 74) In 1985 it ran due east to the round- about at Campsfield in Kidlington parish, but in the 16th and 17th centuries it seems to have turned north around the edge of Woodstock Park and run across Hensington fields, probably to join the surviving stretch of road running north-east from Hensington to Sturdy's Castle in Tackley. (fn. 75) A road from Woodstock to Banbury ran through Hensington along the high ground east of the Glyme; its obstruction was one of the causes of the boundary dispute in 1583, and it was still the main route from Woodstock to Banbury in 1750, but by 1847 it seems to have been falling into disuse, and in 1985 was only a bridle path. (fn. 76) The road south from the Witney-Bicester road near Hanborough Bridge which in 1985 led to Cassington was called the Oxford way in 1620 and 1681; it then joined Frogwelldown lane in Cassington, leading to Yarnton and thus to Oxford. (fn. 77) Until the inclosure of Bladon and the extension of the park in 1767 another road or path led north-west from Bladon village, crossing the Glyme by a bridge roughly opposite the church, and ran across the corner of the park to Combe. At the extension of the park in 1576 it was called a highway, and its diversion then caused protest. (fn. 78) Minor roads, later footpaths, linked Hensington and Bladon to Thrupp, Shipton-on-Cherwell, and Begbroke.
A station in Hanborough, just across the Evenlode from Bladon village, on the Worcester line, opened in 1853. (fn. 79) The branch railway from the main line at Shipton-on-Cherwell to Woodstock was built across Hensington in 1889 and 1890, and Woodstock station, opposite the Hensington gate to Blenheim Park, was actually in Hensington. The line closed in 1954 and the track was lifted in 1958. (fn. 80) Hanborough station, a halt, was still open in 1985. In the later 19th century carriers to Oxford passed through Bladon on Wednesdays and Saturdays and a carrier to Witney on Thursdays. (fn. 81) In 1922 Oxford City Motor Services started a bus service through Bladon four times a week; the service ran daily from 1954. (fn. 82) There was a post office by 1854. (fn. 83)
Wells and pumps supplied water to Bladon and Hensington until the mid 20th century. There were complaints in 1895 about the inadequate water supply to the 'top' of Bladon village, perhaps Heath Lane, but nothing was done until 1925 when a new pump was erected. (fn. 84) Electricity reached Bladon in 1930, mains water from Woodstock in 1935, and gas in 1936. Main drainage was completed in 1968. (fn. 85) Between 1967 and 1969 the Thames Water Board built a small reservoir on Bladon heath. (fn. 86)
Apart from scatters of flints found on the eastern boundary of Hensington, the earliest surviving evidence of settlement in the parish is the prehistoric, possibly Iron Age, earthwork on Bladon heath, known as Round Castle. It is roughly circular, enclosed by double ditches except on the north-east where the ditch appears to be single. (fn. 87) Although it commands the approaches to Bladon from the south and east it is not really a hill fort. Seventeenth-century terriers refer to another earthwork on the heath, Broad Castle, but no trace of it remains. (fn. 88) Hensington, like other areas bordering Akeman Street, was settled in the Roman period. At Sansom's Platt, straddling the border with Weaveley in Tackley parish, a 1st-century farming settlement was succeeded by a villa occupied from the 2nd to the 4th century. (fn. 89) About ½ mile to the south is a rectangular, double ditched inclosure, known only from air photographs, which appears to be another villa. (fn. 90) The eastern edge of the parish continued to attract settlement in the early Anglo-Saxon period, when, to judge by later field names, the settlement of Bica's burh in Shipton-on-Cherwell extended into Hensington. (fn. 91) Bladon itself was not recorded until 1086, unless the word 'bibladene', contained in a late medieval list of apparently 8th-century donations to St. Peter's, Gloucester, refers to Bladon parish rather than, as seems more likely, to Oddington (Glos.), on the river Bladon or Evenlode. (fn. 92)
In 1086 a total of 26 unfree tenants and 2 serfs was recorded on Bladon manor, which covered the whole of the later Bladon township, but in 1279 the recorded population was only 24. (fn. 93) Early 14th-century subsidy assessments confirm the impression of a small or poor population, which had fallen slightly by 1377 when 52 people paid poll tax. (fn. 94) Epidemics in 1545 and 1624, when 11 and 15 people were buried instead of the usual 3 or 4, slowed the post medieval recovery. In 1606 there were still only 25 tenants on the manor, holding 22 houses, and only 21 householders were assessed for hearth tax in Bladon township in 1662. (fn. 95) The population seems to have risen slightly in the 1680s, but may have fallen again in the earlier 18th century, when 1724, 1729, and 1730 were years of high mortality. In 1767 only 48 adult men owed suit to the manor court, and there was another epidemic in 1769 when 13 people were buried between late August and late September, (fn. 96) but by 1801 the population of the township had risen to 287. It continued to rise until 1851, when it was 484, but fell to 333 in 1881, a fall attributed partly to emigration to America. (fn. 97) Thereafter the population remained fairly stable until after the Second World War when commuters and professional people began to move into the village; it was 494 in 1951, 680 (including 88 in 26 a. transferred from Hensington in 1954) in 1961, 763 in 1971, and 739 in 1981. (fn. 98)
The houses of Bladon village lie along the Witney to Bicester road, Heath Lane, and a back lane incorporating Church Road and Manor Road. There are no outlying farmhouses. The topography of the village was altered after inclosure by the diversion, as part of the landscaping of the park, (fn. 99) of the main stream of the river Glyme, which used to run within a few yards of the main road through the village, and by the encroachment of houses on the village green, south-west of the church, which in the 1760s comprised c. 1 a. of land. (fn. 1) North of the church, on both sides of Park Lane and on the north- west side of the main road, are a few older houses which, although technically part of Hensington township until 1954, are physically part of Bladon. (fn. 2) There was at least one house, probably the Old Malt House, there in 1661, and another, the White House, was built between 1661 and 1663. By 1692 there was another house, further east near the site of the 19th-century Home Farm, and three cottages. (fn. 3) The Old Malt House contains in its south wall three 15th-century windows of high quality and a doorway, all of stone and perhaps from Woodstock manor house. Bladon Lodge is a house of the earlier 18th century, turned into a lodge when the park was extended southwards c. 1767, and gothicized in 1887. (fn. 4)
Most of the older, mainly 18th-century, houses in Bladon village are of coursed rubble with slate roofs, but Knutsford House on the east side of the main road is of squared rubble. It is of two storeys and originally had a symmetrical front with a central doorway, although a western extension has altered its appearance; it is inscribed N/IM/1726, perhaps for the mason James Nixon (d. 1739) and his wife Martha. (fn. 5) Two other houses bear masons' initials. One on the corner of the Green and Park Street has IN 1763, presumably for James, or John, Nixon. It is two-storeyed, of rubble with a later brick bay window, but the adjoining house has a brick front, perhaps from the brickyard in Hensington which James Nixon acquired in 1765. (fn. 6) An L-shaped house on the south side of the Green, also one of a terrace, bears the initials of the mason Stephen Danbury (fn. 7) and the date 1740, but the datestone is on the back wing, which seems to be an addition to the house.
Manor Farm, on a back lane at the south-west end of the village, is a large house of coursed rubble, two storeys with attics, with a symmetrical front. It was probably built by Thomas Godfrey, a member of a gentry family, c. 1720, from which date panelling survives. The west wing had been added by the 1760s. A datestone of 1772 on the east gable perhaps refers to the roof of the main front or to a possible rebuilding of part of the east wall. (fn. 8) The house has no connexion with the manor, and the name Manor Farm was not recorded until 1881. (fn. 9) Hill Rise, a cottage above the main road on the western edge of the village, bears two datestones, 1739 and 1747, both with the initials of John and Elizabeth Pain; it is presumably the little messuage with a little garden surrendered by John Pain in 1773. (fn. 10) The house is of two builds, the small western bay of only one storey and an attic, the larger eastern one of two storeys and an attic. St. Martin's Farm, on the south side of the churchyard, incorporates a small late 17th- or 18th- century farmhouse; there is no evidence to sup- port the local opinion that it was the medieval rectory house. King's View, formerly the King's Arms public house, on the main road south-west of the church has a central chimney-stack and steeply pitched tiled roof, and may be of 17th-century origin. It was refitted in the 18th century, possibly by Kesiah Hiernes, widow of Thomas Hiernes, gentleman, who lived there until her death in 1788. A back wing was added after c. 1760. (fn. 11) Shrewley House, on the north- west side of the main road in Hensington township, has an apparently early 19th-century brick front and sides, but most of the internal fittings are of the later 18th century. The house stands near the site of the 18th- and early 19th-century brickworks. (fn. 12) To the north-east is a terrace of six labourers' cottages, the northern, and earliest, two of which are dated 1794.
The chief 19th-century additions to the village were the the school and schoolmaster's house in 1858 and Methodist chapels in 1843, 1877, and 1868. The church was rebuilt in 1804 and thoroughly remodelled in 1891. Between 1801 and 1831 the number of dwellings in the township rose from 66 to 95, (fn. 13) but many seem to have been created by subdividing existing houses. Some of the new houses were wholly or partly of brick, like Danbury's House on the north side of the green, a short terrace of brick-fronted cottages on the east side of the green dated 1834, and the brick-fronted cottage on the south side of Heath Lane, dated 1836. The brick-fronted house on the corner of Lamb Lane and Providence Place bears a well cut datestone 'Providence Place 1866'. The main area of infilling was the green, which almost disappeared under terraces of cottages. In the later 19th century the Blenheim estate built 19 workers' cottages on the main road north and west of the church; some of them were perhaps those said in 1866 to give 'every necessary accommodation to the labourers and their families'. (fn. 14) By 1871 the parish included gamekeepers' lodges at the Lince in Blenheim Park, in Burleigh wood, and on Bladon heath. (fn. 15)
After 1913 the Blenheim estate sold most of its land and houses in the village, 20 cottages and a house being auctioned in 1920, (fn. 16) and thus enabled Bladon to become a community of commuters and retired people rather than an estate village. A few new private houses had been built by 1918, but the main development has been since c. 1950, and by 1985 ribbon development extended along the main road as far as the Bladon roundabout in Kidlington parish. More compact estates of private houses have been built on the north-west side of the road, in the former quarry off Park Lane be tween 1963 and 1965, and in the grounds of the Blenheim Home Farm in the 1980s. In the 1920s and 1930s two groups of council houses were built at the east end of Heath Lane, and in 1919-20 and 1926-7 others were built at Bladon Pits, on the south-east side of the main road after the Second World War. A further 12 houses were built in Heath Lane between 1946 and 1950, 8 houses and 4 bungalows at the top of that road in 1964, and others in the 1970s. (fn. 17) In 1963 the Blenheim estate built four semi-detached estate workers' houses on the north- west side of the main road. A village hall, on the south-east side of the main road near Bladon Pits, was built c. 1946.
In 1086 a total of 7 unfree tenants and 2 serfs was recorded on two of the three estates in Hensington; no one was recorded on the third estate. (fn. 18) As many as 33 free and unfree tenants, including the rector of Bladon, were recorded in 1279, but some of the 17 free tenants may have lived in Woodstock or in neighbouring villages, for early 14th-century subsidy assessments suggest a settlement considerably smaller than Bladon. (fn. 19) Only 13 people paid poll tax in 1377. (fn. 20) A survey of the Hospitallers' manor in 1512 recorded only 4 inhabited houses, (fn. 21) but there were probably 2 or 3 others on the king's and Oseney abbey's estates. Only 8 people paid hearth tax in 1662, (fn. 22) but in 1750 there were 11 houses and 2 cottages in the township. (fn. 23) In 1801 there were 64 people in 13 houses, but by 1811 the population had doubled to 113. It rose steadily to 190 (excluding the inmates of the union workhouse) in 1871, but fell to 130 or 131 in 1891 and 1901; the fall was due partly to a reduction in the size of the permanent household at Hensington House, then occupied as a school. From 1911 onwards the population rose steadily as the residential area of Woodstock expanded into the township; it reached a total of 1,093 in Hensington Within and Without in 1951 and in 1981 the population of the slightly reduced parish of Hensington Without was 1,106. (fn. 24)
The medieval village lay in the middle of the township, on the north side of the modern Banbury Road which probably follows the line of the village street; a hollow way, presumably one of the minor lanes in the village, is still clearly visible running north from the road just east of its junction with Shipton Road. Between 1252 and 1286 orders were regularly made for the repair of the Chancery buildings or the Chancellor's lodgings in Hensington. The houses mentioned in those orders seem not to have been on the king's yardland in Hensington in 1279, (fn. 25) and, as it seems unlikely that they were on the Templars' land, they may have been on the south bank of the Glyme, within the later park.
A survey of 1512 records houses, apparently on the north side of the Banbury Road as far east as the point at which that road turns sharply north; the westernmost houses were probably near the modern Green Lane. There were at least two other roads in the village: Blind Lane ran north for a short distance from Banbury Road and then turned west, and St. Thomas's Lane, at the west end of the village, ran straight north, probably taking its name from one of the two chapels which stood close together on the western edge of the village. By 1512 many of the houses had become tofts or been converted into barns or stables. (fn. 26)
Although some new building was recorded in the late 16th century, desertion continued in the 17th. (fn. 27) In 1750 there were only 3 or 4 homes-teads and 4 cottages on the village site. By that date, however, the buildings of Woodstock had begun to spread into the western edge of Hensington. There were at least three houses in the angle between Hensington Lane and the Oxford road in 1715 and 1750. (fn. 28) In 1985 there were two farmhouses (one of them the former manor house) and four cottages on the original village site, almost surrounded by new housing. An outlying farmhouse, Sansom's Farm, was built in the earlier 18th century, perhaps before 1721 when the messuage or farm which had been held by Henry Sansom was leased to his sons. (fn. 29) There was a building on the site of the later pest house, on the township's eastern boundary, by 1750; the surviving building, of rubble, and much altered, is two-storeyed with attics, and has three rooms on each floor. In 1988 it was occupied as a private house and smallholding. (fn. 30) In 1768 and 1769 the duke of Marlborough built for his agent, Thomas Walker, a large house opposite the Hensington gate to Blenheim Park, on land acquired by exchange with Merton College. The house, designed by Sir William Chambers and built by the Woodstock mason John Hooper, had a modified H plan, facing north and south with east and west wings; it was built in Taynton and Glympton stone, with plinth, architraves, plain cornice and modillion cornice. (fn. 31) Hensington House was occupied by the duke's auditor in 1812, and probably into the 1830s. John Winston Spencer Churchill, marquess of Blandford, lived there before succeeding to Blenheim in 1857. Thereafter the house was let to tenants, and from c. 1887 was occupied by a small private school. It was dilapidated by 1922, and was demolished in the later 1920s. (fn. 32)
The new 19th-century buildings in Hensington township, the union workhouse, a school, and the railway station, were part of the extension of Woodstock. In the mid 20th century private and council housing for Woodstock linked the old houses of the village with the town.
A house called the inn, held with 2 yardlands and a fishery, was recorded between 1592 and 1712. Hercules Sheen, innkeeper, recorded in 1699, almost certainly occupied the house, but when the inn and its land were sold to Thomas Godfrey in 1712, they had passed from John Sheen to Thomas Slatter, innkeeper. (fn. 33) In 1759 the inn, called the Lamb, was held by Thomas's son or grandson Gabriel Slatter. When the inn was sold in 1784 it contained bedchambers and had stabling for 20 horses. (fn. 34) The house was rebuilt in the mid 19th century, but was still called the Lamb in 1985. The White House, at the junction of Park Lane and the main road and formerly in Hensington, was built between 1661 and 1663, was held by a maltster in 1690, and had a bowling green in 1724. It does not appear to have been licensed in the later 18th century, but from 1863 was the Old White House. (fn. 35) Three alehouses were licensed in Bladon, probably the township, in 1701, and in the later 18th century there were usually between three and five, although there were as many as seven, perhaps including two in Hensington, in 1755. From 1774 onwards they were the Lamb, the Red Lion, and the Rose and Crown at Hanborough bridge, a house built in 1745 on the site of a stone pit. (fn. 36) A fourth public house, the King's Arms, was recorded from 1847. The Hanborough bridge house, which was bought by the Blenheim estate in 1843, (fn. 37) had changed its name to the Marlborough Arms by 1852, and closed before 1883. The Red Lion closed before 1863 and the King's Arms in the 1930s, leaving only the Lamb and the White House open in 1985. (fn. 38)
In the 18th century Bladon feast was held on the Sunday after St. Martin's day (11 November), the patronal festival of the parish church, but in the 19th century it moved to the Sunday nearest to 10 June, the date of the opening of the new church in 1804. (fn. 39) By the mid 19th century the feast was a rowdy affair, but rectors and curates, notably A. Majendie, made it more of a church festival. The funfair on the village green was transferred to the Monday, and the feast began with a church service on the Sunday evening. Attractions included stalls, swings, roundabouts, and coconut shies, but the erection of electricity poles and mains on the green in 1929 obstructed the roundabouts. Efforts to transfer the feast to a field failed, and by 1955 it was a small affair attended only by a few showmen. (fn. 40) It ceased soon afterwards.
Bladon has become a major tourist attraction since the burial there in January 1965 of Sir Winston Churchill. In the months immediately following the burial more than 1/4 million people visited the grave, causing congestion and parking problems in the village streets. The visitors brought some new business to village shops, although the parish council resolved not to allow any commercial development. (fn. 41) By 1985 numbers had fallen, but there was still a steady stream of visitors to the grave.