A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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By grants of Henry I confirmed in 1130 and 1141-2 the abbot acquired extensive franchises in Eynsham, including sac, soc, toll, team, infangthief, and quittance for his lands and men from suit of shire and hundred, except in theft and murdrum. (fn. 71) In 1274-5 the abbot claimed the right to gallows. (fn. 72) Stephen's grant to the abbot of a market may have been assumed to include the assize of bread and ale, which, when challenged by the Crown in 1285, was said to have been held beyond memory. (fn. 73)
In 1279 an annual view of frankpledge was held at Eynsham by the sheriff and the hundredal bailiff, who received 8s. cert money and the perquisites of the view. (fn. 74) Earlier there may have been two views, since the abbot's grants of land frequently stipulated suit of court twice yearly. (fn. 75) In 1290 the abbot was granted the perquisites in accordance with established practice, but the sheriff and bailiff were to hold the court and have 8s. and hospitality. (fn. 76) In 1313 the king permitted the abbot's own officers to hold the view and receive all profits, except the 8s. divided between the sheriff and hundredal bailiff. (fn. 77) Even so, in 1362 the hundredal bailiff alleged not only that he and the sheriff held two views at Eynsham each year, but that presentments not dealt with there, or concealed, might be heard at Wootton. The abbot denied all, claiming that causes arising within Eynsham might be presented only at the annual Eynsham view held by his own steward; if the sheriff and bailiff chose to attend they were entitled to hospitality as well as the 8s. cert money. (fn. 78) Probably the abbot prevailed, and in the later Middle Ages he continued to pay the 8s. together with an allowance of 2 qr. of oats, presumably for hospitality. (fn. 79) In the later 16th century cert money was 8s. 4d., and in the 17th century 2s. and later edns.).8d., representing 2 qr. of oats, was still paid to the hundred from Eynsham. (fn. 80)
The view of frankpledge was held with the court of Eynsham manor, for which rolls survive from the 13th century to the 18th. (fn. 81) At first it met on Saturdays, but by the 14th century on Mondays, like the other Eynsham courts; by then, although nominally a three-weekly court, (fn. 82) it met irregularly between four and seven times a year. Its business ranged from the enfranchisement of villeins and the transfer of holdings to the supervision of the abbot's fields and woods. Profits, sometimes £5 in a single court when there were entry fines, were collected by a beadle, appointed by the abbot without election.
By the 16th century the view of frankpledge was held near Michaelmas, and there was usually a manor court or court baron near Easter. At the combined view and manor court at Michaelmas the usual manorial officers were elected, including 2 constables and 2 tithingmen; headsilver (5s. in the 1680s) was collected by the tithingmen. (fn. 83) In the 16th century the jurors presented breaches of the peace, and the court dealt with impounded strays and the management of the open fields, making ordinances and fining offenders. By the 17th century, except for the transfer of property, very little business was recorded, though leet jurisdiction remained. (fn. 84) By then the Michaelmas court usually adjourned to a later date, presumably to regulate the fields: such regulations were recorded separately and only those for 1796 have survived. (fn. 85) The last enrolment of Eynsham's view was in 1716, though combined courts leet and baron for the manors of Eynsham and Newland were recorded in the 1740s. Apparently Eynsham manor courts continued to meet annually into the mid 19th century, presumably to appoint officers, but their business was not enrolled. (fn. 86) The medieval court may have met in a court house in the Square. (fn. 87) In the late 17th century courts were held at the Swan and in the early 18th century presumably moved to the new court house, now the Bartholomew Room; in the mid 19th century they met at either the Swan or the Red Lion. (fn. 88)
In the Middle Ages there was a portmoot for tenants of the old borough, (fn. 89) who were not obliged to attend the manor court except, presumably, for the view. (fn. 90) The portmoot was important, meeting on Mondays sometimes 16 times a year in the 15th century. (fn. 91) The assize of bread and ale was held there, and it was at the Michaelmas portmoot not the manor court that the principal borough officers were appointed, including one called in 1453 the 'provost or governor of the town' and in 1476 the mayor. Other officers included a bailiff of the town, who collected rents and amercements, 2 constables, 2 tithingmen, 2 aletasters, 2 inspectors of victuals, and 2 'collectors of half a mark', probably the annual sum paid by Eynsham to the bailiffs of Oxford for freedom from toll. (fn. 92) In some years not all those officers were appointed, the constables for instance sometimes collecting the half mark. The court dealt with a wide range of presentments, including inferior leather, beer, and food, weights and measures offences, pleas of debt, nuisances, and even vagrancy; it issued bylaws, in 1454 forbidding innkeepers to sell beer after 9 o'clock in the evening. The surviving rolls contain no property transfers, and so profits, made up of amercements only, were small (c. 50s. a year). By the later 16th century only a vestige of the portmoot survived; a roll of 1568 for Eynsham's Michaelmas court included breaches of the assize of bread and ale under the heading portmoot, (fn. 93) but portmoots were not mentioned in 17th-century rolls.
The borough of Newland, established in 1215, was regulated by a separate court baron held by successive lords of Eynsham. The new borough was made up of burgages, which could be disposed of by will and were quit of feudal incidents except for a small payment to the abbot when sold. The tenants were to elect their own reeve, and complaints against them were to be tried by their peers. (fn. 94) Court rolls survive from 1307 to the 20th century. (fn. 95) The court met on Mondays, always at Michaelmas and near Easter, usually Hocktide, and sometimes once or twice more each year. Officers elected in the early 14th century were two bailiffs, an aletaster, and a tithingman. In the Middle Ages, besides property transactions, the court dealt with nuisances, hedge-breaking, and other agricultural offences, but the only trading offences related to beer-selling, presumably because the intended borough had become an agricultural settlement.
The original burgage tenures seem to have changed during the Middle Ages: in 1294 the abbot regranted a holding without any power of alienation by will or sale, (fn. 96) and the later medieval rolls show that copyhold tenure was becoming general. By the 17th century the whole of Newland seems to have become copyhold except for the site of Newland House. (fn. 97) By the later 16th century the court met twice yearly at the same time as the Eynsham courts; business included agricultural matters such as the ringing of pigs, but the later Newland courts dealt exclusively with the transfer of customary tenements. They were held by the lord's steward, and in the 19th century met in the White Hart inn. (fn. 98) From the late 19th century copyholds began to be enfranchised, and those that remained were enfranchised under the Act of 1922. The last formal court was held in 1925, but until 1935 the court book was used to enrol agreements extinguishing manorial incidents. (fn. 99) In the 19th century a few copyholds not strictly belonging to Newland were dealt with in its court, presumably because it was the only suitable surviving institution: the lawyers' uncertainty over the practice is reflected in very late references to the manor of Tilgarsley, when copyhold properties in Freeland were before the court. (fn. 1)
In the 15th century a court called the Powkebridge court was held annually on St. Martin's day to levy pannage of pigs. The court's name perhaps derived from a bridge on the medieval Puck Lane, now Queen Street. (fn. 2)
By the mid 17th century an Easter 'assembly' of the vicar and parishioners, later called a vestry, was appointing two churchwardens, two sidesmen, and two surveyors of the highways. (fn. 3) Presumably it also appointed two annual overseers of the poor, mentioned in the 17th century (fn. 4) but not recorded in any detail before the 1760s. In the 18th century the vestry met three or four times a year, and was usually attended by the vicar and a few substantial ratepayers, mostly farmers. (fn. 5) Meetings became more frequent as the burden of poor-relief increased, and by 1809 there was a monthly 'committee' to manage parish affairs; in 1813 a committee nominated by the churchwardens began to meet weekly. (fn. 6) After the Sturges Bourne Acts of 1818-19 the committee of fourteen members was called a select vestry, and in the 1820s and 1830s was meeting fortnightly. (fn. 7) Open vestries continued to meet, especially at Easter, and were heavily attended whenever controversy forced a vote: when plural voting was introduced after 1819 several ratepayers, notably W. E. Taunton of Freeland, the successive owners of Eynsham Hall, and leading farmers such as the Druces, had the maximum six votes. (fn. 8) In the late 18th century the vestry met in the Bartholomew Room, or at an inn, usually the Swan or Red Lion; moves to the church parvise in 1819, to a 'new vestry room' in the church in 1845-6, and to the new infant school in 1848 seem to have been short-lived, and the Bartholomew Room remained the most usual meeting place in the 19th century. (fn. 9)
The two churchwardens, besides the normal duties of the office, (fn. 10) relieved the travelling poor, looked after scales and weights which may have been used as market standards, and kept leather buckets and ladders for fire-fighting. Their usual expenditure was very low, frequently below £20 in the 17th century. Regular income in the mid 17th century came from the annual Whitsun ale, from a collection known as the 'Easter book' yielding between £1 and £1 10s., and a sale of 'Whitsun wood' according to Eynsham's ancient custom. (fn. 11) Church rates, when levied, were rarely more than a few pence in the pound. By the early 19th century the churchwardens' expenses were relatively so small that the overseers commonly paid all the bills. (fn. 12) Church rates continued to be levied, (fn. 13) but long before the Church Rate Act of 1868 major expenditure, such as the enlargement of the churchyard in 1863, was met by subscription. (fn. 14)
Surveyors of the highways continued to be appointed by the vestry until the 1890s. (fn. 15) In the mid 19th century there were sometimes as many as four, but later two only, called waywardens. (fn. 16) Separate highway rates were levied, but sometimes the overseers paid the surveyors from the poor rate. (fn. 17) In the early 19th century parish roads were sometimes farmed out to contractors who were expected to employ the poor as labourers; (fn. 18) at other times the assistant overseer collected the highway rate and employed the road-workers. (fn. 19)
Constables probably continued to be appointed by the manor court long after 1716, when they were last formally recorded in court rolls. (fn. 20) In the 17th century two were elected, probably serving six months each. A separate constables' rate was levied until the 1780s, when the overseers took over the payment of the 'constable's bill'. (fn. 21) From 1819 the assistant overseer was also constable. (fn. 22) Minor parish officers included sidesmen, whose appointment ceased to be recorded in the later 17th century, (fn. 23) and a sexton and parish clerk appointed by the vicar: in 1728 parishioners tried to intervene in the choice of a sexton but the post remained the vicar's personal appointment. (fn. 24) The parish clerk from 1805 was paid £5 besides his traditional £2 7s. 10d. for ringing the bell every morning at 4 a.m. (fn. 25) A salaried beadle was appointed by the vestry from the 1820s, helping to collect rates and reporting to the magistrates on the observance of licensing hours. (fn. 26).
In the 18th century each of the two overseers appointed annually accounted for six months of the year. (fn. 27) Occasionally (in 1798 and 1799, for instance) four were appointed, perhaps because the lack of a workhouse contract imposed extra burdens on the parish officers. The overseers were usually prominent farmers; in the 1820s they were rewarded with pieces of plate, and in 1827 it was decided in advance to allow the overseers £25 and expenses. (fn. 28) By then much of the routine work was carried out by an assistant overseer, whose salary ranged from £35 in 1813 to £60 in 1830 and who accounted fortnightly to the vestry. (fn. 29)
Overseers' expenditure was only £74 in 1764, rising to £187 in 1767-8, when there were a few more recipients of regular relief and much heavier casual expenses because of high corn prices and 'the smallpox people at Spareacre house'. In the 1770s, average expenditure was not much more than £100 and in the 1780s probably not much more than £150. Thereafter, following national trends, population increase and high corn prices caused a sharp rise in rates, from £252 in 1791-2 to £718 in 1795-6, £1,066 in 1799-1800, and £1,841 in 1800-1. In 1803, when £1,280 was spent, the cost was c. £1 1s. per head of population, (fn. 30) a large burden for the relatively few ratepayers. In the 1760s a penny rate had produced £7 15s., and after minor adjustments only £8 in 1800: by then ratepayers were thus contributing over 19s. in the pound to meet the cost of poor-relief. At inclosure rateable values were revised, and the total for the parish increased from £1,920 to £5,000, so a penny rate thereafter yielded over £20. In the early 19th century expenditure varied widely from year to year, from as little as c. £860 in 1824 to £1,838 (c. £1 4s. per head) in 1818. (fn. 31) Although in the last few years of the old Poor Law officially reported expenditure was between £1,500 and £1,600 (c. 16s. a head) the vestry asserted that in 1831-2 over £2,100 had been spent. (fn. 32)
In 1764 the workhouse had only five inmates, for whose weekly maintenance the master received 1s. 3d. each, soon afterwards raised to 1s. 8d. In 1768, as workhouse inmates increased in number, all regular relief was farmed for £ 126 a year. In 1772 the farm was set at £84 and remained unchanged until raised in 1782 to allow for the high cost of provisions. (fn. 33) The usual contractor, John Rusher, was farming the Woodstock poor also in 1779, and later farmed the Cogges poor; in 1772 he was intending to install a governess in the Eynsham workhouse. (fn. 34) The Eynsham farm varied between £100 and £125 until 1792, after which poor relief was administered directly for a few years by the overseers. A new contract in 1795 for as much as £123 a quarter included out-relief. In 1796 the parish advertised for a living-in master rather than a farmer (fn. 35) but contractors were used intermittently thereafter: in 1805, for example, the contract of £630 included out-relief. (fn. 36) The workhouse was extended in 1797 and in 1802-3 contained 33 paupers including children. (fn. 37)
From 1807 the master was usually paid a capitation fee, ranging from 3s. to 5s. a head. The standard agreement required the master or his wife to sleep in the workhouse, which was to close at 7 p.m. in winter and 9 p.m. in summer; inmates were to attend church twice on Sundays. The master was to have all profits of their labour, and in 1818 was expected to provide three hot dinners a week. For much of the early 19th century the mastership passed between two local men, William Hathaway and William Buckingham. (fn. 38) The number of inmates declined in that period to only 15 in 1814 and only 10 old and infirm people in 1832. (fn. 39) There was a corresponding increase in numbers receiving out-relief: in 1764 only 6 families were regularly relieved, but by 1800 the monthly cost of out-relief was nearly £100 and in 1802-3 relief was given to 21 adults and 95 children. (fn. 40) In 1814 there were 52 recipients of regular, and 39 of occasional, relief, and in one week in May 1832 relief of some kind was given to 306 people. (fn. 41)
Casual expenditure by the overseers included the expense of settlement and removal, and, until 1817, the payment of rents for some poor families. (fn. 42) In 1790-1 a pauper was equipped with a wooden leg and a doctor was paid £20 to inoculate 159 parishioners. Parishioners were sent regularly to the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, to which an annual subscription was paid. Contracts were made with local doctors to attend the poor, usually with extra payments for midwifery, accidents, and epidemics such as an outbreak of typhus in 1825. (fn. 43) The house at Spareacre used as a pest house in the 1760s may have been the workhouse; later a pest house stood north of Bowles Farm. (fn. 44)
Eynsham was unusual in finding profitable employment for the poor, mostly spinning, carding, and weaving for Witney masters: the overseers regularly paid for flax and woolpacks from Witney. Spinning wheels and carders were Par. Cogges b 2; Oxf. Jnl. Synopsis, 22 Feb. 1772. purchased, and in 1807 the master of the workhouse was allowed £10 to erect a loom. (fn. 45) In 1793-4 finished work was sold for c. £50, and in 1795 'Witney work' yielded £35. In 1802-3 materials for employment in the workhouse cost £5 11s. and over £48 was earned; in the same year those on out-relief earned £54 10s. Such earnings were double those of any other parish in the region except Witney. (fn. 46) No textile work was mentioned in 1832, (fn. 47) perhaps because its availability had declined as mechanization was introduced in Witney mills in the early 19th century.
The able-bodied unemployed were also set to work on the roads: in 1783 the vestry ordered the surveyors to pay 'distressed labourers' 1s. each for three days' work, and in 1784 and later the unemployed were picking pebbles for road-repair. In 1788 the vestry encouraged the surveyors to employ poor men with large families; in 1824, when the parish farmed the roads for £100, the farmer was told to pay £50 to poor workmen of the parish. Other employment for the poor included furze-cutting on the heath. (fn. 48)
In 1795 the overseers received over £50 for 'labour', possibly indicating use of a roundsman system. Relief to the unemployed and supplementation of wages both began in the late 18th century. Unemployment continued to be a serious problem: in 1815 vestry members agreed to employ only parishioners if possible, and in 1832 it was estimated that 40 out of 221 adult labourers were usually unemployed, and more in the winter. (fn. 49) By then the allowance system was in full use, but apportionment of labourers among ratepayers was not: even so the vestry complained of the payments to the unemployed of c. £350, and recommended apportionment and funding emigration. In November 1832 a labour rate was ordered: it seems that for five weeks each ratepayer was to employ labour on agreed wages until he had contributed the equivalent of 1s. in the pound rate. (fn. 50) A labour rate was still in operation in 1833. (fn. 51)
After 1834 Eynsham belonged to the Witney union. The Eynsham workhouse was used for the paupers of several parishes until the Witney workhouse was opened. (fn. 52) It was probably sold in 1839, but survived among the cottages of Alma Place until modern times. (fn. 53) The Eynsham vestry continued to recommend suitable overseers and to appoint surveyors who employed the poor on road-mending and ditch-cleaning: wages set by the vestry for such work in 1850 were as low as 6s. a week for a married man with two children. (fn. 54)
Briefly, between 1848 and 1851, the vestry operated the police provisions of the Lighting and Watching Act of 1833, (fn. 55) but thereafter annually recommended to the magistrates suitable constables, of whom three or four served each year. (fn. 56) In the 1870s the county police station lay between Acre End Street and the Baptist chapel, moving several times before settling at Station Road by 1939. (fn. 57) The vestry retained responsibility for the parish fire-fighting equipment until a fire-brigade committee was formed in the 1880s. In the 1930s the town relied briefly on service from Witney, but by 1936 was collecting for its own volunteer brigade. (fn. 58) An engine may have been purchased in 1814, and engine maintenance was regularly noted from the 1830s. (fn. 59) It was kept under the Bartholomew Room until 1949; there was a fire station in Mill Street from c. 1956 and a new station was built near the former railway station in 1985. The horse-drawn fire engine, last used in 1939, was restored c. 1970. (fn. 60) Although street lighting was introduced by a private company in 1871, the vestry took over existing fittings in 1889 and took steps to light the town in winter. (fn. 61)
The vestry's effectiveness as the governing body of the parish in the 19th century was reduced by its division into two factions, one supporting the vicar, W.S. Bricknell, the other led by a farmer, Joseph Druce, who was frequently the parish churchwarden. (fn. 62) Bricknell was supported by prominent villagers such as James Gibbons, farmer and brewer, the Shillingfords, woolstaplers, and grander but more remote figures such as W. E. Taunton of Freeland and the owners of Eynsham Hall; Druce's party included William Swann, papermaker, James Sheldon, maltster, and the brewer C. A. Goodwin. Quarrels began over church restoration in 1857 and ranged over many other issues, notably charity administration. (fn. 63) Crowded Easter vestries, when churchwardens were appointed, became trials of strength between the factions, and formal polls and canvassing became commonplace. In 1865, after fisticuffs in the Bartholomew Room involving Bricknell and a parishioner, a magistrate referred to Eynsham's 'endless squabbles'. (fn. 64) The deaths of Bricknell in 1886 and Druce in 1890 ended an era, and in 1895 an Eynsham vestry was noted for its 'extreme cordiality'. The vestry's residual governmental functions had been taken over by the parish council in 1894, when Eynsham was taken into Witney rural district. (fn. 65) In 1974 the parish became part of West Oxfordshire district. (fn. 66)