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.
Manor and other estates
In 1086 NORTH LEIGH, assessed at 10 hides, was held by Roger d'Ivri. (fn. 30) The chief lordship descended with other d'Ivri possessions as part of the honor of St. Valery, passing to the Crown on the death in 1300 of Edmund, earl of Cornwall. (fn. 31) North Leigh was said in the 1470s to be held of the royal honor of Wallingford, (fn. 32) with which the St. Valery honor was closely associated.
The under tenant in 1086 was Godfrey, holder of four d'Ivri estates in Oxfordshire. (fn. 33) The tenancy was given in the late 12th century or early 13th by Thomas of St. Valery (d. 1219) to the abbey of Lieu Dieu (Somme), founded in 1191 by his father Bernard. (fn. 34) The abbey sold North Leigh in 1247 to Netley abbey (Hants), another St. Valery foundation, which retained it until dissolved in 1536. (fn. 35) In 1544 the manor was granted to Sir Thomas Pope, (fn. 36) passing on his death in 1559 to his brother John (d. 1583), who was succeeded by his son William (d. 1631), created earl of Downe in 1628. William's grandson and heir Thomas Pope (fn. 37) sold it in 1660 to Philip Holman (d. 1669). (fn. 38) Philip's son George sold the manor in 1676 to James Perrott (d. 1687), (fn. 39) the first known resident lord. James was succeeded by his eldest surviving son James (d. 1724), whose successor was his son Henry (d. 1740), M.P. for Oxfordshire from 1721. (fn. 40) Henry devised the estate to his brother Thomas (d. 1750), who devised it to his great-nephew James Leigh, on condition that he took the additional surname Perrott. (fn. 41) Leigh-Perrott sold the estate in 1765 to George Spencer (d.1817), duke of Marlborough. (fn. 42) The land, then c. 1,200 a., was mostly sold by later dukes, but manorial rights were retained: in 1886 the executors of the will of Charles Sartoris of Wilcote House completed the purchase, agreed before his death in 1884, of 616 a., including Holly Court, Field farm, Church farm, and Ashford mill. All except the mill were resold at once, and the estate was broken up. (fn. 43) In 1984 the Blenheim Estate retained only c. 250 a. in the parish. (fn. 44)
The manor house stood west of the church. Traces of foundations are visible, but no structure remains above ground. Although the house was allegedly pulled down by James Leigh-Perrott, (fn. 45) an 'ancient built house' with dovecot and coachhouses, the gardens including a bowling green, (fn. 46) was shown on maps of 1767 and 1792. (fn. 47) In 1768 it was used for a girls' school. (fn. 48) In 1806 nothing remained but the dovehouse, a few of the offices, and mouldering walls. (fn. 49) The house's position makes it the likely site of the original manor house, but Netley abbey or its predecessor seems to have preferred, in Cistercian tradition, a house away from the village. In 1279 the original manor house probably formed part of the freehold of John of the hall, (fn. 50) the abbey using the house known as Folycourt in the 15th century (fn. 51) and as Holy Court (fn. 52) or Holly Court from the later 16th. (fn. 53) That house is by a tributary of the Evenlode in a valley ¾mile north of the parish church. The name Foly, occurring after flooding in 1442, (fn. 54) may enshrine local opinion on the site chosen but more likely has the sense of leafy. (fn. 55) At the south-east corner of the house a room raised on a low barrel vault has two 13th-century lancet windows. It is apparently the only surviving part of the medieval house, and its purpose is unknown. It may have stood at the west end of the original house, which was badly damaged at its east end by the floods of 1442. The house seems to have been substantially built and had a stone-slated roof but was not large: a hall, screens, service rooms, chapel, and two chambers are mentioned. After the floods the courtyard was moated and a stone bridge of two arches was built across the ditch at the gate. (fn. 56) The house was used regularly by the abbey's officials and accommodated the abbot and his retinue when they visited the manor, usually twice a year. The chapel, permanently equipped with altar, vestments, and sacred vessels, served also as a dormitory for the abbot's servants and as a manorial muniment room. (fn. 57) After the Dissolution the house was leased to tenants, of whom George Berrington rebuilt it except for the 13th-century block in 1601 (fn. 58) on an extended three-roomed plan; it is of two storeys with attics, and retains two original staircases. It was held in the 1630s and 1640s by Sir William St. Ravy (fn. 59) and in 1657 by Sir George Fleetwood. (fn. 60) When James Perrott acquired the manor Holly Court became a farmhouse, and it was included in the sale of 1886. (fn. 61) It was apparently bought by Thomas Druce, and sold by him in 1893 to the tenant, William Richards, from whom it was bought c. 1900 by James Mason of Eynsham Hall. It seems to have been bought by Wilhelm Freund of Wilcote House in the 1930s, and has remained part of the Wilcote estate. (fn. 62)
John of the hall, who had a freehold of perhaps 1 hide in 1279, (fn. 63) can probably be identified with the 'John de la sale of North Leigh', also known as John of Leigh, active in local affairs in the late 13th century and early 14th. (fn. 64) The estate seems to have passed, like his estate in Eynsham, to William of Leigh (fl. 1349) and to Sir Thomas Paynel (d. by 1410). (fn. 65) Sir Thomas held land in North Leigh in 1392 and 1398, and in the mid 15th century the estate was said to have been 'once Paynel's, formerly Leigh's'. (fn. 66) After Sir Thomas's death the rents and the reversion of the estate, said to comprise a house and I hide, were bought from his widow Margaret and daughter Agnes by Sir William Wilcotes, a former colleague as knight of the shire and royal justice. (fn. 67) Sir William's widow Elizabeth married Sir John Blacket (d. 1430) of Icomb (Glos.), (fn. 68) but retained it at her death in 1445. Elizabeth's heirs were the descendants of her first marriage, viz. her surviving daughter Isabel, wife of John Barton, and her grandchildren William Wykeham, Elizabeth and Philippa Bishopsden, Richard Beaufeu, and Thomas Conyers. (fn. 69) Much Wilcotes property, including that in North Leigh, was apparently acquired in 1454 and 1456 by William Brome (or Browne) of Holton. (fn. 70) He presumably sold it to John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, for the earl was in possession of the North Leigh estate at his death in 1460. (fn. 71) The estate was referred to as a manor, (fn. 72) but there is no evidence of separate manorial courts and the earl's successors were later regarded simply as free tenants of the lords of North Leigh. (fn. 73) The estate descended with the earldom of Shrewsbury (fn. 74) and in 1559 was held by Francis Talbot (d. 1560), but by 1566 it had been sold to William King, the earl's tenant. (fn. 75) In 1581 the estate, said to comprise 5 yardlands, was owned by William's son Edmund. (fn. 76) Edmund sold ½yardland in 1603, and by 1614 the rest had passed to Robert Thorpe, lessee of Holly Court farm. (fn. 77) Thorpe was still in possession in 1638 but had left the parish by 1642 when a 4 1/2-yardland estate was in the possession of Sir William St. Ravy, who had earlier succeeded Thorpe at Holly Court farm. (fn. 78) Sir William's goods were sequestered in 1648, (fn. 79) and by 1655 the estate, known as King's or North Leigh farm, was owned by James Perrott. (fn. 80) After 1676 it was absorbed into the manorial estate. The farm was bought in 1886 by the executors of the will of Charles Sartoris, and has remained part of the Wilcote estate. (fn. 81)
John of the hall and his successors seem to have had as their chief house the former manor house west of the church. Called 'King's house' in 1581, it became the manor house once more in the later 17th century. (fn. 82)
The freehold estate centred on WILCOTE HOUSE, despite its name and its proximity to Wilcote parish, seems always to have lain in North Leigh. The earliest known owners were Robert and Isabel de Trillowe: Robert dated a charter at Wilcote in 1320, and in that year he and Isabel were said to have a house and 2 hides in Wilcote of the abbot of Netley, evidently of Isabel's inheritance. (fn. 83) Robert seems to have died in 1328 or 1329 (fn. 84) and was presumably succeeded by his eldest son Robert (d. by 1346), (fn. 85) whose heir was his brother Sir John (d. 1371 or 1372), keeper of Oxford castle and knight of the shire. (fn. 86) Sir John was succeeded by his son, also Sir John (d. 1374), (fn. 87) whose heir was his daughter Elizabeth, who married Sir William Wilcotes. (fn. 88) William and Elizabeth also held land in Finstock of Eynsham abbey (fn. 89) and in the parish of Wilcote of Wilcote manor, (fn. 90) and Elizabeth later acquired Wilcote manor itself, (fn. 91) so that their estates are difficult to disentangle. Despite the assertion in 1320 that the estate held of Netley abbey comprised 2 hides, later references were to 1 hide only, lying in North Leigh parish and in Tapwell, a small hamlet, since deserted, in Finstock. (fn. 92) The freehold estate known as Wilcote, therefore, owing suit of court to Netley's manor of North Leigh, probably straddled the parish boundary between North Leigh and Finstock but did not include any part of Wilcote parish. After Elizabeth's death it passed for more than a century with the family's other North Leigh estate. (fn. 93) It was held by John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, at his death in 1474 (fn. 94) but by 1512 apparently belonged to Eynsham abbey. (fn. 95) In 1539 the Crown granted the abbey's possessions, including land in Finstock, North Leigh, and Wilcote, to Sir George Darcy. (fn. 96) He sold them in 1543 to Sir Edward North, (fn. 97) who surrendered them to the Crown in 1545 in settlement of his debts as treasurer of the Court of Augmentations. (fn. 98) The descent of the Wilcote estate thereafter was, like that of Eynsham abbey's Charlbury estate, confused. (fn. 99) In 1547 'lands in Wilcote' were granted by the Crown to the bishop of Oxford; (fn. 1) neither North Leigh nor Finstock were mentioned, and it is not clear how much of the estate the bishop received. In 1559-60 Edward Stanley, earl of Derby, owed suit of court to the lord of North Leigh 'for his lands there', presumably meaning the Wilcote estate formerly belonging to Eynsham abbey; the earl had been granted Eynsham in 1545. (fn. 2) In 1581, however, the bishop was clearly stated to be in possession. (fn. 3) In 1590 the Wilcote estate was held by Robert Chamberlain and Philip Scudamore, (fn. 4) and therefore, like Charlbury, had presumably been sold by the bishop in 1589 to Queen Elizabeth, who granted it to Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, from whom Chamberlain and Scudamore bought it. (fn. 5) The estate, known from the late 16th century as Wilcote farm, or, after the tenant family occupying it, as Barford's farm, (fn. 6) was bought in 1592 by William Lenthall (d. 1596), whose son John sold it in 1610 to John Martin. (fn. 7) John's son Thomas (d. 1660) seems to have been succeeded at Wilcote not by his son Thomas, who lived at Finstock, but by his grandson, also Thomas (d. 1699). (fn. 8) The last-named's son, another Thomas, died childless in 1753 and was succeeded by his sister Elizabeth (d. 1763), wife of Robert Wisdom. (fn. 9) On the death without issue in 1777 of Elizabeth's son Simon (fn. 10) the estate passed to Thomas Martin (d. 1779), Elizabeth's first cousin. Thomas was succeeded by his brother Edward (d. 1802). (fn. 11)
A statement of 1581 that the estate comprised 1 yardland (fn. 12) presumably referred only to openfield land within North Leigh. In 1592 it was said to include 2 yardlands in Wilcote, North Leigh, and Finstock. (fn. 13) At the inclosure of North Leigh in 1759 Elizabeth Wisdom received 33 a. for her open-field land; old inclosures of Wilcote in North Leigh probably comprised c. 40 a. The estate's Finstock land in 1865 comprised 157 a. (fn. 14)
By 1820 the estate belonged to Sarah, widow of John Castle. (fn. 15) Still called Barford's farm in 1833, (fn. 16) it was referred to as Castle farm in the mid 19th century, when the house was known as Castle House or as the 'great house near Wilcote'. Sarah Castle sold the estate c. 1850 to a Mr. Dudley of Oxford, possibly John Dudley, solicitor and clerk to the county court. (fn. 17) In 1866 the estate was bought by Charles Sartoris (d. 1884). He was succeeded by his nephew Francis but had devised the house for life to his widow Mary, who later married George Dawkins. (fn. 18). In 1937 the estate was bought by Wilhelm Freund (d. 1962), who greatly enlarged it. (fn. 19) In 1970 it was bought by the Hon. C. E. Cecil. (fn. 20)
Wilcote House incorporates in its kitchen and service area part of a small early 17th-century farmhouse, against whose east side is a late 17thcentury staircase. A new, larger, block was added c. 1700 to the south end of the house. Perhaps at that time a large walled garden was laid out west of the house, an irregular pentagon divided into bedding areas by wide paths. (fn. 21) Between 1867 and 1870 the house was greatly enlarged for Sartoris by George Devey, and the walled garden was partly overlaid by extensive outbuildings. (fn. 22) Sartoris was presumably responsible for the small park south of the road from Ashford bridge: his tree planting was remembered into the 20th century. (fn. 23) The pleasure garden south and east of the house may have been his work or that of his widow and her second husband, who further altered the house, claiming in 1913 that 'there is no place in the three kingdoms on which so much money and scrupulous care has been spent'. (fn. 24)
A branch of the Perrott family had lived at North Leigh for almost a century before the acquisition of the manor in 1676 by James Perrott. Simon Perrott (d. 1584), an Oxford lawyer related by marriage to Sir Thomas Pope, began to acquire copyhold land in North Leigh when, in 1559, he was appointed steward by Sir Thomas's widow Elizabeth. (fn. 25) By 1581 Simon had a house at New Well End, a cottage at East End, 2 ½yardlands, said to comprise 77 a. of arable land, a small meadow, and 6 closes. He was succeeded by his son Robert (d. 1605), whose son Edward (d. 1685) added further to the family holdings, acquiring 2 yardlands formerly held by the Curtis family. (fn. 26) In 1650, when Edward enfranchised his lands, the estate comprised c. 5 ½yardlands. (fn. 27) It passed to Edward's son Robert (d. 1701), whose son Edward was succeeded in 1729 by his brother Charles (d. 1739). Charles's grandson and heir Edward Perrott was succeeded in 1759 by his uncle William, the only male heir remaining. William died in 1765, and in the following year his sisters Catherine, Susanna, and Jane and his nieces Anne Dalby and Elizabeth Silvester, sold the estate, recorded as c. 900 a., perhaps three times the true figure, to George Spencer, duke of Marlborough. (fn. 28) Known then as Great House or Hill farm, (fn. 29) later as PERROTTSHILL FARM, the estate included Lower Riding farm, and formed part of the Blenheim estate until 1920, when it was sold to the tenant, Edgar Woodward, in whose family it remained in 1984. (fn. 30a)
The house stands on a high, isolated site off the Witney-Woodstock road. Its plan suggests an origin not later than the 16th century, but surviving structural features are all of the 17th century or later. The long central range, containing two rooms with early 17th-century panelling, may incorporate part of the original parlour, but that was rebuilt early in the 18th century. At the north end the roof of an early cross wing (fn. 31a) was removed when the wing was remodelled in the 19th century.
Across the courtyard a two-storeyed 18th-century building used for stables may originally have been in part domestic. In 1844 just northeast of the farmhouse stood a substantial twostoreyed house, possibly medieval. It may have been the Curtises' house, which was said to adjoin that of the Perrotts; (fn. 32a) it had apparently been demolished by 1876. (fn. 33a)
The freehold later called PUDDLE END FARM was perhaps one of a number created in the mid 17th century, when Thomas Pope, earl of Downe, sold much copyhold land. The core of the estate may have been 2 yardlands occupied in the later 16th century by the Sharp family and in the mid 17th by the Gardiner family, (fn. 34a) which seems to have bought the free hold, for in 1664 William Gardiner sold it to Thomas Werge (d. 1707). (fn. 35a) By 1754 it had come to Thomas Brown (d. 1764) of Standlake, whose children Thomas, Anne, and Mary sold it to Thomas Green of Minster Lovell. After inclosure in 1759 the estate comprised the farmhouse, 15 a. of old inclosure, and c. 40 a. of new inclosure. On Green's death in 1802 the estate was divided between his daughters Jane and Elizabeth. On Jane's death c. 1810 her moiety was shared by Elizabeth and a third sister Mary. By 1821 Mary had been succeeded by her son John Burford, to whom Elizabeth in 1823 devised her share. Burford in 1845 sold the estate to his creditor Stephen Jones, a Witney grocer. Jones sold it in 1860 to Richard Hodges (d. 1885) of Chalford, whose heirs Richard Hodges and John Berry sold it to Francis Sartoris. It was bought in 1888 by James Mason of Eynsham Hall, (fn. 36a) and sold c. 1945 to S. E. Hickman, whose son John owned it in 1986. (fn. 37a)
The farmhouse may have been built in the 17th century on a three-room plan. The southern end appears to have been reconstructed early in the 19th century.
Roger d'Ivri granted two thirds of the demesne tithes of all his manors, including North Leigh, to the collegiate church of St. George which he co-founded in Oxford castle. That church, with the tithes, passed in the 12th century to Oseney abbey. (fn. 38a) The remaining tithes of North Leigh and the glebe land were subject to a composition in 1279 following the appropriation of North Leigh church to Hailes abbey (Glos.) and the ordination of a vicarage. (fn. 39a) Hailes abbey, as rector, retained an unspecified amount of land, corn tithes, and half the tithes of hay. (fn. 40a) From 1314 the abbey held the lease of Oseney abbey's tithes for 33s. 4d. a year. (fn. 41a) The rectory estate, said in 1460 to be worth £10 13s. 4d. a year, (fn. 42a) and at the Dissolution £8, (fn. 43a) was granted in 1544 to three prominent London citizens, Sir John and Ralph Allen and Sir John Champneys. (fn. 44a) A grant of the estate to Sir Thomas Pope in 1545 was in error and he relinquished possession in 1546. (fn. 45a) In 1555 the estate was apparently conveyed by Champneys to the City of London in trust for the recently established Bridewell hospital. The North Leigh estate is not mentioned in the hospital's foundation charter, nor in its early records or in those of the City, but confirmations of the conveyance were made by the Crown in 1563 and 1600. (fn. 46a) The hospital leased the rectory, which in the later 16th century was held by the Box family, prominent in London and Witney. Lessees in the 17th century included Sir William Stonehouse of Radley (formerly Berks.), father-in-law of Edward Perrott (d. 1685), to whom he sublet the estate. (fn. 47a) From the late 17th century to the mid 18th the estate was leased to the Perrotts, lords of the manor. (fn. 48a) At inclosure in 1759 the estate comprised a house, 23 ½ a. of glebe, corn tithes, and half the hay tithes, (fn. 49a) for all of which Bridewell hospital received 323 a., (fn. 50a) later divided between Bridewell farm in the north and Heath farm in the south. Bridewell farm was sold in 1920 to George Lamb, in whose family it remained until c. 1940, when it was bought by Wilhelm Freund and became part of the Wilcote estate. Heath farm was also sold in 1920, to the tenant Ernest Harwood, whose family retained it in 1986. (fn. 51a)
The parsonage house south of the vicarage occupies a site perhaps built on following the composition of 1279, although no reference has been found before 1540. (fn. 52a) The small house recorded in 1768 may have been rebuilt in the later 18th century as the plain, symmetrical, two-storeyed building that forms the core of the modern house. It was divided into two in 1844 and re-united after 1916, when it was sold to Miss M. Gask. (fn. 53a) The house, called Church Mead, (fn. 54a) has been much extended, and retains on a gable end a cartouche of the Perrott arms.
Bridewell Farm, built in 1761, (fn. 55a) is a tall, three-storeyed house of some architectural pretension, flanked by single-storeyed wings with sloping roofs, and embellished with eaves brackets, voussoirs, projecting quoins, and lunette windows. It has always been a farmhouse except briefly in the mid 20th century.
The northern portion of Cogges wood, between North Leigh and Cogges, was in the Middle Ages a detached part of Kidlington. Henry d'Oilly gave it c. 1200 to John de Grey (d. 1214), bishop of Norwich, who devised it to Oseney abbey. (fn. 56a) Called thereafter Oseney, or Osney, wood or OSNEY HILL, it was presumably sold by the Crown on the abbey's dissolution, but no reference has been found before 1609 when the estate, recorded as 59 ½ a., was owned by Leonard Box. (fn. 57a) In 1759 the owner was William Lawrence, (fn. 58a) and from the earlier 19th century James Paley (d. 1863), vicar of Lacock (Wilts.), (fn. 59a) who seems to have built Osney Hill Farm; a family lived there by 1823, and occupants were regularly included in census returns for North Leigh. (fn. 60a) By 1877 Osney Hill formed part of the Eynsham Park estate. (fn. 61a)