Wilcote: Economic history

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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'Wilcote: Economic history', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, (London, 1990) pp. 300-302. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol12/pp300-302 [accessed 1 March 2024]

Economic history

A reference of 1270 to the fields of Wilcote (fn. 44) suggests that the parish was an independent agrarian unit, and the division of a small freeholding in the early 17th century between two fields may reflect an earlier, conventional, system of rotation. One field lay in the north half of the parish, the other in the south. The former bore the collective name Wilcote fields, and presumably comprised several fields once grouped together for rotation purposes; 2 a. of the freehold lay in one piece there but seem to have been open field land. In the southern field, Parson's field, the freehold was divided into nine parcels scattered among the furlongs. (fn. 45) An instruction of 1593 that land was to be ploughed and sown 'according to the use of the fields' (fn. 46) implies that there was still common management, as does a mention of rights of common in 1601. (fn. 47) Some inclosure had taken place by the mid 16th century, and the process was still under way in the early 17th, (fn. 48) although it is likely to have been completed shortly after: a freehold estate of 14 a. lay in 1622 entirely in a compact block in the north end of the parish, in the fields later known as Mitchell's and Mitchell's close. (fn. 49) Wilcote's fields were described in 1759 as 'old inclosures'. (fn. 50)

Woodland in 1086 measured 4 by 1 furlong, (fn. 51) and probably lay then, as later, mainly in the centre and north. (fn. 52) A new assart recorded in 1270 seems to have adjoined the boundary with Ramsden, and, since it lay 'in the fields of Wilcote', it may indicate the period in which Wilcote's arable fields reached their greatest extent. (fn. 53) Assarts recorded at about that time were small, and the bulk of clearance may already have taken place. (fn. 54) Woodland provided Wilcote people, sometimes illegally, with fuel, food, and pasture, (fn. 55) both for subsistence and for sale, as, presumably, in the case of the Wilcote man who was in 1246 arrested near Oxford with an oak. (fn. 56) An unspecified, but possibly extensive, amount of timber was felled in the 1640s, first to relieve the financial crisis of Thomas Pope, earl of Downe, and then by order of the Country Committee, which was accused of laying waste the timber on the Pope estates in the area. (fn. 57) A small freehold, possibly that mentioned above with arable in Parson's field, was in 1685 stripped of as many as 300 oaks and elms. (fn. 58) Wilcote's woodland was not, however, permanently cleared. In the later 18th century it comprised at least 50 a., managed as coppices, the underwood cut on a short average rotation of c. 10 years. (fn. 59) In 1850 there were c. 70 a. of woodland in the parish, and two field names, Great Old Grove Leys (19 a.) and Little Old Grove Leys (12 a.), suggested former woodland. (fn. 60) By 1876 another wood, Little Ash Grove (c. 7 a.), east of Holly Grove, had been cleared for pasture. (fn. 61) During the First World War much of Holly Grove was cut down to provide fuel (fn. 62) but was then replanted; Coneygar Copse, which was not affected, retains much older trees. In 1987 there were c. 60 a. of woodland in the parish, and coppicing had been reintroduced with government assistance through the Manpower Services Commission and privately on the manor farm. (fn. 63).

There were said in 1086 to be 12 a. of demesne meadow in Wilcote. (fn. 64) It may have included rights in a meadow called in 1543 Butler mead, later Wilcote or Poure's (Power's) mead, said to lie in Cogges, Ducklington, and Wilcote, and presumably shared by those places, although probably lying physically in Cogges. (fn. 65) Some meadow may have lined the stream that traverses the southern tip of Wilcote, but in the 19th century, and possibly in the 17th, the land there was arable; the 39 a. of meadow recorded in 1850 lay in Great and Little Old Grove Leys. (fn. 66)

Wilcote was assessed at I hide in 1086 and in 1220, (fn. 67) but from the 1230s there were 2, (fn. 68) perhaps reflecting an expansion of land under cultivation. In 1086 there was said to be land for 1 ½ ploughs, although only one was at work, on the demesne, presumably operated by the two bordars who were the only recorded tenants. There was evidently an increase in the number of tenants by the 13th century. (fn. 69) It seems likely that the return for Wilcote in the Hundred Rolls of 1279 is incomplete, recording only 1 a. of demesne, 2 yardlands of unfree tenant land, and a half-yardland freeholding; the division of the 2 yardlands among 4 tenants holding ½ yardland each suggests a shortage of land. The halfyardlanders paid rent of only 1s. each for all services; the free tenant, Hugh the clerk, paid 4s. (fn. 70) Tax assessments of the earlier 14th century, usually returned with those for Cogges, seem to account for seven or eight Wilcote taxpayers. The only separate Wilcote return, that for 1316, recorded seven, assessed at a total of £1 1s. 8d., of which 13s. 4d. was the assessment of the manorial lord, Robert Butler. In 1327 assessments apparently relating to Wilcote men were more evenly spread: five, including that of John Butler, ranged from 5s. to 3s., and three more were of 1s., 10d., and 6d. respectively. (fn. 71) It may be that manorial demesne, that was not recorded in 1279 and was in the lord's hands in 1316, was in 1327 held by tenants. In the 1380s, when the demesne was leased annually by New College to a single farmer, it seems to have comprised 1 hide: the stock handed over each year included a plough, 6 oxen, and seed comprising 8 qr. of wheat, 16 qr. of barley, 8 qr. of dredge, 6 qr. of oats, and 4 qr. of pulse. Other tenants remained few in number: 12 people were assessed for the poll tax of 1377, and only three heriots fell due between 1387 and 1391. In 1387-8 no tenant could be found for one small piece of land, although that may have been unusual. (fn. 72)

By the 16th century the tenants other than the farmer of the manor appear to have held little more than their cottages: in 1524 Thomas Ridley of North Leigh was assessed for subsidy on goods in Wilcote at 6s. 8d., whereas the remaining four taxpayers were assessed on wages at 4d., the lowest level permissible. (fn. 73) Tenancy of the manorial estate appears to have been lucrative and sought after. Anne Power sublet it for 3 years in 1601 at £90 a year, and in 1615 the remaining 8 ½ years of a 21-year lease were sold for £650. (fn. 74) The Power family had prospered at Wilcote during the 16th century: Stephen Power (d. 1545) left goods valued at only £42, but his son Richard's estate was worth £455, and grandson Thomas's £300. (fn. 75) An 18th-century successor, Thomas Sansom (d. 1729), made bequests totalling £350 to three of his children. (fn. 76) In contrast, George Spurr, occupier of a two-room cottage, left at his death in 1684 an estate valued at £24, of which £22 was in debts owing to him. (fn. 77) A carpenter, mentioned in 1577, (fn. 78) is the only tradesman to have been traced.

The manorial estate gradually became yet more dominant, absorbing the small amount of freehold land outstanding. The freehold known from the late 16th century as Joiner's, said in 1405 to comprise a house and 9 a. and in 1594 a house and c. 16 a., was probably absorbed in the late 17th century or early 18th. Another free hold, comprising a house and 14 a. known as Mitchell's, was bought in 1685 by Francis Cary and incorporated in the manorial estate in 1742, when it was bought by Richard Cary from Francis's descendants. (fn. 79) In effect the entire parish was run as a single large farm, sometimes kept in hand, more often leased to tenants, for whom Wilcote Grange served as farmhouse. Prominent among them was Thomas Castle, tenant for much of the later 18th century. (fn. 80) During the 19th century Wilcote was more commonly farmed by its owner, notably by Leonard Pickering until his death in 1880. In the later 19th century and earlier 20th the estate was farmed by Eliza Pickering's brothers-in-law, William and Charles Sutton. (fn. 81) From 1937 Grange farm was farmed by Eric Boston, and the manor farm by the Norman family. (fn. 82)

Wilcote's rather stony soil has usually been regarded as best suited to a combination of sheep and cereals, and mixed farming was the norm. Wheat and barley were the main crops, but with oats, peas, and, in 1608 hops also mentioned. Flocks of c. 50 sheep were recorded in the 16th century, and of c. 80 in the 17th. As usual in a woodland parish, pigs were raised. Less expected, given the shortage of rich grassland, was an apparent emphasis on dairying: William Winter (d. 1564), for example, owned at least 9 cattle and a bull, and Richard Charles (d. 1662) had 6 cattle and 40 cheeses. (fn. 83) Labour, particularly at harvest time, was presumably obtained in the main from neighbouring parshes: by 1693 there were only two cottages in Wilcote, and one of those was pulled down in 1701. (fn. 84)

In the mid 19th century half the parish was given over to arable, in fields grouped north of the Ramsden road, north of Lady well, and against the southern boundary. The remainder comprised c. 50 a. of pasture, c. 40 a. of meadow, and c. 70 a. of woodland. (fn. 85) In the later 19th century the proportion of arable changed little, although some land in the north was taken out of cultivation, while the whole of the southern part, including much former meadowland, was put under the plough. (fn. 86) In 1914 a quarter of the parish's arable was given over to wheat, a high proportion for the area; another quarter was almost equally divided between barley and oats. Potatoes, increasingly grown in the neighbourhood were an insignificant crop at Wilcote. Almost half the parish was permanent pasture, given over to cattle, sheep, and pigs, and there was a herd of Old English wild white cattle. (fn. 87) In the later 20th century rather more land was given over to arable, still concentrated in the northern and southern thirds of the parish. In the 1970s as many as 1,000 sheep were kept on the manor farm, but in the 1980s sheep rearing was abandoned there, while at the Grange it became more specialized with the introduction of flocks of Jacob's sheep. Dairy farming was abandoned c. 1980 in favour of beef cattle. (fn. 88)

Footnotes

  • 44. Eynsham Cart. i, p. 275.
  • 45. P.R.O., C 104/153, undated survey and sketch map. The surveyor, Elias Allen, also witnessed an indenture of 1615; ibid. The names Wilcote field and Parson's field survived in 1850: O.R.O., tithe award.
  • 46. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 190, f. 6v.
  • 47. P.R.O., C 104/153, agreement of Apr. 1602.
  • 48. Ibid. copy of survey of 1543 (dated Nov. 1615); agreement of May 1601.
  • 49. Ibid. indenture of 30 June, 1622; O.R.O., tithe award.
  • 50. O.R.O., North Leigh incl. award.
  • 51. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 405.
  • 52. B. Schumer, 'Woodland Landscape of Wychwood Region Before 1400' (Leic. Univ. M.Phil. thesis, 1980), 69-71; O.R.O., tithe award.
  • 53. Eynsham Cart. i, p. 275.
  • 54. P.R.O., E 32/137.
  • 55. e.g. ibid. P.R.O., E 32/135; E 32/251.
  • 56. Ibid. E 32/135.
  • 57. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1640-1, 494; Cal. Cttee. for Compounding, ii. 934.
  • 58. P.R.O., C 104/109/1, indenture of Jan. 1685.
  • 59. Oxf. Jnl. 16 Nov. 1782.
  • 60. O.R.O., tithe award.
  • 61. O.S. Area Bk.
  • 62. G. Murray, 'Study of Land Use in Wilcote' (TS. of 1973 in County Mus.), 5.
  • 63. Local inf.
  • 64. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 405.
  • 65. P.R.O., C 104/153, copy of survey of 1543; O.R.O., Jo. II/1.
  • 66. P.R.O., C 104/153, survey and sketch map; O.R.O., tithe award.
  • 67. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 405; Bk. of Fees, i. 318.
  • 68. e.g. Close R. 1234-7, 336, 347, 517; Cur. Reg. R. xvi, p. 152; Oxon. Fines, pp. 137, 152; Cal. Inq. p.m. ii, p. 166.
  • 69. Above, Intro.
  • 70. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 868: Wilcote is grouped with the de Grey moiety of Cogges.
  • 71. P.R.O., E 179/161/8-10.
  • 72. New Coll. Mun., 7330, 7333-4, 7336, 9153-6; P.R.O., E 179/202/59.
  • 73. P.R.O., E 179/161/175, m. 8; C 104/153, copy of survey of 1543.
  • 74. Ibid. C 104/153, indentures of 1601, 1615.
  • 75. O.R.O., MSS. Wills Oxon. 179, f. 118v.; 187, f. 345; 190, f. 6v.
  • 76. Ibid. 15½/25.
  • 77. Ibid. 62/2/1; P.R.O., E 179/255/4, no. 277.
  • 78. Cal. Witney Ct. Bks. (O.R.S. liv), 82.
  • 79. P.R.O., C 104/153, list of sales 1325-1539; ibid. indenture of 1594; ibid. indentures of 1684, 1685; ibid. C 2/Jas. I/ I & J 9/65; C 2/Jas. I/P 25/64; Bodl. MS. d.d. Fitt c 4, loose pps. re Mitchell's estate.
  • 80. O.R.O., land tax assess.
  • 81. P.O. Dir. (1877 and later edns.); E. Matthews, 'Wilcote Grange' (TS. of 1981: kindly lent by Sir Mark Norman).
  • 82. Inf. from Mrs. E. Boston and Sir Mark Norman.
  • 83. O.R.O., MSS. Wills Oxon. 179, f.118v.; 184, ff.136v.-137; 50/3/15;13/4/23.
  • 84. Ibid. Q.S.R. iv. 384, 386; Q.S. Epiph. 1702, nos. 15, 44.
  • 85. Ibid. tithe award.
  • 86. O.S. Area Bk.
  • 87. Orr, Oxon. Agric. 218, statistical plates.
  • 88. Local inf.