Old Woodstock: Economic history

Pages 427-429

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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In this section

Economic history

Old Woodstock's fields were recorded from 1338, and presumably were by then cultivated separately from Wootton's; (fn. 42) yardlands were later described as entirely in Old Woodstock. (fn. 43) In 1615 there were three principal fields: Park field in the north, Middle field, and Lower (or Moor) field in the south. (fn. 44) They seem to have been divided conventionally into furlongs within which yardlanders' and half-yardlanders' strips lay intermingled. The yardland was said in the 17th century to be c. 25 a. excluding pasture and meadow. (fn. 45) Old Woodstock men were among those who held assarts in Wootton Sarts: the Old Woodstock land, comprising c. 80 a. known as Old Woodstock Sarts, apparently lay south of Wootton wood. (fn. 46) Water meadows flanking the Glyme provided abundant grassland, divided into doles of an acre or so in the 15th century but by the 17th consolidated into larger blocks. (fn. 47) Despite earlier exchanges presumably aimed at consolidation much arable land remained in scattered strips as late as 1615 when it proved impossible to distinguish between land belonging to Jerome Nash and to Balliol College. The college later grumbled that the subsequent settlement deprived Balliol of pasture and meadow and gave it the 'worst land in all the fields', lying uninclosed and remote from its farmhouse. (fn. 48) Even in the later 17th century, when the college owned approximately two thirds of the township, there was still some intermingling of land. (fn. 49) At the inclosure of Wootton in 1770 the college received 183 a. for its open-field land in Old Woodstock and for Old Woodstock Sarts. The land lay as before mainly in the northern and eastern parts of Old Woodstock township, but included 34 a. north of the west end of Stratford Lane. William Bishop, occupying the Acton family's 3 ½ yardland estate, received 70 a. east of the main road and 5 a. in the north-east corner of the township. (fn. 50) A farm of 58 a. in Wootton and Old Woodstock accumulated in the later 18th century by the Prior family was bought in 1839 by the duke of Marlborough (fn. 51) and merged with the former Acton estate. The duke's farm and the Balliol farm remained the two principal farms thereafter.

The arable land on Manor farm, the Balliol estate, was said in 1913 to be mostly shallow stonebrash, good for sheep and barley, (fn. 52) and sheep-and-barley husbandry had long been the mainstay of farming: Barley croft was mentioned in 1556, (fn. 53) and Sheep croft in 1615. (fn. 54) Jerome Nash at his death in 1623 owned barley worth £71 and 191 sheep and lambs worth £41, while of less value were his wheat (£12), peas and vetches (£12), oats (£4), maslin (£4), 11 head of cattle (£17), 7 horses (£17), and 7 pigs (£3). He seems also to have grown hops. (fn. 55) Between 1813 and 1839 the college farm was split, the arable let to Thomas Prior and the pasture to Robert Pratt, a Woodstock butcher. (fn. 56) Balliol required Prior to keep also a 'good flock of sheep', and it was a condition of Pratt's lease of the reunited farm in 1839 that he build a shepherd's cottage at Field Barn. (fn. 57) There was already a shepherd's cottage, possibly shortlived, by Stratford bridge. (fn. 58) Pratt presumably utilized the rich grazing land bordering the Glyme to fatten cattle. The northern two thirds of the township have remained predominantly arable land. In 1863 the Blenheim farm had c. 77 a. of arable, all north of Barn Piece Farm, (fn. 59) and in 1913 the Balliol farm had 139 a. of arable in the same area and 90 a. of pasture, 35 a. of it recently laid down. (fn. 60)

Claims made in the 17th century that Old Woodstock was an unlucky place, 'it being never known that any man thrived upon it', perhaps stemmed from the remoteness of much arable land from the farmhouses and the liability of the lower lying land to flood. The complaint was dismissed at the time as 'the usual apology for bad husbandry', (fn. 61) but several farmers are known to have failed there. (fn. 62) William Haynes, however, was reckoned in the earlier 20th century to have improved Balliol's farm, partly by concentrating on dairying. In 1917-18 the herd kept by his widow Annie was the sole source of milk for Woodstock, and she successfully resisted pressure from the college to plough the pastures. (fn. 63) Later, as elsewhere, there was increased emphasis on arable production, and in the 1980s the ancient pastures east of Manor Farm were ploughed. By then that farm was the only working farm in the township. (fn. 64)

The trades and crafts practised in Old Woodstock largely reflected the demand for goods and services from the neighbouring borough. Brewing presumably on a commercial scale was in the 1540s carried on at an Old Woodstock brewhouse by Christopher Smith, a prominent New Woodstock freeman. The premises were leased in 1549 by Leonard Chamberlain (fn. 65) and may later have been occupied by Roland Hamond, described in 1571 as an Old Woodstock brewer and freeman of the borough. (fn. 66) The Brothertons, wealthy dyers in the later 17th century, had land in north Oxfordshire and mills at Cassington. William Brotherton (d. 1688) left £400 to a daughter, and his son William (d. 1703) had goods worth £250. (fn. 67) Old Woodstock's position on an important road and close to a major coaching centre provided employment. The Margetts family of wheelwrights was in business from the mid 18th century to the mid 19th, (fn. 68) and in 1851 there were five wheelwrights, a road surveyor, a toll collector, and two road menders. By 1871 there was only one wheelwright, unemployed, (fn. 69) but John and William Margetts revived the family business briefly in the earlier 20th century. (fn. 70) Tailoring employed 4 people in 1851, dressmaking 8, and shoemaking 5, and there was a scattering of less common occupations such as boat building, and basket, lace, and umbrella making.

The mainstay of employment in the 19th century was the gloving industry, in which Old Woodstock was closely linked with Woodstock as a manufacturing centre, unlike more distant villages which were restricted to outwork. For that reason gloving was as important to male employment as to female: in 1851, for example, 46 men worked in the industry, mostly as leather dressers, grounders, and cutters, compared to 53 women, many of whom were outworkers. (fn. 71) The principal workshops in Old Woodstock were at Manor Farm and at Glove House. James Lamb of Southwark leased Manor Farm in 1813, and he was succeeded by leading manufacturers such as Richard Taylor and the Godden family who continued there until the 1850s or later. (fn. 72) James Hedges, possibly at Glove House by 1820, was one of those convicted and demonstrated against in 1830 for trucking. (fn. 73) He emigrated in 1833 (fn. 74) and seems to have been succeeded by William Green, who continued in business at Glove House until his death in 1881. (fn. 75) The Worcester firm of Frank Bryan took over at Glove House by 1891 and remained until the 1960s, when glove manufacture in Old Woodstock ceased. (fn. 76) William Ryman seems for a time in the 1850s to have carried on large-scale manufacture at the Wheatsheaf, possibly from workshops, later demolished, north-east of the inn. (fn. 77) Charles Buckingham similarly operated from the 1850s at the Rose and Crown; his son Charles continued the business in the 1880s, though possibly from premises across the road. (fn. 78)

Although gloving had supplanted agriculture as the major source of employment, there were still c. 20 agricultural labourers in Old Woodstock for much of the 19th century, many of them probably working elsewhere, and in 1851 there were three shepherds. (fn. 79) A declining population continued to look primarily to agriculture and gloving for employment in the early 20th century, but the mechanization of farming and the closure of the Glove House factory virtually eliminated employment within the township. Almost all those who moved into Old Woodstock from the 1960s worked elsewhere. A few shops and businesses, including the firms of William Knibbs, carriers, at no. 90 Manor Road and Bowerman, builders, at no. 9 Manor Road, survived in the 1970s, (fn. 80) but in 1989 there was only one shop, selling clothes, at no. 77 Manor Road.

Mills and Fishery

The king's mill at Old Woodstock stood where the Chipping Norton road crosses the river Glyme at the south end of the hamlet. It was probably one of the two mills recorded in 1086 on the royal manor of Wootton. (fn. 81) Later it was closely associated with the borough and the royal park, and in the 13th century and early 14th it was accounted for directly by the bailiff of Woodstock manor. (fn. 82) Presumably then, as later, the burgesses of Woodstock were expected to grind there, since no separate borough mill was established. In 1246 the bailiff was ordered to build two mills on the site of the old mill, (fn. 83) and in 1279 the king's two mills were described as outside the park close. (fn. 84) By 1293, however, there were two distinct mill sites, that of the old mill, said to be in the vill but evidently in Old Woodstock, and that of the new mill in the park. (fn. 85) In 1334 the park mill was removed on the king's orders to a 'suitable place outside the park', (fn. 86) which later evidence suggests was next to the Old Woodstock mill. The site of the short-lived park mill was identified in 1976 on the lake shore south of Fishery Cottage. (fn. 87)

The farmer of Woodstock mills in 1478-9 was Henry Austen, a prominent townsman who probably sublet. (fn. 88) Repairs were carried out regularly during the Middle Ages. (fn. 89) In the early 16th century the mill house was extended by the addition of four bays, (fn. 90) and in 1551 the two mills were said to be under a single roof, although one, presumably the earlier, was on demesne land, the other on customary land; there was 1 a. of meadow called Mill ham. (fn. 91) By then 13s. 4d. of the rent of £6 13s. 4d. was payable to the rector of Wootton for tithes. (fn. 92)

The Chamberlain family, farmers of Woodstock manor, held the mills in the earlier 16th century, but from 1566 they were leased directly by the Crown for 21 years to Thomas Ashe. (fn. 93) By 1571 the lease had been assigned to Sir Thomas Peniston, who tried, probably in vain, to enforce the monopoly of the mills upon the burgesses. The Chamberlains, by force and bribery, had induced most townsmen to use Old Woodstock mills, although other local mills were better served with water. (fn. 94)

Peniston's interests in the mills, as in the park, seem to have passed to Sir Henry Lee. (fn. 95) In 1593-5 the mills were rebuilt at the Crown's cost, being 'so decayed they could not go'. (fn. 96) The Crown continued to let the mills at the same nominal rent in the early 17th century, but Henry Cornish, lessee from 1616, (fn. 97) seems to have acquired the freehold, which he sold in 1639 to Dr. Thomas Laurence, master of Balliol College. Laurence sublet to William Greene in that year, and sold the mills to him in 1648. In 1696 Greene's son Richard permitted the town's water pump-house to be built on Mill ham, and Richard's son William sold the whole property except a cottage north of the mill to James Beckets in 1717. Beckets sold to the duke of Marlborough in 1720, and became the first lessee. (fn. 98) From 1808 the duke also owned the adjacent pumping station, and probably moved Aldersea's engine, originally under the Grand bridge, to the mill site soon afterwards. (fn. 99)

In 1844 the Johnson family, millers for much of the 18th and 19th centuries, unsuccessfully claimed the freehold: the property then comprised a house and corn mill in Old Woodstock, and, across the mill stream, a house, mill, and water-engine in the park. (fn. 1) The mill was still described as a corn mill in the 1870s (fn. 2) but in 1888 was converted into cottages; a new wheel was inserted c. 1890, presumably for the water pumps which continued in use until the 1930s. (fn. 3) The wheel was removed c. 1965, but pumps survive and may include parts from Aldersea's original engine. (fn. 4)

Liberty of fishing the Glyme from the mill as far upstream as Stratford bridge was recorded from the mid 16th century, when Thomas Ashe held it from the Crown for 5s. a year. (fn. 5) Thereafter the fishery was leased sometimes with the mill, sometimes separately. (fn. 6) After the duke of Marlborough bought the mill and fishery in 1720 he and his successors seem to have kept the fishery in hand. (fn. 7)


  • 42. Balliol Coll. Mun., F.8.4-5, 9.
  • 43. Ibid. F.8.56.
  • 44. Ibid. F.8.82, 93.
  • 45. e.g. ibid. F.8.4-5; ibid. lease bk. 1663-1762, entry at back; Magd. Coll. Mun., Woodstock 1.
  • 46. Balliol Coll. Mun., F.8.81; F.9.8; P.R.O., LR 2/202, f. 35.
  • 47. Balliol Coll. Mun., F.8.60-1, 63, 82, 91; ibid. map 7.
  • 48. Ibid. F.8.57; ibid. lease bk. 1588-1665, ff. 37-9; lease logbk. 1588-1850, p. 137; H. Savage, Balliofergus, 82-3.
  • 49. Balliol Coll. Mun., A.22.39; F.8.91; ibid. map 7.
  • 50. O.R.O., incl. award; Blenheim Mun., box 144, copy of ct. roll, 31 July 1780; above, Estates.
  • 51. Blenheim Mun., box 146; Oxf. fnl. 9 Feb. 1839.
  • 52. Balliol Coll. Mun., Misc. Bursary Papers 130B, letter of 29 Aug.
  • 53. Magd. Coll. Mun., lease bk. E, f. 90.
  • 54. Balliol Coll. Mun., F.8.82.
  • 55. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 47/2/40.
  • 56. Balliol Coll. Mun., F.1.24-7; ibid. lease logbk. 1588-1850, p. 141; ibid. lease bk. 1767-1836, pp. 134-41, 354-66.
  • 57. Ibid. lease bk. 1767-1836, pp. 354-9; ibid. 1836-80, pp. 98-109.
  • 58. Oxf. fnl. 9 Feb. 1839.
  • 59. Blenheim. Mun., E/P/58; ibid. Old Woodstock map (1863).
  • 60. Balliol Coll. Mun., Misc. Bursary Papers 130B, letter of 29 Aug.
  • 61. Savage, Balliofergus, 84.
  • 62. e.g. in 1649 and 1813: Balliol Coll. Mun., lease logbk. 1588-1850, pp. 138, 141.
  • 63. Ibid. Misc. Bursary Papers 130B, letters of 29 Aug. 1913, 12 July 1917, 20 Apr. 1918.
  • 64. Local inf.
  • 65. P.R.O., E 315/67, ff. 58v.-59; O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 181, f. 57 and v.; Cal. Pat. 1548-9, pp. 191-2.
  • 66. P.R.O., E 178/1824.
  • 67. Ibid. PROB 11/392, f. 103; O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 116/1/27. For the family's Old Woodstock land, above, Estates.
  • 68. e.g. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 46/2/57; P.O. Dir. Oxon. (1864).
  • 69. P.R.O., HO 107/1730; ibid. RG 10/1449.
  • 70. Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1911, 1920).
  • 71. P.R.O., HO 107/1730. For the gloving ind., above, Woodstock, Econ.
  • 72. Balliol Coll. Mun., lease bk. 1767-1836, pp. 348-53, 462-6; ibid. 1836-80, p. 176; ibid. lease logbk. 1588-1850, p. 147.
  • 73. Oxf. fnl. 11 Dec. 1830, 8 Jan. 1831; Westgate Libr., Woodstock par. reg. transcripts, bap. Thos. son of Jas. Hedges.
  • 74. Oxf. fnl. 20 Apr. 1833.
  • 75. P.R.O., HO 107/890; HO 107/1730; ibid. RG 10/1449; RG 11/1512; Blenheim Mun., Old Woodstock map (1863); Westgate Libr., Woodstock par. reg. transcripts.
  • 76. N. L. Leyland and J. E. Troughton, Glovemaking in W. Oxon. (Co. Mus. publ. 4), 18.
  • 77. P.R.O., HO 107/1730; Lascelles' Dir. Oxon. (1853); P.O. Dir. Oxon. (1854).
  • 78. P.R.O., HO 107/890; HO 107/1730; ibid. RG 10/1449; RG 11/1512; P.O. Dir. Oxon. (1854 and later edns.).
  • 79. P.R.O., HO 107/1730; ibid. RG 10/1449; RG 11/1512.
  • 80. Kelly's Dir. Oxf. (1973).
  • 81. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 400.
  • 82. P.R.O., SC 6/962/4, 18.
  • 83. Cal. Lib. 1245-51, 79.
  • 84. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 839.
  • 85. P.R.O., SC 6/962/13, 16, 22. The boundary between Old Woodstock and the borough followed the mill stream: O.S. Map ½,500, Oxon. XXVI. 8 (1876 edn.). The new mill probably stood south of the stream in the part of the park which remained in the borough until 1897: below, Blenheim, Intro.
  • 86. Cal. Close, 1333-7, 243; P.R.O., E 101/497/30.
  • 87. Blenheim, ed. J. Bond and K. Tiller, 34-7.
  • 88. P.R.O., SC 6/963/11, 12.
  • 89. e.g. Issues of Exch. 44 Edw. III, ed. F. Devon, 478.
  • 90. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/2886.
  • 91. B.L. Lansd. MS. 758, ff. 2-14v.
  • 92. Cal. Pat. 1563-6, 474.
  • 93. P.R.O., SC 6/Eliz. I/1825; Cal. Pat. 1563-6, 474.
  • 94. P.R.O., E 178/1824.
  • 95. O.R.O., Dil. V/a/2.
  • 96. P.R.O., E 101/671/11.
  • 97. Blenheim Mun., box 138; P.R.O., C 104/109, loose note re mills and fishery.
  • 98. Blenheim Mun., boxes 136, 138.
  • 99. Above, Woodstock, Local Govt., Public Health and Services; below, Blenheim, Pk. from 1705.
  • 1. Blenheim Mun., box 138.
  • 2. O.S. Map ½,500, Oxon. XXVI. 8 (1876 edn.); Borough Mun. 90, pp. 340-1.
  • 3. Blenheim Mun., misc. box 2, no. 141; misc. box 7, no. 103; Oxoniensia, v. 171.
  • 4. County Mus., P.R.N. 300: plans.
  • 5. Cal. Pat. 1563-6, 474.
  • 6. P.R.O., C 104/109, note re mills and fishery; Blenheim Mun., box 138.
  • 7. Blenheim Mun., box 138.