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.
YARNTON lies 4 miles (6.5 km.) north-west of Oxford, on the north bank of the river Thames. (fn. 41) The river forms the southern parish boundary, and a tributary stream known as Rowel brook in the north and as Kingsbridge brook in the south formed the eastern boundary until 1788-9, when the Oxford canal took much of the stream bed. (fn. 42) Field boundaries separate Yarnton from Cassington on the west and from Begbroke on the north. A large detached part of Begbroke parish (118 a.) lay in the east of Yarnton in the area known as the Marshes, and a small detached close, Oxford Close (3 a.), lay north-east of the junction of Sandy Lane with the Woodstock road. The boundaries with Begbroke and its detached parts caused confusion in the 18th century and early 19th. (fn. 43) The route followed by 17th-century perambulations seems not to have been recorded, (fn. 44) and in 1811 the muniments at Blenheim and 'early maps' belonging to Sir Henry Dashwood were consulted without success. (fn. 45) The tithe awards for Begbroke (1844) and Yarnton (1845) settled the boundaries. (fn. 46) Oxford Close was transferred to Yarnton, but the larger detached area was not incorporated in Yarnton until 1932. (fn. 47) That change increased Yarnton's area from 1,644 a. to 1,762 a. (713 ha.). (fn. 48)
An area known as Fries, lying mainly in Water Eaton, included a small part of the south-east corner of Yarnton west of King's bridge. A house stood c. 1200 on the Yarnton side of the boundary. (fn. 49) The name was preserved in the 17th century in Frize or Frice farm and grounds, (fn. 50) and that corner of Yarnton was called Yarnton Frise in the late 19th century. (fn. 51)
The terrain of the parish is mostly fairly flat, rising gently to 61 m. at the village and more steeply to over 91 m. in the north-west beyond Spring Hill. North and west of the village the land is Oxford clay, interspersed with terraces of river gravel. The largest gravel terrace is in the north-east, in the area known as the Sands, around Begbroke Hill and Sandy Lane. Much of the village stands on gravel, while the lower land is river alluvium. (fn. 52) Yarnton's medieval arable lay mainly north of the village. The removal of hedges there since the 1960s has restored something of the contrast between open fields to the north and thickly hedged closes to the south where inclosure is known to have been in progress by the 15th century. (fn. 53) Traces of ridge and furrow in the area known as the Marshes east of the Woodstock road, and around Stonehouse Farm, (fn. 54) indicate that some meadow and pasture was temporarily ploughed, presumably in the 13th century when pressure on resources was at its greatest.
Seasonal flooding, while beneficial to the river meadows, sometimes caused inconvenience as high as the village. When the Thames Navigation Commission built a pen at King's weir in 1789 and a pound lock at Godstow in 1790 (fn. 55) villagers complained that the locks, installed to aid river navigation, were misused by the owner of Wolvercote paper mill: the river level was kept permanently high, so that low-lying ground was almost always flooded and water could not be drained from the village. (fn. 56) Improvements were made in the 20th century by changes at the locks and at the mill.
The main Oxford-Woodstock road, passing ½ mile east of the village, attracted roadside development only at a relatively late date. The road was turnpiked in 1719, (fn. 57) and a tollhouse and gate were erected south of the Grapes inn, at the west end of Kidlington Lane. (fn. 58) The road was disturnpiked in 1878, (fn. 59) and the tollhouse demolished. (fn. 60) The ancient road to Cassington and Eynsham forms the main village street. (fn. 61) It has been suggested that an earlier road from Cassington may be represented by a footpath running eastwards from Worton towards Church Lane or Mead Lane. (fn. 62) Pre-inclosure maps of Cassington do not confirm that (fn. 63) but Yarnton's road pattern may have been altered in the early 17th century by the rebuilding of Yarnton Manor and by the laying out of its park. Until the late 18th century Church Lane and Mead Lane remained an alternative to the Woodstock road for light traffic to Oxford. (fn. 64) Church Lane was referred to as a 'causeway' in the 17th century, (fn. 65) and the track across Oxey mead to the ford at its south-west corner was usually under water in winter. (fn. 66) From the west end of the village a hollow way known as Frogwelldown Lane runs north-westwards towards Long Hanborough and Witney; it was referred to in 1693 as the Witney to Oxford road. (fn. 67) The lack of protest in Yarnton at its curtailment in 1801, when Cassington was inclosed, (fn. 68) suggests that it was by then little more than a footpath. The southern extension along Church Lane and Mead Lane towards Oxford was already disused because the raising of the river level had made the Thames unfordable. Rutten Lane runs north from the village to join the Oxford-Woodstock road, and in the east two converging lanes, Sandy and Kidlington lanes, lead from the main road towards Kidlington; the dog-leg in Sandy Lane west of the railway predates the line. (fn. 69) The canal bridge, near the junction of Sandy and Kidlington lanes, seems to have replaced an earlier bridge over the stream whose bed the canal took. (fn. 70) The Oxford northern bypass, the A40, was completed in 1935 (fn. 71) across the southern tip of the parish.
The Oxford-Birmingham railway was opened in 1852 with level crossings in Kidlington Lane and Sandy Lane. The Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton railway line, opened in 1853, passed south of the manor park and under the Cassington road. A dispute between the narrowgauge O.W.W.R. and the broad-gauge G.W.R. gave Yarnton prominence in 1854 when a branch line, known as the Yarnton loop, was made to the Buckinghamshire line of the L.N.W.R., thereby providing the O.W.W.R. with access to London independent of the G.W.R. Yarnton Junction station was built in 1861 when a branch line was opened to Witney and Fairford. (fn. 72) During the Second World War marshalling yards were built for the storage and transfer of war supplies. The station and the Fairford line were closed in 1962, and c. 1965 the station was demolished. (fn. 73)
Yarnton water, said in 1853 to be 'excellent', was supplied by spring-fed wells, and there were pumps at the Grapes inn and at the parish clerk's house at the top of Church Lane. (fn. 74) The parish was connected to the Oxford city water supply in 1934. Electricity became available about the same time. (fn. 75)
Early settlements of the type common on the gravel terraces of the Upper Thames valley have left traces in the north-east quarter of the parish and west of Mead Lane. Neolithic flint implements have been found over a wide area east of Begbroke Hill, (fn. 76) and the Sandy Lane gravel workings have revealed traces of ditches, huts, and pits, with pottery and metal artefacts, suggesting that the site was occupied from the Iron Age to Romano-British times. Despite some fragments of medieval pottery in the area, there is no firm evidence of continued occupation. (fn. 77) Railway construction in the mid 19th century revealed extensive traces of settlement south and south-west of the church, at the southern edge of the gravel terrace there; pottery of the Iron Age and of the late Anglo-Saxon and early medieval periods was scattered over a wide area west of Mead Lane. The discovery near the railway station of the remains of two Iron Age ring ditches, and of burials, pottery, and other artefacts from the Bronze Age to the early Middle Ages, suggests prolonged occupation which may have persisted into the 13th or 14th century. (fn. 78) The evidence is insufficient to determine whether, as has been suggested, there were two or more settlements in Yarnton at the time of Domesday Book, (fn. 79) or only a single settlement south and west of the later village.
The name Yarnton, formerly Erdington, is said to mean a dwelling place or Earda's farm. (fn. 80) The earliest documentary evidence for changing pronunciation of the name is a reference of 1495-6 to 'Eyrynten'. (fn. 81) The form 'Yarnton' occurred in 1517, (fn. 82) and eventually overcame the common 16th-century form 'Yardington'. (fn. 83)
There were 26 recorded tenants in 1086, (fn. 84) and in 1279 there were 48, (fn. 85) probably implying a population larger than any subsequently recorded until the 19th century. In 1377 poll tax was paid by only 112 adults, suggesting a loss of population, although less heavy than in some other settlements in the area. (fn. 86) An accusation of the late 15th century that Rewley abbey had partly depopulated the parish by inclosing (fn. 87) is given substance by a survey of 1538 recording only 27 tenants. (fn. 88) In 1662 25 households were assessed for hearth tax, (fn. 89) and in 1676 only 70 adults were reported, (fn. 90) indicating that the parish's population remained relatively low; the impression is confirmed by incumbents' reports of 1738 and 1759 that there were c. 20 houses in the parish. (fn. 91) There was the usual population increase from the later 18th century and in 1801 there were 215 inhabitants. (fn. 92) The increase was allegedly the consequence of building new cottages for poor families, who then 'over-filled the new cottages also'. (fn. 93) The temporary presence of railway workers boosted the population to 317 in 1851, after which it declined to 280 by 1901. From the 1920s workers in Oxford began to live in the parish. Contrary to common belief the first newcomers were not employees of the Cowley motor factories, for of 431 inhabitants in 1931 only one was a car worker. By 1936, however, there were 11 and the number increased with the population, which rose to 842 by 1951, and to 2,297 in 1981. (fn. 94)
The development of Yarnton village shows a gradual shift northwards of the centre of settlement, leaving the church, vicarage, manor house, and Mead Farm isolated at the bottom of Church Lane. The medieval manor house probably stood on or near the later site west of the church. In the later 13th century the manorial buildings and probably a deer park beyond were walled around. (fn. 95) In the 19th century the vicar, Vaughan Thomas, claimed that Yarnton had once comprised 'a group of houses ranging at short intervals along Church Lane' but had been 'widely scattered up and down on the wastes' when the Spencer estate was divided and sold after 1685. (fn. 96) Traces of tenements had apparently been found in Paternoster field (fn. 97) which allegedly showed signs of a division into 13 plots representing the 13 cottages regarded in the 17th century as traditionally liable for church rate. (fn. 98) In the early 19th century small houses were remembered as having stood east of Church Lane, approached by arches across the ditch. (fn. 99) That most houses in the village formerly stood closer to church and manor house, alongside a busy route into Oxford, is likely, though dispersal may have begun long before the break-up of the Spencer estate. Any houses on the west side of Church Lane were presumably removed when the deer park was re-established, probably in the 17th century. (fn. 1) There were and are 17th- century houses along the Cassington road such as Paternoster Farm, Home Close, the former Six Bells inn, and other houses and cottages since removed. (fn. 2) Apparently there were houses at the southern end of Rutten Lane in the later 16th century: the pasture closes between it and the Woodstock road were known collectively as the Ruttons or Ruttens, and in 1589 reference was made to 'Yarnton, Rutton, and Godstow', as though to three separate settlements. (fn. 3) Rutton could be an otherwise unrecorded settlement name, but the word more probably refers to the ridge and furrow which remained a feature of the area until built over for modern housing. (fn. 4) Houses there in 1589 might have fronted the long plots whose outlines, east of the south end of Rutten Lane, were mapped in 1845; (fn. 5) in 1815 the elderly parish clerk remembered traces of 'many tenements' there being destroyed when hedges were grubbed up and ditches filled in. (fn. 6) When new cottages were wanted in the later 18th century and in the 19th they were built on manorial waste along the Woodstock and Cassington roads. A survey of 1853 recorded 12 farmhouses, 10 tradesmen's houses, 2 public houses, and 39 cottages of the 'labouring poor'. (fn. 7) Cottages were said in 1868 to be 'badly constructed, the greater proportion having only two rooms, a living room with a sleeping room over it'. Their condition was blamed on the 'extreme poverty of the labourers' and on the 'apathy of the owner', Sir Henry Dashwood, to whom 30 cottages belonged. Another six belonged to a tenant farmer, and four to a retired local tradesman. (fn. 8) The Dashwoods, who elsewhere on their estates built model farms and cottages, were disinclined to invest in Yarnton after 1839, when Sir George Dashwood, 'to prevent strangers coming in', spent heavily in buying up cottages that later transpired to have been his already. (fn. 9)
The predominant building material was limestone rubble. Most cottages were thatched, (fn. 10) and in 1983 a few still were, but the farmhouses were probably roofed with stone slate from the first. Apart from the manor house, there are several substantial farmhouses in the village, most built following the creation of a number of freehold estates in the late 16th century: Paternoster Farm stands east of the north end of Church Lane, Exeter, formerly Southby's Farm north-east of Paternoster Farm, Jackson's Farm west of the junction of Rutten Lane and Cassington Road, College Mead west of the north end of Little Lane, and Mead Farm at the south end of Church Lane. (fn. 11) Home Close, an L- shaped cottage opposite the north end of Church Lane, was formerly a smithy. Hill and Windmill Hill Farms, facing each other across the Cassington road at the west end of the village, are both 18th-century buildings: Hill Farm is inscribed DD 1731, for Dorothea Dashwood, widow of Robert. Though Yarnton's fields were inclosed early, (fn. 12) each farm's closes tended to be scattered around the parish, so that there was little incentive to move farmhouses away from the village; in the later 20th century farms were amalgamated and in 1983 Paternoster Farm was the only working farmhouse in the village. The earliest outlying farmhouses were Spring Hill Farm in the north-west, and Frize, later Minnis or Stonehouse, Farm in the south-east. The origin of Spring Hill Farm, a manorial property, is unknown. Architectural evidence indicates that it was built in the 17th century, repaired in the 18th, and remodelled in the 19th. By the 19th century it was used to house labourers (fn. 13) and was usually held with Hall Farm, Begbroke. (fn. 14) Extensive farm buildings south of the house were demolished c. 1965, and it became a private dwelling. (fn. 15) Stonehouse Farm is a 19th- century building, but there was a farmhouse on the site by the later 17th century and possibly earlier. (fn. 16) Parker's Farm, north of Sandy Lane and east of Begbroke Hill, was probably built soon after 1829 by Thomas Robinson, nephew of William Fletcher, mentioned below, and owner of a farm in the north-east quarter of the parish. (fn. 17) From c. 1850, when the land was farmed from Begbroke Hill, Parker's Farm was used for farmworkers; (fn. 18) it was demolished in the 1960s.
Notable 19th-century additions to the village included the parish clerk's house and adjoining schoolroom at the north-west end of Church Lane. A two-storeyed ashlar building in 17th- century style, it was built in 1817 by Alderman William Fletcher of Oxford, whose arms appear on the south gable. A new school was built in 1864 halfway along the lane. (fn. 19) The largest house in the parish, apart from the manor house, was Ivy House in Gravel Pits Lane, built by 1842 for Thomas Robinson. The house is of two storeys with attic dormers; it was L-shaped, but the west wing was removed in 1938 for road widening, along with a carriage drive and lodge. (fn. 20)
There was a village green north and, perhaps, partly south of the Cassington road where Rutten Lane and Church Lane meet. Rutten Lane divided to run each side of the green, the western arm being known as Little Lane, and there seems once to have been a similar division of Church Lane, with a branch beginning north of the old school and emerging east of the Red Lion. (fn. 21) The emparking of land in the 17th century, and the building of houses, reduced the green by the earlier 20th century to a small triangle at the junction of Rutten Lane and the Cassington road, and road improvements in the later 20th century eliminated it entirely. (fn. 22)
A licensed alehouse was recorded in the village in 1587. (fn. 23) The Six Bells inn, visited by Anthony Wood in 1670, (fn. 24) reputedly acquired its name c. 1620 when the new church bells were installed, as the venue for spending the bellringers' ringing money. (fn. 25) The house, which fronted the Cassington road east of the south end of Little Lane, was rebuilt in the 18th century and was bought in 1840 by Vaughan Thomas, who converted it to a private house. (fn. 26) An inn of unknown location was held by Anthony Kirby (d. 1672) (fn. 27) and another, in the late 17th century, by John Follett, tenant of a house in Mead Lane, just south-east of the later railway bridge; (fn. 28) there is a local tradition of a coaching inn in Mead Lane, but the site is unlikely. Follett's inn seems to have closed by the mid 18th century. (fn. 29). There was still a house there in 1845, (fn. 30) but by 1852 it served only as a cow house. (fn. 31) The Red Lion, on the Cassington road, was recorded from the 1750s, and was for long held by the Pitt family. (fn. 32) It comprised a long thatched block, possibly 17th-century, running back from the road, with a smaller, stoneslated building with a three-sided bay fronting the road. It was rebuilt on a new site just to the west in 1957. (fn. 33) The Grapes, on the Woodstock road, was also recorded from the 1750s. It comprises a row of rubble and brick buildings with jetties at the first floor, and is probably of the 18th century, with 19th-century additions. One of a pair of cottages north of the end of Gravel Pits Lane was reputedly briefly a public house called the Flying Arrow. (fn. 34)
Yarnton was referred to in 1931 as a 'quiet old village stretching along a secondary road ... very little altered during recent years'. (fn. 35) In the 1920s, however, 37 houses had been built; (fn. 36) the parish council stressed the need for yet more. (fn. 37) Ribbon development began along Woodstock road north of Gravel Pits Lane and Sandy Lane, and new houses, including a few council houses, were built in the village. For a time after the Second World War a number of families lived in vans parked near the junction of the Cassington and Woodstock roads. Yarnton was gradually transformed thereafter as housing estates proliferated, especially in the area between Rutten Lane and the Woodstock road. The areas around Gravel Pits Lane and Sandy Lane were further built up, but no building was allowed south of the Cassington road or west of Rutten Lane. A few houses attempted to match traditional local building materials and styles. Private housing at the Garth was for a time separated from public housing further south at Merton Way by a fenced field. When that cordon sanitaire was breached in the 1960s by the building of shops and houses at Spencer Avenue and Dashwood Avenue there was for a time friction reminiscent of the infamous Cutteslowe Walls episode in Oxford. (fn. 38) From the 1960s the parish council sought, with limited success, to influence the speed and density of new developments. (fn. 39) Modern institutional additions include a new primary school (1977), a children's home, Yarnton House (1967), in Rutten Lane, and a rehabilitation centre, the Ley Community (1979), in Sandy Lane. Most obtrusive was the development, at the junction of Cassington Road with Woodstock Road, of a large district headquarters for the Southern Electricity Board. A small industrial estate was built in Sandy Lane.
Yarnton became embroiled in 1344 in the violently disputed succession to the abbacy of Eynsham: the vicarage was looted and fired by adherents of William of Stamford, the expelled abbot, presumably because the vicar was reckoned to support his rival. (fn. 40) In 1596 the attempted Oxfordshire uprising, aimed at prominent inclosers in the area, was to have numbered among its principal victims Sir William Spencer of Yarnton. (fn. 41a) His son, Sir Thomas, kept lordly state at Yarnton Manor, attracting minor local gentry into his retinue and household, (fn. 42a) and establishing a pre-eminence in the neighbourhood that his family never fully recovered after the Civil War. During the Civil War the manor house seems to have been used as a military hospital. Forty royalist soldiers were buried in the churchyard between May 1643 and January 1645. (fn. 43a) King Charles's escape from Oxford, on the night of 3 June 1644, was made through Yarnton. The king's army crossed the Thames to Mead Lane, passing along Church Lane and Frogwelldown Lane to secure Hanborough bridge. (fn. 44a) Later in the year, during a period of skirmishing north of Oxford, Ralph, Lord Hopton, a royalist commander, had quarters in Yarnton. (fn. 45a)
Abraham Wright, author and divine, married Jane Stone, member of a prominent Yarnton family. Their son James, author of Antiquities of Rutland, was born in the parish. (fn. 46a) The career of John Radcliffe (d. 1714), the celebrated physician, was said to have been founded on the highly publicized cure at Yarnton of Jane, widow of Sir Thomas Spencer. (fn. 47a) Alderman Fletcher, a wealthy banker, antiquarian, and collector, spent some of his childhood at Yarnton vicarage in the care of the parish clerk's family, (fn. 48a) and was buried in the church in 1827; the church bells are still rung 87 times on 4 January, once for each year of his life. (fn. 49a) Yarnton was dominated for the first half of the 19th century by its vicar, Vaughan Thomas, a close friend of Fletcher and a prominent figure in the county, deeply involved in most of the controversial issues of his time. (fn. 50a) His interest in public health led him to compile in 1853 a detailed 'Sanitary Survey' of the parish, with notes on every house in it and to issue Advice, Pastoral and Medical, (fn. 51a) against the imminent approach of cholera. His local influence was strengthened by the patronage of the Spencer-Churchill and Dashwood families. (fn. 52a) He stopped, in 1851, the recent practice of holding fairs on the village feast (24 August, St. Bartholomew's day), (fn. 53a) and much earlier he had put an end to the 'revels and riots' which traditionally concluded the mowing of the lot meadows. (fn. 54a) 'The beginning of disorder' was a race run for a garland which, in the 18th century, was hung by the victor at the entrance to the Spencer aisle in the parish church. (fn. 55a) Half-hearted attempts by special constables in Yarnton to maintain order led to the transfer of the revelries across the parish boundary into Cassington. In 1817 Thomas arranged that mowing should be spread over several days, removing the need for troublesome outsiders, and it ceased to be a festival. (fn. 56a) The meadows increasingly attracted the interest of botanists, historians, and folklorists, and in 1955 West Mead and Pixey Mead were declared Sites of Special Scientific Interest. (fn. 57a)
In 1663 the maypole was re-erected on the village green, (fn. 58a) and dances were still held there in the 18th century. (fn. 59a) The village stocks stood on the green, east of Jackson's Farm, and were regularly repaired until 1834. (fn. 60a) In 1940 the French Protestant School in Soho, London, was evacuated to Yarnton and the children taught at the manor house. (fn. 61a) A playing field off Rutten Lane was bought in 1958 by the parish council, which also administers a cemetery west of the manor house, opened in 1965. In 1979 a village hall was opened in the Paddocks. (fn. 62a)