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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The presence in Yarnton of detached parts of Begbroke parish, (fn. 14) and the sharing of lot meadows along the Thames, may indicate that the parishes once shared a single set of fields.
The medieval yardland in Yarnton seems to have comprised c. 25 a. exclusive of meadow and pasture, (fn. 15) and in 1617 a 2-yardland estate contained 44 a. of arable. (fn. 16) There were 52 yardlands recorded in the parish in 1279, but by the 17th century there were said to be only 44, (fn. 17) presumably because of the loss of arable land by inclosure in the 15th and 16th centuries. (fn. 18)
By the later 13th century land perhaps lay in two fields; in 1272 and 1304 there were said to be 160 a. of demesne arable, (fn. 19) and if there was an equal amount of fallow the combined total matches the 3 ploughlands (c. 300 a.) of demesne recorded elsewhere. (fn. 20) The inclosure commissioners of 1517 accused Rewley abbey in 1489 of inclosing 230 a. for pasture and allowing 6 houses and 4 cottages to become derelict, leaving 36 people homeless; 9 ploughs, an improbably large number, had allegedly been taken out of use. (fn. 21) By the 1520s the inclosed former demesne and tenant land was leased as three farms, one of them the manor farm, another known as Alleluia farm. Half the parish remained uninclosed. (fn. 22) The early inclosures seem to have comprised much of the land south and west of the village. (fn. 23) Land inclosed later lay in areas of the parish known as the Clays and the Ruttens in the north, the Sands in the northeast, and the Marshes in the south-east. (fn. 24) In 1596 Sir William Spencer was one of the local landlords whose inclosing activities came to the attention of the government because of a threatened uprising. (fn. 25) The Privy Council's concern may have slowed the process, but it could not reverse it; in 1613 a farm of 2 yardlands still lay only partly in closes, but by 1635 the whole farm, and perhaps the whole parish except for meadowland, was inclosed. (fn. 26)
Much land between the village and the river was meadowland. Some meadows were evidently arable in the Middle Ages; they were still known by names such as Corn Hayday in the early 18th century, long after their conversion to pasture, (fn. 27) and they retained traces of ridge and furrow in the 1960s. (fn. 28) Lot meadows flanking the river were never ploughed or inclosed, and they present a remarkable survival of immemorial custom into modern times. Oxey, or Oxhurst, mead (66 a.) and West mead (75 a.) lie along the north bank of the river with no physical boundaries between them; together they are known as Yarnton meads. Pixey mead lies between the main stream of the Thames and Wolvercote mill stream. (fn. 29) Some 50 a. in the east part of Pixey mead, extraparochial until joined to Wolvercote in the later 19th century, are included in Yarnton's lot meadows; the west part was also lot meadow in the 18th century, but belonged exclusively to Wytham parish, (fn. 30) and the north was owned by Godstow abbey, passing eventually to the dukes of Marlborough. (fn. 31)
The lot meadows were held in 13 lots, represented by 13 cherrywood balls each inscribed with the name of a lot, 9 belonging to Yarnton and 4 to Begbroke. (fn. 32) The meadows were divided on the ground into 'shots', 5 in West mead, 3 in Oxey mead, and 2 in Pixey mead. Each shot contained 13 strips, the strips and shots being marked at their ends by pegs or stones. In each mead an area known as the tithals, or tydalls, was set aside for rectorial tithes and never drawn for; (fn. 33) the tithals, said c. 1818 to be the 'best land of the meads', comprised 6 a. in Oxey mead, 3 a. in West mead, and 3 a. in Pixey mead, two thirds belonging to Yarnton rectory, one third to Begbroke. Each meadow was allotted and mown on a single day on successive Mondays following the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (29 June) in the order Oxey, West mead, Pixey. The allotment was made by drawing, at the head of each strip, one of the balls; when a whole shot had been allotted the process was repeated, except that in Pixey mead a single draw served for both shots.
Some lots were divided into halves or quar-ters, which could be further subdivided so that ownership of the hay might be confined to a single meadow or shot. Some lots descended with particular farms and can be traced from the 17th century, while others were separated from ownership of land in the parish. In the 19th century the recently established farms had no rights in the lot meadows. There are indications that one lot of meadow originally went with 1 hide of land, and a quarter lot with 1 yardland. (fn. 34) The origin of the lot meadows may pre-date the Conquest, but the 180 a. of meadow in Yarnton in 1086 corresponds neatly with the nine Yarnton lots of the 19th century only if all the meadow recorded in 1086 was lot meadow. (fn. 35) The method of holding rights in the meadows seems to have crystallized, and may even have begun, in the late 13th or early 14th century: the names of six tenants or taxpayers in Yarnton in that period and of three in Begbroke match the names inscribed on the balls. The Yarnton balls are called Bolton (or Bouton), Dunn, Freeman, Gilbert, Green, Harry, Rothe, Watery Molly, and White; the Begbroke balls are Boat, Perry, Walter Geoffrey, and William of Bladon. Tenants and taxpayers recorded in Yarnton included Boveton, Don, Freeman, Gilbert, Green, and White; in Begbroke they included Pyrie, Walter Geffray, and William of Bladon. (fn. 36) The rights may have been reorganized on Rewley abbey's acquisition of the manor in 1281: the demesne meadow seems to have been improved at that period, its value rising from 8d. an acre in 1272 to 2s. in 1304. (fn. 37)
The practice of completing mowing in a single day made it necessary to hire labour from outside the parish, but in 1817 it was decided to allow lot owners to cut their grass at any time before the meadows were thrown open to livestock, on the Monday following the parish feast day (St. Bartholomew's day, 24 August). (fn. 38) Two meadsmen were elected annually from among the lot holders to supervise the lot drawing and regulate the grazing. After the opening in 1789 of Duke's Cut, linking the Thames near Oxey mead to the Oxford canal, 1s. was collected from every barge for the use of the two-path and the money spent on the meadow's upkeep; in 1936 it was said that the charge had been dropped 'some years ago'. (fn. 39) Oxey mead, traversed in the 1930s by the Oxford northern bypass, was sold in 1939 to Oxfordshire County Council, (fn. 40) which resold most of the land to the Thames Water Authority. Part of Pixey mead was sold for the construction of the Oxford western bypass, completed in 1961. The gradual acquisition of rights in the 20th century by outsiders (fn. 41) and a decline in the value of the hay led to the abandonment of lot drawing, which last took place in 1978. (fn. 42) The hay was thereafter sold as one lot and the money divided among the proprietors.
Common pasture rights on the lot meadows were restricted to the lot owners. In 1797 the stint was 1 cow to a yard of meadow (¼ of a lot), but it was said that it had formerly been double; 1 horse was reckoned equivalent to 2 cows. The stint in Pixey mead was double that in Yarnton meads, because the right to graze belonged in alternate years to Wytham; (fn. 43) in 1936 the stint in Yarnton meads was said to be 3 ¼ cows for each yard. (fn. 44)
The pasture of 80 a. recorded in 1086 (fn. 45) perhaps lay east of the village, in the area known as the Marshes. Adjoining the Marshes on the north was a close known as Seed Lake, mentioned in the early 17th century as a cow common for cottagers. (fn. 46) Separate demesne pasture was said in 1272 to comprise 60 a. and to be worth 4d. an acre. (fn. 47) By 1304 its value had doubled. (fn. 48) The stint for common grazing in Yarnton fields in the early 17th century was apparently 10 beasts and 50 sheep to a yardland. (fn. 49) Common grazing, except in the lot meadows, was later restricted to the verges, where a stint of 3 sheep to a yardland was set in 1720. (fn. 50)
In 1086 Roger d'Ivri's estate had 2 ploughteams on the demesne, which was presumably farmed by means of services exacted from 20 villeins and 3 bordars who held the other 7 teams recorded. The estate's value had increased from £10 to £14, well above the average value in the county for a ploughland. Odo of Bayeux's ½ hide had 1 team, worked by 2 villeins and 1 bordar. Its value, 10s. in 1086, had doubled, in keeping with most of Odo's lands. (fn. 51)
By 1279 (fn. 52) there was only one manor in Yarnton, owned by the earls of Cornwall. There were 3 ploughlands in demesne, 4 yardlands held freely, probably 35 villein yardlands, and a small amount of cottage land. The 31 villein yardlanders paid rent of 4s. each and provided services at the lord's will; 7 half-yardlanders paid 2s. 6d. each with similar obligations. Grouped with the half-yardlanders was the tenant-at-will of Fretes croft, who paid the high rent of 1 mark but no services; the croft may well have been ½ yardland, making the total holding of the halfyardlanders 1 hide. There were 7 cottagers, six of them paying rent of 10d. and providing the same services as the yardlanders; the other cottage, with 2 a., had come into the hands of a free tenant, who paid 2s. 6d. rent. Some cottagers may also have been manorial servants: two bore the name 'ad portam', and a third was the widow of a clerk. Some villeins may have been allowed to commute services, for in 1272 it was stated that £12 2s. a year was received 'in rents and works'. (fn. 53) Two free tenants, holding 2 yardlands each in 1279 for rents of 12d., were possibly in possession of the hide said in 1086 to have been held freely by Maino before the Conquest. (fn. 54)
In 1279 the amount of arable land in Yarnton, perhaps 1,300 a., was at its greatest extent. Pressure on resources may have lain behind the manumission in 1278 of two villeins (fn. 55) who seem immediately to have left the parish: neither was recorded in 1279. On the demesne in the late 1270s arable farming and stock raising were both important, and, except for small amounts of grain used to feed workers and make payments in kind, the estate was run to supply the earl with cash profits. The most important crops were wheat (97 qr. in 1278-9, of which 73 qr. were sold), barley (102 qr., of which 72 qr. were sold), and oats (100 qr., of which 74 qr. were sold); rye, maslin, dredge, and beans were also grown. The sale of such a large part of the oat crop suggests that the meadows and demesne pasture provided plentiful foodstuff for the livestock, and calves were not sold during their first year but kept and added to the cows and oxen, or fattened and sold later. The three demesne ploughteams were worked c. 1280 by 24 oxen and 2 horses. There were also 2 bulls and 51 cows, 112 bullocks, heifers, and calves, a pig and 5 piglets. Some livestock was transferred to other manors of the earl, but there is no reference to a similar traffic in reverse, and Yarnton may have served as a stock-raising centre for the other estates in the area. Pannage receipts of 18d. in 1278-9 indicate that 18 pigs or 36 piglets were kept by tenants. Sheep were not mentioned. Large quantities of butter and cheese were sold, and, in one year, 92 gallons of cider. Farm servants comprised 3 ploughmen, 1 herdsman, 1 keeper of the oxen, and 1 dairyman and his assistant. (fn. 56)
Under Rewley abbey the amount of demesne arable was initially unchanged, although the demesne may have been farmed for food rather than cash. The main tenurial change was the conversion of several villein holdings into freeholds: rents from free tenants increased from 4s. 6d. in 1279 to 34s. 6d. in 1300, while the number of villein yardlands fell to 28. (fn. 57) Six houses and yardlands excluded by Eynsham abbey from its claim to the manor in 1285 may have been those recently converted to freehold. (fn. 58) In 1320 the abbot of Rewley was pardoned for acquiring without licence 'divers messuages and small portions of land.' (fn. 59) Evidence for the later Middle Ages is lacking, but by the 16th century Rewley abbey was the only major landowner in the parish. Yarnton was the abbey's most valuable estate, providing in 1536 almost two fifths (£66) of its assessed income. (fn. 60) The early move towards freeholds seems to have been temporary, and most landholders c. 1530 were copyholders of the abbey. There was greater diversity among the copyholds than there had been among the villein tenements of the 13th century, the tenants c. 1530 including one of 4 yardlands, seven of 2 yardlands, one of 1 ½ yardland, and 9 cottagers; there were only five yardlanders. The manorial demesne had been inclosed and was leased to three tenants, including Richard Andrews, who was to become prominent in the monastic land market in the Oxford area. (fn. 61)
For the subsidy of 1306 Rewley abbey's assessment (7s. 9 ½d.) was by far the highest, the biggest lay assessment being c. 2s. 6d. Ecclesiastical landlords were excluded in 1317 and 1327, but all three taxation lists reveal a leading group of 8 or 10 families, many descended from the earl of Cornwall's yardland tenants of 1279. Of 33 family names recorded in 1327, 19 had occurred in 1279. Few were assessed at the lowest level. Among the villein tenants were a number of surnames derived from the occupations of smith, weaver, carpenter, gardener, chapman, and clerk. (fn. 62) The subsidy of 1524, for which 26 men were assessed on goods and wages, seems to have omitted some leading freeholders and tenants, but reflected in general the inequality of holdings which had resulted from engrossing and inclosure. Richard Marsh, tenant of Alleluia farm, received the highest assessment (£7), followed by John Cocks (£5), another Rewley tenant, and Richard Dalby (£5), owner of a freehold estate of 2 yardlands. Three men were assessed on goods of £3, and four others at between £2 and £3, but 15 were assessed at the lowest level on labourers' wages. (fn. 63)
John Chamberlain, who had acquired Yarnton by 1570, (fn. 64) began to sell off large parts of the estate. By 1573 several new freeholds had been created, including that bought by Henry Irish, (fn. 65) whose son John's assessment for the subsidy of 1581 was second only to that of William Spencer. (fn. 66) The process was reversed by Spencer after he acquired the manor in 1580, but some freeholds created in the 1570s were identifiable with 20th-century farms. (fn. 67) Under the Spencers, who were the first recorded resident lords, Yarnton comprised a large, directly managed manor farm flanked by smaller freehold, leasehold, and copyhold farms. The largest freehold estate was that later known as Southby's (c. 120 a.), the largest leasehold farm was Frize farm (c. 150 a.); others were mostly of between 30 and 60 a. (fn. 68) The gradation was apparent in 1662, when Sir Thomas Spencer was assessed on 22 hearths, three men on 5 or 6 hearths, eight on 3 or 4, and thirteen on 1 or 2 hearths. (fn. 69)
Sir Thomas's death in 1685 ended direct management of the manorial estate, which was divided up among tenants, of whom there were as many as 20 in the early 18th century. (fn. 70) A likely consequence was a reduction in the relatively high number of landless labourers observed in the 16th century. It was recalled in the early 19th century that Yarnton a century earlier had been without labourers: 'all [were] small renters working their own farms'. (fn. 71) The memory may have exaggerated, for among crops grown in the 18th century was woad, heavily labour intensive. Of new farms created, the most notable were Hill farm, whose farmhouse is dated 1731, and, probably, Windmill Hill farm. By the later 18th century, however, the number of holdings had begun to contract. There were only 16 taxed holdings in the parish in 1786, and by c. 1800 the number had fallen to 12, at which level it remained for most of the 19th century. (fn. 72) On the Dashwood estate, comprising half the land in the parish, there were 5 farms c. 1800: Manor (c. 235 a.), Windmill Hill (c. 245 a.), Mead (c. 175 a.), Hill (c. 60 a.), and Yarnton Hill, or Spring Hill, farms (c. 25 a.). The other farms, besides Frize and Southby's, were Paternoster (c. 120 a.), Jackson's (c. 50 a.) and College (c. 55 a.) farms. In the north-east quarter of the parish 77 a. forming part of the Bayley manor in Kidlington, owned by Thomas Robinson, and 53 a. owned by Blenheim estate were farmed from outside the parish until the building c. 1829 of Parker's Farm north of Sandy Lane. (fn. 73) The Blenheim estate bought Robinson's land in 1849 and by 1863 owned 153 a. in Yarnton. (fn. 74) The long survival of several small farms in Yarnton may have owed something to the increasing emphasis on dairy farming, for which such farms were well suited.
After the Weston family sold its estate to Exeter College in 1739 (fn. 75) there were almost no owner-occupiers in the parish until the end of the 19th century. Most lessees were resident, and sub-letting was unusual. Some families remained on their holdings for several generations. The Miles family was tenant of Jackson's farm from the 1730s until c. 1853; although in 1843 Abraham Miles was reported to Merton College as a 'slovenly' farmer the college renewed his lease without comment. (fn. 76) Other prominent tenant families were the Minns at Frize farm in the 17th century and early 18th; the Phipps family and its heir, the Westons, owners and then leaseholders of Exeter College's farm from the 16th century until the later 18th; the Osbornes of Mead and Hill farms in the 18th and 19th centuries; the Strainges at Manor farm from the later 18th century until the mid 19th; and the Waltons at Manor and Frize farms in the 19th century. (fn. 77). Many were moderately prosperous: the average value of the goods of 26 Yarnton farmers in the 17th century was c. £100. In the 18th century bequests of between £200 and £500 were not uncommon. (fn. 78)
From the later 18th century, as population increased, there was an increase in the number of landless labourers. Of 67 houses recorded in Yarnton in 1853, 39 were said by the vicar to be occupied by the 'labouring poor'. (fn. 79) From the late 19th century the major changes in the pattern of farming were the sales of the Dashwood and Exeter College estates in 1895 and 1921. (fn. 80) By 1910 Manor farm had become absorbed in Mead farm, Spring Hill farm in Begbroke Hall farm, and Parker's farm in Begbroke Hill farm. (fn. 81) Further amalgamations led to the conversion of village farmhouses to purely residential use.
Yarnton from the 16th century to the 18th lived by mixed farming, with increasing emphasis on pasture. Anthony Wood commented on the richness of pasture in the parish, (fn. 82) and Thomas Hearne attributed the name Erdington to the large herds of cattle he saw grazing there. (fn. 83) Sir Thomas Spencer at his death in 1622 was keeping c. 1,500 sheep in Yarnton, (fn. 84) but the next largest 17th-century flocks were those of Robert Phipps (d. 1613) with 60, and James Stone (d. 1640) with 100 animals. (fn. 85) Flocks of 10-40 sheep were common and it was unusual to have no sheep, but cattle herds, averaging c. 15 in the 17th and 18th centuries, were far more important. Robert Minn of Frize farm kept a bull and 46 cows in 1665, (fn. 86) and William Malings, a successor there, had in 1788 44 cows and 14 horses. (fn. 87) A Yarnton grazier, Charles Glanville (d. 1690), also held property at Charltonon-Otmoor and Woodstock, and was presumably raising stock on a large scale. (fn. 88) There was a brief reversion to arable on the manorial estate following its purchase in 1695 by Sir Robert Dashwood, but during the 18th century Yarnton became again 'more of a dairy parish'. (fn. 89) Yarnton's grassland also encouraged horse breeding, and horse-sellers from the parish regularly attended Oxford market in the 18th century. Meat and garden produce are also known to have been sold there. (fn. 90) By 1801 the amount of arable in the parish (85 a.) had reached its lowest point. (fn. 91)
Crops mentioned from the 16th century were the usual ones of barley, wheat, maslin, beans, and peas. In 1587 barley seems to have been the main crop: three Yarnton farmers were to take weekly to Oxford market 4 bu. of peas, 4 bu. of barley, and 9 bu. of malt. (fn. 92) The name Linton close, mentioned in 1536, (fn. 93) suggests flax growing, and flax and hemp were mentioned in 17thcentury inventories. (fn. 94) In the early 19th century a 'considerable quantity' of flax was grown in the neighbourhood: in the 17th century it seems to have been valued as a source of spun fibre, but was later grown mostly for cattle feed. (fn. 95) Flax spun by paupers in the parish from the 1780s to the 1830s and hemp spun in the 1780s (fn. 96) were presumably grown locally. In the early 18th century woad, said to 'thrive here mightily', was grown in the manor park by a Mr. Ward of Northamptonshire, probably William Ward of Little Houghton. (fn. 97)
For much of the 19th century there were usually c. 300 a. of arable in the parish. (fn. 98) Relief on rent was allowed to some tenants in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1880s, when prices were depressed, (fn. 99) and concentration on stock farming shielded Yarnton's farmers from the worst effects of falling grain prices. In 1890 arable was 'kept under the plough merely for the convenience of the tenants, to provide straw and roots, and none of the tenants are to any appreciable extent dependent upon the price of corn'. (fn. 1) Sheep were still kept in the 19th century, and five shepherds were recorded in 1871, (fn. 2) but sheep were of secondary importance. In 1914, when four fifths of the parish's cultivated area was permanent pasture, there were fewer than 100 sheep in all, whereas the ratio for cattle, 24 to every 100 a. cultivated, was one of the highest in Oxfordshire. Yarnton also remained, as it seems to have been from the 17th century and presumably earlier, a notable centre for raising pigs. Wheat was the principal arable crop, with barley and oats also grown, and a high percentage of root crops. (fn. 3)
The lavish household maintained by the Spencers provided some local employment in the 17th century, (fn. 4) but agricultural labour was by far the commonest employment in the parish before the 20th century. There were the usual tradesmen and craftsmen such as smiths, masons, carpenters, tailors, and shoemakers. Thomas Perrott (d. 1722), keeper of the Six Bells inn, seems also to have been a chandler, grocer, and shoemaker. (fn. 5) A few jobs were provided by the tollgate and the railway crossings, but the 13 railway labourers recorded in 1851 were temporarily resident. Glovemaking, presumably for Woodstock masters, provided work for a few women, and in 1851 there were 6 gloveresses. (fn. 6) The 'extreme poverty' of agricultural labourers in the parish was lamented in 1868 by the vicar. (fn. 7) In the 20th century villagers began to travel to work in Oxford and elsewhere, and new employment was brought to Yarnton by the the district headquarters of the Southern Electricity Board, a tyre depot in Cassington Road, a sewage works off Kidlington Lane, nursery gardens in Sandy Lane, and the Weed Research Organization at Begbroke Hill.
No mill was recorded at Yarnton in 1086. Richard, earl of Cornwall, died in 1272 seised of a mill belonging to Yarnton manor, (fn. 8) and manorial accounts of the 1270s included a mill, (fn. 9) though it may not have been in Yarnton: the mill recorded under Yarnton in 1279 appears to have been at Thrupp, which also belonged to the earls of Cornwall, (fn. 10) and the mills given to Rewley abbey by Earl Edmund in 1291 were in Cassington. (fn. 11) An extent of Rewley's possessions in Yarnton in 1300 made no mention of a mill. (fn. 12) There was a mill, almost certainly wind-driven, by the late 16th century. (fn. 13) It was presumably in Windmill field, between Cassington Lane and Frogwelldown Lane. In 1835 it was said to have stood north (meaning north-west) of Windmill Hill Farm. (fn. 14a)