Begbroke: 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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A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley, 'Begbroke: Economic history', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, ed. Alan Crossley, C R Elrington( London, 1990), British History Online [accessed 21 July 2024].

A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley, 'Begbroke: Economic history', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Edited by Alan Crossley, C R Elrington( London, 1990), British History Online, accessed July 21, 2024,

A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley. "Begbroke: Economic history". A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Ed. Alan Crossley, C R Elrington(London, 1990), , British History Online. Web. 21 July 2024.

Economic history.

Begbroke field was mentioned in 1585, (fn. 8) and extensive traces of ridge and furrow indicate that much of the parish has been arable. Begbroke's commons were inclosed c. 1595 by mutual agreement of the lords, Richard Chetwode and Humphrey FitzHerbert. In 1603 the latter inclosed 8 yardlands, half the arable in the parish, allegedly for conversion to pasture, and Chetwode's successor Sir William Spencer, a prominent and controversial incloser, probably did likewise. (fn. 9) Later evidence suggests that FitzHerbert took land in the south-west end of the parish and east of the Oxford-Woodstock road, where he built the house later known as Begbroke Hill. The Spencers' land lay south of the village across the centre of the parish, adjoining their Yarnton land; their tenants continued to farm from Hall Farm at the west end of Begbroke village. John Croke, the only other major landowner, presumably took land north of the village, where his successor's estate later lay. (fn. 10) All those with rights of common were apparently allowed a piece of land in severalty, (fn. 11) but most pieces seem to have become absorbed by larger holdings.

Pasture, of which 40 a. were recorded in 1086, (fn. 12) seems to have lain mainly in the Marshes, a detached part of Begbroke on the eastern edge of Yarnton parish. The Marshes also provided hay, but much of Begbroke's meadow, said in 1086 to comprise 50 a., lay in lot meadows along the river Thames, shared with Yarnton. (fn. 13)

In 1086 Begbroke was assessed at 4¼ hides, but 3 yardlands may have been omitted since in 1279 there seem to have been 5 hides or 20 yardlands, including a 3-yardland estate held by Studley priory. (fn. 14) There was land for 6 ploughteams in 1086, but there were only 2 teams on the demesne and 2 others worked by 6 villani and 3 bordars. (fn. 15) By 1279 the number of holdings had been increased. On the Lyons estate there was ½ ploughland of demesne, and 4 villeins each held 1 yardland at a rent of 5s., performing services at their lord's will; the Giffard estate comprised 1 hide of demesne and 7 villein yardlanders, and the Studley priory estate 1 yardland of demesne and 2 villein yardlanders. (fn. 16) In the 14th century some freeholds may have been created out of the Giffard estate which was said to have only 5 messuages and yardlands in 1369, and 4 in 1395; rents, however, had risen to 13s. 4d. a yardland, presumably because services had been commuted. (fn. 17)

In 1316 of 11 people taxed 6 were assessed at 5s., and the average assessment was c. 4s. (fn. 18) In 1327 there was much greater disparity, with 15 assessments between 4s. 4d. and 6d., and with no two the same. (fn. 19) Returns for the subsidy of 1524 suggest a small, rather poor population: 4 men were assessed at the lowest level of a landless labourer, 3 on goods of £2, and 1 man on goods of £4. (fn. 20) Whatever wealth the parish produced was mainly in the hands of absentee landlords. John Manning, a former servant of the Chetwodes, and his son Richard farmed part of the Chetwode estate in the later 16th century, (fn. 21) but the family seems not to have settled permanently in the parish. (fn. 22)

The only known reference to medieval crops and livestock is from the early 13th century, when the manor was in the king's hands: wheat, barley, and maslin were mentioned, and 6 oxen were sold. (fn. 23) At the time of inclosure in the late 16th century and early 17th much of the parish seems still to have been arable. (fn. 24) Conversion to pasture was presumably rapid, for in 1635 the FitzHerbert estate was said to comprise 240 a. of pasture, 56 a. of meadow, and only 40 a. of arable, (fn. 25) and it was claimed in the late 17th century that no one could remember when land belonging to the Spencer estate had last been ploughed. (fn. 26) In a tithe dispute of 1700 Elizabeth FitzHerbert admitted to keeping c. 20 cows, selling milk and butter at Oxford market; in early summer she was able to sell 40 lb. of butter a week. Some calves were sold for meat. The cattle were pastured mainly on the claylands in the south-west part of the parish and on the Marshes, and sheds were built for them in the fields. Elizabeth also kept a flock of 120 sheep, producing 13 tods of wool, a healthy yield of 31b. from each animal. (fn. 27) Wills and inventories of the period confirm the importance of livestock in the parish, (fn. 28) but some arable seems to have been retained, probably on the lighter, more easily worked soil east of the Oxford-Woodstock road. Wheat, barley, oats, and peas were grown and, by the late 17th century, turnips. (fn. 29) Hop close, in the village, was mentioned in 1680. (fn. 30)

Leases changed hands frequently in the 17th and 18th centuries,and holdings, usually small, were often rearranged. Leases to farmers from neighbouring parishes were common. In 1691 Robert Spencer, Viscount Teviot, owner of a quarter of the Spencer estate, had seven lessees, including two from Kidlington and one from Yarnton. (fn. 31) Of nine occupiers recorded in the parish in 1776 only William Cockin, successor to the FitzHerberts at Begbroke Hill and farmer of 187 a., held more than 100 a. (fn. 32) Between 1785 and 1799 almost half the tenancies in the parish changed hands. (fn. 33) The greatest continuity was to be found on the Dashwood estate, bought from the Spencers in 1695 and farmed from Hall Farm. (fn. 34) The former Studley priory estate changed hands several times after its sale in 1652 by Francis Croke. The Eyans family seem to have farmed the land for almost 50 years from the later 17th century, but the house became for much of the 18th century a country seat for gentry, few of whom kept the farm in hand. (fn. 35) Some of the FitzHerberts' Begbroke Hill estate was kept in hand: in 1674 c. 100 a. in the south-west part of the parish was leased to John Dew, who also held land of the Spencers, and c. 70 a. were leased to other tenants. (fn. 36) Some land was sold to neighbouring landowners, notably 50 a. in the Marshes which became part of a Kidlington farm later purchased by George Spencer, duke of Marlborough. (fn. 37) William Young, who got the largest share of the FitzHerbert estate when it was partitioned in 1804, (fn. 38) began to farm the land from Begbroke Hill in 1809, and by leasing some of the Marlborough land he became the foremost farmer in the parish. (fn. 39) His successor in the Begbroke Hill estate, Thomas Robinson, who had been accumulating land in the parish since 1812, owned 150 a. in Begbroke, all of which became part of the Marlborough estate in 1849. (fn. 40) In the late 18th century a preparedness to pay inflated prices for land in the parish may have led to the raising of rents beyond the capacity of the tenants. On the Marlborough estate, at least, rent was sometimes reduced in cases of hardship. (fn. 41)

From the early 19th century there was further consolidation of holdings; in 1785 there were 13 occupiers of farmland and in 1844 only eight. By 1844, in contrast with earlier practice, almost all land was farmed from within the parish, except for part of the Marshes, farmed from Kidlington, and the rectorial glebe, farmed from Yarnton. (fn. 42) Begbroke Hall farm, comprising c. 400 a. in Begbroke and elsewhere, was tenanted under the Dashwoods from the later 19th century by the Hughes and Hutt families, and has been held since c. 1910 by the Hastings family. The Marlborough estate, comprising c. 250 a. in the mid 19th century, seems to have been worked from Begbroke Hill. A farm comprising c. 80 a. in the south-west, formerly part of the FitzHerbert estate, was absorbed into the Dashwood estate in the later 19th century, and the farmhouse, Orchard Farm, became a private residence. (fn. 43)

The parish was still predominantly laid down to grass at the beginning of the 19th century, and remained so in 1844 when c. 360 a. of pasture and c. 125 a. of arable were recorded. (fn. 44) Permanent pasture was reckoned in 1914 to comprise 81 per cent of the total cultivated area of the parish, one of the highest proportions in the county. Cattle remained more important than sheep: for every 100 a. of cultivated land there were 24 cattle, a high figure, and only 20 sheep. Wheat was the main crop grown, along with oats and barley, and the parish was notable for its yields of potatoes and other root crops. (fn. 45)

Begbroke's small population was composed mostly of poor agricultural labourers. For the hearth tax of 1662, apart from the manor houses one house was assessed on 3 hearths, one (the rectory) on 2, and one on 1; at least one house was discharged because of poverty. (fn. 46) Of 15 houses in the parish in 1738 over half were 'poor cottages'. (fn. 47) In 1869 there were insufficient cottages in the village and labour was presumably obtained from neighbouring parishes. (fn. 48) The Fathers family of stonemasons was recorded for much of the 19th century, and other tradesmen included carpenters, butchers, and carriers. There was a glove cutter in 1851, and in the later 19th century a few gloveresses. (fn. 49) In the 1930s workers at the Oxford motor factories began to live in the village, and from 1945 most of the population worked outside the parish, although the opening in 1960 of the Weed Research Organization at Begbroke Hill provided some local employment until its closure in 1985. In 1986 the electronics company Solid State Logic Ltd. moved to Begbroke. In 1988 it employed 120 people there, and the total was expected shortly to rise to 270. (fn. 50)


  • 8. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 131/3/19.
  • 9. P.R.O., STAC 8/142/16
  • 10. Blenheim Mun., boxes 21, 26; O.R.O., tithe award; above, Manors.
  • 11. P.R.O., STAC 8/142/16
  • 12. V.C.H. Oxon i. 425.
  • 13. For the meadows see below, Yarnton, Econ.
  • 14. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 425; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 857.
  • 15. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 425.
  • 16. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 857.
  • 17. Cal. Inq. p.m. xii, p. 340; Cal. Inq. p.m. (Rec. Com.), iii. 181.
  • 18. P.R.O., E 179/161/8.
  • 19. Ibid. E 179/161/9.
  • 20. Ibid. E 179/161/ 175, rot. 8.
  • 21. Ibid. C 2/Eliz. 1/113, no. 54; ibid. STAC 8/142/16.
  • 22. Refs. in Stapleton, Three Oxon. Pars. 335, 342 to John Manning (d. 1680), rector of Begbroke, should be to John Martin: below, Church.
  • 23. Pipe R. 1210 (P.R.S. N.S. xxvi), 123.
  • 24. 24 P.R.O., STAC 8/142/16.
  • 25. Ibid. CP 43/211, rot. 50.
  • 26. 26 O.R.O., Dash. XV/i/24.
  • 27. P.R.O., E 134/2 Anne, Mich. no. 11; E 134/6 Anne, East. no. 7; E 134/6 Anne, Trin. no. 5; O.R.O., MS. d.d. Par. Begbroke c 2, item b.
  • 28. e.g. O.R.O., MSS. Wills Oxon. 20/3/7; 37/5/14.
  • 29. Ibid. 128/1/12; P.R.O., E 134/2 Anne, Mich. no. 11; ibid. SP 12/198, f. 102.
  • 30. Blenheim Mun., box 21, deed of 1680.
  • 31. O.R.O., Dash. XV/i/13.
  • 32. Ibid. MS. d.d. Par. Begbroke c 3(a).
  • 33. Ibid. land tax assess.
  • 34. Ibid.; ibid. tithe award; above, Manors.
  • 35. Above, Manors; Blenheim Mun., box 21; Stapleton, Three Oxon. Pars. 348-9.
  • 36. Blenheim Mun., shelf F 2; P.R.O., E 134/2 Anne, Mic. no. 11; O.R.O., Dash. XV/i/13.
  • 37. Blenheim Mun., shelf F 2; ibid. box 28.
  • 38. Above, Manors.
  • 39. O.R.O., land tax assess.; ibid. MS. d.d. Par. Begbroke c 3(a).
  • 40. Above, Manors.
  • 41. O.R.O., MS. d.d. Par. Begbroke e 4, f. 97v.; Blenheim Mun., box 37, letter of 1796.
  • 42. 42 O.R.O., land tax assess.; ibid tithe award; ibid. MS. d.d. Par. Begbroke e 4.
  • 43. O.R.O., tithe award; P.R.O., HO 107/889; HO 107/1730; ibid. RG 10/1448; RG 11/1511; Blenheim Mun., E/P/58; P.O. Dir. Oxon. (1875 and later edns.); local inf.
  • 44. P.R.O., HO 67/18; O.R.O., MS. d.d. Par. Begbroke c 2, item a(i); ibid. tithe award.
  • 45. Orr, Oxon Agric. statistical plates.
  • 46. P.R.O., E 179/255/4, f.274; Hearth Tax Oxon 107.
  • 47. Secker's Visit. 16.
  • 48. Rep. Com. on Children and Women in Agric. [4202-1], pp. 330, 340, H.C. (1868-9), xiii.
  • 49. P.R.O., HO 107/889; HO 107/1730; ibid. RG 10/1448;
  • 50. Inf. from Personnel Dept., Solid State Logic Ltd.; above, Intro.