Combe: Manor and other estates

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, 'Combe: Manor and other estates', 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 19 July 2024].

A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley, 'Combe: Manor and other estates', 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 19, 2024,

A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley. "Combe: Manor and other estates". 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. 19 July 2024.

Manor for other estates

In 1086 COMBE,, assessed at 1 hide, was the smallest of the four Oxfordshire manors held in demesne by Odo of Bayeux. It was said to have been held formerly by Alwin and Algar, the latter perhaps being Aelfgar (d. 1062), earl of Mercia. (fn. 92) By the earlier 12th century Combe was royal demesne, (fn. 93) presumably having escheated to the Crown on Odo's death in 1097. Thereafter Combe was sometimes administered directly by royal officials, and was sometimes, with other demesne towns, the subject of grants for life or for term of years. It formed part of the grant to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, in 1705, and was held by his successor in 1987. (fn. 94)

Manorial farm buildings, including a grange, a granary, and a dairy, were under repair from the earlier, and the King's hall from the later, 13th century; (fn. 95) they are likely to have been near the church in the valley below the present village. (fn. 96) By the beginning of the 17th century the site of the manor house had been moved, perhaps to the walled close of 8 a. later known as the Grove or Alma Grove: in 1606 a close adjacent to the manor house was known as le grove, and in 1609 the house and its grounds were said to comprise 8 a. (fn. 97) The house, but not the manor, may in the later 15th century have been in the possession of the Harcourt family: Christopher Harcourt was said to be of Combe in the 1470s, and c.. 1515 Sir Richard Elyot (d. 1522), the royal justice, brought an action against Simon Harcourt for the detention of title deeds to the house, (fn. 98) which had been Elyot's since 1508 and possibly earlier. Elyot was succeeded by his son Sir Thomas, author and diplomat, (fn. 99) who seems c.. 1538 to have sold the house to Richard Andrews, from whom it was bought by the Crown in 1541. (fn. 1) Known as Combe House, it was leased to a succession of notables, including Sir William Sharington (d. 1553), attainted for fraud at the Bristol mint and for participation in the conspiracy of Thomas, Lord Seymour. Subsequent lessees included, in 1558, John Herle, a royal equerry, and, in 1586, Sir Christopher Hatton. None of them seems to have lived at Combe, preferring to sublet the property. (fn. 2) The house was said in the mid 16th century to comprise a hall, parlour, and six or seven chambers, and to require much repair. (fn. 3) In the earlier 17th century, when it was held by John Pollard, it was referred to as a great house (domus magnus mansionalis) and as a fair house with gardens and orchard as well as the grove. (fn. 4) By 1621 the property, described as Combe house and grove, had been bought by Michael Harris, who sold it in that year to Thomas Pokins. (fn. 5) By 1691 William Pokins, a descendant, had sold it to John Hurst (d. c.. 1731). It was called Place House in 1701, (fn. 6) and the Grove in 1778, when it was owned by William Sotham of Wootton, possibly a relation of Hurst. (fn. 7) Sotham sold the Grove in 1796 to James Long, who was succeeded on his death in 1833 by his grandson Philip, son of his daughter Elizabeth (d. 1831) and her husband Philip Paine. George SpencerChurchill, duke of Marlborough, bought the estate in 1855, and his successor retained ownership in 1988. (fn. 8) The older part of Alma Grove, as the house was known by the later 19th century, (fn. 9) is a plain, two-storeyed farmhouse of the 18th century; the slightly lower block on the north was added in 1828 by James Long. (fn. 10)

Ownership of the manor house carried with it an obligation, doubtless fulfilled by the copyholders, to clean the privies at the royal palace of Woodstock whenever the king came there. Recorded in 1551, (fn. 11) the custom was almost certainly much older. In 1649 cleaning of the chimneys also was said to be due, but by then the service had been commuted for a payment of 10s.. a year. (fn. 12)

A freehold estate later known as FORESHAW'S in the possession of Sir Thomas Elyot in the earlier 16th century and leased by him first to John Colles and then to Thomas Rippingall, was bought c. 1538 by Richard Andrews and formed part of the Crown purchase of 1541. In 1558 John Herle bought a reversion of the leasehold, due to fall vacant on the expiry of Rippingall's lease in 1579. (fn. 13) In 1606 the tenant was Henry Blagrave, and the estate was said then to include a house of 10 bays, three cottages, 77 a. of arable, 10 a. of pasture, and 8 a. of meadow. (fn. 14) It was sold by Charles I in September 1631 to Sir Henry Browne and John Cliffe, who resold it in November to Rice Jones of Asthall. In 1687 Richard Lumley, Lord Lumley, and his wife Frances, daughter and heir of Sir Henry Jones of Asthall, sold the estate to John Foreshaw of Maiseyhampton (Glos.). Foreshaw had been succeeded by 1734 by his son John who survived in 1760 but who had died by 1791 when his sons John and William sold the estate to George Spencer, duke of Marlborough. (fn. 15) A fee-farm rent of £5 6 s. 8 d. due from the estate was in 1651 sold to Francis Martin of Ewelme. The rent reverted to the Crown at the Restoration and was sold in 1672 to Sir John Banks of Aylesford (Kent), who resold it in 1673 to Joseph Hornby. In 1704 it was owned with other Combe fee-farm rents by Sir Robert Dashwood, who sold them in 1721 to John Campbell, duke of Argyll. They later passed to Henry Scott, duke of Buccleuch, from whom they were bought in 1778 by the duke of Marlborough. (fn. 16) The farmhouse was probably that standing south of the Stonesfield road, towards its eastern end, referred to in 1792 as Middle Farm, later as Foxhole Farm. (fn. 17) The eastern end of the house retains a cruck roof and evidence of jettying suggestive of timber-frame construction. That bay, probably medieval, was left to provide service accommodation when, in the early 18th century, the house was rebuilt on a two-roomed plan with central stack and rear staircase turret. Later in the century a low back wing was built behind the old east bay. The house was sold in 1982. (fn. 18)

The property sold by Richard Andrews to Henry VIII in 1541 also included a farm known as BELSON'S said to comprise a house, 200 a. of arable, 30 a. of pasture, and 24 a. of meadow. The arable seems in reality to have been about half that amount. The farm passed for long with the manor house, and in 1606 was held by John Pollard. (fn. 19) By 1625 it was in the tenure of Michael Harris, (fn. 20) and it was subsequently bought by him or by his heirs, for in 1687 it was sold by Francis Harris to Robert French of South Newington. Robert died in the same year, devising the estate to his younger sons Robert and Thomas. Thomas died while still a minor, and after a prolonged family dispute his moiety passed in 1711 to his brother William's son Robert (d. by 1735), whose wife Joanna (d. 1740) ordered that it be sold. No sale, however, was made and in 1773 the moiety was settled on her granddaughters Sarah, wife of George Coles, and Hannah, wife of Thomas Whetton, and on William Coles, widower of Elizabeth, a third granddaughter. In 1775 Jonathan Ordway the younger, presumably Joanna's grandson, bought the shares of Hannah and William, selling them in 1779 to George Spencer, duke of Marlborough. The other sixth was bought by the duke in 1795 from Sarah's and George's son William.

Robert French's moiety passed on his death in 1730 to his son Robert, who by will dated 1764 devised it to Mary Matthews and Sarah and Susannah Short. Sarah and Mary sold their shares to the duke in 1778; Susannah had died by 1797, when her husband Anthony Watts and their children Thomas and Susannah sold her share to the duke.

In 1769 the entire estate, tenanted by William Horne, was said to comprise two houses, two cottages, and 310 a. in Combe, Wootton, and South Newington. The principal house, Belson's, may have been that which stood east of Middle Farm, at the junction of the Stonesfield road with that from the village centre. The house, apparently still standing in 1806, had gone by 1863. (fn. 21)

A fee-farm rent of £12 11 s. 4 d. from the estate may have formed part of the Crown rents purchased in 1672 by Sir John Banks. Sir Robert Dashwood owned it in 1704 with rents due from Foreshaw's and other freeholds, and it passed with those rents thereafter. (fn. 22)

In 1399 Combe RECTORY was appropriated by Eynsham abbey, which reserved to itself tithes of corn and hay, and fees. Glebe land, of unspecified extent, was divided, the vicar taking arable and meadow land, the abbey a croft known as Great Croft near the rectory house. In 1451 the rectory and vicarage were consolidated and all the church's income was taken by the abbey. The consolidated rectory was granted in 1478 to Lincoln College, Oxford, which paid Eynsham an annuity of £3 for Combe and two Oxford properties; the payment was compounded for £60 in 1534. (fn. 23) The rectory's valua- tion in 1536 of £10 7 s. 10 d. net was an underestimate since it assumed that the £3 pension was still being paid; (fn. 24) moreover, the college was able to obtain a rent of c. £20, and, from the mid 16th century, a rent of £12 6 s. 8 d. and a payment of £10 to the chaplain appointed to serve the church. From 1703 the college introduced a scheme of low annual rents and high entry fines, based on an estimated true rent of £120 a year. Leaseholders were usually local farmers, notably members of the Pokins family from 1613 to 1742. In 1791, when the glebe comprised c.. 22 a., the college surrendered 8 a. to George Spencer, duke of Marlborough, in exchange for Upper and Lower Church closes, comprising 10 a. adjoining Parsonage close (15 a.), which was presumably the Great Croft of 1399. In 1792 tithes were commuted for an annual corn rent of £200, rising to £325 by the 1870s. (fn. 25) Lincoln College retained the rectory in 1987, but the house and land were sold in 1950. (fn. 26)

The rectory house, mentioned in 1399 and 1451, (fn. 27) presumably stood then, as later, southwest of the church. Part of what appears to have been a moat survived in 1778 south and west of the house. (fn. 28) The two-storeyed range forming the north front of the house was probably built in the later 16th century, and has a conventional three-roomed plan with traces of a cross passage. A wing was built against the south side of the west end in the 17th century, and another wing at the east end may be of the 17th century or early 18th. A south range, almost closing the courtyard, had been added by 1778, (fn. 29) but in 1812 Edward Tatham, rector of Lincoln College, replaced it with a tall range in a Gothic style praised as 'highly ornamental' and in keeping with the existing character of the house. (fn. 30) Tatham's successor, John Radford, continued the Gothicization along the house's east and west fronts. (fn. 31) The name Combe House, used of the manor house in the 17th century, was acquired in the early 1930s. (fn. 32)

St. John's hospital, Oxford, was said in 1279 to own a house and 6 a. given by King John. (fn. 33) The estate passed to Magdalen College, presumably on the appropriation of the hospital in 1457, and remained the college's property thereafter. (fn. 34) By 1813 the house seems to have gone and there were only 5 a., in West field. (fn. 35) No later reference has been found.


  • 86. Blenheim Mun., shelf G 4, conveyance of 24 Apr. 1947; Emden, op. cit. 19-20; Oxf. Times,, 23 Sept. 1960; Combe Courier,, Mar. 1986, Dec. 1987, Feb. 1988.
  • 87. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 340, ff. 23v.-24.
  • 88. Blenheim Mun., Combe map (1778).
  • 89. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Oxon. XXVI. 7 (1880 edn.); Combe Courier July 1986.
  • 90. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. d 23.
  • 91. Ibid. c 338-48; d 330-1.
  • 92. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 380, 403-4.
  • 93. Reg. Regum Anglo-Norm.. ii, p. 275; Eynsham Cart.. i, p. 51.
  • 94. Below, Woodstock, Blenheim (Woodstock Manor).
  • 95. e.g. Cal. Lib.. 1226-40, 34; P.R.O., SC 6/962/4, 6, 17.
  • 96. Above, intro.
  • 97. P.R.O., LR 2/202, f. 36; LR 2/224, f. 66.
  • 98. Ibid. C 1/306/24; C 1/405/3; Cal. Pat. 1467-77, 352, 576.
  • 99. Linc. Coll. Mun., acct. bk. 1508, p. 29; P.R.O., E 321/37/8, f. 1; L. /?/ P. Hen. VIII,, p. 582; ibid. Addenda, i, p. 193; T. Elyot, The Governour,, ed. H. S. Croft, pp. l, lv-lvi, 309, 314.
  • 1. P.R.O., CP 25(2)/34/229, nos. 9, 17-18; L. /?/ P. Hen. VIII,, xvi, p. 422; xviii, p. 546; Cal. Pat.. 1557-8, 107-8.
  • 2. P.R.O., C 146/8736; ibid. LR 2/224, f. 66; Cal. Pat.. 1557-8, 107-8; D.N.B..
  • 3. P.R.O., E 310/3/21.
  • 4. Ibid. C 2/Jas. I/P 4/3; C 3/297/51; ibid. LR 2/202, f. 36; LR 2/224, f. 66. For Pollard see V.C.H. Oxon.. v. 52, 241.
  • 5. O.R.O., Vict. IX/1.
  • 6. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. d 23, f. 344.
  • 7. O.R.O., Vict. IX/2; Blenheim Mun., E/P/22, f. 30; Linc. Coll. Mun. M/COM/1-4.
  • 8. Blenheim Mun., box 70.
  • 9. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Oxon. XXVI. 7 (1880 edn.).
  • 10. Datestone on east end of bldg.
  • 11. B.L. Lansd. MS. 758, f. 18; below, Woodstock, Blenheim (King's Houses).
  • 12. O.R.O., CH. IV/1; P.R.O., E 317/Oxon./12.
  • 13. Cal. Pat.. 1557-8, 108.
  • 14. P.R.O., LR 2/197, f. 37; 32 a. lay in Wootton.
  • 15. Blenheim Mun., box 64.
  • 16. P.R.O., LR 2/197, f.; 37v.; ibid. E 307/M 1/19; E 308/3/26, mm. 18d., 43; ibid. IND 17347, pp. 244, 557; Blenheim Mun., box 61.
  • 17. Blenheim Mun., box 69, farm particulars, 1792; ibid. E/P/22, f. 19; ibid. Combe map (1778).
  • 18. Inf. from Dr. G. Speake, Foxhole Farm.
  • 19. Cal. Pat.. 1557-8, 107-8; P.R.O., LR 2/197, f. 36v.
  • 20. P.R.O., SC 6/Chas. I/802, m. 3d.
  • 21. Blenheim Mun., box 62; ibid. E/P/22, ff. 5-6; ibid. Combe maps (1778, 1806, 1863); O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 165/4/30.
  • 22. P.R.O., LR 2/197, f. 36v.; above.
  • 23. Eynsham Cart.. ii, pp. 180-3, 199-204.
  • 24. Valor Eccl.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 240.
  • 25. Bodl. MSS. Top. Oxon. c 342, ff. 11, 14, 78; d 331, ff. 26-8, 175 sqq.; Blenheim Mun., box 65; Duke of Marlbo- rough Estate Act, 33 Geo. III, c. 22 (Priv. Act).
  • 26. V. H. H. Green, Linc. Coll.. 545.
  • 27. Eynsham Cart,, ii, pp. 182-3, 202.
  • 28. Blenheim Mun., Combe map (1778).
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Date on bldg.; Skelton, Antiq. Oxon. Wootton Hund. 6.
  • 31. Parker, Guide,, 155.
  • 32. Kelly's Dir. Oxon.. (1931, 1935).
  • 33. Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 852; Cart. Hosp. St. John, iii (O.H.S. lxix), 46.
  • 34. C. Woolgar, 'Cat. of Magd. Coll. Estates', viii. 2099: (TS. in Bodl.).
  • 35. Magd. Coll. Mun., ES 6/4, p. 47.