Combe: Economic history

Pages 84-91

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.


In this section

Economic history

No record has been found of the number and size of Combe's medieval fields. A survey of 1606, distinguishing free and unfree land, may indicate the location of the earliest fields since land in assarted, and therefore later, fields was held freely for money rents.

Copyholds were grouped almost exclusively in West field, Land field, and East End field. Bury, or Berry, field, was enclosed demesne granted to tenants. Most free tenants, too, had land in West field, but their holdings otherwise lay chiefly in the assarted fields in the northern half of the parish: Old Sarts, New Sarts, the fields known as the Northalls, Ten Acres, Harts Hole, Over field, and Abbots Pale. (fn. 36) In 1609 Combe's fields were said to comprise West field (194 a.), Harts Hole and New Sarts (232 a., perhaps including the Northalls and Ten Acres), Old Sarts (140 a.), Over and Nether East End field (58 a.), and Bury field (86 a.). Land field and Abbots Pale were not mentioned. (fn. 37) Tenants' land was divided unevenly among the fields, three holdings, for instance, lying entirely in West field, another in East End field. (fn. 38)

Crop returns of the 13th century suggest that on a ploughland of royal demesne, and presumably on other holdings, a three-course rotation of two crops and a fallow was practised, the 100 a.-120 a. sown each year likely to have been two thirds of c.. 165 a. rather than half of c.. 220 a. (fn. 39) Even the lower figure is unusually large for a ploughland, though there was a demesne ploughland of similar size on the nearby royal estate of Hordley. (fn. 40) Combe tenants also held land extensively beyond the parish's northern boundary in Wootton, where two assart fields comprising 222 a. and 124 a. respectively in 1609 were shared with the men of Stonesfield, an arrangement that continued until the inclosure of Wootton in 1770. (fn. 41)

In 1086 Combe was one of the most extensively wooded parishes in the area, with woodland said to measure 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 league. (fn. 42) The northern half of the parish seems to have been largely uncleared at that time, as also were parts of the south, where clearances were still taking place at the beginning of the 14th century. (fn. 43) There was little expansion of arable land between 1086, when there was said to be land for 4 ploughteams, and 1279, when 16 yardlands and 30 1/2 a. of assarts were recorded. (fn. 44) Combe tenants were conspicuous transgressors of the forest laws, but their offences were poaching and damage, and assarts were scarcely mentioned. (fn. 45) In the later 13th century and earlier 14th woodland was cleared on a scale and at a speed suggesting a change of royal policy: 162 a. of recently assarted land were recorded in 1298, and a further 71 1/2 a. in 1303. (fn. 46) The full extent of clearances is not known, but they may have accounted for much of the transformation revealed by the survey of 1609, which recorded a solitary wood comprising 19 a.: known as Notoaks, sometimes as Nattocks or Nadox, it was in 1609 held with the manor house and may have been the remnant of demesne woodland. (fn. 47) Woodland clearances greatly reduced the amount of fuel accessible to Combe people, who were restricted to the closely regulated cutting of furze and fern. That, too, was curtailed in the 1660s when c.. 35 a. of furze land called Combe, or Broad, leys, at the eastern end of Combe green, was bought by the Crown as a deer covert. Commoners, who insisted that their right 'is not much inferior to that of the proprietors', received £100 in compensation. (fn. 48) In the 18th century and presumably earlier furze could be cut only with furze hooks, and only so much as could be carried on the back or head. (fn. 49) The right to cut furze was finally extinguished at inclosure in 1792, when George Spencer, duke of Marlborough, promised that faggots or coal would be given instead to the poor. (fn. 50) Deliveries had ceased by the late 19th century. (fn. 51)

Most of the southern and western edge of the parish is fringed with river meadows, although only 15 a. of meadow were recorded in 1086. (fn. 52) In the 13th century and early 14th the two westernmost meadows, Wigenham (or Ignum) and One Acre were demesne, the former leased to tenants, the latter sometimes leased and sometimes kept in hand. There was also a demesne meadow near the mill. Mowing was performed by a combination of customary services and wage labour. (fn. 53) Clayham, adjoining One Acre, may also have been a demesne meadow at one time as it was usually grouped with One Acre and Wigenham. (fn. 54) Those meadows were also distinguished by the absence of lot meadow, except for a very small amount in Wigenham. The other meadows, which contained both lot meadow and permanent 'platts', were, following the river from west to east, Colnham (or Coldman) meadow, Chalgrove (or Chawcroft) meadow, Bury mead, Bridge mead, east of the bridge, and Odd mead, also called Combe town mead. In 1609 the meadows comprised 125 a. in all. Chalgrove meadow contained a small plot known as Refham, given to the reeve, and another which was the hayward's; by the early 17th century both were occupied in rotation by the tenants of bury land. Bury mead was exclusively for holders of bury land. (fn. 55) Odd mead was mown only by copyholders.

No separate pasture was recorded in the Middle Ages, although Combe green is likely to have been in existence and to have been then, as later, common pasture. It was described in 1609 as a 'great waste or common' of 243 a., and formed a broad swathe of land across the centre of the parish from Stonesfield ford to Woodstock Park. (fn. 56) By the later 18th century it had been reduced to 101 a. by the imparkment of Combe leys and by inclosure and encroachment along its whole length. (fn. 57) Combe tenants were allowed in the 13th century to run goats in the forest, (fn. 58) and shared with Stonesfield the right to pasturelivestock in North Leigh's fields. The latter right was extinguished only at North Leigh's inclosure in 1759, when Combe and Stonesfield were jointly given 15 a. in North Leigh west of Stonesfield ford. (fn. 59) The right of other vills to pasture in Combe has left little trace: Combe wood was said in 1279 to be 'common to the country' (communis patriae), (fn. 60) and in 1547 Glympton was said to have pasture rights in Combe, (fn. 61) but no record has been found of neighbours exercising such rights. Assarting reduced the amount of permanent pasture, and a hint of the resulting tensions is perhaps given by a dispute of 1301-2 when Combe men complained of exclusion from an assart near Combe weir, where they used to have rights of common. (fn. 62) Grazing on the commons was augmented by pasture closes, many of which were recorded in the early 17th century in or adjacent to the village. (fn. 63)

In 1086 there was said to be land for 4 ploughteams in Combe although 5 were in use, 2 on the demesne worked by 2 servi and 3 on the tenants' land. (fn. 64) By the 1240s a demesne team seems to have gone out of use: only one plough and ploughman were mentioned in accounts, and in the 1270s a single team of oxen was kept. A second plough mentioned in the late 13th century and early 14th may have been for occasional use since the acreage sown each year and the number of oxen remained virtually unchanged. (fn. 65) By the mid 16th century the demesne was leased to the copyholders and was probably already consolidated in Bury field. Former demesne was probably also represented by some of the numerous small freeholds, comprising c.. 150 a. in total, recorded in 1606. Bury land continued to be distinguished from copyhold land until inclosure. (fn. 66)

The tenants recorded in 1086 were 6 villani and 6 bordars. (fn. 67) A croft of perhaps 3 a. in Colnham was granted in 1231 to William of St. Owen, and by 1279 another small freehold had been created for St. John's hospital in Oxford; assarts also were freely held. (fn. 68) In 1279 (fn. 69) there were 16 villeins, 4 aliter tenentes,, and 24 cottagers, yet the amount of tenant land had apparently remained unchanged since 1086, for apart from the demesne hide only 12 yardlands were accounted for: 2 were held by villein yardlanders, 7 were divided among 14 half-yardlanders, 2 aliter tenentes held yardlands, and 2 held halfyardlands. The holdings of aliter tenentes,, like those of socage tenants in Hanborough, (fn. 70) were distinguished from the villeins' primarily by an obligation to perform mowing services in Woodstock park and to carry a truss of straw from the curia at Combe to that at Woodstock against the king's coming there. (fn. 71) Several cottagers performed similar services. The obligation seems later to have fallen upon all customary tenants, between whom distinctions may have been blurring even in the late 13th century: 38 tenants were in 1298 all called simply 'the king's sokemen'. (fn. 72) The onerous services due in 1279 from the yardlanders and half-yardlanders of other demesne towns (fn. 73) had in Combe largely been commuted to higher money rents, 7s.. 6d.. a yardland for villeins and 6s.. or 10s.. for aliter tenentes,, leaving only haymaking and limited works to be performed. Assize rents from Combe had increased accordingly, from £6 9s.. 9d.. in 1250 to £10 7s.. 3 1/2d.. in 1279. (fn. 74) Cottagers' rents ranged from 2s.. 9 1/2d.. to a more usual 6d.. and four hens, (fn. 75) and all but four owed services. The heaviest obliged the cottager concerned to work for the king throughout the year from Monday to Wednesday, to reap with one man for three days, and to transport a truss of hay; others were required principally to assist with haymaking. Mowers in the demesne meadow were entitled to bread, meat, and as much grass as they could carry on their scythes without dropping. Those binding corn in the autumn received a sheaf each. Manorial servants received allowances in money and in kind, the reeve being allowed 10 1/2 d.. against his rent and a cartload of hay from Refham, the woodward 5s.. 0 1/4 d.. and all windfalls. The ploughman was paid as the woodward, allowed the use of the team every other Saturday, and given a sown strip of demesne land, a basket of wheat, and a basket of oats.

In the late 12th century and early 13th Combe was let at an annual farm to the sheriff, (fn. 76) but by 1242 the demesne was farmed directly. In the 13th century and early 14th wheat and oats each usually occupied 50-60 a. a year until in the late 13th century the acreage under oats was halved. In most years only 7 a. or 8 a. were sown with barley, and up to 5 a. of peas. Dredge was grown from the 1280s. Yields generally were poor, though no worse than on the other demesne manors, wheat yielding 5 bu. an acre on average, oats and barley each 7 1/4 bu. an acre. Often as much as a third, and occasionally a half, of the crops were sold, the remainder being used for seed, given as wages to servants, or in the case of oats kept for provender. Flax and hemp were grown in the late 14th century. (fn. 77) No details of livestock survive other than for oxen and horses, but in the 1240s there was a dairy, sales of butter and cheese sometimes fetching as much as those of wheat. A shepherd was employed in the late 13th century. Tenants are known to have kept cattle, pigs, and goats. (fn. 78) In the 1470s the reeve of Combe was paying the king's receiver c.. £19 a year, (fn. 79) but it is doubtful that the demesne was still being farmed, and the money was probably for rents and manorial dues.

Subsidy assessments of the earlier 14th century suggest a township of middling size and prosperity, seemingly without the great disparity of wealth apparent in some of its neighbours. In 1306 the highest known assessment (5s.. 9d..) was that of Reynold atte stocks, possibly the cottager of that name recorded in 1279. While generally the cottagers of 1279 or their descendants were assessed rather lower than the halfyardlanders, no assesment other than Reynold's was above 3s. and few were below 1s.. The number of taxpayers, unusually and for reasons not discovered, fell from 31 in 1306 to only 26 in 1327, when assessments were again evenly spread. Only seven family names survived from 1279. (fn. 80) Combe's assessment for later medieval taxes, £5 14s.. 8d., maintained its position relative to its neighbours. (fn. 81) A catalogue of woes claimed for Combe in 1451 by Eynsham abbey, citing pestilence, sterile soil, a dwindling and grasping peasantry, and 'other misfortunes', was perhaps special pleading: the abbey was seeking a licence to consolidate the rectory and vicarage. (fn. 82)

By the early 16th century the Crown had sold the manor house and perhaps c.. 200 a. of land, which were in the hands of Sir Richard Elyot. (fn. 83) In 1524 his son Thomas, assessed on goods worth £160, paid almost two thirds of the parish's tax. Other assessments included those of John Colles (£30) and Thomas Summer (£20), lessee of the rectory. A further 27 people were taxed, 3 on goods worth £10 to £19, 12 on goods worth £2 to £9, and 12 on wages of £1 a year. (fn. 84) By 1544 the general evenness of assessments was more apparent, comprising 3 of £10, 3 of £5 to £9, 16 of £2 to £4, and 10 of £1. (fn. 85) In 1606 the largest farm in Combe was Belson's, comprising 130 a. of free land held on a Crown lease by John Pollard. (fn. 86) William Seacole occupied an engrossed holding of 2 customary yardlands and 8 a. of free land comprising 6 houses and 71 a. in all. The estate was by the mid 17th century in the possession of the Martins, a branch of the Wilcote family of that name. (fn. 87) John Colles's successor, Henry Blagrave, held 61 a. in Combe and 32 a. of assart land in Wootton. Those farms apart, Combe remained a place characteristically of small farmers whose holdings, as described in 1606, comprised on average only c. 11 a. each, usually a mixture of free and copyhold land: of 48 tenants all but 6 held some free land. Fourteen customary holdings of 1/2 yardland were recorded, varying in size from 5 a. to 20 a.; the rent, 3s.. 8d.,., was virtually unchanged since 1279. Only one full yardland was recorded, and there were 6 quarter yardlands and 6 cotland tenements, the latter presumably the successors of the cotland tenements of 1279; others may have been enfranchised, to be found in 1606 among the numerous smallholdings. Bury land, comprising 52 1/2 a. of arable land in Bury field and 10 1/4 a. of meadow in Bury mead, was not, as on other demesne manors, shared by copyhold tenants generally, but restricted to 12 only. A rent of 6s.. 8d., and 4d. for commuted mowing and haymaking services, was paid to the Crown for each apportionment. The neatness of the arrangement, with only three tenants holding more than one share, suggests a relatively recent origin, although the twelvefold division matched exactly the 12 yardlands of tenant land recorded in 1086 and 1279. There were still 12 holders of the land in 1778, but the size of holdings had by then become irregular. (fn. 88) Wills and inventories of the 16th and 17th centuries confirm an impression of the predominance of small farms: 65 inventories were valued at £50 or less, 16 at between £51 and £100, and only 11 of more than £100 have been found. At least a third of Combe inventories included money on loan, ranging from the richest, that of William Martin (d. 1643), whose estate of £507 included loans totalling £489, (fn. 89) to the poorest, that of Nicholas Gye (d. 1600). (fn. 90) Christopher Hurst's (d. 1674) loans, £84 in an estate of £97, included £40 of 'desperate debts' owed by John Lovelace, Lord Lovelace. (fn. 91) Tradesmen and craftsmen inevitably had much of their fortune locked up in credit, but the lending of money by smallholders and labourers indicates one way in which an often precarious living could be diversified. An alternative was by occasional labouring in Woodstock Park. (fn. 92)

The mixed husbandry practised elsewhere in the neighbourhood in the 16th and 17th centuries was also typical of Combe. The soil in the north and west is suited to sheep and to barley,which, with wheat, was the main crop; peas, beans, maslen, and dill were also grown; oats were rarely mentioned. (fn. 93) Hemp was recorded in 1619, 1631, and 1641, and hops in 1692. Cattle were almost universally kept and were particularly important to smallholders and craftsmen. Unusually, however, the size of herds diminished later in the period, rarely exceeding three animals whereas earlier five or more had been common; a reduction in the size of the green may have been partly responsible. Sheep flocks in the earlier period, with a median size of c. 30, were relatively large, and they may have increased later although the number of flocks declined: sheep were mentioned in three quarters of inventories before 1650, in only a third thereafter. Pigs were mentioned regularly throughout the period, and bees occasionally. Grain is known to have been marketed in the later 16th century at Woodstock, Witney, and Chipping Norton, (fn. 94) and wool at Cirencester (Glos.). (fn. 95)

Each yardland was said in 1606 to have rights of common for all horses and cattle and for a generous 160 sheep; each cotland had rights equivalent to 1/4 yardland. A total of c. 2,500 possible sheep commons was recorded, (fn. 96) but it is unlikely that the maximum was taken up, although Christopher Buckner, a half-yardlander, left 87 sheep at his death in 1591, (fn. 97) and John Ovenel, holder of 1 1/4 yardland, was alleged in a tithe dispute of 1711-12, to have been running almost his full allowance of 200 in the parish. (fn. 98) In the 18th century the stint was greatly reduced and the method of reckoning common rights was altered: at a court leet in 1768 the stint was determined by taxation levels, 1 horse, 1 cow, and 15 sheep being allowed for each £5 paid in tax, presumably meaning land tax. The maximum number of sheep thereby permitted was 923. In 1788, when the stint was based on rentals, a quota of 1 horse, 1 cow, and 12 sheep for every £10 of rent allowed a yet smaller maximum of 828 sheep. (fn. 99)

In the 1620s and 1630s Crown leases of the larger farms were converted to freehold, (fn. 1) and much additional freehold land seems to have been created by the time that Combe was granted in 1705 to the duke of Marlborough. By the later 18th century there was a notably larger number of substantial farms in the parish, some put together by farmers renting land from more than one landlord: in 1778 Joseph Gunnis, based at the house later called Higher Westfield Farm, held 187 a. in five parcels, Richard Tustin of Combe Green Farm 127 a. in three, and Charles Rowles of the Grove 112 a. in two. The Blenheim estate's principal tenant was William Eagleton, who farmed 187 a. from Belson's. The chief owner-occupiers were Edward Golding, who farmed 103 a. probably from his house east of Combe Green Farm, Anne Bolton of Bolton's Farm, with 60 a. of her own land and the lease of the 88-a. West Close farm, and Mary Brice, who owned 55 a. and was tenant of a further 38 a. and of the house later called the Old Farm House. (fn. 2)

In 1609 there were said to be 710 a. of openfield arable in the parish and c.. 500 a. of pasture, which included the green and the closes adjacent to houses and also some large outlying closes such as Frogden, which comprised 15 a., possibly former demesne, between Bury field and the green. (fn. 3) By 1791 the amount of arable land had increased to 929 a., largely at the expense of pasture, which was reduced to 360 a. Although almost all the arable (896 a.) still lay in the open fields holdings had been consolidated, particularly in Land field and West field, and East End field, divided among only six tenants in the early 17th century, was shared by four in 1778. (fn. 4) The number of occupiers fell from 38 in 1606 to 25 in 1778, largely because of the acquisition of land by outsiders. That process was accelerated by George Spencer, duke of Marlborough's, policy of buying out freeholds and copyholds. In 1778 he had c. 300 a. in Combe, leased to 5 tenants, and there were in the parish as a whole at that time 29 owners of land, 13 of whom were also occupiers. In 1790 there were 22 owners, 12 of them occupiers; in 1791 there were but 12 owners, 8 of them occupiers, and 15 of the 18 tenants in the parish held of the duke. (fn. 5) The remarkable transformation of 1790-1 involved the purchase of 396 a. at a cost of £11,754, expenditure apparently facilitated by the willingness of vendors to allow part of the purchase money to remain with the duke at interest. (fn. 6) By 1792 most of Combe was in his hands, and in that year, after exchanging land with Lincoln College and agreeing with the college for the composition of tithes, (fn. 7) he inclosed the openfield land and reduced the parish to eight farms, occupied by men who had previously run holdings of mixed freehold and copyhold land, often from the same farmsteads. The largest new farms, Akeman Street farm (276 a., including 85 a. in Wootton) and Westfield, later Lower Westfield, farm (231 a.), were the only farms for which new, outlying, houses were built. Otherwise, the existing farmhouses lent themselves to the laying out of compact inclosed farms. Combe Green farm (150 a.) was based on the house later called Meeting House Farm, south of the great green; East End farm (136 a.) had at its core the former farm of the Bolton family, prominent in the parish since the late 16th century, which stayed on as tenant and for a time retained the freehold of the farmhouse, Bolton's Farm; Townsend farm (115 a.) seems to have been run from the house later called Old Farm House, and Middle farm (102 a.) from that later called Foxhole Farm; Grindley Hill farm (101 a.) was run from Higher Westfield Farm, and Weir farm (51 a.) from Horne's Close. The duke kept 186 a. in hand, principally woodland and land taken into Blenheim Park from Old Assarts and the green. (fn. 8)

The number and size of farms fluctuated after inclosure, but the long-term trend was towards fewer, larger establishments within the Blenheim estate and not confined to the parish. By the early 19th century there had been little change other than the amalgamation of Middle and Townsend farms, and there were 10 farmers in Combe in 1841, but by 1851 the number had been halved. (fn. 9) In 1863 there were only four significant farms, the largest being Combe farm (403 a.), formed out of Combe Green farm and Bolton's farm and run from a new farmstead west of the old. Combe farm occupied much of the eastern part of the parish, Lower Westfield farm 248 a. in the west. Higher Westfield farm occupied 144 a. south and west of the village, and also had land in Hanborough and North Leigh. Akeman Street farm, in the northern quarter of the parish, comprised 240 a. in Combe and land in Wootton, Hanborough, and North Leigh. (fn. 10) In the later 19th and the 20th century farm sizes and composition rarely remained constant from tenancy to tenancy, although Combe farm, renamed Manor farm in the early 20th century, Akeman Street farm, and Lower Westfield farm have usually been at the heart of the larger amalgamations. Among the longer established farming families have been the Davises and Greens at Akeman Street and Manor farms, the Honours at Bolton's and Higher Westfield farms, and the Woodwards at West Close and Alma Grove farms. Akemar Street farm was taken in hand for a period in the 1920s, but, after heavy losses, was again let to tenants. In 1980 Lower Westfield farm wa taken in hand and run by a manager in conjunction with Lower Riding farm, North Leigh. (fn. 11) Whereas in neighbouring parishes the Blenheim estate sold much land, notably in the 1920s, in Combe it has remained the predominant landowner, retaining 1,160 a. in 1988. (fn. 12)

New leases granted at inclosure specified that the rotation should be three crops and a fallow, but that on Akeman Street and Westfield farms part of the arable land was to be set aside for grass and sainfoin, the remainder to follow a sixcourse rotation of (1) fallow and turnips (2) barley (3) grass for mowing (4) grass for grazing (5) wheat on a clover ley (6) oats, beans, or pulse. (fn. 13) Mixed farming remained the norm, the north and west being favoured for arable, the centre and south for pasture. In 1877 there were 807 a. of arable land, 377 a. of pasture, and 141 a. of woodland (fn. 14) which was largely the result of planting by successive dukes. There seems in the later 19th century to have been renewed emphasis on stock-raising, to the extent that in 1914 the parish was almost equally divided between arable and pasture, lying on the northern edge of intensive cattle rearing country and immediately south of a predominantly arable belt. Cattle and sheep were kept, and the parish was notable for its pigs. The main crops were barley (21 per cent), wheat (20 per cent), and oats (12 per cent); the amount of arable land (12 per cent) given over to root vegetables other than potatoes was unexceptional, but, as in some of Combe's neighbours, potatoes (3 per cent) occupied an unusually high acreage. (fn. 15) Pasture farming remained important between the wars, with milking cows on most farms and beef cattle being kept in the river meadows. After the Second World War there was, as elsewhere, an increase in arable farming, but combined at first with a growing number of cattle, fed increasingly on root crops, hay, and silage as the permanent pastures were put to the plough. In the 1960s the dairy herds were sold off, but in 1983 Lower Westfield farm became a dairy farm with a herd of 120. (fn. 16) In 1982 the combined Akeman Street and Manor farm was wholly arable with c.. 500 a. of wheat and barley and 100 a. of potatoes; there were 70 a. of leys, 15 a. of peas, and, unusually, 40 a. of sugar beet, half the county's total acreage. The beet was taken to Kidderminster (Worcs.) for processing. (fn. 17) In 1988 the only livestock in the parish were the cattle at Lower Westfield farm and sheep kept at Higher Westfield farm and Alma Grove.

In 1832 acute distress prompted 36 parishioners to ask George Spencer-Churchill, duke of Marlborough, to rent them allotments for spade husbandry. The duke apparently gave 57 a. of somewhat marshy land north of Alma Grove on condition that half of each allotment be devoted to potatoes. Holdings varied from 9 a. to 1/2 a. and were taken by 22 tenants, who drained the land, and besides potatoes grew corn and fattened pigs. (fn. 18) That scheme may have been short lived, for in 1863 the only allotments recorded on ducal land were 14 a. west of Chatterpie House, 3 a. at the southern end of Brice's wood, and 1 a. at the east tip of Combe green. (fn. 19) Allotments were much sought after by Combe families, (fn. 20) and it was presumably in response to local demand that more land was made available in the later 19th century: in 1899 additional allotments were recorded in Bury field east of Peagle wood (16 a.), and, once more, north of Alma Grove (18 a.). (fn. 21) There was also a close of 2 a. owned by the church, south of the school, which had been turned into allotments in 1845 at the instigation of the chaplain, John Hannah. (fn. 22) In 1921 Charles Spencer-Churchill, duke of Marlborough, persuaded most farmers to offer plots of land to men from the village, but by c.. 1930 almost all had been given up. (fn. 23) In 1988 only the allotments by the school survived, and they had been halved by the sale of land to the school.

Combe was apparently a source of stone roofing slates in the late 15th century, (fn. 24) but there is no indication of large-scale production. Stone was quarried in the 18th century and probably earlier for local use. The stone pit at the south-east edge of Peagle wood was worked in the mid 18th century by William Baggs, (fn. 25) in the later 18th century and earlier 19th by John Loyt or Lloyd, (fn. 26) and subsequently by the Collett family. (fn. 27) The quarry seems to have fallen into disuse in the early 20th century. Smaller quarries were recorded in 1806 just above the river west of Lower Westfield Farm, in 1863 north of the Stonesfield road where it crosses the parish boundary, and in 1876 north-east of Grintleyhill bridge and west of the road junction by Horne's Close. (fn. 28) In the later 19th century c. 15 stonemasons were regularly recorded living in Combe, (fn. 29) some probably working in the larger quarries in Bladon and Hanborough. Only agricultural labour employed more men, and a 19th-century chaplain thought that most of his parishioners were stone masons. (fn. 30) By 1863 the Blenheim estate had opened a brickworks at the north-west end of Bolton's Lane (fn. 31) producing high-quality bricks, as used in the former vicarage and the village reading room. Lime burners were recorded in 1746 and 1774. (fn. 32) In the 19th century lime was supplied from a kiln at the Grintleyhill bridge quarry. The kiln closed when brick production ceased in 1924; the quarry was used for a rubbish tip and finally covered in 1978. (fn. 33) Another brick kiln, north of West Close Farm and west of Chatterpie Lane, was disused in 1876, and no record of its operation has been found. (fn. 34)

References occur from the 16th century to the usual rural trades and craftsmen such as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, wrights, smiths, masons, bakers, and maltsters. A tallow chandler was recorded in 1578, and a fisherman in 1743. A woman huckster was mentioned in 1738, and a woman higgler in 1742. (fn. 35) A kiln near Pound Cottage was in the late 16th century producing high-quality pottery. (fn. 36a) Cloth working was mentioned from the 17th century, (fn. 37a) presumably undertaken for Witney masters, although Ethelbert Irons, broadweaver, had at his death in 1696 cloth in London valued at £30; his house in Combe contained wool, linen, coarse and fine yarn, and a loom. (fn. 38a) It was reputedly common for Combe farmers in the 18th century to keep a few black sheep, the wool being mixed to produce a much prized motley cloth. (fn. 39a) Witney masters seem by the early 19th century to have ceased sending wool to Combe for spinning. (fn. 40a)

In the 19th century between a half and two thirds of men in employment worked as agricultural labourers. (fn. 41a) Their wives and daughters commonly worked at gloving: 18 were so employed in 1841, 60 or 70 thereafter, although official totals were probably an underestimate, since it seems to have been usual for girls to learn gloving as early as 8 years old. (fn. 42a) A small amount of alternative employment was available to women as dressmakers, seamstresses, washerwomen, domestic servants, or shopkeepers. Combe sawmill usually provided work for several men, 9 in 1881, others worked as leather dressers, (fn. 43a) and there was work in Blenheim Park for keepers, gardeners, woodmen, and grooms. Blenheim's influence appears to have been at its greatest in 1881, when there were in Combe 11 gardeners, 7 keepers, and 3 woodmen. There were 17 railway labourers in Combe in 1851, almost all temporarily resident for the building of the line, although one or two Combe men found permanent employment as porters or guards. The Collier and Harris families provided thatchers into the late 19th century and presumably beyond.

The difficulty of finding work in Combe drove some families out: 7 houses were uninhabited in 1861, 9 in 1871, and in that decade the population fell by 63, a decline attributed directly to migration to manufacturing districts. (fn. 44a) There was support for the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, and a large meeting was held in Combe in July 1872, during the strike and lockout at Wootton. At least one Combe farmer, Thomas Prestidge of Akeman Street farm, the parish's largest employer, was active in the association of farmers opposed to the union. (fn. 45a)

In 1918 the government employed c.. 60 people in felling and cutting firs for pit props; large trees were transported to the sawmill. (fn. 46a) During the 20th century the Blenheim estate has provided employment at the sawmill and in the park, but the declining demand for agricultural workers has, as elsewhere, led people increasingly to look further afield for work. Combe's seclusion has attracted commuters for whom the railway provides the opportunity to work considerable distances away. Within the village the two or three shops regularly trading in the 19th century and earlier 20th gradually went out of business. A new general stores was opened in 1985. A poultry and fruit farm was run from the Old House in the 1930s. The Oliver family's building business has been in existence since the 1930s. (fn. 47a)


The mill recorded in 1086 as paying 3s.. to the lord of the manor (fn. 48a) presumably stood on or near the site of the later Combe mill. John the miller held it with 1/2 yardland in the 1270s for a combined rent of 24s.. of which c. 20s.. was for the mill. (fn. 49a) It seems to have fallen into decay in the 1290s, was virtually rebuilt in 1298-9, and in the early 14th century was kept in hand. (fn. 50a) By the 16th century the mill was leased to tenants. Robert Johnson held it at his death in 1542, and was succeeded by his son Geoffrey (d. 1546) and grandson Thomas Johnson. (fn. 51a) John Johnson was said in 1606 to have held the lease since 1587. (fn. 52a) The family was also lessee of the mills at Bladon and Hanborough. (fn. 53a) By 1610 the freehold had been bought by Edward Ferrers and Francis Philips of London, probably speculators, who sold it in 1611 to Thomas Rawlins of Cassington, from whom John Johnson bought it in the same year. The property was said at that time to comprise, besides the mill, two houses, 1/2 a. of garden, 10 a. of meadow and pasture, and fishing rights. It remained in the Johnson family until William Johnson sold it in 1766 to George Spencer, duke of Marlborough, whose successor retained it in 1988. (fn. 54a) The tenant in 1778 was John Hudson, (fn. 55a) whose family retained the tenancy until the mid 19th century. The last miller of whom record has been found was George Hudson in 1841. By 1851 there was no miller in the parish, (fn. 56a) and work may have been under way in that year rebuilding the mill as estate workshops and fitting it with steam-driven machinery, a decision perhaps prompted by the opening of the railway line through the parish, extending the market for sawn timber from the Blenheim estate: the mill had its own siding. (fn. 57a) A water wheel was retained at the south end of the mill, and the beam engine and boiler were housed at the north end. (fn. 58a) The milling of corn seems to have ceased, and the building has been used primarily as a sawmill and estate smithy. (fn. 59a) In 1854 the mill was equipped for the preparation of flax, (fn. 60a) but no further reference has been found. The engine had ceased working c. 1910, and temporary engines were specially installed during the First World War. Thereafter power was supplied by the water wheel until the 1950s, when an electricity supply was connected and the mill leet was filled in. (fn. 61a) The sawmill has since produced timber and timber products for the Blenheim estate and for public sale. Since 1969 the Combe Mill society has restored the boiler, beam engine, forge, and water wheel. (fn. 62a)

In 1270 a Combe man was said to have died in a windmill accident, (fn. 63a) but its location is unknown and may not have been in Combe.

A flax mill said to have been built in the 18th century near Foxhole Farm (fn. 64a) has not been traced.


  • 36. P.R.O., LR 2/224, ff. 58 sqq. East field, West field, and Mor field, recorded in 1273-4 and said in P.N. Oxon.. ii. 255-6 to be in this parish, lay in Combe in Great Milton: Cal. Inq. p.m.. iv. 338-9.
  • 37. P.R.O., LR 2/202, ff. 35-36v.
  • 38. Ibid. LR 2/224, ff. 78-80, 83.
  • 39. Ibid. SC 6/962/4, 6-7, 9-20; Rot. Litt. Claus.. (Rec. Com.), i. 593; Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 851.
  • 40. V.C.H. Oxon.. xi. 273.
  • 41. P.R.O., LR 2/202, f. 35 and v.; V.C.H. Oxon.. xi. 271, 276.
  • 42. V.C.H. Oxon.. i. 404; B. Schumer, 'Woodland of Wychwood Region' (Leic. Univ. M. Phil. thesis, 1980), 44.
  • 43. P.R.O., C 47/11/5, no. 4.
  • 44. V.C.H. Oxon.. i. 404; Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 851-2. The entries on p. 852 beginning with Richard Vidua belong not with Combe but with Nether Kiddington (p. 877): Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 508.
  • 45. P.R.O., E 32/137.
  • 46. Ibid. E 36/75, pp. 54-5; ibid. SC 6/962/17; Schumer, 'Woodland of Wychwood Region', 96, 140.
  • 47. P.R.O., LR 2/202, f. 35v.; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. d. 172, f. 32; Blenheim Mun., Combe map (1778).
  • 48. P.R.O., SP 29/142, ff. 309-10; below, Woodstock, Blenheim (Park to 1705).
  • 49. Blenheim Mun., box 69, Combe orders.
  • 50. Ibid. box 65, agreement of 1791.
  • 51. G. Millin, Life in Our Villages,, 86.
  • 52. V.C.H. Oxon.. i. 404.
  • 53. P.R.O., SC 6/962/4, 17, 20; Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 851.
  • 54. Remainder of para. based on P.R.O., LR 2/197, ff. 36-9; LR 2/202, ff. 35-36v.; LR 2/224, ff. 58-93; Blenheim Mun., E/P/22; ibid. Combe map (1778).
  • 55. Below.
  • 56. P.R.O., LR 2/202, f. 35v.
  • 57. Blenheim Mun., E/P/22, f. 41; ibid. Combe map (1778).
  • 58. Close R.. 1231-4, 63; Schumer, 'Woodland of Wychwood Region', pp. 78 sqq.
  • 59. O.R.O., N. Leigh incl. award; below, N. Leigh, Econ.
  • 60. Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 851.
  • 61. H. Barnett, Glympton (O.R.S. v), 23.
  • 62. P.R.O., C 47/11/5, no. 4.
  • 63. Ibid. LR 2/197, ff. 35v.-38v.; LR 2/202, f. 36; LR 2/224, ff. 58-93.
  • 64. V.C.H. Oxon.. i. 403-4.
  • 65. P.R.O., SC 6/962/4, 9-20; Rot. Litt. Claus.. (Rec. Com.), i. 593; Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 851-2.
  • 66. e.g. Blenheim Mun., box 64. Cf. above, Bladon, Econ.
  • 67. V.C.H. Oxon.. i. 403-4.
  • 68. P.R.O., KB 27/309, m. 35; Cal. Chart. R.. 1226-57, 137; Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 34, 46, 852.
  • 69. Para. based on Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 851-2. For the problematic Combe entry see above.
  • 70. Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 871-2.
  • 71. Below, Woodstock, Blenheim (Park to 1705).
  • 72. P.R.O., E 36/75, p. 54; cf. Cal. Mem. R.. 1326-7, p. 257.
  • 73. Above, Bladon, Econ.; below, Hanborough, Econ.
  • 74. P.R.O., SC 6/962/4; A. Ballard, 'Woodstock manor in 13th cent.' Vierteljahrschrift f¨r Sozial- und Wirtschaftgeshichte,, vi. 434.
  • 75. A hen was worth 1d.. to the king: P.R.O., SC 6/962/4.
  • 76. Pipe R.. 1194 (P.R.S. N.S.V.), 16; 1195 (P.R.S. N.S. vi) 38; 1201 (P.R.S. N.S. xiv), 208.
  • 77. Eynsham Cart.. ii, p. 183.
  • 78. P.R.O., SC 6/962/4; SC 6/962/6-7, 9-20; Close R.. 1231-4, 63; Vierteljahrschrift,, vi. 448, 452, 459.
  • 79. P.R.O., SC 6/963/11-12.
  • 80. Ibid. E 179/161/9-10: 12 names in 1306 are lost or illegible.
  • 81. Lay Subsidy 1334,, ed. R. E. Glasscock, 244.
  • 82. Eynsham Cart.. ii, p. 200.
  • 83. Above, Manor and other estates.
  • 84. P.R.O., E 179/161/175; ibid. LR 2/197, f. 37; above, Manor and other estates.
  • 85. P.R.O., E 179/162/235.
  • 86. Rest of para. based on ibid. LR 2/197, ff. 36-9; LR 2/224, ff. 58-93.
  • 87. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 44/3/13.
  • 88. Blenheim Mun., E/P/22; ibid. Combe map (1778).
  • 89. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 44/3/13.
  • 90. Ibid. 297/3/19.
  • 91. Ibid. 132/2/7.
  • 92. e.g. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. d 23, f. 364.
  • 93. Para. based on wills and inventories in O.R.O., MS.
  • 94. P.R.O., SP 12/198, f. 105.
  • 95. Archdeacon's Ct. 1584,, ii (O.R.S. xxiv), 234.
  • 96. P.R.O., LR 2/224, ff. 58-84.
  • 97. Ibid. f. 74; O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 3/3/7.
  • 98. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Archd. Oxon. c 31, ff. 313 sqq.
  • 99. Blenheim Mun., box 69.
  • 1. Above, Manor and other estates.
  • 2. Blenheim Mun., E/P/22; ibid. Combe map (1778).
  • 3. P.R.O., LR 2/202, ff. 35-36v.
  • 4. Ibid. LR 2/224, ff. 58-84; Blenheim Mun., box 67; ibid. E/P/22.
  • 5. P.R.O., LR 2/197, ff. 36-37v.; LR 2/224, ff. 58-84; O.R.O., land tax assess.; Blenheim Mun., B/M/216, pp. 347, 358, 403, 547, 572-3; ibid. E/P/22.
  • 6. Blenheim Mun., boxes 65, 67, 69-70; ibid. B/M/217; above, Manor and other estates.
  • 7. Linc. Coll. Mun., Z/COM/3; Duke of Marlborough
  • 8. Blenheim Mun., boxes 67, 69; ibid. E/P/22; ibid. Combe map (1778); ibid. Combe map and survey (1806).
  • 9. P.R.O., HO 107/889; HO 107/1730.
  • 10. Blenheim Mun., E/P/58; ibid. Combe map (1863).
  • 11. Ibid. E/P/62; P.R.O., RG 10/1448; RG 11/1511; Kelly's Dir. Oxon.. (1883 and later edns.); local inf.
  • 12. Inf. from the estate office, Blenheim Palace.
  • 13. Blenheim Mun., box 65, Combe farms, 1791; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. d 172, f. 28.
  • 14. O.S. Area Bk..
  • 15. Orr, Oxon. Agric.. statistical plates.
  • 16. Inf. from Mr. E. Busby, Higher Westfield Fm., and Mr. H. Busby, Myrtle Fm., Long Hanborough.
  • 17. Oxf. Times,, 15 Oct. 1982; local inf.
  • 18. Blenheim Mun., box 67; Oxf. Herald,, 11 Jan. 1834.
  • 19. Blenheim Mun., E/P/58, pp. 55, 57; ibid. Combe map (1863).
  • 20. Rep. Com. on Children and Women in Agric.. [4202-1], p. 341, H.C. (1868-9), xiii.
  • 21. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Oxon. XXVI. 7 (1899 edn.).
  • 22. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 340, f. 58.
  • 23. Inf. from Messrs. E. and H. Busby.
  • 24. Linc. Coll. Mun., Acct. Bk. 1456-1513, s.a. 1487-8, p.37.
  • 25. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. d 172, f. 30; Blenheim Mun., box 64, deed of 1741.
  • 26. Blenheim Mun., box 69, agreement of 1809; Bodl. MS.Top. Oxon. d 23, f. 278.
  • 27. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 340, f. 24; P.R.0., HO 107/889; ibid. RG 11/1511.
  • 28. Blenheim Mun., Combe surv. and map (1806); ibid. E/P/58, pp. 51, 54; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Oxon. XXVI. 7 (1880 edn.).
  • 29. P.R.O., HO 107/889; HO 107/1730; ibid. RG 10/1448; RG 11/1511.
  • 30. Wood's Life v (O.H.S. xl), 5 n.
  • 31. Blenheim Mun., E/P/58, p. 51; ibid. Combe map (1863).
  • 32. O.R.O., par. reg. transcript.
  • 33. Combe Courier,, Jan. 1987; County Mus., P.R.N. 323-4; Oxon. Brickmakers (Oxon. Mus. pubn. no. 14), 21; inf. from Mr. H. Busby.
  • 34. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Oxon. XXVI. 7 (1880 edn.).
  • 35. Cal. Witney Ct. Bks. 1538-1610. (O.R.S. liv), 86; O.R.O., par. reg. transcript.
  • 36a. Inf. from Maureen Mellor, Oxf. Arch. Unit.
  • 37a. e.g. O.R.O., MSS. Wills Oxon. 34/4/8; 41/2/34; 65/4/32.
  • 38a. Ibid. 82/2/11.
  • 39a. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 351, f. 228.
  • 40a. Ibid. d 172, f. 46.
  • 41a. Para. based on P.R.O., HO 107/889; HO 107/1730; RG 10/1448; RG 11/1511. The returns for 1861 are missing.
  • 42a. Rep. Com. on Children and Women in Agric.. 341; N. L. Leyland and J. E. Troughton, Glovemaking in W. Oxon. 8-10.
  • 43a. O.R.O., par. reg. transcript.
  • 44a. Census,, 1861, 1871.
  • 45a. P.R.O., RG 10/1448; Oxf. Chron.. June-Aug. 1872; Agric. Trade Unionism in Oxon.. (O.R.S. xlviii), 23, 54.
  • 46a. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 340, f. 24.
  • 47a. P.O. Dir. Oxon.. (1854 and later edns.); Combe Courier,, Dec. 1985.
  • 48a. V.C.H. Oxon.. i. 404.
  • 49a. Close R.. 1268-72, 483; Rot. Hund.. (Rec. Com.), ii. 856.
  • 50a. P.R.O., SC 6/962/16-20.
  • 51a. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 179, ff. 200, 335.
  • 52a. P.R.O., LR 2/224, f. 89.
  • 53a. Above, Bladon, Econ.; below, Hanborough, Econ.
  • 54a. Blenheim Mun., boxes 65, 67.
  • 55a. Ibid. E/P/22, f. 3.
  • 56a. O.R.O., land tax assess.; P.R.O., HO 107/889; ibid. Ho 107/1730.
  • 57a. Blenheim Mun., box marked '18th-19th cent. Noke, Combe, etc.', rly. papers.
  • 58a. Combe Mill (publ. Combe Mill Soc.), 1-2; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. d 330, f. 18.
  • 59a. Combe Mill, 9- 10.
  • 60a. fnl. R. Agric. Soc. xv. 217.
  • 61a. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 340, f. 24; Combe Mill, 2; Oxf. Times, 28 Mar. 1975.
  • 62a. Combe Mill, 2..
  • 63a. Cal. Inq. p.m.. i, p. 242.
  • 64a. Emden, Combe, 17.