A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 13, Bampton Hundred (Part One). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1996.
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Yelford's medieval open fields probably covered much of the area of the Hastings family's inclosed estate depicted in 1625, (fn. 1) together with Yelford field to the east which formed part of Hardwick's fields until inclosure in 1853. (fn. 2) In 1086 Yelford manor had land for 3 ploughs, (fn. 3) and there may have been other, unrecorded, land in the parish: in 1279 various estates there comprised a ploughland, 10½ yardlands, and some odd acres, a total of perhaps 15 yardlands. (fn. 4) In the 17th century the former Walwyn estate comprised 2 yardlands (fn. 5) and the Edwards (later Wadham College) estate c. 5 yardlands; (fn. 6) thus unless the Hastings manor had changed greatly from the ploughland and 4 yardlands recorded in 1279, there were probably still c. 15 yardlands in Yelford. The 11 yardlands on which the parish was rated for poor-relief in 1708 presumably excluded much of the open-field land, certainly the college estate, which by then was regarded as part of Hardwick. (fn. 7) In 1305 a yardland on the Hastings manor was said to contain only 24 a., (fn. 8) but Wadham College's estate in 1649 comprised 162 estimated acres, implying a yardland of 30 a. or more. (fn. 9)
The valuation of a ploughland in 1305 as only 60 a. of arable worth 4d. an acre suggests that half the land then lay fallow. (fn. 10) Change to a three-field rotation of crops before the mid 17th century may be indicated by the fairly even distribution of Wadham College's arable between three major subdivisions of Yelford field. (fn. 11) In 1086 Yelford manor contained 36 a. of meadow and 15 a. of pasture; the meadow was worth 1s. 6d. an acre in 1305 when the manor included 10 a., together with common pasture worth 3s. (fn. 12) At that time the inhabitants of Yelford intercommoned with those of Shifford, Cote, and Aston between Michaelmas and Martinmas, probably in the meadows along Shifford brook. (fn. 13) No early woodland was recorded in Yelford, but in the later Middle Ages the Hastings family acquired Boys wood (c. 72 a.) on the northern edge of the parish, and it descended thereafter with Yelford manor. (fn. 14) Within the parish in 1625 there were only a few small coppices, covering c. 5 a. (fn. 15)
In 1086 Yelford manor's demesne was worked by 4 servi with 2 ploughs, while the tenants (3 villeins and 3 bordars) had ½ plough; undercultivation may have accounted for a fall in value from 60s. to 50s. since the Conquest. (fn. 16) By 1279 Yelford men were tenants of three manors. The Hastings manor, its demesne reduced to 1 ploughland, supported 4 freeholders, 1 villein yardlander, and 2 cottars, the tenant land amounting to perhaps 4 yardlands; rents yielded £1, and the villein's works were valued at 9s. By 1305 there were 6 free tenants paying a total of 12s., 1 yardlander paying no rent but providing works worth 6s. 11½d., and 6 cottars with works worth 4s. 2d. (fn. 17) In 1279 the Grey manor, of which the demesne lay in Hardwick, supported 5 villein yardlanders in Yelford, each paying 6s. 7d. rent and works worth 4s. 2½d.; one of them held additional land for 2s. 6d. A freeholding of ½ yardland and ½ a. on the Grey manor, for which Robert of Yelford paid 3s., probably lay in Yelford. Robert also paid 2s. for a house and yardland in Yelford attached to Isabel de Grey's Standlake manor. (fn. 18) In 1328 the Yelford family's estate in Yelford, of which parts belonged to three different manors, included 40 a. of demesne arable and 6 a. of meadow, and supported 3 cottars paying total rent of 4s. 1d. and works worth 10d. (fn. 19) Tenants of the Greys' Hardwick manor, of whom some presumably lived at Yelford, continued to provide works in the early 14th century. (fn. 20)
In 1306 Yelford's assessment of 17s. 3d. for a thirtieth was payable by c. 10 persons, of whom the highest assessed were Robert of Yelford (6s.) and Reynold (? Roland) of Hastings (2s.). (fn. 21) In 1327 an assessment of 48s. for a twentieth was payable by 16 persons, of whom 8 were assessed at 2s. or below, while 3, including John de Grey, were assessed at 5s. 6d. (fn. 22) For later medieval taxes Yelford seems to have been included with Hardwick and its members. (fn. 23) Yelford's only contributor to the subsidy of 1523-4 was John Hastings, resident lord of Yelford manor, assessed on goods worth £40. (fn. 24) By then much of Yelford was an inclosed farm in single ownership, but a few other substantial residents were included in later subsidies: in 1542-3, when Hastings paid on land worth £30, three members of the Edwards family, tenants of the former Grey manor, were assessed on goods worth a total of £15, and two members of the Moseley family, tenants of the Walwyn estate, on goods worth £5. (fn. 25)
The transformation of the west part of the parish into pasture and meadow closes (fn. 26) probably followed depopulation through plague in the mid 14th century, which elsewhere in the area caused widespread abandonment of arable. (fn. 27) The retention of open fields east of the stream which bisected the parish, and their incorporation into the fields of Hardwick, may have resulted from a deliberate exchange of holdings, creating an integrated inclosed estate wholly owned by the Hastings family, (fn. 28) and leaving the former Grey manor, centred on Hardwick, with most of the open-field land to the east. Existing closes near the village may have been shared out, since in the 17th century some closes attached to the former Grey manor duplicated the names of closes on the Hastings estate. (fn. 29) A third Yelford estate, that of the Walwyns, may have retained land on both sides before it was absorbed into the Hastings estate in the mid 16th century: the site of its chief house seems to have been on the west, (fn. 30) while there are hints that the open-field strips on the east held by the Hastings family in the 17th century had only been acquired with the Walwyn estate. (fn. 31)
From that time Yelford's division effectively into two farms was reflected in subsidy returns in which only the Hastings and Edwards families were assessed. In 1576 John Hastings paid on land worth £18 and William Edwards, assessed under Hardwick, on goods worth £4; in 1600 the Hastings land was valued at £10 and the Edwards assessment was unchanged. (fn. 32) That the Edwardses were substantial yeomen is indicated by the will of Richard Edwards (d. 1609) which included cash bequests of c. £250. (fn. 33)
In 1625 the inclosed Hastings estate, later Manor farm, comprised 218 a. of pasture, 109 a. of meadow, 4 a. of 'old leys', and 75½ a. of wood and coppice, a total of 407 a.; (fn. 34) Boys wood and the Lawns, c. 29 a. of pasture acquired with the Walwyn estate, though contiguous with the Yelford estate, lay in Standlake. (fn. 35) In the mid 17th century the Hastings family also held a small quantity of arable in Yelford field (presumably 2 yardlands if it was the former Walwyn land). (fn. 36) The inclosed farm as let by the Lenthalls from the mid 17th century was resurveyed in 1811 as 316½ a., which excluded the Standlake land and a coppice (c. 3½ a.) kept in hand; (fn. 37) after small adjustments in the mid 19th century Manor farm comprised c. 336 a., the entire civil parish. (fn. 38)
At least one pasture close depicted in 1625 was ploughed before 1629 (fn. 39) and, although the Lenthalls imposed the standard penalties on lessees for converting established grassland, (fn. 40) by the mid 19th century a third of the farm, chiefly its higher, northern part, was arable. (fn. 41) Before 1876 most of the southern part of the farm was ploughed, increasing the arable proportion to two thirds. (fn. 42) The farm without its woodland was reckoned to be worth c. £250 a year in the mid 17th century, reflecting the high valuation of inclosed land. (fn. 43) Leases were usually for 7 years or fewer until the mid 18th century when the Bakers, tenants for several generations, acquired leases of 20 years or more. Annual rents doubled from £101 in 1674 to £220 and 100 'good milk cheeses' in 1726, falling steadily thereafter until, during the Napoleonic wars, there was a sharp increase to £360; in 1822 the rent was still £340 with penalties as high as £40 an acre for conversion to arable. (fn. 44) In the agricultural depression of the later 19th century it may have been difficult to let the farm, and in 1881 and 1891 the house was occupied by farm managers. (fn. 45)
The Edwards (later Wadham College) farm remained largely uninclosed until the mid 19th century. In the 1630s its roughly calculated value, on the basis of 5s. an acre for open-field land and twice that for closes, was c. £81 a year. (fn. 46) When surveyed in 1649 it comprised, in addition to a house and farmstead on the site of College Farm, c. 36 a. of meadow and pasture, much of it in closes around the farmstead, and 162 a. of open-field arable. (fn. 47) The arable lay chiefly in Lawn, Middle, and Stockwell fields (45 a., 42 a., and 58 a. respectively), evidently subdivisions of the area depicted as Yelford field in 1853. Small quantities of arable lay in Sheepstead (16 a.) and Brighthampton West field (1½ a.), which were probably never part of Yelford's early fields. (fn. 48) Within the main fields there had been much union of strips; pieces of 5 a. or more were commonplace, and some of c. 18 a. were recorded. (fn. 49) When the college's Yelford farm was resurveyed in 1715 it comprised c. 168 statute acres, of which some 48 a. were grass. (fn. 50) In 1772 another survey mentioned only c. 148 a., made up of 22½ a. of meadow and pasture closes, 19 a. in Brighthampton's meadows, and c. 107 a. of open-field arable distributed as before. (fn. 51) At inclosure in 1853 Wadham College and its lessee Thomas Pinnock, in return for 152 a. of land and 160 sheep commons, were awarded 138 a. of new closes adjacent to the farm's existing old inclosures, which, including the house and farmstead, comprised c. 25 a. (fn. 52) In 1863 the farm, still 163 a., comprised 130 a. of arable land, described as strong loam on clay above a substratum of gravel; the grass, of good quality, was chiefly in the old closes. (fn. 53) By 1876 the arable area had increased to c. 139 a. (fn. 54)
From the 17th century Wadham College's leases were for 20 years. (fn. 55) At first the whole estate was let for £40 a year, but from 1715 it was divided into Yelford and Hardwick farms, let respectively for £32 2s. and £8 18s. The rent for Yelford farm was unchanged until the mid 19th century, but substantial renewal fines were payable: in 1834 the tenant successfully appealed to the college to reduce his fine to £200, (fn. 56) and in 1848 he paid £198 on renewal. From 1868 the farm, with 22 a. of newly purchased land in Hardwick, was let year to year for £274; from 1879 it was let without the extra land for only £200, but with a fine of £50 an acre for new tillage. Many of Wadham's nominal lessees, such as Mary Mountford of Oxford in the later 17th century and the Groves of Woodstock or Maximilian Western of Cokethorpe in the 18th, were intermediaries. Farmers long-established at College farm included the Terrys from the 1680s, (fn. 57) the Mountains in the earlier 18th century, and the Pinnocks for much of the 19th.
The residence of a shepherd in Yelford's small farming community in 1584 (fn. 58) reinforces the indications given by field names and land use in 1625 that sheep farming and probably cattle grazing were dominant, at least on the inclosed land. Conversion from arable to pasture is suggested by field names such as Linthorn, probably once an enclosure for flax, but by the 17th century applied to pasture closes on both the Hastings and Wadham estates. (fn. 59) Specialization seems to have been reduced by the later 17th century: the tenant of Manor farm in 1683 had cattle worth c. £44, hay worth £46 10s., and wheat, barley, oats, and pulse worth c. £60; there were a few pigs and only 4 sheep. (fn. 60) The inclusion of cheeses in the annual rent of Manor farm in 1726 and 1731 suggests that dairy farming was of particular importance there. (fn. 61) Until inclosure the lessees of College farm carried on the mixed farming practised elsewhere in Hardwick's open fields. (fn. 62) Yelford's principal crops in the mid 19th century were wheat, barley, beans, and turnips, (fn. 63) and many livestock were grazed: in 1852 the departing tenant of Manor farm sold over 30 cattle, 30 sheep, 25 pigs, and 2 ricks of wheat, and in 1862 another sale at Yelford included 68 dairy cattle and 100 Oxford Down ewes. (fn. 64) Despite the enlarged arable area there was continued interest in stock and dairy farming, with particular emphasis on cheese-making. (fn. 65) In 1851 Yelford's two farms employed 12 labourers. (fn. 66)
After the Lenthalls acquired both farms in 1904 they rearranged their estate so that Manor farm (302 a.) comprised all the fields north of the Aston-Hardwick road, and College farm (196 a.) all those to the south. (fn. 67) The Weeks family held both farms in the earlier 20th century, and continued at College farm after J. F. Florey took on Manor farm on a yearly tenancy in the 1940s. In 1937 a 'Danish' pig house for 300 pigs was built near the Brighthampton-Boys wood lane. (fn. 68) When Manor farm was sold in 1949 only a third (107 a.) of the land was arable. In modern times the farm formed part of a larger unit worked from Barley Park farm in Ducklington. In 1949, when the Weekses bought College farm, over four-fifths (165 a.) of the land was arable, but in the later 20th century much was converted to pasture.