A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 13, Bampton Hundred (Part One). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1996.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Aston and Cote shared a field system apparently by 1239, when demesne granted with the manor included 55 a. in North field, 64 a. in South field, and 24 a. in East field. (fn. 1) A holding in 1432 was fairly evenly divided between North (later Claywell) field in the north-west, Kingsway field north of Aston hamlet, Windmill field east of Cote, and Holywell field in the south-east. (fn. 2) The smaller Garsons or Gastons, which lay east of Aston hamlet and whose name suggests an intake from common pasture, was mentioned in 1417, (fn. 3) and Ham field, south of Aston, from the 17th century. (fn. 4) Nearly all of the fields lay on the river gravels. (fn. 5)
Extensive meadows adjoined the Thames and its tributaries. (fn. 6) Demesne meadow in 1238 and 1239 included 25½ a. in North mead, eight hams, and three 'islands', of which some, notably Rowney and Queenborough, lay in Bampton or Weald and descended later with Golofers farm. (fn. 7) Aston Inmead, presumably also former demesne, lay in the south by the river. (fn. 8) By the 17th century and probably the mid 16th Inmead, Outmead, and Bossengey near the Chimney boundary, together c. 450 a., were common lot meadows and so remained until inclosure, (fn. 9) and in the 19th century and presumably earlier some inhabitants had additional rights in Shilton's neighbouring lot meadow. (fn. 10) There was little several meadow other than in small closes in the hamlets, though by the 17th century and probably from the Middle Ages the Sixteens disposed of a few small, scattered hams mostly assigned to town officers, and there were isolated strips of meadow in the common fields. (fn. 11)
In the 19th century and presumably earlier the lot meadows were divided into 13 (perhaps formerly 16) 'layings out', each comprising 4 'sets' of varying quality. There were 16 named lots, originally one for each ploughland, though by the 17th century some lots were shared by up to 10 tenants and many inhabitants held shares in more than one lot. Each tenant kept a piece of wood inscribed with a mark representing his lot, used in the draw at a time fixed by the Sixteens and grass stewards; the first draw bestowed rights in the first set of the laying out, and the second in the second set, though in the 18th and 19th centuries informal exchanges were common. (fn. 12) The standard allotment per yardland seems to have been 7-8 a., though in the 17th century Bampton Deanery tenants had less, and in the 18th century there was much variation. (fn. 13) In 1593 tenants with mowing but not feeding rights were to remove their hay by Lammas eve (31 July), or leave it for the inhabitants' cattle. (fn. 14)
Demesne in 1238-9 included a third of an ox pasture called 'Hamm', a third of a cow pasture called Roughmead, and a third of a pasture for 200 sheep. (fn. 15) In the 17th century and the 19th the 'large and rich commons' exceeded 850 a., mostly occupying a swathe of alluvium running between the hamlets from the meadows to the north-east boundary. (fn. 16) In 1657 and later the central common was divided into a sheep common (c. 130 a.) on the north, called Sheep Marsh or Aston common, and a cow common (including Chimney Lake and Cote moor or common) on the south. (fn. 17) Other commons mentioned from the 17th century included Aston mead and Oatlands (c. 227 a.), perhaps partly former arable, Shaw Brook and Mill Ford (c. 152 a.) south of Great brook, Long hams (4 a.), and West moor (c. 61 a.), partitioned between Aston and Bampton by the 17th century and presumably shared earlier. (fn. 18) Truelands (21 a.) further north, probably also partitioned at an early date (fn. 19) and possibly reduced by medieval assarting, (fn. 20) was mentioned in the 15th century; (fn. 21) in 1740 it was reserved for sheep, but in 1841 it was common meadow. (fn. 22) A few leys, providing additional grassland, were listed in 1657. (fn. 23) In the 17th century Cote moor, Shaw Brook, and Mill Ford were hained from 1 March to 3 May, and West moor and Aston mead from 25 March until broken by order, usually in April. Inmead and Outmead were commonable for cattle and sheep from 1 August to 25 March. (fn. 24) The stint per yardland, traditionally 12 cattle (or 6 horses) and 40 sheep but regulated annually by the Sixteens, varied from 8 cows and 16 sheep in 1779 and 1848 to the full allowance in 1754; in 1657 there were reckoned to be 818 cow and 2,560 sheep commons in all, some held with cottages or without land, and more were actually being stocked. (fn. 25)
In 1497 Mary, Lady Hastings and Botreaux, demolished a tenant's house in Cote and converted its 20-a. holding to pasture, (fn. 26) and in the 1660s Thomas Horde attempted to promote a general inclosure of the township with the aim of improving the land for cattle and sheep, converting low-lying arable to pasture or meadow, and reducing flooding. Under an agreement of 1662 financial aid was promised to tenants who inclosed, and provision was made for exchanges, abatement of commons, and arbitration; Horde subsequently inclosed c. 120 a. near Cote House, taken mostly from Holywell field and Cote moor, and abated 240 sheep commons, but despite consensus that inclosure was in the general interest few tenants or freeholders inclosed more than 2 or 3 a., and no further inclosure was recorded until the 1850s. (fn. 27) Flooding of meadows in particular, mentioned in the 15th century, (fn. 28) remained a problem, and drainage channels dug to protect them in 1668 were paid for by a levy on all landholders. (fn. 29)
A half yardland in 1432 included 11¼ a. of arable, (fn. 30) but yardlands in 1668 were reckoned apparently at 30 a., and the theoretical division of the township into 64 yardlands suggests a statute measure of c. 26 a. excluding meadow. (fn. 31) Most recorded yardlands contained up to 32 a. of arable, (fn. 32) though in the 17th and 18th centuries some on Bampton Deanery and the former Shifford manor included 20 a. or less. (fn. 33)
Aston and Cote were not entered separately in Domesday Book. (fn. 34) Forty-four villeins in 1279 held yardlands, 5 held half yardlands, another 6 shared yardlands presumably following recent divisions, and one held 2 yardlands. Of those, 44, mostly yardlanders, held of Aston manor, and the rest of Bampton Deanery manor (4 yardlanders) and Eynsham abbey's Shifford manor. (fn. 35) No cottagers were mentioned, though one was recorded at different times on each of the manors, (fn. 36) and in 1328 there were 3 cottagers and 5 otherwise unrecorded villeins on Robert of Yelford's estate. (fn. 37) Eight and a half freehold yardlands were recorded, 3 kept in demesne by Robert of Yelford and 2 by Eynsham abbey; 2 others were held of the abbey, and 1½ was sublet by its lay owner. On Aston manor 2 ploughlands were in demesne, and since some land attached to the manor lay in Bampton and Weald the township probably then, as later, totalled 64 yardlands. (fn. 38) In the early 14th century lay taxpayers' average personalty was generally lower than in Bampton's other outlying townships; individual payments in 1316 ranged from 9d. on goods worth 12s. to 15s. 9d. on goods worth over £12, apparently from the villein tenant of 2 yardlands, and Aston manor's demesne was taxed on goods worth over £5. Most villein yardlanders seem to have been taxed on between c. 48s. and 80s., (fn. 39) and one cottager on Bampton Deanery manor was taxed apparently on 40s. (fn. 40)
Labour services in 1279 seem, like rents, to have been heaviest on Bampton Deanery manor, on which, as in Bampton, they were valued at 10s. 2½d. for a yardlander. On Eynsham abbey's manor rents per yardland in Aston were 4s. and services were valued at under 5s., and in Cote 2 tenants of Aston manor and all 4 abbey tenants held for rents only. (fn. 41) Services on Bampton Deanery manor in 1317 remained broadly similar to those on the manor in Bampton, though aid was reportedly charged at 5s. per yardland. (fn. 42) On Eynsham abbey's manor c. 1360 most yardlanders owed 2 days' harrowing, 1 day's ploughing, 1 day's weeding, 6 days' mowing and hay-lifting, 3 days' carting, and 3 bedrips, besides 5s. rent, 2 capons at Christmas, and aid, heriot, and toll of beer; the 2-yardland holding, from which ½ yardland had become detached and which was not explicitly called villein land, owed similar services besides 11s. rent, 9d. fishsilver, and the task of discharging the abbot's obligations to the hundred and county courts. (fn. 43) One abbey tenant had by then compounded his services for 12s. rent, and services and aid were fully commuted c. 1385-6, earlier than on the same manor in Shifford; (fn. 44) on Bampton Deanery manor services were commuted by 1416-17. (fn. 45) Tenants of Aston Pogges manor were said in 1378 to be in open revolt, refusing services, taking oaths of resistance, and holding daily assemblies, and the justices were empowered to imprison those indicted. (fn. 46) Though the revolt was presumably crushed all or part of the demesne was let by 1440-2 and possibly by 1417-18, when the manorial dovecot was ruinous. (fn. 47)
Assized rents continued to rise in the late 14th century but were falling by the early 15th on Eynsham abbey's manor. (fn. 48) Entry fines too fell sharply, (fn. 49) and individual rent reductions were recorded on both ecclesiastical manors, perhaps reflecting long-term difficulties. (fn. 50) Until the earlier 15th century or later holdings seem to have remained fairly stable, (fn. 51) but by the 17th century farms of ½ or ¼ yardland and of 2 yardlands or more were common, some larger ones incorporating freehold, copyhold, and leasehold under more than one owner. There were then c. 25 cottages, some held and presumably sublet by tenants of larger holdings. (fn. 52)
In the 16th and 17th centuries Aston and Cote's prosperity and social structure seems to have been broadly similar to that of neighbouring townships, (fn. 53) despite an unusual preponderance of houses (over 70 per cent) taxed in the mid 17th century on one hearth only. (fn. 54) As elsewhere in the parish there were some moderately prosperous yeomen. Between 1678 and 1728 five of the Williamses, a family reputedly of Welsh immigrants settled in Cote by the 15th century, left personalty valued at over £100, and two of them personalty of over £300, (fn. 55) while Mark Brickland (d. 1680), tenant of 2 yardlands under the Hordes, and Tompson Hanks (d. 1680), a freeholder and tenant of 2½ yardlands under Exeter cathedral, were sometimes called gentlemen. Brickland left personalty worth £528 including a lease (£200), money owed him (£150), and plate (£18), (fn. 56) and other notable farmers included members of the Newman, Young, Ricketts, Sparrowhawk, Frime, and Bartlett families. By contrast 6 inhabitants were exonerated from hearth tax in 1665 through poverty, among them a cottager who, excluding his lease, left personalty worth only £12, and in 1604 an Aston inhabitant left goods worth £6. (fn. 57)
Farming was mixed, the chief crops being wheat, barley, and pulse, beans, or peas, though oats, maslin, rye, sainfoin, and hops were also mentioned. (fn. 58) Cattle, some for dairying, and sheep were recorded frequently, usually in small numbers, though Henry Medhopp (d. 1647) had 11 milch beasts and 160 sheep, and a Cote farmer in 1714 had 178 sheep. Humphrey Linsey (d. 1728) of Cote, whose personalty was valued at over £300 including leases, left sheep and wool together worth £75 and cattle worth £18, besides £61-worth of corn and hay. Cheese was mentioned frequently, and poultry, pigs, and bees were kept. (fn. 59) A 3-course rotation was followed perhaps in 1358 (fn. 60) and certainly in the mid 17th century, (fn. 61) but in 1678 a 4-course system was adopted, Garsons being grouped with Claywell field, and the Ham with Holywell field. In 1742 the sequence was (1) wheat or barley, (2) beans or peas, (3) barley, (4) fallow, but the order of rotation and combination of fields were altered frequently during the 18th century, and in 1769 it was decided to combine Claywell and Holywell fields and to re-adopt a 3-course rotation, with the Ham and Garsons cropped separately. (fn. 62) The fields were again reordered in 1770 and a 4-course system persisted in 1848, when Windmill and Holywell fields apparently formed a single Cote field. (fn. 63)
Most tenements formerly belonging to Shifford manor were converted to freehold by Edward Yate (d. 1645) or his son Sir John (d. c. 1658), (fn. 64) though four, totalling 2¾ yardlands, remained lifehold in 1748. (fn. 65) On Aston manor a few farms were held at rack rent by the 1660s, and 99-year lifehold leases renewable for large entry fines gradually superseded copyhold during the late 17th century and early 18th; they remained common in the 1770s, when most tenants still owed suit of court and payments in lieu of heriot and poultry. (fn. 66) Some larger leasehold farms emerged during the later 18th century, notably 5½ yardlands kept in demesne with Cote House for much of the 17th century and earlier 18th, but let with the house to the Townsend family probably from the 1760s. (fn. 67) In 1841 the farm comprised c. 230 a. including over 100 a. of old inclosure, but only three other farms then exceeded 100 a., and many remained under 30 a., a reflection chiefly of the continuance of open-field agriculture. (fn. 68) Though some farms incorporated freeholds most larger ones were still amalgamations under various owners, and there were no substantial owner-occupiers. (fn. 69)
Plans possibly to inclose Aston and Cote with Bampton (fn. 70) were abandoned, and a proposal in 1834, supported by tenants and initially by Caroline Horde, met with hostility from most proprietors. (fn. 71) An Act was finally obtained in 1852, and inclosure commenced the following year; the award was sealed in 1855. (fn. 72) Henry Hippisley received 1,715 a. (including 86 a. leased for lives and 16 a. of old inclosure), besides 66 a. awarded for manorial rights and immediately sold. Exeter cathedral received 176½ a., mostly held by copyholders in trust but actually leased at rack rent. (fn. 73) Awards were made to over 50 freeholders, only 16 of them resident; many allotments comprised only a few acres, often in lieu of mowing or common rights, and few exceeded 40 a., though William Prior of Aston received c. 72.a., and Benjamin Williams of Hillingdon (Mdx.) 158 a. in Cote. By 1857 the later farm pattern was established: there were then eight farms over 100 a., and by 1861 there were ten, including five over 200 a. and one (Cote House farm) of c. 450 a. All were predominantly leasehold, five being held of Aston manor. Most remained centred on farmsteads in Aston and along Cote Lane, though Newhouse Farm (with 270 a. in 1861) and Cote Lodge Farm (174 a. in 1881) were both built after 1857. (fn. 74)
In 1861 over 260 inhabitants, 68 per cent of those whose occupations were recorded, were called agricultural labourers, and the chief farms and smallholdings employed c. 180 men, women, and boys. Others dependent on agriculture included 10 shepherds and 3 dairymaids, a pig dealer (and grocer), 2 cattle dealers, a seedsman, and a fruiterer. Some smallholders with farms under 30 a. remained, among them a dairywoman with 25 a. and 2 farmers and poulterers with 11 a. and 7 a., but few were recorded as farmers in the 1870s. (fn. 75) Prominent farming families included the Townsends, tenants of Duckend (or North Street) farm in 1742 and still in 1939, the Lucketts, who held several farms in the 19th century and early 20th, the Bakers, tenants of Lower farm in Aston and of the Williams family's freehold in Cote, and from 1855 the Gilletts of Cote House farm. (fn. 76) Though a few farms were predominantly arable or pastoral, farming generally remained mixed. (fn. 77) Cote House farm produced cider in the 1840s, (fn. 78) and in 1855 its stock included wheat, barley, beans, tartar oats, and hay, besides dairy cattle, sheep, and pigs. (fn. 79) On Aston's mixed Manor farm in 1882-3 there were c. 150 sheep, 40 cattle, and 66 pigs, and feed included swedes, mangolds, and turnips as well as oats, bran, beans, tail barley, and wheat. (fn. 80) Charles Gillett of Cote House farm, a noted breeder of Oxford Down rams, won prizes at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1862, and it was later claimed that another Gillett had bred the 'original' flock of Oxford Downs at Cote; (fn. 81) though the family played a significant role the breed was, however, well established before the Gilletts settled in the township. (fn. 82)
In 1872 a meeting of the agricultural workers' union in Aston was well attended, and in 1890 the vicar cited low wages among the chief impediments to his ministry. (fn. 83) Agricultural depression during the 1870s presumably affected Aston and Cote as it did neighbouring townships, and the tenant of Newhouse farm, vacated after 1877, may have been a victim; in 1881 nearly 130 labourers were still employed on the chief farms, however, 53 of them by the Gilletts, and many established farmers survived in the 1890s or later. (fn. 84) Farms remained remarkably stable: in 1920 the acreages of Newhouse, North, Duckend, Kingsway, Cote Lodge, and Cote House farms differed little from those in 1857, and all survived in 1939, when there were 10 chief farms including 5 of over 150 a. (fn. 85) The overall proportion of arable, c. 70 per cent in 1877, fell to c. 44 per cent by 1914, when the chief crops remained wheat, barley, and oats, with some swedes, turnips, and mangolds. Cattle were still kept in relatively high numbers for the area, though sheep remained less numerous than further west and numbers were declining; most farms retained cattle sheds and piggeries in 1920. (fn. 86)
Occupational surnames in the 13th century and early 14th included smith, carpenter, and nailer, (fn. 87) and the usual rural tradesmen were recorded from the 16th century, notably smiths, wheelwrights, carpenters, and tailors, most though not all in Aston. (fn. 88) Few were wealthy, though a blacksmith in 1681 left personalty worth c, £177 including over £100 in debts, and a tailor in 1711 c. £176 including a lease worth £154. (fn. 89) A butcher in Aston was mentioned in 1595, (fn. 90) and bakers and a chandler in the later 18th century. (fn. 91) In 1601 an Aston narrow-weaver impleaded a Witney man for debt, (fn. 92) in 1637 there was a dyer with personalty worth c. £5, and in 1676 another weaver; (fn. 93) a glover with personalty of c. £5 died c. 1670 and a cordwainer was mentioned in 1706, (fn. 94) but there is no other evidence of textile manufacture or leather working.
Sir Thomas Horde (d. 1662) built a malthouse in 1657, presumably near Cote House. The following year he sold 92 qr. of malt for £122, but by 1659 he was making a loss. (fn. 95) A Cote maltster was mentioned in 1725, (fn. 96) but no malthouse was recorded there later. A malthouse in Aston, leased in 1656 when it was sold by Thomas Medhopp with other property, may have been that later owned by James Williams (d. 1728), whose personalty of nearly £390 included malt worth £113; (fn. 97) Mark Brickland (d. 1680) left 46 qr., and other 17th-century testators left small quantities. (fn. 98) An apparently short-lived starch and hair-powder manufactory was set up in Aston by Joseph Williams in 1787, with a warehouse in London, (fn. 99) and in 1801 another family member ran a nursery at Aston for fruit- and forest-trees and flowering shrubs. (fn. 100)
In 1811 only 17 families out of 136 were supported by non-agricultural occupations, and the proportion remained similar throughout the 19th century. In 1881 tradesmen in Aston included a few wheelwrights and carpenters, 2 stone masons, 2 blacksmiths, 3 shoe- or bootmakers, a tailoress, several grocers and general dealers (often combined with other trades), 3 butchers, and 3 bakers. (fn. 101) Throughout the 19th century and earlier 20th several members of the Long family were carpenters and wheelwrights as well as postmasters and undertakers, (fn. 102) and ran a 'celebrated' wagon and cart works adjoining Ham Lane which employed c. 15 men; the last wagon was made in 1913, though the works, with their own sawpit, continued for repairs long after and retained some of their fittings in 1989. (fn. 103) Members of the Kimber family were blacksmiths in 1847 and still c. 1950, and there were other long-lived family businesses. (fn. 104) In 1939 there was a blacksmith and wheelwright, a grocer, butcher, and baker, and at Cote a hurdlemaker and saddler. (fn. 105) In 1991 Aston retained a general store, post office, and motor repair garage near the square, but there were no shops in Cote. A laundry off Back Lane, run until c. 1920 by a training school for domestic servants, continued commercially until c. 1972, employing labourers' wives and daughters in the earlier 20th century; the building was occupied later by a clockmaker, and in 1980 by several small businesses including metal-polishing, woodcraft, and upholstery firms. (fn. 106)
A brick kiln was built after inclosure beside the Aston-Witney road, on land north-west of North Street Farm formerly part of Kingsway field. In 1857 it was held under the Hippisleys by Richard Eustace of Kingsway farm, who from the 1870s to the early 1890s called himself a brickmaker and in 1881 employed 2 men there. (fn. 107) The works closed apparently in the early 20th century, and by 1920 the site was a cottage and smallholding; remaining buildings had been demolished by 1971, though traces of the adjoining claypit remained. (fn. 108)
Hugh the miller held a yardland in Aston in villeinage in 1239, (fn. 109) but no mill is known despite the names Windmill field, recorded in 1432, and Mill (or Milk) Ford and brook, so called by the 17th century perhaps from Bampton mill up- stream. (fn. 110) Fishermen were recorded from the Middle Ages, (fn. 111) and in 1657 streams north of the Thames contained a 'good store' of fish; (fn. 112) the Thames itself lay outside the township. (fn. 113) By the 16th century some fisheries were held with particular freeholds, leaseholds, and, apparently, lots in the common meadow; others were common waters in which tenants in 1657 claimed uncontrolled rights against Thomas Horde as lord of the manor. (fn. 114) By 1670 it was accepted that none might fish, hunt, or hawk within the lordship without Horde's licence, in token of which he scoured all common waters at his own cost; some waters, however, remained 'free' to the freeholders, the lord, and his tenants, (fn. 115) and in 1704 a freehold tenement carried the right to fish, dig gravel and mortar, and cut thorns 'as other freeholders of Aston do'. (fn. 116)
Coxes weir, apparently near Shaw Brook, was bought by Horde in 1657. (fn. 117) A customary right of the lord of Bampton hundred to fish once a year in Aston's common water, confirmed in 1593, (fn. 118) was not recorded afterwards.