Aston and Cote: Local government

Pages 74-75

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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The lord of Aston Pogges claimed courts baron and views of frankpledge in 1279, though then and later tenants attended the lord of Bampton's hundred court once a year after Michaelmas, and in the 17th century chose a constable, tithingman, and herdsman there. A tithingman for 'Aston hundred', presumably representing the freeholders, was also appointed by the Bampton court, where he made his presentations. (fn. 1) A dispute over royalty c. 1660 was settled reportedly in the lord of Aston's favour, but in the later 17th century the Bampton court retained some jurisdiction and habitually fined Aston inhabitants for failure to scour watercourses. (fn. 2) The Aston court seems by the later 15th century to have dealt solely or primarily with copyholds, though in the early 16th century tenants received no copies of the grants made, which created confusion later. (fn. 3) Courts baron were still held in 1764 and, reportedly, in 1852 at Cote House, (fn. 4) but presumably lapsed at inclosure. Separate courts were held for the submanor of Golofers in the 14th century and were mentioned in the 16th, probably in error, after it was reunited with Aston manor. (fn. 5)

Tenants in Aston and Cote of Bampton Deanery manor attended that manor's court as a separate tithing. In the 14th century and still in the early 16th they had their own aletaster, and in the late 18th and probably the 15th shared a constable with the manor's tenants in Bampton and Clanfield. (fn. 6) Tenants of Shifford manor attended the Shifford court until 1612 when the lord sold their holdings. (fn. 7)

Agricultural regulation was by 1593 the responsibility of the Sixteens, a body of 16 inhabitants (one for each of the 16 ploughlands into which the township was theoretically divided) who were elected annually at Aston cross on Lady Eve by all the householders, any not attending being fined 4d. (fn. 8) The Sixteens' independence has been cited as evidence for a free village community at Aston and Cote in the Middle Ages and traced to Anglo-Saxon antecedents, (fn. 9) but there is no indication that the township's early manorial organization was different from elsewhere in the parish, and the system probably resulted, as claimed in the 17th century, (fn. 10) from the township's division between several lordships and freeholds, combined, perhaps, with laxity on the part of non-resident lords. In 1657 Thomas Horde (d. 1715) attempted to annexe the Sixteens' rights and responsibilities to his manor court, electing rival officers, extracting covenants from copyholders that they would not recognize the Sixteens' authority, and seizing the meadows under their control. A compromise preserved the Sixteens' rights while accepting that they acted with the lord's consent, and that officers, once elected, should be sworn at the manor court. (fn. 11) The Sixteens continued until the inclosure of Aston and Cote in 1855, meeting latterly in a public house. (fn. 12)

In the 16th century and later the Sixteens allotted shares in meadows, instituted and enforced field orders through imposition of fines, and had power to distrain; by the early 18th century and still in the mid 19th they provided town bulls. (fn. 13) Ordinarily they met at Aston cross on the Tuesday of Easter week, the Wednesday of Rogation week, the Wednesday of Whitsun week, and on Lammas Eve, with a quorum of nine, but could be summoned to the cross between meetings if field orders were broken. They remained accountable to the inhabitants and their officers, who after a warning could impound their goods and fine them. (fn. 14) Major decisions such as re-ordering the fields appar ently needed the inhabitants' agreement. (fn. 15) Officers were elected annually, some by the lord's tenants among the Sixteens, others by the 'hundred tenants', presumably freeholders or tenants of other manors. In the late 16th century and the 18th the officers included 3 grass stewards, a hayward, a cowherd, and 2 water haywards. (fn. 16) All those offices carried small hams in the meadows; other hams allotted by the Sixteens, but possibly no longer attached to particular offices by the 17th century, included warden's, smith's, wonter's (or mole-catcher's), and brander's. (fn. 17) By the earlier 19th century there were 4 grass stewards and a cowherd, still with their own hams. (fn. 18) Constables, appointed at the Bampton court possibly until 1842, reportedly continued in the early 1850s when there was said to be one for Aston and one for Cote. (fn. 19)

Aston paid church rates to Bampton until the 19th century, (fn. 20) and by the 16th seems to have appointed a warden for Bampton church. (fn. 21) Cote appointed a chapelwarden for Shifford probably in the 15th century and still in the late 19th. (fn. 22) Two churchwardens for the newly-built Aston church were appointed presumably from 1839, and were so called by 1850. (fn. 23) As a new ecclesiastical district Aston, like Lew, retained responsibility for repairs to Bampton church for 20 years, though in 1855 Aston's ratepayers objected to the rate set, claiming that they were being charged for more general expenditure. (fn. 24)

For poor-law and other civil purposes Aston and Cote were administered together. (fn. 25) A surveyor of highways was chosen by the inhabitants and the Sixteens in the 17th century, (fn. 26) and a collector was noted in 1642; overseers, probably two, were mentioned occasionally thereafter. In the late 17th century the overseers received rent from some or all of the 'town lands', possibly sold before 1841 when the 'parish' owned only four cottages in the hamlets; (fn. 27) those too had apparently been sold by 1857, (fn. 28) though at inclosure in 1855 the churchwardens and overseers received 10 a. as a poor allotment, subject to annual rent charges of £17. (fn. 29) A vestry, presumably replacing an earlier assembly, met in the 1850s up to 4 times a year, at first in the Star inn or Red Lion and from 1855 in the vestry room in Aston church; it appointed two surveyors of highways and from 1856 two poorallotment wardens, and nominated usually 4 overseers to the magistrates. Its only other recorded business was making church, highway, and poor rates, and in 1849 it authorized a fund towards emigration costs. (fn. 30) An armed watchman and sometimes a beadle were separately appointed under the Lighting and Watching Act in the 1840s and 1850s, and in 1842 tithingmen were to assist them on Saturday nights. (fn. 31) After 1894 the vestry's residual functions passed to a parish council, which continued in 1991. (fn. 32)

Poor law expenditure in 1775-6 was £130, falling by 1784 to possibly c. £57; in 1785 the poor were reportedly farmed for £115. (fn. 33) By 1803 expenditure was £477, c. 15s. per head of population, and by 1813 it had doubled to £940, c. 30s. per head. Despite a temporary fall it rose after 1815 to c. 39s. per head, falling gradually in the mid 1820s to c. 18s., but rising again by 1832 to 30s., a total expenditure of £1,084. (fn. 34) Throughout that period the poor rate, said c. 1828 to have been formerly very low, was frequently higher than in any of Bampton's hamlets except Chimney, and c. 1818 one farm let for £115 a year was charged over £60. (fn. 35) In 1803 there were 50 adults and 55 children on regular relief, c. 16 per cent of the population, and 57 people on occasional relief, though only 2s. 4d. was spent on materials to employ them; from 1813 to 1815 there were c. 49 people on regular and c. 11 on occasional relief. (fn. 36) No overseers' accounts are known. (fn. 37)

From 1834 Aston and Cote belonged to Witney union, and from 1894 to Witney rural district. In 1974 they became part of West Oxfordshire district. (fn. 38)


  • 1. Bampton Hund. R. 21; Giles, Hist. Bampton, Suppl. p. 2; Arundel Castle, MS. M 535; Longleat House (Wilts.), NMR 3315, passim.
  • 2. Longleat House, Coventry pps. CVI, f. 95; ibid. NMR 3315; cf. Giles, Hist. Bampton, Suppl. p. 11.
  • 3. P.R.O., SC 2/155/9; ibid. REQ 2/21/29; Giles, Hist. Bampton, 140; below, this section.
  • 4. Oxf. Jnl. Synopsis, 13 June 1764; Gardner's Dir. Oxon. (1852).
  • 5. P.R.O., C 135/139, no. 13; ibid. REQ 2/21/29.
  • 6. D. & C. Exeter, MSS. 4751-83; ibid. Ch. Comm. 80/134543; above, Bampton and Weald, local govt. (manor courts).
  • 7. Below, Shifford, manor, local govt.
  • 8. O.R.O., Misc. WA I/1, ff. IV.-2v., printed in Archaeologia, xxxv. 472-4; Giles, Hist. Bampton, 77-8.
  • 9. Archaeologia, xxxiii. 269-78; Arch. Jnl. xliv. 405; cf. F. W. Maitland, Collected Papers, ed. H. A. L. Fisher, ii. 337-65.
  • 10. Giles, Hist. Bampton, Suppl. p. 2.
  • 11. Ibid. Suppl. pp. 1-7, 9; O.R.O., Misc. WA I/1, [ff. ii-iv], f. 7.
  • 12. Giles, Hist. Bampton, 77-8; Archaeologia, xxxiii. 278.
  • 13. O.R.O., Misc. WA 1/1, passim; Giles, Hist. Bampton, 78-80, Suppl. p. 2.
  • 14. O.R.O., Misc. WA 1/1, ff. IV.-2v.
  • 15. e.g. ibid. ff. 36v., 64, 65v., 103v.
  • 16. Ibid. ff. IV., 119V.; Giles, Hist. Bampton, Suppl. pp. 2-4.
  • 17. Giles, Hist. Bampton, Suppl. pp. 3, 7; O.R.O., Misc. WA I/1, f. 7.
  • 18. Giles, Hist. Bampton, 77-8; Archaeologia, xxxiii. 277; O.R.O., tithe award (1841), ff. 7, 14, 50.
  • 19. Lascelles & Co.'s Dir. Oxon. (1853); Billing's Dir. Oxon. (1854); above, this section.
  • 20. D. & C. Exeter, MS. 6016/8, notes re division of par. c. 1845.
  • 21. Above, Bampton and Weald, local govt. (par. govt.).
  • 22. Below, Shifford, church.
  • 23. O.R.O., MS. d.d. Par. Aston e 2, passim; below, church
  • 24. O.R.O., MS. d.d. Par. Bampton c 8, ff. 244v.-246v.; Oxf. Chron. 14 July 1855; cf. Lew Church Bk. 1842-88 (in custody of vicar and par. officers), s.a. 1856.
  • 25. D. & C. Exeter, MS. 6016/8, notes re division of par. c. 1845.
  • 26. O.R.O., Misc. WA I/1, ff. 119v., 121.
  • 27. Ibid. ff. 9v., 16v.-17; ibid. tithe award (1841), f. 75; Protestation Rtns. and Tax Assess. 8; for town hams, above, this section.
  • 28. O.R.O., tithe award (1857), ff. 4, 6,12 (nos. 4, 31, 59, 139).
  • 29. Ibid. incl. award.
  • 30. Ibid. MS. d.d. Par. Bampton Aston e 2 (vestry mins. 1849-56).
  • 31. Minutes of Aston Watch Cttee. 1841-56, photocopy in possession of Mr. G. Sparrowhawk, Aston.
  • 32. Local inf.
  • 33. Poor Abstract, 1787, 1804; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. e 632, f. 12, implying a slightly lower average for 1783-5.
  • 34. Poor Abstract, 1804, 1818; Poor Rate Returns, H.C. 556, p. 135 (1822), v; ibid. H.C. 334, p. 170 (1825), iv; ibid. H.C. 83, p. 157 (1830-1), xi; ibid. H.C. 444, p. 153 (1835), xlvii; cf. Census, 1801-41.
  • 35. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. e 632, f. 12; D. & C. Exeter, Ch. Comm. 13/74361a, valn. May 1818.
  • 36. Poor Abstract, 1804, 1818.
  • 37. For extracts 1780-5, Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. e 632, f. 12.
  • 38. O.R.O., RO 3251, pp. 201-3; RO 3267.