Shifford: Introduction

Pages 99-102

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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AN estate at Shifford, conterminous with the later township (775 a.), existed by 1005. From 'summer ford' at the estate's south-eastern corner the boundary ran westwards along the river Thames and along a stream forming Chimney's north-east boundary, before turning north and then east along 'the way'; it then than ran southwards to the Thames along a meandering stream canalized c. 1850 at the inclosure of Standlake and Brighthampton. Cynlaf's stone, a landmark on 'the way', may have marked a kink in the western boundary west of New Cottages, where a possible relict roadline intersects, and Kentwin's tree, also on 'the way', perhaps marked Shifford's north-west corner. The southern part of the western boundary was evidently adjusted later, presumably after the truncation or suppression of 'the way', and in the 19th century followed field boundaries. Small deviations from the Thames, notably near Great brook, presumably represent the river's earlier course. (fn. 1)

Figure 10:

Shifford in 1849

Cropmarks in the south-west suggest trackways associated with Romano-British settlement, extending westwards towards Cote and eastwards towards Standlake. (fn. 2) Later roads focused on the ford from which Shifford ('sheep ford') is named, (fn. 3) discernible in 1992 south of Old Shifford Farm, and recorded in 958 as 'stone bridge', a term probably denoting a paved causeway. (fn. 4) Both Cote Lane and 'the way' along the township's western boundary, the latter perhaps identical with the 'royal way' adjoining North field c. 1360, (fn. 5) originated presumably as routes to that crossing and thence into Berkshire, and further north 'the way' continued along Aston's eastern boundary to meet Abingdon Lane, an ancient route leading north-westwards towards Brize Norton. The ford's importance was presumably diminished by the building of Newbridge (in Northmoor parish) in the late 14th century or early 15th, and in 1629 the northern continuation of 'the way' was suppressed because of frequent flooding, together with a branch road to Brighthampton which crossed Shifford's northern edge near Shifford Marsh, Claxhurst, and Stoneham hook. The part of 'the way' bordering Shifford had disappeared by the later 18th century. (fn. 6) The Aston-Brighthampton road, crossing Shifford's eastern boundary brook at Knight Bridge and running across the former open fields, was a bridleway until 1629 when it became the chief carriage route, and since Knight Bridge was recorded in the 13th century was presumably of early origin. (fn. 7) A ferry across the Thames to Longworth, held with a cottage for rent and service, was noted from the mid 13th century to the mid 15th; a testator in 1593 owned a boat, (fn. 8) and in the mid 18th century some farm produce was transported by water. (fn. 9)

Undated cropmarks have been noted on the township's western edge north of Coldharbour Cottages, north-west of New Shifford Farm, and south-east of Old Shifford Farm. (fn. 10) Excavations in the south-east near Brighthampton cut revealed a small Iron-Age and Romano-British settlement occupied from the 1st century B.C. to the 1st or early 2nd century A.D., supported chiefly from animal husbandry; immediately to the north was a settlement occupied from the late 3rd century to the late 4th, but apparently unconnected with the first. Finds on the later site indicated mixed but still predominantly pastoral farming, and traces were found of large rectilinear fields enclosed within ditches. (fn. 11) No evidence was found of later occupation.

A late Anglo-Saxon spearhead, seax, and prick-spur were dredged from the Thames near Shifford in 1914. (fn. 12) There was a settlement at or near the ford presumably by 1005 when the vill or township (villa) was granted to Eynsham abbey, and 13 tenants, each presumably representing a household, were recorded in 1086. (fn. 13) By 1279 there were 23 tenants including 13 cottagers, and the apparently recent division of some holdings suggests increasing population; 11 landholders excluding the abbot of Eynsham were taxed in 1306, 14 in 1316, and 15 in 1327. (fn. 14) Though there was evidently depopulation later in the century, Shifford seems to have suffered less than many Oxfordshire parishes: 18 tenants were listed c. 1360 when only one cottage holding remained vacant, and in 1377 there were 50 persons over 14 liable for poll tax. (fn. 15)

Fifteenth-century contraction may have affected the population more seriously, perhaps chiefly at the expense of cottagers and smallholders, (fn. 16) though in the 16th and 17th centuries Shifford remained almost as populous as Lew: 12 inhabitants were taxed in 1542-4, (fn. 17) and in the later 17th century there seem to have been 15-23 houses including 4-5 cottages, and an adult population of at least 50-60. (fn. 18) A survey of 1755 listed 7 farmhouses and 7 cottages, (fn. 19) but inclosure of the township by the Harcourts soon after left only two farmhouses, one (Old Shifford Farm) near the site of the former village, the other (New Shifford Farm) built c. ¾ mile to the north in the former open fields c. 1758. (fn. 20) Other houses mentioned in 19th-century censuses were agricultural labourers' cottages. (fn. 21) In all, the township contained 7 houses occupied by 8 families in 1801, 9 in 1831 and 1841, 8 in the 1860s and 1870s, and 10 in 1881, the population rising during the same period from 38 to 70. During the 1880s it fell sharply to 31 as a result of agricultural depression, and in 1891 there were 5 vacant houses; by 1901 it was 40 accommodated in 9 houses, but fell to 22 by 1921. There were 39 inhabitants by 1931, and 27 in 1951, the last year for which separate figures are available. (fn. 22)

Though Shifford chapel was rebuilt in the 19th century its medieval predecessor, documented from the early 13th, seems to have occupied the same site. (fn. 23) A much-damaged limestone column-base found north of Old Shifford Farm, the corners hacked off giving it an octagonal appearance, was evidently not in situ and may not be medieval. (fn. 24) House platforms, with what may be former drainage ditches running between them, survive south of the chapel on the edge of the narrow gravel terrace, and extend south of a boundary ditch into what in the 17th and 18th centuries was common pasture; (fn. 25) a villein's house immediately east of the chapel was mentioned c. 1360, (fn. 26) and in the 15th century buildings associated with Eynsham abbey's stone-built manorial farmstead faced or adjoined the chapelyard. (fn. 27) A large depression south of the chapel may be remains of a former green, but has evidently been altered and deepened by gravel digging; from there a deep hollow way runs south-westwards towards former common pasture and open-field land. Old Shifford Farm to the east, built in the late 17th century, is described below; (fn. 28) Coldharbour Cottages west of the chapel, gutted by fire and left derelict in 1974, were built apparently in the early 19th century, (fn. 29) and New Shifford Cottages before 1876. South Farm, by the Aston-Brighthampton road, was built c. 1960 and New Cottages before 1976. (fn. 30) Electricity was supplied to Old Shifford c. 1948, and to New Shifford c. 1961; there was no mains water, drainage or gas in 1993. (fn. 31)

A tradition, current by 1677, that King Alfred held a witan at Shifford arose from a reference to 'Sifford' or 'Sevorde' in the probably 12th- century poem known as 'The Proverbs of Alfred'. (fn. 32) That the poem referred to an actual assembly is unlikely, and the identification with Shifford is impossible on linguistic and historical grounds: (fn. 33) Oxford and the region dependent on it were not directly controlled by Wessex until 911, (fn. 34) and significant assemblies would in any case have presumably met at Bampton. The names Court close (for the area around the chapel) and Kingsway field, cited in support of the tradition in the 19th century, (fn. 35) refer respectively to the site of Eynsham abbey's manorial farmstead, and to a lane leading through Aston apparently to the royal tûn at Bampton. (fn. 36)


  • 1. Grundy, Saxon Oxon. 54, which misidentifies 'summer ford'; O.R.O., tithe map; cf. Early Chart. of Thames Valley, ed. M. Gelling, p. 139
  • 2. Oxoniensia, lx. 97-8, 172; S. Midlands Arch. xix (1989), 47; below.
  • 3. P.N. Oxon. (E.P.N.S.), ii. 327.
  • 4. P.N. Berks. (E.P.N.S.), iii. 706-7; Oxoniensia, lvii. 348.
  • 5. Eynsham Cart. ii, p. 4.
  • 6. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 118, f. 7 and v.; Jefferys, Oxon. Map (1767); above, Aston and Cote, intro.; Lew, intro.; below, Standlake, intro.; below, plate 39.
  • 7. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 118, f. 7 and v.; for Knight Bridge, ibid. MS. d.d. Harcourt c 296, tithe award schedule; O.R.O., tithe map; ibid. Standlake tithe map; P.N. Oxon. (E.P.N.S.), ii. 328.
  • 8. Eynsham Cart. i, p. ii; ii, pp. lxvii, 10, 186-9; O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 189, f. 31.
  • 9. Bodl. MSS. d.d. Harcourt c 133/3, p. 57; c 136/2, p. 2.
  • 10. D. Benson and D. Miles, The Upper Thames Valley, an Arch. Surv. of the River Gravels, 40-1; C.O.S., PRN 1597, 8668-74, 11572.
  • 11. S. Midlands Arch. xix (1989), 47; xx (1990), 85-8; Oxoniensia, lx. 93-175; C.O.S., PRN 8229-32; cf. ibid. PRN 1036, 3081.
  • 12. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 369, 372.
  • 13. Ibid. 403; Eynsham Cart. i, p. 21.
  • 14. Bampton Hund. R. 65-6; P.R.O., E 179/161/8-10.
  • 15. Eynsham Cart. ii, pp. 7-13; P.R.O., E 179/161/42; below, econ. hist.
  • 16. Below, econ. hist.
  • 17. P.R.O., E 179/162/234.
  • 18. Ibid. E 179/255/4, pt. i, f. 23; Hearth Tax Oxon. 232; Protestation Rtns. and Tax Assess. 9; Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 417, 422; Bodl. MSS. d.d. Harcourt c 110/1, c 110/21, c 127/17; cf. ibid. c 296, survey c. 1602. Par. regs. survive from the 1780s.
  • 19. Bodl. MS. d.d. Harcourt c 112/5; cf. ibid. c 296, partics. of estate of Peter Standley [c. 1750], listing 4 farmhouses and 6 cottages.
  • 20. Below, econ. hist.; for New Shifford Fm., Bodl. MS. d.d. Harcourt c 136/2, pp. 80-2; dated beam in barn.
  • 21. P.R.O., HO 107/872; ibid. RG 11/1514; O.R.O., tithe map; Bodl. MS. d.d. Harcourt c 296, tithe award schedule.
  • 22. Census, 1801-1951; below, econ. hist. Thereafter Shifford was returned with Aston.
  • 23. Below, church.
  • 24. Inf. from R. A. Chambers and J. Blair; drawing in C.O.S., SMR (unnumbered in 1995).
  • 25. Cf. C.O.S., PRN 1080, 4589; ibid. SMR air photos., SP 3602/B, SP 3701/B-C; below, econ. hist.
  • 26. Eynsham Cart. ii, p. 7.
  • 27. Below, manor.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Jefferys, Oxon. Map (1767); Davis, Oxon. Map (1797); O.R.O., tithe map; inf. from Mrs. Carter, Old Shifford Fm.
  • 30. O.S. Maps 1/2,500, Oxon. XXXVIII. 9 (1876 and later edns.); 6", SP 30 SE (1960 edn.) and sheet 42/30 (provisional edn. c. 1960); 1/2,5000, SP 20/30 (1976 edn.).
  • 31. Inf. from Mrs. Carter, Old Shifford Fm.
  • 32. Plot, Nat. Hist. Oxon. (1677), p. 22; J. Spelman, Life of Alfred the Great (1709), 125-6; Giles, Hist. Bampton, 86, 125-6; cf. Proverbs of Alfred, ed. W. W. Skeat (1907); H. P. South, Proverbs of Alfred in the Light of the Maidstone MS. (1931).
  • 33. Cf. Skeat, op. cit. 53; South, op. cit. 25 sqq.
  • 34. A.-S. Chron. ed. D. Whitelock, 62.
  • 35. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. e 633, f. 4; ibid. d 218, ff. 207v., 214; Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1895 and later edns.).
  • 36. Below, manor; above, Bampton and Weald, intro.