Carterton: Economic history

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 15, Bampton Hundred (Part Three). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2006.

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Christina Colvin. Carol Cragoe. Veronica Ortenberg. R B Peberdy. Nesta Selwyn. Elizabeth Williamson, 'Carterton: Economic history', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 15, Bampton Hundred (Part Three), (London, 2006), pp. 110-111. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

Christina Colvin. Carol Cragoe. Veronica Ortenberg. R B Peberdy. Nesta Selwyn. Elizabeth Williamson. "Carterton: Economic history", in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 15, Bampton Hundred (Part Three), (London, 2006) 110-111. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

Colvin, Christina. Cragoe, Carol. Ortenberg, Veronica. Peberdy, R B. Selwyn, Nesta. Williamson, Elizabeth. "Carterton: Economic history", A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 15, Bampton Hundred (Part Three), (London, 2006). 110-111. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,

In this section


Agriculture and Market Gardening

Early settlers were drawn from a wide geographical area, including London, the north of England, and continental Europe, as well as from a wide variety of backgrounds including former soldiers and policemen, pensioners, and a few with businesses elsewhere. Of 112 occupiers listed in 1917, about a third depended chiefly on their smallholding, among them poultry farmers, market gardeners, and labourers; 47 (almost 45 per cent) had a pension or some private income, and 22 (20 per cent) were hauliers, higglers, traders, or artisans. Most holdings were small, between 1 and 5 a., though some settlers had up to 30 a., often scattered in different parts of the estate. Nearly all were freeholders by 1910, though Homesteads Ltd retained some plots, and had mortgages on a few others. (fn. 1)

By the mid 1920s the settlement, despite early difficulties, was said to be 'one of the most prosperous places in the country', (fn. 2) and was still attracting immigrants from far afield: in 1920 one settler transported his family and possessions from Chelsea in a horse-drawn trap, while he himself walked alongside. (fn. 3) The chief agricultural activities were fruit-growing, market gardening, poultry farming, and dairying, with some barley, oats, and potatoes grown presumably on the larger holdings. Soft fruits, particularly strawberries, grew well on all plots, and hard fruits on the heavier land, and in the 1920s Carterton was renowned for eggs, good-quality grapes, tomatoes, and other hothouse fruits: the 'Carterton tomato' was said to enjoy a high reputation even at Covent Garden. (fn. 4) Larger businesses included the Humphries family's Frenchester Nurseries south of Brize Norton Road, well known for black grapes, (fn. 5) and another nurseryman in 1908 specialized in maiden apples and roses. (fn. 6) Most holdings were intensively cultivated by 1917, with some settlers supporting 5 or 6 cows on only 6 a.; on one holding cows were tethered in summer on 1 a. sown with lucerne, the remaining 5 a. producing white oats, roots, and catch crops, while smallholders with 2 or 3 a. often kept 2 or 3 small Jerseys or half-breeds. (fn. 7)

Most dairy produce was sold in Carterton or at local markets, and most poultry either locally or in London; market-garden produce went chiefly to Oxford, Witney, or Lechlade (Glos.) and even to the West Country. Poor rail-links prevented markets at Cirencester, Cheltenham, and Swindon from being exploited effectively, though some larger cultivators nevertheless established 'profitable connections' in those areas. A Co-operative Society formed in or before 1907 to facilitate distribution had 60 members by 1913, but met with only limited success: the 'most enterprising' members sought out private markets 'which a general trade could not touch', and a commentator in 1917 noted a 'lack of the co-operation which forms such a strong argument for the group system'. (fn. 8)

Trade and Industry

Early non-agricultural settlers included higglers, bootmakers, builders, a carpenter, and, from the 1920s, drapers, tailors, a butcher, and a wireless dealer. Other residents included a photographer in 1907, and in 1924 a model engineer; a motor garage and petrol station was opened on Alvescot Road in 1923. A general store was established at the crossroads in 1902, and another in the Emporium about 1911, and by 1939 there was a tobacconist, a fried-fish dealer, a hairdresser, a coal dealer, two motor repair garages, an hotel (the Beehive), and a boarding house in Rock Farm. (fn. 9) Carterton nevertheless remained predominantly agricultural until its expansion after the Second World War, (fn. 10) when local employment became increasingly dependent on the military airfield. In the 1970s the RAF employed 400 civilians directly, but other local employment was by then confined to the shops, banks, public houses, and post office, and much of the population worked in Oxford, Witney, or Swindon. Many were newcomers attracted by cheap housing, which, combined with the number of RAF families, created an unusual preponderance of younger inhabitants and increased employment difficulties. (fn. 11)

The acute need for more local employment prompted planning decisions in the late 1960s and early 1970s to provide more shops and offices, together with a 15-a. industrial estate south of Milestone Road. (fn. 12) The latter, a joint initiative by the district and county councils, was opened in phases from around 1973, with preference given to labour-intensive businesses; by 1977 it accommodated a variety of firms both local and from outside the county, though criticisms were levelled that it was too expensive for some smaller firms, and Carterton remained 'embarrassingly dependent' on the RAF for employment. (fn. 13) A second industrial estate on the town's eastern edge was opened in the early 1980s, when unemployment in Carterton, as in nearby Witney, was particularly acute following national recession: in 1980 there were 80 applicants for a single production-line job. By the mid 1990s local unemployment had fallen significantly, though industrial estates in both Carterton and Witney were still failing to attract businesses as successfully as other areas of Oxfordshire, which was attributed partly to inadequate transport. (fn. 14) Completion of a new link road to the A40 was hoped in the early 21st century to have increased Carterton's competitiveness, and there were plans for a new 23-a. business park east of the town. (fn. 15)

35. Carterton badge of office

A chamber of commerce was established in 1964 to encourage local shopping and to influence planning, and in the late 1980s held well-attended trade fairs; it continued in 2004. A Thursday market established in 1973, on land west of Black Bourton Road, also met with great success, though by 2000 there were signs of decline caused partly by rising stall rents. (fn. 16)


  • 1. Ashby, Small Holdings in Oxon. 137–8; Seldon, Carterton, 8–17; Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1903 and later edns); ORO, DV X/21.
  • 2. W.J. Monk, A Ramble in Oxon. [c. 1925], 93: copy in Bodl.
  • 3. Seldon, Carterton, 17.
  • 4. Monk, Ramble in Oxon. 93–4; Ashby, Small Holdings in Oxon. 137–9; Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1903 and later edns); Carterton Guide [c. 1988 edn], 13; ORO, Pocock I/76, I/82.
  • 5. Seldon, Carterton, 14; Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1928 and later edns); Carterton Guide [c. 1988 edn], 13; OS Map 1:2500, Oxon. XXXI.13 (1921 edn).
  • 6. ORO, B1/X1/C, letter from J. Schroeder, Rock Nurseries, 20 Feb. 1908.
  • 7. Ashby, Small Holdings in Oxon. 138.
  • 8. Ibid. 139; Seldon, Carterton, 12.
  • 9. Ashby, Small Holdings in Oxon. 138; T. Worley, Witney District in Old Photos. (1992), 31; Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1903 and later edns); Seldon, Carterton, 12, 22; ORO, Pocock I/76.
  • 10. For market gardening in 1941, PRO, MAF 32/909/241.
  • 11. J. Sykes, Carterton, Report and Policy Statement (WODC, 1976), 1, 3; A.D. Ochojna, Dial-a-Ride in Carterton (1975), 4, 7, 13: copies in COS; Oxf. Mail, 15 Apr. 1976.
  • 12. Oxon. County Council Planning and Countryside Cttee, 'Lettered Appendices to Reports . . . . to discuss . . . the Carterton Village Plan' (Typescript, 1967), apps. D—E; Sykes, Carterton Report and Policy Statement (1976), 3: copies in COS.
  • 13. Witney Gaz. 22 May 1975, 13 Jan. 1977, 20 July 1978; Oxf. Mail, 15 Apr. 1976; West Oxon. Standard, 28 Nov. 1975.
  • 14. J. Sykes, Carterton Road Industrial Development: Planning Brief (WODC, 1981): copy in COS; Witney Gaz. 14 Aug. 1980; Oxf. Mail, 28 Nov. 1996.
  • 15. Carterton Town Council website (2004).
  • 16. Carterton Guide [c. 1973 edn], 32; [c. 1988 edn], 20, 24; Oxf. Mail, 15 Apr. 1976; Witney Gaz. 19 Jan. 1978; local information.