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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Status, Wealth, and Social Mobility
In the Middle Ages Kencot was largely a community of unfree peasants on the classic manorial model, though with mostly non-resident lords; (fn. 1) from the 16th century, however, it was increasingly dominated by a small group of wealthy yeoman farmers, and by incoming resident gentry occupying some of the grander farmhouses. Lords of the manor were mostly non-resident until the 18th century, though the Yates, lessees of the manor in the late 16th and early 17th century, resided for 40 or 50 years and possibly built a new manor house. One of the Jordans lived in Kencot in the earlier 18th century, but the first long-term resident squire was his successor, the attorney William Stephens (d. 1791), followed by his widow (d. 1808) and descendants. Thereafter the manor was broken up, the lordship passing to the gentleman farmers the Larges. (fn. 2)
Despite the absence of resident lords there were resident gentry from the late 16th century. Throughout the 17th century the manor house was apparently leased to gentry families such as the Hammersleys, and from the late 18th century retired clergy, their widows, and exarmy officers increasingly occupied the parish's grander farmhouses; attached land was usually leased separately, while the house itself was brought up to the material standards required by its new tenants, a pattern which explains the unusually high number of large and elegant dwellings in the parish. (fn. 3) The relative wealth of Kencot's resident gentry was reflected in the fine furniture, silver, and jewellery left by William Stephens's widow to her children, (fn. 4) and certainly the presence of such people must have influenced the parish's communal life. From the 17th century they were often actively involved in parish government and church affairs, while many married and baptized their children in the parish church, and were subsequently buried there and commemorated by plaques or monuments; their influence was perhaps also evident in the unusually fine 18th-century church furnishings, the speed and efficacy of repairs undertaken by the churchwardens, and 19th-century improvements in church services. (fn. 5) A couple with the French surname Berrière clearly anticipated sufficient support for a private girls' school which they opened in Kencot in 1767, though within 15 months it had moved elsewhere. (fn. 6)
Alongside the gentry were solid yeoman farmers such as the 17th-century Turners, whose social ascendancy was reflected in the increasing material wealth recorded in their wills. In 1632 the widow Mary Turner left goods and household items worth only £14, whereas in 1697 goods left by Adam Turner the younger, who styled himself gentleman, were valued at over £343, including feather beds, eight pairs of bedsheets, three dozen tablecloths, pillows, towels, plate, jewels, and a large quantity of wool. (fn. 7) Thereafter the main Turner line was extinguished in Kencot, though the name occasionally reappeared in the 19th century, while other family members remained major landowners in nearby Kelmscott. (fn. 8) Inclosure in 1767 consolidated the economic and social ascendancy of the lord and the rector, (fn. 9) but other rich farmers emerged subsequently, among them the Stevens family (whose members owned feather beds, curtains, and pewter in the mid 18th century), (fn. 10) and later the Large family. Both variously called themselves yeomen and gentlemen, and dominated the parish socially.
Long-lasting families of lesser status included small freeholders such as the Breakespeares, Dyers, Kearses, and Paulins, together with the Hewletts or Hulletts, slaters by trade and present from the medieval period to the 20th century. Some were modest yeomen in possession of a few household goods and a few animals for domestic use: in 1622 Humphrey Hullett owned household goods and some corn, hay, and meat worth less than £3, though ten years later Thomas Hulett had goods worth just over £53 and some land. (fn. 11) Poorer inhabitants and labourers are ill recorded before the 19th century, though in 1665 two occupied dwellings poor enough to be exonerated from hearth tax. (fn. 12)
By the later 19th century Kencot's population comprised three broad categories: agricultural labourers (including shepherds and other farm workers); farmers of usually over 100 a., held by lease or as freehold; and people with private income, mostly landowners or retired professionals, clergy, or army officers. Between the 1840s and the early 20th century those categories remained fairly constant, with between 18 and 32 labourers' households, three or four large farmers (many of them non-resident), the usual craftsmen and shopkeepers, and a small but consistent group of gentry and retired professionals. Labourers included both men and women, ranging in age from the teens up to 80 or more. (fn. 13)
Traditional yeoman farmers and smaller gentry were replaced in Kencot's social hierarchy by wealthy farmers such as (most prominently) the Larges, alongside men such as Thomas Wakefield, William Hobbs, and Henry Oakey, all major farmers in the 19th century, and in the 20th Charles Cattell and the Eustace family. Like the major landowners many of them lived outside the parish, and few retained their Kencot farms for more than one or two generations; that phenomenon of 'passing through', which characterized Kencot at all social levels, presumably contributed to the parish's gradual gentrification, with larger houses and (by the early 20th century) even cottages increasingly belonging to people not associated with agricultural activity. Their presence explains the large number of households (between seven and ten in 1871) which had domestic servants, often from outside the village and in many cases from outside the county, including Berkshire, Gloucestershire, and even Devon. Most farmers or people of independent means had one or two servants, and around 1870 (when labour must have been cheaper) many had up to four. The Gilletts, one of the few major farming families resident in the parish, had a governess for their children, whose rather 'upper-class' names suggest social pretension and possibly upward social mobility. Gentrification continued in the early 20th century when only two or three working farms survived, with increasing numbers of houses taken over by genteel or professional people: among farming families only the Eustaces farmed in Kencot uninterruptedly throughout the 20th century.
Parish government was dominated at first by the wealthier yeomen: churchwardens and other parish officers included Francis and Adam Turner in the 1640s, and later Richard and John Stevens and Francis Edmonds, among the main post-inclosure tenants or landowners. (fn. 14) Other 19th-century officers included successful tradesmen such as grocers or blacksmiths, or important farmers such as William Baker, who in later life called himself gentleman. (fn. 15) In the 20th century churchwardens and other parochial church council members were drawn from the professional classes, reflecting the parish's upwardly-mobile social structure: they included a doctor, a professor, the owner of Kencot Manor (Captain Darvell), and from the mid 1940s his successor Major-Gen. Abraham. Abraham, together with two clearly formidable sisters, the Misses de Rougemont, who had moved to Kencot in the 1930s, effectively ran the parish in both practical and social terms, taking care of the church and school and overseeing social and fundraising functions. (fn. 16)
Family and Immigration
Family structures seem to have remained fairly constant from the 16th century, when information first becomes available. (fn. 17) Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries most labouring, artisan, and small yeoman families had an average of 3–5 children, though among richer yeomen Adam Turner the elder, in the first half of the 17th century, fairly typically had nine, and Philip Breakespeare a little later had twelve. The Hammersleys, gentleman lessees of the manor house, had twelve, while the rector James Oldisworth (d. 1722) had seven. During the 18th century the average number of children rose to between four and six, but to only three or four among richer yeomen such as the Stevenses or Larges; gentry families remained larger, William Stephens and his wife having eight children.
Between 1841 and 1891 the population averaged around 33 families, ranging from 37 in 1871 to 20 in 1891. At least two thirds were cellular families comprising two generations, rather than extended families or other combinations. Most families by then had only one or two children, with only a few having three or four, though in 1871 seven families, unusually, had more than five children each. By the end of the century, as population fell, the average number of children also declined, with most families having only one and a few others two or three; by the early 20th century the parish was said to be becoming a village of elderly people. (fn. 18) Labourers, artisans, and the wealthier farmers all tended to have between two and five children, though annuitants, gentry, and professionals (excluding clergy) rarely had more than two.
Migration is difficult to trace before the later 19th century, when there was consistent movement between Kencot and neighbouring parishes and counties. Incoming gentry included Thomas Lamb of Reading (who married a London woman), and the rector, while many artisans, labourers, lodgers, and servants also came from elsewhere. The trend was especially noticeable during the depression of the 1870s. Some inhabitants came from further afield: one of the Gillett sons was born in Kansas (USA), and the rector James Thorold's granddaughter in Canada, while the owner of a private ladies' school in Kencot had a daughter born in Paris. The most numerous immigrants both in the 18th century and throughout the 19th were artisans and labourers' wives, of whom seven were outsiders in 1841, 10 in 1861, 1881, and 1891, and 15 in 1871; many came from neighbouring Berkshire, Gloucestershire, and Wiltshire, but some from as far as Bedfordshire, Devon, Middlesex, and Sussex. Some gentlewomen came from London or Kent, and some working women (governess, schoolmistress, and a few others) and retired widows from as far as Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Northamptonshire.
Poor Relief and Charities For The Poor
The earliest recorded charitable bequest was in 1624, when Thomas Turner left 5s. to the poor of Kencot. (fn. 19) An endowed charity for the poor was apparently established by Elizabeth Colchester (née Hammersley) in 1656, but was lost by 1768, (fn. 20) and thereafter the parish, unusually, had no endowed charities until the late 19th century. (fn. 21) Provision thus relied on parish poor-rates, supplemented by offertory money which, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, went to the poor and the sick at the rector's discretion. (fn. 22) In 1775–6 the parish spent £41 on poor relief, rising to £65 by 1786, (fn. 23) fairly average for its population. As elsewhere expenditure on the poor rose dramatically during the agrarian crises of the early 19th century, reaching £180 in 1803, £220 in 1813, and £210 in 1814, though it had fallen to under £100 by 1815. (fn. 24) During the next two decades the cost of poor relief varied greatly, falling from a peak of £222 in 1818 to only £64 in 1824, but otherwise remaining always over £100 a year. (fn. 25) All or most was paid in out-relief: there seems never to have been a parish workhouse, although a cottage belonging to the 'parish officers' was mentioned in 1840. (fn. 26) In 1803 a total of 16 adults received permanent out-relief, and 8 were helped occasionally, together with 19 children and 10 old or infirm; in 1815 a total of 13 people were permanently relieved, and another five occasionally. The parish's total expenditure of £180 in 1803, around 19s. per head of population, nevertheless suggests that the scale of poor relief in Kencot was not especially high for the area, and the rate of 5s. 3d. in the pound was also fairly average. (fn. 27)
Under the Poor Law Act of 1834 Kencot became part of the new Witney union, (fn. 28) whose board of guardians assumed responsibility for dispensing poor relief; like other parishes, Kencot nevertheless continued to appoint overseers and assessors to raise and administer poor rates. Unusually, overseers' papers survive for the mid 19th century, notably several poor-rate books together with half-yearly overseers' accounts for 1850 and part of 1852. (fn. 29) From 1840 to the early 1860s the parish seems generally to have raised around £130–£160 a year through a poor-rate of 1s. in the pound, briefly reduced to 6d. in 1852, but reaching 1s. 6d. ten years later, when £103 was raised for one half-year. Around £20 a year comprised county rates, with £22 spent on officers' salaries and most of the remainder (£120 in 1850) paid to Witney union to cover parish poor-relief. Outgoings in 1850 included payment for one man in the union workhouse for 43 days, but all other payments during the years recorded were for out-relief: 14 Kencot people received a total of around £33 from September 1849 to March 1850, and 16 (mostly the same recipients) another £34 to the following September. Most were eligible through illness, including one case of lameness and another of idiocy, while another recipient had lost his wife; several (but by no means all) were elderly. Yearly instalments towards the 'workhouse loan' presumably represented Kencot's contribution towards the building of the union workhouse in 1835–6, and other small standard payments included medical and registration fees and sanitary expenses. In the later 19th century numbers on poor relief seem to have declined: two old people and one invalid were noted in 1861, five in 1881, and only one in 1891, most of them women or people too old to work. (fn. 30)
Charitable provision for Kencot's poor continued in the late 19th and 20th century, long after primary responsibility had passed elsewhere. Church collections in the early 20th century were still mainly for the 'sick and needy', (fn. 31) while in 1888, by his will proved later that year, the Revd Charles Loder Loder left stock worth over £103, to produce an income of £2 16s. 8d. to be distributed in kind to the poor of Kencot. (fn. 32) During the late 19th century Amelia Carter (d. 1905), a native of Kencot who died in London, contributed annual sums for the poor and sick of Kencot, Clanfield, and Filkins, (fn. 33) and by her will left funds which, in the 1960s, provided £120 a year for the upkeep of Kencot village hall (the Carter Institute), the surplus to go to the poor in coal. (fn. 34) In 1966 groceries worth 3s. a week were given to two poor inhabitants from the bequest. There were also coal and boot clubs: in the 1960s six members of the former paid 1s. a month and received a bonus of 9s. a year, while four members of the latter paid and received similar sums. Income from the charities was by then paid into a single Kencot Parochial Fund, the trustees distributing it at their discretion. In 1968 the Amelia Carter coal charity had 184 shares in the Charity Commission's Official Investment Fund; it was amalgamated with the Loder charity by a Charity Commission Scheme of 1970. (fn. 35)
Sanitation, Utilities, and Services
Problems caused by lack of clean water and poor sanitation were highlighted in 1872: sewerage, cesspools, and pigsties were open and fed into each other, wells were too close to them and were not deep enough to provide unpolluted water, and sanitation outside the houses was insufficient, contributing to typhoid outbreaks in most summers. The previous year had also seen 16 cases of scarlet fever in the village, which was claimed to be one of the most insalubrious in the Burford District. (fn. 36) A parish pump survives outside Kencot Cottage, but running water was still not available by 1940; electricity was laid on by 1939. (fn. 37) In 2003 there was still no mains drainage, and gas was available only to houses along the main road. A doctor seems to have practised in Kencot from around 1899 to the late 1930s, but otherwise the nearest medical care was in Burford. (fn. 38)
A police station at Kencot was mentioned in the early 20th century. The nearest postal and money-order office, also a telegraph office by 1876, was that at Lechlade (Glos.). After 1911 the nearest post office was in Broadwell, and a money order and telegraph office was established in Filkins by 1899; by 1935 Filkins had a telephone exchange covering Kencot. (fn. 39)
Kencot was one of several villages to benefit from the generosity of Goddard Carter (d. 1725) of Alvescot, who by his will left a rent-charge of £2 10s. on a 200-a. farm in Kencot parish, to be paid to a schoolmaster to teach poor children to read and write. (fn. 40) The owner of the land was to appoint the teacher. (fn. 41) In 1771, when the owner was Phillips Lyttleton of Studley (Warws.), no teacher could be found, and Lyttleton temporarily offered the money to parish charity. (fn. 42) The schoolroom (Fig. 53) was a converted barn built lengthways along the street, probably for Kencot Manor. (fn. 43)
In 1815 Carter's school was attended by 8 boys and 19 girls, though in 1819 the rent-charge paid for only six of the children attending, parents of the other pupils paying 2d. a week. In 1823 it was an infant school for 15 children, of whom six were still taught free in 1834. Small rival schools were mentioned occasionally during the earlier 19th century: one for about 20 children was started around 1813, and there were still two schools in 1820, both run on the old plan. The second had apparently closed by 1823, though in 1834 there was a newlyestablished day school with 22 pupils. (fn. 44) During the 19th century children were catechized by the schoolmistress of the Carter day school. (fn. 45)
By 1854 the day and Sunday school had 40 children on the register, mostly supported by voluntary contributions. (fn. 46) In 1864 the existing schoolroom was enlarged and divided into two, and high windows were inserted, thanks to a grant from the National Society. (fn. 47) An adult school was held regularly on winter evenings from 1869 to 1878, but finally closed in 1881 because attendance was too low and the villagers too poor to meet its running costs. (fn. 48) The day school received a government grant by 1867 and had accommodation officially for 31 children, though average attendance was 32 (20 boys and 19 girls in 1869, 22 boys and 20 girls in 1872). (fn. 49) By 1871 it was affiliated to the National Society, and accommodation had been raised to 50; 19 boys and 19 girls were present on inspection day. (fn. 50) Accommodation was further increased to 62 by 1875; total income that year was £46 14s. 8d., of which £7 10s. came from the Carter endowment, but expenditure was just over £49. (fn. 51) Alterations were made to the school offices in 1877 at the request of the Education Department, paid for by voluntary contributions. (fn. 52)
Attendance fell by 1890 to an average of only 15, (fn. 53) reflecting general depopulation, though the school's financial state had improved by 1894 when income was c. £60 and expenditure c. £50. (fn. 54) Church collections were made regularly for the school, (fn. 55) the schoolroom being also used for vestry meetings and (from 1887) as a reading room open in the evenings for five months a year. (fn. 56) In 1897 a prize of 10s. each was given from the Carter bequest to six children (four boys and two girls), and some money was invested in post-office savings for a seventh. (fn. 57)
The school closed in July 1901, when pupils were transferred to Broadwell school. (fn. 58) Thereafter the schoolroom became a parish room used by the Sunday school, and a reading room. After the completion of the Carter Institute in 1915 it was little used, and in 1920 the rector, with permission from the Charity Commission, sold it to F.D. Howe of Kencot Manor for use as a gardener's cottage; (fn. 59) it survived as a private house in 2003. From 1949 Kencot children attended Langford school, and in the early 21st century the Carter bequest was used to buy books for that school. (fn. 60)
The Life Of The Community
From the Middle Ages Kencot had close connections with neighbouring parishes. Kencot tenants of neighbouring manors still attended courts at Clanfield or Broadwell in the 16th century, (fn. 61) and from inclosure, as before, many of the chief landowners and farmers lived outside the parish in Broadwell, Brize Norton, Alvescot, Clanfield, or elsewhere, including outside the county. (fn. 62) Conversely some resident farmers had property outside Kencot, among them the prominent Turners, who in 1704 partly owned Broadwell mill. (fn. 63) Outside connections were not merely tenurial but social. Kencot property was sold by estate agents and lawyers from towns such as Burford and Lechlade, with auctions often held in neighbouring parishes including Broadwell, (fn. 64) while gentry and yeomen such as the Yates and Turners and (in the later 18th century) William Stephens frequently acted as witnesses, supervisors, or attorneys for people outside the parish. (fn. 65)
The only public buildings were the church, from the early 18th century the school, and from the early 20th the Carter Institute (Fig. 54), built as a village hall between 1912 and 1915 with a bequest from Amelia Carter. (fn. 66) No licensed public houses are recorded, and during the 18th century public meetings such as auctions were held in pubs or inns in nearby parishes including Burford, Filkins, and Black Bourton. (fn. 67) Some were held in the parish schoolroom, which in the later 19th century served also as a reading room. (fn. 68) The Carter Institute served similar educational functions in the early 20th century, aimed partly at keeping men away from drink. (fn. 69) Other parish activities included a church choir, established by the 1850s, (fn. 70) and in the early 20th century there was a drama club, a motorcycle club, and a joint cricket club with Broadwell. (fn. 71) There were apparently no friendly societies or sick benefit clubs; in the earlier 20th century some inhabitants joined those based in neighbouring parishes such as Alvescot, (fn. 72) and a nursing association covered Kencot among other parishes in the area. (fn. 73)
Few parish festivities are recorded, except for maypole-dancing and Christmas mumming in the 1860s. (fn. 74) James Oldisworth, rector 1666–1722, reportedly maintained a custom of giving bread, cheese, butter, eggs, and ale towards a breakfast for the poor before a perambulation or procession on the Tuesday before Holy Thursday, and provided a dinner for the whole parish on St Stephen's day; the practice was challenged by his successor but one in the 1740s, despite the parishioners' protestations. (fn. 75) Public celebrations of national events included a dinner to mark the end of the Crimean War, (fn. 76) and numerous allusions to international events were made in church services during the First World War and in the 1920s and 1930s. (fn. 77) The absence of other public forums meant that during the 19th and 20th centuries Kencot's communal life focused almost exclusively on church and school: increased gentrification helped to support the former, though the gradual decline of the resident working and farming community contributed to the closure first of the school, and later of the Carter Institute, which continued in 2003 as an ordinary village hall. (fn. 78) In the later 20th century the replacement of a resident rector by a team ministry, (fn. 79) the absence of shops and amenities, and limited public transport all helped to turn Kencot into a dormitory village for wealthy commuters, week-end residents, and retired professionals. Politically conservative and predominantly Anglican, the community remained active in its support of the parish church, insisting on at least one cultural amenity, the mobile library, and maintaining an unbroken tradition of organized carol singing since the 1950s. (fn. 80)