A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 16. Originally published by Boydell & Brewer for the Institute of Historical Research, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2011.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by Victoria County History Oxfordshire. All rights reserved.
OUTLYING FARMS AND AGRICULTURE
In the rural parts of Henley parish mixed farming was long complemented by woodland exploitation (see map at Fig. 5). As elsewhere in the Chilterns, the balance between cereal production, animal grazing and wood cutting varied according to wider economic conditions. From the Middle Ages small common fields existed alongside hedged closes, some of which were cleared from extensive woodland. Several medium-sized farms had been created by c. 1700, and further consolidation occurred by the mid 19th century, although holding sizes generally decreased thereafter. Tenant farmers predominated over owner-occupiers, especially before c. 1900. The immediate proximity of Henley presumably made it the main market.
The Middle Ages
The Agricultural Landscape
In the Middle Ages large parts of the high terrain in the north and west of Henley parish were covered by woodland and rough pasture. Arable and managed grassland were apparently concentrated on the lower ground to the south and east, though patches of arable were also created further north, including in the deer park which had been established by the late 13th century. (fn. 1) Around the edge of the town were many gardens, including a substantial one attached to the manorial complex. (fn. 2) The river frontage provided alluvial soil prone to flooding but highly suitable for meadow and grassland. (fn. 3) The Thames itself was used for fishing, rights to which were leased to townsmen. (fn. 4)
Farmland seems to have been partly held in crofts and enclosures, (fn. 5) and partly in small open fields, of which several were close to the town. Old field (later North field), long associated with Bensington manor, was mentioned in the 13th century, and was probably situated at Abrahams fields near Northfield End. (fn. 6) Abrahams was still referred to as a 'common field' in 1606, (fn. 7) and though it seems to have been held in severalty by 1789, a few strips still survived. (fn. 8) Henfield, between Henley market place and Grim's Ditch, was arable in 1317, (fn. 9) and in the 1420s had a gate for access to common grazing. By the 14th century most of its strips seem to have been held with adjoining houses along West Street, and in the late 16th century it was at least partly divided into private closes. It probably lost its remaining identity as the town expanded thereafter. (fn. 10) South field, mainly in Rotherfield Greys, included land belonging to Badgemore fee. (fn. 11) Further north, near Lower Assendon, a 'common field' called Witness was mentioned in the 17th century. (fn. 12) Other fields included 'gylden dene' (probably Dean field, on the southern edge of the town), Middle field, Park field, Thames field, and the 'field next to Fawley'. (fn. 13)
It is unclear when these fields were created, but some, particularly Old field, almost certainly pre-dated the foundation of the borough. The name 'Cherlmede', recorded in 1341 for a common meadow which may have lain just north of the town, similarly implies communal farming by Anglo-Saxon peasant farmers or ceorls. (fn. 14) Given this, the creation of the borough must have entailed reorganization of farmland both in the eastern part of Henley parish and in neighbouring Rotherfield Greys, which almost certainly involved boundary changes as well.
Estate Organization, Tenants, and Park
In the 11th century the area was divided between the 5-hide manor of Badgemore in the west, and a detached part of the extensive royal estate of Bensington to the north and east. (fn. 15) In 1086 Badgemore was said to have land for eight ploughs, but only five were in use: two on the demesne, run by a slave, and three others used by tenants (seven villani and three lower-status bordars). The estate was valued at £4, as in 1066, and included 12 a. of meadow presumably by the Thames. Its woodland was said to be two furlongs by one furlong in extent, (fn. 16) and probably included at least part of Lambridge Wood. Bensington manor had a large demesne, 61 tenants, and two mills, but the Domesday description did not distinguish between Henley and the manor's other constituent parts. (fn. 17)
By the early 13th century free tenants had interests in some sizeable holdings in Badgemore, ranging from ½ yardland to over a hide; the arrangement may reflect mortgaging by William of Badgemore, since when William sold the estate in 1208 the very substantial purchase money went to the free tenants. (fn. 18) These transactions suggest that land in Badgemore had become an attractive investment by c. 1200, presumably because it lay so close to the emerging market centre at Henley, and a comparatively high tax assessment in 1220 may imply that the manor was slightly more intensively farmed than others nearby. (fn. 19)
But if Badgemore derived any early advantages from its proximity to Henley, these were apparently short-lived. Early 14th-century tax documents suggest a small, poor vill, (fn. 20) presumably affected by agricultural problems like those reported in neighbouring settlements. (fn. 21) From the late 13th century it is difficult to distinguish Badgemore land and rents from the rest of Rotherfield Greys manor, (fn. 22) but there was probably only a fairly small area of demesne arable in Badgemore, worth 2d. per acre. (fn. 23)
By the late 12th century, part of the previously undifferentiated Bensington lands at Henley had been hived off to create Henley manor, though this continued to be held and administered alongside Bensington manor until the end of the 13th century. (fn. 24) Henley manor, which was probably formed as a way of managing the new planned town, comprised only the town itself plus the adjacent manorial complex and the advowson of Henley church. In the 1270s and presumably earlier it lacked any large demesne or tenant holdings, and the rural area around the town (excluding Badgemore) remained part of Bensington. (fn. 25)
The character of this residual Bensington land, which occupied most of the parish north of the Fair Mile, is uncertain. It evidently included large areas of woodland and rough pasture, much of which remained in the 17th century. (fn. 26) However, there were also areas of farmland, which were presumably included in Richard, earl of Cornwall's lease of Bensington manor to a large group of local tenants after 1244. (fn. 27) Certainly some arable (as well as woodland) in the north-west was inclosed within the deer park created before 1269, resulting in the loss of £1 3s. annual rent from three tenants. (fn. 28)
The park, which had been attached (together with a small amount of Thames-side meadow) to Henley manor by the 1290s, (fn. 29) was in the vicinity of the modern Henley Park, though its precise location and extent is uncertain. Probably it was established by Richard of Cornwall, who is known to have taken an acre of arable and an acre of wood belonging to the rector of Henley into the park bounds, (fn. 30) and who created a park at nearby Watlington. (fn. 31) Henley park was seldom visited by its absentee lords, and by the 1290s seems to have been used mainly as a farming resource and wood reserve. (fn. 32) In 1296–7 £3 6s. 8d. was received from the leasing of park, pannage, and unspecified arable and pasture, much of it probably within the park pales. (fn. 33) In 1300 and 1314 the park contained 60 a. of arable (an unusually large amount), possibly the tenant land mentioned in the 13th century. (fn. 34) This was valued at £1, or 4d. per acre, an average value for Oxfordshire, but double that of other local demesne arable. (fn. 35)
In 1340 much of the north-east of the parish was separated from Bensington to form the manor of Fillets, which besides Phyllis Court included a few houses at Northfield End. (fn. 36) Initially both Fillets and Henley manor belonged to John de Moleyns, and seem to have been administered as a single unit. In 1340–2 the combined estate, then in the king's hands, was supervised by a bailiff and farmed by seven servants. (fn. 37) Three of the men operated a single horse-drawn plough team, and two shepherds were complemented by a cowman and dairy assistant. The demesne included 89½ a. under crops and, presumably, other arable lying fallow. Tenants did not provide any labour services, and large numbers of additional paid workers were required for weeding and harvesting. Tenant holdings seem to have been limited since assized rent amounted to only 16s., but woodland sometimes produced large profits. (fn. 38)
In 1342 the two manors were leased separately: Fillets for 20 marks (£13 4s. 6d.) a year, and Henley for 17 marks. (fn. 39) Fillets was still valued at 20 marks in 1499, when income included £4 rent from tenants in Henley and Bix, (fn. 40) but it seems likely that the estate would have suffered a prolonged drop in value in the 15th century. Henley manor certainly did: it was leased for £8 a year in 1406, (fn. 41) but by the early 1440s, when it was back in hand, only £2 9s. 4d. was received from the bailiffs, and the farmer of the demesne paid just 3s. 8d. (fn. 42)
Local agriculture reflected the mixed farming practices of the area. In 1178–9 the Bensington demesne was sown with cereal crops and re-stocked with plough beasts, cows, sheep, and pigs. (fn. 43) In the 13th century many local manors produced a good deal of mancorn (a mixture of rye and winter barley) for sale in Henley, (fn. 44) and the significance of this crop in the rural parts of Henley is attested by the presence of a tenant in Badgemore called John Mancorn. (fn. 45) In 1340–1 the Henley and Fillets demesne was sown with 32 a. mixtilio (wheat and rye), 24 a. wheat, 15 a. barley, 8 a. oats, 6½ a. dredge (spring barley and oats), and small amounts of vetches and pulses. It was also stocked with four plough horses and a farm horse, 264 sheep, seven cows, four bulls, two calves, and a few hens; of these six cows and 61 sheep were leased out for their milk. Hay came from lots in Kingsmead and Cherlmede totalling 7¾ a. (fn. 46)
Woods provided timber and fuel wood, as well as limited grazing for pigs and other animals. The Crown probably made occasional gifts of trees from Henley park, (fn. 47) and large profits were sometimes made from the sale of logs ('talwood' and 'halfwood') and faggots there. Early in 1341, for example, £35 4s. was received from two London woodmongers and two bailiffs of Henley manor for wood left over from sales by John de Moleyns. (fn. 48) Further sales later in the year produced £36 10s. 6d. and left a profit of £24 after the costs of production, custody, and carriage down to the Thames. (fn. 49) However, these sales almost certainly resulted from an exceptional episode of heavy felling initiated by the rapacious Moleyns. (fn. 50) Income from woodland on Henley manor seems normally to have been much more modest: in the late 1350s wood sales produced an average of only 10s. a year, (fn. 51) and in 1385 60 a. of woodland was said to produce no underwood besides that required to maintain fences. (fn. 52)
In the later Middle Ages there was apparently an increasing focus on grazing and a reduction of cereal cultivation. No demesne arable was mentioned in 1357–8, only meadow and pasture rented for 30s. a year. (fn. 53) In 1381 pasture in the park was worth £1, and meadow 16s. Four years later the Henley demesne included 60 a. of woodland (perhaps the area of managed woodland), 4 a. of meadow worth 10s., and 50 a. of arable, all but 5 a. of which lay uncultivated. The arable was valued at 2d. per acre, presumably as grassland. (fn. 54)
The townsmen themselves were closely involved in farming. Many kept pigs, and some leased pieces of land and meadow from the town guild, which also let out a horse mill at Northfield End, and two barns. (fn. 55) In the early 14th century two leading merchants, Robert of Shiplake and John of Harwell, owned land in Badgemore, in Harwell's case a yardland and 24 a. of wood. (fn. 56) By 1400 most of Old field and another field called Drayerys (perhaps Dry Leas, north of the Fair Mile) seem to have belonged to another leading merchant, Thomas Clobber. (fn. 57)
The 16th to 18th Centuries
For most of this period agricultural land was leased to tenants, and by the 17th century fairly short leaseholds seem to have been common. A few local yeomen acquired small freeholds, but these were mainly short-lived. (fn. 58) The gradual consolidation of holdings and piecemeal inclosure of common fields which seems to have started in the later Middle Ages continued, with some individuals leasing substantial holdings by the 18th century. (fn. 59)
The Phyllis Court (or Fillets) estate in the east was let on a 99-year lease for £48 9s. 4d. a year in 1552, with the right to fell trees. (fn. 60) In 1637 it was valued at £410 a year, excluding the mansion house. (fn. 61) Sir John Meller's share included 61 a. of woodland kept in hand and farmland near the house; the wood was valued at 10s. per acre and the farmland (including much good pasture and meadow) was apparently let for between 10s. and £1 per acre. Meller's main tenant was John Hunt, who leased farm buildings and 61 a. for 14 years from 1632; other individuals held smaller parcels of c. 13–24 a., also on commercial leases. (fn. 62) Outlying parts of the estate, sold piecemeal in 1638, (fn. 63) included land bought by Thomas Hawe of Harpsden, which formed part of Hawes farm (42 a.), later acquired by the Freemans. (fn. 64) In 1673 the home farm, east of the Marlow road, was leased to Adam Springall for five years at £100 a year. (fn. 65) Before 1724 a 124-a. holding had been leased to Hannah Clark, (fn. 66) including the home farm and another farm over the lane with buildings at what came to be called Swiss Farm. (fn. 67) The two farms together were probably at one stage leased to Robert Ovey for £193 a year. (fn. 68)
Henley manor was leased out by its absentee owners from the late 16th century, although the park was briefly separated and was sometimes kept in hand. (fn. 69) Little is known about farming on the estate at this time, but in and around Henley park a large area remained wood and pasture. In the 1630s the park was a discrete area of woodland and lawns, with timber worth £1,000. (fn. 70) Nearby were other woods attached to Phyllis Court, including Hales wood, though this had perhaps already been partly cleared before 1633. (fn. 71)
A large area of wood was cleared to create farmland in the late 17th and 18th centuries, most of it on the newly combined Henley and Phyllis Court estates. In 1672 William Whitelocke sold all the timber in the park and Hales wood, by then a single 400-a. enclosure, to John Cawley, rector of Henley, and John Taylor, for £2,100. The two men became lessees and were authorized to grub up the tree stumps and convert the land to arable. (fn. 72) By 1681 Cawley had built a farmhouse and barn in the park, and Henley Park farm had evidently been established. (fn. 73) At the beginning of the 18th century it was a mixed holding, its grassland and arable leased to a Henley butcher. (fn. 74) By 1843 the entire northern half of the parish contained only c. 50 a. woodland, including plantation. Further south, parts of Lambridge Wood were cleared from the 17th century onwards, (fn. 75) including some land on the Stapleton estate, and 44 a. belonging to an Oxford charity, which was grubbed up to create Lambridge farm c. 1707–11. (fn. 76)
Despite these clearances, timber and coppice wood remained valuable commodities. (fn. 77) Major sales of trees and underwood were exceptional, although some occurred in 1638–9 (helping to fund Bulstrode Whitelocke's estate purchases), (fn. 78) 1662, (fn. 79) and the 1670s. (fn. 80) But more modest wood-cutting presumably occurred on a regular basis, including in Lambridge Wood, (fn. 81) where there are many old sawpits. (fn. 82) When Lambridge farm was created in the early 18th century the felled trees were converted to charcoal for shipping from Henley, (fn. 83) and a few charcoal burners apparently operated in the mid to later 19th century. (fn. 84)
By the 18th century several leasehold farms had been established in the southern half of the parish. In 1743 the Badgemore estate included a 105-a. home farm, built up by earlier purchases of land from local yeoman freeholders. (fn. 85) To the north of this was Bowling Green farm (60 a.), leased for £70 a year in 1758; by 1785 it had been enlarged to 100 a. and was let to two men for £100 and £10 respectively. (fn. 86) In the far south-west, Mankorns farm (66 a.), belonging to the Hodges family, was leased to James Mountford, a Henley grocer, for 21 years at £45 a year in 1788. (fn. 87) Further east, closer to the town, a vestige of the medieval North field (called Abraham in 1789) seems to have been regarded as a single 36-a. farm, owned partly by the Hodges family and partly by the Quakers. (fn. 88)
Few Henley farming inventories survive, but local farmers evidently continued to practice mixed farming. Crops included wheat, barley, oats, peas, turnips, and hops; and sheep, pigs and cows were kept. (fn. 89) In 1717 John Jennings of Lower Assendon had wheat and barley barns next to his house, and kept wheat, barley, oats, and peas in barns at Lambridge and Henley park. (fn. 90) In 1788 the c. 220-a. Badgemore estate contained approximately 125 a. arable, 67 a. grass, and 25 a. woodland; (fn. 91) further north and east, around Henley park and the river, there was presumably a higher proportion of permanent grassland. (fn. 92)
The 19th and 20th Centuries
Around 1798 Strickland Freeman (d. 1821), an 'improving landlord' keen to take advantage of rising prices, took c. 600 a. in the north of the parish in hand as part of Fawley Court farm (825 a.). (fn. 93) This very large holding was partly broken up in 1811, however, and by the 1840s the Henley lands were mainly leased to tenants. (fn. 94) Other landowners pursued an uninterrupted policy of letting their land on short-term commercial tenancies. In 1843 much of the farmland in the parish was divided between three substantial tenant farmers, all of whom leased their holdings from several different landowners and held additional land in neighbouring parishes. (fn. 95)
The largest holding was that of James Sharpe: 470 a. north of the Fair Mile and west of Fawley lane, mostly belonging to the Freemans. Much of this land was attached to Fawley Court and Crockmore farms (Fawley), but it also included Henley Park farm and Hawes. (fn. 96) Nathaniel Micklem of Paradise Farm (Henley) leased 218 a. in the south of the parish, mainly land close to the town, but including Mankorns farm (66 a.) further west. William Lamb held over 170 a. south of the Fair Mile, including Bowling Green farm. Other individuals, including a couple of owner-occupiers, had smaller farm holdings: two of 80–90 a.; five of 40–55 a.; four of 10–21 a.; and six of 4–8 acres. (fn. 97)
Rents seem to have increased in the early 19th century, as elsewhere in the area. (fn. 98) In 1817, for instance, the rent for Abrahams farm (36 a.) was put up from £76 13s. (agreed in 1789) to £109 10s. (fn. 99) In the more difficult farming conditions of the early 1830s the rent for the main part of the farm (29 a.) was reduced from £90 to £66 9s. (fn. 100) By the 1840s and 1850s rent levels were only slightly higher than they had been in the late 18th century, including on the Fawley estate, (fn. 101) though much higher rents continued to be charged, as earlier, for land like Abrahams which was close to the town. (fn. 102) Rents probably increased, as elsewhere, in the two decades following, (fn. 103) but fell in the late 19th-century agricultural recession. (fn. 104)
In the early 19th century the Freemans' home farm was c. 46 per cent arable and c. 54 per cent permanent pasture and meadow. This large holding incorporated extensive grassland in and around Henley park and by the river, and the proportion of pasture was almost certainly higher than on most other farms. (fn. 105) In 1843 the parish as a whole (reckoned at 1,550 a.) contained 984 a. arable (63 per cent), and many farms in the south and west were almost wholly arable. Pasture and meadow accounted for 317 a. (almost 21 per cent of the parish), and woodland 199 a. (13 per cent). Common land (20 a.) and gardens (14 a.) together made up just over one per cent. (fn. 106)
The Freemans followed a modified four-course 'Norfolk system' on their arable land in the 1800s and 1810s: an alternation between turnips, barley, clover, and wheat was supplemented by a course of oats, with sainfoin sometimes substituted for clover. (fn. 107) Tenants of the estate were obliged to follow a similar system. (fn. 108) In the 1860s to 1870s the main cereal crops were wheat, barley and oats; grasses and roots included clover, mangolds and turnips. (fn. 109) At this time the parish supported a modest 50–70 cows and 100–400 sheep, as well as about 100 pigs.
In the late 19th and early 20th century land was divided between a larger number of tenants with medium-sized or small holdings, most of whom by this time concentrated on animal rearing, especially dairying. (fn. 110) In the early 1940s the state of farming was mixed. There were a few fairly successful dairy farms, including those at Badgemore (89 a.) and Mankorns (39 a.), which sold milk wholesale, but herds were small (mostly under 40 cows) and capital investment limited. (fn. 111)
The late 19th-century focus on dairying led to a great increase in permanent pasture. In 1879 there was 779 a. arable, 358 a. pasture, 254 a. wood, and 187 a. ornamental ground; (fn. 112) by the 1890s the area of permanent grass had increased to c. 900–1,000 acres. (fn. 113) The number of cows increased to around 110–240, and, in contrast with other nearby parishes, so too did the number of sheep (450–1,200) and pigs (c. 250). (fn. 114) During the 20th century there was a small rise in the acreage of crops, mainly barley and wheat; sheep numbers fell away after 1920, and beef cattle later superseded dairy cows. (fn. 115)
The number of farms and intensity of farming activity declined in the second half of the 20th century. Already by 1952 much of the northern half of the parish seems to have been kept in hand by the owners of the Fawley Court estate for lack of tenants. Those small areas leased out were held on one-year oral agreements for low rents. (fn. 116) To the south-east, Swiss farm (c. 60 a.) was a dairy farm in the 1940s and a poultry farm and beef unit by the 1960s, but in the following years the owners increasingly developed their land for tourism, establishing a caravan and camping site catering for holiday-makers and visitors to the regatta. (fn. 117) In 1971, 120 a. in Badgemore was made into a golf course. (fn. 118) By 1988 many remaining holdings were run by part-time farmers, (fn. 119) although one or two larger-scale farming operations continued, including Grange farm (established north of Mankorns in the later 20th century), which had 100 beef cattle in 2009. (fn. 120)
Rural Crafts, Trades and Industries
Evidence of rural crafts is very limited, and most craft activity was probably concentrated in the town. The nearest watermills were at Rotherfield Peppard, though near Henley windmills and a horse mill were recorded from the Middle Ages, (fn. 121) and Badgemore tenants were involved in the usual brewing activity in the 15th century. (fn. 122) By the early 18th century a blacksmith was based in the Henley part of Lower Assendon, (fn. 123) and a few dressmakers and others worked from houses at the west end of the Fair Mile in the early 20th century. (fn. 124) There were two beer houses in the same area: the Assendon (later Red) Cross, recorded from the late 18th century and closed before 1913, (fn. 125) and the later Travellers' Rest. (fn. 126) A nearby shop was mentioned in the 19th and early 20th century. (fn. 127) A more substantial rural business was brick, tile and lime production, carried out near the parish boundary north-east of Henley Park. (fn. 128)