A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 4, the City of Oxford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1979.
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Royal charters in the Middle Ages granted privileges to the burgesses of Oxford in the vill and its suburbs, (fn. 1) an area which in the 13th century seems to have included the walled town and the extra-mural parishes of St. Thomas, St. Peter-in-theEast (excluding its chapelry of Wolvercote), and St. Michael at the Southgate as far south as Folly Bridge. (fn. 2) In 1266 the houses in Grandpont between the county boundary at Denchworth Bow and Folly Bridge were said to be part of the Berkshire hundred of Hormer, not of Oxford, but from the late 13th century they were considered part of the borough, although in Berkshire. (fn. 3) Holywell was considered usually to be outside the liberty. (fn. 4) The parishes of St. Mary Magdalen and St. Giles, although sometimes described as being in the suburbs of Oxford, were in a separate liberty, Northgate hundred. (fn. 5) Binsey, too, seems sometimes to have been excluded from the town's jurisdiction, but medieval subsidy assessments for Oxford included Binsey, Holywell, and the parishes of St. Thomas, St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Giles as part of the area assessed for the tenth. (fn. 6)
By the later 14th century the liberty was for all other purposes smaller, for the lords of the outlying manors had asserted their independence of the town. Oseney abbey, in a dispute with the town over South Oseney manor in 1376-7, obtained a judgement that the whole of St. Thomas's parish west of Bookbinder's Bridge was part of the abbot's franchise, and that the town had no jurisdiction there and could not make the inhabitants contribute to tallages or subsidies. (fn. 7) In 1383, after a dispute with Merton College over Holywell, the mayor swore not to interfere in the manor. (fn. 8) In 1418 a jury found that North and South Oseney, the parishes of St. Mary Magdalen, St. Giles, St. Thomas, and St. George (i.e. the castle), the hamlets of Walton, Holywell, Binsey, and Twentyacre, the castle mills, King's mead, and Medley, were all outside the liberty of the town, and that Oxford's only suburb was that outside the south gate. (fn. 9) In 1556 the city was unable to make good its claim that Walton was within the liberty, (fn. 10) and as late as 1570 St. Thomas's parish west of Bookbinder's Bridge was said to be in the liberty of Oseney and not in the suburbs of Oxford. (fn. 11)
In the course of the 17th century the city extended its jurisdiction over the suburbs; Northgate hundred was bought in 1592, and Holywell was finally declared to be within the city in 1667. (fn. 12) St. Thomas's parish seems to have been accepted as part of the city without any dispute. In the 18th century the limits of the liberty were those marked by the ridden boundary. (fn. 13)
THE RIDDEN BOUNDARY.
The bounds were perambulated regularly until c. 1900. Although the ceremony was known as 'riding the franchises' the mayor and his party proceeded by boat and on foot. The route followed seems to have related originally to common and fishing rights, rather than to the liberty described above. (fn. 14) The perambulation was first recorded in 1391-2 when for the first time the chamberlains accounted for money spent on it; (fn. 15) it is possible that an ancient custom was put on a more official basis at the end of the 14th century when the town was struggling to maintain its authority over parts of the suburbs. The earliest account of the route, dating apparently from the late 14th or early 15th century, survives in two versions, both more or less corrupt. (fn. 16) There is a more detailed account, apparently of c. 1550, (fn. 17) and full descriptions of the route taken in the 19th century. (fn. 18)
The first part of the perambulation, from Magdalen Bridge to Hinksey ferry, was clearly associated with the town's free fishery in those waters, recorded in the mid 16th century. (fn. 19) From the eastern end of Magdalen Bridge the mayor and his party followed the river Cherwell to the county boundary, Shire Lake stream, and along that stream across Christ Church Meadow to Trill Mill stream beside Grandpont. In the 15th century the party continued along the county boundary, passing under Denchworth Bow, north of Folly Bridge, and following the river Thames between the Blackfriars' priory and a meadow called Ailric's eyot and so along Hog Acre ditch south of King's mead to Hinksey ferry. The housing between Denchworth Bow and South Bridge which was usually considered to belong to the borough although it was in Berkshire, was thus omitted from the perambulation. The route of c. 1550 followed the Trill Mill stream to the main stream of the Thames and turned down-river to Chilswell Pool before returning to pass under the fourth arch south of the tower on Folly Bridge, up side streams between Welshman's mead and Blackfriars' mead, and so along Hog Acre ditch, the county boundary, to Hinksey ferry. In the late 1620s the mayor apparently went under the third arch south of the tower on Folly Bridge, (fn. 20) but in the 18th century the route went under the fourth arch. (fn. 21) The town's free fishery extended as far south as Chilswell Pool by 1586, (fn. 22) and the detour to the pool, later the site of the 'freewater stone', (fn. 23) may well have been part of the medieval perambulation.
From Hinksey ferry to Wycroft on the eastern edge of Port Meadow the perambulation seems to have been more concerned with common of pasture than with fishing rights, although the town owned fisheries from Hythe Bridge to Godstow in 1556 and between Botley mill lock and Hinksey in 1582. (fn. 24) The mayor's party went from Hinksey ferry to Botley mill and then along the Shire Lake (Seacourt stream) to Godstow, going round, as the 15th-century account stressed, Wyke, Binsey, Medley, Cripley, and Port Meadow, the last three of which were part of the burgesses' common pasture in the early 12th century. (fn. 25) The 19th-century boundary differed slightly from the earlier one, leaving Shire Lake at Godstow holt to follow another stream a few yards further east, rejoining Shire Lake as it entered the Thames above Godstow Bridge.
From Godstow Bridge the party proceeded on foot across the fields to the river Cherwell. In the 15th century the route to Wycroft Lane seems to have been the same as the later routes, going over a bridge, probably on the site of the later Wolvercote toll bridge, and a short way along the road to Wolvercote before turning south-east to follow a newly-made ditch across Port Meadow towards the 'Ox leys of Godstow' (later Great Lamb Leys), whence it followed Wycroft Lane to Brooman's (Artistotle's) well, the main entrance to Port Meadow. From the well the party crossed the fields to Green ditch (on the line of the modern St. Margaret's Road), and followed the line of the ditch to the river Cherwell. The route of c. 1550 followed the road from Godstow Bridge, over the toll bridge, and passed round the edge of Port Meadow to Wycroft Lane. In 1851 the mayor's party went round Fair close instead of following the road between Godstow Bridge and the toll bridge, stopping for lunch at the Trout inn on the way. From Wycroft Lane the routes of c. 1550 and later turned east at 'Lady's Hole' (fn. 26) into Burgess mead, up Lark hill to the Woodstock road, crossed straight to the Banbury road, then turned south along it to rejoin the 15th-century line at Green ditch. The 19th-century line from Green ditch to the Cherwell seems to have followed pre-inclosure field and furlong boundaries. (fn. 27)
In 1629 the mayor and bailiffs seem to have considered Green ditch their northern boundary on the Woodstock road, for it was there that they met Charles I when he came to the city from Woodstock. (fn. 28) An account of the bounds of 'Beaumont', perhaps of the early 17th century, included some of the grounds between the Banbury road and Brademore in Beaumont, then turned along Green ditch and Wood ditch and across the fields to Aristotle's well, (fn. 29) a line similar to the 15th-century ridden boundary. The more northerly point at which later perambulations crossed the Woodstock road, however, seems to have been accepted in 1629 as a boundary for determining responsibility for the repair of the road; (fn. 30) and the northern route was certainly established by 1650 when a merestone was erected at the point at which the perambulation reached the Banbury road. (fn. 31)
At the river Cherwell the mayor's party entered boats again and returned downstream to Magdalen Bridge, following the eastern branch of the river. As the 15th-century account stressed that Holywell and St. John's hospital were within the liberty, the route presumably followed the same stream. The journey down the Cherwell may once have defined fishing rights, but there is no evidence that the burgesses ever claimed such rights above Magdalen Bridge. A fishery in the Cherwell was confirmed to Godstow abbey in 1143 (fn. 32) and remained in the abbey's possession until the Dissolution. Its bounds were not recorded until the late 18th century when one fishery was variously described as extending from Great Wilsey to Points corner (opposite Parson's Pleasure) or the upper end of Norham meadow, and another extended from New Park corner to Holywell mill-pond. (fn. 33) None of those bounds corresponded with the point at which the perambulation reached the Cherwell. It is possible that the journey down the Cherwell was unconnected with fishing rights and was simply the easiest route around part of north Oxford and Holywell; but there is no evidence that the town claimed any rights of common there, and although Holywell was sometimes claimed to be within the liberty Northgate hundred was always excluded. If the line of Green ditch was perambulated as the northern boundary of the town, it perhaps reflects a situation even earlier than the early 12th century when the whole of north Oxford is known to have been in Headington and Walton.
After the boundary extensions of 1889 the perambulation, which had long been taken as a perambulation of the bounds of the city's jurisdiction, was extended to take in the new portions of the city. The boundary extensions of 1929 made such a perambulation impossible, although in 1931 there was a 'farcical attempt' to perambulate the new boundary by driving to the points at which it crossed convenient roads. (fn. 34)
MODERN BOUNDARY EXTENSIONS.
In 1831 it was assumed that the borough boundaries followed the ridden boundary. In 1832 261 a. from St. Clement's parish and 2 a. from Cowley were added to the parliamentary borough which thus covered the built up area of the city, (fn. 35) and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 established the same boundaries for the municipal borough. (fn. 36) The sanitary district under the jurisdiction of the Oxford Local Board, established in 1864, extended beyond the municipal boundary to include part of the parish of North Hinksey adjoining Grandpont, and that part of Cowley parish west of Magdalen Road and Divinity Road. The board's district was further enlarged in 1875 to include Grandpont tithing. (fn. 37) The boundaries of the parliamentary borough were extended in 1868 to include the northern part of St. Giles's parish (447 a.), the suburb of New Hinksey in South Hinksey parish (82 a.), Grandpont tithing in St. Aldate's parish (293 a.), portions of Iffley (90 a.), Headington (216 a.), and Marston (24 a.), and those parts of Cowley parish which had been under the jurisdiction of the Oxford Local Board since 1865. (fn. 38) In 1889 the municipal borough was enlarged to cover the whole parliamentary borough, and a further 32 a. in the south of Grandpont was added; at the same time the county boundary was altered to bring the whole of the municipal borough into Oxfordshire. The following year Oxford became a county borough. (fn. 39) In 1929 outlying parts of Cowley (909 a.) and Headington (1,529 a.) were added to the county borough, together with 237 a. from Iffley, 216 a. from Marston, 613 a. from Wolvercote, and 92 a. from Cutteslowe. (fn. 40) The bounds of the parliamentary borough were extended to those of the county borough in 1948. (fn. 41) The new housing estate of Blackbird Leys (369 a.) was brought into the county borough in 1957 and into the parliamentary borough in 1960. (fn. 42)
The number of parishes within the walls was 13 in the mid 13th century, 11 c. 1300, and 9 c. 1500. (fn. 43) The parishes were small, and their size was further decreased by the growing number of colleges whose privileges made them effectively extra-parochial. The extensive castle site was also excluded from the parochial structure, although it was sometimes considered to be in a parish of its own, St. George's. (fn. 44) Parish boundaries, which were first marked on a map of 1751, (fn. 45) followed property boundaries or the line of the town wall and ditch; except for the northern boundary of the short-lived St. Frideswide's parish, none followed a street for any distance. Changing property boundaries led to disputes over parish boundaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 46) The building of New Road through the castle site c. 1770 seems to have led to the incorporation of part of that site into St. Peter-le-Bailey parish, and about the same date the western boundary of St. Michael at the Northgate parish was extended beyond New Inn Hall Street as far as Bulwarks Lane. (fn. 47)
St. Ebbe's parish extended across the town wall to the north bank of the Thames, but the line of the wall at that point dates only from the mid 13th century, so the parish boundary may reflect an earlier arrangement of the defences. St. Peter-in-the-East, which was probably a parish before the eastern area of the town was walled, likewise included the meadows outside the east gate. Outlying areas were attached to three parishes. Binsey and Cutteslowe, attached to St. Frideswide's parish and then to St. Edward's, presumably owed that attachment to the fact that they were among the early endowments of St. Frideswide's monastery; Cutteslowe was later considered extraparochial, Binsey a peculiar of Christ Church. (fn. 48) Part of Littlemore was attached to St. Mary's parish, probably because its tithes had been granted to the church. (fn. 49) Only in the attachment of Wolvercote and Holywell to St. Peter-in-the-East may it be possible to see a relic of an earlier parochial organization at a date when St. Peter's, itself outside the town wall, served a large suburban area, perhaps that from which the parishes of St. Mary Magdalen, St. Thomas, and St. Giles were later created. (fn. 50)
St. Mary Magdalen parish was built up at an early date and hence had much in common with the intramural parishes; its northern boundary followed property boundaries, its eastern and western boundaries roads. St. Michael at the Southgate, united with St. Aldate's in 1524, St. Thomas's, and St. Giles's parishes covered a large area around Oxford, bounded on the east by the Cherwell, on the west and south by streams of the Thames, and on the north by field boundaries and, for a short distance, the Woodstock road. Much of the southern part of St. Aldate's parish was in Berkshire, but on the west the county and parish boundaries coincided.
The course of part of the northern boundary of St. Giles's parish was uncertain in 1629, when a witness could not say where the boundary lay east of the Woodstock road, and Great Hoarstone close, which lay on the boundary, was described as being in the parishes of St. Giles, Wolvercote, or Godstow. (fn. 51) In 1699, however, Great Hoarstone was said to be in St. Giles's parish. (fn. 52) The generally accepted boundary in 1629, however, appears to be that shown on maps of 1769, 1832, and 1876, (fn. 53) and the part of the boundary between the Banbury road and the Cherwell seems to accord with a description of 1004 of the southern boundary of Cutteslowe. (fn. 54)
The southern boundary of St. Aldate's parish was disputed in the early 17th century when it was claimed that the meadows of Great and Little Sandells, south of the main stream of the Thames, were not in the parish, although they were included in annual perambulations of the bounds. (fn. 55) In 1657 and 1662 Aston's eyot, Swiffin's weir, and the walks around Christ Church meadow, all former monastic lands, were claimed to be extra-parochial, (fn. 56) but in 1678 the annual perambulation stopped for refreshments at the Weirs, (fn. 57) presumably the site of Swiffin's weir and of the later Weirs mill. In 1846 all the disputed land was within the parish, which extended as far as Hog Acre on the north-west, and along the east side of the Abingdon road as far as Cold Arbour in the south. (fn. 58) A map of 1849 included in the parish land west of the Abingdon road, bounded on the south by a lane to South Hinksey, (fn. 59) and in 1876 the parish also included a meadow south of Weirs mill. (fn. 60)
Two areas found to be extra-parochial in 1876 (fn. 61) were Port Meadow, presumably because it was common for the burgesses of several parishes, and Christ Church Meadow, presumably because it was former monastic land. Merton fields were described as extraparochial in 1841, but were later included in the parish of St. Peter-in-the-East. (fn. 62) The status of the colleges and halls was unclear. In 1841 they were said to be extra-parochial; in 1851 their status was doubtful; in 1901 the university paid the rates of the colleges in the Oxford Incorporation, while those in Headington Union were rated to the parish in which they stood. (fn. 63) Some colleges on parish boundaries were perambulated by the parishioners. The parishioners of St. John the Baptist went through Oriel, Corpus Christi, and Merton colleges in 1682. (fn. 64) The authorities of Alban Hall locked their gates against the parishioners of St. Peter-in-the-East in the later 17th century, but their objection was that the perambulation was taking in too much of the hall, not that it was taking it in at all. (fn. 65) In 1769 the perambulation of St. Peter-in-theEast passed through University College, Alban Hall, and Hertford College, but omitted Magdalen College, although it went round the Botanical Garden which was the college's property. (fn. 66) All Souls', Queen's, University, Oriel, Brasenose, and Lincoln Colleges were likewise included in the parishes of St. Mary Virgin and St. Michael at the Northgate, parishes which continued to hold perambulations in 1976.
Medieval Oxford was divided for certain administrative purposes into four wards: north-east, northwest, south-east, and south-west. The boundaries ran straight from north to south along Cornmarket Street and St. Aldate's and from east to west along High Street, Queen Street, and St. Thomas's High Street, (fn. 67) and at no point coincided with the parish boundaries. They date from at least 1255 when the number of aldermen, who were each assigned to a ward, (fn. 68) was fixed at four. (fn. 69) By the later 14th century St. Thomas's parish was excluded from the south-west and northwest wards and formed a separate unit for administrative purposes, (fn. 70) otherwise the ward boundaries remained unchanged until 1836.
In 1836 the city was divided into five electoral wards, of which the north ward comprised St. Thomas's, Godstow, and part of St. Giles and North Hinksey; the south ward, St. Peter-le-Bailey, St. Aldate's, St. Mary Virgin, St. John's, and part of South Hinksey; the east ward, Holywell, St. Peter-in-theEast, St. Clement's, and parts of Cowley, Headington, and Marston; the west ward, St. Ebbe's, St. Michael's, and St. Martin's; the central ward, St. Mary Magdalen and All Saints. (fn. 71) In 1889 the number was reduced to four: a north ward comprised St. Giles's and Holywell parishes, an east ward all the city east of the Cherwell, a west ward the parishes of St. Mary Magdalen, St. Thomas, St. Michael, St. Peter-le-Bailey, and Binsey, as well as Walton and Godstow, and a south ward which included the remaining central parishes and Grandpont. (fn. 72) In 1928 seven wards were created: Summertown and Wolvercote, Headington, Cowley and Iffley, North, South, East, and West wards. (fn. 73) An eighth, Blackbird Leys, was added in 1967. (fn. 74) In 1969 the city was reorganized into 15 wards. (fn. 75)