Bullingdon hundred

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.

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'Bullingdon hundred', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred, (London, 1957) pp. 1-7. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol5/pp1-7 [accessed 11 April 2024]


Bullingdon hundred

Of the fourteen hundreds, which until the 19th century were the main administrative divisions of the county, Bullingdon was one of the larger and was the most central. Its origin has been discussed elsewhere. (fn. 1) The names of the villages composing it, owing to the general absence of hundredal rubrications in the Oxfordshire Domesday, are not known until the end of the 13th century. (fn. 2) From that date until the boundary of the hundred was mapped by the 18thcentury cartographers there has been little, if any, alteration in its outline. It is clear that the boundaries shown on Richard Davis's map of 1794 were originally dictated in part by the county boundary and by natural features. The hundred reached on the east to the Buckinghamshire border; on the west, the Thames and the Cherwell formed the boundary for part of the way, but instead of turning east along the course of the River Ray the line followed an artificial course south of the river so as to exclude the township of Noke, only joining the Ray again south of Oddington. It then proceeded north and east towards the Buckinghamshire border along the Ray and one of its arms. On the south, the boundary followed an artificial and irregular line, cutting the parish of Nuneham in two, until it reached the River Thame, which it followed for a short distance. On the extreme south-east it made an elongated loop so as to include Tiddington, and by so doing cut the hundred of Thame into three parts. The eccentric line in the north and south suggests that there had been considerable reorganization of the hundred since its first creation. The Baldons, for instance, may have been transferred from the hundred of Dorchester, which comprised all the other townships whose churches had been founded from Dorchester. (fn. 3) Noke may have been excluded from Bullingdon for tenurial reasons, since in 1204 the Abbot of Westminster established his claim to the liberty of Islip to which part of Noke belonged and which itself lay in Ploughley hundred. Another alteration in the boundary may have taken place in comparatively late times. The western boundary on Davis's map follows the Cherwell from its confluence with the Thames, leaving Oxford to the west, but until the end of the 12th century or even later, when the North Gate hundred seems to have been formed, the environs of Oxford must have been in Bullingdon. The boundary would then have followed the western arm of the Thames and have included Binsey, Medley, and Oseney. (fn. 4)

There is only one direct reference to four of the later hundreds in Domesday Book (fn. 5) and Bullingdon is not one of them. But its existence and the fact that it was once a double hundred are implied in the entry that the soke of two hundreds belongs to the royal manor of Headington. (fn. 6) Later evidence shows that these are the hundreds of Bullingdon and Soteslawa. This double hundred is next mentioned on the Pipe Roll of 1182 when it is described as the two hundreds of Bulesden'; (fn. 7) in 1188 it is described as Buleden' hundred and Soterlawa hundred. (fn. 8) The double name occurs again in 1190, in 1191 and 1192 with variations of spelling: Bulesdon' and Schotelawa; (fn. 9) and again in 1199 and 1204. (fn. 10) In the next year the hundred is described as Bulledon' only and Soterlawa does not occur again on the Pipe Rolls. It is found, however, in official records as late as 1219. (fn. 11)

A calculation of the hidage of those Domesday townships which appear in the hundred rolls of 1255 and 1279 as in the hundred of Bullingdon, with the addition of Walton and Holywell, by then in the North Gate hundred, amounts to about 228 hides. This includes the 22½ hides of the Baldons, which it has been suggested were once in the hundred of Dorchester, and allows nothing for Stowood and Shotover, since their assessment is not known. (fn. 12) The figure is sufficiently near a round 200 hides for it to seem probable that that was the original hidation of the double hundred.

It might be supposed that this double hundred, which perhaps stretched over fifteen miles from north to south, as it did in the 13th century, and was about ten miles across at the widest point, would have been divided into a northern and southern half. This indeed was assumed when it was believed that the northern hundred of Schotelawa or Soterlawa took its name from Shotover, (fn. 13) and met near a barrow which once existed there. But recently another form of the word Schotelawa has been found—Shotteslawa —which, though it confirms the hypothesis of a northern hundred, makes it certain that its meeting-place was farther north than Shotover. The name occurs in a charter of about 1166 in which land in the manor of Chesterton, never so far as is known in Bullingdon hundred, is said to lie next Shotteslawa. (fn. 14) A slightly later charter (before 1175) gives the form Soteslawiam. (fn. 15) It is probable that this place—Scēot's tumulus— was just over the hundred boundary of later times and lay in the neighbouring township of Ambrosden. Indeed, the outstanding landmark of the neighbourhood—the modern Mount Pleasant and the ancient Graven Hill—might well have been the site. The Roman roads converging on Alchester would have provided easy access.

It now seems that the most likely spot for the meeting-place of the original Bullingdon hundred, that is, of the supposed southern half of the double hundred, was Bullingdon Green. This large open space, partly in the parish of Cowley and partly in Horspath, and traversed by a Roman road, would have been very suitable. It has for centuries, as its name indicates, been traditionally associated with the hundred. In recent years Bullsdown above Wheatley, with its commanding outlook and proximity to an early settlement and ancient trackway, has been advanced as a more likely site. (fn. 16) But this suggestion was made when it was supposed that the northern hundred met on Shotover and it could have been argued that Bullingdon Green was unreasonably close for the meeting-place of the southern hundred. On the evidence of the forms of the words authoritative opinion is that either site would be possible. (fn. 17) By the 13th century such documentary evidence as there is points to the choice of any convenient site in the neighbourhood, at least for the meeting of full hundreds. In 1223 a full hundred met at Wheatley and in 1240 it met at the sheepfold of Cowley, which might have been Bullingdon Green, as the green lies partly in that parish. (fn. 18)

Where there were two or more hundreds dependent on royal estates they normally became merged in one in the course of the 12th century. Thus the two and a half hundreds of Kirtlington formed Ploughley hundred and the three of Shipton formed Chadlington. The two hundreds of Headington in some respects followed the normal pattern. The two ancient hundreds for the most part became merged in the single hundred of Bullingdon. But the rapid development of the borough of Oxford in the 11th century and its extension northwards outside the walls led, it has been cogently argued, to the formation of a new, small, and partly urban hundred. (fn. 19) The suburb outside the North Gate of Oxford is first referred to as a hundred between 1155 and 1163, and is thought to have been organized as a distinct hundred between 1190 and 1220. It covered the area between the Cherwell and the western arm of the Thames, reaching to the Thames and the county boundary on the south-west and to the township of Wolvercote on the north. It included, it seems, the hamlets of Walton and Binsey, Portmeadow, and the manor of Holywell. (fn. 20) In 1231 a jury found that the tenure of the hundred of Bullingdon and 'a certain other hundred' went with the manor of Headington whether in the hands of the Crown or not. (fn. 21) The vagueness of the description is perhaps due to the knowledge that though there had always been two hundreds associated with Headington, their character had changed.

In later times the original inclusion of the North Gate hundred in the hundred of Bullingdon is constantly recognized. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus, for instance, in 1535, it is stated that suit is owed to the hundred of Bullingdon outside the North Gate, (fn. 22) and in 1556 the Mayor of Oxford declared that Walton farm was in the hundred of Bullingdon, otherwise called the hundred without the North Gate. (fn. 23) Until its sale in 1492 to the Mayor and Corporation of Oxford, the North Gate hundred was generally held by the same lord as the hundred of Bullingdon. For the rest, its history is irrelevant here.

The composition of Bullingdon hundred changed little between 1306, the date of the first complete tax-assessment list for its villages to survive, and 1922 when the Juries Act put an end to the hundred as an administrative unit. The main changes were due not to the transference of villages to another hundred, but to their decay and elimination as separate units of administration. Ledhale, for example, and Woodperry seem to have dropped out in the 14th century, Coombe in the 15th century, and Little Baldon and Baldon St. Lawrence in the 16th century. (fn. 24) It may be noted here that a few hamlets which are found in the Hundred Rolls of 1279 in the hundred but do not normally occur on taxation lists, are mentioned among the villages of the hundred in 1316 and 1428: they are Thomley in Waterperry, Grove in Holton, Wick and Old Barton in Headington, and Stowford in Stanton St. John. (fn. 25) These were hamlets which had never had many inhabitants and are known to have declined by the end of the Middle Ages.

The appearance of the Chilworths and Coombe in Bullingdon is exceptional. Chilworth Musard, Chilworth Valery and Coombe were all in the parish of Great Milton, which was mostly in the hundred of Thame. The detachment of these three hamlets from Thame hundred is explained by tenurial reasons. With the exception of these hamlets the whole hundred, including the remainder of Great Milton, belonged to the Bishop of Lincoln. He appears to have obtained the latter, formerly part of the possessions of Eynsham Abbey, after the removal of the see from Dorchester in 1072. (fn. 26) For administrative convenience, therefore, the Chilworths and Coombe, the property of powerful feudatories, were detached. They were in Bullingdon by 1246. (fn. 27) The three hamlets were assessed as one unit in 1316. (fn. 28)

Another transference for similar feudal reasons seems to have occurred in the case of Draycott. In 1279 it was in the hundred of Bullingdon. Its lord did castle guard at Wallingford and the place was exempt from attendance at the hundred. (fn. 29) It does not appear on any of the 14th-century taxation lists for Bullingdon and on Davis's map of 1794 is marked as a detached portion of the half-hundred of Ewelme. The following explanation seems possible. In Domesday it was a part of the lands of Miles Crispin and was held by the same under-tenant Richard, who held 4 hides of Miles in the adjoining Ickford. (fn. 30) As Miles Crispin's lands later became part of the honor of Wallingford, known still later as the honor of Ewelme, it may have been administratively simpler to detach Draycott from Bullingdon.

Marsh Baldon also seems to have been transferred for the same reasons, only for a shorter period. In the Middle Ages it was in the hundred of Bullingdon for purposes of taxation, though as a member of the honor of Wallingford it seems to have been exempt from the jurisdiction of the hundred and subject to the honor court. (fn. 31) A reorganization in the reign of Henry VIII apparently led to Marsh Baldon's transference to the half-hundred of Ewelme, at least as far as the payment of some subsidies went. In 1544, 1565, 1577, 1580, and 1623 it was taxed in Ewelme, but for the hearth tax of 1665 it was in Bullingdon. (fn. 32) For jurisdictional matters Marsh Baldon continued as late at least as the early 18th century to attend the honor court of Ewelme. In the 17th century it is recorded to have been attending a three-weekly court and records of the court leet of the honor held twice a year at Chalgrove show Marsh Baldon sending its tithing man, constable, and varying numbers of jurors for the years 1712 to 1720. (fn. 33)

In comparatively modern times an attempt was made to get Piddington, in the extreme north-east of the hundred, and its neighbour Merton transferred to Ploughley hundred. In 1833 the justices unsuccessfully petitioned for this on the grounds that Bicester, where the sessions for Ploughley met, would be a far more convenient centre than Oxford, where the sessions for Bullingdon met. (fn. 34)

The double hundred of Bullingdon was attached at the time of Domesday to the royal manor of Headington—a survival of very early administrative arrangements. (fn. 35) In the case of Bullingdon and the new hundred outside the North Gate, the arrangement continued after the manor had passed into private hands. Thus the descent of Bullingdon followed the descent of the manor. (fn. 36) It is sufficient to say here that in the medieval period, the manor, though occasionally in royal hands, was for the most part granted out with its two hundreds to servants of the Crown. It was first alienated in about 1142 when the Empress Maud conferred it on Hugh de Pluggenait. In the 13th century it was held by Thomas Basset and his relations until Hugh de Plescy sold it to the king. During the 14th century the Damorys and Sir John Chandos held it, in the 15th century the Willicotes of North Leigh and their relations, until they sold to Robert Brome of Holton in 1482. From this point Bullingdon hundred remained the property of the Bromes and their relations by marriage, the Whorwoods, until Henry Mayne Whorwood conveyed it to Elisha Biscoe in 1803. (fn. 37)

There is some interesting information about the medieval value of the hundred. In an action brought by the Countess of Warwick in 1246 against Robert FitzNiel of Iffley, Henry de Beaufeu, Roger son of Peter Foliot, and William son of Alexander of Coombe, she claimed to hold the hundred as her father Thomas Basset had held it with hidages, wardpenny and view of frankpledge. Before the king granted it out he used to receive, it was alleged, 7s. for hidage, and 12d. for the view from a tenement in Chilworth held by Alexander of Coombe; 4s. for the view and 4d. wardpenny from Robert FitzNiel; 6s. hidage and 12d. for the view from a tenement held by Peter Foliot in Albury. The defendants denied that King John was seised of these payments. The countess also claimed 40d. for hidage and 12d. for the view from a tenement in Waterperry of Richard de Beaufeu; 6d. hidage, 2d. wardpenny and suit to the hundred every three weeks for a tenement in Chilworth and Coombe held by Roger son of Peter Foliot of Henry de Beaufeu. (fn. 38)

In these same pleas, the jurors said that the hundred used to render £6 13s. 4d. and after the Countess had it, it rendered £8. In 1282, when it was in royal hands, it was worth £7 9s. id.—a small sum for this large rural hundred compared with the urban hundred of North Gate which was rented for £20. (fn. 39) The holder of the hundred had a number of rights commonly attached to hundreds: Hugh de Plescy claimed that he had the assizes of bread and ale, hue and cry, and bloodshed, saving the pleas of the crown; judgement of thieves taken with the mainour and all waifs. He also had the profits from measures used in the hundred and had them signed with his own seal. (fn. 40) But his profits were diminished by the privileges of other lords. Many Bullingdon manors, for instance, were in the honor of St. Valery: a Baldon St. Lawrence manor owed suit at the honor court of North Oseney every three weeks, so did Church Horspath and Over Horspath, Forest Hill, Wood Eaton and Woodperry. (fn. 41) Presumably, as no mention is made of suit to Bullingdon, they were exempt from attendance at its court. But as the North Oseney court was probably a court for military tenants only and the view of frankpledge for the humbler tenants of the honor was held at Beckley, its caput, it is uncertain, though perhaps probable, that all these manors were exempt from the hundred of Bullingdon's court. In the case of Studley suit at Beckley once a year is specially mentioned, while the tenant of Ash owed suit at North Oseney every three weeks and one suit at Beckley for the view. Tenants of Holton and Woodperry also owed suit to Beckley. (fn. 42) The honor, however, was bound to make an annual contribution of 20s. to the bailiff of the hundred of Bullingdon. (fn. 43)

Similarly the honor of Wallingford and the Order of Knights Templars were both highly privileged. (fn. 44) Marsh Baldon, a member of the honor, was said to owe no suit to Bullingdon and, no doubt, did suit, as it certainly did at a later date, to the honor's hundred court, while the Bishop of Lincoln's fee in Marsh Baldon, it may be noted here, owed suit to the hundred of Dorchester every three weeks, but had to attend the two full courts of Bullingdon. (fn. 45) The Templar manors of Merton and Temple Cowley were altogether exempt. (fn. 46) Many other religious orders also enjoyed exemption from the hundreds for their manors. At Upper Arncot, for example, the Abbot of Oseney had view and other royal rights. (fn. 47) As for his manor of Church Cowley, it is expressly stated that it did not 'follow' the hundred. (fn. 48) Thus, so many lavish grants had been made by kings and the Countess of Warwick in the past that it is not surprising that the value of the hundred was not very great in 1282.

Like other hundreds, Bullingdon had a bailiff as its chief officer in medieval times. The earliest mention of him occurs in 1240. (fn. 49) As for the free jurors, it is interesting to see how little faith the Prior of St. Frideswide's for one put in their integrity. When he brought an action for novel disseisin against Hugh de Plescy about some land in Headington, he declared that all inquiries by the hundred would be useless as it was in the hand of Hugh and 'under his power'. (fn. 50) We have some information about the organization of the post-Reformation hundred. By the mid-sixteenth century, if not earlier, it had a steward as well as a bailiff. (fn. 51) Rolls of leet courts held between 1595 and 1612 show that they were usually held in April and October. The steward of George Brome, the lord, presided; the jury varied in number between 14 and 17, but was normally 15; there were 3 affeerers. (fn. 52) Courts were held at Wheatley. Christopher Brome (d. 1509) is said to have begun this practice. In a lawsuit of 1576/7 it was stated that he had intended to build a court house on Bullingdon Green, but had agreed to help with the building of a 'church house' in Wheatley by supplying timber, provided the building should serve both as a 'church house' and a court house. (fn. 53) Wheatley remained the meeting-place of the court until its end. In 1764 it was meeting at the 'White Hart', in 1774 at the 'Crown'. Its last year of meeting seems to have been 1778, as after that year there are no further entries in the parish accounts. (fn. 54)

In the late 17th century there is evidence for the division of the hundred into a north and south division, each having a high constable, (fn. 55) but none to indicate whether there was a second meeting-place. In 1828 Beckley, Elsfield, Holton, Wheatley, Forest Hill, Waterperry, Stanton St. John, Marston, Headington, Arncot, Blackthorn, Piddington, Merton, Ambrosden, Stowood, and Shotover were in the northern division. The rest werein the southern. High constables, whose names have been listed from 1687 to 1830, (fn. 56) were drawn mainly from the substantial yeoman class, though occasionally gentlemen acted. The general decline of the organization in the county in the early 19th century is suggested by an order of the justices in 1827. The Clerk of the Peace was required to state a case for the opinion of counsel on the question of the obligation of lords of hundreds to provide efficient bailiffs. (fn. 57)


  • 1. Helen M. Cam, 'Manerium cum Hundredo', E.H.R. xlvii. 353–76; V.C.H. Oxon. i. 374.
  • 2. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 710–25.
  • 3. H. E. Salter, 'A Charter of Dorchester Abbey', O.A.S. Rep. 1909, 15–16; MS. notes by H. E. Salter.
  • 4. Davis, Oxon. Map; Helen M. Cam, 'North Gate Hundred', Oxoniensia, i. 113–27.
  • 5. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 374, ii. 1; cf. Prof. H. M. Cam, who thinks that the 1st and 2nd 'Gadre hundreds' are not hundreds: Oxoniensia, i. 115 n.
  • 6. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 400. The statement that Richard de Curci retains 16 hides (i.e. at Nuneham Courtenay) is the only reference to one of the hundred's townships.
  • 7. Pipe R. 1182 (P.R.S. xxxi), 127.
  • 8. Ibid. 1188 (P.R.S. xxxviii), 154.
  • 9. Ibid. 1190 (P.R.S. n.s. i), 12; ibid. 1191 and 1192 (P.R.S. n.s. ii), 272.
  • 10. Ibid. 1199 (P.R.S. n.s. x), 226; ibid. 1204 (P.R.S. n.s. xviii), 110. In 1199 the spelling is 'Toteslaw'.
  • 11. Bk. of Fees, 252.
  • 12. The royal forests are assessed altogether at 4½ hides: V.C.H. Oxon. i. 401.
  • 13. Oxoniensia, i. 117.
  • 14. P.N. Oxon. (E.P.N.S.), i. 159–60, citing Oseney Cart. vi. 31.
  • 15. Oseney Cart. vi. 32.
  • 16. Oxoniensia, i. 117.
  • 17. P.N. Oxon. (E.P.N.S.), i. 160.
  • 18. Kennett, Paroch. Antiq. i. 275; Oseney Cart. iv. 345 see also below, pp. 76, 79.
  • 19. Oxoniensia, i. 118.
  • 20. Ibid. 120 (sketch-map).
  • 21. Ibid. 118.
  • 22. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii. 215.
  • 23. Oxoniensia, i. 119.
  • 24. For 19th-century lists of villages in the hundred see V.C.H. Oxon. ii. 217–18.
  • 25. Feud. Aids, iv. 167–8, 198–9.
  • 26. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 378–9; Reg. Antiquiss. i. 5–7.
  • 27. Just. Itin. 1/700, m. 4 b.
  • 28. Their history will be found in a succeeding topographical volume. See below—Table of Tax Assessments, p. 318.
  • 29. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 725.
  • 30. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 418; V.C.H. Bucks. i. 261. Both estates were afterwards held by the Appletons: V.C.H. Bucks. iv. 57; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 757.
  • 31. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 724.
  • 32. E 179/162/225, /162/331, /162/341, /162/346, /163/454; Hearth Tax Oxon. 68.
  • 33. E 317 Oxon. 3; Bodl. MS. DD Ewelme Honor d 3 9/2/3, 13/1311, 12/2/8, 13/8/2, 132/7.
  • 34. Jackson's Oxford Jnl.
  • 35. E.H.R. xlvii. 353–76.
  • 36. See below, pp. 160–2.
  • 37. C.P. 26 (11)/170, no. 423.
  • 38. Just. Itin. 1/700, m. 6.
  • 39. Just. Itin. 1/700, m. 5; Oxoniensia, i. 113–27.
  • 40. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 710.
  • 41. Ibid. 716, 717.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. Ibid. 717.
  • 44. Ibid. 31, 39 for the privileges of the honor of Wallingford; cf. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 669.
  • 45. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 39, 724.
  • 46. Ibid. 38, 39, 723. No case of a juror from either of these villages has been found representing the hundred: ibid. 38, 710; Just. Itin. 1/700, 701.
  • 47. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 715.
  • 48. Ibid. 39.
  • 49. Oseney Cart. iv. 344; for the names of two early bailiffs see St. John's Hosp. Cart. i. 14; Oseney Cart. ii. 194.
  • 50. St. Frideswide's Cart. ii. 33–34.
  • 51. Queen's Coll. Mun. 4 M 6.
  • 52. Bodl. MS. Rolls Oxon. 117.
  • 53. Oxon. Dioc. Pp. (uncut.)
  • 54. Par. Rec., Wheatley Constable's Accounts, 1764–78.
  • 55. O.R.O. Cal. Quarter Sess. x, passim.
  • 56. Ibid. iii.
  • 57. Ibid. 68ob.