A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The parish of Nuneham Courtenay lies along the left bank of the River Thames about five miles south of Oxford and covers 2,108 acres. (fn. 1) Over half of it is inclosed park-land. It curves itself round the river as it flows south from Sandford Lock and then westwards to Nuneham Lock and Abingdon. On the south it is bounded by the parishes of Culham and Clifton Hampden, on the east by the Baldons. Except for a narrow strip of land along the water's edge, most of the parish lies between the 200-ft. and 300-ft. contour lines rising at its highest point on Windmill Hill to 316 ft. (fn. 2) Its geology and scenery are varied. In the north it is composed of Portland Beds, and in the south of Cretaceous Sands, while near Nuneham Park these sands rest on Shotover Grit Sands of Upper Kimmeridgian age. (fn. 3) It is well wooded, and nature and art have combined to make its stretch of river scenery one of the finest on the Thames.
The woodland has probably varied in extent, but there can be little doubt that it has always been an important characteristic of the parish. In Domesday a coppice of 2 furlongs long and 1 wide is mentioned; (fn. 4) in the 15th century there is a record of the Abbot of Abingdon's wood; (fn. 5) and in the 17th century evidence of the value of the woodland becomes abundant. The sale of wood, for instance, is mentioned as an important item in the issues and profits of the estates of John Pollard, amounting to 8,000 in 1609. (fn. 6) Again, as a result of the scarcity of timber in the county and neighbourhood generally, a tenant in James I's reign is known to have planted 2,000 young trees and fenced them; (fn. 7) later, in 1643, the bailiff of the manor got a profit of 30 on the toppings of trees and wood from the hedgerows. (fn. 8) Finally, there is the statement in a Chancery suit that the manor was of far greater value then than at the time of purchase 'by reason of the present dearth of wood wherewith the same is abundantly stored'. (fn. 9) In the 18th and 19th centuries the woodland was very greatly increased. Robert Smith's estate map of 1707 shows a number of woods and a well-timbered park. In the south-west of the parish there was Park (now Lock) Wood of 105 statute acres, in the south-east Black Wood (now Roundhill Wood) covering about 120 statute acres. (fn. 10) Since the inclosure of the Park in the 1760's there has been much new planting. Plantations described as new in 1773 were made by Earl Harcourt in Windmill Field and Coneyberry Hill (fn. 11) and the tithe map of 1838 shows new plantationsFurze Brake, New Covert, and Blacklands Plantation. (fn. 12) In 1954 the woods were being well cared for by the land agent to the University of Oxford, to which they belonged.
The river, beside which the village originally lay, was probably for many centuries its main highway. Until comparatively recent times there was a ferry from just below the Rectory to the lane to Radley village on the Berkshire side, (fn. 13) and there is evidence that Abingdon was the common market-town for Nuneham and the Baldons. (fn. 14)
Little is known about the history of either ferry or lock. The lock was called 'Bunselock' in 1279, and the ferry's existence is implied by the statement that Agnes la Passeresse held free passage for the payment of 8s. to the lord and suit of court. (fn. 15) Her descendant Thomas le Passur of Nuneham and his wife Agnes were mentioned in 1314, (fn. 16) and earlier in 1303 when Thomas had been acquiring land in Little Baldon. (fn. 17)
The lock is first heard of in the 16th century, when William Harrison stated that there were three locks at Nuneham kept by John Mollyneux (fn. 18). Both ferry and lock are marked on the map of 1707 and Hearne records that Simon Harcourt had the lock repaired in about 1716 at a cost of 500 to 600. (fn. 19) From an early date the spot seems to have been a favourite excursion for Oxford people: the Principal of Brasenose for one dined there with a party in 1726. (fn. 20) From the end of the 18th century, the rustic bridge to the island by the lock (called 'Oseur Holle' in 1707) and Lock Cottage were a common subject for artists. (fn. 21)
Note: The demesne arable lay in Hooke Hill, the Dewes, Payes Closes, Palmers Leyes, Sheep House Piece, Stuble Ground, part of Gadberry's Leyes, and White Lyons.
The northern end of the parish is traversed by the main Oxford-London road, and a branch road running south-west to Nuneham Park follows the line of the road marked on Robert Smith's map of 1707, which then went to the manor-house and the original village. It is very possibly 'le porte pathe' mentioned in connexion with the 'high road to Henley' in the time of Edward III. The highway was, of course, always busy, but its effect on the parish must have been greatly increased after the creation of the turnpike in 1736 (fn. 22) and the transference of the village to its borders. Stage-coaches plied along the road from London, while there was a constant traffic of wagons and private vehicles, such as the Revd. James Newton's landau, which is constantly mentioned in his diary for 1761. (fn. 23) Moreover, Nuneham Park itself attracted sightseers as well as guests. Earl Harcourt's account of it, written in 1806, states that visitors to Oxford and invalids going to Cheltenham mostly turned aside to look at it. (fn. 24)
A branch of the Abingdon road now skirts the southern boundary of the parish, but before the park was inclosed in the 18th century it turned north where Abingdon Lodge now stands and followed the line of the present carriage drive to the old manorhouse and village. (fn. 25)
In 18434, when the G.W.R. line was extended from Didcot to Oxford, a railway bridge was built over the river. (fn. 26)
There are a number of scattered farms: Lower Farm just south of the Sandford boundary and on the river; Nineveh, east of the London road; and Upper Farm, a little to the north-west of the village. (fn. 27)
All three were the result of inclosure in the 1760's. Lower Farm house is an interesting example of the period: it is L-shaped with two stories and an attic, built of rubble stone with brick quoins and dressings; its roof is of old tiles. It has two gabled dormer windows, five bay windows with 19th-century lights in their casements, and a six-panelled central door with flat hood. Barns farm-house in the park is another good example with its L-shaped building of rubble stone.
Small in size, the parish has never produced anyone out of the ordinary or itself played any part in national history. Like many other Oxfordshire places it did not escape the ills and the consequent upheavals of the Civil War. It lost its parson; it suffered the billeting of soldiers, judging from a significant clause in a lease of the rectory lands of 1659, which states that the lessees were to be responsible for all billeting of soldiers; (fn. 28) in May 1643 it was in the midst of the battle area, when Charles I's foot was encamped about Abingdon and Nuneham. Sir Samuel Luke noted that the king's forces had 'fecht all the bedds out of the contry'. (fn. 29)
The present village of Nuneham Courtenay, built of chequer brick of a warm rose colour, lies about five miles out of Oxford on the main London road at a point where it makes a slight descent. It is a rare example of a transplanted village and was the outcome of aristocratic planning and zeal for improvement. The first Earl Harcourt's decision to live on his Nuneham estate (fn. 30) entailed the removal and rehousing of his tenants, as their 'tumble-down claybuilt' (fn. 31) cottages occupied the ground needed for his park and gardens (fn. 32) and revolted his highly developed social conscience. His dislike of squalor, as well as of great extremes of wealth and poverty, is clearly brought out in his comments on the condition of the poor in Ireland. (fn. 33)
The new 'town', as it was called, probably dates from about 1760. It is known that Nuneham Park was begun in 1756, the new church in 1764, and the earl's son (fn. 34) wrote that the whole operation, including the removal of the village to a mile away and the inclosure of the park with a wall 6 miles long, was carried out in the short space of a few years. The earliest description of the new village comes from the German pastor Moritz, who travelled in England in 1782. He wrote: 'The place consists of two rows of low, neat houses, built close to each other and as regular and as uniform as a London street'. (fn. 35) The village remains almost as he saw it: there are nineteen pairs of 18th-century cottages of one story and an attic; each has four gabled dormer windows and four casement windows. Other 18th-century cottages of vitreous and red brick for the higher-class workmen have two stories and an attic. There are also two larger houses at the extreme east end of the village. One is the Harcourt Arms Hotel (Trust Houses Ltd.) which was originally called the New Inn (fn. 36) and is an attractive U-shaped house with a glazed Doric porch, hipped roof of tiles, dormer windows, and other 18th-century details. In Moritz's day it had a great sign hanging across the street. Opposite is a similarly constructed house, once the smithy and now a garage. To the bulk of the inhabitants, farmers and labourers, the change of site must have been beneficial. They obtained 'warm' (fn. 37) up-to-date houses, immediate access to the high-road and better access to their fields. (fn. 38) The old lady who preferred (and was allowed) to stay in her old cottage, now inclosed in the earl's new park, was evidently considered eccentric. (fn. 39) The small neat gardens attached to the new cottages (fn. 40) compensated for lost rights on the village green.
To keep up with the increase in population, more cottages were added in the early 19th century at the west end. Although slates were used instead of tiles for the roofs, they fitted well into the general design and did not spoil the charm of the village, which depends partly on the excellence of its building material and partly on the use of grass verges, neat box hedges, and a background of trees. (fn. 41) Archbishop Harcourt enlarged the gardens of all the houses some time after 1830 and built a new school. (fn. 42) In the 1920's additional cottages were built near the school after the design of an American architect.
The modern village is served by frequent daily buses and is within easy reach of two railway stationsLittlemore and Culham. There is a post office dating from about 1853.
The map of 1707 shows that the ancient 'town', which has now totally disappeared, lay on rising ground, just east of the present mansion. (fn. 43) The more substantial homesteads were scattered round a large triangular green. Nearby were a pond and a pound. The cottages lay mainly on the four roads branching off from the green on the riverside. On their westernmost edge stood the church and the old manorhouse: to the east and north lay the common fields and Nuneham Park. No inn is marked on the map, but there had been one in 1694, which was suppressed as disorderly. (fn. 44) Hearne later speaks of a house of entertainment called 'Rome' kept by a Roman Catholic member of the Prince family. (fn. 45)
The old Rectory was also pulled down to make way for Lord Harcourt's pleasure-grounds. A more suitable one was built on high ground facing the river, but farther north. It was being completed early in September 1761. The rector, James Newton, (fn. 46) records in his diary the setting up of the marble chimney-piece and the great ceiling picture in the Bow room. (fn. 47) The 'elegance of the mansion' was commented on by the Boydells in their History of the Thames, and the house acquired further interest by being rented about 1790 for several summers by the actress Mrs. Siddons, while the rector, Francis Haggett, was at his stall in Durham. (fn. 48) He complained in 1824 that the house was damp and inconvenient. He obtained permission to build a new one on the glebe and to raise money for it under Gilbert's Act of 17 George III, a year's net income of 556 odd being insufficient, as he explained, to cover the expense. (fn. 49) He died in 1825, having rebuilt the Rectory at a cost of 3,000. (fn. 50) The house is a symmetrical block with four windows, built of a warm yellow stone. It has two stories, wide flat eaves, and a hipped slate roof with brick chimney-stacks. On the river front there is a large central bow with three windows on both floors.
The 18th-century walled garden, however, survives. Built of red brick, it is unusual in having a number of curved bays to shelter the fruit trees trained on its walls. Newton was a keen gardener as well as being a farmer. He bought 148 trees from Tagg of Paradise Square, Oxford, for his new orchard, also flowering shrubs. He also had a vineyard, the traces of which may still be seen.
The original name of the village was Newenham. Courtenay was added in the early 14th century, when it belonged to the Courtenays, the Earls of Devon. The present spelling Nuneham was introduced in about 1764 by William Whitehead (see below) in a letter to the second Lord Harcourt. (fn. 51)
Until recently Nuneham Park ranked as one of the chief seats of the nobility in the county. It was built between 1760 and 1833 and replaced an older house, probably dating from the 16th century, of which there is now no trace, though its site is known from Robert Smith's estate map (1707) where it is shown as a rectangular building facing south-west. A drawing made by Paul Sandby in 1750 completes our knowledge of it. (fn. 52) He depicts an irregular-shaped building with steep-pitched roof and clustered chimneys. Simon Harcourt, the Lord Chancellor, whose main residence was at Cokethorpe, occasionally stayed there between 1710 and 1727, (fn. 53) but the picturesqueness of the building and its situation among the overshadowing trees did not appeal to his grandson, the first earl, with his taste for 'neatness and elegance'. In writing to Richard Gough, he said that the house was 'unremarkable' in every respect and that Sandby's drawing was 'a poor uninteresting view'. (fn. 54) But since the natural beauty of the place could hardly be bettered, he decided to make his home there and build a 'villa' of suitable size and dignity. By October 1755 a site for the new house, near a large clump of elms, had been chosen with the help of the poet Whitehead. (fn. 55) The shape of the ground would not allow the building of a palatial house. Plans were far advanced by April 1756. (fn. 56) The architect was Stiff Leadbetter of Eton, who later built the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. In July Lady Harcourt, who journeyed to Nuneham every week to watch the progress of the work, sent details of the measurements to her son, Lord Nuneham, and explained in a subsequent letter that it was unfortunate that the Duke of Marlborough was building at Langley as Headington Quarry was 'not producing at present stone sufficient for the two houses'. (fn. 57) The ruins of the manorhouse at Stanton Harcourt were therefore used as a quarry and its stone was brought by river. (fn. 58) By December the walls of Nuneham had risen to several feet above the first-floor windows. (fn. 59)
The original building is described and illustrated by the architects Woolfe and Gandon in 1771. (fn. 60) Their elevation shows a central block of three stories with a double flight of outside steps ascending to the first floor and two-story blocks of offices at right angles to the main building and connected by inflected corridors. The principal apartments on the first floor consisted of the salon, which lay partly in the projecting central bay on the south side (later known as the octagon drawing-room); the great drawing-room, running the whole east side of the main building; the dining-room and breakfast-room on the west; and the hall on the north side into which the outside staircase led. The west front had a large central angular bay with a window on each face; the central window on the first floor was an Ionic Palladian one with an entablature, a broken pediment and a frieze carried round the centre arched light. (fn. 61) Above the second-floor windows was a cornice and balustraded parapet, with a pedimented dormer window behind. The angular bay was flanked by a wide bay on either side with Palladian windows on the first floor.
The principal rooms are still in existence and retain their original decorations. The salon with its three long windows looking south is distinguished by its fine plaster ceiling and by its marble chimneypiece. The great drawing-room or ballroom is a fine example of the craftsman's art. Its coffered ceiling, designed by James Stuart, (fn. 62) is divided into five plaster bays, ornamented by a circular motif in the centre. Even in the 18th century, when the work of the plasterer was at its zenith, it was considered 'surprisingly rich and beautiful'. The woodwork is also of high quality: the three windows have panelled shutters with egg-and-tongue moulding; the two doorways have panels above with a wreath and swags of flowers carved in relief. The elaborate marble chimney-piece with its mirror above was designed by Paul Sandby; (fn. 63) its side panels have floral swags, its frieze is composed of five circular medallions with floral swags. This motif is repeated in the frieze of the walls. The dining-room is also elaborately decorated. Stuart, again, was the designer of the large marble chimney-piece. The windows and door cases have pulvinated friezes with a wreathed decoration. At the east end of the room are two Corinthian columns in antis.
The interior staircase is a most important feature of Leadbetter's house; its scrolled iron baluster work is massive yet elegant; the carved ceiling between the cornice and the lantern which lights it is richly decorated with plaster work.
When Lord Nuneham succeeded to the property and the earldom in 1777, he immediately embarked on improvements. He had shared his mother's interest from the beginning, and in the absence of his father abroad had been responsible for carrying out many of the alterations before 1777. (fn. 64) He was a man of taste and sensitivity, a talented amateur painter and a patron of all the arts. His wife Elizabeth devoted herself with her husband to the task of making Nuneham a finished work of art. In 1778 Lancelot ('Capability') Brown's advice was sought about the enlargement of the house, (fn. 65) and was adopted after the rejection of an alternative plan by John Carr of York. (fn. 66) The structural work was supervised by Henry Holland; (fn. 67) it was in progress in 1781, when a visitor described the house as 'pulled to pieces'. (fn. 68) It may well have been going on (along with the alterations in the grounds) as late as 1782, when Pastor Moritz was denied a bed and even bread at the New Inn because it was full of workmen. (fn. 69)
Meanwhile work on the flower-garden and pleasuregrounds had been proceeding apace. They were notable in the first earl's day. The flower-garden was described as 'furnished with everything' in 1772, when plans for further developments were initiated. (fn. 70) The Revd. William Mason, the friend and biographer of Gray and author of The English Flower Garden, was a frequent visitor at the Harcourts' house, and it was he who inspired the alterations of this period the statuary and their mottoes, the grotto, the bower, and the water-garden, the Doric gateway (long since removed) by which one entered the garden, and the Temple of Flora, depicted in a drawing of Sandby's published in 1777. (fn. 71) The mottoes were largely the work of the poet laureate Whitehead, another close friend of the Harcourts. (fn. 72) A letter of Mason's (1772), enclosing a plan for a flower-garden, dates the beginning of these new developments exactly. (fn. 73) Lord Nuneham and his beloved gardener Walter Clark (celebrated in Horace Walpole's verses) are there shown to be already at work on them. Improvements and additions were carried on during the next decade or so. In 1778 Lord Harcourt wrote that he was about to stake out the boundary of an intended garden ready for Mason; in the same year he wrote that the 'cave' was not nearly completed. (fn. 74) By August 1783 the main alterations had been carried out and Whitehead acclaimed Mason's success. (fn. 75)
After 1778 the garden of 38 acres (except for the flower-garden and north terrace) was remodelled by Lancelot Brown. (fn. 76) His genius could not have had more sympathetic material to work on; vistas abounded. The grounds must have been largely finished by 1781, when Whitehead wrote his poem on the Improvements at Nuneham Courtney. He mentions Brown and his grouping of trees, his skilful use of slopes and undulations, of light and shade. He makes him say of Dame Nature,
'I have clothed you when naked, and when overdrest,
I have strip'd you again to your bodice and vest'.
The result of all these labours was that Horace Walpole, who had said in 1773 that the house was 'as rough as a bear', (fn. 77) now talked of scenes worthy of Rubens and Claude le Lorrain. (fn. 78) Towards the end of 1780 he wrote: 'This place is more Elysian than ever', and 'I do not know the paradise on earth I prefer to it'. (fn. 79) In 1787 the University of Oxford removed Otto Nicholson's conduit from Carfax and offered it to Lord Harcourt. (fn. 80) On Mason's advice, this 'renaissance version of a Gothic market cross' was substituted for a proposed Gothic castle as an architectural crown to the hill. (fn. 81) Its erection, however, necessitated the addition to the house in 1787 of the tapestry room, (fn. 82) for one of the objects of building a 'Gothic Tower' or castle had been 'to receive the magnificent mark of the friendship' of Horace Walpolethe Sheldon tapestries. (fn. 83) It was a particularly appropriate gift as these large maps of Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, and Worcestershire were woven in 1558, in the workshops of the Sheldons of Weston, who had intermarried with the Pollards, once lords of Nuneham. (fn. 84)
Extensive alterations were made to the house and grounds by Archbishop Harcourt after 1830. (fn. 85) The south wing was added to; the interior of the mansion reconstructed; the east front remodelled by Sir Robert Smirke. The old house was in fact a double block connected only at the ground-floor level. Smirke's gallery and portico, at once masking and enlarging the original house, gave it its present unity and convenience at the cost of aesthetic appearance. The completed east front had as now seven bays with a pediment over the centre projecting bays. It consisted of three stories of ashlar stone, with rusticated ground-floor piers supporting a cornice string: it has a hipped slate roof. The interior of Smirke's gallery its seven doorways with their elaborate acanthus architraves, its coved ceiling, marble chimney-piece, and two pairs of fluted Ionic pilasters flanking the window embrasurereflects the influence of the 18th-century style. To the west front with its large central angular bay, the archbishop added terraces. His alterations cost him about 40,000 and additional furniture 30,000, but enabled him in 1840 to entertain for two nights in fitting manner his queen and her consort. (fn. 86)
The archbishop also improved the approach to the park by acquiring land outside, which he planted with the rarer sorts of conifers, and by constructing a new lodge on the London road. He employed Gilpin as a landscape gardener; he built ornamental houses in the grounds for his steward and employees. (fn. 87) Nuneham Cottage, depicted in T. Taylor's print, (fn. 88) was one of these. There visitors coming by boat could get food and wine and dance on the lawn outside. The dedication of the print to the archbishop 'in testimony of his kind accommodation' is significant of the traditional hospitality of the Harcourts.
In the 20th century still further care was lavished on the place. Between 1904 and 1922 Lewis, Viscount Harcourt, and his American wife added the terraced Italian garden (completed in 1913) and made the gardens the admiration of the great houseparties for which Nuneham was famous at this period. (fn. 89)
The outbreak of war in 1939 brought about the virtual destruction of the old perfection'one of the splendid results of long hereditary possession' (fn. 90) as Nathaniel Hawthorne put it. In 1953 Brown's magnificent grouping of the trees east and south of the house, and his walk to the south ending at Whitehead's Oak, remained; but Mason's garden was neglected; the chapel was closed; the house and grounds were occupied by the Air Ministry; a part of the park had been sold to the Admiralty for its aircraft base at Culham; Lock Cottage had fallen down; and the 17th-century Old Barn farm-house had been destroyed by the armoured troops encamped in the park before D Day, 1944.
According to Domesday Book a Dane called Hacon held NUNEHAM in 1066, (fn. 91) but the property must have passed within a short time to an English nobleman Leofwine. The Abingdon Chronicle relates that Leofwine sold the village to Athelhelm, Abbot of Abingdon (104184), when King William was out of England; and that although the sale was confirmed by the Bishop of Bayeux the king later revoked it, and gave the estate to another. (fn. 92) This new owner must have been the Norman baron Richard de Courcy, who was holding 10 hides in Nuneham in 1086. (fn. 93)
Richard's English estates passed to his younger son William (I), (fn. 94) the king's Steward and an admirer and benefactor of Abbot Faritius and his monastery at Abingdon. (fn. 95) By his marriage with Emma, the daughter and coheir of William de Falaise of Stogursey (Som.), William acquired large estates in several counties and an important position in the feudal hierarchy: he held his honor of Stogursey by the service of 25 knights. (fn. 96) He was dead by 1130 and had been succeeded by his son William (II) de Courcy, who was probably dead by 1155, and by his grandson William (III) de Courcy, whose younger brother John conquered Ulster. (fn. 97)
William (III) de Courcy's second wife, Gundreda de Warenne, had Nuneham as her dower, and she probably lived there after her husband's death in 1176. (fn. 98) It was the enjoyment of this estate, presumably, which enabled her third husband, Geoffrey Huse, a Wiltshire man, to be appointed Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1179. By 1199 he too was dead and the marriage of Gundreda was again in the king's gift. (fn. 99) She died in 1224.
The heirs to Nuneham were Gundreda's granddaughters, Joan and Margaret, both daughters of Gundreda's daughter Alice, but by different husbands. Joan had married Hugh de Neville. Margaret married first Baldwin de Riviers, son of William, Earl of Devon, and secondly Fawkes de Breaute. Joan and her husband succeeded to a moiety of the manor; Margaret's half was claimed by the king, as owing to her husband's rebellion and banishment she had become a ward of the Crown. (fn. 100) In December 1225 there was a new settlement of Gundreda's estates. The manors of Stogursey (Som.) and Nuneham were to be divided respectively into two equal portions, one part to go to the Nevilles, the other to Margaret. (fn. 101) This arrangement seemed so inconvenient that the two families agreed to divide the property by manors. Nuneham fell to Margaret and in consequence scutage was levied on her in 1242 for 1 knight's fee in Nuneham. (fn. 102) She died in 1252. (fn. 103)
Her grandson and heir, Baldwin de Riviers, Earl of Devon, was a minor. (fn. 104) He died in 1262 without issue and his sister Isabel de Forz, Countess of Aumale and of Devon, inherited his vast estates. (fn. 105) His widow Margaret was given possession of the manor as a part of her dower, to hold of the countess by the service of 1 knight's fee. (fn. 106) In 1269 Robert Agillon, her second husband, became tenant by the courtesy; (fn. 107) with her death in 1292 the manor reverted to Isabel de Forz as overlord. (fn. 108) It was then said to be held by the service of giving the king water to wash his hands on Christmas Day and of carrying ewers and towels. (fn. 109)
Isabel died in 1293, leaving no surviving issue. Owing to a disputed succession the manor seems to have remained in the king's hands until delivered to Hugh de Courtenay, Earl of Devon (d. 1340) in 1310. (fn. 110) In 1315 the earl settled a rent charge out of Nuneham and Crowell on his eldest son Hugh and Margaret de Bohun, daughter of the Earl of Hereford, on the occasion of their marriage. (fn. 111) This Hugh was in possession in 1316. (fn. 112) He succeeded to the earldom in 1340, (fn. 113) and in the following year was licensed to grant Nuneham, Crowell, and other manors in tail to his eldest son Hugh de Courtenay on his marriage. (fn. 114) The young Hugh died during his father's lifetime in 1349, (fn. 115) and his widow seems to have held Nuneham as a part of her dower until her death in 1375, when it reverted to the Earl of Devon, her father-in-law. (fn. 116) The earl immediately obtained a licence to make a settlement of the manor on himself and his wife Margaret for life with successive remainders in tail male to Sir Peter de Courtenay and Sir Philip de Courtenay. (fn. 117) He died in 1377 and his widow, in accordance with the recent settlement, enjoyed the manor until her death in 1391. (fn. 118) Sir Peter de Courtenay, who according to the terms of the same settlement should have succeeded his mother, had sold his interest in the manor to Sir Hugh Segrave in return for a couple of Devon manors. (fn. 119) Thus the hundred-year-old connextion with the Courtenays was ended.
Segrave, who rose to be Treasurer and Chancellor of England, died in 1385, (fn. 120) six years before the dowager Countess Margaret. His property descended to his aunt's grandson, (fn. 121) Sir John Drayton, an energetic and quarrelsome man, who was active in administration in both Oxfordshire and Berkshire. (fn. 122) Sir John evidently resided at Nuneham, whence he indulged in frequent local broils. (fn. 123) In July 1393, possibly as the result of one of these, he was committed to the Tower, (fn. 124) and in 1397 seisin of his fee in Nuneham was delivered temporarily to Elizabeth, widow of William Montague, Earl of Salisbury. (fn. 125) Sir John must have obtained pardon and the restoration of his estates, for on his death in 1417 (fn. 126) his widow Isabel received the issues of the manor and advowson until the following year. It was then alleged at the inquisition post mortem of Sir John that she had concealed the existence of his two young daughters and heiresses. (fn. 127) The manor and custody of the alleged heiresses were therefore taken into the king's hand, where they remained until 1423. By that date the Crown was satisfied that the manor had been granted in fee simple, before the death of Isabel's husband, to herself, Thomas Chaucer, and others; that in the course of time Isabel's co-feoffees had died or relinquished their rights and that she had been left in sole seisin. As these transactions had all taken place without a royal licence, the manor had been forfeited. Now Isabel's trespasses were pardoned and she and her second husband, Stephen Hatfield, were licensed to hold the manor. (fn. 128) Two years later they sold the property to Thomas Chaucer, reserving to themselves a life-interest. (fn. 129)
Isabel, having outlived her husband, died in 1437, but as Thomas Chaucer had predeceased her by two years, the manor passed to his daughter and heiress Alice, the wife of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. The heiresses of Isabelher two daughters, Joan, the wife of Drew Barantyne, and Elizabeth, the wife of John Wenlockdisputed the right of Alice de la Pole. (fn. 130) The duchess must have established her claim as she devised the manors to her son John, Duke of Suffolk, (fn. 131) who succeeded her in 1475. He died between October 1491 and October 1492. (fn. 132)
In 1492, his younger son Edmund de la Pole obtained a grant of Nuneham and other manors, as the oldest son, John, Earl of Lincoln, had been slain at Stoke in 1487, fighting on the rebel side; (fn. 133) in 1502 Edmund was outlawed for an alleged projected rebellion and Nuneham with other manors was granted by the Crown to William Coope. (fn. 134) In 1510 the manor was again in the king's hands. (fn. 135) In February 1514 Charles Brandon was created Duke of Suffolk and succeeded to Nuneham and other Suffolk lands. (fn. 136) In 1528 the duke and his wife conveyed Nuneham to Cardinal Wolsey. On Wolsey's fall it was forfeited to the Crown and administered by royal stewards, first by Henry Norreys, (fn. 137) who suffered in the cause of Anne Boleyn, and then by Sir Francis Bryan, a knight of the Royal Body. (fn. 138)
John Pollard acquired the manor in 1544 for over 818. (fn. 139) He may have obtained it through the influence of a relative Richard Pollard, who took part in the suppression of the monasteries. John was already a rising man, 'excellent in the laws of his realm', and was soon to become Speaker of the House of Commons. He was apparently knighted in 1553, was M.P. for Oxfordshire in that and the following year, and died in 1557. (fn. 140) He made Nuneham his home from 1554 until his death in 1557 and left the advowson and his estate there, except for an annuity out of the manor to William Jenkins, successively to his wife Mary for life, and his brother Sir Anthony Pollard of Baldon in tail male, with remainder to William, son of Sir Richard Pollard of Horwood (Devon), in fee tail. (fn. 141)
The long life of Dame Mary Pollard disappointed many of these beneficiaries. A year before his death in 1577, Sir Anthony Pollard, realizing that his succession was unlikely, disposed of his right to the reversion of the manor. Having no children, he entered into an agreement with William Pollard, the remainderman, and John, a younger son of Sir Richard Pollard of Horwood, by which the manor and advowson were to go to John Pollard in tail male with remainder to his brothers. (fn. 142) John Pollard's enjoyment of the property was long deferred. Mary Pollard or Norreysfor by 1561 she had married Thomas Norreys, presumably a relative of the Norreys family of Rycote (fn. 143) lived to be over a hundred, and died in 1606 in the same year as her sister-in-law Philippa Pollard, one of the 'well-dowered' daughters of William Sheldon of Beoley (Worcs.) and widow of Sir Anthony Pollard of Baldon. (fn. 144) In the meanwhile the young man, who was also heir to Sir John Pollard's Baldon estate, lived on his expectations. (fn. 145)
Soon after succeeding to his estates, John went to Ireland with Sir Hugh Pollard and remained there. Before his departure he conveyed Nuneham and Baldon to his son Lewis, with a view, it was alleged, to defraud his creditors. (fn. 146) The transfer must have taken place before 1609, when Lewis and his fatherin-law, Richard Goddard, were joint patrons of Nuneham church. (fn. 147) Harassed by his father's creditors and rising prices, Lewis was obliged to sell the manor to Hugh Audley in 1634, (fn. 148) though he retained his property in Baldon, where he died in 1640. (fn. 149)
Audley was a successful and rapacious lawyer; and as a 'result of frugal living and hard dealings' died allegedly worth 400,000. (fn. 150) It is certain that he bought Nuneham as a business speculation and probable that Lewis Pollard was one of the many victims of this 'most heartless bloodsucker'. Six years later Audley found a buyer in Robert Wright, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. The bishop, a good man of business, whom Wood described as 'much given up to the affairs of the world', paid 18,000. (fn. 151) He may have contemplated retiring to Nuneham, but it seems unlikely that he did so, as he is known some years before his death to have put in a bailiff to receive the issues of the estate. (fn. 152) At the time he bought the place he was just beginning the policy of supporting Laud in the crisis which began in 1640 and terminated in war: he was one of the twelve bishops imprisoned by the House of Commons. He died in 1643, and his son Calvert succeeded. He wasted the fortune left him by his father, and died a poor debtor in the King's Bench prison in 1666. (fn. 153) There is evidence that he borrowed 500 on the security of Nuneham, and that he failed to pay his debts at the agreed date. (fn. 154) He appears to have mortgaged the property in 1650. (fn. 155) He finally sold in 1653 a desperately encumbered estate to John Robinson, (fn. 156) who was one of the Commissioners from the City of London to present an address to Charles II at The Hague. He was a city magnate, a strong royalist, and a nephew of Archbishop Laud. He obtained a baronetcy at the Restoration. Pepys describes him as 'a talking, bragging, buffleheaded fellow', and his comment on the lavish hospitality which characterized Robinson's tenure of office as Lord Mayor of London in 16623 was that he was 'good for nothing else . . . but giving noble dinners'. Yet his colleagues considered him a successful administrator. (fn. 157)
He agreed to pay 14,600 for Nuneham and to clear it of all mortgages and debts. The list of the incumbrances is of considerable interest. Among those he paid off were: (i) to the Marquess of Dorchester on a mortgage of 10,470 with interest of 175 odd; (ii) to Lady Southcott 485; (iii) 1,160 to five other creditors; (iv) 302 to the rector Byrom Eaton. Robinson appears to have made a bad buy, for he declared in Chancery that the payment of the creditors had consumed more than the purchase money and that he was out of pocket as regards his agreement with Calvert Wright. (fn. 158)
Robinson's elder daughter Mary, who was married to David, Earl Wemyss, (fn. 159) succeeded to a moiety of the manor. (fn. 160) She resided in Northamptonshire and never seems to have lived at Nuneham; her sister Anne Robinson succeeded to the other moiety. In 1710 David, Earl Wemyss, Anne Robinson and others sold it to Sir Simon Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt, (fn. 161) later to become Lord Chancellor and Viscount Harcourt, at what was considered a bargain price. Thomas Rowney, the Oxford lawyer who conducted the deal, considered it 'the cheapest pennyworth that ever was bought in Oxfordshire'. (fn. 162)
The Lord Chancellor, memorable as the friend of Pope and his literary circle and as the defender of Sacheverell, mainly resided at Cokethorpe. He was succeeded in 1727 by his grandson, the son of his third son Simon and a daughter of John Evelyn of Wotton. (fn. 163) Created Viscount Nuneham of Nuneham Courtenay and Earl Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt in 1749, he decided to live at Nuneham. (fn. 164) He was succeeded in 1777 by his eldest son, George Simon, Earl Harcourt, who married Elizabeth Vernon. There being no children of the marriage, Field Marshal William Harcourt, his younger brother, succeeded to the earldom in 1809. His death in 1830 ended the male line, and Edward Venables-Vernon, afterwards Vernon-Harcourt, Archbishop of York, to whom he had devised his estates, amounting to 8,000 acres in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, succeeded to Nuneham. He was the second son of Martha, only sister of the first Earl Harcourt and third wife of the first Lord Vernon. He died in 1847.
After him came the archbishop's oldest son, George Granville Harcourt, M.P., who was succeeded in 1861 by his son, the Revd. William Vernon Harcourt, well known for his connexion with the British Association for the Advancement of Science of which he was the virtual founder. He was followed in 1871 by his son, Colonel Edward Harcourt, M.P., the editor of the Harcourt Papers. He disentailed Nuneham, which passed in 1891 to his only son Aubrey (d. 1904). Aubrey left the estate to his uncle, Sir William Harcourt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who by the introduction of death duties made precarious the continued existence of hereditary estates such as Nuneham. He died a few months after coming into the property. His son Lewis, created Viscount Harcourt in 1917, was followed in 1922 after a distinguished reign by his son William Edward Harcourt, O.B.E., the second viscount of this creation, who sold the house and estate in 1948 to the University of Oxford. (fn. 165)
Economic and Social History.
There are traces of Romano-British and earlier occupation of the Nuneham area, (fn. 166) but the village, to judge by its name Newenham, i.e. the new 'ham', seems to have been settled later than some of the surrounding villages. (fn. 167) By the time of Domesday it was a relatively populous place. Three fishermen, 35 villeins, and 7 serfs are enumerated. Thus, there must have been at least 38 families living in the village and possibly 45. But the most outstanding thing about the Domesday account is its emphasis on the importance of the river to the village, then a riverside settlement. (fn. 168) The three fishermen rendered the large sum of 30s. for their rights and the water-mill with its render of 20s. was also clearly very lucrative. (fn. 169)
By the end of the 13th century the community had grown considerably and changed in structure. The Hundred Rolls of 1279 record twelve free tenants, of whom two were the miller and the fisherman. They mostly held between 1 acre and 4 acres of land each but one held 6 virgates by suit of court. Another, Rowland de Harle, had 6 acres and pasture for 60 ewes with their lambs. Five of the tenants are stated to have acquired their land by the gift of Margaret de Riviers, the lady of the manor in the 1240's, very probably as rewards for personal services. In one case the services which were rewarded are specified: Margaret's washerwoman Maud had received a curtilage, which she had later sold to the holder of 1279. Most of the services rendered are smallsuit of court and nominal rents.
The tenants of the fishing and the mill as in Domesday were noticeably prosperous and paid high rents. The Stocgraves, a widow and perhaps her son, were paying 5 7s. 10d. for their 2 virgates of land and the milla startling increase over the Domesday render, which may be partly accounted for by the growing population. (fn. 170) The value of the mill. was demonstrated earlier in the century by an action in which Robert de la Rose claimed 47s. 4d. rent from the water-mill from Margaret de Riviers. It was agreed that Robert and his heirs should have 40s. in return for an ounce of silk or 12d. a year, while the rest of the rent was to go to the countess. She undertook to keep the mill in repair and not to alienate it. (fn. 171)
The fishing, partly leased in 1279 to one family, was held for a rent of 31s. 2d. to the lord of the manor. It stretched from 'Bunselocke' to the ditch of the meadow below the villageperhaps the later Town meadow. (fn. 172) Two virgates of land went with it. (fn. 173)
The small increase in the rent of the fishery compared with the rise in the rent of the mill may be accounted for by the grant of a part of the fishing rights to Abingdon Abbey. In Henry I's reign William de Courcy granted it the fishery called 'Sotiswere' and henceforward it was attached to the monastic kitchen. Ulfwine Porman was the lessee in the 12th century. He is listed among the fishermen supplying the abbey, and paid 12s. to the kitchen. (fn. 174)
A new arrival since 1086 is the ferry-woman Agnes la Passeresse, who held freely for a rent of 8s. and suit of court. (fn. 175) Another Nuneham family engaged in ferrying were the Goldings. They worked Sandford ferry (fn. 176) and were substantial tenants. Isabel Golding was one of the larger contributors to the 16th of 1316; (fn. 177) and the family leased the rector's virgate at the end of the 13th century. (fn. 178)
In addition to the free tenants there were 38 unfree villein virgaters and 17 cottars all holding at the will of the lord; and 8 other cottars owing special services. One paid a rent of 12d., another 4 hens, and the rest money rents and hens, in two cases as many as 20.
With its probable total of 75 families in 1279, the village was unusually large, and evidence for its sus tained prosperity is to be found in the assessments for 14th-century taxes. About forty contributed to the 16th of 1316 and the 20th of 1327 (fn. 179) and the total sum paid by Nuneham was only surpassed by five other villages in the hundred. (fn. 180) There were no large free tenants, the only people of any substance in 1316 being John Calmes, the miller perhaps, who contributed 6s. 9d. or about a fifth of the lord's contribution, and a woman who paid about a seventh. Thirteen others paid between 4s. and 2s. and the rest less.
A few details have survived about the organization of the fields of this community. It had been considerably upset by the Conquest, for Domesday notes that the lord had added to his demesne 2 hides and a virgate of the villeins' land. Nevertheless, the villeins still had 14 plough-teams at work, while the lord had 3. The rich meadow land along the river bank was already of importance: 40 acres of meadow and 10 of pasture are mentioned. (fn. 181) The open fields lay no doubt as they did centuries later to the north and east of the village. (fn. 182) But in 1086 it seems that much less than half the township's land was cultivated. It is probable that the virgate as at the Baldons comprised about 22 acres, (fn. 183) so that the 10 plough-lands mentioned in Domesday would have equalled about 880 small field acres out of the 2,000-odd statute acres of the later parish, always supposing the Domesday virgate was the same size as it was later on. The hilly nature of the terrain with its patches of stiff clay might perhaps account for the use of some extra ploughs, but the large number of seventeen said to be in use presents a problem and suggests that land had recently gone out of cultivation. The rest of the land must have been covered, as much of it has always been since, with woodland and furze.
The Domesday value of the estate was 13, as it had been in the Confessor's day. In 1219 the value was said to be 15, (fn. 184) but this may be intended as the half-year's value, for by 1255 its value is given as 30, (fn. 185) though the extent of the manor is still given as 10 hides or 880 acres. This seems to confirm the theory that the carucates of the carucage of 1220 were artificial and do not represent field acres. If they were the latter, then since the manor paid on 12 carucates the cultivated acreage at Nuneham would have fallen by 1255 by 176 acres. (fn. 186) By 1292 the value had risen to 40. (fn. 187)
Originally the fields were probably twoEast and North Fields (fn. 188) and may as in neighbouring villages have been increased to three in the 13th century. But the comparatively small amount of arable at Nuneham perhaps made this unnecessary. Certainly the park must have always taken up much of the parish: it is first mentioned in 1396, (fn. 189) but was almost certainly considerably older. Moreover, the arrangement of the four fields in existence in 1707 strongly suggests that there may never have been more than two fields, these being simply divided to make four fieldsWindmill Field, Wheat Land Field, Lower Field, and Long Furlong Field. (fn. 190)
The Abbot of Abingdon's cowmead, the 'Koumede' of 1279, and the Cow Meadow of 1707 when it was 23 acres in extent, is described in 1396 as lying next Nuneham Park. (fn. 191) It seems to have been well timbered then, for wood sold from it fetched 20s. In 1279 the abbot held it from Hokeday to St. Peter ad Vincula each year; afterwards it reverted to the lord of Nuneham. He gave to the mowers 11d. on the day the meadow was cut and they had of right the second-best sheep and the second-best cheese. When the customary tenants cocked the hay they had another feast, it seems, for which they were given the second-best sheep and the best cheese. (fn. 192) This is the only known record of manorial customs, for there are no court rolls or custumals.
Wills and inventories of the better-off inhabitants suggest that rye was a common crop, that bullocks were used for ploughing, and that large numbers of sheep were kept. Ewes and lambs were frequently bequeathed by the small husbandman, (fn. 193) while Mary Pollard left a flock of 400 at her death. (fn. 194)
Inclosure had begun at least by the early 16th century, when a Henry Reynolds was said to have inclosed for pasture before 1517 60 acres of land which had been ploughed, sown, and leased with its messuage some years earlier. (fn. 195) The messuage had been destroyed and possibly five people evicted. There is evidence also for the inclosure of some of the meadow land, normally distributed by lot and held for life, about the end of the 16th century or in the early 17th century. An agreement about it was made between Lewis Pollard and his tenants. (fn. 196) The timber shortage, it seems, provided the economic incentive, for Thomas Coombes, farmer of 3 yardlands, is known to have planted 2,000 young trees in Norton Mead, his share of the sometime common meadow. Other land of his, King's Close, was also inclosed. (fn. 197) By 1642 it is clear that much of the demesne meadow was inclosed: Gadbury's Leyes was leased for 20 a year; White Lyons (meadow land in 1707) for 35; Wheat Close for 60. (fn. 198) Further evidence for the extensive inclosures comes in 1661, when Sir John Robinson (fn. 199) sold part of his estate, valued at 200 a year. The lands sold were Wheat Close (13 a year rent), White Lyons (35 a year rent), Great Gadburys (53 acres), and Little Gadburys (57 acres) and two little closes adjoining (58 a year rent), Hill Grounds and Bishops Light (34 a year), Long Mead (12 a year), Hodges Lees and Slypp (10 a year), Tunvey Eight and Mill Way (25 a year), Dounee Old Close (3 a year), and Peese Close (10 a year). Much of this land lies in the extreme east of the parish and was probably land reclaimed from the waste. (fn. 200)
The map of 1707 (fn. 201) shows that the arable of the demesne was consolidated. It lay in 11-acre to 17acre blocks east of the London road (over 91 acres), and also round the manor-house, mostly south and east of it (about 271 acres).
The four open fields are described as three croplandsclear evidence that a four-course rotation was in use. The demesne meadow lay west of the house, along the river bank. There were other large inclosures, mostly if not entirely of meadow or pasture, belonging to tenants or freeholders. The biggest holder was a Mr. Wise, with about 84 acres, who lived at one of the largest homesteads on the Green; the next largest holder was a Mr. Paulling with about 80 acres. He also leased much of the demesne land and so possibly lived at the manor-house, but like a number of other tenants of Nuneham acres, who are not listed among the village householders on this 1707 map, he may have lived outside the parish.
When the park was inclosed with a wall and the village moved in the 1760's, the ancient field system was broken up. An agreement between Lord Harcourt and the parson in 1759 shows that the glebe was consolidated then. Like the holdings of the villagers, it lay in acre and half-acre strips so interspersed in the common fields that 'their situation is a hindrance to the improvements that would otherwise be made'. The parson agreed to exchange these strips for 54 a. 2 r. 5 p. belonging to Lord Harcourt and lying in various parcels [e.g. Crofts Furlong (c. 16 a.). Tying Ground (16 a.)] and a commission was appointed to supervise what was probably part of a general inclosure. (fn. 202)
A part of the ancient fields was inclosed in the parkmost of Wheat Land Field, Rye Hills, Cow Common, and Wind Mill Field, while the new rectory, (fn. 203) garden and orchard were built on part of the old Lower Field. The farmsUpper and Lower Farms, Nineveh and Park or Barn Farms (within the park) were now presumably laid out. There is in any case no trace of inclosure at a later date and the Land Tax assessments of 1786 to 1789 show that all the land was then farmed by Lord Harcourt and three tenant farmers. The earl farmed the parson's land and the Park farm (720 acres), his tenants Nineveh (250 acres) and Lower farm; Sir Cecil Bisshopp's tenant occupied Upper farm. (fn. 204)
The land appears to have been well farmed in the 18th century. In 1731 young Lord Harcourt's guardian wrote that though good tenants were 'exceedingly scarce', all the tenants at Nuneham were very good with the exception of the tenant of Lower farm. The farm had been in hand for four years, and money had been lost each year owing to the former tenant's ill management of it. (fn. 205)
At the end of the century the report of Arthur Young, by its rare references to the Nuneham farms, rather suggests that Lord Harcourt was not as interested in farming as many of his neighbours. Young notes that he kept a team of Herefords for ploughing, but this seems to have been out of date, since other farms in the neighbourhood had given up ploughing with oxen. Sir Christopher Willoughby at Baldon, for instance, disapproved of their use. (fn. 206) On the other hand, Lord Harcourt seems to have led the county with his introduction of a threshing-mill, two horse-power and costing 120, which threshed five quarters of wheat a day. (fn. 207)
The only other landowners were the rector and Sir Cecil Bisshopp, Bt. (from 1815 Lord Zouche), who owned a very small property taxed at 3 4s. as against the rector's 28 3s. and the earl's 155 4s. (fn. 208)
Like other Oxfordshire villages, Nuneham suffered badly from the agricultural depression of the 1820's. The rector took steps to help the farmers and returned 10 per cent. on the composition for tithes at the end of the year 1829 and promised further reductions if agriculture continued to be depressed. (fn. 209) Good employment for many of the villagers, furthermore, must have been found on the Harcourt estate. Later in the century fifteen boys were employed besides the older men, (fn. 210) and particular care was taken to see that none was under the school-leaving age of twelve.
Besides being progressive farmers, the Harcourts were also benevolent landlords, interested in the welfare of their tenants. In December 1776, Lord Harcourt's agent reported that more than 40 persons were sick with ague, and that he had distributed drugs and food to the sick. (fn. 211) The Harcourts also strove to encourage 'virtue and industry' by giving prizes for spinning and personal merit. At a special annual feast, a committee of villagers decided the question of merit and prizes were distributed in church in the morninga hat and buckle for the men, a straw hat with scarlet ribbon for the women; there was a banquet at noon followed by a spinning competition for 42 wheels, which was judged by a master weaver; in the evening there was dancing under the elms and in a ballroom set up near the house. Those who had won a prize for merit were entitled to put up the letter M over their cottage doors, and it is recorded that there was hardly a cottage without the sign. (fn. 212) After about 20 years the feast was abandoned owing to the roughness of the villagers at the meeting in 1791, and a harvest feast was substituted. (fn. 213)
Even the village's ordinary annual feast was abandoned for some years after 1823 owing to the damage done to the plantations. (fn. 214) It was revived again in August 1831 and repeated in 1832. In spite of the great crowds from Abingdon, Oxford, and all the surrounding villages, large numbers of carriages in the park and of houseboats and other craft on the river, no damage was done. (fn. 215)
Old inhabitants remember houseboats being pulled up from Oxford by horses on the tow-path at the end of the 19th century and recall the 'contented' life in the village before the World Wars. The Harcourts were good masters: there were harvest festivals for the labourers, Christmas balls for the 'upper' servants and employees, and the shoots for which Aubrey Harcourt was noted were followed by the distribution of rabbits to the villagers. (fn. 216)
In 1954 there were 320 acres of woodland. Lockwood was then being replanted with hardwood. There were also five farms: Upper Farm (307 a.), Lower Farm (244 a.), Home Farm (371 a.), New Barn (143 a.), and the Harcourt Arms Farm (92 a.). Machinery had largely supplanted the agricultural labourer and Nuneham men and women mostly found employment in Oxford. (fn. 217)
According to tradition Nuneham church belonged to Abingdon Abbey before the Danish invasions of the 10th century and was then lost with many other possessions. (fn. 218) It was recovered by Abbot Faritius before his death in 1117. (fn. 219) The Abingdon Chronicle relates that William de Courcy gave the advowson to the abbey out of love for the abbot and obtained royal confirmation. (fn. 220) The grant was also confirmed by William's son William de Courcy in agreement with his brother Robert and his knights, (fn. 221) and there were many later royal and papal confirmations. (fn. 222)
Although the abbey's title to the advowson was disputed in 1194 both by Gundreda de Warenne, lady of the manor, (fn. 223) and her son-in-law Warin FitzGerold, who claimed it as his wife's inheritance, there is no evidence that Abingdon lost its right of presentation until in the first half of the 15th century Sir John Drayton, lord of the manor, usurped it. (fn. 224)
It was not until some time after the death of Sir John in 1417 that the abbey dared assert itself. Abbot John Dorset (141521) claimed against Sir John's heirs and Walter Blanket, Sir John's nominee to the living, that his predecessors had been seised of the advowson time out of mind; that recently Abbot Peter de Hanney (136170) had presented John Gysbourne, but that on the latter's death Dorset's immediate predecessor, Abbot Richard Salford (1401 15), had surrendered his right to Sir John Drayton, who was 'of such power in the county that the abbot could not resist him'. The inquest which was ordered found that Sir John had died seised of the advowson; that his two daughters being under age the advowson was taken into the king's hands, and that Walter Blanket, having sought the king's aid, long hindered the abbot; that on Walter's resignation Henry V presented and several times after, though the advowson 'never was held of the king nor of Sir John Drayton'. The abbot proved his right and the advowson was therefore restored to him at the end of 1440. (fn. 225) In 1538 the abbot conveyed it to the king (fn. 226) and thereafter it followed the same descent as the manor.
The right of next presentation was sold from time to time. In 1609, for instance, Thomas Flexney, an Oxfordshire lawyer and a judge in the Court of Arches, presented; in 1611 Ralph Fawkner; (fn. 227) in 1652 Thomas Saunders of Woolstone (Berks.). (fn. 228) He had been granted in 1651 the right of the next two presentations by Henry, Marquess of Dorchester, and Calvert Wright. (fn. 229) In 1660 the Bishop of Oxford collated by lapse; and in 1704 John Clarke of Northampton presented. (fn. 230)
When William de Courcy granted the church to Abbot Faritius, he also gave a hide of land with the tithes except for two parts of the tithe from the demesne. (fn. 231) Soon after the abbot persuaded him to give the remaining tithes; and allotted them to the office of the almonry. (fn. 232) William de Courcy gave at the same time a fishery called 'Sotiswere' and 17 acres of adjacent land, while his son William added pasture for 300 sheep, 8 oxen, and 10 cows in the demesne pasture, as well as a meadow called cow mead (cumede). (fn. 233) These gifts were confirmed by Stephen and in general terms by Richard I. (fn. 234)
This account does not agree entirely with that in the Hundred Rolls and later evidence. In 1279 the abbey was said to have a virgate of land called the Wike with the water and meadow belonging to it. The latter seems to be 'cow mead'. As for tithes, the abbey is said to have two-thirds of all tithes, those of hay excepted. (fn. 235) The absence of any reference to the hide of land of which the abbey was still said to be seised in 1440 (fn. 236) may be explained by its grant, perhaps at an early date when a rectory was first instituted, to the rector. He is later found charged with an annual pension of 30s. to the abbey. The account of the tithes seems to be inaccurate, for the abbey in later times put forward far smaller claims. When William Courtenay, Archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, visited the diocese in 1390 and required the abbey to produce proof of its right to the church, the abbey obtained letters of demission granting it all tithes of two parts of the demesne. Its yearly pension of 30s. was also confirmed. (fn. 237) Another confirmation was obtained in 1401, (fn. 238) and the abbey still had both tithes and pension at the Dissolution. (fn. 239) In 1545, Henry VIII granted them to William Bunye, merchant of the Staple30s. out of the rectory, and 6s. out of the manor for tithes. (fn. 240) The rent-charge of 30s. on the rectory estate was being claimed as late as 1823 by Lord Zouche de Haryngworth, though its payment was disputed by the rector. (fn. 241)
It seems likely, therefore, that the rector had always enjoyed all tithes except for two parts of the demesne tithes claimed by the abbey. In the 13th century he apparently possessed more glebe than he could cultivate, for Peter de Laking (127493) granted a virgate of it with a croft to Alice Golding and her heirs in return for an annual payment. In 1293 the Bishop of Lincoln, at the instance of the new rector Maynard, gave his assent to the alienation, since it was 'more to the advantage than to the hurt of his church'. (fn. 242) At a later date this virgate must have been reunited to the rest of the glebe, which was reckoned in the 17th and 18th centuries as 4 yardlands. (fn. 243) Tithes were commuted in 1838. (fn. 244)
The value of the rectory in the Middle Ages was above the average. It was valued at 12 in 1254 (fn. 245) and for the later ecclesiastical subsidies the church was rated at 12 13s. 4d. after the deduction of the Abbot of Abingdon's mark for tithes and his pension of 30s. (fn. 246) In 1535 the net value was 15 6s. (fn. 247) After the Dissolution the living continued to be a fairly comfortable one until recent times. In the 19th-century the rector's net income was 556 10s. (fn. 248) In 1953 the net annual income of the rectory was 336. (fn. 249)
In the 17th and 18th centuries the parish suffered to some extent from pluralism. In 1647, for example, the Parliamentary Committee removed Dr. Wyatt partly on these grounds. (fn. 250) Matthew Unity, shortly to become University Proctor, was nominated as his successor by the Committee for Plundered Ministers, but the bitter divisions of the times led to subsequent strife over his appointment. (fn. 251) When Wyatt died in 1652 the patron presented Byrom Eaton, then Rector of Uffington (Berks.) and once a chaplain in Charles I's army. (fn. 252) In a petition to the Council of State, Unity alleged that Eaton seized the keys of the church and took possession of the emoluments by force. (fn. 253) Eaton alleged that Unity had been put in for Wyatt's lifetime only, and complained that he had had to pay large sums to the authorities to get Unity another benefice. Eaton further claimed that Unity had no right to the parsonage or any of the profits of it after the death of Dr. Wyatt, and that whatever he had taken ought to be repaid. (fn. 254) Eaton put in a bill for over 432, of which the main items were as follows: 50 for lawyer's fees incurred by Eaton in establishing his claim to the rectory and ejecting Unity; 35 for taxes; 100 for estimated repairs to the house and barn; 10 for 28 trees cut down and various small sums relating to the two closes of glebeland, its crops, and the rectory livestock. (fn. 255)
After the Restoration the old abuse of pluralism came back in force, for in 1677 the rector became Archdeacon of Stow and in 1683 of Leicester. (fn. 256)
Similarly in the 18th century the parish, though it was fortunate in the high quality of its rectors, suffered from non-residence. Hearne tells something of John Robinson, a 'very great Whigg' who was one of the short-lived incumbents in the early years of the century (170814). His parishioners thought him 'a good churchman and . . . a practical, plaine Preacher'. (fn. 257) Dr. Richard Blechynden, his successor, as Provost of Worcester, parson of Kingston Bagpuize and Prebendary of Rochester and Gloucester Cathedrals, was largely an absentee, going to Nuneham 'only (as it were) for pleasure'. This conduct, as Hearne points out, encouraged absenteeism in his congregation despite the excellence of his 'plain, practical, country sermons', and his wish to see all his parishioners at 'church together and at the Holy Communion'. (fn. 258)
James Newton, on the other hand, who was rector for about fifty years and saw the building of the new village, church, rectory house, and mansion, was admirably suited for the life of a country parson. His character is clearly revealed in the pages of the one surviving volume of his diary. (fn. 259) He was a careful farmer of his glebe, an enthusiastic fruit-grower and gardener; a kind if strict master to his servants, and charitable to the poor and sick. Devoid of religious fervour, he was nevertheless a man of deep piety and sound morals. He championed the rights of his parishioners and upheld the dignity of his church even to the point of mildly quarrelling with Lord Harcourt, who had destroyed the old church, and appropriated the churchyard, allowing 'nothing for the herbage'. (fn. 260) He was particularly indignant about Lord Harcourt's failure to provide a bell. (fn. 261) As the sanctus bell could not be heard, the clerk had to go up and down the 'town' with a hand bell'the like of which is not to be met with in England'. He complained to the architect James Stuart about the churchyard, remarking that Lord Harcourt had 'done everything to him except cut his throat'. (fn. 262) The state of the parish may be judged from his reports to the bishop. In 1738 he reported that 'the whole parish seem to be very well disposed and to attend pretty well'. On the occasions when he administered the sacraments there were about 40 or 50 communicants. Though normally resident, he was often absent both for business and pleasure. In 1759 he says that he was part of the year in Oxford, Bath, or London, and that he had employed a Fellow of Corpus Christi in his absence, but did not take out a licence as he had not expected to be detained so long 'by necessary business'. (fn. 263) In 1768 and 1771 he reported that he did not catechize in church but gladly would if the children would come. He complained in 1774 that too many were absent and that 'want of better hearts' rather than 'want of better cloaths' was the reason. (fn. 264) From about 1780 he was non-resident because very old and a curate resided. (fn. 265)
Although Newton had been on friendly terms with the aristocracy and the gentry, as his account of his relations with Lord Harcourt and his mild dissipa tions at Bath show, (fn. 266) he was essentially a countryman. Francis Haggett, nominated in 1786, was a very different type. He was chosen because the second Lord Harcourt wanted an agreeable and cultured rector 'neither a knife-licker or a fork-toothpicker'. (fn. 267) Mason (fn. 268) recommended him as he was known to have some social graces, having frequented 'balls and assemblies' as a Cambridge undergraduate, as well as having a blameless character. (fn. 269) But he was naturally not the man to remain satisfied with a country cure, and much of his parochial duties at Nuneham fell to a curate when he became royal chaplain and Prebendary of Durham (1794). Haggett's successor in 1825 resided and held no other cure; he conducted two services on Sunday and a communion service once a month. He had tried to hold an evening school, but without success. (fn. 270) By 1834 he was also Rector of Wheatfield. His congregation had increased in size, but he complained of the distance of the church from the village and of the ill effects of this on the size of his congregation and on the children's attendance at catechism. (fn. 271) No noticeable revival of religion took place at Nuneham in the 19th century, perhaps because the village had always been well conducted. The Revd. H. P. Cooke, instituted in 1855, was a conscientious minister, holding communion services every fortnight and two services on Sundays for a congregation of about 70. (fn. 272) The cause for complaint about the church's distance from the village was removed with the building of the new church in 1880.
Nuneham Courtenay has had three parish churches, each on a different site and dedicated to ALL SAINTS'a medieval, an 18th-century, and a 19thcentury one.
The medieval building appears to have been architecturally finer than many Oxfordshire parish churches: the surviving fragments which have been used to construct a Gothic folly at Baldon House in Marsh Baldon include the jambs of a fine 13th-century window with beautifully moulded shafts, good caps and bases, and a plain lancet window. (fn. 273)
The orders for its restoration in 1758 provide the only documentary evidence there is for the structure of this church. (fn. 274) It had a tower and porch, buttresses on the north side, a belfry and a chancel screen. It had a gallery, which was probably an 18th-century addition. It cannot have been large, as it was stated not to be able 'to contain the present number of the inhabitants', i.e. about sixty households. (fn. 275) In spite of the repairs ordered by the archdeacon, Lord Harcourt and the rest of the contributors to the church rates declared in 1762 that 'it was in a ruinous state' and that it was 'extremely damp and unwholesome'. They petitioned successfully for a faculty to build a new church, (fn. 276) which was to be erected 20 ft. away from the old one at an estimated cost of over 800. (fn. 277)
The medieval church was pulled down and its monuments taken away. According to the indignant rector they were 'secreted in a private place pill'd up one on another'. (fn. 278) These monuments were described by Anthony Wood in 1660. There were then memorials to Anthony Pollard (d. 1577), his wife Philippa (d. 1606), and their two children; and to Richard son of Lewis Pollard (d. 1612). Later Rawlinson recorded a third monumentone to William (d. 1678), son of Sir John Robinson. (fn. 279) An early English coffin lid, incised with a cross, together with some ruins of the medieval church were still to be seen at the end of the 19th century, (fn. 280) but in 1954 only in the memorial to Anthony Pollard survived. It is a splendid Renaissance tomb of stone, once coloured, and has recently been restored to Nunehamto the churchyard of the Harcourt Chapelafter a long sojourn in the grounds of Baldon House. (fn. 281) The 'pretty sett' of five bells were sold by Lord Harcourt to help defray the cost of the new church.
The medieval churchyard was destroyed like its church. Lord Harcourt turned it into his 'pleasure ground', destroyed the grave-stones, and obliterated the boundaries. 'He mows and rolls it at his pleasure', the rector complained in 1768. (fn. 282)
The 18th-century parish church, later known as the Harcourt Chapel, was not only 'a principal feature of one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world . . .', (fn. 283) but was an important landmark in social and architectural history. Designed by the first earl himself, it remains a monument to the civilized use of wealth by the nobility of the day and is an early example of Greek influence on English architecture. Lord Harcourt's design for his 'temple' was slightly altered by the architect James Stuart, the first British architect to introduce Greek mouldings into his work. 'Athenian' Stuart's influence is seen in the semicircular porch, in the angle volutes of the north portico and in the main order. (fn. 284) Said to have been modelled on one of the temples of Palmyra, (fn. 285) it is a perfectly proportioned oblong building of freestone with a low central dome and roof of copper. It has a portico at the north end with six Ionic columns supporting a triangular pediment containing small segmental windows. (fn. 286)
The interior consists of three main compartments united by narrower barrel-vaulted portions: there is a circular lantern in the middle, lit by oval windows.
Some of the original decorations survivea tapestry of the chiefs of the twelve tribes of Israel and a painting of the Good Samaritan by Mason, intended as an altar-piece, (fn. 287) and now on the south wall of the chancel. The inside of the chapel was fitted up in a 'neat and decent manner'. (fn. 288) The rector complained that there were no pews in the chancel as in the old church, no font, and only the sanctus bell instead of the old peal of five. (fn. 289) It is known, however, to have had a barrel organ, on which were set various compositions by Mason. This may have been introduced by the second earl, who fitted up and furnished the new building. (fn. 290)
A new font of stone was provided in 1843 and the seats were rearranged, (fn. 291) but little could be done to make the chapel's classical austerity conform to the taste of the Gothic revivalists. They considered it a 'memorable instance of the taste of that age, of which it was the misfortune that those persons who were the most liberal . . . were precisely those who did the most mischief'. (fn. 292)
The new site, on a slight knoll, was described as 'very convenient for the Earl and his family, and not in the least incommodious to the rector and inhabitants of the . . . parish'. (fn. 293) It is clear that neither the rector nor his parishioners concurred in this view. The latter now had a mile to walk to church instead of having it in their midst. (fn. 294)
When the third parish church was built in 1880, the 18th-century church was refurnished for use as a private chapel. An altar and walnut stalls of carved wood of Italian workmanship were introduced: also an elaborate wooden cover to the font. (fn. 295)
The churchyard contains the Pollard tomb and a baroque cartouche of some distinction to the Revd. Dr. Byrom Eaton (d. 1703) and his wife Sarah (d. 1715). Weeping angels and cherubs encircle the doctor's bust.
The present church was built on a site close to the village on the initiative of E. W. Harcourt and at his expense. It cost 3,500: the architect was Clapton Rolfe of Reading. It is of 13th-century style, with a chancel, nave, and organ-chamber. It has been described as a model of a small village church both in its proportions and details. It was consecrated on 18 May 1880. In 1890 a mortuary chapel was added by the founder. Memorial windows commemorate him, Lewis, first Viscount Harcourt, and William Turner. (fn. 296) There is a war memorial to those killed in the two World Wars. (fn. 297) The register dates from 1715.
The subsidy list of 1640 (fn. 298) shows that there were three recusants, James Yateman, a gentleman, and his wife and John Hawkins. Bishop Compton's census (1676) records two papists and no Protestant dissenters. In 1685 two papists were again reported, (fn. 299) one of them being William Prince, who may probably be identified with the inn-keeper. (fn. 300) In 1781 (fn. 301) Lord Harcourt had three papist servants, presumably because of his 'frenchified tastes'.
The only reference to Protestant dissenters occurs in the rector's statement in 1768 (fn. 302) that 'there may be four or five Presbyterians or Anabaptists but poor'. In 1801 (fn. 303) the rector reported that there was no nonconformity.
There is no record of any school before 1738, when it was reported that seven boys and girls were put to school. (fn. 304) All were taught reading and the girls sewing as well. The parson catechized them at school. A dame school existed in 1768, to which Lady Nuneham sent a few children. (fn. 305)
In 1771 it was reported that Lady Nuneham allowed a poor woman about 5 a year for schooling several poor children and in 1808 the school was said to have about 20 pupils. Reading, spinning, and knitting were taught. (fn. 306)
In 1809 a more ambitious school, based in part on the National Society plan, was opened by Countess Harcourt. In 1815 it was reported to have 16 boys and 26 girls (fn. 307) and by 1818 there were 50 poor boys and girls getting free instruction from a mistress who was under the superintendence of the minister. (fn. 308) By 1835 a new school had been built; numbers had increased to 25 boys and 28 girls and the school was being supported financially by the Archbishop of York as both a day and Sunday school. He also paid for clothing for the boys while the girls were clothed by Lady Elizabeth Harcourt. (fn. 309) The National Society in 1849 made a grant for building development and thereafter the school continued as a Church school; in 1854 there were both a master and mistress. (fn. 310) In 1867 the school was reported to be very good and the children got schooling and clothes on payment of an average of 2d. a week, the ages being from 4 to 12 years. Children from Little Baldon attended, as their own parish school at Baldon St. Lawrence was about two miles away. (fn. 311) In 1894 the average attendance was 71, with one teacher who received a salary of 107 18s. a year. (fn. 312) At the end of the 19th century the school was outstanding among village schools for the education given. The rector visited the school twice a week to teach scripture and singing. The school was particularly noted for its fine sewing; all the Harcourt household linen was hemmed by the children. (fn. 313) Senior children were transferred to Dorchester School in 1925, and the present school takes the juniors and infants. (fn. 314)
Leonard Wilmot by will (1608) left 20s. a year for the deserving poor of Nuneham Courtenay parish, who lived by their own labour. The money was to be paid out of his estate at Clanfield and was part of a larger annuity of 17 to be devoted to charitable uses in various Oxfordshire parishes. In 1617 the will was contested by William Wilmot, brother and heir of Leonard, but by a decree of 1617 the Commissioners of Charitable Uses ordered the annuity to be paid and the property called Chest Lyon farm and part of the Clanfield estate to be charged with the yearly payment of the sums. At Nuneham Courtenay the churchwardens with two of the principal inhabitants were to see that the money was distributed at the church every Good Friday. The Charity Commissioners reported in 1825 that the money was regularly received and was distributed at the discretion of the rector and churchwardens. (fn. 315)
Francis Combes gave at an unknown date 20s. a year to be paid out of his estate at Burcot on St. Thomas's day. Ten shillings was to be paid to four poor churchgoing widows and 10s. to poor labourers. (fn. 316) This sum was paid by Mr. Bush of Burcot, according to the Benefactors' Board in Nuneham Chapel, and was consequently called the Burcot Charity in later times.
Mrs. Elizabeth Combes (fn. 317) left 40, the interest from which was to be distributed equally to the poor widows of Nuneham parish at Christmas. She is probably the same as the widow Elizabeth Combes who appears as a substantial member of the yeoman class on the subsidy list of 1640. (fn. 318) In 1768 it was reported that 28s. a year had formerly been given to poor widows, but had not been paid of late years. (fn. 319) By 1771 payments had been resumed, and in 1793 5 was distributed annually. (fn. 320) In 1825 the charity was in the hands of Lord Harcourt whose steward paid regularly 4 per cent. interest for it and charged it to the Nuneham estate account. (fn. 321)
Archbishop and Lady Harcourt made a bequest for clothing and fuel. By 1895 it was worth 25 and the Wilmot and Burcot charities produced 3 a year. All the charities were worth about 30 a year. (fn. 322)