Dorchester hundred

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7, Dorchester and Thame Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.

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'Dorchester hundred', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7, Dorchester and Thame Hundreds, (London, 1962) pp. 1-4. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


In the 19th century the hundred covered 11,280 acres which were almost entirely devoted to agriculture. In 1841 the population numbered 3,571. (fn. 1) Dorchester, the site of a Roman town and of the first episcopal see of the West Saxons, was the principal village, and its abbey church is still a notable building. Among the other villages in the hundred, Culham, a place of considerable importance in the Anglo-Saxon period, has at Culham Manor the remains of a 15th-century grange of Abingdon Abbey; Chislehampton has Camoise Court, also in part a 15th-century house, and the 18thcentury mansion of the Peers, which replaced the earlier seat of the ancient family of Doyley. South Stoke in the south of the county is historically interesting as a part of the endowment of Eynsham Abbey and later of Christ Church, Oxford.


The hundred is first mentioned in Domesday Book, where most of it forms part of the Bishop of Lincoln's fief. (fn. 2) Most of the Oxfordshire estates of the bishop, which clearly represent the pre-Conquest endowment of the see of Dorchester, were grouped in the three hundreds of Banbury, Thame, and Dorchester. In Domesday Book the assessment of the bishop's hundreds of Banbury and Thame is given as 100 hides each; (fn. 3) that of Dorchester hundred is only 95, of which 5 lay outside the bishop's fief. It will, however, be argued below that the original assessment of the hundred was 100 hides, and that by the time of Domesday 5 hides, which still formed part of the bishop's fief, had been transferred to the neighbouring hundred of Bullingdon. The arrangement of these estates in three hundreds is strikingly reminiscent of other episcopal triple hundreds. The most famous is the Bishop of Worcester's triple hundred of Oswaldslow and another is connected with the bishopric of Sherborne. (fn. 4) These groupings seem to have been made in the 10th century, probably in Edgar's reign, for the provision of ships for naval defence. Traces of similar groups of three hundreds have been noted in Warwickshire, where they are connected with the provision of ships, and in Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire. (fn. 5) The origin of Dorchester hundred as a grouping of estates which were probably acquired piecemeal over a long period of time explains its scattered nature. It is impossible to determine the constituent parts of the hundred in Domesday but there seems to be no reason for assuming that the 11th-century hundred was very different from the hundred in the 13th century when it comprised the bishop's manor of Dorchester and nearby subinfeudated parts of the bishop's estate, as well as several detached estates at South Stoke, south of Wallingford, Fifield in Benson, and Epwell on the county boundary about 6 miles west of Banbury.

According to Domesday Book, Dorchester hundred consisted of the Bishop of Lincoln's 90-hide estate of Dorchester together with 5 hides at Hunesworde which is to be identified with the knight's fee at Chislehampton which formed part of the hundred in 1279, and was then held by Laurence of Chislehampton. (fn. 6) There is also warrant for regarding as in some sense part of Dorchester hundred two holdings at Baldon which are described in Domesday Book at the end of the Bishop of Lincoln's fief. These are the 5 hides held by Iseward and the 2½ hides held by Bristeva, and they are readily identifiable with the estates in the Baldons which were held in the 13th century by the bishop. (fn. 7) In 1279 five hides in Little Baldon were held of the bishop by William de Baldindon as a knight's fee and 2½ hides in Marsh Baldon were held by the bishop himself. The estate at Marsh Baldon was part of the bishop's Dorchester manor and the virgaters owed suit to the hundred of Dorchester, although they attended the sheriff's tourn at Bullingdon. (fn. 8) There seems, however, to have been some confusion about the hundred in which William de Baldindon's fee lay. In 1255 it was definitely described as being in Bullingdon hundred. (fn. 9) But in 1279 the two fees held by William in Baldon, Clifton, and Stoke (i.e. South Stoke) were said to be in Dorchester hundred. (fn. 10) As one of William's fees certainly lay in Dorchester hundred, and represents the estate of 5½ hides in Dorchester manor held in Domesday by Iseward, the confusion is not surprising. (fn. 11) It is more than likely that these 5 hides at Little Baldon were originally, before the Conquest, part of Dorchester hundred and that together with the 95 hides that Domesday acknowledges as in Dorchester hundred they made up the original hideage. They were certainly held in 1086 by the Bishop of Lincoln and this alone would be an argument in favour of their being regarded as originally part of Dorchester hundred.

The 2½ hides held in 1086 by Bristeva at Marsh Baldon seem at first sight to upset the neatness of this argument and to increase the hideage of Dorchester hundred to 102½. This is not a necessary conclusion. These hides were certainly part of Dorchester hundred in the 13th century and this was presumably the case in the 11th century also. It is, however, quite likely that they are accounted for twice in Domesday and that they formed part of the 20½ hides held ad firmam by Bristeva of the bishop's demesne estate at Dorchester. These 2½ hides were certainly part of the bishop's demesne estate in the 13th century and this would be consistent with their being held ad firmam in the 11th century. There is nothing surprising in Domesday Book repeating these hides. Such repetition could easily result from the way the information was checked, hundred by hundred, in the Domesday inquiry in Oxfordshire. This meant that any of the bishop's estate of Dorchester that happened to be in Bullingdon hundred would be listed under that hundred even though it was also treated as part of the bishop's estate under Dorchester hundred also. It is therefore likely that Dorchester hundred was originally assessed at 100 hides, of which 7½ lay in the Baldons. Part of this, 2½ hides, were kept in the bishop's estate and remained in the hundred, the rest was subinfeudated and eventually treated as part of Bullingdon hundred. Originally the hundred consisted of episcopal estates alone but by the time of Domesday 5 hides had been alienated from the bishop's fief although they remained within the hundred.

The first detailed description of the hundred was made in 1279. (fn. 12) As the beginning of this survey is mutilated it is not possible to reconstruct the whole hundred with certainty. As far as can be seen it then comprised the bishop's demesne manor of Dorchester extending over a wide area, including Overy, (fn. 13) Drayton, Burcot, Clifton, Chislehampton, and Stadhampton, and several fees held of the bishop, including Nicholas of Burcot's fee in Drayton (including Holcombe) and Clifton, William de Baldindon's two fees in Clifton, Baldon, Burcot, and South Stoke, Philip le Moyne's fee in Clifton, Burcot, and South Stoke, a 1/10-fee in Burcot held by Geoffrey of Lewknor, and a ½-fee held by Laurence de Louches in Chislehampton and Little Milton. The detached estates, also held by the bishop in chief, were South Stoke and Woodcote, held by Eynsham Abbey, Fifield in Benson, held by Philip de Hoyville, and a fee at Epwell held by Robert Danvers. There was also 1 fee in Chislehampton that belonged to the hundred, but was of the honor of Dudley and not the bishop's. (fn. 14) In the 14th-century subsidy returns the hundred is taken to include Dorchester, Drayton, Burcot, Clifton, Chislehampton, South Stoke, Woodcote, and Epwell. (fn. 15) In 16th-century subsidies Culham is added to the hundred. (fn. 16) The Hearth Tax returns of 1665 show that the hundred remained substantially unchanged, the only alterations being that Exlade, a part of South Stoke, is mentioned separately. (fn. 17) By the time of the 19th-century census returns Epwell had been transferred to Banbury hundred although Fifield (in Benson parish) remained in Dorchester hundred until 1881, when it was transferred to Ewelme hundred. (fn. 18)

Until the 16th century Dorchester hundred was held by the Bishop of Lincoln. In 1547 at about the same time as the manor of Dorchester was surrendered to the king licence was given to the bishop to grant the hundred to the king's uncle, Edward, Duke of Somerset. (fn. 19) In 1548 the hundred, but not the manor, along with the manor and hundred of Thame, was granted in fee farm to Sir John Williams. (fn. 20) Later the hundred of Dorchester, like that of Thame, must have passed to the Norreys family, for in the 17th century it was held by Edward Wray, husband of Elizabeth Baroness Norreys. (fn. 21) The manor came to the Berties, (fn. 22) and presumably the hundred also, as in the 19th century their descendants held the hundred as well as the manor. (fn. 23)

The bishop's rights in his hundred included the return of writs and pleas de vetito namii. (fn. 24) Three-weekly hundred courts held in 1299 to 1300 dealt mainly with agricultural offences—trespass and purpresture—and breaches of the assize of ale. In February 1300 the whole vill of Stadhampton was fined for concealing the ploughing up of a path. At the same court the Abbot of Dorchester was presented for digging a ditch against Queensford. There were also fines for raising the hue and cry. (fn. 25) A later account roll for the hundred in 1520 contains sums for cert money, for view of frankpledge, and for court perquisites. (fn. 26)

In the 17th century the hundreds of Dorchester, Bullingdon, and Thame were grouped together for various purposes. For example, in 1634 and 1635 the justices of the peace of the three hundreds are mentioned, (fn. 27) and in 1652 the three hundreds had a high collector. (fn. 28) This suggests that the division of Thame, Bullingdon, and Dorchester hundreds which it has been argued was created in 1706 had in fact been anticipated in the previous century. (fn. 29)


  • 1. Census, 1841.
  • 2. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 402–3, 411.
  • 3. For Thame hundred see below, p. 114.
  • 4. Florence E. Harmer, Anglo-Saxon Writs, 266–7, and references given there; E. John, Land Tenure in Early England, 116.
  • 5. P.N. Warws. (E.P.N.S.), pp. xix-xx; O. S. Anderson, The English Hundred-Names, i, pp. xix, 131–8; iii, p. i.
  • 6. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 411, 428; and see below, p. 9.
  • 7. Cf. V.C.H. Oxon. v. 35, 51.
  • 8. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 724.
  • 9. Ibid. 39.
  • 10. Ibid. 749.
  • 11. See below, p. 20. For Iseward see V.C.H. Oxon. v. 51.
  • 12. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 747–51.
  • 13. Dorchester and Overy are apparently missing. For this see below, p. 85, n. 80.
  • 14. Rot. Hund. ii. 750.
  • 15. E 179/161/9. Overy and Fifield are not mentioned by name, but were almost certainly included in the Dorchester list. William de Hoyville, tenant of Fifield, is one of the contributors and Overy is included with Dorchester in later tax lists.
  • 16. e.g. E 179/162/341. For the reasons for Culham's earlier exemption see below, p. 30.
  • 17. Hearth Tax Oxon. 52–57.
  • 18. V.C.H. Oxon. ii. 219–20.
  • 19. Cal. Pat. 1547–8, 184.
  • 20. E 317/Oxon. 6.
  • 21. B.M. Harl. MS. 843, f. 17.
  • 22. See below, p. 43.
  • 23. H. Addington, Some Account of the Abbey Church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Dorchester (1860), 124.
  • 24. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 30; cf. Cal. Fine R. 1272– 1307, 215.
  • 25. S.C. 2/197/37.
  • 26. d.d. Bertie c 24 (uncat.)
  • 27. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1634–5, 446; 1635–6, 136.
  • 28. Ibid. 1651–2, 252.
  • 29. Mary Sturge Gretton, Oxfordshire Justices of the Peace in the 17th Century (O.R.S. xvi), p. lxxxiv.