Thame 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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'Thame hundred', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7, Dorchester and Thame Hundreds, (London, 1962) pp. 113-116. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


The hundred was a comparatively small one: in the 19th century it covered 10,580 acres and had a population in 1831 of 4,734. (fn. 1) It was further distinguished by being divided into three detached groups. (fn. 2)

The rich pastures of the Thame valley have made the landscape pleasing and the district notable for its dairy produce. Brewer writing in 1813 remarked that no other part of the country was 'more amenable to agriculture'. (fn. 3) This richness of soil, the excellence of the stone quarries at the Miltons, and the good communications, particularly with the capital, were probably the main factors that attracted so many gentle families to the district both in the medieval and later periods. Chief among them were the Quatremains and Clerkes of North Weston, the merchant Dormers of Thame and later of Ascot, the Wenmans of Thame, the Bruleys, Crokes, and Ashhursts of Waterstock, the Pettys of Tetsworth, and the families of De Louches, Camoys, Radmylde, Grene, Cave, Calfhill (Caulfeild), and others at Great and Little Milton.


The hundred contains no great house such as Nuneham Courtenay, but it has the 18th-century Thame Park which incorporates the remains of Thame Abbey, a number of houses of the gentry, and groups of small dwellings of charm and distinction in the villages, and a market town with a notable High Street.

The creation of prebends of Lincoln at Thame and Great Milton resulted, further more, in the building of two fine churches. Wood noted that the aisles of the two families of Dormer and Quatremain at Thame make this church 'seem to be a cathedral'. (fn. 4)

The hundred is also of interest in that it contains a number of depopulated villages. Attington and North Weston in Thame and Ascot in Great Milton have gone except for a few houses. (fn. 5) The two Chilworths and Coombe though in the parish of Great Milton were outside the hundred. (fn. 6)

By the time of Domesday Book the hundred of Thame was not a normal hundred composed of contiguous villages assessed at exactly a hundred hides. It consisted of two or, if Waterstock was already in the hundred, of three detached groups of manors belonging to the Bishop of Lincoln. These groups, however, lay fairly close together and not widely separated as was the case with some of the detached parts of Dorchester hundred. Domesday Book says that the bishop had 60 hides in his manor of Thame, of which he held 37 in demesne and his knights the rest, and 40 hides in Great Milton of which he held 31 in demesne and his knights the rest. (fn. 7) The holdings of the knights are given in detail in separate entries, but the sum of their hidage does not quite correspond to the 23 hides in Thame and the 9 in Great Milton which they are stated to hold in the preceding entries. It totals 32¾ hides instead of 32 hides. (fn. 8) The later history of the fees makes it likely that Robert's 10-hide holding was in Tetsworth. (fn. 9) William's 3 hides in North Weston and the 6 hides of Alured and his companions in Attington and Moreton. (fn. 10) The 4 hides of Sawold cannot be located with certainty. Of the knights of Milton manor Aluric's 6 hides and William's 3¾ hides seem to be represented by the later fees of D'Oilly and Quatremain in Ascot. (fn. 11) It is likely that the William holding 3 hides of Thame manor and the William holding 3¾ of Milton manor are identical, for the Quatremains' holding in the 13th century consisted of 6¾ hides divided between North Weston (3 hides) and Ascot (3¾ hides). (fn. 12) The bishop's demesne and the holding of his knights thus form roughly a normal hundred of 100¾ hides. This reckoning, however, is put out by the 5 hides of Waterstock. In the 13th century Waterstock was certainly in Thame hundred and in Thame manor, but it was a detached part and may not have always been so. On the other hand, it is likely that the Sawold, who held 5 hides in Waterstock in 1086 of the fee of St. Mary of Lincoln, (fn. 13) is the same as the Sawold already mentioned in the return as one of the bishop's knights holding 4 hides of Thame manor and that there has been some duplication. A further possibility is that these episcopal hundreds were never regular hundreds assessed at 100 or 120 hides, but were aggregations of manors held either in demesne by the bishop or by his knights or by monastic houses holding of the bishop. The artificial nature of Thame hundred is certainly demonstrated by the way it is split up into groups separated from each other by parts of the hundred of Bullingdon. Nor do the hundred boundaries correspond with those of the parishes of which the hundred is composed, although the parish boundaries appear to have been of great antiquity. Sydenham and Towersey, originally in Thame parish, (fn. 14) are outside the hundred and so are Chilworth and Coombe, which were hamlets of Milton. (fn. 15)

Thame hundred is not mentioned by name in Domesday Book and the entries are in fact entered with places in the hundred of Banbury, also not mentioned by name, under the rubric of Dorchester hundred. Thus, Thame hundred was in all probability once a part of the triple hundred of Dorchester. (fn. 16)

When the hundred is first described in detail in 1279 it consisted of three detached parts. In the first was the town of Thame with its liberties and the hamlets of Attington, North Weston, and Moreton. The liberties, as they were later called, of Thame Park, Priestend, New Thame, and Old Thame are not specifically mentioned, but they are clearly traceable in the account given. A second group comprised the greater part of the parish of Great Milton: this included Little Milton and Ascot, but not Coombe or the two Chilworths which were in the hundred of Bullingdon. Waterstock formed the third detached part. (fn. 17) The composition of the hundred continued unaltered throughout its history. (fn. 18)

The hundred belonged to the Bishop of Lincoln throughout the Middle Ages. It was worth 40s. a year. (fn. 19) When Thame manor was granted to Lord Williams in 1550, the hundred was granted too and thereafter followed the descent of the manor of Old and New Thame which passed to the earls of Abingdon. (fn. 20)

Among the bishop's rights in his hundred, the most important was that of return of writs. He could exclude the sheriff, and execute all royal writs through his own bailiffs, who also had the right of hearing pleas de vetito namii, normally heard by the sheriff in the shire court. The bishop had also the commoner privileges of view and frankpledge, the assize of bread and ale, and the right of hanging on his own gallows those taken with stolen goods. (fn. 21) At the eyre of 1247 the bishop's bailiffs claimed that they had always had the right of making attachments in the hundred to the exclusion of the sheriff and his bailiffs and of hearing pleas de vetito namii. They produced no warrant. (fn. 22)

If the bailiffs failed in their duty in any way the bishop might lose his privileges. A case of this occurred in 1285 when the privilege of having the return of writs in his three hundreds was taken into the king's hands because of some fault of the bailiff of Banbury. (fn. 23)

In addition to his judicial privileges the bishop had a prison though the right to have one is never listed among his other rights. The prison was in Thame and seems to have been in the cellars of the Bird Cage Inn, formerly known as the 'Cage'. (fn. 24) It is mentioned only in connexion with the escape of prisoners. In 1247 two cases of escape and flight to Tetsworth and Thame churches were reported. (fn. 25) In 1268 a band of armed men broke open the prison and released a man. (fn. 26) The prison is last recorded in 1453 when John Benett, bailiff of the liberty, let a man escape who had fled to Thame from Southwark. (fn. 27)

From the cases of abjuration of the realm and of inquests recorded on the eyre rolls it appears that the bishop did not have his own coroner.

Occasional references have been found to the activities of the bishop's officers in the hundred. The bailiff played a leading part in the violent affray of 1293. (fn. 28) It is known that there was at least one under-bailiff. A Thomas Bocher who held the office in Henry VII's reign was killed, allegedly with the connivance of Prebendary Adrian de Bardis, who was indicted for his murder through the efforts of Edmund Barry, a kinsman of William Smith, Bishop of Lincoln. Adrian's goods were confiscated by the bishop's bailiffs. (fn. 29) There was also a steward of seneschal of the hundreds, manors, and demesnes of Dorchester, Thame, Wooburn (Bucks.), and Fingest (Bucks.). The office was held by Sir William Stonor in 1479. (fn. 30) The Stonor family had a residence in Thame called the 'Halle Place' as early as 1419. (fn. 31) Sir John Daunce was appointed to the office in 1524. (fn. 32)

The rolls of a number of medieval hundred courts have survived. (fn. 33) The two great courts were held in June and December on 'Haryndon' Hill (Milton Common) and the three-weekly courts appear to have been held in Thame. The townships of Great Milton, Little Milton, Ascot, Old Thame, Moreton, North Weston, Thame Park, Priestend, Tetsworth, and Waterstock appeared through their constables and tithing men. Great Milton and Little Milton, Tetsworth, Moreton, and Old Thame each had haywards.

The business of the court consisted of the swearing in of the king's jury (20 or more), the swearing in of constables and tithing men, and the payment of cert money. Attington had tithing men and no constable, perhaps because it was already depopulated. (fn. 34) On one occasion the Abbot of Thame was presented for his failure to send the two tithing men for Attington and the cert money. Cert money ranged from 1s. for Attington to 6s. for Old Thame. Priestend claimed to owe no cert money because it belonged to the Rector of Thame (i.e. the Prebendary), and at the view of 1473 out of the total sum of 44s. 6d. received 5s. 9d. went to the rector. New Thame was not represented: its portmanmoot acted as a hundred court. (fn. 35)

At the great courts presentments were mainly concerned with breaches of the assize of bread and ale, with the excessive toll taken by millers, and obstruction of the roads or flooding caused by unscoured ditches. Presentments of Tetsworth innkeepers were noticeably frequent. At one court a bridge on the foot-road from Thame to Moreton was ordered to be repaired. Occasionally there were presentments for not having men in tithing: in 1473 Thomas Danvers in Waterstock had two outside tithing. The business conducted at these courts was small and the sums received were correspondingly low—at the December views in 1443 and 1472 the total was 16s. 7d. and 18s. 3d. In the second case 10s. of the total came from the free tenants who defaulted in their suit. They included the abbots of Dorchester and Thame.

The ordinary three-weekly hundreds produced sums varying from 10d. to 1s. 10d. in the year 1441–2. In Edward IV's reign business was even less and the sums received varied from nothing to 8d. All these courts appear to have been held at Thame. Their main business was concerned with pleas of debts, and occasional pleas of tresspass and broken contract. In two successive courts held in 1444 there were three and four pleas of debt. In a court of 1450 a man denied five-handed (i.e. supported by the oaths of four friends) that he owed 5s.

Some records for 18th-century views of frankpledge held at 'Harringstone' (or Harrington) hill in June 1786 until June 1794 have also survived. (fn. 36) Cert money at the old rates was paid, except that North Weston and Thame Park no longer paid anything. Although there was only one household at Attington at this date (fn. 37) it still paid its cert money.

Apart from the holding of courts the bailiff and his officers had much other business. In the 16th century the hundred was the unit for the collection of subsidies, (fn. 38) for the administration of the poor law, and among other things for organizing musters. (fn. 39) In 1571, for example, they had to make search for rogues and vagabonds; (fn. 40) in 1587 they made a return of the quantities of corn and grain preserved in the hundred with the names of the victuallers. (fn. 41) Considerable use was made of the hundred in the 17th century, particularly in the matter of relieving the poor: in 1634 and 1635 certificates were returned by the Justices of the Peace for their observance of the king's directions for the relief of the poor in Thame. (fn. 42) In 1640 the bailiff of the hundred received a warrant for collecting ship-money. (fn. 43)


  • 1. Census, 1831.
  • 2. A. Bryant, Oxon. Map (1823).
  • 3. Brewer, Oxon. (1813), 300.
  • 4. Wood, Life, i. 408.
  • 5. See below, pp. 121, 170.
  • 6. For their sites and history see below, pp. 122, 127.
  • 7. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 402–3.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. See below, p. 148.
  • 10. See below, pp. 172, 174.
  • 11. See below, pp. 126, 222.
  • 12. Cur. Reg. R. i. 204, 244.
  • 13. See below, p. 222.
  • 14. See below, p. 199.
  • 15. V.C.H. Oxon. v. 4.
  • 16. See above, p. 2.
  • 17. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 820–2.
  • 18. Feudal Aids, iv. 167; Hearth Tax Oxon. 43–52; E 179/161/9, 198.
  • 19. J.I. 1/700, m. 3d.
  • 20. See below, p. 171.
  • 21. Rot. Hund. ii. 31.
  • 22. J.I. 1/700, m. 3d.
  • 23. Cal. Fine R. 1272–1307, 215.
  • 24. See below, p. 165.
  • 25. J.I. 1/700, m. 3d.
  • 26. J.I. 1/703, m. 5d; see also Cat. Pat. 1354–8, 490.
  • 27. Cal. Pat. 1452–61, 84.
  • 28. See below, p. 160.
  • 29. C 1/301 68, 69.
  • 30. Cat. Anct. D. vi. c 5623.
  • 31. Rousham Arch. N 270.
  • 32. Line. Chapter Acts, 1520–36 (L.R.S. xii), 47–48.
  • 33. d.d. Bertie c 16 (uncat.). There are courts for 2, 18, 21, 22, 23 Hen. VI; 12, 13 Edw. IV.
  • 34. See below, p. 188.
  • 35. d.d. Bertie c 16 (uncat.).
  • 36. d.d. Bertie b 3 (uncat.).
  • 37. See below, p. 191.
  • 38. Acts of P.C. 1556–8, 156; E 179/161/198, &c.
  • 39. e.g. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1547–80, 138; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiv(2), p. 362.
  • 40. Cal.S.P. Dom. 1547–80, 419.
  • 41. Ibid. 1581–90, 389.
  • 42. Ibid. 1634–5, 446; 1635–6, 136.
  • 43. Ibid. 1640–1, 71.