A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 8, Lewknor and Pyrton Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
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THE HUNDRED OF LEWKNOR
In the early 19th century Lewknor hundred had an area of 19,780 acres and a population of 5,416. (fn. 1) Throughout the greater part of its history its villages have been principally engaged in agriculture, and until the 19th century open-field farming was generally practised. Arthur Young, writing in 1809, described the country at the foot of the Chilterns between Tetsworth and Stokenchurch as open field with 'exceedingly good soil', a brown, strong loam and moist bottom which gave good wheat crops. (fn. 2) Sheep farming was extensively practised, since the hill slopes provided plenty of rough grazing. The marginal character of some of the hill land probably accounts for the early disappearance of several medieval hamlets such as Linley, Plumbridge, and Studdridge.
The connexion of the area with the Anglo-Saxon kings and the Abbey of Abingdon gives the early history of the hundred a special interest. Throughout the Middle Ages, although the influence of the honor of Wallingford was predominant, many powerful feudatories such as the Earls of Devon and Hereford and the lord of the honor of Peverel had interests in the hundred. After the Reformation the villages were peopled by many prosperous families of yeomen and gentry, such as the Belsons, Ellwoods, Fanes, Hampdens, and Scropes, the last of which included the regicide Colonel Adrian Scrope. (fn. 3) Several members of these families played a prominent part in the religious life of their neighbourhood either as Roman Catholics or Protestant reformers.
There were no big houses apart from Wormsley, which is now in Buckinghamshire, but many pleasant stone houses, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, have survived and there are a number of medieval churches of interest.
The hundred took its name from the village of Lewknor. The name means 'Leofeca's slope', and the hill now called 'The Knapp', just south of the village, where remains of an early Iron Age settlement and of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery have been found, (fn. 4) is a likely site for early meetings of the hundred. It also lies near the Icknield Way, one of the early lines of communication in the Chilterns. This hundred is one of the few hundreds named in the Oxfordshire Domesday Book, and was one of the 4½ hundreds in the soke of the royal manor of Benson: (fn. 5) the others were Binfield, Langtree, Pyrton, and the halfhundred of Ewelme. The grouping of hundreds in connexion with royal and episcopal estates is found elsewhere, but this is the largest of all the groups in Oxfordshire until the 13th century. It has been demonstrated that this system was itself descended from a far older system, antedating the formation of hundreds and shires, by which royal estates were the centre of a wide territory supplying them with food rents. (fn. 6)
From the 14th to the 19th century the hundred consisted of the parishes of Adwell; Aston Rowant with its dependent hamlets of Chalford, Copcourt, Kingston Blount, Linley, Stokenchurch, and Wormsley; Britwell Salome; Chinnor and its hamlets of Henton and Wainhill; Emmington; Lewknor and its dependent townships and outlying parts of Abbefeld, Ackhampstead, Nethercote, Plumbridge, Postcombe, Studdridge, and Padnells or Padnal's fee in the parish of Rotherfield Greys; Sydenham; and Tythrop in the parish of Kingsey. With the exception of the township of Cadmore End and of the parish of Britwell Salome, which was not surveyed, all these places are mentioned in the hundred rolls as in Lewknor hundred. (fn. 7) The Domesday hidage of the vills known to be in the hundred at a later date comes to 131¼ hides. (fn. 8) Several of the vills are assessed at 5 hides or multiples of that unit, and doubtless represented original units, but the divergence of the total from 100 hides presumably results from alterations in the original composition of the hundred. Britwell Salome (6 hides), for instance, may well have been transferred to the hundred of Lewknor in the 11th century when the original Britwell estate (i.e. Britwell Salome and Britwell Prior), once probably all in Ewelme hundred, was divided between two lords, Britwell Salome becoming eventually a fee of Wallingford honor and Britwell Prior going to Christ Church, Canterbury. Again, one hide in Wormsley granted to the lords of Lewknor between 1086 and 1106, was perhaps transferred at that time from Pyrton hundred to Lewknor hundred. (fn. 9) The 3 hides of Ibstone also appear to have been a late addition. Their connexion with the hundred may be sought in the fact that Tovi, the pre-Conquest lord of Ibstone, which lay on either side of the Oxon.-Bucks. border, can probably be identified with the Danish thegn 'Novitovi', whom the Abingdon chronicler says granted Lewknor and its members to Abingdon Abbey. (fn. 10) In later records Plumbridge in Ibstone was an outlying part of Lewknor manor. Part of Wheatfield was surveyed under the hundred in 1279 as one of the fees of Wallingford honor, but the village itself may have been once wholly in Pyrton. (fn. 11) Bolney (Harpsden), on the other hand, which was one of the few places entered in Domesday Book as being in Lewknor hundred does not appear in later lists, but was included in another Chiltern hundred, Binfield. (fn. 12)
In the Middle Ages Lewknor and the other 3½ Chiltern hundreds usually, though not invariably, followed the descent of Benson manor. (fn. 13) Until the end of the 12th century the king seems to have kept them in his own hands, but in 1199 John gave Benson manor and its appurtenances, which evidently included the 4½ Chiltern hundreds, to Robert de Harcourt, (fn. 14) who held them until 1204. (fn. 15) They were given with Benson to John de Harcourt in 1218, (fn. 16) but in the same year the manor was granted to Engelard de Cygony, and in 1220 the sheriff was ordered to give him seisin of the 4½ hundreds. (fn. 17) On Cygony's death between 1243 and 1244, (fn. 18) Henry III gave Benson and the 4½ hundreds to his own brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, on his marriage. (fn. 19)
The earl was already lord of Wallingford honor, of which many of the villages in the hundred were members, and the connexion between the hundreds and Wallingford honor, and its successor Ewelme honor, was maintained until the mid-19th century. Although the 4½ Chiltern hundreds were not always mentioned specifically in grants of the honor they apparently passed with it. They certainly passed to Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, in 1272, and reverted to the Crown on his death in 1300. (fn. 20) In 1309 Edward II granted them to Piers Gaveston whom he also created Earl of Cornwall. (fn. 21) After Gaveston's death in 1312 they were again in the king's hands until 1317 when he granted Wallingford honor with its hundreds, views, knights' fees, and other appurtenances in dower to Queen Isabella. (fn. 22) Although her estates were resumed in 1324, the queen again acquired them when her party obtained the great seal in 1326, and held them until Mortimer's fall and her own disgrace in 1330. (fn. 23) Edward III granted Wallingford honor and its members in 1330 to his brother John de Eltham (d. 1336) to support him as Earl of Cornwall. (fn. 24) In 1337 the honor of Wallingford was among the properties formerly annexed to the Duchy of Cornwall, which was settled on the Black Prince and on future heirs to the kingdom with the limitation that they reverted to the Crown when there was no heir. (fn. 25) After the death of the Black Prince in 1376 the duchy was therefore held by his son Richard as heir to the throne and later as king; (fn. 26) by Henry V when he was Prince of Wales (fn. 27) and later when king; and by Henry VI. (fn. 28) The Duchy of Cornwall and with it the honor continued to be held by the various heirs to the throne in the second half of the 15th century, but since most were under age the administration was generally in the king's hands. (fn. 29) Henry VI's son Edward, born in 1453, was Duke of Cornwall, (fn. 30) but in 1460 in the civil wars Richard, Duke of York, who died in the same year, was granted the duchy as heir to the throne. The young Prince of Wales, later Edward V, held it from 1471 to 1483; Edward, son of Richard III, from 1483 to 1484; Prince Arthur from 1486; and on his death in 1502 it went to his brother Henry, later Henry VIII. (fn. 31) In 1540, however, Henry VIII separated Wallingford honor from the Duchy of Cornwall and united it to his newly created honor of Ewelme. (fn. 32) The 4½ Chiltern hundreds were included in the new honor also and henceforth followed its descent. Until 1817 it seems to have been usually in royal hands although James I is said to have granted it to the queen as dowry and later to Prince Charles. (fn. 33) In 1817 the king sold the honor to Jacob Bosanquet of Brosanbury (Herts.), who resold it in 1821 to George, 4th Earl of Macclesfield (d. 1842). (fn. 34) The steward of the honor stated in 1847 that the lord of the honor was immediate lord of certain manors in the honor, and was considered 'Lord Paramount' of other manors in it which were the property of the mesne lord. The several parishes and tithings which owed suit to the courts leet were understood to be within the extent of the honor. (fn. 35) The Macclesfields were still lords in 1847 when the last courts were held, but a number of dues had not been paid for some years (fn. 36) and it was evidently difficult to command attendance there.
Thirteenth-century and later medieval evidence shows that for administrative purposes the villages within the hundred fell into two main groups, those which as fees of Wallingford honor attended the honor courts and those which attended the hundred court. In 1220 the honor included Adwell; Aston Rowant with its townships of Copcourt, Stokenchurch, and Wormsley; Britwell Salome; Henton in Chinnor; Kingston and Linley; Nethercote in Lewknor; and a Wheatfield fee (i.e. Lower Wheatfield). (fn. 37) Since the lord of the honor had return of writs, pleas of vietnam, right to a gallows, and the assizes of bread and ale as well as other royal rights, these members of the honor were exempt from the jurisdiction of the hundred court at Lewknor. Their lords attended the monthly honor court at Wallingford and the tithings went to one of the six annual views of the honor held locally. (fn. 38) By 1296, however, if not before, the 4½ Chiltern hundreds were organized with Benson, Watlington, and other manors in the bailiwick of Wallingford honor. (fn. 39)
The surviving court rolls of the honor preserve the distinction between the two groups for annual view and the three-weekly hundred court. (fn. 40) In the 15th century these courts were held for the hundred at Lewknor and were attended by Crowell, Emmington, Lewknor and its townships of Ackhampstead, Cadmore End, Plumbridge, Postcombe, and Studdridge, by Tythrop and by Wainhill, a township of Chinnor. Chinnor itself with its member Sydenham attended a special view held by officers of the honor at Chinnor, under an agreement which can be dated back to 1248 at least. (fn. 41)
There are records of eighteen hundred courts in 1412–13 for villages attending at Lewknor. View of frankpledge was held annually in April or May: two tithingmen from Lewknor and one each from each of the other tithings attended to pay cert ranging from 2s. to 8s. From about 1535 the views for Lewknor and Pyrton hundred were combined and held for a few years at Shirburn, but later on at Lewknor.
No records of a three-weekly court survive for the tithings in the villages which were fees of the honor, although it is possible that the monthly honor court or the manorial courts performed this function. (fn. 42) The view for the honor's fees in Lewknor hundred was held in 1300 at Kingston, (fn. 43) but by the 15th century at Aston Rowant, save for Britwell Salome which went to the view of the honor held at Chalgrove, which was nearer and therefore more convenient. In 1431 one tithingman each from Adwell, Britwell Salome, Henton, and Wheatfield attended; Aston and Stokenchurch were each represented by two tithingmen; and there were three tithingmen from Kingston and Linley, representing the three fees of Blounts, Verneys, and Narnetts. Cert money ranging from 1s. to 4s. 4d. was paid. Chalford, originally an estate of the honor, does not appear in any of the honor court records since it was granted in free alms to the Priory of Wallingford in the early 12th century. The prior claimed in 1276 to have view by warrant of Earl Richard, then lord of Wallingford honor. (fn. 44)
The above arrangement of the leet courts continued down to the 18th century when Pyrton and Lewknor hundreds attended the same court leet at Lewknor, except for the fees of the honor which attended at Aston Rowant or Chalgrove. By the late 18th century the courts met usually once a year in March or April, and by this time the chief purpose of the annual courts leet was to appoint certain officers of the peace and others, such as haywards, and to receive payment of quitrents and cert money. (fn. 45) There was a Stokenchurch or Postcombe division (instead of Aston Rowant), a Chinnor division to which Crowell, Emmington, Henton, and Tythrop had been transferred, and Lewknor and Chalgrove divisions. Further changes were made in the 19th century: Padnal's fee, for instance, was transferred from Lewknor to Ipsden division in 1842.
In the Middle Ages the office of steward of the honor was one of considerable importance and was often given to influential local men. Thomas Chaucer obtained thestewardship of the honor and of the 4½ Chiltern hundreds in 1399, and after him it was held in survivorship by his daughter Alice and her husband William, Earl of Suffolk, and later by her son John, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife; in 1489 it was granted to Sir William Stonor and Sir Thomas Lovell. (fn. 46) In the 18th century lesser gentry held it, as, for example, Richard Carter in 1725, Edward Simeon in 1749, and William Lowndes in 1793. (fn. 47) The last steward of the honor was George Davenport. (fn. 48)
The bailiff of the 4½ hundreds was subordinate to the steward and administered the hundreds with the bailiwick of Wallingford. As late as 1640 it was complained that the bailiwicks were granted by patent to persons of great rank, whose representative had little or no dependence on the sheriff. (fn. 49)
For ordinary administrative purposes another grouping existed. Since the 17th century at least there was a south division and a north or east one, each with a chief constable. The south division comprised the parishes of Adwell, Aston Rowant with its hamlets, including Stokenchurch and Wormsley, Britwell Salome, and Lewknor. The north or east division comprised the parishes of Chinnor, Crowell, Emmington, Sydenham, and the village of Tythrop. The chief constables, who were responsible for returns to quarter sessions, were drawn from the ranks of the yeomen or gentry, such as the Hesters of Kingston Blount and the Newells of Adwell. (fn. 50)