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 parish covers 1,548 acres and lies on a belt of Gault Clay in the plain between the market-town of Thame, about 3 miles to the north-west, and the foot of the Chiltern hills, about 2 miles to the south. (fn. 1) By the early Middle Ages Sydenham was a chapelry of Thame, a connexion which probably preceded the Conquest, but it was feudally bound to Chinnor, its neighbour on the south-east, being a member of Chinnor manor. (fn. 2) The chief interest, however, of the parish's history has been the long connexion with the abbots of Thame and their successors at Thame Park. This can be traced from the 12th century to 1917. (fn. 3) Otherwise, no persons of national importance have been connected with the place. Nor has it been connected with any events of importance except during the Civil War. Although off the main lines of communication the village can hardly have escaped from the foraging parties of both Parliamentary and Royalist troops stationed in the vicinity, but no record of their depredations has survived.
There have been no recorded boundary changes and the parish bounds must be substantially the same as they were in Anglo-Saxon times. The short southern boundary follows the ancient trackway, the Lower Icknield Way, and until 1932 when Towersey was transferred from Buckinghamshire to Oxfordshire part of the north-eastern boundary was the county boundary. (fn. 4) Small brooks, notably Crowell Brook and its continuation Kingston Brook, as they were called in the 18th century, (fn. 5) form parts of the rest of the boundary. This brook also flowed through the centre of the parish and drove the mill lying to the south of the village. There its waters were dammed up to form the mill-pond and it was bridged on the Chalford road by a bridge long known as Grimbaud's Bridge after its 12th- and 13th-century millers. (fn. 6) Where the brook crossed the village street to the north of the church the bridge was called Church Bridge in 1627. (fn. 7) Another large pond once in the north of the parish has disappeared. It is now just marshland and its site is marked by Sea Pond Wood. In the north-west corner parallel with the Cuttle stream that divides Sydenham from Thame is a most interesting survival. This is the stream cut by the monks of Thame in the 12th century so as to connect the Cuttle (then called the Sydenham stream) with their stream in Thame Park. (fn. 8) As the fields were so well watered and the soil was largely heavy clay, drainage must always have been a problem; and there is in fact evidence from the early 18th century that the regular scouring of watercourses needed constant enforcement by the courts. (fn. 9)
Most of the parish lies between the 250- and 350foot contour lines but the ground rises slightly higher in the west and to over 350 feet in the south near the Lower Icknield Way. There is little woodland except for Sydenham Hurst (c. 45 a.) in the north, (fn. 10) but the hedges are well timbered.
The chief road in the parish runs from Chalford through the village to Emmington and links the main London road with a minor road from Thame to Chinnor. The last was probably the royal road (via regia) mentioned in a 13th-century charter and along which some of Thame Abbey's land lay. (fn. 11) Sewell Lane, running south from the village towards Crowell, used to be called the Mill Way, since it was no doubt used by the Crowell villagers to go to Sydenham mill. (fn. 12) Before inclosure there were two roads crossing the open fields from Manor Farm and converging just before entering Thame Park. Davis shows them clearly (fn. 13) but there is no evidence of them today above ground or any evidence that they ever had a stone surface. They were probably mainly used as farm roads by the tenants of the Musgrave estate. An old stone bridge across the brook dividing Sydenham fields from the Park might mark the place where the old track passed.
The village is fairly centrally situated, but it is clearly the brook by which it lies that determined its site. It was a fairly large settlement both in the Middle Ages and in the 17th century when 41 of its householders paid tax on 81 hearths for the hearth tax of 1662. (fn. 14) Not all these houses, however, were in the village. There were two big outlying farms at the Grange and Upcot (now Manor Farm) that probably had cottages adjoining and there were perhaps a few cottages at West End and at Sydenham Stert. (fn. 15) The only cottage now left at Sydenham Stert is probably of late-16th-century date. It is timber-framed with massive beams and partly constructed of lath and plaster, partly of brick. It seems to have been two cottages once or perhaps one cottage with a stable and loft attached, for there are two blocked outside doorways in the walls of the first story, indicating that it was once reached by outside staircases.
Many other 16th–17th-century cottages have also survived in the village. At the south end, Vicarage End as it is called, there are a couple of timber-framed cottages of this period; they have brick (sometimes herring-boned) or lath-and-plaster infilling and are thatched; a row of three timber-framed cottages, now used as one house, are thatched and also mostly built of brick, although there are traces of older construction. Some lath and plaster survives and at the gable-end of the oldest cottage there are crutch beams. Other ancient cottages, including the very picturesque post office which is built of rubble stone, lie on the Emmington road. Some cottages here, built of mud, were demolished in 1950. (fn. 16)
In the 18th century most of the farmhouses in the village were rebuilt and some entirely new cottages were erected. There is, for example, a good farmhouse at Vicarage End that belonged to the Musgrave estate and was still called Musgrave Farm in the early 20th century. It is an L-shaped house of red brick of two stories and an attic. It has a threebay front and a half-hipped roof covered in old tiles. Ryder's on the Emmington road, named after its early-19th-century owner, is a superior building of chequer brick. It has two stories and first-floor string-course. There are two small gabled dormer windows in the attic story. Adjoining it are four brick cottages of contemporary date; they are brick built and have a first-floor string-course and brick denticulated eaves. Opposite is the Queen Anne house of the Burrows family. It is L-shaped and the wing at the back is constructed of brick and has casement windows, but the front has shuttered sash windows and has been rough cast in recent times. It is distinguished by being set back from the road behind a lawn and by its group of ancient yews, and must have once been a dignified house. The Burrows family, established as wool drapers at Thame in the 17th century, owned this farm at least by 1745, when it was left by John Burrows, a rich London wool draper, to his son John, a fashionable London clergyman. (fn. 17)
Another farm at the north end of the village and the 'Sun' were also rebuilt in the 18th century. The inn is partly constructed of flint and brick. The farm is of red brick and still retains its sash windows with small 18th-century window panes. Many fine weather-boarded barns, thatched or tiled, survive and are grouped round the farm-yards. Davis's map of 1797 shows that the village at this time was rather more compact than now and centred round the church and a green. There is still a spreading elm opposite the 'Sun' and traces of the green remain, but most of it has since been built on and inclosed or converted into roads.
Increasing population and prosperity in the first half of the 19th century led to rebuilding and expansion. By 1841 there were 86 dwellings in the parish compared with 60 in 1811. (fn. 18) Some of these were outside the village: six new houses, for instance, were built at Cassilty Row on the Emmington road and at some distance away. (fn. 19) But a well-built row of brick cottages was also added to the village street. The chief additions, however, were the 'neat and commodious' Vicarage and the school. The former was built in 1846 in Elizabethan style at the south end of the village some way away from the church. The site may have been a new one as there had been no Vicarage for many years. It was 'surrounded by a well-planned and beautifully laid out garden'. (fn. 20) The construction of the school and schoolhouse followed soon after. It is a picturesque 'Elizabethan' building of flint and red brick facings. Today (1958) it is used as a village hall. (fn. 21) Two nonconformist chapels were erected in the first half of the 19th century; one was rebuilt of cheap red brick in 1881. (fn. 22) The 20th century has contributed eight Council houses of cement at Sydenham Grove: they are built in pairs and lie off the Emmington road. There is a row of council houses, called Park View, outside the village along the road to Emmington.
Of the outlying houses the oldest is Manor Farm. (fn. 23) It is a rectangular building with some later additions. Its whitewashed plaster conceals what was once a timber-framed house. This can more easily be seen from inside where much of the timber has been recently exposed, but timber-framing with brick infilling can also be seen in the right-hand gable-end. The house has an iron porch of Regency or early Victorian date. The Mill House, now a private residence, was restored in 1945 by Miss G. D. Newberry, and although there are modern additions it is still substantially an 18th-century house of three bays with a weather-boarded and brick granary attached. The Grange Farm, which lies on the site of the medieval grange of Thame Abbey, retains no features of interest apart from its 18th-century barns.
Manor and Lesser Estates.
Before the Conquest SYDENHAM, (fn. 24) which was rated at 15 hides, was held freely by a certain Almar. (fn. 25) After the Conquest it was given to William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford (d. 1071), who was succeeded in England by his second son Roger. He forfeited his lands for rebellion in 1075. (fn. 26) In 1086 Gilbert de Breteuil was holding Sydenham at rent of the king 'of the fee of Earl William'. He took his name from Breteuil, the head of the earl's Norman fief, and was an important tenant-in-chief. (fn. 27) Sydenham was probably given with Chinnor to Hugh de Vernon and by 1146 it was held by his son Richard de Vernon. (fn. 28) Until the mid13th century Sydenham followed the descent of Chinnor (fn. 29) and together they formed 1 knight's fee. (fn. 30) It was in fact a member of the manor and the men of Sydenham did suit every three weeks at the court of Chinnor. (fn. 31)
After being forfeited by Walter de Vernon Sydenham was granted in 1203 to Saer de Quincy and it was his son Roger who granted the manor to Thame Abbey. The abbey had long been a considerable landholder in the parish and by 1237 had received grants of at least 2½ hides. (fn. 32) In 1248 Roger de Quincy gave in free alms 1½ carucate, said to be all his Sydenham land, for an annual rent of £20 and 2 capons. The abbot and his Sydenham tenants were freed from doing suit at the earl's Chinnor court; the view of frankpledge, which the earl had held, was transferred to the abbot; (fn. 33) and the earl retained only free warren and the homage and service of the Sydenham freeholders. (fn. 34) In 1255 Roger de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, was still said to hold Sydenham which was then assessed at 13 hides, (fn. 35) but before his death in 1264 he must have completed the transference of Sydenham to the abbey, for in 1279 the jurors stated that the abbot held the manor as a ½-fee by the enfeoffment of Roger de Quincy. The rent was 6s. 8d. and two capons at this time, although in 1270 it had been £21 a year. (fn. 36)
In 1285 the king brought a writ of quo warranto against the abbot, asking by what right he held half of Chinnor manor. The abbot successfully defended himself by saying that he did not hold half the manor, but the hamlet of Sydenham, which was in the manor and which Roger de Quincy had given him in free alms. (fn. 37) The connexion with Chinnor lasted until the 16th century, the rent of 6s. 8d. being paid, after Chinnor had been divided, to the holders of the Ferrers manor. (fn. 38)
Thame Abbey held its SYDENHAM GRANGE and manor, known also as ABBOT'S FEE, (fn. 39) until its dissolution in 1539. (fn. 40) In 1542 Sydenham was included in the grant of the abbey's Thame estate to Sir John Williams. (fn. 41) He held the grange and manor at his death in 1559, (fn. 42) but while most of the abbey's Thame property went to his daughter Isabella and her husband Sir Richard Wenman, he left Sydenham to his other daughter Margaret and her husband Sir Henry Norreys. (fn. 43) They also inherited the Bishop of Lincoln's Thame manor and Sydenham followed its descent (fn. 44) until 1608, when it was conveyed by Francis, Lord Norreys, to Sir Richard Wenman. (fn. 45) Sydenham then followed the descent of Thame Park, (fn. 46) and the Wenmans and their heirs the Wykeham-Musgraves remained lords of the manor and chief landowners in the parish until 1917, when much of their Sydenham land was sold. (fn. 47) By 1925 they had sold almost all of it, (fn. 48) and manorial rights had ceased to exist.
There was a smaller estate in Sydenham which did suit at Wallingford honor's courts and which was known in the 15th century as Poly's Fee and in the late 18th century as Pool's Fee. (fn. 49) It had its origin in the medieval freehold of the De la Pole family. John de St. Pol appears as witness in the late 12th century and a Ralph de Pol some 30 years later. (fn. 50) In about 1250 Peter de la Pole appears, probably the Peter who held 4 virgates in 1279. (fn. 51) By about 1300 he had been succeeded by John de la Pole. (fn. 52) who in 1316 was one of the richest men in the parish. (fn. 53) By 1356 the family house had been sold, (fn. 54) and no further mention of the family has been found. Its fee continued separate from the manor and was represented in the late 18th century by the farm belonging to Sir John Skynner of Great Milton (d. 1805), Chief Baron of the Exchequer. (fn. 55) The farm was later known as Ryder's farm after his daughter and heiress Frederica and her husband the Rt. Hon. Richard Ryder, a judge and politician. (fn. 56) In about 1824 they sold it to Miss Wykeham and it thus became merged with the manor lands. (fn. 57)
In the early 13th century Saer de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, granted 18 acres in Sydenham to Littlemore Priory, and later his son Roger freed the nuns from suit at his Chinnor court. (fn. 58) The priory also acquired for 60 marks 2 messuages and a ½-hide from Peter de Harwell when two of his daughters became nuns at Littlemore, (fn. 59) and towards the end of the century Roger de la Mare granted 1½ virgate. (fn. 60) Littlemore kept its Sydenham estate, undoubtedly the 6½ virgates entered under Chinnor in 1279 for which the prioress paid 2s. and a pound of pepper, (fn. 61) until its dissolution in 1525. It then became part of the endowment of Cardinal College, and in 1532 of Henry VIII's College. (fn. 62) The estate was in 1547 lost to the college and acquired by Sir John Williams of Thame, who left it in his will to the Thame almshouses. (fn. 63)
Lord Williams's executors in 1575 granted Littlemore's Sydenham estate, which in the late 17th century consisted mainly of a farm of 6½ yardlands, (fn. 64) with much of the other almshouse property, to New College in trust for the almshouses. (fn. 65) The college held it until the 19th century, but from the late 17th century rented it to the lords of the manor. (fn. 66) When the alms houses were sold under a Scheme of 1874 of the Endowed Schools Commission and the charity was placed under the new board of governors, established for Lord Williams's school at Thame, the land was handed over to it. (fn. 67)
Another small estate was held in 1237 by Saer de Wahull, a Bedfordshire landholder. It consisted of 1 carucate, valued at £7, granted him by Saer de Quincy. (fn. 68) This is probably the land acquired by Paulinus Peyvre of Toddington (Beds.), 'an insatiable buyer of land', who in 1243 was allowed free warren in his Sydenham land. (fn. 69) In 1244 Thame Abbey acquired this carucate, to be held of Paulinus and his heirs for £16 a year to be delivered at Toddington church, but in 1248 Paulinus exchanged the rent with Dunstable Priory for Herne manor in Toddington. (fn. 70) Until the 16th century Thame, therefore, paid this large sum to Dunstable. (fn. 71) By a bond of 1276 the abbot undertook to pay the money to Dunstable. (fn. 72)
Agrarian and Social History.
Sydeham was settled by the time of the Anglo-Saxons, if not earlier. (fn. 73) Its name means 'at the wide rivermeadow', and the fertile meadow-land, watered by the Crowell Brook, has remained throughout its history an important element in the parish's economy. By 1086 there was a fair-sized community with a recorded population of twenty-six. On the demesne there were 5 serfs and outside it 16 villani and 5 bordars. There was land for 14 ploughs, but in fact only 9 were in use, 3 on the demesne and 6 outside. In spite of this apparent under-cultivation the value of the estate had risen sharply since the Conquest from £10 to £16. The large amount of recorded meadow (60 a.) and consequent emphasis on cattlerearing probably accounted for this. (fn. 74)
An important development in the history of the parish occurred in the mid-12th century when Richard de Vernon gave Thame Abbey 2 hides of land and his son Walter later gave another 12 acres. (fn. 75) Even after these grants Sydenham manor remained a comparatively valuable one, worth about the same as the main manor of Chinnor. In the 1190s, when it was in the sheriff's hands, it produced an income of between £12 and £14 a year. (fn. 76) From the 1199 Pipe Roll it appears that about half of this came from rents. (fn. 77) Following royal policy at this time, a large proportion of the income was spent on restocking the land: in 1195 £4 was spent on buying 20 oxen and 2s. on 2 sows, and in 1196 60 sheep, 5 cows, 4 oxen, a sow, and a boar cost £3 8s. (fn. 78) It is significant that the income from pasture and hay is especially mentioned. (fn. 79) In 1219 the manor was valued at £11 and in 1237 and 1255 at £30. (fn. 80)
When Richard de Vernon gave Thame Abbey 2 hides of arable land in Sydenham (about 160 a. or more), the land was described as that arable and pasture which was 'more near' its Park meadow. (fn. 81) The evidence of his son's charter (i.e. Walter de Vernon's), granted later, makes it clear that Richard gave the abbey Cotmanmore Mead in the northeast corner of the parish and bordering on Thame Park, and possibly other neighbouring meadow round Hurst Hill. (fn. 82) The arable (83 a.) lay divided among the furlongs of the open fields—6½ acres in Langelande, 19 in the furlong stretching towards the East Mead, 8 in Redeland, 23 in Eswar furlong, 13½ in the furlong reaching to the Park, 4 near the reed-bed, and 5½ in Old Field. (fn. 83) The abbey was given also 48 acres under Sydenham Wood, which appears to have been somewhere near the Chalford boundary to the west of Sydenham Grange. Woodland (½ league X 3 furlongs), it may be noted, had been recorded in 1086. (fn. 84) In addition to the land, Richard de Vernon gave the monks the right to cut a channel through his land so as to connect the 'Sydenham stream' with their water supply (ductum aque ipsorum), but he retained the right of irrigating his own meadow in a dry summer, two or three times or as often as was necessary. It must have been the abbey's wish to consolidate its estate that led to an exchange of land with Walter de Vernon later in the century. The wording of Walter's grant is at first sight obscure, but if read in conjunction with the map there is no doubt that by this grant the monks acquired, in exchange for their original scattered strips, a compact estate in the north-west of the parish contiguous with their Thame land. Walter gave them 54 acres near their two woods and the reed-bed to the east which were part of the land originally granted by Richard. Walter also gave them 9 acres in a furlong next to the reed-bed and 10 acres in the same furlong. Below these 19 acres (i.e. to the north, for the land slopes downhill here) he gave another 10 acres bordering on the Park. Thus the monks obtained by this exchange 83 acres which, except for 2 acres, were separated from the open-field land. Of these 2 acres a ½-acre belonged to the church of Sydenham. In addition Walter gave them back 12½ acres of their original grant, because they lay intermixed in the furlongs given by him near their reed-bed. (fn. 85)
The abbey's estate in Sydenham was further increased in 1248 when the Earl of Winchester gave the abbey 1½ carucate, all that was left of his Sydenham land. (fn. 86) He gave at the same time special permission to assart, plough (frussire), and inclose the spinney, and 'make advantage thereon as the abbot chose'. Although the earl reserved his warren there, it is evident that this agreement marked an important stage in the cultivation and administration of the land. A document, a terrier of the abbey's tithe-free land, which is probably of late-13th-century or early14th-century date, indicates that land had in fact been brought into cultivation at a comparatively recent period. It refers to 'La Breche' and also to a close called Stokkyng (the later Stockend Close and the present Stocken Corner Covert) as being tithe free, and specifically states that the latter was free as it was a new assart. (fn. 87) The same document makes it clear that the abbey's grange extended down the parish's western boundary towards Sydenham village, and was in fact identical with the area of the 19th-century Grange farm: it mentions the 'Green path' to Chalford, and Grimbaud's mill and bridge, which must have been the water-mill just west of the village. (fn. 88) It is possible that the clearance of the woodland led to a shortage of fuel in the parish: some free tenants, at all events, enjoyed rights of housebote, haybote, and furbote in the wood 'of Fernore called Poleswood' in Chinnor. (fn. 89)
There is no evidence about how the village was affected by the change in manorial lords, but it may be supposed that Thame Abbey was a more exacting lord than the non-resident Earl of Winchester. By the agreement of 1248 the abbot's villeins were freed from doing suit at the earl's court at Chinnor. From later evidence it appears that in addition to ordinary manorial rights the abbot also had the assize of bread and ale. (fn. 90)
The survey of 1279 records that the abbot's demesne consisted of 3 carucates (i.e. 12 virgates) of arable land and 20 acres of meadow and pasture, or about 260 or more field acres. Twenty-nine virgates were held in villeinage, and perhaps about 20 by free tenants, making a total of over 60 virgates of cultivated land or about 1,200 field acres. (fn. 91) There were 27 villein virgaters and 4 half-virgaters: they held their land for a high rent ranging from 10s. 6d. to 16s. for a virgate. No services are recorded except those of mowing the abbey's meadow and of paying 20s. scutage. It is likely that labour for the grange, unlike the ordinary demesne, was supplied by lay brothers. (fn. 92)
As Sydenham was from early times a member of Chinnor manor and the suit of the free tenants, even after the concord of 1248, was reserved by the lord of Chinnor, the free tenants of Sydenham are listed in the hundred rolls amongst those of Chinnor. (fn. 93) The largest free holding was the 6½ virgates of Littlemore Priory; (fn. 94) one of 4 virgates was held by the De la Poles; another holding of 3 virgates and 4 acres belonged to the Grimbauds; (fn. 95) 2 virgates were held by the Savages, and 2½ virgates with 4½ acres of meadow by the Bussards. Most of these free tenants also held land in Chinnor or in the neighbouring villages, and it is not possible to be sure how many of them resided in Sydenham or how much of their holding recorded in the hundred rolls was in Sydenham or how much in Chinnor. It is reasonably certain, however, that the Grimbauds were the resident millers and that the De la Poles, Savages, and the Sydenham family (not recorded in the hundred rolls) were also resident at some time.
The De la Poles had held land in the parish since the end of the 12th century and continued to do so and in Chinnor until 1372. (fn. 96) In 1316 John de la Pole was the second largest contributor to the 16th and had a house which is described in the mid-14th century as consisting of a hall, two chambers, and a kitchen. (fn. 97) One of the highest contributors listed among the taxpayers of 1316 and 1327 (fn. 98) was Henry Savage, (fn. 99) and Walter de Sydenham, member of a family that figures prominently in the early Sydenham charters, was another. (fn. 100)
The poll tax of 1377 which lists 115 adults (fn. 101) provides the first evidence of value for the number of inhabitants, as both the hundred rolls and the earlier tax lists are more than ordinarily difficult to interpret in the case of Sydenham, where so many families were holding land both in and outside the parish. The poll-tax list provides at least a minimum figure and indicates that Sydenham was a village of about the size of Aston Rowant or Tetsworth, always assuming that tax evasion in each case was on the same scale.
Of the state of the parish in the late Middle Ages there is barely any record. From at least 1474 the abbey was leasing its grange for £13 13s. 4d. a year. In addition it received the profits of courts, and the rents of customary tenants brought in £21, about £2 more than the abbey had received in 1279. (fn. 102) This was almost the same amount as the receipts recorded in 1535, but because of the large payment of £16 due to Dunstable Priory, Sydenham's net value was only £19 3s. 9d. (fn. 103)
Beside the inclosed part of the grange there were other early inclosures: the mention of ditches and 'splynt' hedges on a holding in 1489 may indicate inclosed land; (fn. 104) by the 1550s Littlemore's estate had several closes belonging to it; (fn. 105) and land in West End and Stockend was almost certainly inclosed by about 1630. (fn. 106) At the time of the inclosure award of 1826 'old inclosures' amounted to nearly half the acreage of the parish, there being about 835 acres of openfield land out of a total of about 1,550 acres. (fn. 107)
Economic changes in the 16th and 17th centuries led to the rise of a prosperous class of yeoman farmers. Twenty-four persons were assessed for the subsidy of 1523–4, of whom seven were substantial men and seven of moderate means. (fn. 108) From an Elizabethan subsidy list of 1577, when the comparatively high number for this subsidy of thirteen was assessed, it may be seen how greatly the Hester and Stevens families had prospered and how many of the leading farmers were new-comers to the parish. (fn. 109) The returns for the hearth tax of 1662 and 1665 and for the Compton Census of 1679 provide additional evidence for the growth of a village upper-class as well as of the continuance of Sydenham as a fairly well-populated place. (fn. 110) Forty-one householders were listed in 1662, 33 in 1665, of which five were discharged by poverty, and 84 adults were recorded in 1679. William White had a house of six hearths; nine, including a North, had houses with three or four; and eight had houses with two hearths. The Whites, who were the tenants of Sydenham Grange in the mid-17th century, the Mundays, and the Norths also are known from other sources to have been substantial families. (fn. 111) Four of the Norths were assessed for the hearth tax in 1665. (fn. 112) These families had replaced the Hesters, who in Elizabeth's reign were by far the richest yeoman family in the village and had been in the parish since the 15th century. (fn. 113) They had all ceased to be men of property by the end of the 18th century. (fn. 114) These families were mainly tenants, for in the post-Reformation period about two-thirds of the parish had been absorbed into the manor. (fn. 115) Sir John Williams had acquired Sydenham Grange and manor after the dissolution of the abbey, with other abbey property. In 1551–2 'the fee of Sydenham', which included the abbey's lands in Moreton, Attington, and Thame, was valued at £84 6s. 8d. (fn. 116) There is also some record in the 17th century of the former Littlemore holding which Lord Williams had given for the support of the Thame alms-house. As New College administered the property Warden Woodward made inquiries in March 1667 into the value of the land. A Thame grazier told him that the arable was worth nearly 10s. an acre or 8s. at the least. Some of the pasture ground was worth 30s. and the average value was at least 26s. 8d. (fn. 117)
In the absence of court rolls nothing can be said about the details of open-field management or of the conditions of tenure during this period. Early-18thcentury documents provide a little information. There was a three-field system of husbandry: the fields were Upper Field, Forty or Middle Field, and Lower Field, and all holdings were divided between the three, although sometimes in varying proportions. (fn. 118) With each holding went a certain amount of meadow-land in the parish's two meadows, Town Meadow and Hurst Meadow, which lay north of the village along Crowell Brook by Sydenham Hurst and along the Emmington boundary. The amount of meadow allotted to each yardland seems to have varied: in a lease of 1717 a 64-acre farm had 3 acres of meadow in each mead; to another property something over 3 half-acres and 3 yards in each meadow was allotted, and for a small farm of 12 acres there were two 'parts', one in each of the lots of Hurst Mead. (fn. 119) Common pasture was apparently scarce: there was some in Forty Field and Upper Field, (fn. 120) perhaps between the furlongs, but no large commons are marked on the inclosure map, and the amount of commons are not usually given in terriers. There is an instance of a 12-acre farm having one cow common. (fn. 121) Except for Park Leys, as Grange farm was then called, which was mostly laid down to pasture, Sydenham land according to Davis's map of 1797 was predominantly used as arable. (fn. 122) Apart from the open fields lying on three sides of the village, most of the inclosed land to the west was arable.
During the 19th century Sydenham's economy was comparable with that of other parishes lying in the wheat-growing belt at the foot of the Chilterns. In its crop rotation, however, it was more oldfashioned than some in the first decade of the century. Arthur Young recorded that the course was fallow and dung, barley, beans, fallow without dung, wheat, and beans. (fn. 123) But changes here as in the neighbouring villages were taking place. Small-holdings were being amalgamated into larger farms. In 1786, 24 tenant-farmers and freeholders were farming small properties, which were assessed for the land tax at under £5. By 1820 the hard times following the Napoleonic wars had helped to reduce this number to twelve. (fn. 124) Land was bought up by the larger farmers and the opportunity to amalgamate holdings was seized. Upcourt farm, the property of the lord of the manor, was a notable instance of expansion. (fn. 125)
Inclosure was comparatively easy to bring about since by 1823, when the Act was passed, more than two-thirds of the parish was owned by Miss Wykeham of Thame Park. In 1824, two years before inclosure was finally accomplished, she purchased Ryder's farm, a large freehold property. (fn. 126) Under the award Miss Wykeham received 516 acres for her open-field land, 9½ acres for manorial rights, and 140 acres in commutation of the great tithes. (fn. 127) Smaller awards were 67 acres to the Vicar of Thame for the small tithes, 69 acres to New College, 75 acres to the Burrows family, and three awards (22 a., 10½ a., and ¼-a.) to three small freeholders. The Wykeham-Musgrave estate was itself sold in and just after 1917. (fn. 128) The sale catalogue provides some details of interest: Vears farm, a compact farm of 121½ acres, of which only 20 acres was arable, was a dairy or stock farm. Musgrave farm had 2/3 of its 61 acres under the plough and its land was described as excellent corn-land and well-watered pasture; Croton's farm was a compact mixed farm (101 a.) of which 51 acres were used for arable; Ryder's (116 a.) was also a mixed farm with 69 acres under the plough.
Since the estate was broken up Sydenham has been a parish of farmer-owners. In the 1920's there were eight farms, ranging in size from 60 to nearly 300 acres. The two largest, both over 250 acres, were the Grange and Manor farm (the former Upcourt farm). The six others (Vears, Musgrave, Burrows, Ryders, Croton's and Glebe farms) were under 150 acres. All except Burrows were farmed by their owners. (fn. 129) The demand from London retailers for milk after the rinderpest disease of 1865 led to a further increase in pasture land. (fn. 130) In 1914, although Sydenham's heavy clay soil made good wheat- and bean-land, 69 per cent. was by then in grass of good quality. (fn. 131) A comparatively high number of cattle was kept, 24 to the 100 acres; sheep breeding was on the decline. (fn. 132) In 1958 although the farms had become mechanized during the century they had not increased much in size. Manor or Upcourt farm (267 a.) and one other kept sheep flocks, but twothirds of Upcourt's land was arable (half in cereals and half in temporary grass). Sydenham Grange (288 a.) was mainly a dairy farm as were the other smaller farms. Milk was sent to London, and Thame was the local market. (fn. 133)
Until recent years Sydenham was always wholly devoted to agriculture: in 1811, out of 65 families, all but four were employed on the land. (fn. 134) But since 1851, when in addition to the farmers, some 68 men and boys were employed on the farms, the number of persons earning a livelihood from agriculture has steadily declined, and in the 1950's many were working in Oxford, at the Chinnor Cement works, in Saunderton (Bucks.), and elsewhere. (fn. 135)
The almost total dependence on agriculture led to great poverty when the times were bad for farmers. The condition of the poor first became serious in the late 18th century, (fn. 136) and was made worse in the 19th century by the rise in population from 331 in 1801 to 438 in 1841. (fn. 137) Owing to the lack of employment some families emigrated and numbers began to decline, but the employment position was still so bad in 1851 that the census returns described many labourers and lace-makers as paupers. (fn. 138) Moreover, the fact that over 90 of the women and girls from eleven years old upwards were engaged in lacemaking was in itself a sign of poverty and of the inability of the father of the family to support his dependants. (fn. 139)
The provision of allotments helped to contribute to the alleviation of want: by the 1860's part of the charity lands was being used for this purpose and by 1890 there were 66 allotments of an acre or under, (fn. 140) so that almost every labouring family in the parish must have had one. Lace-making, nevertheless, was carried on at Sydenham into the 20th century, a later date than in neighbouring villages. (fn. 141)
In the 20th century Sydenham like other villages lost its rural craftsmen and village tradesmen. In 1851 there were six bricklayers, two cordwainers, a farrier, a baker, three beer retailers, two publicans at 'The Sun' and the 'Four Horse Shoes', who also carried on trades, one as a butcher and the other as a general dealer, and the miller. (fn. 142) A horse-trainer had been added to the list by 1887 as well as a mealman with two assistants at the mill, and a hurdlemaker by 1891, but beer-shops had decreased to one, and the mill had become a steam-mill. (fn. 143) The 'Four Horse Shoes' lost its licence in about 1912, but was replaced by the 'Crown' shortly before 1939. (fn. 144) The corn-mill, which appears in Sydenham records as early as the 13th century, was at work part-time until 1945. (fn. 145) In 1917 it consisted of an engine-house and three floors, and its two pairs of stones were driven by water-power. (fn. 146) One of the two local shops was closed in about 1957, and in 1958 the smithy was only working intermittently. (fn. 147) The census of 1951 recorded 214 inhabitants.
Until the 19th century Sydenham church, a vicarage in Aston deanery, was, like Tetsworth and Towersey (Bucks.), a chapel of the prebendal church of Thame and therefore in the peculiar jurisdiction of Thame. (fn. 148) From at least the mid-13th century and probably before it had the ecclesiastical privileges of an independent parish. The church is mentioned in a charter of 1185–6, (fn. 149) but its early history is as obscure as the early history of Sydenham itself. The township, unlike Tetsworth, was never as far as is known part of the Bishop of Lincoln's Thame manor. The church was a chapel of Thame in the mid-13th century and may have been so from the beginning, or it may have been given at an early date to Lincoln Cathedral and later annexed to Thame prebend. In 1841, along with Tetsworth and Towersey, it was separated from Thame and made into a separate vicarage. Richard Slater of High Wycombe (Bucks.), who had bought the advowson of Thame, vested the advowson of Thame's three chapels in trustees, known as the Peache Trustees. (fn. 150)
The relationship between Thame and its chapelries was first defined by the ordination of Thame vicarage, made in or before the time of Bishop Grosseteste (1235–53). (fn. 151) The arrangement for Sydenham was nearly the same as that for Tetsworth, the revenue of the parish being divided between the prebendary of Thame, the Vicar of Thame, and the Chaplain of Sydenham. (fn. 152) During the Middle Ages, therefore, the prebendary collected the greater tithes and those of wool, but not those of hay. However, since the Cistercians did not pay tithes on lands which they cultivated, at least a part of Thame Abbey's Sydenham grange was tithe free. (fn. 153)
After the dissolution of the prebend in 1547 the tithes of Sydenham became separated from those of Thame; in the second half of the 16th century and in the early 17th century they were held by the Wenmans, who were lords of Sydenham manor. (fn. 154) In 1609 Sir Richard Wenman was called the 'parson' (i.e. the lay rector) and in 1613 he refused to pay a church-rate for the repair of Sydenham church, presumably on the grounds that he was already responsible for the upkeep of the chancel. (fn. 155) By the late 18th century the Sydenham part of the prebend had again become united with the Thame part, which in 1825 was sold to Miss Wykeham. (fn. 156) In 1826 she received 161 acres in commutation of the great tithes of Sydenham. (fn. 157)
The Vicar of Thame, who was responsible for nominating the Chaplain of Sydenham, or, as was later the case, for serving the church himself, received the rest of the tithes and a mark (13s. 4d.) for the tithe of hay. The mark was still being paid in the 1580's, for it is recorded that the curate had received 13s. 4d. a year from the inhabitants for eight years, but that not knowing its purpose he had used it towards the church services until he was sued for it by the Vicar of Thame. (fn. 158) At the inclosure award the vicarial tithes were commuted for 68 acres. (fn. 159) This land, with the ½-acre of glebe, probably the equivalent of the ½-acre mentioned in the late 12th century, (fn. 160) was the principal endowment of the new living formed in 1841 and was known as Glebe farm. It was sold in 1920. (fn. 161) In 1843 and 1844 the vicarage was augmented by £400 from Queen Anne's Bounty and £455 from James Prosser, the Vicar of Thame. (fn. 162)
The medieval chaplain of Sydenham, who received the offerings of his altar and had the house and land belonging to his church, was supposed to have a clerk to live with him and help him serve the church. (fn. 163) The names of only a few of the medieval parish priests, usually those who acted as witnesses or as feoffees in local land transactions, have been found. (fn. 164) One of these, William Grendon (c. 1363–74), was outlawed for debt, (fn. 165) and another, William Skyle (1389–95), is known to have had a chaplain called Simon. (fn. 166)
Sydenham church for reasons unknown was in ruins in 1293 and the people of Sydenham erected in its place a wooden chapel, but this could not be used before the Prebendary of Thame had inspected it to see if it was suitable for divine service. (fn. 167)
After the Reformation it is likely that the parish usually had a resident minister: when in the late 16th century the Wenmans were holding the tithes, they, rather than the Vicar of Thame, named him, (fn. 168) and he received the small tithes. (fn. 169) Not much is known about these ministers of Sydenham, but one, William Yorke, who was serving the church in the late 16th century, was 'unlearned'. (fn. 170) A 17th-century successor Robert Coney, who had a house in Sydenham, was at odds with his churchwardens, perhaps for doctrinal reasons. They accused him in 1609, among other things, of giving the Communion to strangers. (fn. 171) He in his turn presented Robert Sule, the sidesman, for his abusive language, 'which he doth use in all times and places', and for his common contempt; and also Sule's younger brother John, aged about 17, who refused to attend the catechism classes and was known to keep 'evil rule' instead, singing bawdy songs in the village street or outside the parsonage at 11 or 12 o'clock in the night. The churchwardens refused to sign the presentment because one of them, being the town miller, could not afford to make enemies, and both were accused of taking Sule's part. (fn. 172) Coney was more than once summoned to the peculiar court and by 1611 had been replaced. (fn. 173) At about the same time the lay rector was presented for failing to supply quarterly sermons. (fn. 174) There was also trouble in 1612 over the church lands. The revenue from a ½-acre, intended for the upkeep of the church, had been misappropriated for the past ten years. In 1661 the church received a further bequest when Robert Munday, a prominent yeoman, founded his Kingston Blount charity. (fn. 175)
During the Commonwealth period the minister Francis Herne appears to have been an anti-Puritan. In 1656 the Council refused him permission to preach, (fn. 176) but he seems to have been already ousted from the living by Francis Bailey. At the Restoration Bailey and his wife 'ran away', taking with them the church register; Herne on his return started a new one beginning in 1663. (fn. 177)
William Stevenson, who was curate at a stipend of only £20 a year (fn. 178) from at least 1677, was non-resident, living at Bledlow (Bucks.), where he was vicar. (fn. 179) He appears to have seriously neglected the parish and a change of minister was evidently being considered when in January 1711 the churchwardens sent word to the official of Thame peculiar not to license anyone to the curacy without first consulting the parishioners. (fn. 180) In May nineteen parishioners, among whom were the names of several well-known yeoman families, signed a petition asking that Alfred Carpenter should be made their curate on the grounds that he would live in the parish and constantly serve the church. Some years ago, they said, there had always been two services on Sundays, but 'of late years' only one service had been given, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon, either by the non-resident curate or 'by some neighbouring clergyman, when he could be absent from his own cure'. Consequently the young people had been given too much liberty and there was danger of 'division and fanaticism' in the church, in a parish 'where there has been no separatist' for over 40 years. (fn. 181)
Carpenter, who in 1710 had been given permission by the official to preach in churches throughout the peculiar, (fn. 182) was apparently living in Sydenham and had preached 'diverse lecture sermons' in the church there. (fn. 183) He was, however, not liked by all the parishioners, and one Martha Taylor, the wife of a Sydenham yeoman, 'on the occasion of his standing to be curate', charged him with immorality and he sued her subsequently in the peculiar court for defamation. Edward Sewell, a Sydenham victualler and one of those who had signed the petition to have Carpenter made curate, and his wife, in whose house the statement had been made, testified on Carpenter's behalf, believing him to be 'a person of honest life and conversation', and Carpenter won his case. (fn. 184) But at about the same time William Clerke, the Vicar of Thame, perhaps encouraged by some Sydenham people, brought a suit against Carpenter. He accused him of preaching without a proper licence (for to obtain a licence the bishop had to be given a testimonial of 'sober life' for the past three years), and of being a heavy drinker, a 'common railer and sower of discord', especially among Thomas Smith, gent., and his tenants and neighbours. This was perhaps an indication that class-feeling was involved. Carpenter was found guilty on all charges and his permission to preach was revoked. (fn. 185)
Evidently much feeling had been aroused in the parish, and in September 1711, probably when the case was finished, the churchwardens presented the non-resident Stevenson for omitting or imperfectly performing Sunday services. They reported that there had been no catechism for ten years and no confirmation for seven. (fn. 186) Nevertheless, Stevenson remained as curate for another ten years. (fn. 187)
After 1761 the parish ceased having its own minister and was served by the Vicar of Thame or his curate. (fn. 188) This arrangement is unlikely to have been very satisfactory and in the first half of the 19th century certainly the young people of Sydenham were 'in almost a perfectly wild state'. This was attributed to the lack of a resident minister. (fn. 189) In 1841 Sydenham was made into an independent living and its first vicar was William D. Littlejohn (1844–79), formerly an officer in the Indian Army. (fn. 190) In 1846 he built a 'neat and commodious' stone Vicarage, (fn. 191) suitable in size and dignity to his position; he helped to found the National school, (fn. 192) and finally in 1877, with the help of Lady Wenman, who had paid for the restoration, he restored the church. He held frequent and regular services; had a large Sunday school and an evening school; and saw an increase in his congregation and the number of communicants and a corresponding decrease in the number of dissenters. (fn. 193) A later vicar, Conway Joyce (1884–94), continued Littlejohn's good work by building a reading room. (fn. 194)
In the 1950s, because the living was so poor, it was found impossible to fill it, and the church was served by the Rector of Chinnor and Emmington. (fn. 195) Usually only evening services were held.
The church of ST. MARY, dedicated as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a small building of flint and stone, dating mainly from the 13th century, although considerably restored in the 19th century. It comprises a chancel, nave, north transept, south porch, and wooden central tower with a short, shingled spire.
The chancel and nave retain most of their 13thcentury lancet windows: two single lancets in each of the north and south walls of the chancel and two on each side of the nave. Before the north transept was made there was probably a third lancet in the north wall to correspond with that in the south wall. Before the tower arches were rebuilt in the 19th century they were said to be plain 13th-century arches with masonry responds and moulded abaci. (fn. 196) The piscina with fluted bowl and trefoil arch in the south wall and the plain tub font also date from the 13th century. The greater part of all the 13th-century work presumably belongs to the year 1293 or just after, for in that year the church was 'in ruins', and work on its restoration had begun. (fn. 197)
In the 14th century the chancel was lightened by the insertion of a three-light window at the east end, and in the next century the church was beautified with a rood-screen and loft that survived until 1840. (fn. 198)
There appear to have been no major alterations to the fabric until the 19th century, but minor repairs and improvements were no doubt carried out from time to time. It was reported in 1607 that the floor was out of repair (fn. 199) and in 1608 that the Communion table was broken. (fn. 200) The table now in the vestry may be the new one that the wardens were ordered to provide. The steeple was said to be in need of repair in 1620, and an inscription with the names of John North, jnr., and Richard Web(b), churchwardens, 1662, recorded by Rawlinson, but which has since disappeared, may have commemorated some repairs in the latter year. (fn. 201) In 1700 the chancel needed repair, but no records have survived of any work done to the church in the 18th century. (fn. 202) The west gallery, however, 'a shocking unsightly thing' according to a 19th-century vicar, was probably erected towards the end of it. (fn. 203) When Parker visited the church in the early 19th century he found the rood-screen and loft disfigured by whitewash. (fn. 204)
In 1877 a badly needed restoration was undertaken. The chief structural alterations were the lengthening of the nave by 7 feet at the west end, the lengthening of the chancel and the rebuilding of the tower arches, the erection of an entirely new tower and shingled spire of oak, and the building of a north transept and vestry. (fn. 205) The walls of the extended nave were buttressed on both sides. Lee's drawings of the church before and after the restoration show how the chancel was lengthened and how the central tower and its supporting arches were moved some way to the west. When the work of restoration was being considered, it was proposed to 'raise the ceiling' and 'remodel' the seats. The vicar said that the seats in the chancel were useless 'by reason of the tower ceiling and beams', and that under the new arrangement these seats would be made available. (fn. 206) The chancel ceiling, which is now coved and plastered, was presumably intended. The nave has a hammerbeam roof, and although much of its timberwork has been renewed, the main beams are ancient. During the restoration the south doorway, which retained 'good' iron work, was replaced and the south porch was rebuilt. (fn. 207) An early window of three lights in the south wall of the nave was replaced by double lancets, which were later filled with painted glass by Bell & Sons of Bristol in memory of the Revd. W. D. Littlejohn (d. 1891). (fn. 208) A window in the 'Decorated style' was inserted in the west wall of the nave and the new north transept was given 'lancet' windows. The gallery and the screen were taken down. The architect was John Billing of Reading and the builder Giles Holland of Thame. The estimated cost of restoration was £647. (fn. 209)
In the 20th century a clock was set in the tower in memory of William Morris, vicar 1904–19. Electric light replaced in 1936 an earlier system of lighting that was installed in 1913 in memory of Margaret Mary Morris, wife of the vicar. (fn. 210) In 1958 the north transept was used as a vestry and had been cut off from the church by a wooden partition.
A 17th-century memorial to Mary Day (d. 1698) has disappeared. (fn. 211) There are two 18th-century memorials, one to Abigail (d. 1705), wife of Robert Seywell, jnr. and daughter of Edward Phillips of Thame, draper, and the other to John Quartermain (d. 1780). The first is now in the north transept. A tablet on the north wall of the nave commemorates the parishioners who died in the First World War.
At the time of the Edwardian inventory there was one silver chalice. In 1958 the church possessed one dating from between 1660 and 1684, (fn. 212) which was probably presented about that period. There were four bells in 1958 as there were in 1552. The treble is probably a medieval casting and the tenor is dated 1625. The sanctus bell, dated 1650, now hangs in the ringing chamber. (fn. 213)
The register of baptisms and burials dates from 1705, that of marriages from 1754, but there are some earlier transcripts. (fn. 214)
No record of Roman Catholicism has been found.
At the beginning of the 19th century, if not earlier, encouraged by the absence of a resident vicar, Protestant nonconformists established themselves in the village. Private houses were licensed for worship for unknown denominations in 1804 and 1821. (fn. 215) In 1825 one was licensed for Baptists, who in the same year built a chapel. (fn. 216) Dissensions evidently arose among them, as in 1844 another Baptist chapel was built. These two chapels, known as the Old Baptist and the New Baptist chapels, (fn. 217) continued in use until about 1855. Congregations fluctuated in size, and one of the chapels closed about 1855, partly because the number of dissenters had declined owing to the efforts of the energetic vicar, William Littlejohn. (fn. 218)
The chapel which remained open belonged to the Particular Baptists in 1864. In that year its eleven trustees included two Sydenham labourers and a shepherd, all members of one family, a schoolmaster, and two chair-turners from Chinnor, and two persons from Thame. (fn. 219) It evidently prospered, for it was rebuilt in 1881 and named Ebenezer chapel, and a Sunday school was added in 1883. (fn. 220) This chapel was registered for marriages and it was still in use in 1920, (fn. 221) but had closed by 1932. In 1936 it was sold to a private owner, who in 1949 leased it and in 1957 sold it to the Methodist trustees. In 1958 it was one of the chapels on the Methodist Thame and Watlington circuit. (fn. 222)
Early in 1815 a school for about 40 children, half of them girls, was established. (fn. 225) It was supported by the lady of the manor, Miss Sophia Wykeham (later Baroness Wenman), but apparently no longer existed in 1818 when the poor were said 'to be anxious to have the means of education'. (fn. 226) Until 1849 Sunday schools provided the sole education. In 1815 parish children could attend the Sunday school at Towersey (Bucks.), and by 1833 Miss Wykeham had given her support to a Sunday school at Sydenham. Sixty-five children (about 75 by 1854) (fn. 227) attended, and there was also a Baptist Sunday school which gave free instruction to 39 children. (fn. 228) In 1849 a National school was finally built; the Wykeham-Musgraves gave the land and private subscribers and Baroness Wenman provided the money: it consequently became known as the Wenman School. (fn. 229) School attendance was said in 1854 to vary from 20 to 40, and instruction was paid for by pence and subscription. (fn. 230) In 1867 the average attendance was 48 in the day and 10 at night. (fn. 231) Some years later, in 1884–5, the inspector complained that standards had gone down because of overcrowding, but in 1886 the school was enlarged to take 100 children. The average attendance was 79; in 1890 it was 82. Some of the children came from Emmington. By 1890 almost half the income came from a parliamentary grant. (fn. 232) The school was described as a 'good country school'. Teachers complained of irregular attendance, particularly because of agricultural work: children were kept away, for example, to pickacorns. (fn. 233) Nevertheless, the inspector in 1898 and later said that the school was 'zealously taught' and the children were 'in capital order'. (fn. 234) In 1906 the attendance had dropped to fifty-eight. (fn. 235) The Wenman school became a junior mixed and infants' school in 1929 with 14 children; seniors of 11 years and over walked or cycled to Chinnor. There were 18 children at the school in 1939, but in 1948 the school was closed and all the children have since gone to Chinnor. (fn. 236)
In 1612 it was reported that a ½ acre of land in Sydenham, which had been given for charitable uses, was in the tenure of Robert Fox who had held it for the past ten years and was taking the revenue for himself. (fn. 237)
By will dated 1661 Robert Munday of Sydenham, yeoman, left a house and 23 acres in Kingston Blount open fields in Aston Rowant parish. The income was to be used for the poor of Sydenham, except for £1 a year which was to go to church repairs. (fn. 238) Accounts of payment dated from 1703, when 10s. was given to the church, and other smaller sums, ranging from £2 down to 6d., to different poor persons, the whole amounting to £5 10s. By 1820, when there was a house and 30 acres, the annual value of the charity had risen to £22 of which £1 was always given to the church and the rest distributed to the poor, about Christmas, whether or not they received relief, (fn. 239) although formerly the charity had been limited to those not receiving relief. (fn. 240) In 1835 under the Aston Rowant inclosure award the lands were exchanged for 16 acres in Sydenham. (fn. 241) These lands were let in 1852 for about £20, all of which was given to the poor at Christmas. (fn. 242) In 1873 the lands were being let to parishioners of good conduct at 25s. an acre. (fn. 243) The charity was regulated by a Scheme of 1925 which authorized the trustees to distribute it for the benefit of the poor of the parish. In that year 149 persons received 2s. 11d. each. (fn. 244)