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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Crowell is a small and remarkably narrow parish. It stretches from the Lower Icknield Way, which forms its northern boundary, for 3 miles in a southeasterly direction and is never more than ½-mile wide. The northern part of the parish lies in the plain to the north of the Icknield Way, but to the south the ground rises precipitously to 800 feet on the top of the Chiltern ridge, and then slopes gently down a spur of the Chilterns until it regains the 400-foot contour line. (fn. 1) It comprises 996 acres and so far as is known its area has not changed since Anglo-Saxon times. (fn. 2) The southern foot of the parish now juts out into Buckinghamshire, its eastern boundary southwards from Town Farm has always been the county boundary, but its southern boundary, which follows Colliers Lane, has only coincided with the county boundary since Stokenchurch was transferred to Buckinghamshire in 1896. (fn. 3) Except for about 100 acres of cultivated land on the ridge and another 100 acres which were sufficiently level for cultivation at the south-eastern tip of the parish, the hill part of Crowell is thickly wooded. Crowell Hill Wood lies about 600 feet up, and High Wood and Crowell Wood lie on the ridge and the southern slopes of the parish.
Of the three roads which once crossed the parish from west to east only one, the main WatlingtonPrinces Risborough road is still in use. The other two, the Icknield and Lower Icknield Way, were shown as principal roads on Davis's map of 1797, but were grass tracks by 1839. (fn. 4) They were declared public bridle ways by the Inclosure award of 1882 (fn. 5) and were still so in 1958. In 1797 there was a road running southwards from the village up the hill to the farms on Crowell Hill, the later Town Farm and Crowell Hill Farm, and on to Sprigg's Alley and Radnage, but since the early 19th century the hill part of this road has been no more than a track. (fn. 6) The houses on the hill can now only be approached by the road up Chinnor Hill.
The Watlington-Princes Risborough railway opened in 1872 and was made a branch line of the Great Western in 1883. (fn. 7) The nearest halt was at Kingston Blount. British Railways closed the line to passengers in 1957. (fn. 8)
The village grew up at the source of the only stream in the parish, the Pleck, and spread along the old road to Crowell Uphill and the modern highway from Watlington to Princes Risborough. (fn. 9) What is left of the old village—there were only 22 dwellings in the whole parish in 1951, compared with 40 in 1851 (fn. 10) —is dominated by the flint-built church which stands raised above the road. The 'Catherine Wheel', facing a small green, backs on to the churchyard and behind it lies the Rectory. The smithy that was once here has gone. (fn. 11) The present inn is a comparatively modern building, but Davis's map of 1797 marks a house on its site, and Martha Floyd was licensed as an innkeeper in 1753. (fn. 12) The Floyds, it may be noted, were one of the leading village families and its members were often churchwardens. (fn. 13) The old inn was probably destroyed in the fire of 1859 when many of the half-timbered dwellings were burnt down and eight families were made homeless. (fn. 14) How the inn got its name is not known, but it may have been a consequence of Crowell's connexion with the Stafford family, which sometimes used a burning cartwheel for its badge. At Richard III's coronation, for instance, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, displayed it prominently. The earliest documentary evidence, however, for Crowell's inn comes from the 18th-century vestry minutes. Meetings were habitually held there. (fn. 15) Behind the inn, screened by the well-timbered garden, is the Rectory, which was also rebuilt in the 19th century. The earliest record of the old Rectory is found in the mid-17th century hearth tax. (fn. 16) It was then a comparatively modest dwelling for which tax on three hearths was paid. It was partly rebuilt by Edward Hind (rector 1722–30), (fn. 17) but was later leased, and by 1818 was said by the rector to be uninhabitable. (fn. 18) In 1822 it was rebuilt at a cost of £760. (fn. 19) The present Regency building of white-washed brick is one of the few known works of the architect J. B. Rebecca of Leicester Square, London. (fn. 20) It is of two stories and has a slate roof with wide flat eaves. The north-west front was originally a symmetrical design of three bays with projecting centre and a wide-arched doorway. The doorway has a radiating fanlight and side lights. The small west front has one bay with French casement windows on the ground floor, and the south-east front has a large half-octagonal bay with a hipped slate roof. Like so many rectories of the period it has a fine garden and view. Close by are the Rectory stable and barn, the one constructed of flint and brick, the other of weather-boarding. Adjoining cottages of flint with brick dressings were built after the fire of 1859. The 19th-century cottages harmonize well with the older buildings. They are symmetrically designed with three upper casement windows of two lights and four lower ones. Each has a glazed central doorway. A row of three cottages nearby are of the same date or possibly slightly earlier. Chequer brick was used for one and flint with brick dressings and quoins for the other two. All three have a continuous slate roof. Four farmhouses lay to the north of the village street in 1839, one of them converted into tenements. (fn. 21) Of the four, only Ellwood House with its farm buildings remains.
Ellwood House is of considerable historicinterest. (fn. 22) It dates from the 16th century. The back elevation of the present building is gabled and timber-framed with brick-and-flint infilling. There are two massive chimney-stacks each with three diamond shafts. The front is built of chequer brick, but this probably conceals a timber frame. At the north-east end of the house there is a three-sided projection which once had stone-mullioned windows on the ground floor. (fn. 23) A moulded dripstone extending round the three sides and an 18th-century window of one light with moulded stone jambs remain. The other side window has been blocked up and 19th-century French casement windows have replaced what was perhaps a third mullioned window of stone. The hipped roof of old tiles and the three oriel windows date perhaps from the 17th century. The original house has been extended, probably in the 17th century, at the southwest end by two bays and is flanked by a large chimney with one diamond shaft. The front door entrance has on one side a stone-mullioned window of three lights with a moulded dripstone above and two small two-light windows with stone mullions set just below the ground-floor ceiling level. The mullions of all the 16th-century windows are moulded. The principal rooms both on the ground and first floors have finely moulded ceiling beams, and carved ornamentations at the intersection of the main beams. The outbuildings are all ancient and thatched; the barns are L-shaped and made of weather boarding on a flint base, the granary is timber-framed with brick infilling and is raised on stone straddles.
The house is named after the noted Quaker and friend of John Milton, Thomas Ellwood, who was born there in 1639. He recounts in his autobiography how his father Walter Ellwood, J.P., had a 'pretty estate' in the 'little country town' of Crowell, 'in lands, and more as I have heard in monies'. Walter Ellwood had acquired this property through his mother, the heiress of Walter Gray, both rector and patron of Crowell. (fn. 24) His son Thomas spent the formative years of his life at Crowell: he attended the grammar school at Thame for a short time, and was a frequent visitor at Thame Park, the home of his godfather Lord Wenman. (fn. 25) The fact that the tax was paid in the 1660s on ten hearths suggests that his Crowell house may have been larger then than now. (fn. 26) The Ellwoods left the village in about 1665, the year in which Thomas Ellwood had a momentous conversation with Milton. Ellwood says that after reading the manuscript of Paradise Lost, he asked the poet what he had to say of 'Paradise Found', and this Milton told him led to the writing of Paradise Regained. (fn. 27)
The house was later occupied by Dr. Richard Fellows, Professor of Physic at Oxford University and a friend of Thomas Delafield, the antiquary and Vicar of Great Milton, who records that Fellows died at Crowell where he practised for some years. (fn. 28) His connexion with this house is established by the fact that many of the hand-made bottles for which he was noted have been dug up in the garden. (fn. 29) In the 19th century Ellwood House was first used as a farmhouse and was then divided into labourers' cottages, until it was bought in 1876 by Joseph Hill of Kingston Blount. (fn. 30) He was a member of a family that had been living in the village since 1767. (fn. 31) He restored the old house and left it to his son Joseph Hill, a well-known farmer and hunting man, who was still occupying it in 1958.
In 1086 William Peverel, the Nottinghamshire baron, who had only two Oxfordshire estates, held one assessed at to hides in CROWELL. (fn. 32) Before the Conquest it had been held by Alwin, who was also lord of Emmington. (fn. 33) In the 13th century the manor was held for a knight's fee, (fn. 34) but in the 14th century for a ½-fee. (fn. 35) Crowell evidently went to Richard de Riviers (d. 1107) on his marriage to Adelisa, William's daughter, and descended with their heirs, the earls of Devon. (fn. 36) Crowell is recorded in 1163 when a payment for it of 5s. was made to the Exchequer by the sheriff, presumably during the minority of Baldwin, the 3rd earl. (fn. 37)
In the early 13th century Crowell was apparently given to Margaret FitzGerald as dowry on her marriage to Baldwin de Riviers, son of the William de Riviers to whom the earldom had reverted in 1193. On Baldwin's death in 1216 she was forced by King John to marry the notorious Fawkes de Breaute. After his downfall, Crowell, stated to have belonged to the lord of the Isle of Wight and Earl of Devon, was put in the custody in 1224 of Waleran le Tyeys (Teutonicus), (fn. 38) but was later returned to Margaret. (fn. 39) After Margaret's death in 1252, her son Baldwin, Earl of Devon, having predeceased her, her grandson Baldwin succeeded to the earldom. (fn. 40) The overlordship of Crowell followed the descent of the earldom until at least 1375. It was then stated in the inquest on Elizabeth Courtenay, the widow of Sir Hugh de Courtenay (d. 1349), that it was to revert to her father-in-law, the Earl of Devon. (fn. 41) By 1376 it was held of the Mavtravers of the king as of Wallingford honor, and continued down to the 18th century to belong to the honor and its successor Ewelme honor. (fn. 42)
Since the 13th century Crowell had been connected with the honor because Lewknor hundred had been granted along with the honor by Henry III to his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall. For this reason, therefore, Crowell is found paying £1 a year in 1255 to the earl instead of to the king as before. (fn. 43) In 1305, when the honor was in the king's hands, he received £1 10d. from the steward of the honor for Crowell, since the manor was in the Chiltern 4½ hundreds and paid its taxes to the steward of the honor. (fn. 44)
In 1255 Thomas de Bréauté, who also held Heyford Warren, was tenant of the manor. It is likely that he was the son of Margaret de Riviers by Fawkes de Bréauté, (fn. 45) and the Thomas de Bréauté who was tenant in 1279 and died between 1284 and 1293 was possibly the grandson. (fn. 46) He evidently died childless, and in 1293 Sir John de St. Helen, lord of Long Wittenham (Berks.), (fn. 47) who had been granted Crowell by the overlord Isabel de Forz, Countess of Aumale and Devon, obtained livery. (fn. 48) Thomas de Bréauté's widow Elizabeth received £5 a year in dower from the manor. (fn. 49) Sir John was succeeded in 1295 by his daughter Beatrice, the wife of Sir Giles de Braose of Buckingham, who held the manor by the courtesy of England. (fn. 50) Sir Giles died in 1305; (fn. 51) his son and heir John succeeded to Buckingham manor, (fn. 52) but Crowell, which was his wife's inheritance, went to his daughter Lucy, a child of seven. The custody of Crowell therefore fell to the king, (fn. 53) who sold it to Walter of Aylesbury, a royal justice, for 100 marks to be paid to the merchants of the Spini. (fn. 54)
In 1312 Lucy, then the wife of Robert Mautravers, came of age and obtained possession of her mother's lands. (fn. 55) Robert was a member of the Mautravers family of Lytchett Matravers (Dors.), perhaps a younger son of Sir John (d. 1341), (fn. 56) and with him began the long connexion between Crowell and Dorset families. He was alive in 1317, (fn. 57) but dead by 1321, when his widow received licence to enfeoff their son John with the advowson of the church and various lands in Crowell. (fn. 58) Lucy took as her second husband John Pauleshott, and in 1333 they conveyed the manor to Robert Syfrewast of Hook (Dors.) and his wife Joan, (fn. 59) as part of the marriage settlement of their daughter Elizabeth to Lucy's son John Mautravers. In 1342 the Syfrewasts settled Crowell on Elizabeth and John Mautravers. (fn. 60) John Pauleshott was reported, perhaps mistakenly, to hold a ½-fee in Crowell in 1346; the manor was not included among his possessions at his death in 1354. (fn. 61) By this time John Mautravers, who apparently lived at Crowell, was dead, and his son John was a child of ten in the custody of the Prince of Wales. (fn. 62) This John, who inherited Hook from his mother, married a Somerset heiress, Elizabeth d'Aumarle, and became a prominent Dorset knight. (fn. 63) His widow was given possession of Crowell on his death in 1386. (fn. 64)
John Mautravers left as his heirs two daughters, Maud the wife of Peter de la Mare of Offley (Herts.), and Elizabeth, aged eight. (fn. 65) By 1399 his widow Elizabeth had taken as her second husband Sir Humphrey Stafford (d. 1413) of Southwick in North Bradley (Wilts.), father of John Stafford, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sir Humphrey's eldest son, another Humphrey, was married to John Mautravers's daughter Elizabeth. By a settlement made in that year, the elder Sir Humphrey and his wife granted their right in half of Crowell to the younger Sir Humphrey and his wife. (fn. 66) Elizabeth's sister Maud, who had married as her second husband Sir John de Dinham, a Devon knight, already held the other half. (fn. 67) Maud died in 1402 without children and her half of the manor reverted to her sister Elizabeth. (fn. 68) Elizabeth died in about 1426 and her husband, the younger Sir Humphrey Stafford, known as 'of the silver hand', died in 1442. (fn. 69) Their heir was their granddaughter Avice, daughter of their eldest son Richard, (fn. 70) and the wife of James Butler, Earl of Ormond and Wiltshire (d. 1461). (fn. 71) Avice died without children in 1457 and Crowell was inherited by another Humphrey Stafford, the son of Richard's younger brother John. He, too, died childless in 1461. (fn. 72) His heir was his cousin Humphrey, son of William, the youngest brother of Richard and John. This Humphrey was born in 1439, knighted by Edward IV on the field of Towton, and executed in 1469 for rebellion only a few months after being created Earl of Devon. (fn. 73) On his death his large estates were split up between the three daughters of his father's sister Alice (fn. 74) and they were at once allowed to take possession of his lands. (fn. 75) Very little is known of the manor at this time, but it would seem that it may have been years before a final division was made, for the presentations to Crowell church in 1472 and 1484 were by a group of feoffees headed by William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester. (fn. 76) Crowell was eventually allotted to Eleanor, Alice Stafford's daughter by her second husband Walter Talboys. She was the wife of Thomas Strangeways (d. 1484), who had settled in Dorset, and Crowell descended from them to their son Henry (d. 1504) and then to his son Giles, (fn. 77) who in 1541 sold it to Sir John Williams, later Lord Williams of Thame. (fn. 78) By his will Lord Williams (d. 1559) devised a life interest in Crowell, Lewknor, and other neighbouring manors to his second wife Margery, (fn. 79) who in 1560 married Sir William Drury (d. 1579), one of Elizabeth I's trusted agents in Scotland and Ireland. Her third husband was James Croft, a younger son of Sir James Croft, controller of Elizabeth I's household. (fn. 80) However, in 1576 she and Drury appear to have alienated Crowell to Ralph Skydmore of Burnham (Bucks.). (fn. 81)
Lord Williams's heirs were his two daughters by his first wife Elizabeth: Isabella, wife of Sir Richard Wenman, ancestress of the Wenmans of Thame Park, and Margaret, Elizabeth I's 'own black crow' and wife of Sir Henry (later Baron) Norreys of Rycote. (fn. 82) Crowell was to be divided between them. (fn. 83) The Norreys half of the manor, which consisted probably of about 400 acres, (fn. 84) descended, after the death of Lord Norreys in 1601 with Albury, Beckley, and a number of other Oxfordshire manors, to the earls of Abingdon, (fn. 85) who held it until the late 19th century. (fn. 86) It was bought in about 1880 by Joseph Hill of Kingston Blount. (fn. 87) In 1900 he was succeeded by his son Henry Joseph Hill, (fn. 88) who lived at Ellwood House and was the principal land owner in the parish. (fn. 89) Manorial rights no longer existed.
On Sir Richard Wenman's death in 1572 the Wenman half of Crowell was settled on Isabella as her dower. (fn. 90) She lived at Thame Park with her second husband, Richard Huddleston. Her half of the manor is mentioned for the last time in a fine of 1576. (fn. 91) It is possible that some of the manor lands, like the Wenman half of the advowson, were mortgaged or sold at this period. However, the fact that the Wenmans bought back the whole advowson by the end of the 17th century indicates an interest in Crowell, (fn. 92) and in the late 18th and in the 19th centuries the family had an estate there and were called lords of the manor. (fn. 93) In 1842 Lady Wenman held about 200 acres of land; (fn. 94) but in the early 20th century the Wykeham-Musgraves held the estate, (fn. 95) and by 1911 it had apparently been sold to the Clerke Browns of Kingston Blount. (fn. 96) In 1935 Mrs. Clerke Brown was called lady of the manor. (fn. 97)
Economic and Social History.
There is no evidence for the occupation of Crowell before the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, and the descriptive character of its name, usually considered a sign of comparatively late settlement, suggests that they settled there at a later period than at the neighbouring Emmington. Crowell, meaning Crows' Spring or stream, (fn. 98) lies at the source of a feeder of the River Thame, at the first sign of water below the northern slopes of the Chiltern ridge. Before the Conquest it had been held freely with Emmington. (fn. 99) The high assessment of 10 hides is in marked contrast to the small amount of arable land recorded. Only 2 furlongs of woodland were actually mentioned, but there is likely to have been more beechwood than that on the hills. There was said to be land for 5 ploughs, though the demesne farm had 2 ploughteams worked by 4 serfs and 15 villeins (villani) and 5 bordars possessed another 7, making a total of nine. The value of the estate had risen from £6 to £7 since the Conquest, and the fact that it had risen to £10 by 1255 (fn. 100) suggests that much of the available land was still uncultivated at the time of Domesday. If the virgate then contained 18 acres as later, there may have been only about 360 acres of arable in 1086. Twelve acres of meadow were also recorded. (fn. 101) By 1279, however, it seems as if all the outlying land was under the plough, for some 756 arable field acres were then held in demesne or by tenants. (fn. 102) As in so many other Oxfordshire villages it is probable that at some date after 1086, perhaps early in the 12th century, much new land was cleared on the ridge, on its northern and southern slopes, and at the southeastern tip of the parish towards Bennel End. The map suggests that the cultivation of land on the northern slopes was merely an enlargement of the original field system and may have marked the beginning of a change from a two-to a three-field system. The fields on the ridge itself may also have been attached to Crowell village rather than to any independent settlement: in 1839 certainly each farmer who had a share in the open fields in the plain had some of the inclosed land on the hill, but on the other hand the name 'Towns' Farm suggests the existence of former habitations. (fn. 103) It is likely that there was once a hamlet on the southern boundary of the parish; the fields there seem to have been laid out in strips and not to have originated as inclosures in the woodland. As late as 1844 this land was described as 'common field land', and field names (Great Lob, Little Lob, Great and Little Berrylands), as well as the way in which the owners held alternate long strips of land there, indicate the former existence of open fields. (fn. 104)
The jurors in 1279 reported that the demesne consisted of 12 virgates and that the lord's 12 villein virgaters and 7 half-virgaters held 7½ virgates. The customary tenants paid rents of 2s. 4d. for a virgate and 1s. 10d. for a ½-virgate. These were low compared with those paid on the neighbouring manors of Chinnor and Kingston, but the Crowell villeins owed heavy summer services as well. The virgater had to work 3 days a week from Midsummer to Lammas (1 Aug.) with one man at whatever task the lord wanted, and to provide food for himself and his man. He had to work 5 days a week from Lammas to Michaelmas and also owed 2 bedreaps. His daughters could not marry without the lord's permission. The smith had to provide ploughshares for two of the lord's ploughs instead of the normal services. The whole village was further burdened with 20s. hidage to the Earl of Cornwall and 10d. for the ward of 'Bigenheg'. There were three free tenants who held 12½ virgates in holdings of 2, 4½, and 6 virgates respectively. Two owed suit of court and one paid a pound of pepper a year, the other a penny. The third, Guy the Falconer, paid 1d. and 10s. to the nuns of Winchester. His appearance calls to mind the extensive woodlands on the ridge and the important part they must have played in the economy of the villagers. (fn. 105)
An extent of 1349 records that there were still 21 customary tenants as in 1279, divided into bondmen and cottars. (fn. 106) In an extent of 1359, there were 22 customary tenants: 14 virgaters, 6 half-virgaters, and 2 cottars. (fn. 107) The Black Death seems to have had little effect on the number of holdings, but there had been changes since the 13th century. Assized rents had increased slightly: in 1279 customary tenants paid £2 5s. 6d., in 1341 £2 9s. 3½d., and in 1349 £2 13s. 7½d, (fn. 108) The value of works was not given until 1349, when their total value was £4 16s. 3d. In 1359 it was £5 11s. 11½d., but this included Martinmas rents of about 36s. and it is clear that the value of works had decreased: the works of each virgater were now valued at 4s. 9½d. as against 5s. 6d. in 1349. (fn. 109) In 1349, the 14 customars had still owed 44 days' work in the year and the services in 1359 added up to about 55 works. They included 10 days' work between Midsummer (24 June) and Lammas (1 Aug.), as well as 1 day's hoeing with 2 men and 2 days' mowing with 1 man, 23 days' reaping and 13 days' collecting straw between Lammas and Michaelmas; and 1 day's fallow ploughing, 1 day's winter ploughing, and 1 day's harrowing at the spring sowing. One of the cottars owed 6 days' reaping with 1 man, which was worth 9d. and he paid 18d. rent for his 3-acre holding. Other small rents were paid: in 1349 the customars paid 36s. aid and 1s. 3d. churchscot at Martinmas; in 1359 each paid 1s. 9½d. Martinmas rents. Extents do not say whether the works were commuted either in part or wholly, although it seems very probable at this period that they were. (fn. 110) In 1321 the demesne farm was estimated as 1 carucate, 30 acres of arable (i.e. 102 a.), 10 acres of meadow, and 200 acres of wood. (fn. 111) In 1349 it included 80 acres of arable (perhaps only two-thirds of the total with one-third fallow unrecorded), valued at 40s. or 6d. an acre. There were 8 acres of meadow worth 8s., pasture worth 4s., and wood worth 5s. (fn. 112) In 1359 the arable acreage was said to be 180 acres, and was worth £4 10s. at 6d. an acre; the meadow (10 a.) was now worth 1s. 6d. an acre. There were 10 acres of inclosed pasture worth 10s. and woodland worth 10s. It is possible that the differences in acreages recorded may be due to greater accuracy in making the extent or the farm may have expanded: it may be significant that no free tenants are mentioned in 1359. (fn. 113) Two water-mills were attached to the estate. A miller was recorded among the tenants in 1279, and in 1349 the mills were valued at 40s. a year, perhaps their rentable value; in 1359 mill profits were 10s. (fn. 114) Court profits were small in 1359, when they were valued at 2s. a year. (fn. 115)
Throughout the 14th century the community was comparatively small and poor. Fifteen inhabitants were assessed for the 16th in 1316 and 27 for the 20th of 1327. Only two paid more than 2s. on either occasion and Crowell's total contribution, both before and after the reassessment of 1344, was one of the smallest in the hundred. For the 1377 poll tax there were 40 contributors. (fn. 116)
There is little evidence for the arrangement of the medieval fields. The extent of 1349 suggests that there were three fields and this was still so in the 19th century, when they were called Lower, Middle, and Upper Field. (fn. 117) Two of these fields, Lower Field and Lower Middle Field, are mentioned in 17th-century documents. (fn. 118) There is insufficient evidence to say much about the progress made in consolidating strips. In the 17th century the glebe was still partly scattered in different furlongs: 6 acres had been consolidated and lay in one piece; the rest was in 2 two-acre and 2 one-acre pieces. There were some fair-sized farms beside the manor farm: several of the surrenders and grants of copyholds (usually for three lives), made in the manorial court, were for holdings of 4 virgates. (fn. 119)
Among the regulations made in the surviving 17th-century court rolls was one in 1632 that no tenant should pay more than 12d. as heriot; another in 1657 that a tenant might keep 20 sheep and 1 cow for every yardland; and one in 1658 that no man should keep sheep in the cowlease and meades between Lammas and 18 November, or put them in the wheat or peas fields until they had been completely harvested. (fn. 120)
The tenants of Crowell all had a right to the underwood in the woods. In 1657 the large timber included oak, ash, beech, and elm, and their shroud was ordered to be used for the hedges, 'mounds', and fences. Each tenant had common rights attached to his house in 'Hill wood', a custom which seems to be comparable to the 'hillwork' enjoyed at Chinnor and Kingston Blount. (fn. 121)
The community remained small after the Reformation: there were only 7 contributors to the subsidy of 1525; 15 householders were taxed in 1662, (fn. 122) and 10 in 1665, 2 who had paid in 1662 being discharged on account of poverty. These farmers all had fair-sized farmhouses with three to four hearths a piece. (fn. 123) There does not appear to have been any great increase in population in the late 17th century; the Compton Census recorded 44 adults. (fn. 124) Rawlinson's note made about 1718 that there were not above ten people in the ten houses in Crowell who were not in need of alms, (fn. 125) appears to be an error, unless some disaster such as fire had overtaken the village.
Information about 18th-century farming in Crowell comes from Robert Whittlesee, who surveyed the Earl of Abingdon's 400-acre estate in 1728. He stated that it was composed chiefly of arable land, 'the greater part of it a very good clay', a little part under the hills was 'poor and near the chalk', and the lands on the hills were a strong loam, valuable mainly for 'their conveniency' as inclosures. The common, however, was of little or no value and was heavily burdened as the stint allowed was 60 sheep to a yardland. There was a very small proportion of meadow, 16 acres altogether, and a considerable amount of woodland. Of the 88 acres, valued at £50, 8 acres were described as common wood. The wood was cut once every 14 years and then yielded 14 loads an acre, generally sold at 13s. a load. The common wood yielded about 5 loads a year. The earl's tenants consisted of William Deane, leaseholder of 110 acres, three copyholders, farming 107, 68, and 27 acres respectively, one copyholder with a halfacre, and three freeholders paying small annual rents of about 2s. 6d. each. The method of arable husbandry was to grow two crops to a fallow, the soil, according to Whittlesee, being strong enough to bear it and being 'now in good order'. He did not consider the estate could be much improved, but advised that when 'the times grow better for farming' the rent of the arable should be raised to 10s. a year per acre. (fn. 126)
At the end of the 18th century Francis Kimber, the biggest farmer in the parish, won the praise of Arthur Young for his advanced methods. He had changed the old cropping system of barley-beansfallow, wheat-beans-fallow and dung, to fallowwheat-beans. About a third of the land was by agreement under clover and vetches, and the best wheat crops resulted from sowing wheat after clover. After this wheat crop Kimber penned his sheep on the field as a preventive of slug. He hoed his beans two or three times and so had clean crops in contrast to the couch-infested crops found everywhere else in the district. He spread rags, bought from London at £8 10s. a ton or £10 delivered, at the rate of 6 cwt. to the acre on his clover leys, and found that they lasted longer than any other manure. (fn. 127) Kimber's success as a farmer can be traced in the returns for the land tax. In 1786 his land was assessed at under £12, in 1795 at over £14 and in 1815 at over £23. Throughout this period he had also held the tithes which were assessed at £10. (fn. 128)
During the century the village may have grown slightly in numbers. In 1738 there were an estimated 8 houses and 5 cottages; in 1771 there were said to be 6 farmers and 12 labourers; and by 1802 there were 30 families. (fn. 129)
Compared with that of its neighbour Emmington, the ownership of land at Crowell was varied. Besides the principal landowners, the Earl of Abingdon and Lord Wenman, there were in 1786 five others with moderate-sized properties, six with smallholdings assessed, at under £2 for the land tax and five who were probably owners of cottages and gardens only. By 1815 there were ten landowners, including two former tenants who had bought their farms. Of the tenants, the Kimber family and others had increased the size of their farms. (fn. 130) The tithe award of 1842 gives a more detailed picture of the ownership and use of the land. The woodland covered about 250 acres, the two chief owners being the Earl of Abingdon and Baroness Wenman with over 100 acres each. Most of the land below the hill was still cultivated in strips although there had been some consolidation, but on Crowell Hill there were arable inclosures and paddocks. All this land was divided between four farms of 225, 136, 90, and 53 acres and a smallholding of 21 acres. Two other smallholders had land on the hill only. The Earl of Abingdon with 227 acres, and Baroness Wenman and John Hyde with 92 acres each were the principal landowners.
The 104 acres of arable land adjoining Bennet End at the south-eastern tip of the parish was all farmed by the non-resident Robert Bennett. Part of this land was owned by the Earl of Abingdon and part by James Bennett and Joseph Allcock. (fn. 131)
Inclosure came earlier here and in the land on the hill than in the rest of Crowell. Most if not all the land on Crowell Hill was inclosed by the 17th century: four separate closes are mentioned in 1634 and 1652 and Robert Whittlesee wrote in 1728 of the inclosed land here. (fn. 132) When the Earl of Abingdon's Crowell estate was put up for sale in 1844 the hill land was described as 'ancient inclosure'. (fn. 133) There was also some inclosure nearer the village during the 17th century. Walter Ellwood was presented at the court baron in 1652 for inclosing 2½ acres in Honey Furlong, and a part of the Common Naight; in 1657 he was presented again for inclosing the Great Naight, 'which ought to be common at Lammas', and for having taken 3 acres of arable out of the common field. (fn. 134) In 1728 the greater part of the inclosures round the village were said to be Lammas ground, (fn. 135) and an 1844 sale catalogue also describes the meadowland north of the village as part of Lammas Mead and as old inclosure. (fn. 136) A large part of the open fields (380 a.), however, was not inclosed until 1882 and was the last in the county and almost the last in the country to be inclosed. (fn. 137) The chief allotments were 163 acres to the devisees of the will of P. T. H. Wykeham, the owner of the one-time Abingdon estates; 75 acres each to the devisees of the will of Baroness Wenman and to T. A. Champion; 35 acres to the Revd. William Burrows; and 27 acres to A. H. Clerke Brown of Kingston Blount. Crowell Hill Common (34 a.), described in 1728 as of little or no value, was left uninclosed. Of the other 28 acres of common land recorded in 1839, the cowlease was inclosed and the considerable roadside herbage was allotted to the owners of the adjoining land. The stint for the common was fixed at one sheep per acre, less than a third of the allowance stipulated in 1728. (fn. 138)
In common with other Oxfordshire villages, Crowell had suffered from the effects of the longdrawn-out wars of the late 18th century. The problem of poor relief, however, although expenditure was sometimes above the county average, was less severe than in the larger villages of Chinnor and Kingston lying on either side. In 1803, for example, Crowell's rate was 6s. 3d. compared with the average rate of 4s. 6d. for the county. (fn. 139)
In the early part of the century the population increased slowly, rising from 149 in 1801 to 169 in 1841. It then remained stationary until a sudden rise to 203 was recorded in 1871, which may possibly be explained by a housing shortage in Chinnor, where numbers were also rising although to a lesser extent. (fn. 140) At this time almost all the male population were farm labourers. The census of 1851 recorded only a few other occupations: there were 3 chair-turners, a chair-bottomer, a wheelwright, a carpenter and a victualler, and 16 women lacemakers. (fn. 141) The effect of the agricultural depression was consequently severe and by 1891 the number of Crowell's inhabitants had dropped to half the 1871 figure. (fn. 142) Hard times for the farmer gave Joseph Hill his opportunity: a successful straw-dealer engaged in supplying straw to the London stables and bringing back rags to Oxfordshire, he was able to take over three of the four farms in the village. There were six farmers living in the parish in 1854 and five in 1869, but by 1887 only Joseph Hill's bailiff appears as a farmer in Kelly's Directory. John Sulston, formerly a farmer, had retired to the 'Catherine Wheel'. (fn. 143) In 1911 Joseph Hill was farming 386 acres of the 460 acres of land 'below the hill', and the 105 acres on the hill were farmed by three tenants of the Revd. James Davis, who had bought the manor in 1876; Mr. Clerke Brown of Kingston owned the 97 acres at the south-east tip of the parish and 74 acres near the village. (fn. 144)
According to the agricultural survey of 1914 over 70 per cent. of the farm land was then under the plough. Equal quantities of barley, wheat, and oats were grown (18 to 20 per cent. of each). The proportion of barley was higher, but that of wheat lower than in the neighbouring parishes, which had the highest wheat acreages in the county. Turnips were grown on 12 per cent. of the land. Crowell also had fewer sheep than her neighbours, only 30 per 100 acres. There was still an exceptionally small amount of permanent pasture, under 30 per cent., for practically no cattle were kept. There were less than 4 cows and heifers per 100 acres in the parish. (fn. 145) Beside the farm land there was still the woodland. Its extent had slightly increased since 1839 and in 1911 covered 262 acres. (fn. 146)
The first half of the 20th century saw a continued decline in population. Numbers had dropped from 78 in 1931 to 56 in 1951. (fn. 147)
Overseers' accounts have survived for the periods 1672 to 1712 and 1718 to 1736. (fn. 148) The two overseers made collections for the poor from time to time as needed: in the 1670s, for instance, ten collections a year were generally made, the total received being about 10 guineas. In 1675 when the names of the contributors were listed there were 24 including Sir Francis Wenman and Lord Norreys. In the last two decades the number of collections varied between one and seven a year, but for the years 1702 to 1705 there was always only one a year, each collection bringing in about £1. The levies evidently depended on the number and needs of aged widows or widowers. The East family was for many years the only problem. For more than 40 years widow East was a regular recipient of payments; in 1678 Thomas East was removed from 'our liberty'; and in 1682 10s. was spent on the widow's house. (fn. 149)
Vestry minutes for the years 1865 to 1885 throw some light on local affairs in the second half of the 19th century. The vestry met three or four times a year. Until 1894 the chief business of the March meeting was to elect the overseers of the poor and a 'way' warden; the other meetings elected churchwardens and levied poor rates. Until 1879 the meetings were held at the 'Catherine Wheel', but later moved to the Sunday-school room. After 1894 only churchwardens were elected and there was only one Easter vestry, when the accounts were presented. (fn. 150)
Poor relief was provided by a rate and out of the Poor's Land charity. In the 1860s and 1870s the rate varied between 1s. and 3s. a year, a shilling being the usual rate imposed by a vestry; there is no information after 1878. (fn. 151)
Norman work in Crowell church shows that it was in existence at the latest by the mid-12th century. The first known documentary evidence about it dates from 1231, when Margaret de Riviers, lady of the manor and mother of the Earl of Devon, presented to the living. (fn. 152) The advowson had probably long been held, like the manor, by the earls of Devon. When in 1293, on the death of Isabel de Forz, Countess of Aumale and Devon, the earldom escheated to the king, the king also claimed the advowson, and in 1294 Edward I presented to the church. (fn. 153) However, his right to do so was successfully opposed in the royal court by Sir John de St. Helen, who had been enfeoffed with the manor in 1293, and at his death in 1295 was said to hold it in chief, and his candidate was admitted. (fn. 154) On a vacancy following the death of Giles de Braose in 1305, the king again tried to present to the church, (fn. 155) but his right to do so was again questioned, perhaps by Walter de Aylesbury, who had custody of the manor. This time the case was heard in the bishop's court, and although the king's suit was successful, his candidate was not admitted until 1309. (fn. 156)
From this time until 1609 the descent of the advowson followed that of the manor, being held by the Mautravers in the 14th century and the Staffords in the 15th century. In 1361 there was a royal presentation, probably because of the minority of John Mautravers, and in 1469, in the confusion following the execution of Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon, the bishop collated by lapse. In the 16th century two presentations, those of 1528 and 1575, were sold. (fn. 157)
With the division of the manor in the late 16th century between the Wenmans and the Norreyses the advowson also was divided. (fn. 158) In 1602 Francis Norreys, Lord Rycote, presented Walter Grey to the living, (fn. 159) and in 1609 and 1610 the rector bought both halves of the advowson. (fn. 160) He himself never presented, for on his own resignation in 1621 he sold the presentation to James Stopes, clerk. (fn. 161) On Grey's death in 1641 the advowson was inherited by Walter Ellwood, the son of Thomas Ellwood and Walter Grey's daughter Elizabeth and the father of Thomas Ellwood the Quaker. (fn. 162) In 1664 Walter Ellwood sold his Crowell property, and Joshua Draynor bought the advowson. (fn. 163) Draynor, Crowell's leading inhabitant, presented in 1669, (fn. 164) but in 1695 the presentation was by Catherine, Viscountess Wenman. (fn. 165) From then the advowson descended in the Wenman family, except for a royal presentation in 1722 because of the lunacy of Viscount Wenman, (fn. 166) and then passed to the Wykehams and later to the Wykeham-Musgraves, who were also lords of the manor. (fn. 167) After the manor was sold the WykehamMusgraves kept the advowson. (fn. 168) In 1948 Crowell was joined to Aston Rowant, and the bishop and W. H. Wykeham-Musgrave began to present in turn. (fn. 169)
In 1254 the rectory was valued at £2, plus a pension to an abbey worth 13s. 4d., and in 1291 at £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 170) Between then and 1535, when it was worth £7 9s. 9½d., its value hardly increased. (fn. 171) No other valuations have been found before the 19th century. In 1842 the tithes were commuted for £243 10s. (fn. 172)
The glebe, valued at 6s. 8d. in 1341, was small. It consisted of about 8 acres in the open fields and a pasture of 2 acres, called Church Piece, next to the churchyard. (fn. 173) The rector still owned the glebe in 1939. (fn. 174)
Apart from the visitation of about 1520, when there were few complaints except for the one that the chancel walls needed repair, little is known of the church history before the 18th century. (fn. 175) Some rectors stayed in the parish for many years, notably Robert de Sutton (rector 1361–1416), who served as a feoffee in local land transactions, (fn. 176) and Master Geoffrey Gayn (rector 1484–1528). John Payne (1453–69) had a brass placed over his grave in the church. University graduates before the 16th century were unusual, (fn. 177) but some later rectors have been highly educated men, such as Richard Larke (1572–1602) and Walter Bayley (1669–95), both Fellows of Magdalen College. (fn. 178) During the troubled years of the mid-17th century the rector was John Stopes (rector 1621–68), who lived in Crowell, was buried in the church, and whose daughter is remembered by her gift of plate. (fn. 179)
During the next 50 years the rectors were likewise closely associated with the parish, one of them, Edward Hind of a Waterstock family (1722–30), rebuilding the rectory. (fn. 180) But non-residence may have started by 1738, when the rector was chaplain to his patron Lord Wenman, at Thame, which prevented him holding more than one service on Sundays at Crowell. Services were seldom held on Saints' Days and he only catechized in Lent. (fn. 181) In the 1770s the church was served by a resident curate, (fn. 182) but by the end of the century the parish was served by the curate of Chinnor, who received £20 and later £25 a year. (fn. 183) The increase followed the institution in 1784 of Willoughby Bertie as rector, who resided at his Wytham (Berks.) rectory. He also ordered that two services should be held on Sundays. One service on Sundays had been the usual custom, although at times two were held, (fn. 184) and three or four Sacraments a year were given to ten or twelve communicants, an increase over the five to ten of 1738. The curate thought it not worth while to catechize and described the parishioners as 'harmless inoffensive people' who regularly attended church. (fn. 185) By this time, instead of the two churchwardens of the 16th century, there was only one. (fn. 186)
In 1811 the parishioners insisted on having the two Sunday services reduced to one. (fn. 187)
After the rectory had been rebuilt in 1822, the parish had a resident rector. (fn. 188) There continued to be only one Sunday service, although in the 1850s Bishop Wilberforce was trying to get the rector James Beauchamp (1830–74), also Vicar of Shirburn, to have more frequent services in both parishes, and to impress on him that 'the duty comes before the property'. (fn. 189) The congregations, a great part of which came from Kingston Blount, were good. (fn. 190)
Later rectors who left a mark on the parish were John Churchill (1874–9), who increased the number of services and had the church restored, (fn. 191) and F. N. Davis (1902–19), who edited many of the records of the diocese.
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN is a small flint building comprising a chancel, nave, south porch, vestry, and stone bell-cot. The original 12th-century church has been largely rebuilt. A Romanesque north doorway with a plain round arch, now boarded up on the inside, is its chief surviving feature. In the 13th century the chancel arch was rebuilt, a south doorway was added, and perhaps the holy-water stoup which is now in the south porch. A new font was installed. (fn. 192) As the village feast is kept on the Sunday before the Holyrood, it is likely that these alterations mark the date of the rededication of the church to the Virgin Mary, whose cult was then at its height. (fn. 193) The chancel itself was rebuilt in the 14th century: it had a three-light east window and two windows of two lights in the north wall and similar ones in the south wall. (fn. 194) Parker wrote in 1850 that the chancel appeared to have been shortened at an early period. (fn. 195) There were then two sedilia close to the east end and a 'locker' in the north-east angle. (fn. 196) A few of the medieval inlaid tiles, common in south Oxfordshire, have survived under the communion table. (fn. 197) Drawings of the building as it was in 1813 and 1822 show that the chancel was more lofty than the nave and had Decorated windows, and that the nave windows were square-headed and without tracery. There was a small weather-boarded bellcot at the west end. (fn. 198)
No more major alterations appear to have been made before the 19th century. Minor repairs were carried out from time to time. In 1638 the men's pews were 'made new', the cost being borne partly by the occupants of the houses to which pews were attached and partly by a general rate. (fn. 199) In 1745 the chancel was repaired, and in 1759 a number of minor repairs to the church were ordered. (fn. 200) Weeds and rubbish were to be removed from the walls of the building, and the buttresses were to be repointed; several steps were to be made into the porch instead of one; the steps into the church were to be new laid; the door was to be repaired, the pavement of the church was to be relaid and made even, the communion table was to be thoroughly repaired, and a new carpet, new pulpit cushion, and cloth provided. Soon after it appears that repairs to the chancel were carried out, for Buckler's drawing of the church shows the date 1768 in the chancel gable.
A continuing interest in the decent appearance of the church led to the repair of the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord's Prayer by Mr. Chapman in 1785. (fn. 201) In 1793 a new gate was made to the churchyard, which had been walled with brick in 1731, (fn. 202) and in 1802 the churchwardens' accounts show that more serious work was in hand. The chancel had been reported out of repair in 1783 and 1801, and now in 1802 'complete' repairs were said to have been undertaken. (fn. 203) A total of £46 odd was spent. In 1803 expenditure amounted to £53 4s. (fn. 204) Between 1811 and 1817 a further £11 was expended. (fn. 205)
The state of the fabric was still causing anxiety in the 1830s and in 1835 Richard Clark of Wallingford was commissioned to carry out various repairs. (fn. 206) He repaired the outside walls of the chancel, made two new buttresses, retiled the roof, and made two new pews with floor boards and seats. This work cost the rector £20. Repairs to the body of the church costing £100 included reroofing the bell-cot with zinc, renewing the weather-boarding, and making 'a cornice of battlements according to the plan'; making two new buttresses, two new 'Gothic' windows, and a door and entrance gate to the porch. Clark also retiled the roof, raised the floor, and pointed the walls. He removed the old pews and made twelve new ones, as well as a new pulpit, reading-desk, and boards for the Lord's Prayer, 'Belief', and Ten Commandments. The work was finished before the end of the year. (fn. 207) In 1839 Mr. Slatter's bill for repairing the church and 'leading the tower' was £18. (fn. 208) Three years later the tower was pointed and new window frames made. (fn. 209) A photograph (fn. 210) of the church before restoration shows these boards at the east end of the church. There was also a communion table and low wooden altar rails. There were high box pews and a three-decker pulpit. The roof was an open timber one.
By the 1870s a major restoration had become necessary and the architects H.J. Tollit of Oxford and Edwin Dolby of London practically rebuilt the church in 1878, using the original materials. (fn. 211) The south porch dates from this period, the wooden tower was replaced by the present stone bell-cot, and the vestry was added. All the interior fittings were renewed. (fn. 212) The east window of the chancel was filled with stained glass by Kempe. (fn. 213) The raised tomb in the chancel to Mrs. Ann Michaels (d. 1724) was removed. (fn. 214) The chancel floor was relaid with new tiles.
In 1879 the lych-gate was made; in 1891 a faculty was obtained to alter the sittings in the chancel and the altar rails; and in 1895 the west window was filled with stained glass by C. E. Kempe in memory of the rector, Cadwallader Coker Beck (d. 1893). (fn. 215) The oak prayer desk in the chancel was installed in memory of E. J. Howman (rector 1893–1902).
There is a brass (now on the chancel wall) to John Payne, rector (d. 1469), and a gravestone to John Stopes (rector 1621–68), now under the communion table. (fn. 216) The memorial noted by Rawlinson to Zachary White, churchwarden, 1695, was probably destroyed at the restoration. (fn. 217)
There is a war memorial (1914–18).
No inventory is known of Crowell's possessions in Edward VI's reign. The present plate consists of a silver Elizabethan chalice and paten cover, dated 1601, and a silver tazza bearing the inscription 'given in 1637 by Rebecca Stopes', the rector's daughter. It is considered to be of earlier date. (fn. 218)
The church once had two bells. There is a record of their being rehung in 1749 by William Holt. (fn. 219) One was recast in 1759. (fn. 220) In 1958 there was only one bell, which had been recast before 1928; the former bell was dated 1642. (fn. 221)
The registers date from 1594, (fn. 222) and the churchwardens' accounts from 1746 to 1877.
No Roman Catholicism has been traced at Crowell after the Reformation.
The village, however, has an important place in the history of Protestant nonconformity, as it was the home for some years of Thomas Ellwood, the Quaker. (fn. 223) He became a Friend in 1659 after several visits to Isaac Pennington at Chalfont St. Giles (Bucks.), whose children he tutored, and through the influence of Edward Burrough. In the following year he invited an Oxford Quaker, Thomas Loe, to hold a meeting at Crowell, but this did not take place as Loe had just been imprisoned in Oxford castle. Ellwood himself was imprisoned there for a short time for refusing to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. He returned to Crowell where he remained until about 1665, but his work as a kind of estate agent to the Pennington family took him mostly into Buckinghamshire, and there is no evidence that he had much influence in his own village, though he is known to have been in touch with Watlington nonconformists. (fn. 224) From 1669 to 1713 he acted as Clerk of the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings of the Buckinghamshire Friends. (fn. 225)
After Ellwood's departure from the parish there are no further records of Quakerism, although four nonconformists were returned in the Compton Census of 1676. (fn. 226) There are no dissenters mentioned in the 18th-century visitation returns, but in the 19th century there were a few. In 1828 a house in the Crowell part of Sprigg's Alley was licensed for worship, (fn. 227) which was no doubt also attended by Chinnor parishioners. In 1834 there were two 'Calvinists' in Crowell who attended chapel at Kingston or Chinnor, but in that year another house was licensed. (fn. 228) Twenty years later there were nine or ten dissenters among the poorest inhabitants, but there no longer seems to have been any meeting-house. In 1866 the regular dissenters, some sixteen in number, went to the chapel at Kingston. (fn. 229)
There is mention of a writing master in Crowell in 1713, but there is no further information about his school. (fn. 230) In 1808 the children were sent either to Chinnor or Kingston Blount and the parish was said to be too small to have its own school. (fn. 231) There was still no school in 1818 when the poor were said 'to need the means of education (fn. 232) but by 1833 there was a day-school where 30 boys and girls were taught. It was supported partly by the rector and partly by payments from the children's parents. The rector and, to a small extent, one or two of the farmers also supported a Sunday school for 30 children. (fn. 233) Both schools existed in 1854, but the older children went to the day-school in Chinnor at the rector's expense. (fn. 234) In 1871 there was a private school attended by 12 boys and girls. (fn. 235) This had closed by 1878 and the children later attended the schools at Aston Rowant or Chinnor. (fn. 236) In 1956 they went to Chinnor Church of England school. (fn. 237)
John Stopes, Rector of Crowell (d. 1668), gave to the poor of his parish about 4 acres of land. (fn. 238) It was called the Poor's Close, and its annual rent of £2 in 1738 and £2 7s. 6d. in 1823 was distributed annually to the poor in sums varying in 1823 from 6d. to 4s. according to need. (fn. 239)
In the late 19th century the land was let out in allotments, (fn. 240) but as it lay beyond Crowell Hill Wood, it was inconvenient for the cottagers and in 1919 it was leased for £4 a year. (fn. 241) This sum was distributed annually between 50 and 75 parishioners until 1939, (fn. 242) and in 1956 the £4 was being distributed to 5 poor persons. (fn. 243)