Until 20thC reorganisation, Checkendon Parish stretched c.6¼-miles from Littlestoke by the River Thames through to Wyfold on the Chiltern Dip Slope. The Church, unusually for the area, stands on the Chiltern Ridge towards the Centre of the Parish, close to Checkendon Court; the surrounding Checkendon ‘Village’ was a mere Hamlet until the 20thC, however, and Settlement across the Parish remains scattered.
At Littlestoke a Medieval Riverside Hamlet shrank to little more than a single Manor House & Farmstead by probably the 16thC, while the nearby Country House at Braziers Park (remodelled in the 18thC) originated as an isolated Farmhouse. The Settlement at Wyfold, a former Grange of Thame Abbey reflects 12th & 13thC Woodland Assarting, the present-day Wyfold Court (built in a flamboyant French Gothic style) occupying a new Site adopted in the 1870s, and serving as a Psychiatric Hospital from the 1930’s until 1993.
In 1878 the Parish covered 3,077 acres, its unusual shape resulting from the incorporation of a large block of Chiltern Woodland around Wyfold. Unlike the rest of the Parish, that area (sometimes called Wyfold ‘Liberty’) belonged to the Royal Manor of Benson until the 1150’s and remained a detached part of Ewelme or Benson Hundred; it nevertheless belonged to Checkendon Parish by 1452, having perhaps been taken in following the area’s Grant to Thame Abbey c.1153. The rest formed a typical Chiltern ‘Strip’ Parish running up from the Thames, along whose mid-stream the Boundary was confirmed in 1219. The long Northern & Southern Boundaries followed Open-field Furlongs, Wood Banks, Hedgerows & Lanes, diverting around the Upland Woods to take in Neal’s Farm & Hook End. The Eastern Boundary with Rotherfield Peppard brought in the Site of the former Abbey Grange and was probably also fixed after the 1150s. A 15-acre Meadow at Littlestoke (formerly attached to Ipsden Parish) was transferred to Checkendon in 1883, and more substantial changes in 1952 created a reduced Civil Parish of 2,574 acres, with 497 acres (including Littlestoke) lost to South Stoke, 379 acres (including Braziers Park) to Ipsden, and 51 acres (including Wyfold Grange) to Rotherfield Peppard. Gains included Nuthatch & Scot’s Common (both from Ipsden). Alterations in 1992 & 2003, the former taking in Exlade Street from Woodcote and the latter ceding Wyfold Court to Rotherfield Peppard, left Checkendon with c.2,434 acres (985 ha) in 2011.
Checkendon Parish Plan
Landscape – The Parish lies on Chalk, overlain by Alluvium beside the Thames, and on the Chiltern Hills by patches of clay, silt, sand & flinty gravel, which were sometimes Quarried for Brick earth, Chalk marl & Road stone. The Land rises from 45M. at Littlestoke to 90M on a Hillock called Leasendon or Watch Folly, climbing more steeply up the Chiltern Scarp to 170M at Hammond’s & Wheeler’s Farms. Checkendon itself, on the Chiltern Ridge at 170−180M, stands at the head of a dry Valley which presumably gave it its Valley-related place name. The well-wooded Wyfold & Hook End are divided by a shallower dry Valley known as Splashall or Rumerhedge Bottom, the Land beyond falling gently Eastwards to 120M at Wyfold Grange. Water supply until the 20thC was chiefly from Wells, Clay-lined Ponds, and underground Cisterns filled with Rainwater collected from Roofs, although in times of drought River water was carted uphill from the Thames at Littlestoke. Ponds documented from the Middle Ages included several with names incorporating Old English mere, while Checkendon ‘Village’ had Ponds near the Church, one of them known later as Black Ditch. In 1868 Villagers reportedly preferred the water from a ‘dirty-looking’ Pond by the Churchyard to the ‘clear, tasteless, & cold’ water obtained from a 300-ft Rectory Well sunk after 1790, which they shunned as ‘unwholesome’. Mains water was provided from c.1904 by the Goring & Streatley District Gas & Water Co and its successor the South Oxfordshire Water & Gas Co.
Communications – Early long-distance Routes crossing Checkendon Parish North–South included the pre-Roman Icknield Way, following the foot of the Scarp to a River crossing at Goring. On lower ground, Tudding Way (the modern B4009) & ‘Small Port Way’ (the A4074) both ran from Wallingford to Reading. The Chiltern Ridge is traced by a probable prehistoric Ridgeway along which Checkendon ‘Village’ developed, and which was formerly connected to the Valley Routes & Littlestoke (with its Ferry) by a Lane along the dry Valley past Bottom Farm. Now partly surviving as a Bridleway called Swan’s Way, in the Middle Ages it was ‘Mill Path’ (referring to Littlestoke Mill) and ‘Church Way’, while its uppermost part (East of Wheeler’s Farm) became Bradley Street, and an Eastward continuation from the ‘Village’ towards Wyfold was Emmens or Whitehall Lane. Wyfold itself was crossed by an early West–East Route (now mainly footpaths) from Goring to Henley, which passed Sheepwash Pond and began probably as part of a long-distance Anglo-Saxon Droveway. Still Mapped in 1840, by 1878 part had apparently been lost in Woodland. Wider links are reflected in Littlestoke being ‘an easy day’s Journey from London’ c.1720. Enclosure in 1864 had little impact on the Parish’s Roads, although Icknield Way ceased to be a Public Highway. Minor metalled Roads now run through Checkendon Village, Hook End & past Wyfold Grange to Sonning Common, while Whitehall Lane’s Eastern end was metalled in the late 1960s. Weekly Carrier Services to Reading operated by 1854, run initially by the Village Publican and expanded later to 2 or 3 days a week. Samuel Hall & Sons of Woodcote introduced motorised Lorries & Buses (the latter soon running daily) in 1919 and in the late 1920’s 3 rival Companies operated between Checkendon ‘Village’, Reading, Woodcote, & Stoke Row. Of those the Woodcote-based Kemp’s Motor Services Ltd and its successor, Chiltern Queens maintained a daily Reading Service until 1986, adding a weekly one to Henley from c.1947 to 2002. In 2019 a weekly Bus linked Checkendon ‘Village’ with Goring & Henley.
(Littlestoke Ferry was in neighbouring Ipsden Parish. Source: Jefferys, Oxon. Map 1767).
Post – was delivered through Henley by 1847, when the Grocer & Ironfounder Fletcher Hope (and later his son-in-law) ran a Post Office with the Grocery Shop. During Maud Pullen’s long tenure as Postmistress (1903-51), the Post Office occupied various Sites in Checkendon ‘Village’, becoming an Express Delivery Office with a Telephone & Telegraph by 1915, although the Parish Council’s request in 1928 for provision of Money Orders and a Savings Bank was rejected by the Postmaster General. From 1972 the Post Office occupied a Shop in Whitehall Lane, but closed in 2016, replaced by a Mobile Service in Checkendon ‘Village’ open 2-hrs a week.
Old Cottage. 17thC with 19thC windows. Timber-frame with Brick infill; plain old Tile Roof; Brick Ridge Stack. One Storey & Attic. Plank Door to right. 2 irregular windows to left. Gabled Dormer to right.
Population – In 1086 Checkendon Manor had 18 recorded Tenants & Littlestoke 10, probably each representing a household, while others may have lived at Wyfold. By 1279 there were 52 Tenant households in all (29 at Checkendon, 14 at Wyfold, and 9 at Littlestoke), though only 17 paid Tax in 1306, the rest being presumably too poor. The long-term impact of the Black Death may have been relatively limited since 111 people aged over 14 (the 3rd highest number in Langtree Hundred) paid Poll Tax in Checkendon & Littlestoke in 1377. Nonetheless, 16thC Tax Lists suggest (as later) a slightly lower population than in some neighbouring parishes, while 40% of Taxpayers in 1581 lived at Wyfold. By 1662 there were 35 households including 12 at Wyfold, with an estimated adult population of 147 in 1676. 18thC Clergy reported 30−40 houses,45 and in 1811 there were 46 accommodating 278 people. Following a small decrease, the population peaked at 410 (in 76 houses) in 1851, falling to 339 in 1871, but recovering to 430 (in 116 houses) in 1931. A rise to 981 in 1951 reflected the development of Borocourt Hospital in Wyfold, whose patients and staff presumably comprised the 555 residents in 1971 (out of 1,188 in all) who were not in private households. The Hospital’s closure in 1993 left a 2001 population of 453, rising to 493 (in 190 households) in 2011.
Borocourt Hospital – Country House, now Hospital, formerly known as Wyfold Court. Built 1872–78 by George Somers Clarke the Elder for Edward Hermon. Some 20thC alterations. Red Brick with grey Brick Diaper pattern; plain Tile Roof; Brick Stacks. Complex Plan, French Gothic style. 2-Storeys and Attic with 4-Storey & Attic Wing to right; higher Towers. 14-window Range. Stone porte-cochere to left with 2-Centre Arches to 3-sides. Studded door with Gothic moulded Stone surround. Irregular Fenestration, mostly of Stone Mullion & Transom windows with elaborate carved Hoods. Complex Gabled Roof with cross-Gables, Towers & Turrets. Ornamental Ridge Tiles & ornamental Metal Ridges to Towers & Turrets. Decorative carved Brick Stacks. Elaborately carved Stone details. Other Elevations of same quality & complexity.
Interior: Vaulted Stone Main Corridor to Ground Floor with original light fittings. Open-well Staircase with elaborate carved Balustrade, Armorial glass to windows & fixed Paintings. Many of the interiors survive with some 20thC alterations. Bought in 1932 and became Borocourt Hospital. Subsequently closed down and converted into upmarket Apartments in the 1990’s
Prehistoric to Anglo-Saxon
A Flint core found at Rumerhedge points to Palaeolithic activity in the Hills, and Mesolithic worked Flints have been recovered in the River Valley near Littlestoke, along with dense scatters of Neolithic & Bronze-Age Flintwork & Pottery. Neolithic Flint hand-axes have also been found in Checkendon ‘Village’ and at Wyfold. An irregular enclosure North-East of Bottom Farm (the so-called Devil’s Churchyard) has yielded middle Iron-Age Pottery, and a small Iron-Age Hillfort survives at Castle Grove South-west of Wyfold Grange, while a ditched enclosure encompassing Wyfold Grange itself may be Iron-Age or later. Nearby metal-detector finds include a Hoard of 7 late Iron-Age Gold & Silver Coins with contemporary Horse Fittings. Romano-British activity is represented by chance finds of coins, metalwork & pottery across the Parish, including a 2ndC Hoard of 24 Brass Coins from Wyfold. A probable Roman Villa just over the Parish Boundary in Ipsden may be reflected in the Littlestoke Field-name ‘Blackland’, frequently associated with Roman remains. Anglo-Saxon pottery & metalwork has been found at Littlestoke, whose name (Old English stoc) implies a secondary Settlement perhaps originally dependent on Benson or Goring. Wyfold certainly belonged to the Benson Royal Estate, its place-name (incorporating Old English fald or ‘fold’) referring perhaps to the Wyfold Grange Earthwork enclosure, which lies on a former Droving Route and was possibly used to hold Livestock. and, as later; nonetheless, the cluster which became Checkendon ‘Village’, located on a Ridgeway near reliable Ponds, was Settled probably before the Conquest, and had a Church by c.1100 if not before.
Medieval & Later Settlement – Though Settlement remained dispersed, small Hamlets grew up at Checkendon & Littlestoke from the Middle Ages, the former clustered around the Church, the adjacent Manor House (preceding Checkendon Court), and a nearby rectory house established by 1272. A Tenant surnamed ‘de Ecclesia’ lived presumably by the Churchyard, and in 1314 the ‘Vill’ contained a row of Cottages with Crofts,
Earthworks South of Checkendon Court – perhaps indicating some Settlement shrinkage following the Black Death. Four surviving houses are of 15th or 16thC date, and a predecessor of Old Cottage (in 1711 the only Dwelling in Whitehall Lane) may have existed by 1564. Littlestoke Mill existed by 1086, the nearby Manor House (documented from 1331) standing probably on or near the Site of the present Littlestoke Manor, perhaps at the Medieval Hamlet’s Southern end. Degraded Earthworks between there and Littlestoke House in Ipsden have produced 12th & 13thC Pottery & Roofing Tile, and Cottages stood close together in Stoke ‘vill’ in 1314, the byname ‘above-Town’ referring presumably to a House at its top end or on the Hillside above. The Settlement was by then known as Stoke Marmion or Stoke Parva (Littlestoke), distinguishing it from neighbouring North & South Stoke. By 1614 (and probably by the 16thC) it had shrunk to a single Demesne Farmstead attached to the Manor House, and the Mill was last mentioned in 1539.
Wyfold was Granted to Thame Abbey in the 1150s as ‘Wyfold & Rumerhedge’ (the latter name meaning ‘rough pond hedge’), though whether Settlement already existed is unclear. The Monks presumably built a Grange or Manor House on the Site of the present Wyfold Grange, and began Assarting Woodland for Tenants, who by 1279 numbered 14; amongst them were members of the Hook Family, from whom Hook End is probably named. Hook End Farm itself existed by 1584 & Rumerhedge Farm by 1675, while Beechwood Farm had a ‘new’ House in 1707. In addition, at least 10 Cottages were scattered across the area in 1789, including 2 or 3 near Hook End Farm, and one at Kempwood used later as a Beerhouse. Dispersed Settlement elsewhere in the Parish is indicated by the high proportion of Tenants in 1279 named from outlying Woods, Valleys, Fields & Ponds. Neal’s, Hammond’s & Wheeler’s Farms are all named from Medieval Freeholders, while Ouseley & Braziers Farms were mentioned in 1635 & Bottom Farm in 1673, Braziers being remodelled later as a Country House. Hammond’s End (formerly Bradley Street Farm) & Lovegrove’s Farm were Copyholds in 1651, while Hammond’s Cottage was Crosshouse Farm in 1739.
Checkendon ‘Village’ as shown on the 1840 Tithe Map. Note the various Ponds vital to its Water supply. Checkendon Court is on the left and the former Rectory House towards the bottom. The Church is coloured black near the centre. The Schoolroom (built in 1840) is not shown.
Checkendon Court itself was remodelled as a Gabled Brick-&-Tile House probably in the 1620s, and by the 18thC Brick & Tile were ubiquitous certainly in larger Dwellings.
Country House. 17thC, extended by Guy Dawber in 1920. Red Brick; plain Tile Roof; Brick Stacks. Complex Plan. 2-Storeys & Attic; 5-window Range. Central 20thC oak ribbed Door to projecting Single-Storey Porch with single 20thC windows to left & right. 3-light Wooden Mullion & Transom window to right. 5 Wooden Mullion and Transom windows to 1st-Floor. 3 cross-Gables to Attic with single 3-light Wooden Mullioned window to each. Interior not inspected but likely to be of interest.
In 1840 Checkendon ‘Village’ contained 9-Houses along with a Smithy, Pub & newly built Schoolroom adjoining the Churchyard. The Smithy moved to near Foundry House c.1880, its earlier Site replaced in 1906 by Langtree Cottages, while a Village Hall was built beside the School in 1914. Most other 20thC development was further North along Whitehall Lane, where a few houses built between 1898 & 1913 were followed by 6 semi-detached Council Houses called Parkside in 1928, and by 18 more (in a cul-de-sac called Emmens Close) c.1951/2, Mains Electricity having arrived in 1936. In 1962 the Parish Council condemned the spread of private housing (mainly Bungalows) along Whitehall Lane’s northern side as ‘undesirable … ribbon development’, but growth quickened after 1972 when the ‘Village’ acquired mains drainage, and in 1991 5-Bungalows were erected as sheltered accommodation for the elderly. Infilling & rebuilding continued, a new house replacing the former Post Office Shop in 2017. At Wyfold, the isolated Heath End was built for the Lord of Checkendon c.1851, while in the 1870s Edward Hermon erected a School at Hook End, a new Wyfold Court on a different Site, and a nearby Bailiff’s House. An Anglican Mission Room built on the Lane between Hook End & Checkendon in 1888 was replaced with a House before 1913. After Wyfold Court’s conversion to a Psychiatric Hospital in the 1930’s numerous ancillary buildings were constructed in its Grounds but were removed following the Hospital’s Closure in 1993. The Mansion itself was converted into Residential Apartments in 1999 and in the late 1990’s & early 2000’s over 75 dwellings were created in its Grounds from converted Victorian Outbuildings or as new-built Houses, creating cul-de-sacs called Ashdown Way, Baron Way, Hawthorn Drive & Hazel Grove. All were transferred to Rotherfield Peppard Parish with Wyfold Court in 2003.
The Built Character
Checkendon’s oldest domestic buildings date from the 15th or 16thC, and typically for the area are Timber-framed with Brick or Flint infill & tiled roofs, probably often replacing wattle-&-daub and Thatch. In Checkendon ‘village’, Foundry House, The Lodge, and the former Four Horseshoes Pub began as Open Hall-houses with a central Hearth, and are all Cruck-framed, while the Old Rectory incorporates a 4-Bay Box-framed house of c.1530−50, extended before 1599. Later (probably 17thC) Timber -raming survives at Foundry Cottage opposite the Church (a Cottage pair renovated in the 1980s), and at Old Cottage in Whitehall Lane, which has 1-Storey plus Attic. Similar-sized dwellings must have been common in the 1660s when around half the Parish’s Houses had only 1–2 Hearths, alongside some larger Farmhouses with 5 or 6 and, exceptionally, Checkendon Court & Littlestoke Manor House with 8 & 10.
Old Rectory, now 2-Houses. 17thC with early & mid-19thC recasing & extension, 20thC alterations. Grey Brick with Red Brick Dressings; Slate Roof; Brick Stack. Complex Plan. 2-Storey, 6-window Range. Glazed 4-panel, 2-centre Arched Door with Gabled Slate Roof . Porch to right; lean-to Roof to left. 19thC sashes to most openings. Bullion & Transom window to 1st-Floor left. Complex Roof hipped to centre, flanked by cross-Gables with Hipped Roof to left & right. Timber-frame to left return with Queen-post Roof Truss. Interior: not inspected.
Bottom Farm (which incorporates a Brick dated 1710) was remodelled before c.1785 as a large Georgian Farmhouse with a central Doorway, hipped Roof, and Dormers, and has a Timber-framed Granary on Staddle Stones. Hammond’s Farm is of similar date, also with an 18thC Granary and a Threshing Barn built possibly in 1774. Higher status remodellings included the conversion c.1750 of Braziers Farm into a medium-sized Gentry House which was later Gothicised, while the Rectory acquired a Regency Extension with ‘distinctly Soanian Interiors’ in 1823/4, and Neal’s Farm was rebuilt in Georgian Style c.1844. A plainer Red-brick style with segmental-arched windows was adopted in the Schoolroom of 1840, adjoining the Churchyard. Victorian Gothic appeared in E G Bruton’s ‘severe and austere’ alterations at the Rectory House in 1865/6, followed by Edward Hermon’s extensive building campaign on the Wyfold Court Estate in the 1870s, to designs by George Somers Clarke the elder. Wyfold Court, in particular, comprises ‘a stupendous essay in French Flamboyant Gothic’, while a more modest Tudor-Gothic was used for Wyfold School, Chartersfield Hall (originally the Bailiff’s House), and Wyfold Grange, all featuring Red Brickwork with Blue Brick diapering and large Brick Chimney Stacks.
Chartesfield Hall – Estate Bailiffs House. Probably 1872/8 by George Somers Clarke, the elder, for Edward Hermon, a Cotton Manufacturer. English-bond Red Brick with Blue Brick diapering, Stone Dressings and some Timber-framing. Plain Tile Roof with Stone coping to Gable ends and crested Ridge-tiles. Brick lateral & axial Stacks with tall Shafts with corbelled Brick caps & strings. An asymmetrical composition in a robust Tudor-Gothic style.
Exterior: 2-Storeys. Asymmetrical elevations. Entrance Front has large projecting lateral Stack on right with Brick diaperwork, small fire-windows, set-offs, the Upper one with Stone weathering incorporating a Gablet containing an Armorial device; lean-to Porch in angle on left with wooden arcaded Front on low wall. The left return has two staggered Gables, the left projects, the right with open Bracing, Timber-framed & Jettied and with what looks like an Oven projection below. The right-hand return also has Braced & Timber-framed Gable Jettied out over Stone Bay window on Ground Floor; on right the Ground Floor projects with lean-to Roof. Small single-Storey Service Wing at rear.
Interior: not recorded but room to right of Main Entrance has wide Fireplace with low moulded segmental Arch & 2-Fire-windows.
In the early 20thC several Checkendon Landowners commissioned London based Architects working in Arts-&-Crafts & Jacobethan styles. Ormrod Maxwell Ayrton oversaw alterations to Heath End (incorporating Murals by the Artist Arthur Hacker), and designed Langtree Cottages in Checkendon ‘village’, a picturesque row of 3 Oak-framed dwellings built for Sir Edward Busk in 1906, and incorporating a Jettied cross-Wing, lath-&-plaster infill, a plain Tile Roof, and Brick Chimney Stacks. Around the same time Maxwell Maberly Smith made alterations to Checkendon Court and The Lodge (then the Post Office), while c.1907 Herbert Mansford remodelled Yewtree Cottage as Crosshouse (also known as Hammond’s), and in 1920 Guy Dawber designed the Churchyard’s Timber-framed Lych Gate, followed by Colcutt & Hamp’s Jacobethan remodellings of Hook End Farm (later Manor). Extensions to Checkendon Court in the 1980s maintained the existing Red Brick vernacular, while by contrast Oakwood Farm near Hook End, by Aldington, Craig & Collinge, is a modernist Farmhouse of 2007/8, built around 3-sides of a Courtyard and featuring monopitch Roofs & large expanses of glass.
Many times these Saddle Stones were made of a single Stone, but most often the merging of the 2-shapes. They date from the 17th & 18thCs and were developed through “need”. They were practical Foundation Stones which kept wooden Structures from rotting, with the Cap also acting as a Barrier to Vermin trying to gain access to Stores of Hay, Grain or Game.