A small number of Roman Coins have been found in the Parish, some at Down Covert North of the Village on the County Boundary and others near the Sydenham Boundary. The record of continuous occupation begins, however, in the Anglo-Saxon Period. Emmington may have been settled in the 6th century or earlier: the name means ‘Eama’s farm’ and placenames with the ending ‘ingtun‘ are likely to be of early date. Both before and after the Conquest it was held with Crowell by one man, 1st by the Saxon Alwin and then by the Norman William Peverel. Emmington was said to have land for 5 ploughs, but 7 ploughs were at work, 2 on the Demesne where there were 6 Serfs, and 5 that were shared by 10 Villeins and 4 Bordars. Some 12 acres of Meadow are recorded. The value of the Estate had risen since the Conquest from £6 to £7. By 1255 it was said to be worth £10 and 20 years later it was valued at £20. The Manor included 20 acres of Meadow valued at 3s an acre, 130½ acres and 1 piece of Arable, valued at 10d an acre and amounting in all to £9 8s 7½d and 10½ acres of Pasture, valued at 1s an acre. Assized Rents were also included but were more fully described in the 1279 Hundred Rolls. The Meadow was valued highly, and the Arable exceptionally highly, but it is not surprising in view of the great reputation for Fertility that the Thame Valley has always had.
In 1279 there were 16 Virgates in Demesne with Meadow and Pasture, and 19½ Virgates were held by 18 Virgaters and 4 half-Virgaters and there were 4 Free Virgates. The Virgater paid 3s 6d Rent a year and owed works at the Lord’s pleasure from Midsummer (24th June) to Lammas (1st Aug) each week for 3 days with one man at his own cost, and from Lammas to Michaelmas (29th Sept.) each week for 5 days with one man. He also owed 2 Bedreaps with one man at his own cost and was then released from payment of 10½d of his Rent for the Michaelmas Term. His daughters could not marry without Licence. Two half-Virgaters paid 2s 3d Rent and owed similar works; another paid 2s rent and if the Lord wished had to hold the Lord’s Plough. If he did this work he was Quit of Rent. The 4th half-Virgater, the Smith, made the Ploughshares of 2 of the Lord’s Ploughs and apparently owed no works or Rent. A Nicholas Clement held 2 free Virgates for 13s 4d and paid Suit at the Lord’s Court and at the Hundred Court. Nicholas Franklin with 1 Free Virgate paid 5s and had to ride on the Lord’s Business; he had to come with one man to the Reaping and Haymaking, but the Lord gave him food on these occasions. A 3rd Virgater held freely for 2s on a life Lease. After another 40 years, judging from another Extent, the Manor may have declined in value, but it is impossible to make any certain comparisons between Extents of different dates. There was a Messuage with a Close and Garden in Demesne, valued at 6s 8d; 185 acres of Arable were valued at only 4d an acre, much less than in 1275; 9½ acres of Meadow were valued at 1s 3d an acre and 18 acres of Pasture at 6d an acre; Customary Labour was apparently utilized as much as possible. There were 20 Customary Tenants paying the same Rent as in 1279 and performing works; as before, they obtained a reduction in their Rent if they worked, a day’s work being valued at ¼d; they were also allowed 1¼d a day over the Harvest Period and 1d a day when Mowing: this may reflect some new arrangement about works since 1279. The 9 tenants were described as Cottars; their total Rent came to £1 12s 6d and they had to help at Haymaking for 2 days and at Reaping for another 2 days. In addition to his duty of repairing the Lord’s Plough, the Smith had to pay 3s 4d Rent. Court profits were valued at 2s a year and the whole estate was said to be worth £11 9s 11½d.
This Extent recorded 29 Tenants of the Manor and in the same year there were 15 Contributors to the Tax of a 16th, when £1 13s 1d was raised. Ten years earlier 20 or more Inhabitants had Contributed when £1 16s 9d was raised for the 30th, and in 1327 24 Contributed £2 3s 9d for the 20th. Emmington’s Inhabitants were only moderately prosperous; in 1316 they mostly paid under 2s compared with the 12s 3d paid by the Lady of the Manor, Joan de Sackville; in 1327 over half the Contributors again paid less than 2s. After 1334 the Village’s Contribution was fixed at £2 16s 3d, a medium-size Assessment for the Hundred and almost twice that of Crowell’s. Almost nothing is known of the Village’s economic life in the 15th century. In the 16th century it was moderately prosperous with a number of Husbandmen or small Yeoman Farmers, but with no one of outstanding wealth. Eight Inhabitants Contributed to the 1525 Subsidy, and the total sum paid was only 21s. In 1577 again 8 Inhabitants contributed to the Subsidy and were assessed on comparatively small amounts in goods, between £3 to £5.
In the 17th century such evidence indicates that Emmington may have been a smaller Village than it was in the 13th & 14th centuries. Only 11 persons were considered eligible for the Hearth Tax of 1662, the Compton Census recorded 36 adults in 1676, and there appear to be no more than 11 houses and cottages on an Estate Map of 1697.
The Inclosure of the Common Fields, which was completed before the end of the century, must have contributed to this depopulation. The Map of 1697 shows the old Arable Open-fields divided into several large Holdings and the Common Pasture divided into Closes. The survival of Furlong names in the North and South-east of the Parish for about 335 acres out of the total of 675 acres under cultivation roughly indicates the position of the former Open-fields. The largest Holdings of 47 and 27 acres were occupied by John and Thomas Howlett respectively and another Howlett held 2 fields of 23 acres and 20 acres. There were a number of smaller Closes near the Village and various large Pasture-Closes. Town End Pasture (14a) for instance, lay at the end of the Village Street, 3 Pasture Inclosures (49a in all) lay to the East of Thameway, and there were 2 others of 15 and 16 acres respectively. Some 87 acres of Meadow is shown: of these 40 acres divided into 3-acre Strips lay in the South along the Chinnor Boundary by a road called Burgidge Way, which has long been disused; 24 acres in 1-and 2-acre lost lay West of the ‘Road from London to Thame‘ (the present Thame-Chinnor road); and the rest lay in Grove Mead (14a) and Down Mead (9a) in the North-east of the Parish.
In the 18th century, the Whites at the Manor Farm were the principal Farmers. It is noteworthy that in 1712 William White employed 4 ‘Servants’ and that 3 of the other Farmers were each employing 2. As the land was Inclosed 9 out of the 13 houses recorded in 1759 were inhabited by ‘labourers‘. The good grazing land, however, and the proximity of the Oxford and Thame Markets with their constant demand for Butcher’s Meat ensured a fair livelihood to the Villagers, and there was less poverty than in more populous un-Inclosed Villages. The Poor-rate at the end of the 18th century was among the lowest in the County, being only 2s 4d, whereas the County average was 4s 6d and the Hundred average 6s 2d. Nevertheless, by the end of the Napoleonic Wars there were 12 Paupers in Emmington out of a population of about 70.
Another consequence of Inclosure was the absence of the Smallholder. From 1786 to 1804 Sir William Ashhurst’s 4 Tenants farmed land assessed for the Land Tax at £22, £6, £6, and £2 respectively. From 1805 to 1832 2 Tenant Farmers farmed all 4 Farms. By 1841, when the Tithe Award was made, 3 of the Farms were in the hands of the North Family. Field Farm (later Waterlands) does not appear to have existed before the 2nd half of the 18th century since its Homestead was built sometime after 1759. The other Farms were Emmington Farm (later Village Farm) of 216 acres, Manor Farm (194a) and Grove farm (125a). Half this land was Arable (336a.) and half Meadow & Pasture (335a). The Map shows that all the fields were hedged and that there had been practically no change in Field Boundaries since 1697. As a consequence of single Ownership there had been a good deal of Tree planting. No Woodland appears on the 1697 Map, but in 1841 there were 43 acres, mostly described as ‘Plantations’. These included Down Covert and part of Great Covert and 20 small clumps and Shelter Belts of an acre or less.
The general tendency towards the amalgamation of Farms is seen at Emmington in the late 19th century and after. By 1895 P J D Wykeham at Village Farm farmed 259 acres, having taken over 43 acres from Grove Farm; by 1925 Grange Farm (or Grove) and Waterlands had combined. Some light is thrown on the conditions of farming in this period by a series of Leases: in 1906 the Tenant was to find wheat straw for Thatching and to cultivate the Arable land on the regular 4-course System, he was not to crop with more than 2 white-straw Crops in any 4 years and then not with the same kind of Grain, nor was he to plant more than ¼-acre with Potatoes. Vetches saved for Seed were to count as a white-straw Crop. He was not to mow more than half the grass-land in any year and no part twice in a year. He was to consume on the Farm all the hay, straw, roots, and green crops produced, but he might sell his 1st crop of clover Hay and his Meadow Hay and wheat straw provided he brought back cake or other artificial food to the manurial value of 25s. for each ton so sold. Thistles were to be cut twice yearly, ditches cleansed and hedges made and plashed annually. The permanent grass was not to be ploughed. Beans and other pulse were to be hoed at least twice and weeded. Turnip, rape, flax, hemp, and other unusual or exhausting crops were forbidden.
There were no Shopkeepers or other Traders recorded in the 19th-century Directories for Emmington. In 1851 there was one Shepherd and 2 Gamekeepers, but most Emmington men worked on the land as Agricultural Labourers while their wives were Lacemakers as in neighbouring villages. Like many other Oxfordshire Parishes, Emmington reached its peak in Population by the mid-19th century: there were between 70 and 80 Inhabitants from 1801 to 1831, but 104 by 1851. The Population then declined to 75 in 1881 and 44 in 1901 and remained at that level until 1932, when the Parish was merged with Chinnor. In 1951 the population of the Ecclesiastical Parish was 39.