Aston Rowant Village takes its name from the Rohant Family, Lords of the Manor in the 14th century. Its earlier name was Aston St Helen (or Elene), presumably from the family of John de St Helen, who held Crowell in 1293. The Village grew up beside a Stream with its open fields stretching to both North and South, and in the Middle Ages was the largest of the Settlements in its enormous Parish. It declined in importance: by the 2nd half of the 17th century, it seems to have had a smaller number of houses than Kingston, although some of its houses were more substantial. There was the Manor-House of John Clerke Esq; there was Richard Crooke’s house with 13 hearths, John Thompson’s with 9, Robert Hester’s with 6, and the Vicar’s with 4, and 3 more Farmhouses with 3 to 5 hearths. In 1738 it had 23 Dwellings and in the 1820‘s there were 4 Farms, the Chequers Inn and 16 or 17 Houses and Cottages beside the Manor-House. There was much rebuilding in the 1st half of the 19th century and in 1860 there were 16 Cottages, some of them described as ‘rustic double cottages‘, 13 Tenements of which 6 were built of brick, the ‘Chequers‘ and Aston Lower Farm (sometimes called Aston Green Farm and now Home Farm). The layout of the 18th-century and early 19th-century Village can be seen in Estate maps of Aston Manor made respectively in 1768 and 1828, as well as in the Inclosure Map of 1835. The Old Village was concentrated more in Church Lane round its imposing Church and less around the Green than is the present one. The ‘Chequers‘ and a Farmhouse both lay in the lane, on the opposite side to the Church. Maps and documents show that as Population expanded at the end of the 18th-century houses were built along Copcourt Church Way, a continuation of Church Lane, as far as the Lower Icknield Way. Indeed, in 1767 the Cottages at Penn, adjoining Penn Furlong were numerous enough to merit being called the ‘Place or Hamlet called Penn‘. Houses for the poor were also built about this time on the waste near Brookfurlong.
The oldest of the surviving houses are still in Church Lane: flint and brick are the prevailing building materials and thatch is still commonly used for the roofs. The 19th-century Vicarage, Home Farm, the Village Shop, and most of the Cottages and Houses now lie scattered around the Green just to the east of Aston House and the Church. The Green itself was allotted by the Inclosure Commissioners in 1835 to Sir John Lambert and has since been private property; it survived proposals to enclose it in 1951.
The Vicarage (no longer used as such) is a substantial house of 2-Storeys. The 17th-century house was Let after 1761 by the non-resident Vicars and was rebuilt by the Rev John Holland in about 1808. It was twice enlarged at the end of the 19th century, first in 1874 by the Architect E G Bruton and then in 1878 by Arthur Vernon of High Wycombe. Chequer brick and slates were used for the new building, which retains several characteristic Regency features, such as its doorway with radiating fanlight. Home Farm seems to have been rebuilt by Brigadier General John Caillaud (1726-1812) and his wife Mary a little earlier: it has a stone inscribed I Siarey, the builder’s name, and the date 1794. Chequer brick was used for this house too.
The Farm buildings include the fine 16th-century Barn of weather-boarding on a flint base, perhaps built at the same time as the earlier Farmhouse shown on the map of 1768 as an L-shaped building with a formal garden laid out behind it. The Cottages on the Green in 1958 all dated from the 18th or 19th centuries. Judging from interior details the picturesque ‘House on the Green’, built of flint and red brick, was built at the same date as the new Home Farm, and the 3 Gabled Cottages nearby are also of the 18th century. Two groups, each of 4 Cottages, were put up in the 19th century. They are built in ‘Gothic’ style of red brick and flint and have yellow brick surrounds to the windows; their roofs are of slate. Another 19th-century addition was the school, opened in 1844 in a lane to the North of the Green. Twentieth-century development has taken place outside the Village: there are 14 detached houses, mostly built between 1931 and 1956, along the road leading to the A40 Oxford Road.
The Manor-House with its Park and Gardens was once ‘one of the remarkable seats of the County‘ as Brewer put it in his Guide of 1819, but the Sale of the Estate in 1951 was followed by the conversion of the Garden into a Market-garden, and of the Mansion into a store for Grass Products Ltd, a Wheatley grass-drying firm. The Lords of Aston or their Tenants were often Resident, and the History of the Manor-House may go back to 1352, when 4 Stonemasons and 3 Carpenters, engaged on the construction of a Chapel for a Thomas Crok (or Cok) were excused from Service overseas. This House may still have been standing in 1610 when Sir William Willoughby purchased the Lease of the Manor-House from Augustine Belson (II), who had been living there since 1584. The use of certain rooms was reserved in 1610 to Augustine and his Wife, and the account of these indicates that the house was built on the medieval pattern around a Courtyard and with an outside Gallery. It was of 2-storeys and included a Parlour, an old Kitchen, a new Kitchen, Larder House, ‘Sinke’ House, Slatter House, Work House, and Straw House. Most of these Buildings had either Chambers, a Study, or Cockloft above them. It is likely that John Clerke, who acquired the manor in 1647, rebuilt the house: it was at all events a Mansion of some pretensions in the 2nd half of the 17th century. John Clerke Jr, returned 20 Hearths for the Hearth Tax of 1665 and Robert Plot writing in 1677 said, ‘For garden walks I think one of the largest I met with was at the worshipful Mr. Clerke’s’. The 17th-century house seems to have been greatly enlarged at some date before 1768. An Estate Map of that year depicts it with a most irregular ground-plan. A narrow rectangular building with 2 projecting Wings, presumably the 17th-century Mansion or a part of it, has a square building with angle-projections added on to the South-west end. The Formal Garden, neatly divided into 6 compartments, and an Orchard lie to the East, and the whole is enclosed by a Wall and partly by water. A moated Farmhouse, standing beside the Kingston Road in Little Toms Meadow, provided a pleasant view to the South. The creation of an extensive Park and its landscaping must have been the work of General Caillaud who bought the Property in 1769 and died at Aston in 1812. Some of the later alterations have been sketched in red ink on the Map of 1768, but full details of the reconstructed House and its surroundings can be seen on a later Estate map of 1828: Little Toms Meadow and Great Toms, formerly divided by a Hedge, have been united and converted into Parkland covering 32 Acres and planted with groups of trees; the grounds also included the ‘new meadow‘ West of the Church Way, the moors to the East, and inclosed Meadow in Kingston Blount Township. The straightening of the Kingston Road to the south and Church Lane to the West was a part of the new Scheme: the Moated House has been pulled down and an ornamental water with an island in the middle of it now flows over its site and a new Farmhouse has been built on the Kingston Road; the Mansion-House appears to have been added to and the Gardens made less formal. Haseley stone with dressings of Bath stone was used for the 18th and 19th-century House which, until it was gutted by Fire in 1957, had a fine Staircase and Picture Gallery. The House and Gardens together covered about 11 acres in 1828 and with its Outbuildings, Plantations, Park, Cottages, and Woods amounted to 121 acres, and this had been increased to 161 acres by 1939. As a part of the labour of improving the amenities of his Estate General Caillaud pulled down the old ‘Poors-houses‘ in the Churchyard and built new ones farther away.
I have recently traced my family back to George Jones born abt 1811/12 in Aston Rowant where he lived with his wife Jane and Son William. Other than the fact that he was an Agricultural Labourer and Jane a Lacemaker I know little else of them. If anyone can help I would love to talk to you, even if you have an old street map of the village or any old photo’s. I recently travelled to Aston Rowant but although a beautiful village I would love to know how it looked years ago. Sharon Jones
George Jones baptised 2nd August 1811, the son of John and Charlotte Jones. This record and all parish records for that Church are available in a transcribed format on CD. Aston Rowant was part of the Thame District, and if you look on the Oxfordshire Family History site: http://www.ofhs.org.uk/ the disk you want is their reference: OXF-TH02. Costs about £15 from memory. The records for Aston Rowant date back to 1554 and a few other Parishes included on same disk.