The Area of Aston & Kingston was favourable for early Settlement. The 3-Springs rising in the 2 Villages and flowing Northwards into the Holbrook provided a good water supply; the soil in the Plain consisting of both Chalk & Clay was highly productive and the slopes of the Chilterns provided Beech Woods for feeding pigs, and ample brushwood & Building Timber. There are indications that the advantages of the Site were appreciated in pre-Roman times, but the continuous life of the Villages probably dates from the early Anglo-Saxon Period. Aston or the ‘East Tun‘ grew up at the source of one of the Streams and was so named perhaps to distinguish it from ‘West Tun‘ (now South Weston), lying 2-miles to the West. Kingston (Chingestone) or the ‘King’s Tun‘ developed at the source of the other 2-Streams and beside an Ancient Road (Lower Icknield Way) connecting all the Villages at the foot of the Chilterns. Both Villages are likely to have been originally the centres of an important Royal Estate, but before the time of Domesday Book both had been alienated. In 1065 Aston, by then in the hands of a Saxon Freeman Ulstan who had a Tenant Aluric with 1 Virgate, was worth £15. This valuable Estate included the territory of Stokenchurch, later to become a separate Parish and of Chalford & Copcourt, Hamlets of Aston that may have been already in existence. In 1086, when the Estate belonged to Miles Crispin, it was assessed at 20-Hides. For so extensive a Property the assessment of 20-Hides is low and may be explained by beneficial Hidation, by a large amount of Wasteland, or possibly by devastation by the Northern Insurgents. There was said to be Land for 33 Ploughs & 20 acres of Meadow were recorded. The Demesne was comparatively very small, having only 3 Plough-teams worked by 6-Serfs. As 26 Villani, 3 Bordars & 15 Free Tenants owned another 30 Plough-teams, all the available Land was presumably being cultivated. The number of Free Tenants is exceptionally large, only 8 others being recorded in the County, and may perhaps be attributed both to the Villages early connection with the Anglo-Saxon Kings and to the wooded nature of some of the Terrain which was more suitable for isolated Holdings than for Open-field cultivation.
Ancient Ploughing & Threshing
The ancient Plough was light, the Draught comparatively easy; but then the very lightness required that the Ploughman should lean upon it with his whole weight, or else it would glide over the Soil without making a single Furrow. “Unless,” said Pliny, “the Ploughman stoop forward, to press down the plough, as well as to conduct it, truly it will turn aside.” Eastern Ploughshares were of a Lighter make than ours, and those who notice the shortness & substance of ancient Weapons, among such as are preserved in Museums, will understand how readily they might be applied to Agricultural uses.
Oxen were anciently employed in Threshing Corn, and the same Custom is still retained in Egypt and the East. This operation is effected by Trampling upon the Sheaves, and by dragging a clumsy Machine, furnished with 3-Rollers that turn on their axles. A wooden Chair is attached to the machine, and on this a Driver seats himself, urging his Oxen backwards & forwards among the Sheaves, which have previously been thrown into a heap of about 8ft wide & 2 in height. The Grain thus beaten out, is collected in an open place, and shaken against the wind by an attendant, with a small Shovel, or, as it is termed, a Winnowing Fan, which disperses the Chaff and leaves the Grain uninjured. Horace further tells us, that the Threshing Floor was mostly a smooth space, surrounded with mud walls, having a Barn or Garner on one side; occasionally an Open-field. This void space was no other than a Threshing Floor.
Manorialism was characterised by the Vesting of Legal & Economic power in a Lord of the Manor, supported Economically from his own direct Landholding in a Manor (sometimes called a Fief), and from the obligatory contributions of a legally subject part of the Peasant Population under the Jurisdiction of himself and his Manorial Court. These obligations could be payable in several ways, in Labour (the French term corvée is conventionally applied), in-kind, or, on rare occasions, in Coin.
Kingston, also in Miles Crispin’s hands, had only 19-Tenants compared with Aston’s 50. It was divided into 2-Manors. On the one assessed at 7-Hides there were 2-Ploughs in Demesne worked by 6 Serfs & 4 Villani and 1 Bordar had 2 Ploughs. Sixteen acres of Meadow were also recorded. Here the Land appears to have been only partly cultivated as there were 2-Plough-lands in excess of Plough-teams. Its value had risen from £6 to £7, whereas at Aston there had been a rise of 25%. On the 5-Hide Estate which a certain Humphrey held of Miles Crispin the amount of Plough-land is not stated, but there was 1 Plough in Demesne & 7 Villeins and 1 Bordar had 4 Ploughs; in contrast with most Vills in this part of Oxfordshire the pre-Conquest value of £5 had not altered.
It is not until the end of the 12thC that the Parish’s 3-Hamlets 1st occur in the records, but their Old English names suggest that they may have been of far older origin. Chalford, the largest Settlement, is 1st mentioned in 1185, and Copcourt in 1199. Both were offshoots of Aston. The 1st reference to the 3rd Hamlet Linley (or Lilley), occurs in 1200 when Geoffrey de la Mare was accused of taking the pigs belonging to the men of Samson de la Pomereia. They were feeding on Samson’s Common at ‘Hotelee‘ and in ‘Lillee‘ or ‘Linleia‘ at Kingston. The Case was heard in the King’s Court and the lawful men of Kingston & Linley were summoned to make a reasonable division. The Site of this Hamlet has long been lost, but there is no doubt that it lay in the Woodland above Kingston Hill. The name of the place means ‘clearing in the wood where Flax is grown‘, and it was almost certainly Settled from Kingston with which it is always connected. At the time of this Boundary dispute, Linley must already have been a sizeable Community for it appears in the list of Vills taxed for the carucage of 1220. Kingston & Linley together paid 22s, being the Tax on 11-Carucates. Aston and its Hamlets were Taxed on 63-Carucates and a ‘part’. This great extent is accounted for by the inclusion of part of Stokenchurch.
By the time of the Survey of 1279, the Land of Aston had become completely Manored. It was part of a large Manor which included the Hamlets of Stokenchurch, Copcourt & Chalford. There were 21 Slaves & 19 free Tenants recorded in Aston and its 2-Hamlets of Copcourt & Chalford, which were divided between 2 Lords. Aston was the larger Settlement. The Lord, Alan fitz Rohant, had 12 Virgates (3-Hides) in demesne, 30 acres of Meadow & Pasture, and 52 acres of Woodland. One Virgater & 6 half-Virgaters held 4 Virgates between them for a Rent of 20s a Virgate or Works, and there were 4 Cottars with a Cottage and 2 or 3 acres each, paying varying Rents and light Hay-making Dues. Ten free Tenants together held 10-Virgates, 6 for varying Rents only and 3 others for about 6s a Virgate and light Services. Nicholas the Smith, listed as a Free Virgater and as a Cottager, paid a low rent of 2s-7d for his Virgate, but had to Plough & Reap 1 acre, make Shares for 2 of the Lord’s Ploughs with the Lord’s Iron & Steel, and Shoe 1 Cart Horse with his own Iron. Villein Services differed from those exacted on the flat Clay Lands of Ploughley Hundred: in the Hill Parishes of the Chilterns there was greater emphasis on Carrying & Harvesting Dues. The Villein Virgater carried Wood & Corn until dinner-time. He ploughed 1 acre for winter-sowing and another of the Fallow, and Reaped 1 acre. The place of Woods in the Village economy is shown by the Virgater’s dues of ½d pannage for a pig under 1-yr and 1d for other pigs. Other dues were 1s-1d aid on St Andrew’s Day (30th November), a Toll when he Brewed Ale for sale, and a cock & 3 hens for Church Scot. Two Cottagers owed light Hay-making & Harvest Service and 3 Free Tenants Ploughed like the Slave Tenant, but Reaped 2 acres & Carted 9 Loads of Hay.
There were 13-Virgates at Copcourt, where the average Rent was about 5s a Virgate. The Hamlet was entirely in the hands of prosperous Tenants, undoubtedly Freemen who had accumulated Holdings. One, John son of Adam, was perhaps the Lord of Wormsley. There was only 1 single-Virgate Holding; 3 Tenants held 2 or 3 Virgates each; the 5th held 5 Virgates. Two Tenants paid light Labour Dues as at Aston, but the rest owed only Rent, 2 of them to Elias de Wheatfield, with Forinsec Dues to the Lord of Aston. Chalford was a larger Hamlet with at least 16-Virgates and another 10 acres, once William of Chalford’s, which had been alienated from Aston Demesne. Wallingford Priory held the whole Hamlet, but no mention is made of a Demesne Farm, although Villein works were recorded. Four Virgaters, 2 half Virgaters & 3 Cottagers paid 4s Rent and 1s-8d aid at Christmas, in proportion to their Holding, and Hoed with 1 man for 3 days, Reaped with 2 men for 2 days at their own expense, and mowed for 3 days with 1 man at the Lord’s. Another 2 Virgaters owed only Rent as did the 5 Free Tenants who held a Virgate or less each for varying sums. One held the Watermill and a ½-Virgate for 7s & Forinsec Service to the Lord of Aston.
In Kingston & Linley in 1279 there was a total of 30 recorded Villeins & 5 Free Tenants, some of whom were certainly non-resident and others who were Tenants in Aston also. Between them, they had about 30-Virgates. There was one large Estate in Kingston, Hugh le Blount’s, with a Demesne of 24-Virgates (6-Hides). Customary Tenants comprised 5 Virgaters & 7 half-Virgaters, who paid high Rents of 20s a Virgate. There were 3 Cottars. The Survey does not mention any Labour Dues, but it is hard to believe that none were exacted for so large a Demesne. One Free Tenant held 1-Hide for 12s. rent, 10s Scutage & Suit at Wallingford Honour Court; another held 2-Virgates for 25s and Suit of Court. Linley was divided between 2 Estates. John de Narnet had 2-Virgates in Demesne; his Villein Tenants, 3-Virgaters & 3 half-Virgaters, paid rent at the rate of 16s-4d a Virgate; there were 2 Cottars. No Services were recorded again. The Free Tenants, one of them the Prior of Wallingford, held 3½-Virgates between them. These 3 also held on Ralf de Verney’s Estate in Linley and Ralf’s other 2 Free Tenants held Land also at Kingston. There were 4-Virgates, 2 acres in their hands. They paid Rent, except for the Prior, who for his 2-Virgates had to sing Mass 3 times a week in Linley Chapel & pay Forinsec Service. Ralf de Verney had 2-Virgates in Demesne. His one Villein Virgater owed 4s Rent and 6s Aid at Christmas and also performed Labour Dues. The light his Services throw on his Status is of interest: he Ploughed & Sowed an acre if he possessed a whole Plough-team; he Hoed & Harrowed one day each with 1 man and Reaped 3 days with 2 men at his own expenses and carried the Lord’s Corn with 1 man and a Horse & Cart. For this last Service, he received his meal and a sheaf of corn in the evening from the last Cart. He also carried to Fleet Marston (Bucks), when necessary. Every Christmas he carted ½-qr of Corn to the Mill, and he paid 2 white loaves, 3 gallons of Ale, a cock and 2 hens at the same Season. Pannage was exacted for all his pigs save the sow. He had also to make the Lord’s Essoins (i.e. excuses) at Wallingford Honour Court when so ordered. Three ½-Virgaters paid smaller Rents and with the Virgates had to mow the Lord’s Meadow. Each man was given a loaf and they shared a sheep worth 1s, and flour & salt. Three cottars paid Rents (1s & 3s) and did light Hay-making & Reaping Services.
Meadows & Pastures along the banks of the Streams and on the Hill slopes seem to have been plentiful: in the mid-13thC the Lord of Aston agreed to let the Tenants of the Abbot of Abingdon in Studdridge (Lewknor) and their successors have Common Rights in part of Aston Pasture. Meadowland was less highly valued than in many Oxfordshire Parishes: in 1295 on Aston Manor it was worth 20d an acre, and in an extent of 1318 it was valued at 18d an acre. At Aston as in Kingston, some at least of the Meadow was distributed by Lot: there is mention in 1288 of Rods of Meadow being so assigned in Linley Mead in Kingston, and the name Long Dole for a Linley Meadow is further evidence of the Custom.
There is no early record of the arrangement of the Arable fields, but later developments make it certain that Kingston & Aston had separate Field systems, and that Copcourt & Chalford may also have each had their own Fields or a Joint Field System. An East & West Field at Kingston were recorded in 1298, but this is difficult to reconcile with the post-Medieval divisions and there may possibly have been a 3rd Field, both in Kingston & in Aston.
In the 14thC the Tax Lists supply some evidence for the development of the Hamlets. At 1st sight, it is remarkable that in 1306 Kingston Blount had more contributors than Aston had and that its total contribution was higher. This apparent change in the relative importance of the Vills seems to have been owing to the inclusion of Linley in Kingston, whereas Aston’s Hamlets were of sufficient importance to be listed separately. In 1306 there were 21 contributors at Kingston & 16 at Aston; in 1327, 14 compared with 11 at Aston, 9 at Chalford & 4 at Copcourt. Wealth was unevenly distributed: apart from the Knightly Class there was a prosperous group of small Tenants that had far more Land than the average Peasant. This Class was more numerous at Kingston, Chalford & Copcourt than at Aston, which as the Hundred Rolls of 1279 also show seems to have been organised more in accordance with the classic Manorial pattern than were the other Vills. There were 9, for example, who paid 2s to 8s at Kingston, while at Aston only 4 paid as much as 2s. The relative wealth of the 2-Townships is emphasised in later Tax Lists after the reassessment of 1334 when Kingston’s total Tax (£2-16s-7d) was not much more than half that of Aston together with its 2-Hamlets (£7-14s-4d, 18s 11d & £ 2s-9d).
The best evidence for the distribution of Population at this time is the Poll Tax of 1377, although one cannot put too much reliance on it as there may have been more evasion at one place than another and, moreover, it is not certain that the return is complete. It gives 115 persons over 14 at Aston, 26 at Chalford & 72 at Kingston. The inhabitants of Copcourt were presumably included in the returns for Chalford and those of Linley in those of Kingston.
Prior to the Enclosures in England, a portion of the Land was categorised as “Common” or “Waste” or not in use. Common Land was under the control of the Lord of the Manor, but a number of Rights on the Land (such as Pasture, Pannage, or Estovers) were variously held by certain nearby Properties, or (occasionally) held in gross by all Manorial Tenants. Waste was Land without value as a Farm Strip – often very narrow areas (typically less than a yard wide) in awkward locations (like Cliff edges, or inconveniently shaped Manorial Borders), but also bare Rock, and so forth; Waste was not Officially used by anyone, and thus was often Cultivated by Landless Peasants
In the 15th & 16thCs, there is a little evidence for a definite movement towards Inclosure and for the increasing wealth of a few families of Yeomen Farmers and of Gentry. It is likely that Copcourt and part of Chalford’s Fields were Inclosed at this Period. It may be that the Suit of 1488 over the breaking into a Close at Copcourt is relevant: it was alleged that the Hay was mowed and Crops worth £20 carried off. This Close may have been no more than one of the usual small Hay-closes commonly found round Open-field Villages, but Inclosure, at all events, was probably not long delayed. Copcourt was described at the Award of 1835 as ‘an ancient Inclosed Farm’, and its position at the extremity of the Parish and its proximity to that part of Chalford Liberty which was also an ancient Inclosure point to the early Inclosure. Among the few records of Chalford’s early Agricultural History is one that relates to another forcible entry into an Inclosure. The Prior of Wallingford complained in 1333 that Sir Roger Rohant, the Lord of Aston, and others had broken into his Close there, burned his Houses, taken away his Cattle worth £50, and impounded his Plough-cattle until he paid a fine of £5. At this time the Priory had a Bailiff at Chalford, but by 1360 it was Leasing the Manor to the Rohants. The probability, however, is that extensive Inclosures were not made until the 16thC. The initiative may have come from the Hester Family. A Robert Hester appears on the Subsidy List of 1523 as a Chalford Landowner, and as Robert Hester, his son presumably, was Tenant by 1577 of the neighbouring Farm of Sydenham Grange, which had long been an Inclosed Sheep Farm, it is likely that his Chalford Land was contiguous and that he laid it down to Pasture.
Land at the Southern end of the Parish was also being Inclosed. Some of the Closes at Linley and on the slopes of the Chilterns that are 1st recorded at this time may date from a much earlier period, but there are indications that the process of clearance of the Woodland was at least still going on. In 1604 Pigott’s Closes on Aston Hill are mentioned; they consisted of 60 acres of Woody Close, Arable & Pasture, lying between Red Lane and the Lord’s Waste. In 1616 Walter’s Closes adjoining Woodland on the Hill are recorded and later evidence reveals that these were Arable Closes; an extent of 1618 mentions 11 Closes belonging to Kingston Manor, and in 1631 there is a reference to 2 other Closes, Lillies by name, on Kingston Hill. In a list of 10 Closes at Aston that had once belonged to Nicholas Pigott (fl.1617) the names Bank Croft Furlong & Verne Furlong show that parts of the Open-fields had been Inclosed, as well as the Waste & the Woodland. Other large Closes such as ‘Inland‘, the ‘Moor‘, and the ‘Park‘, recorded in 1584, may have been recent Inclosures, but their position and their names make it perhaps more probable that they were Demesne Land Inclosed in the Middle Ages.
It is not without significance that many of these Closes were in the hands of the most prosperous Yeoman Farmers and of the Gentry such as the Pigotts & Belsons. In 1523-24 out of a total Tax of £7-2s-7d at Aston, £6-3s-6d was paid by Richard Pigott & Eleanor & Robert Belson; at Kingston 2 Belsons & Margaret Cornish paid £2-9s out of a total of £2-17s-4d. Some 50 years later a Robert Belson was still the principal Landowner and a Pigott along with John Whytton & Henry Cripps, both Gentlemen, were among the most substantial contributors. The descendants of the last soon moved to the Cotswolds where they were well-known Woolmen and it is worthy of note that the Inquest in 1616 on Robert Belson’s descendant Augustine (II) Belson shows that he had been active in Inclosing Land from the Waste both in Aston & in Stokenchurch. Some of these Inclosures from the Waste may have been 7 large Closes above Warren Wood on Aston Hill shown in a Map of 1768.
Evidence for 17th & 18thC farming practice comes mainly from the map of Aston Manor of 1768, and from Leases. From these a pretty clear picture of the arrangement of the Fields for at least Aston, Chalford & Copcourt can be obtained. Tenants of Aston Manor held Open-field Land in both Aston & in Chalford Liberty, and the Open-field Land of Chalford was clearly by this time regarded as a part of Aston Lower Field. When Furlongs are enumerated in the Leases they are arranged under the 2 main headings of Lower Field (i.e. the Land to the North of Aston Village) and Upper or South Field (sometimes also called Malthouse Field). In Leases, sometimes but not always, the Furlongs are divided in these fields into smaller fields: Upper Field consisted of Malthouse, Oxford, Warren & Hester’s Fields as a rule, although one Lease of 1760 lists the Furlongs in South Field according to their position above or below the Icknield Way, and those in East Field (a division of South Field), also according to their position either near or above the Icknield Way. In Lower Field, the small fields were West Field, Lower Middle Field, Sandy Field, Little Field or Sparrow Bush Field & Mead Field. Two of these Fields lie North of the Boundary between Chalford Liberty & Aston; 2 lay to the South, and it is likely that Lower Middle Field, which is mainly in Chalford but which stretches across the Boundary of the Liberty, may once have had a corresponding Upper Middle Field in Aston. The Map shows that there were a number of large inclosures, both Arable & Pasture, and Leases give their acreage. Arable Closes called Inlands & Little London, for instance, amounted in 1698 to 66 acres, pasture in Inlands to 12 acres, and a Lease of 1746 mentions a Close, the lower part of the Warren of 61 acres. Most of the Arable, however, was still in the Open-fields and the strips still showed comparatively little sign of consolidation. One feature was the widely spread Balks of Common Pasture which were scattered about within the Furlongs. An extent of 1618 gives details for Combe Furlong at that date: it mentions 9 acres of Pasture and 5 of Arable there, and a picture of the distribution of Pasture Balks in Aston Field can be obtained from an Estate Map & Schedule of 1828.
Kingston’s Arable was likewise in Open-field Furlongs, although no accurate record of their distribution has been recorded. There were 2 main Fields in the 17thC, Kingston Upper and Lower Fields, which were divided into smaller Fields: in 1829 into Lower, Middle & North Fields in Lower Field; and North, Middle & South Fields in Upper Field. Balks of Common Pasture in Kingston Fields were also mentioned. In 1647 the Owner of 5 acres was entitled to Common for 8 sheep in Kingston Blount Fields & Common Pastures, and a Cottager had Pasture for 1 cow & 10 sheep in Cowlease and other Common Fields. There were Inclosures by the 17thC in the Moors between Kingston & Aston, where the 2 Lower Moors & Upper Moorlands were recorded. In 1649 a Plot in Kingston Middle Field was said to be ‘late converted into an Orchard‘. Other documents also indicate the continued importance of Meadow & Pasture in the economy. About 70 acres and more of Titheable Meadow in the Parish were specified in a Glebe Terrier of 1685 and Leases forbade the conversion of Grass to Tillage or else charged £5 additional Rent for every acre Ploughed up. It may be noted that it was the practice at least sometimes to take a 2nd Hay Crop: there is a record of the ‘1st crop’ of Copcourt Mead being taken in 1618.
Among the Crops grown in the 16th & 17thCs, besides the main Crops of wheat, barley, & oats, were flax, hemp, hops, beans, vetch, & peas. A Lease of the Farm of Aston Rowant Manor in 1610 permitted the Tenant to sow peas, beans & barley in the Spring on any of the premises except the Fallow. Wheat as in the 18thC was doubtless the Maincrop. Arthur Young, writing at the turn of the 18thC, commented that Aston Fields produced above 5 quarters of wheat per acre, whereas the South Oxfordshire average was 3 quarters. He makes no mention of any special rotation and it may, therefore, be supposed that the common practice of the neighbourhood was followed.
The District was not without enterprising Farmers. Young noted that Rag Manure was used in Crowell and its use in Aston also is proved by other evidence. In a Lease of 1717 a Yeoman Tenant was to have 1-Ton of Rags every year from Hambleden Wharf, as well as Cartloads of Dung from Aston Rowant Yards for the 1st 2 years, and the fortunes of the Hill Family were established by the carriage of local Hay & Straw to London Livery Stables. Mr Good of Kingston Stert, furthermore, was amongst the 1st Farmers in the County to own a Threshing Machine. The 1st Threshing Machine was invented c.1786 by the Scottish Engineer Andrew Meikle, and the subsequent adoption of such Machines was one of the earlier examples of the Mechanisation of Agriculture, although some say he only improved on an earlier design by a Scottish Farmer named Leckie.
The trend towards larger Farms and the accumulation of Capital in fewer hands which has been noted in the 16thC continued to make steady progress. By 1700 the 1,010 Strips in Aston Field (mostly ½-acre to 5-acre Strips) were farmed by 17 men of whom 5 had Large Holdings of 114 to 203 Strips and 4 had 58 to 91 Strips. Robert Hester Farmed & Owned 99 Strips, but nearly all the rest of the Land was owned by 4 Landowners. Of these John Clerke, Lord of the Manor held nearly a 3rd of the Strips. In 1769 the Aston Rowant Estate included 4 Farms, 2 in the Village with 175 acres & 287 acres, one on the Hill of 77 acres, called Warren Farm (later Upper Hill Farm), the other lower down (known later as the Drum & Plough, Lower Hill, or Warren farm) of 112 acres. The 287-acre Farm in the Village incorporated a Farm of 71 acres. Rents ranged from £47 to £150. General Caillaud bought out some Smallholdings in the 1770‘s & 1780s and still further increased his Estate. The lists of Ratepayers found in the Churchwardens’ Accounts give the same picture of Capital Accumulation. A Rate levied in 1797 was paid in spite of rising population by 45 Ratepayers, instead of the 88 who paid a similar Rate in 1731. Even in Kingston where Smallholders predominated 2 Farmers were respectively paying Rents of £98 & £132, compared with the majority of Ratepayers who paid £10 & under. Land-Tax Returns show that the process was continued into the 19thC and at an accelerated pace.
At Kingston, the number of small Property Owners, assessed at under £2, declined in the period 1786–1832 from 48 to 12. Property Owners assessed at over £2 also declined from 12 in 1786 to 4 in 1832. The number of Tenants remained fairly steady over the same period, i.e. about 7 Cottagers, 2 to 3 Smallholders & 5 or 6 Tenant Farmers. The small Owner, in fact, whether he occupied or Leased his Land was being bought out by the large Landowner, in this case, the Browns, and both Tenant & Owner-occupied Farms were being increased in size. There was a similar trend at Aston after 1800, when there was a marked decline in the number of Landowners assessed at under £2, i.e. from 14 in 1786 to 6 in 1832. Tenants also fluctuated between 18 in 1786 & 10 in 1832. The large Landowner, however, was always a constant figure in this part of the Parish. In 1786 all but £16 of Aston’s total assessment of £159 was provided by 7 Landowners of whom General Caillaud, Lord of Aston, was by far the largest, paying well over one-3rd of the total. In 1832, his successor Sir John Lambert paid over a half.
It was evidently the number of small Landowners at Kingston that delayed Inclosure of the Common Fields of Aston & Kingston. It finally came in 1832-35, after the holdings ranging from ¼-acre to 58 acres of some 23 Farmers had been bought up. Some 72 acres were sold before 1816, but most of the selling took place in 1824-26 and immediately before the Award, mainly to Sir John Lambert, who bought out 7 Smallholders, and John Brown, who bought out about 10, as well as to Samuel Turner & Henry Alexander Brown. At Inclosure, Sir John Lambert, Lord of Aston Rowant, received over 480 acres mainly in Aston, including 92 acres for Rectorial Tithe & 8 acres for Manorial Rights, equal to 1/3rd of the Commons & Waste. John Brown, Lord of Kingston Blount, was allotted about 300 acres for his own and his wife’s Property, which included only £1-2s-3d. for a 3rd of the Waste of Kingston Blount; his brother Henry Alexander Brown, who had bought ‘The Grove‘ in 1824 (i.e. Walter’s Closes), received about 145 acres. Samuel Turner, who was in the act of buying up Chinnor, received 106 acres for the Rectorial Tithes of Kingston Blount and 75 acres for his other Property. Another Allottee, Thomas Parker, received 130 acres. There were 9 small allotments of 25 acres to ¼-acre, of which 2 went to Thomas Filbee & Henry Hill, who had also bought up small Properties before Inclosure. Other allottees, like Watkins & Rixon, were survivors of the many Yeoman Families that had at one time flourished in the Parish. The total acreage allotted was 1,151 acres in the Open-fields and 365 acres of Common & Waste, including the Common Woodland.
One of the oldest Michaelmas Hiring Fairs in England was witnessed in our Ancient Marketplace. From a wide radius, including parts of the 3 Counties of Bucks, Berks & Oxon, Farmers & Agricultural Employees in all spheres flocked into the Town early in the morning. The attendance was large, and there was a general disposition to “change hands,” though the average terms of remuneration showed very little alteration. Several old-time Customs still prevail, both at the Hiring and in regard to the conditions upon which the Farm Hands are engaged for the ensuing 12 months. For instance, Ploughmen decorate their Button-holes with pieces of Whipcord to denote their distinctive calling, Shepherds display Tufts of Wool in their Forelocks & their Caps, and other Farm hands utilise Horsehair & fancy Ribbons & Rosettes for their personal adornment. A good deal of time was occupied in making the best terms, and in accordance with the precedent of many years’ standing, the Engagements were conditional on the supplying of Beer, or Harvest Money in its place.
As in Chinnor Woods, there were Customary Rights in Kingston Woods known as Hillworks (‘Hillwerkes‘). Their History, as at Chinnor, must go back to the Middle Ages, but the 1st notice of the Custom here occurs in the 16thC when in 1579 Hillwork was synonymous with ‘hegging wood‘. In 1610, 6 cartloads of estovers in Kingston were to be taken in the ‘Hillworks’; about the same date 5 acres of Land carried with it the right to half a load of ‘Hillworks’ every 2 years and there are frequent other 17th & 18thC Records of Leases of ‘Hillworks’. The Right must have been once enjoyed by all Tenants, but by the 18thC it was appropriated to the Poor, as at Chinnor. The Act of 1832 preserved this Customary Right to take Brushwood or Fuel from the ‘Poor’s Hillock‘ (‘Hillock’ being a corruption of Hillwork). In 1835 the Award allotted to the Lord of the Manor so that they might continue to be used for the purpose. In 1864 the Poor Common or ‘Hillock‘ was bought by John Brown, the Squire, from the Trustees of the Poor of Kingston Blount and the right to cut wood was extinguished in return for 4 acres of Land, thereafter used for Allotment Gardens.
Copcourt had long been entirely Inclosed and consisted in the 1830s of 2 large Dairy Farms of which one was in Aston and the other in Lewknor Parish. In 1840 there were 99 acres of Arable and 178 of Meadow in the Aston part of Copcourt. Chalford also had long been partly Inclosed and the process was completed in 1858. Before complete Inclosure, it was divided into 2 Farms, Manor Farm & Chalford Green Farm, with 274 acres of Inclosed Meadow between them & 186 acres of Arable, mostly in the Open-fields. By the Award in 1858 all but about 2 acres of the 254 allotted went to the Landlord, William Lowndes Stone.
In the later 19thC most of the Parish formed part of 2 or 3 Landed Estates, belonging to Taylor, Wykeham-Musgrave & Clerke Brown. Few small Farmers survived into the 1850s. Lambert’s Aston Estate comprised 954 acres with a yearly value of £1,766. There were 4 Farms on it, but they were let as 2 to Tenant Farmers, one with 560 acres in Lower Field Farm & Woodway Farm; the other had 184 acres in Upper & Lower Hill Farms. In 1860 Thomas Taylor paid £33,549 for these Farms together with Aston Village and settled down at Aston House. In 1859 the Aston Rowant Estate was described as ‘one of the richest corn-growing Vales in Oxfordshire‘; only about 70 to 80 acres of the 4 Farms were laid down to Grass at this time. Considerably moreover 200 acres – was described as Pasture in 1889, mainly because of the enlarging of Aston Rowant Park by Thomas Taylor. Nothing is known about the proportion of Pasture at Kingston Blount, but there is no reason to suppose that the Land was not mainly Arable as at Aston. By 1871 he had nearly 600 acres of Estate in hand, including Home Farm (i.e. Lower Field Farm). At the time of his death in 1889, his other Property was let as 3 Farms. At Kingston, the greater part of the Land had been held by the Browns since 1824. In 1851 there had been 6 Farms: 2 were of under 100 acres, but Henry Alexander Brown’s Farm at ‘The Grove‘ below Grove Wood was 255 acres. Copcourt & Chalford at this date were still divided into 3 large Farms of over 200 acres.
In the 20thC the break-up of 2 of the larger Estates brought some changes in Ownership, but few in the size of Farms. By 1912 Sir William Chichele Plowden (1832-1915), Taylor’s successor at Aston Rowant, held only about half the Village, including Home Farm. The Wykeham-Musgrave Farms in Copcourt & Chalford came under separate Ownership after 1917; by 1939 there were only 2 Farms, both over 150 acres, in this part of the Parish. The Clerke Browns, however, still remained the predominant Landowners in Kingston, where most of the Land was Farmed from ‘The Grove‘ & Lower Farms, both over 200 acres. There were still 2 Smallholders with about 50 acres each in 1939.
In 1914 the Parish had a high percentage of Land under Wheat. The Grass on the Chalk was said to be poor, but the Water-meadows in Aston were good. Chalford & Copcourt Farms continued to be largely Pasture, and were described in 1917 as Freehold Dairy-Farms while Manor Farm was said to be ‘well-watered Pasture & sound Arable‘. As in Chinnor, Watercress has proved a marketable Produce in the 20thC and its cultivation was encouraged by the advent of the Railway. One of the most valuable assets of the Parish has continued to be the Woods. In 1769 86 acres of Aston Warren Woods were valued at £1,381, including 36 acres worth £25 an acre; the Timber ‘at the Town‘ (i.e. in Aston House Grounds) was valued at £651. An old Orchard was used as a Nursery for raising trees. The Woodland all became privately owned after Inclosure and more attention was paid to planting. In 1852 the Parish was said to include 320 acres of unrated Woodland; in 1859 the Aston Estate had 130 acres; in 1871 225 acres of Wood, including the Poor’s Hillock, were unrated and by 1925 there were 242 acres of Woodland on Aston & Kingston Hills.
The introduction of Mechanised Farming has considerably reduced the number of people employed in Agriculture in the Parish, and in 1958 many of the inhabitants were retired persons or were engaged in work outside their Villages. The evidence for the occupations of the Villagers in the past, apart from work in the fields, is fragmentary. There is mention of a 13thC Goldsmith, and later of a Mason, a Tanner, a Cordwainer (shoemaker), and a Tailor. The Woodland must have provided a variety of tasks and its influence on the economy is reflected in the names of many of the Witnesses to Charters. There was, for example, Geoffrey the Woodward or Forester (possibly 2 different men) of Aston, a substantial man as his contribution to the subsidy of 1306 proves, and John the Woodward. Millers there must have been from early times at Chalford Watermill and at Kingston. Both were presented in 1341 for exacting excessive toll; in 1542 there were 3 Kingston Millers and one was also a Brewer. Apart from a Tailor recorded in 1629 & in 1682 a Maltster, a vagrant woman who was a Bottomer of Chairs, and a Shoemaker who was also a ‘Practitioner in Physics‘, there is no further information about Tradesmen or Craftsmen until the 18thC. It then appears that Kingston Blount, which was on the Highway and more centrally situated than Aston was, and where there was much Freehold Property, was favoured by the non-Agriculturalists. The following Trades commonly occur, Lacemaker, Collarmaker, Carpenter & Shoemaker. A Chemist is recorded in 1713, a Maltster, 2 Tailors, father & son, a Wheelwright & Brickmakers and a Brick-kiln between 1729 & 1739. Stephen Day, son of a Vicar of Aston, was a Distiller using the Spring at Kingston Stert and his son Stephen was a Calenderer & Clothmaker. Chalk Pits are frequently mentioned, but some at least of the Chalk was dug for use in Stokenchurch Brick-kiln belonging to the Clerkes. Although many other buildings which were associated with the Brickworks have disappeared, and many small Ponds dot the Commons indicating where Clay was extracted. This Industry is the most likely influence on the growth of the settlement. In addition to the Claypits, Chalk was also extracted from shafts dug on the Common.
Brick Making began by digging out the Clay in the late Autumn, then it was left over the colder months to be weathered in the Winter Frosts, which helped break it down. In the Spring the Clay was turned over and the stones & pebbles removed before further refinements, such as adding Sand, left the Clay suitable for Brick Making. After moulding in wooden Moulds, which were coated with Sand to prevent the Clay from the sticking, the Bricks were left to Dry before Firing. Many of the Kilns were located on the Commons, frequently the poorest Land in the area. This meant that the Topsoil was thin and therefore easy to strip away in order to dig out the Clay; in addition, there was local woodland, gorse or brush, for Firing the Kilns. This made the Sites where the Gypsies often Camped extremely suitable and the Travellers provided a ready Workforce, some acting as Sand-carriers, as well as Brick Makers & Brick Burners. In addition to Bricks & Earthenware, the Kilns were often used for Lime Burning, using any Chalk found beneath the Clay. Since Lime was used to enrich the Soil, Farmers began to have small Lime-kilns on their Land, and Travellers were often useful employees, being able to act as casual Agricultural Labourers, as well as occasional Lime-Burners or Brick Makers. – Anne Marie Ford
A full picture is provided by the Census of 1851. It fully establishes Kingston Blount’s Country-Town character: not far short of half those at work were employed in various Trades, 48 as against 71 Farm labourers. The list of Tradesmen includes 5 Smiths, 6 Wheelwrights & Carpenters, 6 Bricklayers & Builders, 8 Grocers, Butchers & Bakers, 4 Shoemakers & Tailors, 6 Seamstresses & Laundresses, 29 Lacemakers, 3 Chair-turners, a Wine Merchant, a Corn-dealer & a Brewer-Maltster. Nearby Kingston Stert also had a Beer Retailer. There were 5 Kingston Carriers, one of whom went to London 3 times a week. Aston, on the other hand, had only 4 persons occupied in Crafts, its Innkeeper, Schoolmaster & Schoolmistress, and a Commercial Clerk. There were 25 Lacemakers, but these were mostly married women or young girls.
By this time the Population of the Parish had reached its peak and the differences in development between the Villages, which was already marked in the 16thC, had become still more apparent. The 1st reliable evidence for the number of inhabitants comes from the Compton Census of 1676: it records 290 persons of 16 & over. The return made by the Vicar in 1738 gives precise details of the number of Dwellings and puts beyond dispute the rapid growth of Kingston compared with Aston. There were 23 houses at Aston, 9 at Chalford, 4 at Copcourt, 49 at Kingston and 7 at Kingston Stert, making 92 in all. The record is particularly interesting when compared with the returns for the Hearth Tax of 1662: then 24 Householders were listed at Aston, 19 at Kingston & 6 at Chalford. The explanation may be that the Tradesmen at Kingston were more skilful at evasion or more probably there were a greater number of persons who had houses worth less than 20/- a year or were classed as too poor to contribute.
The prolonged War and the social changes at the turn of the 18thC led to a sharp increase in population from 787 in 1811 to 946 in 1831. After a slight decline in numbers, it touched 900 again in 1851. By this date Copcourt was a ‘deserted‘ Hamlet with 1 Agricultural Labourer & 1 Servant at work; at Chalford there were 13 Labourers & 4 Servants; on Aston Hill a Gamekeeper, a Shepherd & 3 Labourers; at Aston itself 44 Labourers including children and 32 indoor & outdoor Servants; and at Kingston 71 Labourers and 48 Tradesmen & Craftsmen. After 1851 population fell slowly until the Agricultural Depression of the 1870‘s produced an abrupt drop from 840 in 1871 to 640 in 1881. In the 20thC, the Population has continued to decline to 532 in 1911 and 496 in 1951.