Berrick Social History

Social Character & Life of the Community ~ The Middle Ages
As an Outlier within the Benson Royal Estate, mid-10thC Berrick was most likely Inhabited by Demesne Workers or Farm Bailiffs. Subsequent reorganisations must, however, have profoundly altered its Social Character. The possible creation of an Estate for 3 Royal Servants in 996 was followed by the Transfer of Berrick’s Northern part to Canterbury Cathedral in the early 11thC, and by the Granting of the Remainder to a Minor Local Thegn whose nephew (Ordgar) retained it in 1066. The Family almost certainly resided and may have Founded the Chapel, running a Home Farm partly with Tied Estate Workers or Servi and Leasing remaining Land to Tenant Villani & Bordarii. At the Norman Conquest Ordgar was one of only a few English Landholders to retain his Estate, with the powerful Norman Baron Miles Crispin intruded as his Overlord. Berrick’s subsequent absorption into Miles’s Manor of Chalgrove left the Village with a standard Medieval Community of small Peasant Farmers, but no Resident Lord.

By the 1270s the Village Community comprised a mixture of free Tenants and unfree Villeins or Cottagers. The Villeins (then in the majority) attended Chalgrove’s regular Manor Courts, paying cash Fines for Marriage, Transfer of Property, or Bastardy, and performing occasional Labour Services on the Lords’ Chalgrove Demesne Farms. If required they were to serve as Rent Collector for Berrick and as Reeve for Chalgrove.  Holdings were probably Granted for 2 or more Generations as later, with Widows Holding in their own right, and although some Villeins apparently Farmed little above Subsistence Level, early 14thC Tax returns imply considerable variance in individual Prosperity. A few shared in former Demesne Land ready-stocked by the Lord, suggesting Communal Cooperation and a marked Social Hierarchy. The 5 Free Tenants recorded in 1279 had slightly larger Holdings, and generally owed only cash Rents & Attendance at Court. Possibly they included some former Villeins Granted Free Tenure by the Lord, since several occupied former Villein or Demesne Land.  Lessees of the reputed ‘Berrick Manor’ Freehold are not recorded before the early 15thC, but may already have been a significant Local presence.

Distinctions probably blurred in the later Middle Ages, as Customary Tenants accumulated larger Holdings & Manorial Authority weakened.  Orders to repair superfluous Buildings on Amalgamated Farms often went unheeded,  and in 1469 a Holding was Forfeited because its Tenant was Living in Newington without the Lord’s Licence.  The late 14th and early 15thCs also saw increased Immigration, with long-established Tenants such as the Brictweys, Kemps, & Runcivals replaced by Families such as the Pipers, Cotterells, Wises & Mores, some of which remained for several Centuries.  Berrick lacked any higher-status Inhabitants, although the non-resident Freeholder Sir John Butler (d.1477) married the Widow of one of Chalgrove’s Lords.

Close relations with Chalgrove were ensured through Ecclesiastical as well as Manorial Ties: Berrick Salome Chapel was Served from Chalgrove, and its Parishioners were possibly buried there.  In the early 14thC the 2 places were generally Taxed together, and Berrick possibly also looked to Chalgrove (as well as to Warborough, Benson, or Dorchester) for Goods & Services.  Operation of the shared Open-fields required regular contact with Benson & Ewelme Tenants or their Lords, while close ties existed with Roke (which remained partly in common Lordship with Berrick), and presumably with Berrick Prior, the 2 Berricks being occasionally still called a single Vill.  Some Community cohesion was presumably provided by Berrick Salome Chapel which, despite its Dependency, had its own Chapel-Wardens by 1424, and saw considerable Local Investment.  Recorded Conflict was generally confined to minor Agricultural disputes, although a Berrick Tenant was Murdered by 5 Dorchester men in Chalgrove c.1285.
Berrick remained dominated by emerging Yeoman Families until the 18thC, most of them Farming a mixture of Copyhold & Freehold Land. Changes of Lordship had little impact: Copyholds were still Granted at the Chalgrove Manor Courts, which appointed Tenants to oversee Field Regulation & other Affairs, while Berrick’s Vestry became increasingly important for Parish Government, particularly Poor Relief. Late Medieval Families such as the Wises, Cotterells, Mores & Viccarys remained prominent into the 17thC or later, alongside relative Newcomers such as the Spindlers & Barretts, of whom the latter were still Resident in the 1740s.

The most notable Families included the Smiths, Hambledens & Barretts, successive Holders of the ‘Berrick Manor’ Freehold.  John Smith (d.1534), the wealthiest Taxpayer in 1524, had Property in several Parishes and endowed a Chaplain for Berrick Chapel, besides acting as Magdalen Colleges Bailiff.  William Hambleden (d.1550) owned Property in Berrick Prior, Warborough, Watlington & possibly Wallingford (where he asked to be buried), and left money for Wallingford Bridge & for Berrick’s Chapel & Roads.  His descendant John Hambleden (d.1672), Berrick’s wealthiest recorded Farmer, occupied the Villages largest House (almost certainly Lower Berrick Farm), which was Taxed on 6-Hearths. At his death it included a Hall, 2 Parlours (one decorated with Wall Hangings), and at least 6-Chambers, while his Poultry included 11 Peacocks & Peahens & a ‘Flight of Pigeons’.  

Lower Berrick Farm

Hambleden’s sister married into the Barrett Family, already well established in Benson, Roke, Berrick & Stadhampton, and whose Members sometimes called themselves Gentlemen’.  Most other leading Yeomen were not quite so wealthy, though several left substantial Farm Stock and, like their contemporaries elsewhere, lived in increasing Domestic comfort, occasional luxuries including Glassware, Books & Clocks.  Together they formed a tight-knit Group which dominated Village Affairs, while maintaining extensive Links elsewhere. Many daughters married outside the Parish, while places mentioned in Wills included Wallingford, Benson, Watlington, Henley, Cholsey, Goring & London, alongside Villages nearby and in Berks, Bucks & West Oxon.

Such Families Employed local Servants & Farm Workers, not all of whom were especially Impoverished. A Landless Shepherd in 1641 occupied a sparsely furnished 2-Room House, but one Labourer in 1714 had a Best & 2 other Chambers, while another had 10 a. of Land and made elaborate Family Bequests.  Most, however, were probably much poorer. Cottagers with under ¼-Yardland (5–6 a.) lacked even Common Rights for Cows,  and in 1759 the Vicar commented that Offertory Donations in Berrick were so small that he passed them straight to Poor Communicants & the Sick.   Village Conflict seems to have been mostly confined to standard disputes over Tithes, Commons, Rights of Way, Petty Theft & Bastardy Cases (usually involving Women Outside the Parish), although the Village suffered disruption during the Civil War(and in the early 18thC Groups of local people were twice accused of riotously attacking neighbours’ Houses.  Social life is poorly recorded, but by the 1750s probably largely focused on the Chequers Pub, technically in Berrick Prior.  An Alehouse called the Compasses (formerly the Lamb) was mentioned in 1780.

Chequers Berrick Prior

Since 1800
By the early 19thC some larger Farms were emerging, and though Families such as the Allnutts, Ansells, Coopers, Jacobs, Spyers & Tanners remained prominent in Village Society, the Wellers & Belchers (of Roke & Lower Farms) became increasingly the largest Employers of Labour, apparently using their influence to encourage Church attendance. Other better-off Inhabitants included 4 Women from Local Farming Families living off Rents or Investments, who like the Chief Farmers generally had a live-in Domestic Servant. Most Local girls apparently entered Service elsewhere, however, since only one Servant in 1851 was Berrick-born. The largest proportion of the Working Population (nearly 60% in 1851) comprised Agricultural Labourers with little or no Land, widespread Poverty being reflected in occasional Thefts of Crops or Wood.  In 1830 Berrick was reportedly also caught up in Local Swing Riots, although those involved were apparently Outsiders.  Around half the Population in 1851 remained Native to Berrick Salome or Roke, with 74% born in Berrick or contiguous Parishes.  The closest Social ties were with Berrick Prior, Roke or Rokemarsh & Benson: interaction with Chalgrove was said to be minimal, despite continued Ecclesiastical Connections. 

Daily Social life still focused on the Chequers and other Pubs, while a 3½a. Recreation Ground was created at Inclosure in 1863, and Village Cricket and (to a lesser extent) Football were well established by the 1880s. Other Communal Activities c.1900 included the Roke Band (established in 1882), Bell-ringing, and watching Local Gatherings of the South Oxfordshire Hunt, while in 1909 there was a popular Mothers’ Union & Guild of Church Workers, balanced by Nonconformist Social Events at Roke.  Berrick Feast, on the Monday before 29th September, was held near the Chequers just over the Parish Boundary, and was apparently combined with Berrick Prior’s; it reportedly included ‘the throwing about and eating of crab apples’, and continued into the 1920s.  Coal & Clothing Clubs existed by the 1880s, and a Nursing Association (shared with Benson & Ewelme) was mentioned in the 1920s.  Occasional misdemeanours were of the usual trivial kind, although c.1900 2 Villagers were subjected to ‘Rough Musicking‘ by their Neighbours.  The limited means of even the leading local Farmers was reflected in Fundraising for Church Restoration in 1889–90, which relied overwhelmingly on Outside Aid.

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Following WW1 falling Agricultural Employment began to alter Berrick’s character, and by the 1930s semi-Derelict Cottages were attracting Outsiders (including some from London) seeking a Weekend Retreat.  Local Farms employed only 11-Workers c.1941, and change accelerated after WW2, bringing in Commuters & Professionals particularly from the 1970s-80s as remaining Farmhouses & Cottages were Sold. By 1999 scarcely any Farming-related Families remained, although the extended Parish (encompassing Roke, Rokemarsh & Berrick Prior) developed a strong Community Identity. A Village Hall (transported from Green College in Oxford) was erected c.1980 through Community Effort, and Roke Band continued, while Annual Events included Rounders & Cricket Matches, the Church Fete (alternating with a Berrick & Roke Village Show), and a popular Christmas Eve Church Service. Activities partly reflected the presence of numerous Families with Children, contrasting with the Ageing Population reported in the late 1940s.

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