Brightwell Social History

Social Character & the Life of the Community
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages Brightwell formed a typical Rural Community of Free and unfree Tenants, occupying varied-sized Holdings on its 2 (and later 3) Main Manors. Cadwell was much smaller, comprising little more than a single dwelling in 1086 and again from the later Middle Ages. Nonetheless it, too, supported a moderately sized Community of mostly unfree Peasants for much of the 13th & 14thCs. A few 13thC surnames suggest small-scale immigration into the Parish from sometimes distant places.  Local Lords were probably often resident during the earlier Middle Ages, the Salveyns at the Moated site in Cadwell, and the Parks in Brightwell Village, while the Bereford Manor House (within the modern Brightwell Park) may have formed a sizeable Complex, which in 1397 included a Private Chapel.  The Salveyns’ long-running disputes with the Foliots over Lordship of Cadwell in the 13thC may have had marked local impact, and highlight the complex Subletting & Sub-infeudation which characterised the whole Parish.

Freeholders, though in the minority, were important in local Society: in 1279 Richard Binewale had 10 Subtenants, while the Langleys’ sizeable Holding was already emerging as a separate Manor.  The wealthiest early 14th-century Taxpayers were the Lord Thomas Huscarl (paying 8s 3d) and the Abbot of Dorchester (6s 4d), but the 2nd highest in 1306 was the Freeholder Geoffrey Blome, whose probable descendant John Blome (of Great Kimble, Bucks) held over 100 a. in Brightwell, Ewelme, & Benson at his death in 1357Thomas le Wedue of Cadwell was Taxed in 1327 at a higher rate (7s 2d) than his Lord John Salveyn (4s), while high Taxpayers in Brightwell included Richard Smith (5s 6d) & Richard ‘atte Churcheye’ (‘at the Churchyard’) (4s 3d).  Both families were established by 1279 (the former as Blacksmiths), and the Smith Family remained prominent beyond the Medieval Period.  John Smith, who in 1371 held lands in Brightwell & Chalgrove, appears to have prospered by buying up vacant Tenements after the Black Death, and is remembered in a Memorial Brass in the Church with a rare Middle English Inscription.

Despite changes wrought by 14thC Plagues, most of the leading late-Medieval Tenantry came from established families including the Smiths, Walkelyns, Haleys, & Brians.  John Smith of Upperton served as a Juror in the Oxford Session of the Peace in 1398, while John Walkelyn was an Oxfordshire Tax Collector in 1442.  The only resident 15th-century Lords appear to have been the Cottesmore’s, who played a dominant role, leaving prominent Memorials in the Church, and in 1502 attempting to seize the Advowson.  As prominent Gentry, they also maintained close links with their Peers, Thomas Stonor (of Stonor Park) obtaining Wardship in 1470 of John (III) Cottesmore, who later married Stonor’s daughter.
The Cottesmore’s continued as resident Lords into the early 16thC, William Cottesmore (d.1519) leaving 12d to every householder ‘whether poor or rich’.  Sir Adrian Fortescue, owner of Parks Manor, latterly also resided, perhaps at the Cottesmore’s Manor House, and in 1538 reportedly brought his 1st wife’s remains from Bisham Priory (Berks.) for reburial at Brightwell.  From 1554 the 2 Manors were combined under Anthony Carleton, whose Widow Joyce was the Parish’s wealthiest Taxpayer in 1581 with lands worth £10. Next wealthiest was Florence Alnot, a Widow with goods worth £9.

Lords’ Memorials Brightwell Baldwin Church. Left: Brass to Sir John Cottesmore(d. 1439), wife Amice, & their 18 children. Right: Stone Family Memorial, erected c.1670 by John Stone (d.1704)

Joyce Carleton again paid the highest amount in a Parish Rate for Communion Bread in 1587, closely followed by Ralph Spyer ‘of Kents’ & Richard Smith ‘of the Pond’.  Both came from particularly prolific Brightwell Families, where Topographical Suffixes were commonly used to distinguish similarly named individuals.  The majority of inhabitants remained Farmers & Agricultural workers of varying wealth. Those with Probate Inventories valued at more than £200 in the period 1593–1733 included Richard Deane (d.1661), a Yeoman who left a Parish Charity and was buried in the Chancel (£856 3s, including £780 in Bonds). The Farmers Edmund Lane (d.1683), Robert Smith (d.1631), & William Hester (d.1672) each left personally of over £360, while Frances Wade (d.1701), a Widow who may have kept an Alehouse (below), left £230 including £150 owed her.  Overall, 23 Individuals (35%) left goods worth £100-£200, 12 (18%) £50- £100, and 25 (38%) under £50.

The 17thC brought a mix of Resident and non-Resident Landowners & Clergy.  Sir Dudley Carleton (d.1632), Viscount Dorchester, spent little time in Brightwell, although his sister-in-law Mary married the Rector William Paul in 1632.  Joseph Blackerby (d. 1672) arrived in 1648 as Steward to the Absentee Lord Sir George Carleton, and in 1665 was one of 3 inhabitants with houses Taxed on 4 hearths. Most had only 1–3, save for the Rector (14 Hearths) and the then-resident Squire John Stone (28 hearths).  The Musician & Composer William Hine (who became Organist of Gloucester Cathedral) was born in the Parish in 1687  and the following year saw the burial of a parishioner at the reputed age of 105, who had come to Brightwell from Chilton (Bucks) as a teenager.  The Civil War had a little-documented impact despite a significant Battle at neighbouring Chalgrove, although in 1644 30 Quarters of corn were demanded from Brightwell for the Royalist Garrison at Oxford.

Lord Nelson c.1942

In 1677 the Parish had had no Alehouse in living memory, but Frances Wade probably ran one in 1701 when she owned Brewing equipment together with barrels, bottles, pewter ware, and plates & trenchers.  A Pub Licensed by 1753, probably the later Lord Nelson opposite the Church, hosted the Manor Court in 1756.  Other Social activities included Cricket (recorded from 1738), an annual Parish Feast held on the Monday nearest St Bartholomew’s day (24th August),) and exclusive events at the Manor House, such as Francis Lowe’s entertainment for local Tories in 1753William Lowndes Stone (d.1830) enjoyed Hunting and employed a gamekeeper, huntsman & whipper-in at Brightwell in 1780.  Portraits of him and his wife Elizabeth were painted by Thomas Gainsborough c.1784 & c.1775 respectively.

Servants & the Poor become increasingly visible after 1600. Some ‘poor wandering people’ sheltered in a Barn in 1644, and 2 Gypsy children were buried in 1759, while in 1741 a Brightwell man sought admission to Ewelme Almshouse.  Lack of decent clothing was said a few years later to deter some Parishioners from attending Church.  Several 18th-century Lords made bequests to Servants (sometimes as much as £30), and in 1729 John Stone paid for his Servant Margaret Wiles to be buried in the Church’s North Aisle.  A Gardener, presumably employed at the Manor House, was recorded in 1706,  and successors cultivated the Walled Garden constructed at Brightwell Park in the mid-to-late 18thC  Catherine Lowndes Stone’s Servants in 1780 included a butler, footman, coachman, & postilion, whilst her son William employed a butler, footman, gardener, & coachman.


Following the Fire that destroyed the Manor house in 1788 3 labourers working for William Lowndes Stone were arrested on suspicion of stealing Wine from his Cellars, and in 1797 the Communion Plate was stolen from the Church.  Petty Criminals were sometimes detained by the Parish Constables, who throughout the 18thC maintained a set of Stocks and made occasional payments for Whipping miscreants.
Throughout the 19thC, Brightwell Baldwin remained a ‘closed’ Community, with most land & housing belonging to the Brightwell Estate.  William Lowndes Stone built Estate Cottages at Upperton in 1801, and the following year promoted the Parish’s Inclosure.  His cousin William Lowndes, who built the outlying Brightwell Grove at his own expense, was chief commissioner of the board of taxes, steward of the Honour of Ewelme, and a close friend of William Pitt the younger, besides Farming at Brightwell Grove Farm. His house was taken over before 1822 by William Francis Lowndes Stone, who moved to Brightwell Park following his father’s death in 1830. Thereafter Brightwell Grove was Leased.

South Oxfordhire Hunt at Brightwell Church

The Lowndes Stones remained at Brightwell Park until 1858, employing 12 live-in Staff in 1851.  Hunting remained central: William Lowndes Stone maintained Stabling & Kennels and employed a long-serving Gamekeeper & Huntsman, William Phelp (d. 1828), whose Portrait (depicting him on his pony amongst the Hounds) was painted in 1812. The South Oxfordshire Hunt still met regularly at Brightwell Park in the late 19th & 20th centuries  In 1847 the Family suffered a Double Tragedy when scarlet fever killed 2 generations of male heirs on consecutive days, and after the Estate passed to William Francis Lowndes Stone’s granddaughter the Family lived elsewhere. A core Estate Staff was retained, however`and in 1874 4 houses were built in Cuxham to accommodate Brightwell Servants.  19th-century Tenants of Brightwell Park included Frederick Austen (c.1858–68) & Albert Sandeman (c.1876–86), a Port & Sherry Producer who became Governor of the Bank of England and served as Vice-chairman of the Brightwell School Board. His wife was a frequent School visitor, distributing presents each Easter Monday, and in 1881 donating materials for new sets of clothes.

Most Parishioners in the 19thC were employed on the Estates Tenant Farms, whose Farmers or Bailiffs often employed Domestic as well as Farm Servants.  Labourers & Craftsmen still came mostly from the Parish or nearby, although Servants & Tenant Farmers were often from further afield.  The leading Farmers usually served as Parish Officers, and in 1879 there was a stand-off when William Bulford of Grove Farm and others opposed a rise in Church Rates by refusing to nominate a peoples Churchwarden.  Choice of a peoples Warden caused further acrimony in 1900, with heated exchanges at Vestry Meetings attracting local newspaper coverage, and until 1907 the appointment had to be settled by an annual Parish Poll.

From1750s The Lord Nelson (then a Shop & Post Office) in 1942.  it reopened as a Pub in 1971

Social life in the early 19thC revolved around the Pub called the Admiral (later Lord) Nelson by 1802 when a Public Inclosure meeting was held there.  The building (which belonged to the Brightwell Estate) was also used for Manor Court Sessions and for Auctions of Timber & Crops.  A 2nd Public House, recorded in 1833, was apparently short-lived.  A Parish Room was built onto the end of a Barn on Glebe Land fronting the Village Street in 1891, the £192 cost met in part by the Rector, and from a Bazaar held at Brightwell Park. It was subsequently used for Parish & Vestry meetings, & Services were held there in 1895 when the Church was being Restored. A Parish Cricket Team existed by 1899 when the Schoolmaster taught Horticultural Classes in the Parish Room, and Cooking demonstrations were given in a Cottage under the title Cottage Cookery’.  Concerts were occasionally given at the School from 1898.  A highlight was the annual ‘Feast Day’ held usually in early September, presumably as a successor to the St Bartholomew’s Day Festivities. Activities included sports and a harvest tea.
Since 1900
Few early 20thC Tenants of Brightwell Park stayed for long, exceptions being Edward Lauder-Watson (c.1914–28) and Sir Richard Gull, Bart (1928-38), who served as Chairman of the Parish meeting for 9 years.  During WW2 the house accommodated 2 evacuated Preparatory Schools for Boys, one from Kingsbury (Middx) and the other from Lee-on-Solent (Hants), and following the Estates sale in 1942 most later Owners of the House resided. Frank & Margaret Wright played leading roles in Parish life, and Quarter Peals were rung in the Church following their deaths in 1994 & 2000.  Their son-in-law Brigadier Nigel Mogg of Brightwell Park was Deputy Lieutenant of Oxfordshire in 1998 & High Sheriff in 2002.

The Parish Community changed little before WW2, comprising Tenant Farmers, Labourers, & Servants, with a few Craftsmen & Shopkeepers.  The Rector Hilgrove Coxe (1890–1914) farmed Glebe Farm as a Hobby and was a keen Huntsman and follower of Village Cricket.  Six Council Houses were built in Upperton in the 1920s, however, and further change followed the break-up of the Estate.  Fewer Servants were retained, Shops & Workshops closed, and a greater number of incomers moved in, while the School closed in 1961.  New Housing was erected particularly at Upperton, where several bungalows were built in the 1960s, and as Farming employment fell more inhabitants travelled outside the Parish for work.  In 1980 the Interior Designer & Author David Hicks (d.1998) moved into the former Farmhouse at Brightwell Grove with his wife Lady Pamela, daughter of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, creating a celebrated Garden and remodelling the house to include a Mural by Rex Whistler.


The Old Forge in Brightwell Baldwin Village (converted from a Blacksmiths Shop before 1939) was bought in 2002 by the Duke & Duchess of Kent.


Social life in the early 20thC still focused on Brightwell Park, where Fetes and Sunday school treats were regularly held in the grounds. Edward VIIs coronation in 1902 was marked by cricket, sports, tea, & fireworks there. The Lord Nelson Pub closed in 1905 following complaints by the Rector & Squire about rowdy behaviour, becoming a grocer’s shop, post office, and (later) a private dwelling before its reopening as a Pub in 1971.  A Recreation Ground at Upperton was given by Roger Lowndes-Stone-Norton in 1912 and was equipped with Swings in 1954 to mark Elizabeth II’s Coronation. Allotments were established on part of it in 1985.  The Cricket Club, which had its Pitch in the Brightwell Park Parkland, was dissolved in 1962 when its remaining Funds were given to the Church, but the Parish Room continued as a Focus for Meetings & Social events.  In 1955 it was bought from the Church by the Parish Meeting for use as a Village Hall but was later leased back to the Church for a Peppercorn Rent.  A Youth Club met there in the late 1950s, other regular users including the Mothers’ Union (later the Brightwell Baldwin & Cuxham Women’s Fellowship, dissolved in 2007) and the Brightwell & Britwell Women’s Institute (established in 1938 and suspended in 1985).  A Community History & Archaeology project begun in 2006 ran for several years, involving a number of Residents.

By 1805 a Dame School taught 30–40 boys & girls, some of them paid for by the Rector Samuel White & Squire William Lowndes Stone.  Ten years later 2 Day Schools each taught 18–19 children at their Parents’ Expense, and a recently established Sunday School had 31 pupils funded by the ‘more Opulent Inhabitants’.  Neither Day School was affiliated to an Educational Society: in the Curate’s opinion, Brightwell’s Population was ‘not large enough to admit establishment of a National Mode of Instruction, and there was ‘no person in the Parish … capable of conducting it’.

Both Day Schools continued in 1835 when attendance at the Sunday School was 61, but by 1854 there was only one Day School teaching 25 children. The School was by then affiliated to the National Society and was supported by voluntary contributions & pence, though with no dedicated premises it was held in a hired room belonging to the Brightwell Estate.  In 1869 the Rector observed that ‘the early removal of children for Fieldwork and the requisition of the Girls to look after the Infants when their mothers are at work are a most serious impediment to the slight advantages of Education’.

Brightwell Baldwin School (built 1878–9) at c.1910

At the time of the 1870 Education Act, the National school was still dependent for its accommodation on the Brightwell Estate. The School Room had become cramped, with 32 children attending in 1871 despite provision for only 24, and to the Rectors obvious dismay the ‘Sole Proprietor’ (Catherine Lowndes-Stone-Norton) was happy for the School to be taken over by a Board.  One established in 1874 was merged 2 years later with that for Britwell Salome & Britwell Prior, and in 1878 a new Board of 7 members was elected for the United District.  A new Board School was erected in 1878–9 on the Lane between Upperton & Brightwell Grove, costing £1,135 and combining a School Room for 90 children with an adjoining Masters House.  Eleven boys & 19 girls from Brightwell were admitted at its opening in March 1879, and 29 children from Britwell joined them in May.

For the 1st 18 years the 2 Classes (mixed & infants) were taught by George Welch and his wife Amelia, with infants accommodated in a Gallery  At 1st there was no Religious Instruction, and the Rector was not on the Board; Religious Education was introduced in 1884, however, and Clergy from both Brightwell & Britwell became regular visitors.  The Board was reprimanded in 1884 for allowing some children to leave school under age and the following year it was criticised for ‘continued laxity as regards School Attendance & Work’. Improvement followed and, despite high Staff-turnover following the Welches’ departure in 1897, by 1902 the School was deemed ‘Excellent’.  In 1894 (when average attendance was 54) its annual income comprised a Government Grant of £36 plus £48 in voluntary contributions.  Repairs to the Master’s House in 1900 (to designs by S S Stallwood) followed a Fire the previous year.

Average attendance increased from 50 in 1904 to 72 in 1911, but in 1926 there were only 18 children, of whom 6 were aged 11 or over.  The Seniors were transferred to Watlington School in 1929, when Brightwell School became a County Primary  During WW2 it took in children & Staff from the evacuated school of St Saviour in Paddington (Middx), alongside evacuees from the Local Area.  By 1959 there were only 10 pupils, however, and the School closed in 1961, its remaining children and the Mistress being transferred to Watlington Primary School.  The premises were sold to the Mistress for use as a Private House.

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