Since its Inclosure in 1845 until 1912, when it was United with the adjoining Britwell Prior (720a), a detached portion of Newington Parish in the Ewelme Hundred, the Ancient Parish of Britwell Salome has consisted of 884 acres. In 1932 the United Parish lost 175 acres to Watlington: this was mainly Woodland that had previously been a detached portion of Britwell Prior. The location of the village was determined by the presence of springs and wells for drinking water which rise where Chiltern Chalk meets the Greensand. The 1st part of the Village name may derive from a personal name, the Well of Brutte, with the 2nd part being a corruption of the De Sulham Family name. The Manor of Britwell in the Honour of Wallingford was Awarded to Amalric de Sulham by William the Conqueror. The former neighbouring Parish of Britwell Prior was subdivided from the Manor of Britwell when Emma, wife of King Cnut made a gift of the Land to Christ Church Priory, Canterbury in 1032. The 2 Parishes were reunited only in 1865. The linear shape of the original Parish, along with several others in the area, is a possible reflection of the intention to apportion equally the full range of Soil types and consequent Agricultural potential, from the dry Chalky Slopes of the Chilterns to the wetter Arable Land of the Lower Greensand. The de Sulham Family continued as Lords of the Manor of Britwell for 2 Centuries after the Conquest. The Manor then passed successively to the de la Hydes, the de Malyns, the Cottesmores & the Oglethorpes. Owen Oglethorpe, Rector of Newington & President of Magdalen College, Oxford, Crowned Elizabeth I.
By the Formation of the new Civil Parish of Britwell, there has been a return in some respects to the 10thC position when there was a single Township of Britwell. The Division into 2 Parishes was a consequence of Queen Emma’s Gift of part of Britwell to Christ Church Priory. The Houses in which the Tenants of the Priory lived, the Church that was built for them, and the Priory’s Strips in the Open-fields came to be known as Britwell Prior. The Priory’s main Property was at the neighbouring Village of Newington, (4½-miles North of Wallingford and so Britwell Prior for purposes of Ecclesiastical & Civil Administration was in the Parish of Newington and the Hundred of Ewelme. Until the 19thC Inclosure, it would have been impossible to draw any continuous Boundary line between the 2 Parishes. In 1685 the Vicar said that there was ‘the greatest intricacy and confusion imaginable‘ about the respective Tithes of the 2 Parishes: ‘There 2 or 3 lands pay Tithe to the other Parish, there 2 or 3 lands pay Tithe to my Parish.‘ The complaint that the lands of the 2 Parishes were ‘strangely intermixed‘ was repeated in 1814.
Britwell-Salome Parish Tithe Map 1840
Britwell-Prior Tithe Map 1845
The Ordnance Survey Map of 1881 shows the rearrangement brought about by Inclosure of the Open-fields which the 2 Parishes had shared. Britwell Salome Parish was then divided into halves, separated one from the other by Britwell Prior. The Eastern half of Britwell Salome (299a),
containing the Church & Vicarage, was bounded in part by the Stream; the Western half (585a) contained the main Village and had on its Western Boundary a detached portion of Britwell Prior consisting of Britwell Prior House, as it was originally called (now called Britwell House), in its 22 acres of Ground.
Britwell House is a fine example of an early Georgian Country House in Palladian style. The quality of the building has been recognised by its listing at Grade II. It is built of Red Flemish Bond Brickwork under a Welsh Slate Roof with a dignified and fully symmetrical Façade facing the rolling Landscaped Parkland. The 2-Storeys with tall 15-paned Sash Windows either side of Stone Steps leading to the Door with a simple Stone Architrave. The Attic Storey has a lunette window in the Tympanum of the Pediment. The House also has fine Interiors, including Baroque Plasterwork and good quality wooden Panelling & Staircases. The 2-Stone Obelisks in the Park have also been Listed at Grade II.
The Manor House of Britwell probably stood on the Site of Britwell House. In 1600 John Simeon, a Catholic, acquired the Manor of Britwell by marrying into the prominent Stonor Family of nearby Stonor Park, who were also Catholics. The present early Georgian House was built by Sir Edward Simeon in 1728 and in 1764 he erected the Column in the Park in Memory of his Parents. Between 1787 & 1813 the Simeons gave refuge to the Poor Clares of Ave in Artois who had fled the French Revolution.
The Ancient Parishes included both Valley Land and the Hill Slopes of the Chilterns. Britwell Hill in the South was the Parish’s highest point: here the land rises from 500ft where the Icknield Way cuts through the Parish to 735ft above Britwell Farm. Most of the land lay between the 400 and 500ft contours, but a small portion in the Northwest next to Brightwell Baldwin slopes down to nearly 320ft. The absence of Hedges and Woods today gives the Parish a Downland aspect. In 1958 there was only one small Wood on Britwell Hill and another on Castle Hill, and these were comparatively new Plantations. The last was probably Planted when Britwell Priory, the Manor Farmhouse of Britwell Prior, was rebuilt early in the 19thC.
The Icknield Way, running along the Lower Slopes of the Chilterns, is the oldest Road in the Parish. The modern Secondary Road, called locally ‘Rudge Way’, running from Benson to Watlington and on to Aylesbury must also be of considerable Antiquity. It goes through the Northern end of the Village and connects the Anglo-Saxon Villages at the Foot of the Chilterns. Turner’s Green Lane, joining Brightwell Baldwin to Britwell Salome Village, and its continuation South through the Village is shown on Davis’s Map of 1797. One of its Branches goes to Swyncombe & Gould’s Heath, but its main Course crosses the Icknield Way and runs over Britwell Hill to join the Henley-Oxford Road.
Britwell Village grew up close to the Watlington Road. It has been suggested that its 1st name is derived from a Personal name or from the name of the Stream. The 2nd Name comes from a corruption of the Surname of the De Sulham Family, the Medieval Lords of Britwell. The Vicar described Britwell in 1685 as a little Village ‘made up of 2 little Parishes‘. Britwell Salome with 14 houses formed ‘as it were the circumference’ and Britwell Prior with 6 houses was ‘mostly seated in the very midst‘. The Church of Britwell Prior lay North of the Watlington Road and on the Lower Slopes of Castle Hill overlooking Church Way. It was taken down in 1865, but its Foundations could be seen in the early 20thC, and its Graveyard & Tombstones are still clearly visible. Farther to the North, at the end of Church Way, was the Church of Britwell Salome, the new Rectory, and a large Farmhouse that has now gone. It was said in 1685 that the 2-Churches stood ‘not above a bow’s shoot from one another‘, and were so arranged that most of the Parishioners of Britwell Salome had to cross Britwell Prior Land to reach their own Church and some of the Parishioners of Britwell Prior had to cross Britwell Salome Land, for 2 of Britwell Prior’s houses lay at the West end of the Village of Britwell Salome. The 2 Churches are shown on Plot’s Map published in 1677, but one is omitted from Davis’s Map of 1797. This picture of the 17thC Village is filled out by the Accounts in the Hearth-Tax Lists. In 1662 13 houses were listed for Britwell Salome, and the 1665 List indicates that there was one large House for which Edmund Gregory paid tax on 8 hearths and 7 fair-sized Farmhouses Taxed on 3 or 4 hearths. Gregory’s House is probably to be identified with the Red-brick Elizabethan House with twisted Chimney-Shafts that stood near the Church. It was derelict in 1912 and was subsequently removed and rebuilt at Whiteparish (Wilts). A description of the House in 1673 states that it had 5 Bedchambers, together with a House-loft & a Garret, a Great Parlour, Hall, Kitchen, Brewhouse, Milkhouse, Buttery, & a Backhouse with a Maltmill in it. At Britwell Prior Richard Blackall, the Tenant of the Manor Farm paid on 8 Hearths, and 2 other houses paid on 2 Hearths & one Hearth respectively. Blackall’s House is to be identified with the present Priory House, which is in origin an early-17thC House and lies between Britwell Salome Village and its Church. The surviving 16th & 17thC Houses in Britwell Salome prove that the Village lay then as it did when Davis Surveyed it in 1797 and as it does today (1959), mainly along the 2 arms of a triangle based on the Watlington Road. The Green enclosed by the Roads was known as Rudgeway Piece at the time of the Inclosure Award.
The Old Rectory Britwell Salome
Britwell – The Old Rectory (Formerly listed as The Old Rectory Britwell Salome)
Rectory, now House. 17thC remodelled c.1670 by James Stopes and in early 18thC for his son James Stopes. Flemish bond red brick with purple brick diaper patterns to side walls; old tile Roof; brick Stacks. T-plan with rear right Range. Early Georgian style. 2-Storeys & Attic; 5-window Range. Segmental moulded Hood over the 6-panelled door in moulded Architrave. Sashes to all windows with Ground-floor gauged brick flat arches & flat brick arches above. Raised Storey band: moulded Cornice. 3 hipped Dormers with 20thC lights. Gabled Roof; rear lateral & ridge Stacks. Storey bands continued around 2-window Range with leaded Casements. 17thC Wing of 3-window Range to rear Right is rendered to left and has square Timber-framing over the 18thC brick wall to right; gauged brick flat arch over 20thC window, hipped Dormer & Gabled old tile Roof with Ridge Stack.
Interior: front Range has early 18thC Doors in moulded Architraves, Timber-framed partitions to central Passage: early 18thC Cornice & Fireplace to left, mid 19thC plaster ceiling to right: late 17thC open-well Stairs to rear right has turned Balusters on a closed string, ball-finial Newel Posts, pendentives & pilasters to Dado. 17thC 2-unit lobby-entry Range to rear has original chamfered doorways adjoining Stack, chamfered & stopped Beams and Barley-malting Room with trap doors to rear.
The Village is fairly compact and all its Farmhouses lie in the 2 Streets. Among the older Houses is Home Farm (formerly Black Pond Farm), a 2-Storeyed House with an extension of 1-Storey, part Timber-framed with plaster filling, part Flint & Brick, covering a Lath-&-Plaster construction. Adjoining is an ancient Weather-boarded Granary on Staddles. Another Ancient Building, subsequently reconstructed, was the ‘Old Queen‘, a 19thC Public House. The oldest part of the House is Stonebuilt and consists of 2-rooms only. It has a massive outside Chimney-Stack and steep-pitched Roof, which was probably once Thatched. There is some herring-bone Brickwork on the North-west Front. Britwell Farm also dates from the end of the 16thC: it is Timber-framed on a Flint Base and has a Hipped Roof. It was originally one room up & one down, but it has been extended at a later date. It has 2 Staircases and was evidently once used as 2-Cottages. Another one-time Farmhouse, Orchard Close, has been much restored & enlarged at later periods, but its West Gable on the Southside has the date 1640. The most distinguished House in Britwell Salome is the Rectory, built by James Stopes (Rector 1676–1706). It replaced an older House which was described in 1635 as having 6-Bays, with a Barn of 7 Bays & 7 small Bays of Stabling; in 1665, when the old Rectory was assessed on 3-hearths, it consisted of Hall, Parlour, Study, 2 Chambers, Kitchen, Bakehouse with a Chamber over it, and a Buttery. The new Rectory has changed little since it was built in 1675/76. It was described in 1685 as L-shaped, built of Brick, and having 3-Storeys in Front. It contained Hall, Parlour, Kitchen, Brewhouse & Pantry, 4 Chambers, & 5 Garrets. A ‘fair Staircase‘ is mentioned. The House is built of Brick. It has a central Doorway with a Hood, 5 sash windows with their original small panes on the 1st-Floor and 4 on the Ground Floor, and 3 Dormer Attic windows. A Flint Wall encloses the House and its walled Gardens, its Stables & Orchard.
There was an extensive new Building in the 18thC and probably some expansion, although the Population did not increase rapidly until the early 19thC. The 18thC building included Red Lion Farm in the Village Street: it is a 2-Storeyed & L-shaped house of Flint with Brick Quoins and surrounds to the windows; it has a Roof of Red tiles. Adjoining the Farm is the ‘Plough‘, no longer a Public-House. A Building is shown on its Site in Davis’s Map of 1797 and it seems to be a late-18thC House. ‘Flints‘, once a Farmhouse but now a Private House, was put up about 1750. ‘Kerry Vor‘, once known as ‘Tibbett’s Piece‘, is an earlier House, but it was enlarged in the 18thC when a Brick & Stucco Extension was added to the old Stone House. It was occupied in 1710 by Mark Dyer, an Overseer of the Poor. Kerry Vor is an 18thC Farmhouse, now a House. It has rendered Brick walls under a Clay Tile & Welsh Slate Roof. North of the Watlington Road is another 18thC house, once occupied by the Stopes Family.
Historic Buildings of particular note include Home Farmhouse, no longer a working Farm, which with its Cruck Frame dates from the 16thC if not earlier. It was remodelled in the 18thC with roughcast render above Flint rubble with Brick Quoins, Dressings & Bands. In its present form, the Building is a good example of a ‘Lobby Entry Plan’ with the Main Entrance leading to a large central Chimney Breast with rooms off to either side. It has a good group of associated Farm Buildings. The Old Queen, once an Alehouse, is a small 17thC Cottage of square Timber-framing with Brick infill, some laid in ‘Herringbone’ pattern, under a Clay Tile Roof and has a sympathetic modern addition.
The ‘Red Lion‘, built of Flint & finished with Brick, probably dates from 1838, the year inscribed on it. It was evidently the best Inn in the Village in 1841 when the Tithe Commissioners used it for their Meetings. Another 19thC addition was the Wesleyan Chapel. Two 20thC Buildings are in striking contrast with most of the older Village Houses: they are the Village Hall of corrugated Iron, painted with aluminium paint, and the large Machinery Shed of Aluminium belonging to Mr Roadnight. The 1st was given as a Parish Hall by the Misses Smith of Britwell House. Six Council Houses were built after WW1 and there have been 4 new ones since WW2.
Britwell’s strategic position on the Watlington Road led to its playing a prominent part in the strife of Stephen’s Reign and in the Civil Wars of the 17thC. When Henry Plantagenet (afterwards King Henry II) and his supporters were seeking to relieve Wallingford in 1153, the Defenders of the Castle at Britwell long opposed them. This Castle was presumably Destroyed when Henry became King, but Castle Hill remains a Landmark beside the Main Road. Some historians believe that materials from the Destroyed Castle were used to Build Priory Chapel which served the Parish of Britwell Prior. This Building was only a short distance from the Church of St Nicholas, the present Parish Church of Britwell Salome, which was itself 1st Built in the 12thC. In 1865 the Priory Chapel was dismantled when the Parishes were reunited and the Church of St Nicholas was almost totally rebuilt except for the Chancel, thus avoiding the need for re-Consecration. The rebuilt Church was opened in 1867.
The Fields around the Village were Enclosed in 1845 and the Village has remained essentially a small Agricultural Community. There has been some modern Infill & Estate Development to the North of the Main Road but the area of the Village to the South, including Britwell House & Park, remains full of Character & History. This was recognised by the designation of a Conservation Area on 19th October 1993. The Village has recently been associated with the well-known Designer, the late David Hicks, who lived in the Village and modified many Properties, including the Priest’s House. Hicks spent the last years of his life at The Grove, Brightwell Baldwin, where he created a Garden.
Britwell, Priest’s House
House. Two Ranges: mid/late 18thC, later Range to left. Flemish-bond Brick with flared Headers; old Tile Roof; Brick Stacks. Original Plan form unclear. 2-Storeys; 2-window Range to left has Flat Hood over 6-panelled Door with an overlight and segmental arch over tripartite sash: Timber lintels over 1st-Floor tripartite Sash; dentilled eaves, Hipped Roof with end Stack. 2-Storey, 3-window Range to Right has 20thC flat Arches & Timber Lintels over horned 6-pane Sashes; raised Storey Band & Dentilled Eaves; Gabled Roof with end & rear lateral Stacks. 2-Storey, 1-Bay Range to rear Right of similar materials with sashes & external end Stack with tumbled-in Brickwork.
Interior: remodelled by David Hicks c.1963
In the 17thC, Royalist Troops were Quartered in and about Britwell when Prince Rupert was concentrating Troops round Henley in 1643. It was reported on 22nd April that there were some ‘straggling Royalist Companies that lye Plundering about Britwell‘, and on 6th May that all the King’s Forces had left the neighbourhood of Britwell & Watlington; on 10th June Parliamentary Forces in Watlington Park had a Skirmish with about 200 Royalists whom they pursued as far as Britwell.
Among the distinguished men connected with Britwell was John Howson (c.1557–1632), who became Rector in 1601, and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University in the following year. He was Chaplain to James I and noted as an Author & Robust Anti-Papist.
The long connection of the Spyer Family with the Village is noteworthy: the name appears on the 1st page of the Church Register of 1574 and there were Representatives until the death of Miss Spyer in 1944.
Britwell Prior Township (shaded) c.1880, showing Boundaries defined at Inclosure 1842–5
Britwell Prior’s Landscape is formed almost entirely from Chalk, and rising steeply from the Edge of the Oxford Vale in the North (110M) to the High Chilterns (230M) in the South, where Ancient Woods at Shambridge (‘Sandy Ridge’) occupy Hilltops capped with Clay-with-Flints. Britwell House stands at 140M on a Hillock composed of Clay, Sand, & Gravel. Surface water is largely absent except around the Chapel Site, where a Spring at the junction of the Chalk & Clay gave rise to Britwell’s place name. A Pond there was preserved as a Common Watering-place at Inclosure. The detached Chiltern Woods apart, Britwell Priors light & well-drained Soils traditionally supported Arable & Sheep Pasture, with just a few small pockets of Meadow near the Spring.