Old Weir at Chippinghurst
The Solicitors, Bircham Dyson Bell, hired to oppose the Creation Order in the present proceedings, point to the lack of Documentary evidence of a Right of Way. They also claim that any Right of Way over the River has been ‘annihilated’ because the Stepping Stones have disappeared and so has the tiny Eyot in the River which was once linked to either Bank by the Weir-Bridge. The Stepping Stones BDB claim (without evidence and in the face of OS Surveyors’ findings) were never Stepping Stones but the remains of the Bridge.
The Society engaged George Laurence QC and he Ccontroverts this argument essentially on the grounds that it is still possible to Cross the River on the Route of the Stepping Stones albeit less conveniently than when they were in place. He also points out that OCC has been ‘overly concerned to find evidence of Public Use’; but s32 of the Highways Act 1980 ‘permits & requires regard to be had to Documentary evidence’.
He summarises: ‘ … in a case such as this, which is based primarily on Documentary evidence, it will usually also be the case that the same evidence which makes it reasonable to allege that Public Rights subsist [the test applied in granting Mr Crawley’s appeal], will also permit & require the Tribunal to conclude, on a balance of probabilities [the test in the present proceedings], that Public Rights do subsist’.
There was to be a Public Inquiry in due course. – Kate Ashbrook was interviewed at the Site
Postscript: the Public Enquiry was held on 8-10th March 2016 and the Society appeared in support of the order, represented by George Laurence QC. Oxfordshire County Council adopted a neutral stance. Unfortunately the Inspector, Mark Yates, refused to confirm the Order. His report (which should be dated 13th May 2016) can be found here.
OS Map of Oxford County
Surveyed by a local man, Richard Davis of Lewknor and Published in 1797. This large map consists of 16 sheets at an impressively detailed scale of 1:31,680 or 2in to 1-mile. No more than 200 copies were ever made, the evidence is based on all sets of the Map having manuscript serial numbers – this Image is part of No.34. Very few complete copies survive. In terms of what the Map shows, a clear break has been made from the Saxton-led traditional County Map, as here far more detail than previously is featured. Not only are County & Hundred Boundaries, Rivers & Streams, Towns & Villages, Parks & Woodland depicted, but here we have Roads, Tracks, Hedges, indeed every Field can be seen, and relief is beautifully represented by the use of hachures. Davis was also Topographer to His Majesty, George III.
It is apparent from the VCH that by 1800 the Weir had been modified pursuant to an assessment of the Court of Sewers. Whilst the Weir is not shown on the 1797 Davis Map, I consider it probable that a Weir continued to exist between 1743 & 1800. However, it cannot be determined whether the Public were able to cross the River at the Weir during this period. Although Mr Crawley has provided information regarding Public Use of Weir Bridges over the River Thames, I need to consider the evidence in relation to the relevant feature across the River Thame. He believes the Weir would have been used as a Bridge since the date it was modified. A Weir in this location is annotated on the 1811 Ordnance Survey (“OS”) drawing, 1830 1st Edition OS Map, 1851 Chippenhurst
Tithe Map & 1881 OS Map. There is also support for a feature in this locality in the OS Boundary Remarks Book of 1873. Although a Weir is not depicted on other Maps, Mrs Rumfitt, an Expert Witness called by the Principal Objectors for the purpose of interpreting the evidence, accepts that a Weir probably existed continuously from 1800 until at least the date of the Survey for the 1881 OS Map. I agree that the evidence as a whole supports such a conclusion. The 1898 OS Map shows that the Weir no longer existed by the date of the Survey. The 1873 Boundary Remarks Book and 1881 Map provide the clearest indication of the features present in this locality.
A sketch Map within the 1873 Boundary Remarks Book shows 2 features crossing the River on each side of the Eyot and the Western one is annotated “Foot Bridge”. It is quite possible that some form of Bridge Structure, whether
for Public or Private use, continued at the time over the Eastern feature and this is supported by the Minutes addressed below. Further, Mr Munby accepted that it is possible that there was a Bridge over the Weir. There is no apparent Path shown connecting with the Eastern or Western features. The Path shown on the Western side of the River stops at a Boundary Feature and the Paths within Little Milton do not continue through to the River. This Document stems from the Duty given to the OS to define where Boundaries were located. The Boundary Remarks Book was unpublished but the sketch Map shows features in greater detail than the 1881 OS Map.
The 1881 OS Map shows 2 features leading out of the Eyot. These are offset and could accord with the Weir Structure depicted on Mr Munby’s Sketches. There is no annotation shown in respect of either of the features crossing the River. A Spur is represented leading to the Western Section and this in turn connects with other Paths. However, there is no apparent Link shown on the Eastern Bank of the River through Parcel 37. The failure to depict a Linking Path within this Parcel does not necessarily mean that Access was precluded or that there was a lack of use. Nonetheless, it is not suggestive of a Path being readily identified by the Surveyor on the Ground in comparison to the other Paths shown. A series of Minutes have been provided from the latter part of the 19thC. The 1st Set relate to meetings of the Bullingdon Highway Board. It is recorded in the Minutes of 13th April 1887 that the Chairman raised the condition of a Bridge over an old Weir at Chippinghurst said to connect Milton to Oxford and other Villages in the immediate locality. This is stated to have “fallen in and become useless”. The reputed owner (Mr Greenwood) is believed to have repaired it as a Bridge at least once. It is recorded that the Clerk was directed to write to Mr Greenwood asking him to repair the Bridge.
It is recorded in the Board Minutes of 11th May 1887 that the Clerk had inspected the Little Milton Inclosure Award. He was instructed to undertake further Searches in London for the Cuddesdon Award in which Chippinghurst would probably be included. The Minutes of 8th June 1887 record that the Clerk had made the necessary Searches but had been unable to proceed further in light of the costs of obtaining a Copy of the Plan for the Cuddesdon Award. The matter was postponed for a month with the Surveyor directed to visit the Site and prepare an estimate for the cost of repairing the Bridge. It is recorded in the Board Minutes of 13th July 1887 that the Surveyor had visited the Site and obtained 2 estimates for the repair of it as a Footbridge. Further, the Clerk was directed to obtain a copy of the Plan for the Cuddesdon Award before any decision was reached.
The Board Minutes of 14th September 1887 record that the Award Plan was of no assistance as it did not include the Weir. An old inhabitant of the Parish of Little Milton (Mr Thomas Betts) attended and his proof was taken down by the Clerk. Mr Franklin stated that the structure had been repaired on the directions of Mr Greenwood as a Bridge rather than a Weir. It was concluded that “after some considerable discussion and a further inspection of the Little Milton Award; it was unanimously resolved that the Clerk be directed to prepare & lay down before Counsel a Case for his Opinion on the whole matter”.
The Minutes of 12th October 1887 record that the Clerk had put before the Board
the Case & Opinion of Counsel. Counsel’s Opinion seemed to be that the Board had no power to compel Mr Greenwood to repair the Bridge. The Board agreed that the matter should stand over for the present. The Minutes of 14th December 1887 record that “Mr Thos Betts again attended before the Board to ask if the Board would commence the repair of the Chislehampton Bridge over the River Thame and the Board informed Mr Betts that it was not their intention to do anything in reference to the Bridge at present”.
A period of 10-yrs elapses before the Crossing of the River is raised again by Little Milton Parish Council. In this regard it is worth noting that Parish Councils
had only been established by the Local Government Act 1894. It is also apparent that permission to use a Private Bridge to the North had been withdrawn. The matter was subsequently pursued primarily by Little Milton & Cuddesdon Parish Councils. The Minutes for Garsington Parish Council indicate that its involvement was more limited.The minutes for Little Milton Parish Council of 19th January 1897 record details of a discussion regarding this matter. It is stated that the clerk had been unable to inspect the Paths & Broken Bridge due to bad Map & OS Map show that Footpaths connecting 6 adjacent Parishes were rendered useless. Further, Pedestrians were deprived of a short Route to Oxford which would save about 2.5-miles. It was agreed that the Clerk should write to the affected Parish Councils or Meetings to ask them to take Joint Action to get the Bridge repaired or replaced. Clarification would also be sought from the County Council on the matter.
The Minutes for Little Milton Parish Council of 14th March 1898 record that Mr Dick Betts asked for information regarding the Bridge and he stated that he had been advised by the Footpaths Preservation Society to place a Petition before the County Council. The Chairman stated that the matter had been several times before the Parish Council. He outlined the steps taken and the correspondence involving the Parish Councils and meetings in the area. It is recorded in the minutes of 19th July 1898 that a Petition to the County Council had been drafted & circulated within the Parish for Signatures & subsequently forwarded to Great Milton.
It is apparent from the Minutes for Little Milton Parish Council of 18th October 1898 that Headington Rural District Council (“the District Council”) did not accept any Liability to restore the Bridge. Cuddesdon & Little Milton Parish Councils pursued the matter with the County Council and this is reported in the minutes for Little Milton Parish Council of 17th January 1899. It is stated that the County Council had asked for information regarding the Right of Way and a Committee of the County Council had considered the matter and could not see that an obstruction existed to make Section 26 of the 1894 Act applicable. The County Council recommended that an application be made to the District Council under Section 16 of the 1894 Act. The Minutes of 4th March 1901 record
that Mr D Betts had tried to revive the matter and this proposal was Seconded
by Mr F Betts but it was not pursued by Little Milton Parish Council.
The Minutes for Cuddesdon Parish Council of 14th March 1898 record that a letter was read out from Mr Betts of Milton which stated that a valuable right of way over the Weir Bridge had fallen into disuse due to the Decay of the Bridge. He asked for the assistance of Cuddesdon Parish Council regarding this matter. It is also recorded that: “In response to the Chairman several of the older members stated that there had been an unchallenged Right of Way over the Bridge for over 30-yrs”. It was resolved to take the necessary steps to have the matter investigated. The minutes for Cuddesdon Parish Council of 8th September 1898 record that the District Council did not consider itself to be liable for the condition of the Bridge. It is recorded in the Minutes of 23rd February & 6th March 1899 that the Parish Council was not able to supply the District & County Councils with the information required in relation to a Right of Way
It is accepted that a Weir formerly existed in the locality of the claimed Route. The earliest Map evidence is the D’Oyley Estate Map of 1743, which depicts a straight feature across the River Thame annotated as a Weir. Information provided from the Publication known as the Victorian County History (“VCH”) suggests that this feature was a Fishing Weir. Whilst Mr Crawley refers to the existence of a Weir dating back to the 16thC, the location and nature of any such Weir cannot be determined from the information supplied.
Research showed that until the 1880s there was a Weir at this point which was also used as a Footbridge. People crossed the River between Little Milton on the left (East) Bank & Cuddesdon on the West. On the East bank 2 Footpaths converged at the Site. On the West Bank 2 Paths also converged (see Map). Whichever your direction the Weir-bridge saved a deal of circuitous walking to the next Bridges (2-miles to the North & south).
The Paths are still there, now on the definitive Map as Little Milton FPs 4 & 5 and Cuddesdon & Denton 19 & 21. Common sense suggests a Right of Way across the River; there is and has been no other reason for Walking to the River Thame at that Point other than to Cross to the other side. Great Milton Parish Council in the 1890s said that ‘a valuable Right of Way – had fallen into disuse through the Decay of the Bridge’ and with its Neighbours pressed the Headington Rural District Council (the Highway Authority) to act, but the Council refused stating (without reasons) that it did not believe there was a Right of Way. In 1898 the Stepping Stones made their 1st appearance on the OS Map, replacing the Weir-Bridge. They remained in use until at least the 1960s when a local Footpaths society tried to have the crossing placed on the definitive Map. OCC resisted and won. The Claim was dealt with by a Civil Servant with little or no understanding of Highways Law; nor had the History of the Route then been researched. But despite the gradual decay & dispersal of the Stones people continued to Cross or try to Cross there, no doubt attracted by the Legend ‘Stepping Stones’ on the OS Maps and by the fact that nobody has ever tried to stop them.