Great Milton was settled at an early date. No trace of British and little of Roman occupation has been found in the neighbourhood, but so favourable a Site is unlikely to have been passed over. The surrounding District was occupied in Roman times, a Roman Road is thought to have passed through the Parish, and the Site of a Roman Villa at Little Milton has been observed from the Air. The Domesday placename ‘Middleton‘, with its ending ‘ton‘ points to an early Saxon Settlement. Chilworth, meaning the homestead of Ceola, and Coombe were possibly colonising Settlements from Milton, as Little Milton must certainly have been. Ascott may have been named from its position, East of Stadhampton. Other indications of Anglo-Saxon development are the Field names: Swarford Ground in Chilworth, the Forty (OE. Forp – a clearing) and the Breach Meadow, another early name for a clearing in Great Milton.
Before the Conquest, the Economy of Great Milton with that of other Estates composing the Endowment of Dorchester Bishopric would have been devoted to the support of the Bishop’s Household. After the Conquest and Milton’s transference to the Bishop of Lincoln the Estate appears to have been drastically re-organised, for by 1086 it had almost doubled its pre-Conquest value of £18. On the Bishop’s Milton Estate, rated at 31-Hides and probably including Little Milton, there was the Lord’s Demesne Farm, and 24 Villani, 31 Bordars, and a Priest occupied the remaining Land. The other Settlement described under Milton was centred on Ascott, where there were the 2 Estates of the Bishop’s Knights—Aluric’s with 6-Hides and William’s with 3-Hides & 3-Virgates. Some 18 Peasants were recorded – a smaller number than that of the main Village. Only part of the Settlement in the North of the Parish (i.e. at Chilworth & Coombe) was described in 1086: an entry about 7-Hides held by Roger d’Ivry was left unfinished. In Hasculf Musard’s 2½-Hide Estate, however, there were 8 Bordars, 2 Villani & 1 Serf. It was worth only £1. There was no recorded Woodland or Waste. The Domesday Commissioners estimated that there was Land for 26-Ploughs at the Milton’s and recorded 24, 5 on the Bishop’s Farm & 19 in the hands of his Tenants. There were 2-Ploughs on the Demesne Farms and the Tenants had 4 at Ascott. While there was Land for 5-Ploughs on the Musard Estate at Chilworth there was only 1-Plough on the Demesne and another belonging to the Tenants. There were 23 acres of Meadow in Chilworth and Meadow valued at 10s in Milton. There were 2 Mills in the Parish.
By 1279 the Parish’s Population had increased and the structure of Society had become more complex. The Bishop no longer Farmed any of the Land. There were now 2 large Estates in the Miltons, the Clifford Estate & Milton Manor Prebend, each with 3-Carucates in the Home Farm and with some 30 dependent Virgates. There were 2 smaller Estates held directly of the Bishop, one of 10-Virgates belonging to Laurence de Louches and the other of 4-Virgates held by the Rector of Milton, another Prebendary. There were now some 11 Free Tenants in the 2 Villages, the most important being Nicholas Marmion & William de Bluntesdon, who had sub-Manors of about 10-Virgates each. The Abbot of Dorchester was a Free Tenant in Little Milton: the Abbey had held 20 acres and a Meadow since 1146 and in 1279 held also 1-Virgate by Scutage. Customary Tenants still formed most of the Population as was usual in Oxfordshire: there were 64 recorded Customars & 29 Cottars. The Customary Tenants on the 2 main Manors held a standard 1-Virgate holding at an Assize Rent of 5s; the Cottars, replacing the Bordars of 1086, paid 2s to 2s-6d for a house & 3 acres. Both Classes owed Works, for which a Virgate paid 2s & a Cottar 6d. There were 2 small Demesne Farms on the Manors at Ascott: John the Forester had 12-Virgates & William Quatremain 4-Virgates. The one Free Tenant held 1-Virgate of John the Forester for 5s & Suit of Court. As in the Milton’s, the bulk of the Population were Customary Tenants – there were 11 Customars attached to each Estate and 4 Cottars held of John the Forester & 3 of William Quatremain. There is no mention of the size of their Holdings, but the Customars paid the same Rent & Services as the Virgaters paid in Milton; the Cottars paid less, only 1s-6d and those on Quatremain’s Estate owed 6d for Works. There were also 2 Estates at Chilworth, belonging to John son of William of Coombe & John Gernon. There is no mention of John of Coombe’s Demesne in 1279, but the record of Tenants owing Works implied that there was or had been a Demesne Farm. John Gernon had 2-Carucates in Demesne with a Meadow adjoining. There were 9 small Free Tenants on the 2 Estates – almost half the total number in the Parish, but they were still outnumbered by the 28 Customary Tenants. On the Coombe Estate there were 10 who Held in Villeinage. They worked at the Will of the Lord, paid 25s a year between them and were probably ½-Virgaters as in Great Milton. There were 6 Cottars attached to this Estate and 6 Cottages were Rented for 5s a year. On John Gernon’s Land, there were 6 Virgaters & 4 Cottars.
Some light is thrown on the economy of the Chief Lay Estate in the Milton’s by the Accounts for Richard de Louches’s Manor (part of the 1279 Clifford Estate) rendered in 1322 at the Exchequer. Rent receipts were small and perhaps not all were included. A Watermill & a Windmill were farmed out and there were a Dovecot & Fish Stews (Ponds as living Larders) on the Estate. Most of the Goods & Stock were Sold at the end of the year: these included Farm implements & equipment, which fetched over 10s, £3 from Hay & Forage, £10 from Timber, and various sums from barley, dredge & beans. Fish from the Stews sold for £5 – 15 pigs, 1 cock & 4 hens were the only Stock mentioned.
In the 14thC, the Parish of Great Milton was, save for Thame, the wealthiest in the Hundred and indeed one of the wealthiest in the South part of Oxfordshire. The whole Parish paid over £8 to the 20th of 1327 compared with the Assessments of £2 to £3 for other Parishes in the Hundred. The returns of 1306 & 1316 are incomplete, but they give some idea of the comparative number of Taxpayers in each of the Settlements in the Parish & the distribution of wealth. They show that Great & Little Milton were the most important Villages: in 1306 the Milton’s paid more than twice the amount contributed from Chilworth & Coombe. In 1316 the holders of Manorial Lands paid high contributions: John de Fiennes 10s-6d at Ascott, John Gernon 9s-6d in Chilworth, Richard de Combe 7s in Coombe & William Inge 8s in Milton. In 1327 at the Milton’s 72 Inhabitants contributed. Of these 8 were wealthy, paying between 4s & 9s each, and 20 were moderately well off, paying between 2s & 4s. The 3 small Settlements in Chilworth made separate contributions. Seven of the 11 Contributors in Chilworth Musard paid 2s & over. The 9 at Chilworth Valery were less prosperous and paid 2s or under. The Tax for Coombe was paid by only 6 people but 3 of them had Manorial Rights and together paid £1 of the Hamlet’s Tax of £1-2s-3d. The amount at which the places were assessed in 1344 shows that the prosperity of Great & Little Milton had slightly increased and that that of the other Hamlets was well maintained; Chilworth Musard does not appear on the Tax Roll. In 1354 both Great Milton & Ascott received a 15s Tax Abatement. The Black Death does not seem, however, to have been as disastrous here as elsewhere in the County for in 1377 – 255 names were listed for the Poll Tax in the Milton’s & Ascott; no record of Contributors at Coombe has survived and the decline of the Village may date from this Period, but about 50 people in the Chilworths were named.
The bulk of the 15thC evidence concerns the Radmylde (i.e. the 14thC De Louches & Camoys) Manor in the Milton’s & Coombe. William Radmylde did not work the Demesne Farms himself, but Leased them to local men; in 1473 William Colles paid £10 and one Load of Hay as annual Rent for the Site of Milton Manor, the Demesne Land, Meadow & Pasture and Thomas Warner had Coombe Manor for £8 a year. Rents from Virgaters, including £2 to £3 from Tenants in Little Haseley, Lachford & Ewelme amounted to £24, bringing Radmylde’s receipts in that year to £43-17s-4d. This sum varied little in the 1470s & 1480s, the only Periods for which Documents survive. A 1499 Rental lists the Manor’s Tenants. The old pattern of Holdings of 1 or 2 Virgates or a ½-Virgate still persisted and there was no noticeable aggregation of land. In Great Milton 12 Tenants held between them some 10 Virgates, 7 Messuages, 2 Cottages & various acres. Eleven Tenants in Little Milton held some 13½-Virgates, 6-Messuages, 3-Cottages & 3 acres. Most had a Messuage & 1 or 2 Virgates for Rents varying between 5s & £1 a year. One Tenant with a Cottage & a Garden paid 8s-4d, another with a Cottage and 3 acres paid 3s-4d a year. The largest single holding was in Little Milton and consisted of 2 Messuages & 3 Virgates held for an annual rent of £1-17s-4d. The Rent Roll included Ascott Mill which together with 1-Virgate was rented for £1-4s a year. Camoys Weir, next to Abingdon Abbey’s Mill in Cuddesdon, was rented for 10s a year.
The total Rent of the Estate was now only some £17 and apparently had diminished since the 1470s. Courts for the Manor were held regularly twice a year, usually in May or April & October or November. The Homage of the 2 Villages came separately to present the various misdoings of their fellows. The Courts were mainly concerned with transfers of Land, the Upkeep of Houses, & the Management of the Open-fields. A transfer of Land in 1472 may be taken to illustrate the custom of the Manor: a new Tenant, his wife & son took over a Virgate & Messuage to Hold at Will for 12s a year, Relief & Suit of Court; he paid an entry Fine of 2 capons and on death he was to pay 3s-4d. as Heriot. A wife could succeed to a Tenement held Jointly with her husband: Thomas Margery Crede held Ascott Mill jointly and when Thomas died in 1482 Margery was admitted as Tenant, and later held it jointly with her 2nd husband Thomas Stockham. If a Tenement was neglected or a Transfer made without Licence, the Lord could take Possession; if a house was burnt down the Tenant would rebuild it or forfeited his Land. There is no comparable information for Ascott, but a 1463 Court Roll indicates that Tenants were amassing Holdings. One of the Tenements described in the October Court was made up of 1-Virgate of Demesne, a ½-Virgate, 1-Messuage & a Close & 1½-Virgate and ½ a Messuage; another consisted of a Messuage, 3 Closes & 3 Virgates, and 1 virgate & a Close. One capon was paid for Relief & 2s for Heriot; Tenements were held for one Life.
The Open-field Agriculture of the Milton’s is pictured in the Court Rolls. There were frequent complaints of Trespass by people who Ploughed up Merestones (Boundary Stones) lying between the Furlongs and of Straying Animals, as in October 1475 when 6 people were Amerced (punished) for allowing Horses to wander in the Common Fields. In 1487 the Court ruled that Great Milton Inhabitants must not allow their Foals to graze at large in the Open-fields. The Hayward took such animals into the Pound at Coombe or Milton: in 1475 a man was Amerced for breaking into the Lord’s Pound and taking away 4 Distrained horses. In 1484 a Great Haseley man was presented for crossing & recrossing Harrington Common with his sheep. The Courts were also concerned with the regulation of the Open-field Cultivation. In 1481, for instance, everyone agreed to keep watch over Lands Ploughed & sown in the East Field, with a penalty of 3s-4d for disregarding the Regulation. At Ascott the Court ordained that animals were not to be kept on the headlands of the Fields when they were sown. On several occasions in 1497, 1499 & 1500 the Court tried to prevent the overburdening of Pastures and laid down the Customary Stint: in 1500 it was said to be 40 ewes, 4 oxen & 2 horses for each Virgate in Great Milton. The Stint was smaller in Little Milton and was 30 gimmers & 3 oxen. The Lord enforced his own Agricultural Rights: Tenants had to Fold their sheep in the Lord’s Pinfold (pound) and were Fined if they tried to remove them. Trees at Coombe were also valuable Assets, and the Tenants of the Manor were not allowed to cut them without a Licence. The frequent references to the River Thame & the Weirs emphasise the importance of the River to the Parish’s economy. One of the chief problems was to keep its Course clear. The Abbot of Abingdon was the Chief Offender and the Courts frequently Presented him for allowing Willows to overgrow & block the River Thame. Sometimes the Miller was in trouble: in 1474 John Davy destroyed his Meadow, ‘Mylledych‘, by stopping up his Mill Weir. The Fishing was clearly of importance and in one 20-yr Lease of a Weir & Fishery, the Lessee had to promise to keep the Lord’s Pond stocked with Pike, Roach & Perch.
There is no clear evidence for the arrangement of the Open-fields in the Parish in the Middle Ages. An account of a Great Milton holding in 1473 indicates that there had been little consolidation of Strips: one Holding, for example, was distributed in scattered Strips of 3 acres, 2 acres, 1 acre & ½ acre in extent. Fields named in the Court Rolls of Camoys Manor included Southfield, ‘Dounnfeld’, Northfield, & ‘Sundfeld‘ in Little Milton, Eastfield, & Harrington Hill field in Great Milton. There is no reason to suppose, however, that there were not 3 ‘Courses‘ in Great Milton, as there evidently were in 1650 when Harrington Hill was Fallow every 3rd year. The Common of Great Milton was in Milton Harrington and in 1484 a Haseley man was Fined for cutting Furzes there. Meadowland by the River Thame was important, as it still is, and there were many references in the 15thC to ‘Waywestmede’, ‘Dranesmede’, ‘Sparowesmede’ & ‘Northmede’.
There was a separate Field System for the Chilworths in the North of the Parish. Eastfield, Moorfield, and Westfield were named in 1274 and ‘Le Estfelde‘ and Chilworth Field occur in the 15thC. These were still un-Inclosed in the early 15thC: in 1422 a Grant was made of Lands & Tenements in the Village & Fields of ‘Chilworth & Chilworth Musard’ and in 1462 2 Messuages & 2 Virgates were said to be in Chilworth Musard Fields. There must also have been a separate System for Ascott, but no details of it have survived.
The Court Rolls show that Sheep Farming was extensively practised in the Parish and that the movement towards Inclosures had begun at the end of the 15thC. Large flocks were grazed in Harrington Field, Milton Common & on Chilworth Field. Complaints that sheep & cattle overburdened the Common & Pasture were numerous: in 1474 Richard Quatremain of Thame, Lord of Ascott, had 400 sheep on Chilworth Field; in 1476 Thomas Danvers, Lord of Waterstock, had 300 sheep & 100 cattle on the Lord’s Common in Chilworth. The Yeoman & Husbandmen of the Parish, as well as the Gentry, had Flocks. Thomas Eustace, a prosperous Yeoman Farmer, was Presented in 1479 & 1487 for grazing 400 sheep in Great Milton. John Ives, who held 1 Messuage & 1 Virgate of the Manor, had 40 sheep more than his Due in Chilworth, and Walter Norreys, Holding a Close & 4 acres, had 20 sheep too many in the 1470s & 1480s. Not all were Great Milton Parishioners: John Burnham of Waterstock had 80 sheep in Chilworth Field in 1473 and the Wixons, Yeomen of Tiddington, had Oxen there in 1487. Many of these men, some Gentry & some prosperous Yeomen, were responsible for Inclosures in the 15th & 16thCs. The Court Rolls mention the Lord’s Inclosed Pastures on Milton Harrington and there were various Pasture Closes in Little Milton especially, where there was good Grassland. In 1611 a Lease included 5 Closes of Pasture & Tillage there, and about the same time, the Lord of the Manor tried to enclose 7-Yardlands by Agreement. He said that they were so scattered that he could not feed or Pasture his cattle or draw profits from the Property without damage to others. Good grassland must also account for the Siting of the 18thC Blagroves Farm in Little Milton: it lay in the Fields surrounded by its own Closes & away from the Village. The soil, however, was good for the mixed Farming of Open-field Agriculture; this, together with the fact that the 15th & 16thC Communities were well-established & large, must explain why the Fields of the 2-Villages of Great & Little Milton remained largely un-Inclosed until the 19thC in marked contrast to the other parts of the Parish.
Chilworth & Ascott were seriously affected by 15th & 16thC Inclosure. They had always been small Hamlets and their soil was a heavier Clay, suitable for laying down to grass. Progressive Farmers of the time were able to buy out the Peasant Farmers & turn the Land over to sheep. Thomas Danvers of Waterstock, mentioned above as a Sheep Farmer, was one of the foremost of these men in Oxfordshire and bought up the whole of Chilworth & Coombe. In 1499 he took 100 acres of Arable & 240 acres of Pasture into his Demesne and converted ’14 Arable Lands’ worth £10 to Pasture. The process continued in the 16thC, though there may have been some un-Inclosed Land as late as 1597, for cattle were then said to have been driven off ground called Chilworth Field. By the 17thC, all was Inclosed, and Chilworth & Coombe were described as ‘now being decayed Towns & Hamlets‘. The 17thC Deeds show that the Land was divided into Meadow & Pasture Closes. These were often large: in 1628, for instance, Coombe Harrington, a Pasture Close, contained some 80 acres, High Chilworth had 40 acres, and ‘Bigger Small Mead‘ 30 acres. The Land was Farmed from 4 or 5 Farms, which stood in the middle of their own Fields, a System which still characterises this part of the Parish.
The same course of events occurred at Ascott. The number of Closes in 1463 may indicate that already some Land was outside the Common-field System and was used for separate Pastures. But there were still Open-field Regulations and the name given to the Lord’s Meadow, ‘the Mead beneath Town‘, may mean that there was still a Hamlet there. In the 17thC, Ascott disappeared. John Wilmott of Stadhampton, another of the progressive Oxfordshire Farmers, leased 2 Farms from Robert Dormer and in 1516 destroyed a Messuage & Converted 40 acres of Arable to Pasture. It has been estimated that he evicted 4 Tenants. Two later complained that they had been evicted for giving evidence at Abingdon. They alleged that Dormer & Wilmott intended to Inclose the whole Township for Pasture, and this was evidently done, for there is no record of Parliamentary Inclosure in the 18thC. The 17thC Deeds show that the Land must have been entirely Inclosed & List some Closes of 50 to 60 acres. At the end of the 17thC, there was at least one other Farm, Anderson’s Farm, besides the Manor Farm.
These changes were reflected in the numbers paying Taxes in the 16thC. Chilworth no longer had a separate Assessment. In 1524 there were 22 Contributors in Great Milton, 15 in Little Milton and still 6 in Ascott. The wealthiest Contributors were in Great Milton, where the Farmer of the Prebendal Manor paid on goods worth £50 and 6 others on goods worth £3 to £7; in Little Milton 1 paid on goods worth £12. In 1542 there were 34 contributors in Great Milton & 3 were men of substance: John Grene, whose Family later bought the Manor, had goods worth £66, Robert Edgerly, Tenant of the Prebendal Manor, had £50 worth & John Ives £19 worth. In Little Milton 3 out of 27 contributors had goods worth £10 to £16. In both Villages, most people paid on goods worth between £1 to £5. There were only 3 Contributors at Ascott in 1545: 1 had goods to the value of £20, 2 others to the value of £5. Later 16th & 17thC Subsidies show a similar picture: Great Milton continued to pay about 3 times as much as Little Milton; at Ascott the Lord and a Tenant were usually the only Contributors.
The Parish as a whole is distinguished by the number of its substantial Husbandmen & Yeomen and the many well-known Oxfordshire Families who had Land in the Parish. The Ives Family, for example, were prosperous Inhabitants in the early 14thC and the Family is frequently mentioned in 15th, 16th, & 17thC documents. With the Eustace, Wildgoose & Wiggin Families they made up the 4 Families found in the 15thC of which members were still living when Delafield wrote in the 18thC. Another Family, the Parsons, was typical of the Class of small men who were successful in rising in the Social scale in the 16thC. Thomas Parsons rented Land worth 12s-4d a year in 1499; his descendant Thomas Parsons paid on goods worth £25 in 1577, one of the highest Assessments in the Parish, and by 1665 Robert Parsons was living in the largest House there, except for the Dormers’ Mansion at Ascott. New Families came in the 17th & 18thCs. The Welleses, who also held at Tiddington, were typical of these Yeomen. In 1616 Richard Welles married Mary Wildgoose and took over 2 Virgates in Great Milton. The Family acquired more Land in the Parish in the course of the 17thC and held Lower Farm by the 18thC; they became substantial Tenant Farmers in Chilworth as well.
Some documentary evidence for 17thC farming in Great Milton has survived. A description of the Chief Lay Manor given in 1617 describes it as consisting of 1 messuage, 1 dovecot, 3 gardens, 220 acres of Arable, 6 of Meadow, 150 of Pasture & 1 Heath. There was Common of Pasture for 9 horses, 21 cows & 360 sheep. In a Lawsuit over the Manor in 1622 some details of Stock are given: Humphrey Ayleworth Distrained on 200 ewes, 200 lambs, 80 tegs, 17 heifers, a cow & 2 bullocks, of the value of £300 & upwards. A 1617 Tithe Case throws some additional light: Sir William Cope, Farmer of the Prebendal Manor, had 20 acres on which he sowed barley, worth £50 at the previous Harvest; there were 5 acres sown with woad, each acre worth 8s; there were 80 acres of Warren where he bred rabbits, and in 1616 600 Couples, valued at 2s a Couple, were killed.
In 1650 the value of Copyhold Tenures of the Prebendal Manor was £19-7s-8d; 25 Tenants paid between 20s & 30s for a Messuage & 2 Yardlands each. It was the custom to hold for a term of 3 Lives; Land was let by the Yardland; each Yardland had 16 acres of Arable, Pasture & Meadow, and was valued at £6 6s-8d a year. The profits of the Court were £19-7s-8d Lord Coventry, then the Tenant, let the Manor-House with its stables, pigeon house, garden, orchard, & pastures. There was also a Manor-House attached to Milton Ecclesia Prebend & 2½ Messuages, worth £25 altogether. Pasture Rights for both Prebends were specified – for the Manor Prebend, it was 4 cows & 40 sheep a Yardland on Harrington Hill; for Milton Ecclesia Prebend, it was 30 sheep & 3 cows a Yardland on ‘Hornston‘ (Harrington) Hill with the Town herd. Details of Chilworth’s Land appear in Sir James Simeon’s Account Book for 1689 & other years. He owned most of the Farms later known as Chilworth Farm, Upper & Lower Farm, and Trindall’s Farm. In 1690 he received £235-14s-7d for ½-yearly Rent from 8 Tenants: Robert Hedges paid nearly £100 rent.
The changes that had taken place in the Parish since the late 15thC are reflected in the Hearth Tax Returns. In Great Milton in 1662 & 1665 44 & 32 families respectively were Taxed and 4 were discharged on account of Poverty in 1665. Among those who paid in 1665 the number of Farmers living in substantial houses is noticeable. There were 7 with 5 or more hearths. At Little Milton there were also 5 Families who paid on 5-hearths or more in 1665 but 26 others were less well housed than the Great Milton people. In 1662 35 were Taxed. Only 4 houses, including Sir William Dormer’s, were returned for Ascott. It is of interest to compare the figure of 83 households with that of 409 persons listed in the Compton Census of 1676. At Tetsworth, where both the number of Families and the number of Persons of age is given, the Ratio is 2.8 to one. If the Ratio was the same at Great Milton there were about 146 Families there in 1676.
In 1749 there were some 40 Holdings, Copyhold & Leasehold, in the Prebendal Manor of Great & Little Milton, and most were valued at well over £5. In 1775 the annual value of the Manor was £239 6s 6d in Rack Rents, £20-5s-7d in Quit-rents and £11-3s-½d from Fines & Heriots, reckoned on an average of 12-yrs. By 1808 there had been changes in Tenures: the Homage Presented that William Davy, the previous Lord, had enfranchised various Tenements and that John Hedges & Benjamin Bennet, the new Lords, had extinguished some Copyhold Tenures.
The Land-Tax Assessments of 1786 show that besides the large Properties there were still many Smallholdings in the Milton’s. There were 40 Landlords & 49 Holdings in Great Milton, 13 Owner-occupiers & some 35 Tenants. There were 40 Landlords in Little Milton & 54 Holdings, 14 Owner-occupiers & 35 Tenants. In Chilworth there were 11 Landowners, 4 Owner-occupiers, & 12 Tenants. Thomas Weld, the Lord of the Manor, owned most Land here and paid £85-1s-4d; he was non-Resident and had 4 Tenants. Only 8 others paid as much as between £10 & £24 in the Milton’s & Chilworth, and the majority paid between £1 & £5. By 1816 the Weld interest had disappeared from Chilworth and there was no predominantly large Landowner in that part of the Parish. In 1785 most of Ascott was owned by one non-Resident Landlord, who was assessed for 8/9ths of the Land Tax. By 1832 Edward Franklin was the sole Tenant Farmer; he had bought the Estate by the 1850s and it was one of the Centres of progressive Farming in Oxfordshire.
In the 1830s the Parish still had a high proportion of Meadow & Pasture Land. It amounted to 1,660 acres compared with 2,520 acres of Arable; Chilworth had a ratio of Meadow to Arable as high as 2 to 3 & Ascott had almost as much Pasture Land as Arable. A description of Great Milton Meadows some 30-yrs earlier shows the division of Meadowland. Revel Mead with 32 men’s math was held by 8 Tenants; Breach Mead and the Breach were held by 3 Tenants; North Mead was divided into 22 Lots & occupied by 6 Tenants. Wasteland & Commons were still important. In 1830 various Proprietors & Tenants met in a Vestry meeting at the Bell Inn to protect their Common Rights: they agreed not to remove grass or rushes from the Commons or Wasteland or to allow others to do so. Nevertheless, the end of the Open-field Village soon came. Over 902 acres of Little Milton were Inclosed in 1839; about 575 acres went to Walter Long, the Lord of the Manor. Great Milton was Inclosed in 1844 when 1,316 acres were affected. The largest Allotment of 360 acres went to Walter Long; Charles Couling, Owner of the Prebendal Farm, received 254 acres and the Prebendary of Milton Ecclesia 137 acres. Four acres were allotted for Recreation.
The Inclosures may have contributed to the drop in Population in the 2nd half of the 19thC. The Census of 1801 recorded about 1,000 people in the Parish, well over 3/4ths living in Great & Little Milton. At Ascott the population dropped between the 1830s & 1840s as Franklin brought all the Land into his own hands, but there was a steady rise in Population elsewhere until the 1840s. Thereafter the Population in all parts of the Parish declined to 865 in 1901.
Whatever the effect of Inclosure on Population its encouragement of the larger-sized Farm seems certain. Small-holdings decreased in number until in 1882 there were 6 Farms in Great Milton, for example, of between 150 & 200 acres besides the Manor Farm with 273 acres. The 100 or so cottages & other houses in the Village had only their Gardens or at most 2 acres of Land. The continued growth in the size of Farms can be seen at the beginning of the 20thC in Little Milton where there were 3 Farms of 257, 300, and 412 acres; at Chilworth where there were 5 Farms of 100 to 200 acres & one of over 300 acres; and at Ascott where there was one large Farm of 551 acres & 5 cottages. This movement has continued to 1957 save in Ascott, where the Oxford County Council purchased the Ascott Estate in 1920 under the Small-holdings Act, with the object of assisting Demobilised Soldiers to settle on the Land. By 1922 there were 10 Cottages each with 30 to 40 acres of Land, and by 1931 there were 55 Inhabitants, the highest number since the early 19thC.
The Parish has always been good mixed farming country. The type of Land is well described by Arthur Young: ‘Milton Field is one of the finest soils … in the Country: dry, sound, friable loam on gravel‘ and an Agricultural Expert in 1917 described it as excellent for the best type of Oxfordshire Farming – corn, sheep, & cattle. There have been many changes in the popularity of the various types of farming, but on the whole, Arable has held pride of place in the Milton Economy after the trend of the 15th & 16thCs towards a Pastoral Economy. Barley, dredge & beans were sold off the Louches Manor in 1322 & in 1617 barley was grown on Sir William Cope’s Estate. In 1803 Tithes were paid in barley, wheat, maslin & beans, straw & hay. Turnips & Swedes were grown at the end of the 18thC. Arthur Young noted that Milton Field had ‘the finest show of turnips‘ he had seen that year (1807) as well as ‘very fine and luxurious swedes‘. A Vestry meeting of 1823 laid down that clover was to be sown in part at least of Milton ‘Field’, turnips in part of Harrington & vetches in part of Fulwell Field. Even at Chilworth there had been reconversion to Arable: in 1831 Chilworth Farm was mainly Arable and had only 7 acres of Pasture. In 1826 the inventory of crops at Wheatley Bridge Farm included oats, barley, beans & peas, spring wheat & potatoes. When Ashhurst Let it out in 1876 he prescribed a 5-course rotation. At Ascott, Edward Franklin was noted for his good farming and gave a great deal of information to Sewell Read for his Agricultural Survey of 1854. Franklin practised double-cropping of roots & green crops, and sowed mangolds (beet) in the bean quarter.
The introduction of Machinery in the Parish led to violent opposition. In 1830 Rioters from the neighbouring Villages of Drayton, Chislehampton & Stadhampton assaulted James Wells of Little Milton and broke his Threshing Machines. Six people were indicted and sentenced to 7-yrs’ Transportation. The Parish itself appears not to have been in sympathy with the attack and 136 Parishioners were sworn in as Special Constables.
Stock Farming was still important in all parts of the Parish in the 19thC. When Swarford or Wheatley Bridge Farm was up for sale in 1814, it was described as mostly consisting of ‘very rich grazing Land‘, and in 1815 an Inventory of stock included 14 cows & heifers, 212 sheep. There were prize sheep in many parts of the Parish. In 1854 valuable Down Cotswold Flocks had been kept at Little Milton for 20-yrs. Read was enthusiastic, too, over the fat lambs at Ascott and the use of a horned Wiltshire ram, but he commented that the lambs ‘can only be successfully grazed by those who have a large extent of rich Meadow Land‘. A fine herd of Herefords was kept by Franklin. Read commented that ‘the 1st 30 that were sold averaged £34 each and were excellent in every point being good for the Feeder, the Butcher & the Public‘. The steers were bought at the Hereford October Fair, kept throughout the summer & sold at Christmas. Fruit Farming in the Parish was not successful: it died out in the early 19thC with the death of its originator, William Speechley.
Throughout most of its History, Agriculture & allied Crafts have been the Parish’s main occupation. In both the 17th & 18thCs the names of Wheelwrights, Carpenters, Cordwainers & Blacksmiths are recorded. The appearance of a Perukemaker (Wigs) in 1757 was presumably due to the number of Gentry living in the neighbourhood. The Quarries in Great & Little Milton must have provided the only other Industry in the Parish. Dr Robert Plot noted them in 1677 & in 1903 Milton Quarries were still worked and provided Portland Stone for repairing buildings in Oxford. In 1740 Richard Belcher, a Mason of Little Milton, built the Tower of Stadhampton Church.
The Census of 1851 shows that Great Milton was a comparatively self-sufficient Community. The majority of Inhabitants, some 155 labourers, were employed by 8-Farmers, but there were also 4-Blacksmiths, 2-Wheelwrights, 7-Shoemakers, 2-Harnessmakers, 7-Carpenters, 4 or 5 Victuallers or Innkeepers, a Carrier & a Drover, besides the usual Trades of Shopkeeper, Baker & Butcher. There were 2 Dressmakers, a Milliner, a Glover & 3 Laundresses. The Professional Class was represented by a Surgeon and a General Practitioner. In Little Milton, Ascott & Chilworth there were 9 Farmers. Little Milton had 3 Dealers in Livestock, 5 Shopkeepers & a Publican. Besides 12 Craftsmen of a more common type, Stone Masons still flourished: there was one Family of 4 & 2 others engaged in the Craft. At Ascott the whole Community of 21 centred around Edward Franklin’s Farm of 1,050 acres. In Chilworth 15 Labourers were employed by 3 Farmers, and there was a Carter & a Turnpike Keeper. By 1939 only 2 Craftsmen were left and in 1957 only about 5% of the Villagers worked on the Land, the rest mostly working in Oxford Industries.
In the Agricultural Depression of the late 1860’s & 1870’s there was so much Unemployment & Poverty in the Miltons that in addition to the assistance to the Poor provided from the Rates, special steps were taken by the better-off Inhabitants to alleviate distress. An Emigration Fund was set up to help Emigrants with their Passage to Canada and nearly £50 had been subscribed by 1870 when a group left the Parish to join an Immigration party going from London to Quebec & Markham, Canada. Free Railway Journeys in Canada & Employment were promised. The letters sent back by the Emigrants throw light not only on life in Canada, but also on problems at home and in particular on the close connection, even in Villages, between Poverty & excessive Drinking of Alcohol. One Emigrant, for instance, said that he had not touched beer and was better than if he had had a ‘gallon a day‘. The Vicar’s comment was that there was hope that the Emigrants had ‘shaken off the great enemy of the working man in this country’.
A Coal Club, Clothing Club & a Great Milton Medical Club were also organised. The Christmas morning Offertory was used to buy beef for distribution to the Poor for Christmas Dinners. There were also Gifts from individuals, such as 524-lb of beef given in 1869 by M P Boulton. Social and Educational activities were encouraged: in 1866 a Reading-room was opened in the School and furnished with Newspapers, Books, Draughts, Chess & other games; Talks were given; Choirs were invited to visit the Parish and Milton Church Choir attended the annual Choir-meeting in Oxford. Low wages, however, persisted: in the 1890’s Great Milton Labourers still earned some of the lowest Agricultural wages in England. ‘Butchers‘ meat was seldom seen’ in any Labourer’s Cottage and most old Labourers were ‘on the Parish‘. Members of the Ancient Order of Foresters were assisted by the Society’s Benevolent Club, and also benefited from the Social activities of the Order, carried on at the Foresters’ Hall behind the ‘Bull‘.
In 1894 Miss Ellen K Sheppard built in Church Lane an Institute for Boys. There during her lifetime they received further Education after they had left School. After her death, in accordance with her Will (Proved 1906), the Building, with its Lawn, was held in Trust for the use of Boys of the Parish between School-leaving age & 18. She also left ‘the new Institute‘ with 2 cottages and a Garden for use by the Men of the Village. The Men’s Institute was falling out of use before WW2 and after 1944 was used for a time as a Boys’ Club. The Social life of the Parish was further considerably assisted by the Pott Benefactions. In 1923 the Rev A P Pott and his wife presented a Village Hall, called the Neighbour Hall; in 1929 the Rev A P Pott purchased a Recreation Ground, as the previous one was inadequate and too far removed; and in 1931 he had a Pavilion built for the Sports Club. The Village Hall stands close to the Manor House, and is controlled by the Parochial Church Council, which appoints a Management Committee.
Mills & Fishery
Domesday Book records 2-Mills in the Parish, the Bishop’s Mill worth 15s & the Mill of one of his Knights worth 8s a year. The Bishop’s Mill was probably in Ascott on a feeder of the River Thame, for this Watermill was always associated with the chief Lay Manor in Great Milton and followed its Descent. It is mentioned c.1200, when Basilea, the wife of Roger de Cundi, Granted 3s from Ascot Mill to Oseney Abbey for the term of her life; in 1279 when John de Clifford held it; and in the time of his successors the De Louches, whose Watermill was described as in Ascott in Milton. In 1322 Richard de Louches farmed it out with 1-Virgate for 16s a year. In the 15thC when the Camoys & then the Radmylde Family owned it, it was often described on the Court Rolls as being in a ruinous condition and in need of repair. In 1484 William & Margery Stockham, the latter being the Widow of the previous Tenant, were Tenants of the Watermill, 1 Messuage & 1 Virgate of Land, containing 16 acres, for 24s a year & Services; in 1499 William Rede of Ascott was the Tenant & also paid 24s a year. The Property passed to Sir Reginald Bray and then to the Dormers and was one of the Ascott Watermills listed in their 16thC Deeds. The other Domesday Watermill was on John Forester’s Estate in 1279 and was held by his successors, the Fiennes, in the 15thC. From them it passed to the Quatremains & Dormers. In 1463 Ascott Court said that the Path between the 2-Mills should be repaired. One of these was on the 17thC Anderson’s Farm and was mentioned as ‘the Corn Mill‘ in 1728. By the 19thC both were apparently disused; the Site of one was marked on the Tithe Map as ‘the old Mill Seat‘.
Stadhampton Parish Tithe Map 1849
In 1279 Richard de Sepewas held a 3rd Watermill and a ½-Virgate in Great Milton for 13s a year. This may have been the 15thC Mill ‘Shittangs‘ near Millditch Meadow which belonged to the Radmylde Manor. There was a 4th Watermill, on the Prebendary’s Estate: in 1500 his Tenant there was Presented for Flooding the Land. There is no later reference to either of these Mills.
There were 2 other Mills in the Miltons in the 14thC and these were probably Windmills. The Inge Family had one in the early 14thC and in 1322 a Windmill on the De Louches’ Estate was let out for 3s-4d a year. There were still 2 Windmills in the Parish in 1838 & c.1900.
Fishing Rights in the River Thame were attached to the Chilworth Manors. In 1274 William of Coombe’s Widow claimed Dower in a Fishery extending from her husband’s Weir to Sir Roger Gernon’s Weir; in 1421 Sir Thomas Camoys, who succeeded to the Coombe Estate, had a Fishery in Chilworth. The Gernon Estate had half a Fishery also in 1279, which presumably Descended with the Manor. All the Fishing Rights must have come by the 16thC to the Hubands, Owners of both Estates. Thereafter they Descended with Chilworth Manor. The Milton Estate also had Fishing Rights, held by Lord Coventry in the 17thC and presumably descending with the Manor. In 1650 Fishing Royalties of the Prebend Manor were worth £26-8s.