Government & Administration – Hundredal, Honorial & Manorial Government
The Hundred corresponds to the Domesday Half-Hundred of Benson and was renamed in 1070.
Benson Hundred was Established by 1086, when it belonged, with the other 4 ‘Chiltern Hundreds’, to the Benson Royal Estate. By then it was already designated (and remained) a ‘Half Hundred’, although Domesday Book rated its later constituents at 121½ above Hides in all, comprising an Area of some 25,096 acres. The name Ewelme Hundred was substituted piecemeal from the 1230s, reflecting Benson’s decline as a Royal & Administrative Centre and, almost certainly, the location of the Ancient Hundredal Meeting Place within what was by then the separate Lordship & Parish of Ewelme.
Domesday Book identified only 1 or 2 places as lying within the Hundred, but by 1279 it contained all of the 14 Parishes and their constituent Hamlets included in the 19thC, together with the detached Hamlets of Draycott & Wyfold. Of those, Draycott (a Hamlet of Ickford Parish in Bucks) was included probably through its early connection with the Honour of Wallingford, and remained part of the Hundred until its Transfer to neighbouring Waterstock in 1886. Wyfold (subsequently part of Checkendon Parish in Langtree Hundred) was included as former Ancient Demesne attached to Benson Manor, and was still counted as part of Ewelme Hundred in the 17thC, though apparently not in the 19thC. The rest of the Hundred formed a largely compact Block save for the projecting tongue of Great Haseley Parish, whose inclusion may reflect its relatively late connection with Benson Manor. By contrast places to its West & East (included in Thame & Pyrton Hundreds) were alienated long before the Norman Conquest to the Churches of Dorchester, Lincoln, or Worcester.
The Hundredal Meeting Place is not recorded, but 2 likely Candidates occupy rising ground between Benson & Ewelme. One, known by the 16thC (from a prominent Tree) as the Roke Elm, was still clearly marked on 18th & 19thC Maps, and until Parliamentary Inclosure stood at the intersection of 6 Major Routes and of the Boundaries of Benson, Fifield, & Ewelme. At 72M, it commands wide views over the Vale towards the Iron-Age Hillfort at Wittenham Clumps. An alternative is an equally prominent (and slightly higher) Road Intersection 1,300M to the East, where the Boundaries of Benson, Ewelme & Brightwell Baldwin meet near a 9thC ‘Field Way’ and a contemporary Landmark called Ceolwulf’s Tree. The latter Site lies close to an early-to-mid Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, just North of a Field where Coin & Metalwork finds suggest an 8th to 9thC Trading or Meeting point.
Jurisdiction over the 4½ Hundreds Descended with Benson Manor throughout the Middle Ages, becoming bound up with Administration of the Honour of Wallingford (to which Benson belonged from c.1244) and its successor the Honour of Ewelme. By the late 13thC, Tenants of Manors still reckoned as Ancient Royal Demesne or belonging to the Honour were exempt from Attendance at the Hundred Court, owing Suit instead either at the Benson Court and View of Frankpledge or at those for the Honour. For the rest, 3-weekly (or more commonly monthly) Hundred Courts continued in the 15thC, when they were Attended by Tithingmen from Fees in Ewelme, Brightwell Baldwin, Cadwell, Little Haseley, & Little Rycote. The Courts seem to have been Combined with those for Langtree Hundred, which presumably explains the presence of Tithingmen from Checkendon, Little Stoke & Mongewell. Business included Pleas of Debt, instances of Hue & Cry, Enforcement of the Assizes of Bread & Ale, and Defaults, but the Courts appear to have rapidly declined after the later 15thC.
The Hundreds annual Views of Frankpledge were subsumed by the 15thC in those for the Honour, which were held at various fixed Locations and dealt with adjacent Groups of Places. Those in Ewelme Hundred (Benson’s Views apart) met at Ewelme, Chalgrove, & Great Haseley, and were attended by Tithingmen from c.25 Places in all, who paid Certainty Money & Reported Misdemeanours. The Arrangement survived both the Honours reconfiguration as the Honour of Ewelme in 1540 and the Sale of Benson Manor in 1628 when the Crown retained its Honourial & Hundredal Jurisdiction. Early 18thC Views (held by Stewards or Deputy-Stewards of the Honour) were attended by Tithingmen & Constables from the same Groups of Places as earlier, who were elected by the Court, and whose Presentments dealt with the upkeep of Ditches, Roads, & Commons.
In 1817 the Crown sold the Honour 1st to Jacob Bosanquet and in 1821 to the Earl of Macclesfield, who revived the Moribund Views and the Payment of Quit-rents & Certainty Money, then heavily in Arrears. Despite opposition & non-compliance the Ewelme, Chalgrove, & Haseley Views continued until 1847, electing Tithingmen, Constables, & Haywards, receiving payments, and very occasionally ruling on minor Local matters such as Pounds, Ditches, Lanes, & Stocks. Thereafter they apparently lapsed, their Legal Basis having been undermined by the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1848. Separate Crown Views for Benson Manor and its Members continued in the 17thC and were resurrected by the Lord of Benson in the 1770s, attended by Officers from Warborough, Shillingford, Nettlebed, & Northfield End in Henley. Those Views lapsed c.1842, though Benson’s Courts Baron continued to 1922.
Parish & Civil Government
Parish & Vestry Government developed on the usual pattern from the 16thC, gradually superseding the role of local Manor Courts despite the late continuance of Open-field Agriculture in parts of the Vale. Some Townships in the larger Parishes had their own Officers and were occasionally rated separately for Poor Relief. Rationalisation of Parish Boundaries was carried out piecemeal from the 1860s, radically altering the Civil Boundaries around Benson, Newington, Haseley, & Chalgrove, although the 3-Upland Parishes remained substantially unchanged. New Parish Councils or Meetings were established under the 1894 Local Government Act and continued in 2015.
The Hundred was Split in 1834 amongst Thame, Wallingford, & Henley Poor Law Unions, Chalgrove & Haseley Parishes falling to Thame, and the 3 Upland Parishes (with Brightwell Baldwin and some others) to Henley. In 1894 the Thame & Henley Unions were succeeded by Thame & Henley Rural Districts, and the Oxfordshire part of the Wallingford Union by Crowmarsh Rural District. All but the 3 Upland Parishes were transferred to the new Bullingdon Rural District in 1932, and the entire former Hundred to South Oxfordshire District in 1974. For Ecclesiastical purposes, the Hundred was divided (Peculiars excepted) amongst Cuddesdon, Aston, & Henley Deaneries, with some modern changes.