Settlements at Preston Crowmarsh & probably Fifield existed before the Norman Conquest, and by the 13thC there was Settlement at Roke and at some other outlying Sites. Preston Crowmarsh, close to the River, developed on the North-western edge of the ‘Marsh [or Common] frequented by Crows’ from which it & Crowmarsh Gifford are named, its Medieval Fields extending beyond the Common towards Oakley Wood. The apparently interchangeable names Crowmarsh Battle & Prestecromerse (Priests’ Crowmarsh) were established by c.1300, reflecting the Manor’s Ownership by Battle Abbey (Sussex); both remained in use, but from the 17thC the form Preston Crowmarsh became increasingly common. The present Hamlet comprises Crowmarsh Battle Farm (on the Site of the Abbey’s Medieval Manor House) and Houses further North along Crowmarsh Lane, whose curving line near Lower Farm formerly continued North-eastwards towards Benson. It was apparently truncated during 17thC inclosure, leaving a sharp angle in the modern Road. The Hamlet’s layout was broadly established by 1638 and probably from the Middle Ages, with Tenant housing perhaps intentionally separated from the Manorial Site. Lower Farm became a significant focus following its Sale in 1617, and by the late 18thC included a new Farmhouse set back from the Lane, with Farm Buildings & Cottages to its South. Several other Cottages were rebuilt or remodelled during the same period, but there was little infill until the early 20thC when a few houses were Built West of the Lane to Crowmarsh Battle Farm. A cluster of Houses at the Hamlet’s Northern end lay outside Crowmarsh Battle Manor, but like the nearby Mill may occupy Medieval Sites. They include the former Swan pub (part-dated 1730) and the 18thC Old Mill House, while the larger Mill Cottages and Preston House replaced former Yards and Malthouses in the early 20thC.
Fifield (meaning ‘5-Hides’) formed a separate 5-Hide Estate before 1066, when there was probably a Tenanted House on or near the Site of the present Fifield Manor. Domesday Book mentioned no other Tenants, but a parochial Chapel probably near Fifield Manor existed in 1163, and by the 1270s there were up to 19 Households. Their location is unclear, though poor-quality Earthworks have been noted East of the House. By 1638 late Medieval shrinkage had left Fifield Manor isolated within an Island of old Inclosures; early-17thC Deeds still mentioned Houses & Tofts (abandoned House Plots) belonging to its Estate, however, and 7 houses were Taxed under Fifield in 1662. Possibly those included Cottages straggling Eastwards over the Ewelme Boundary, or lying elsewhere within the Parish. By the 1830s Fifield comprised only Fifield Manor and its surrounding Closes, together with a newly built Lodge fronting Ewelme Road.
Roke & Rokemarsh developed along a Spring Line on the Southern edge of low-lying Commons stretching up to Berrick. The place name originated as ‘(le) Oak‘, where habitation was mentioned frequently from the late 13thC. Possibly the name referred to the later ‘Roke Elm‘ at or near the putative Hundredal Meeting Site, although that lay some distance South of the modern Hamlet. By the 1470s Roke had taken its later Linear form, with Houses arranged along the Southern side of the stream marking the Commons edge. Its regularity suggests a degree of Planning, and its Division amongst several Manors and Parishes may indicate an early (and possibly pre-Conquest) Origin. Rokemarsh, a more haphazard cluster of Houses to the South-west, may have developed slightly later, though there were Buildings there by 1638 and the Hamlet was separately noted on 18thC Maps. Loss of some Dwellings during the 20thC was counterbalanced by small-scale rebuilding & infilling, and in 2015 the Hamlets’ over-all shapes remained little altered.
A few other Outlying Sites are recorded from the Middle Ages, some of them possibly survivals from an earlier and more dispersed Settlement pattern. The 13thC bynames ‘of Mogpits‘, ‘of Grendon‘, & ‘of Oakley‘ suggest habitation on the Parish’s South-eastern edge towards Nuffield & Ewelme, and substantial Inclosed Freeholds there called Turner’s, Potter’s, & Gould’s (formerly Goul’s or Gull’s) were Established by the 14th or 15thCs, probably already with their own Farmsteads. Clack’s (formerly Lonesome) Farm was established between 1638 & 1767, superseding a nearby Sheephouse. A Brick Kiln and adjacent Cottages (including a Pub) were built on the London Road west of Gould’s Heath before the 1780s, and following Inclosure in 1863 Hale Farm was built on former Open-field Land South-west of Rokemarsh. Outlying 20thC Development included a few Houses along the old London Road and the Farm Training Colony at Turner’s Court, where new housing was built following the School’s Closure in 1991.
Buildings in the Hamlets
The Hamlets’ Buildings comprise Cottages and a few larger Farmhouses constructed of similar materials to those in Benson. Fifield House and Crowmarsh Battle Farm (both former Manor Houses) are discussed below, together with the outlying Turner’s Court.
Otherwise the earliest known Domestic Building is Russetts at Roke, which incorporates a Thatched & Cruck-framed Structure (possibly a former detached Kitchen) dendrodated to 1468, and a Storeyed Box-framed Cross-Wing of 1550, the 2 now Linked by a Central Bay which perhaps replaced an Open Hall. The Box-framing is infilled with painted Brick, and the rest encased in Stone Rubble. Other larger Farmhouses include the probably 17thC Roke Farm (an L-Plan Building combining Timber-framing, Brick, Clunch Rubble, and a Plain-tile Roof), while The Cottage in Roke is a smaller Dwelling of painted Limestone Rubble with Brick Stacks, whose Attic Storey retains fragments of early 18thC decorative wall painting & devotional texts, executed in rustic style. As at Benson, 17thC Inventories show a few leading Yeomen occupying well furnished Houses with Parlours, although in the 1660s few houses were taxed on more than 1 or 2 Hearths.
Among later buildings, Lower Farm in Preston Crowmarsh (rebuilt in the 18thC & remodelled in the 19thC) has a rendered Front and a Hipped Slate Roof, while the Old Mill House to the North (occupied with the Mill by 1841) was remodelled in the late 18th or early-19thC, and has a symmetrical 5-Bay Brick Front with banded decoration, 16-pane sash windows, and a moulded timber cornice.
The 19thC saw little new Building in either Roke or Preston Crowmarsh, and 20thC additions were chiefly confined to small-scale infill in mostly unsympathetic styles. Exceptions include the striking Mill Cottages and Preston House at Preston Crowmarsh’s Northern end, built by George Faber (later Lord Wittenham) of Howbery Park for his Estate workers and Bailiff in the early 20thC, in an idealised vernacular featuring Brick & Flint dressings, Leaded Casements, and Hipped Tiled Roofs with decorative Brick Chimneys.
New buildings on the old London Road included a Thatched ‘Keep the Countryside Beautiful’ Roadhouse & Petrol Station built in the 1930s, and the large Brick & Mock Timber-framed London Road Inn at Beggarsbush Hill burned down in the early 1940s.
Both were Demolished in 1942 following (respectively) the Airfield’s Expansion and a Fire, although the Inn was later rebuilt on a smaller scale. Surviving Agricultural Buildings include important Farmyard complexes (now converted to other uses) at Crowmarsh Battle Farm & Fifield Manor.