8 – Thame Hundred

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Ascot, Great Milton, Little Milton, Thame, Tetsworth, Waterstock

The Thame Hundred was a comparatively small one: in the 19thC it covered 10,580 acres and had a Population in 1831 of 4,734.  It was further distinguished by being divided into 3 Detached Groups.

The Rich Pastures of the Thame Valley have made the Landscape pleasing and the District notable for its Dairy Produce.  Brewer writing in 1813 remarked that no other part of the Country was ‘more amenable to Agriculture‘.  This richness of Soil, the excellence of the Stone Quarries at the Miltons, and the good Communications, particularly with the Capital, were probably the main Factors that attracted so many Gentleman Families to the District both in the Medieval & later Periods.  Chief among them were the Quatremains & Clerkes of North Weston, the Merchant Dormers of Thame & later of Ascot(t), the Wenmans of Thame, the Bruleys, Crokes & Ashhursts of Waterstock, the Pettys of Tetsworth, and the Families of De Louches, Camoys, Radmylde, Grene, Cave, Calfhill (Caulfeild), and others at Great & Little Milton.

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The Hundred contains no Great House such as Nuneham Courtenay, but it has the 18thC Thame Park which incorporates the Remains of Thame Abbey, a number of Houses of the Gentry, and groups of small Dwellings of charm & distinction in the Villages, and a Market Town with a notable High Street. The creation of Prebends of Lincoln at Thame & Great Milton resulted, furthermore, in the Building of 2 fine Churches.  Wood noted that the Aisles of the 2 Families of Dormer & Quatremain at Thame make this Church ‘seem to be a Cathedral‘.

The Hundred is also of interest in that it contains a number of Depopulated Villages. Attington & North Weston in Thame and Ascott in Great Milton have gone except for a few Houses.  The 2 Chilworths & Coombe though in the Parish of Great Milton were outside the Hundred.  In the Middle Ages the Estate of ‘Middletune’- Milton – had belonged to the Benedictines of the Abbey of AbingdonHenry VIII Dispossessed & Dissolved the Abbey in 1536, and of the Great Abbey that made Abingdon so famous, only the Ruins now remain.

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Local Oxfordshire Hundreds c.1808

By the time of Domesday Book, the Hundred of Thame was not a normal Hundred composed of contiguous Villages assessed at exactly a Hundred Hides.  It consisted of 2 or, if Waterstock was already in the Hundred, of 3 Detached Groups of Manors belonging to the Bishop of Lincoln.  These Groups, however, lay fairly close together and not widely separated as was the case with some of the Detached parts of Dorchester HundredDomesday Book says that the Bishop had 60-Hides in his Manor of Thame, of which he held 37 in Demesne and his Knights the rest, and 40-Hides in Great Milton of which he held 31 in Demesne and his Knights the rest.  The Holdings of the Knights are given in detail in separate Entries, but the sum of their Hidage does not quite correspond to the 23-Hides in Thame and the 9 in Great Milton which they are stated to hold in the preceding Entries.  It totals 32¾-Hides instead of 32-Hides.  The later History of the Fees makes it likely that Robert’s 10-Hide Holding was in Tetsworth.   William’s 3-Hides in North Weston and the 6-Hides of Alured and his Companions in Attington & Moreton.  The 4-Hides of Sawold cannot be Located with certainty.  Of the Knights of Milton Manor Aluric’s 6-Hides & William’s -Hides seem to be represented by the later Fees of D’Oilly & Quatremain in Ascott.  It is likely that the William Holding 3-Hides of Thame Manor and the William Holding of Milton Manor are Identical, for the Quatremains’ Holding in the 13thC consisted of -Hides divided between North Weston (3-Hides) and Ascott (3¾-Hides).  The Bishop’s Demesne and the Holding of his Knights thus form roughly a normal Hundred of 100¾-Hides.  This reckoning, however, is put out by the 5-Hides of Waterstock.  In the 13thCWaterstock was certainly in Thame Hundred and in Thame Manor, but it was a Detached part and may not have always been so.  On the other hand, it is likely that the Sawold, who held 5-Hides in Waterstock in 1086 of the Fee of St Mary of Lincoln, is the same as the Sawold already mentioned in the return as one of the Bishop’s Knights Holding 4-Hides of Thame Manor and that there has been some Duplication.  A further possibility is that these Episcopal Hundreds were never Regular Hundreds assessed at 100 or 120-Hides, but were aggregations of Manors held either in Demesne by the Bishop or by his Knights or by Monastic Houses holding of the Bishop.  The artificial nature of Thame Hundred is certainly demonstrated by the way it is split up into Groups separated from each other by parts of the Hundred of Bullingdon. Nor do the Hundred Boundaries correspond with those of the Parishes of which the Hundred is composed, although the Parish Boundaries appear to have been of Great Antiquity.  Sydenham & Towersey, originally in Thame Parish, are outside the Hundred and so are Chilworth & Coombe, which were Hamlets of Milton.

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Thame Hundred is not mentioned by name in Domesday Book and the Entries are, in fact, entered with Places in the Hundred of Banbury, also not mentioned by name, under the Rubric of Dorchester Hundred.  Thus, Thame Hundred was in all probability once a part of the Triple Hundred of Dorchester.

When the Hundred is 1st described in detail in 1279 it consisted of 3 Detached Parts. In the 1st was the Town of Thame with its Liberties and the Hamlets of Attington, North Weston & Moreton.  The Liberties, as they were later called, of Thame Park, Priestend, New Thame & Old Thame are not specifically mentioned, but they are clearly traceable in the Account given.  A 2nd Group comprised the greater part of the Parish of Great Milton: this included Little Milton & Ascott, but not Coombe or the 2 Chilworths which were in the Hundred of Bullingdon.  Waterstock formed the 3rd Detached Part.  The composition of the Hundred continued unaltered throughout its History.

The Hundred belonged to the Bishop of Lincoln throughout the Middle Ages. It was worth 40s a year.  When Thame Manor was Granted to Lord Williams in 1550, the Hundred was Granted too and thereafter followed the Descent of the Manor of Old & New Thame which passed to the Earls of Abingdon.

Among the Bishop’s Rights in his Hundred, the most important was that of Return of Writs.  He could Exclude the Sheriff and Execute all Royal Writs through his own Bailiffs, who also had the Right of hearing Pleas de vetito namii, normally heard by the Sheriff in the Shire Court.  The Bishop had also the Commoner Privileges of View & Frankpledge, the Assize of Bread & Ale, and the right of Hanging on his own Gallows those taken with stolen Goods.  At the Eyre (Justice Circuit) of 1247 the Bishop’s Bailiffs claimed that they had always had the Right of making Attachments in the Hundred to the exclusion of the Sheriff & his Bailiffs and of hearing Pleas de vetito namii. They produced no Warrant.

If the Bailiffs failed in their Duty in any way the Bishop might lose his Privileges.  A Case of this occurred in 1285 when the Privilege of having the Return of Writs in his 3 Hundreds was taken into the King’s Hands because of some fault of the Bailiff of Banbury.

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In addition to his Judicial Privileges the Bishop had a Prison, though the Right to have one is never listed among his other Rights. Thame’s wide High Street was laid out by the Bishop of Lincoln in the 12thC. It would originally have had few if any buildings in the Middle, until the 13thC when in-filling began to take place. The Buildings in the Middle of the High Street became known as Middle Row.  The Bishop’s Prison was in Thame and seems to have been in the Cellars of the Bird Cage Inn, formerly known simply as the ‘Cage‘.  It is mentioned only in connection with the Escape of Prisoners.  The Cellar with its moulded Stone Doorway & Aumbries (niches for Religious articles) may be part of the original 13thC Market Hall, for it had a separate entrance direct from the Street, evidence of which survives in the extended Cellar area.  In 1247.  This may suggest some early use, but more likely initially storage of Parish Arms & Armour, or even the Prison linked to the Bishop’s Court held in the 1st Market Hall above ThameBirdCageSome 2 Cases of Escape and Flight to Tetsworth & Thame Churches were reported.  In 1268 a Band of Armed Men broke open the Prison and released a man.  The Prison is last recorded in 1453 when John Benett, Bailiff of the Liberty, let a man escape who had fled to Thame from Southwark.

The view we now get of the Birdcage from the Cornmarket today is actually the right-hand side as it was Built. The true Front is facing into the Shambles with its 2 Oriel Windows with fine Tracery work.  Thus belying its original Commanding Status presenting a more prominent & balanced Facade directly towards the Upper High Street & Market Place

From the Cases of Abjuration of the Realm and of Inquests Recorded on the Eyre Rolls, it appears that the Bishop did not have his own Coroner.

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Occasional references have been found to the activities of the Bishop’s Officers in the Hundred.  The Bailiff played a leading part in the violent Affray of 1293.  It is known that there was at least one under-Bailiff.  A Thomas Bocher who held the Office in Henry VII’s Reign was killed, allegedly with the connivance of Prebendary Adrian de Bardis, who was indicted for his Murder through the efforts of Edmund Barry, a Kinsman of William Smith, Bishop of Lincoln. Adrian’s Goods were confiscated by the Bishop’s Bailiffs.  There was also a Steward of Seneschal of the Hundreds, Manors & Demesnes of Dorchester, Thame, Wooburn (Bucks) & Fingest (Bucks).  The Office was held by Sir William Stonor in 1479.  The Stonor Family had a Residence in Thame called the ‘Halle Place‘ as early as 1419.  Sir John Daunce was appointed to the Office in 1524.

The Rolls of a number of Medieval Hundred Courts have survived.  The 2 Great Courts were held in June & December on ‘HaryndonHill (Milton Common) and the 3-weekly Courts appear to have been held in Thame.  The Townships of Great Milton, Little Milton, Ascot, Old Thame, Moreton, North Weston, Thame Park, Priestend, Tetsworth, & Waterstock appeared through their Constables & Tithing Men.  Great Milton & Little Milton, Tetsworth, Moreton, & Old Thame each had Haywards.

The Business of the Court consisted of the Swearing-in of the King’s Jury (20 or more), the Swearing-in of Constables & Tithing Men, and the payment of Cert MoneyAttington had Tithing Men and no Constable, perhaps because it was already Depopulated.   On one occasion the Abbot of Thame was Presented for his failure to send the 2 Tithing Men for Attington & the Cert Money.  Cert Money ranged from 1s for Attington to 6s for Old ThamePriestend claimed to owe no Cert Money because it belonged to the Rector of Thame (i.e. the Prebendary), and at the View of 1473 out of the total sum of 44s-6d received 5s-9d went to the Rector. New Thame was not represented: its Portmanmoot (Assembly of Portmen) acted as a Hundred Court.

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At the Great Courts, Presentments were mainly concerned with Breaches of the Assize of Bread & Ale, with the excessive Toll taken by Millers, and Obstruction of the Roads or Flooding caused by unscoured Ditches.  Presentments of Tetsworth Innkeepers were noticeably frequent.  At one Court a Bridge on the Foot-road from Thame to Moreton was ordered to be Repaired.  Occasionally there were Presentments for not having men in Tithing: in 1473 Thomas Danvers in Waterstock had 2 outside Tithing.  The Business conducted at these Courts was small and the sums received were correspondingly low – at the December Views in 1443 & 1472 the Total was 16s-7d and 18s-3d.  In the 2nd Case 10s of the total came from the Free Tenants who defaulted in their Suit. They included the Abbots of Dorchester & Thame.

The ordinary 3-weekly Hundreds produced sums varying from 10d to 1s-10d in the year 1441–2.  In Edward IV’s Reign Business was even less and the sums received varied from nothing to 8d.  All these Courts appear to have been held at Thame.  Their main Business was concerned with Pleas of Debts, and occasional Pleas of Trespass & Broken Contract.  In 2 successive Courts held in 1444 there were 3 & 4 Pleas of Debt.  In a Court of 1450 a man denied 5-handed (i.e. supported by the Oaths of 4 friends) that he owed 5s.

Some Records for 18thC: Views of Frankpledge held at ‘Harringstone‘ (or Harrington) Hill (Gt Milton) in June 1786 until June 1794 have also survived.  Cert Money at the old Rates was paid, except that North Weston & Thame Park no longer paid anything. Although there was only one Household at Attington at this date, it still paid its Cert Money.

Apart from the Holding of Courts the Bailiff & his Officers had much other Business. In the 16thC, the Hundred was the Unit for the Collection of Subsidies, for the Administration of the Poor Law, and among other things for organising Musters.  In 1571, for example, they had to make a search for Rogues & Vagabonds;  in 1587 they made a return of the quantities of Corn & Grain preserved in the Hundred with the names of the Victuallers.  Considerable use was made of the Hundred in the 17thC, particularly in the matter of relieving the Poor: in 1634 & 1635 Certificates were returned by the Justices of the Peace for their Observance of the King’s Directions for the Relief of the Poor in Thame.  In 1640 the Bailiff of the Hundred received a Warrant for collecting Ship-money.

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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 2-ins 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 hachuresDavis was also Topographer to His Majesty, George III.

Reproduced from VCH Oxfordshire XVIII (2016), available online at www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol18