Tetsworth Economic & Social History

The early Economic History of Tetsworth is obscure, but there can be little doubt that the Township, which from an early date was part of the Endowment 1st of the Bishopric of Dorchester and then of Lincoln, was a Valuable Asset.  The London Road, bisecting the Village and its lands and providing easy Communications, and the Thame Valley with its rich pastures, had a decisive effect on the development of the place.

AnthropicFarmUnitsThe fragmentary evidence for the Medieval System of Husbandry makes it certain at least that open fields were the basis: there are 12th & 13thC references to acres and fractions of acres distributed in Furlongs, to Meadow (i.e. Estmede) in Tetsworth Field, and to Pasture for oxen & horses ‘in the fields (intra campos) of the Town’, and in the Talemasch Demesne Land.  Nevertheless, its economy had little resemblance to the typical Open-field Manor of the Midlands.  From the Account given in the Hundred Rolls of 1279 Tetsworth, compared with many other Oxfordshire Villages, is outstanding for the number of its small Free Tenants and for the comparatively few Villein Virgate or ½-Virgate Holders, burdened with Labour Services. Most of the Land was held by the Bishop of Lincoln’s Knights & sub-infeudated, or by the Abbot of Thame, but the Bishop kept in Demesne about 100 acres.

On Robert Danvers’s Fee, there were said to be 4-Virgates in Demesne and only 2 Customary Tenants, one holding a ½-Virgate and rendering 5s for Rent and Service & 1 Cottar paying 12d Rent.  In addition to his Customars, Robert Danvers had 5 Free Tenants, of whom the Chief, the Abbot of Thame, held 9½ Virgates by Military Tenure. Walter de Dunsden held 1¾-Virgate by Scutage, Suit & a nominal Rent, and had 4 Customary Tenants holding the Land of him for Rent & Service; Thomas de Worthe held 6 acres for 1d Rent, Suit & Scutage.  Richard Danvers, another member of the Family, had 2 Free Tenants & 5 Cottars, apparently, Freemen, Holding of him: he is not said to hold himself of Robert.  One Free Tenant held a ½-Virgate for 3s-6d, Suit & Scutage; another, Henry Danvers, held a Messuage & 6 acres of Richard for 12d & Scutage.  The Cottars paid a total Rent of 7s.  In addition to this Land Richard Danvers held 1-Virgate of the Bishop for 1d, Suit & Scutage.

Most of the Abbey’s Land (i.e. 9½-Virgates held of the Danvers Fee & 8½ of the Talemasch Fee)  must have been held in Demesne, for its recorded Tenants mostly held only a few acres: 9 Cottars with a Cot & 3 acres each paid a total Rent of 48s-2d; 12 Cottars each with a Messuage paid 17s-4d. There were a number of small Free Tenants; 3½-Virgaters paid Rents of 5s to 8s-6d; 5 others with a few acres each mostly held for small money Rents; 1 Virgater paid a Tent of 10s and another 7s Rent & Scutage; finally, there was Roger Danvers, who held a small Property for 11s-2d & Suit.

A 3rd holding of 3½-Virgates was held by Edmund de Burton of the Bishop of Lincoln for Suit, Scutage & a Rent of 3s to the Templars.  Edmund had 2 Tenants, one holding a ½-Virgate for 6d, Suit & Scutage, the other holding a Croft & 1 acre for 3s-4d & Scutage. Seven other Tenants of the Bishop held a Virgate or less of Land for various money Rents ranging from 1d to 8d, usually combined with Suit to the Hundred, or with Suit & Scutage.  Of these Richard Danvers & William son of Robert were the only Virgate Holders.  The last paid 8s Rent, a pair of gloves and owed Suit.  He had 3 Cottar Tenants.


A late 13th or early 14thC account of how Thame Abbey’s land was burdened with Scutage shows that there were still the same 3 Main Holdings beside the Bishop’s Demesne, which is naturally not included: that of the Danvers Family, that of Edmund de Burton, who held 4-Virgates of the former Talemasch Fee, and that of the Abbot of Thame, who held part of both the Danvers & Talemasch Fees.  Since 1279 some of the smaller Holdings had been minutely subdivided: the Virgate, for example, held by the ‘heirs of Gunne‘ was divided between 8 Tenants, and another Virgate held by ‘the heirs of Franceys‘ was divided between 9 Tenants.  A Terrier of 1378 of the Lands of John Wynbush gives the same picture of Tetsworth’s much-divided Land. Wynbush had gradually built up a small ‘Manor’ of about 6-Virgates and a number of Tofts, Crofts, ‘placea‘ & Messuages from 13 or so different Owners.

From the 14thC Tax Lists, it appears that Tetsworth was a comparatively large Village and prosperous.  There were 27 Contributors in 1327, of whom half paid 2s & over, and at the reassessment of 1344 the Village’s total Tax was increased from £2-16s-10d for the 20th to £3-19s-3d for the 15thC.  The Black Death appears to have inflicted a damaging blow, for in 1354 the Village was allowed a Tax Abatement of 30s, a very high figure compared with those of neighbouring Villages.  Only the Market-towns of Watlington & Thame received higher Abatements. The incident reported on the Patent Rolls of 1349 may perhaps be regarded as one of the consequences of the disaster suffered by the Village. Roger le Longe of Tetsworth, one of the Oxfordshire Coroners, was assaulted by certain of the Villagers at his Close in Tetsworth, had his goods carried away, and was hindered in the performance of his duty.  The 2nd half of the Century appears to have seen recovery, for 110 persons paid the Poll Tax of 1377.

The Abbey farmed out its Grange in the 15thC and in the early 16thC. When the Abbey was dissolved in 1539 it was receiving £6 13s-4d for the Grange, and £3-8s-6d for Rents of Assize compared with the £19-14s-9d it had received in 1478.  It is likely that, as at Sydenham, the Abbey used its Tetsworth Grange mainly as a Sheep-farm.  Some 12thC evidence suggests that it may not have been difficult for it to Inclose its Land at an early date. When Robert Chevauchesul granted a hide of Land to Thame it seems to have been largely consolidated: it lay in 3-Furlongs only and was marked out by Stones.

The 16thC as elsewhere was a period of change at Tetsworth.  The Yeoman Family of Petty eventually acquired Thame Abbey’s Property in Stoke Talmage & in Tetsworth and much of the rest of the Village’s Land.  Three Pettys appear on the subsidy list of 1542 and between them paid on £62 of the Village’s total Assessment.  With their relations by marriage the Woods of Oxford and the Caves of Great Milton,  the Family continued to hold the predominant position in the Parish during the 1st half of the 17thC. Although some of the Petty Property was sold on the death of Maximilian Petty of Thame in 1639 to pay his Debts 2 members of the Family were still being Assessed on substantial Holdings for the Tax of 1641.  This predominance of the Pettys and the fact that Thame Abbey’s Holding may have been long largely Inclosed would account for the early Inclosure of the Open-fields. The exact date has not been found, but it took place just before 1631, for a Sale in that year of a 24-acre Close to a Pyrton Yeoman included ‘Common of Pasture for 1½-Yardland in the late Common Fields of Tetsworth, if the Land sold was subject to Common Rights‘.  There appears to have been protracted opposition, for in 1654 reference is made to the recompense to be made if the Buyer of Property from Edmund Petty is hindered in his possession ‘by reason of the Inclosure of Tetsworth being not yet legally settled‘.  The Commons were not Inclosed: Deeds of the 18th & 19thCs make frequent reference to Common Rights on the Common Marshes & Common Green.  In 1838 the Tithe Award recorded about 52 acres of Common, and Common Pasture for beasts was still being Leased in the 20thC.

The evidence of the Leases points to the predominance of Pasture, and so of Sheep-farmers, although there are occasional references to Arable Closes.  The large closes on Maximilian Petty’s Farm, for instance, were all used as Pasture in 1639.  They were in all probability Ancient Inclosures made by the Monks: Bandage Way & Scholars Bridge Close (80a), Latchford Hole (10a), and Harlots Ford & Ford Close (34a) all lay along the Banks of Haseley Brook and were close to the Abbey’s Stoke Grange in Stoke Talmage.  Further evidence of Sheep-farming comes from a Deed of 1631 which gives the stint for 1½-Yardlands as 3 beasts & 60 sheep, and from a Lease of 1697 of a large Pasture ground (60a), which mentions an adjoining Sheep-house.

The Sale of Fleeces was doubtless the Chief Economic incentive for the conversion to Pasture, but the proximity of a Market-Town at Thame & of Oxford meant a continuous demand for mutton.  It may be significant that Thomas Wood, the father of the Antiquary, who had acquired Land in Tetsworth early in the 17thC, was also Landlord of the flourishing ‘Fleur de Lys‘ in Oxford, and that a later Purchaser of the Woods’ Farm at Tetsworth was Henry Jemott, a Victualler of Thame.  A combination of the Victualling or Butcher’s Business with Sheep-farming was not uncommon at this Period.

Kings Arms left

Inclosure and the London Road, which brought Trade to the Inns, account for the growth of a prosperous Middle Class.  In 1662 the Owner of ‘The King’s Arms‘ was assessed on 13-Hearths and Widow Woodbridge on 10-Hearths; the 1665 list contains the names of 4 men with Houses of 6 to 8 Hearths apiece and of 7 with 3 or 4 Hearths.  It is of interest that these were new men and that the substantial Elizabethan Families—the Pettys, Bowyers, Clacks, Watkyns, Wets, & Grenings – had gone. The Elizabethans, indeed, were themselves new Men: 2 of the leading Contributors to the Subsidy of 1542, John Adkyns & Ralph Ferme, had disappeared by 1577.

Little is known about the number of Inhabitants before the Official Census returns of the 19thC.  For the Hearth Tax of 1662 there were 43 names listed, and in 1676 there were 122 adults returned for the Compton Census.  The original Census returns for this Parish have survived: there were stated to be about 42 Families of about 119 persons that are of age (i.e. 16-yrs probably) who conformed, besides 3 Dissenters.

In the 18thC, the Land continued to be divided into a number of small Farms.  In 1786, besides the Chief Property Owners, Lord Charles Spencer, John Young, and a Mr Haydon, there were 15 Smallholders, but they cannot have held much more than their Cottages, for they each paid less than 5s Tax.  There was a marked tendency for the number of Holdings to increase in the early 19thC, partly perhaps because of the rising population and also because of the type of intensive farming practised. In 1786 there had been 39 Holdings; there were 49 in 1816 & 1832.

In 1809 Arthur Young commented on the excellent deep loam and noted that they ploughed with 4 horses at Tetsworth and did an acre a day.  The Land was still mainly given over to Pasture: Davis’s Map of 1797 shows the Parish divided into Hedged Fields of which only 2 were used as Arable, and in 1838 there were 1,111 acres of Meadow as against 56 of Arable.  A lease of Manor House Farm (117a), of which only a few acres were Arable, in 1809 to James Lindars, Innholder, is of interest in the provision that no rapeseed, cob seed, mustard seed, hemp, flax or madder, should be sown or planted.

During the 1st part of the 19thC, Sheep on the Tetsworth Farms, as elsewhere in the area, began to give way to cattle; butter & cheese-making increased in importance.  The tendency, noticeable at the end of the Century in many neighbouring Parishes, for these last 2 Industries to be replaced by milk-production seems not to have affected Tetsworth.  Both small & large farmers there found it more profitable to continue to make butter and rear bullocks & heifers.  All the Farmers were described in 1851 as Graziers, and in the early 20thC Goldpits Farm (70a) was still all Pasture, Harlesford Farm (156a) was described as having ‘rich dairy & grazing Land second to none in the Country‘, and the rest of the Cozens Estate was also mainly Pasture; the Berties’ Latchford Hole Farm (52a) was let out for grazing.  Grazing has continued to predominate, except during WW1 & WW2.

The tendency for Farms to increase in size was evident in this Parish as elsewhere in the region.  In 1838 there had been 8 small & medium-sized Farms, ranging from 52 acres to 145 acres.  By 1904 Harlesford Farm (145a) & Goldpits Farm (69a) were being farmed together, and Manor Farm or Mounthill (293a) included 2 other smaller Farms.  By 1939 there were 4 Farms each with over 150 acres and 2 with under that amount.

Tetsworth’s Population reached its maximum in the 3rd Quarter of the 19thC but has declined since.  In 1931 there were 297 Inhabitants and only 94 houses as against 501 persons & 112 houses in 1851.

Although Agriculture has always been the staple occupation, Tetsworth’s position on the London Road encouraged the growth of other occupations. Two men called Chapman were Tenants in 1279 and another of that Trade was recorded in 1403.  The 15thC records also mention a Barber, Maltman, Miller, & a Tailor, and a number of petty Tradesmen occur in 17th, 18th & early 19thC records.  Noteworthy among them are 2 Masons & a Watchmaker, Joseph Kingston, recorded in 1786 & John Bentley of Tetsworth, Post-chaise Driver, mentioned in 1815.  That Tetsworth was rather different from the neighbouring rural Villages is revealed by the conviction in 1819 of as many as 6 Shopkeepers for using false weights.  The Census return of 1851 emphasizes still more the Trading character of the place. There were 5 butchers & grocers and a baker, 7 milliners, dressmakers, & drapers, a tailor, a hairdresser & a shoemaker.  Agricultural needs were well served by 4 Wheelwrights, 2 Blacksmiths & their Journeymen, a Saddler, a Harnessmaker and a Joiner.  A Letter Carrier & a Mail Contractor, Turnpike Gate-keeper, 4 publications (one of them a Cordwainer & another a Butcher),  The Swan Hotel Keeper, who was also the Postmaster, and another Inn-Keeper, once again testified to the importance of the London Road in the life of the Village, although it was by this time of negligible importance compared with the days before the Railway Era.

Photograph of the Swan Hotel at Tetsworth, Oxfordshire [c.1930s-1980s] by John Piper 1903-1992
Public Bar Entrance – Swan Hotel at Tetsworth c.1913

OldSwanThe History of the Innkeepers can be traced back to 1482, when 2 were indicted for selling Victuals at an excessive price.  In 1485 there is a record of another, a Thomas Preston, who was in a sufficiently large way of Business to owe money to a London Goldsmith.  In 1502 the Constable, who was also an Innkeeper, paid a Fine with another man for Licence to Brew & Bake in their Inns.  Two Inns, the ‘Crown‘ and the ‘Swan‘, were owned by Thame Abbey and in the 1530s their Tenants were paying substantial Rents of £6 & £4-13s-4d.  Both these Hostelries probably came into the hands of the Petty Family at the end of the 16thC.

Swan Hotel c.1913

oldSwan2A 3rd Inn, the ‘George‘, was in existence in 1555/6, when John Bowyer was Tenant of both the ‘George‘ & the ‘Swan‘.  Yet another, the ‘Catherine Wheel‘, is recorded in 1644 when it was a Private House; it was ‘new built’ in 1683; the ‘Starr‘ occurs in 1648 as the Property of Edmund Petty;  ‘The King’s Arms‘ in 1651,  a ‘George‘ Inn, later ‘The King’s Arms‘, was again recorded in 1813  & the ‘Royal Oak‘ (nr Stoke Talmage turn) appears in 1792.  In 1784 Lord Torrington said that there were ‘2 goodish’ Inns, especially the ‘Swan’, and a 3rd for ‘minor Travellers‘.  By 1838 there were at least 4 – the ‘Red Lion‘, the ‘King’s Arms‘, the ‘Swan‘, & the ‘Crown‘.


In the 1600’s It was recorded that 4 armed men attacked a Coach and opened Strong Boxes on the Road at Tetsworth.  The original parts of the existing Swan building were built: a 2-Storey ‘L’ shaped Timber-frame structure with 3 chimneys. During the 17thC, the area around Tetsworth was well noted for the abundance of Highwaymen & Footpads and this was considered a particularly dangerous stretch of Road between London & Oxford.


Photograph of the Swan Inn at Tetsworth, Oxfordshire [c.1930s-1980s] by John Piper 1903-1992
Swan c.1930
Kings Arms Today

From the earliest Times, the affairs of the Township were conducted in the Hundred Court of Thame.  Ordinances about the clearance of ditches, particularly those near the King’s Highway, i.e. the London Road, were made there and the view was held.  No record of separate Courts for the Tetsworth Manors has survived, but there is a little evidence for Parish Government in the 19thC. The Township had its own Churchwardens, Overseers & Waywardens, and after 1841 when Tetsworth became a Parish they conducted their business through the Vestry.  Tetsworth owned a Sawpit, 2 Highway Closes (c.4a), and a Poorhouse.  Rents from the Closes were used to repair the Footways, although in 1836 the Visitor said in Court at the Visitation of Thame that these Rents should properly be used for the Churchways only and should be appropriated by the Churchwardens.  The Closes were Let for £11-10s a year in 1855 & £15-10s in 1875. There were also 4 or more Parish Cottages, presumably let to the Poorer Parishioners, but in 1852 it was resolved that they should be pulled down. It was decided at the same time to use the House on Nap Hill as a Pest House.

OS Map Of Oxfordshire 1st Series

ThamePoorLawUnionMany in Tetsworth suffered from Unemployment and Poverty in the early years of the 19thC. Between 5%  & 7% of the Population was receiving Relief at any one time between 1813 & 1834.  Unemployment was most acute in the winter months and large sums were laid out on the Roundsmen System at those times, e.g. £31 in December alone in 1833. Other relief included the paying of Paupers’ Rents, distributing Coal, and giving allowances to Soldiers’ wives.  There was a Smallpox outbreak in 1814 when the Overseers paid 1s for moving people, another 1s for burying their Clothes, and £2-2s to the Radcliffe Infirmary for the admission of Emergency Cases. Expenditure was high for a Civil Parish of this size, and rose in the 1830’s, e.g. £606 was paid out in 1816 & £722 in 1833.  Even as late as 1851 26 persons were receiving Poor Relief.

Isaac Caterer’s Private Boarding School, which he transferred from Tetsworth to Rotherfield Peppard on his appointment as Congregationalist Minister in 1828.

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