Lewknor Agrarian & Social History

Open Field Husbandry prevailed at Lewknor until the 19thC. A Grant in 1260–62 of a Mill in Lewknor with 3 acres in one Field & 3½ in the other, points to the existence at this date of a 2-Field System, but by the 16thC, if not much earlier, Lewknor had the usual 3-Fields. On the East side of the Township, between the Village and the London Road, was the Field described as next to Aston; on the opposite side lay the Field next to Shirburn; and between the 2 was the Middle Field, which is also described as Knap Field or the Field adjoining the Town of Lewknor towards the West.  Postcombe had its own 3-Fields, known respectively in the 18thC as Home or Middle Field, Windmill or Coppe Field, and the Road Field or Lower Field.

Robert Plot ‘s Illustrator’s Map of Oxfordshire 1676

Natural History of Oxfordshire ~ Robert Plot

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

Many Furlong names are known: Lambworth & Saltwey in Postcombe Field are significant. The Furlongs were made up of ½-acre Strips called Lands, broad ridges according to Arthur Young and ‘little arched‘.  These were defined by Stakes & Mearstones which were set down before the Spring sowing at Candlemas (2nd Feb).  Enlargement of Strips by Ploughing away the edges of Highways & Mear Balks was an Offence that led to Presentment in the Manor Court.  There is evidence for a certain amount of consolidation of Strips by purchase or exchange.  The Furlongs called Inlands & Priestlands show the Lord of the Manor & the Parson taking the lead in this direction.  A half-way stage is visible in the Field Map of 1598 where one Furlong is depicted as divided into alternate Rectory & Manor Strips.  In 1704 Rolles Property in the Common Fields included 3 Lands & 3 Yards each ‘lying together‘ and 5 acres or 11 Lands ‘lying together‘.  Still, there is no evidence that there was much early Inclosure though there was some at least by 1779,  and there is no sign of that conversion of Arable into Pasture which was the characteristic feature of Tudor Inclosures. No serious attempt was made to obtain Parliamentary Inclosure until 1792 when an Inclosure Bill passed the Commons but was opposed by Lord Macclesfield and thrown out in the Lords.  In 1810 the Lewknor & Postcombe Inclosure Act was finally passed.  The Award followed in 1815.


OS Map of Oxford County 
Surveyed by a local man, Richard Davis of Lewknor & 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, evidence being based on all Sets of the Map having manuscript Serial No.s – 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.

Lewknor Farming was not, however, as conservative as this comparatively late abandonment of Open-field Farming might imply. Changes in crop rotation, for instance, could be and had been made by agreement.  In 1765 the 11 Chief Cultivators of the open fields agreed for a 3-year trial period that clover might be sown in the Gratten (i.e. Spring) Field when it was cleared, and that corn might be sown on Fallow Land.  The agreement forbade, however, the sowing of corn on the area extending up to the Hills, which was to be a Sheep-walk to Beacon Hill.

Of the 1,800 acres allotted by the Inclosure Commissioners, 1,550 were open-field Arable & Meadow.  The remaining 250 acres were Inclosed out of the Common & Waste.  The principal beneficiaries were the Lord of the Manor, R P Jodrell, who received 415 acres as well as 1/6th of the value of the Waste, and All Souls College. As Impropriators the College obtained Lands now comprised in Church Farm (116a) & Field Farm (119a) in compensation for the Rectory Glebe and acres in the Common Fields; the grounds, already Inclosed, of Moor Court Farm (155a); & Hill Farm or Linky Downs, 260 acres of poor Hill-land, given in Commutation of the Rectorial Tithes of Lewknor & Postcombe.  In addition, there were Lord Macclesfield & 6 smaller Proprietors who received Holdings that varied from 45 to 147 acres.

The Domesday Survey of Lewknor sets out its Meadow as 4 Furlongs in length & 2 in breadth on the Abingdon Estate & 6 acres on Peter de Wheatfield’s Land.  Part of the Meadow, estimated in 1279 as 20 acres, was held in Demesne: part was Lot Meadow allotted annually to the Lord’s Tenants. The custom still continued in 1777 of the Tenant drawing his Lot yearly.  Principal Meadow was an isolated ground 4-miles away and lay between Warpsgrove & Easington in Ewelme Hundred. It was known as Sullingworth or Shillingford Mead, and is 1st mentioned when Richard Foliot Quit-claimed to the Abbot of Abingdon Right of Common of Pasture there in 1235.  Shillingford Mead was staked out or put in Defence every Lady Day.  When Hay-harvest came round, the work of Mowing, Pitching & Carting the Hay was carried out by the Abbot’s Customary Tenants, and the men of Postcombe received for their Services 3 sheep, 12d & a basin of salt.  After Lammas, and when the Hay was in, the Townships of Chalgrove, Easington & Goldor had the Grazing of the Meadow until Lady Day.

Lewknor was not wholly dependent upon Shillingford for its Hay. There were nearby valuable Watermeadows, beyond Lewknor Green, beside the Stream that runs Northward out of the Town Pond.  Sluices in the Bed of the Stream were let down during the Winter months to Dam up the water and so irrigate the adjoining Meadows through Trenches & Watercourses.  Farther down in its course the Stream filled the Monastic Fishponds mentioned in a Customary of Abingdon of about 1184;  but the Sluices and the Fishponds are now gone. Gone too are the Watermills which the Abingdon Monks and the Owner of Nethercote held at Domesday.  The Nethercote Mill is traceable through more than one Morley Family Settlement to 1628 when the Mill-house called the ‘Washing Place’ figures in a sale of the Moor Court Estate and is last mentioned in 1742 as an ancient Mill-pond at the Lower end of the Common called Moor Court Green.  Already by the 16thC, these Watermills had given place to Windmills, of which one, which gave its name to the Windmill Field of Postcombe, is shown on the Field-Map of 1598,  and another stood on the Hillock called Windmill Knap, South of Lewknor Village.

Besides the Pasturage provided by the Watermeadows after the Hay-harvest, the Highway Verges, the grassy Balks & Headlands of the 3 Common Fields, and the Fallow Field were used for grazing horses & cattle.  Sheep might be brought on to the 2 other Fields between Corn-harvest & the Sowing, but were not allowed on to the Wheat stubble till after Bartlemas (24th August) nor on to the Barley stubble till Michaelmas (29th September).  Throughout the year, except between Candlemas (2nd February) and May Day when it was ‘hayned‘ (i.e. Inclosed or Hedged), the Villagers used the Common pasture of Cowleaze (c.60 a) which lay on the Hilltop, 2-miles South of the Village.  With the adjoining Heath & Hillside; it formed a Stinted Pasture Common for 1 Cow went with every Cottage & Yardland, and 1 Horse was taken as equivalent to 2 Cows.  The number of Sheep Stints varied from time to time: in 1601 Tenants’ Stints were fixed at 60 Sheep a Virgate, in 1654 and 1674 at 40 a Yardland, and in 1773 at 1 Sheep to every Acre of Common-field Land.  The Lord of the Manor had a Paramount interest, and in 1674 he was stated to have 140 Sheep Stints, while Sir Thomas Tipping & Mrs Huish had 120 & 80 Stints respectively for Farmland which they had purchased from him.  The slopes below Cowleaze, ‘as far as the Coney Burrows extend‘, formed the Lord’s Rabbit Warren.  In 1705 the Warren was Leased for £14 a year in addition to the price already paid by the prospective Tenant for ‘all the Stock of conies‘ (rabbits).

Next in importance to the Tenants’ Grazing Rights were their Timber Rights.  Besides the topping and lopping of the Trees that grew on their Copyholds, the Customary Tenants could each claim as Estovers from the Common or Waste 1½ loads of bushes taken yearly out of Cowleaze for Firewood, and the wood called ‘Plough-bote‘, ‘Cart-bote‘ & ‘Stake-bote‘ which they needed for their Farm work.  ‘House-bote‘, or Timber for the repair of their Dwellings, was given out to them as the Lord of the Manor might direct. The Woods of Lewknor in 1086 were described as 2-miles long and 1½-mile broad, and in 1279 the Abbot of Abingdon was said to have 50 acres of Woodland in Demesne.  The principal part of the Abbot’s Wood was then called Heyle,  and today is Hailey Wood. Mainly Beechwood, it supplied Mast (Beech, Oak & Chestnut fruit) to the Swine that fed there and for which the Abbot received pannage.  ‘They fell not the wood together‘, Thomas Langdon noted on his Map of 1598, ‘but at every fall do glean and draw out only that which is about the growth of 21-years.’  Inclosure had started by 1667 when part had gone to form the Pasture and Woodground known as Read’s Closes.  Woodland was one of the most valuable assets of 19th & 20thC Estates. In 1875 Sir Edward Jodrell had 202 acres of Woodland on Lewknor Hill;  his successors, the Whites, had 250 acres of Beech Wood there in 1926 as well as 14 acres of Plantation near Nethercote Lane.  This part of the Estate was the only part retained when the Whites sold the Farms in 1955.  There has been some extension of the Woodland in the mid-20thC.

The History of the Tenants who worked in these Woods & Fields can be traced since Domesday.  In 1086 Abingdon Abbey’s Estate of Lewknor, including Postcombe, was rated at 17-Hides, but contained Land for 26 Ploughs. This may indicate that there had been an expansion of Arable area subsequent to the original Hidation and accords with the increase in the value of the Manor from £10 in King Edward’s time to £20 just after the Conquest. Of the 26 Plough-Lands 4½ were Demesne. Three of these were tilled by 6 Serfs, 2 Serfs to each Plough. The remaining 1½ Demesne Hides were cultivated by the Ploughing Services of 30 Villani and 26 Bordars who held between them 23 Ploughs and who consequently had the use of 21½ Plough-teams for cultivating their own Land.  Norman Baron Miles Crispin had 2 Plough-lands (rated at 2-Hides) at Nethercote, of which one was in Demesne and the other was cultivated by 5 Villani.  The Estate had increased in value from £1-10s. to £2.  Another Lewknor Hide held by Peter de Wheatfield had Land for 1 Plough. Two Serfs worked the Demesne Plough and 2 Villani had a ½-Plough-team. This Estate was worth £1 as it had been in pre-Conquest times.  It is probable that at this time the Parish had as great a population as it possessed at any time before the end of the 17thC. In Lewknor, Nethercote, and the Wheatfield Hide there were at least 73 persons wholly or partially engaged in Agriculture.

The picture of the 13thC Parish is complicated by the fact that Properties in this Chiltern District were clearly intermixed and the Bounds of Lewknor & of Aston were ill-defined.  Disputes consequently arose over Pasture Rights.  These were finally settled by an agreement made in 1254 whereby the Abbot’s men of Studdridge were allowed Common of Pasture in the Abbot’s Land between Grims Dyke & Dychegate and his men of Abbefeld & Plumbridge (in Ibstone) had Common of Pasture on the Lord of Aston’s Moor of Abbefeld.

By the time of the 1279 Survey, the number of Villeins recorded in LewknorPostcombe had increased from 30 to 45.  Nine Postcombe Villeins held double Virgates, the remaining 3 Villeins at Postcombe & 19 Villeins at Lewknor were holders of single Virgates, and 14 Lewknor Villeins held ½ Virgates.  If 2½-Virgates in Abbefeld are added to these the amount of Land held in Villeinage amounted to 48 Virgates,  and the Demesne to 12-virgates of arable.  The number of double-Virgate or ½-Hide Holdings would seem to have diminished since Domesday and to have been replaced by a quantity of Small Holdings.  The term bordarii had passed out of use.  The Villein Tenants held their Virgates by payment of money-rents, produce-rents & labour-services.  They were liable to be Tallaged and paid for each Virgate a rent of 3s to the Manorial Lord and 6d for Hidage to the Crown.  Produce-rents consisted of a quarter of Corn paid for Church-scot probably at Martinmas (11th Nov), and 5 eggs at Hock-tide (2nd week after Easter). Labour-services on the Abbey Lands were light, for no week-work was required on the Demesne, though the 4 half-Virgaters attached to the Demesne Farm of 6 Virgates at Geoffrey de Morley’s Nethercote Estate had to work on his Demesne for 5 days in every fortnight.  A Virgater’s ploughing-services were restricted to the ploughing of 1 acre of Fallow & of 2 acres for the Winter Sowing.  He had to provide a horse & man for harrowing after the Spring Sowing, receiving in return a handful of oats from the reeve.  Other services included work at the Hay-harvest; weeding the corn-fields for 3 days with 1 man; supplying 1 man every day from Lammas (early Aug) to Michaelmas (29th Sept) for any work that might be required on the Demesne; 3 ‘bederipps‘ (reaping) in the Autumn when all the Village turned out to get in the Corn-harvest; and the Carting of 2 quarters of Grain to Market.  The Abbey had Freeholders with about 6 hides in Abbefeld, Ackhampstead, & Moorcourt.  Two of them, namely Elias de Wheatfield & John son of Adam, were called on to perform Ploughing & Carting services and to do 3 days’ work at the Corn-harvest in return for which they were allowed to Pasture their Livestock with the Cattle of the lord abbot. The others paid money-rents. Laurence de Scaccario, whose holding in Abbefeld was part of his much larger Estate extending into Aston Rowant & Stokenchurch, had 4 free Tenants holding 1 Virgate, 8½ acres and a Cottage. All paid Rent, but one attended in addition Harvest Reaping with 1 man.

14thC Tax assessments indicate a comparatively prosperous Community: in 1316 & 1327 the total contribution from Lewknor, Postcombe & Nethercote to the Taxes of a 16th & a 20thC came to some £9; in 1327 about 1/3rd of the Taxpayers paid over 5s, a relatively high Contribution.  Some of the highest individual Contributions were paid in the Hamlets. At Postcombe in 1316 one Contributor paid 10s 10d.  The Morleys of Nethercote paid 15s in 1316 and 11s in 1327.  In Lewknor itself the highest contribution, paid in 1327, was 13s  In 1344 the Lewknor assessment was over £10 but this included Postcombe, Ibstone, & Padnells (in Rotherfield Greys); Nethercote was assessed separately for 9s-9d.  Some idea of the number of Inhabitants is given by the Poll Tax of 1377, when there were at least 142 Adults (over 14) in Lewknor.  Postcombe is likely to have been included under Lewknor, but how many if any of the other Hamlets were included is not known.

The change to Leasing the Demesne Farm and commuting Labour Services may be presumed to have taken place in the 14thC.  In 1491 the total return from the Abingdon Manor was £48-8s-5¼d, practically the same as its valuation in 1291.  At its suppression, the Monastery was farming Lewknor Manor for £7 6s-8 d and was receiving £1 for pannage, £1-6s-8d in free rents from Lewknor & Studdridge, and, in rents of customary Tenants, £17 5s 2d from Lewknor, £8 10s 7d from Postcombe, £2-15s-2d from Studdridge, and £2-9s-2d from Plumbridge. Comparatively little can be deduced about the Wealth & Population of Lewknor itself from 16thC Tax assessments as Studdridge & Ibstone were taxed with it, but a growing concentration of Wealth in the hands of a few men is evident.  In 1523 the 2 Chief Contributors out of 30 Taxpayers paid rather more than half the total Tax.

This process was inevitably accompanied by the diminution of Small Holdings. At Postcombe, Walter Lewknor, a Yeoman Farmer, paid more than the 8 other Contributors together and John Kensham was outstanding among the 4 Contributors at Cadmore End.  A Rental of 1593 gives 15 Tenants in Lewknor, 11 in Postcombe, 6 in Studdridge, and 2 in Plumbridge.  Comparison with the Hundred Rolls Return of 12 Tenants for Postcombe & 33 for Lewknor (of whom 14 held ½-Virgates) suggests that in Elizabeth’s Reign the ½-Virgate Holding had become a thing of the past. The Tenants were prosperous small Farmers, many of them of Yeoman status, holding their Lands by Copy of Court Roll.  Although theirs was a life Tenure, and a Heriot (tribute) was due when a Copyholder died, his wife had her Widow’s Estate, and his heir was admitted in Court to the Copyhold on payment of a fine which appears to have amounted at the end of the 16thC to £30 a Virgate or Yardland.  There was no standard rate for a Virgate rent. Lewknor Court Rolls of the end of the 16thC show that in Studdridge 2 Virgate-holders were paying rents of 16s & 13s-8d. respectively while a holder of 2 Virgates paid 23s-4d and at the same time, a Tenant was being admitted to 3½ Virgates at Postcombe at a Rent of 29s-6d.  Besides Copyhold there was Leasehold & Freehold Tenure.  At the turn of the 16thC, the Lord of the Manor was frequently granting out Lands & Cottages on short-term Leases, generally of 21-yrs. Occasional Leases for long terms of 2,000-yrs gave a Title practically equivalent to Freehold. The few Freeholds were confined to the detached & outlying portions of the Parish, until 1629, when Richard Rolles, Lord of the Manor, started to enfranchise the Postcombe Copyholds.  Eight Yardlands in Postcombe had been enfranchised by the end of 1641; 3 Lewknor Copyholders of 8½ Yardlands bought enfranchisement in 1642 and by 1649 the process of transforming Copyhold appears to have been completed, the Lord reserving to himself in every case a Quitrent.

The disappearance of Copyhold had the effect of making for a more free market in Land, and so gave momentum to the tendency, already observed, to unite Small Holdings. An example of this may be found in 1642 when William Scoles obtained for £540 the enfranchisement of his own 1½ Yardlands and of 2 Yardlands till then in the possession of 2 other Tenants.  A list entered on the Court Roll for 1674 shows that the number of Tenants in Lewknor Town had by then fallen to 12 and those in Postcombe to 5.  The Yeoman Farmer, working the Land he owned, was fated to be supplanted by a Landlord & Tenant System, and by 1786 there were but 2 Owner-occupiers in Postcombe and in Lewknor whose holdings were large enough to pay more than £2 in Land-tax.  The Land had come to be concentrated in the hands of a few large Landowners, who let out their Farms.

In 1851 there were 12 Farms in Lewknor, most of them with between 100 to 200 acres, but there were 3 Farms with between 240 to 380 acres. The majority of Inhabitants were lowly-paid Agricultural Labourers, whose wives were often Lacemakers.  A number of Shopkeepers between them supplied the needs of the Village; Craftsmen included 3 Chairmakers, a Turner, Sawyer, Wheelwright & Cordwainer (shoemaker).

Most Land was still Farmed under the Landlord-Tenant System in the later 19thC. In 1872 the greater part of the 2,280 acres of Agricultural Land was occupied by the 6 Tenant Farmers of All Souls College & Sir Edward Jodrell.  The increasing amalgamation of Farms is illustrated by the fact that 3 of these Tenants each occupied 2 Farms that were previously separately occupied.  The average size of Farms was still between 100 to 200 acres.  By 1895 most of the All Souls property was being farmed by the Filbees, and there were 2 Farms of over 450 acres.  The smaller Farmer, nevertheless, continued to flourish and the break-up of Estates in some ways benefited him.  In 1926 there were 5 Farmers with under 100 acres in the Parish compared with 2 in 1872; on the other hand, John Crees, Tenant of Major Timothy White, farmed nearly 600 acres in Town, Manor, and Nethercote Farms.  After 1954 when All Souls College bought up the Nethercote Estate, most of Lewknor was in the College’s possession.  In 1959 one of their Tenants farmed 457 acres (in Town, Manor, and Nethercote Farms) and the 4 others each farmed between 150 & 300 acres.  The Hill Farms on the other Estates were smaller; Reids Bottom Farm, for example, was only 35 acres and Upper & Lower Vicar’s Farms on the Fane Estate were each under 100 acres.

Lewknor Soil is good for mixed Farming. Wheat, Oats & Barley remained the chief crops in the 20thC.  Sheep were an essential part of farming in the Icknield belt, but the 19thC saw the usual decline in their numbers.  In 1959 most Farms stocked beef cattle and little milk was produced for the Market, because of the difficulty of Transport.   Farms among the Chiltern Woods concentrated more on Livestock and laid down the soil to leys periodically.  Watercress Beds in the Village provided a subsidiary interest and there was extensive Pheasant breeding in the Woods of the Fane Estate.

Icknield Way

The population in 1951, before the Inclusion of South Weston in the Civil Parish, numbered 452, an increase over that of 1931 when 391 was recorded, but far below the peak figure of 1871.  Despite the fact that the Parish had been reduced in size the Population then stood at 779, having risen steadily since 1801, when 597 was returned.  The beginning of this rise is observable, in fact, in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the 18thC.  The Baptismal figures for successive decades were 276 in 1726–35; 345 in 1736–45; 387 in 1746–55; 426 in 1756–65, and 525 in 1766–75.  The reversal of the upward trend after 1871 resulted at 1st from the general depression in Agriculture and later from increasing Mechanisation.

Deserted Medieval Farmstead at Sadler’s Wood Lewknor
During May 1972 a previously unknown Medieval Site was identified during clearing operations at Sadler’s Wood for the new Christmas Common Diversion Road. The clearance also exposed several Field Boundaries and a possible sunken Trackway.  Pottery indicated occupation at this Site from the early 13thC to the end of the 14thCSadler’s Wood lies on the South-west side of the Chiltern Escarpment at the head of a Valley, the upper part of which is now dry.  The Land surrounding the Site to the West & the North is on a gentle slope which abruptly steepens to the East & South.  The Site is 800ft above Sea Level with the Spring Line 400ft. below to the North-west.  Shirburn Lodge, 1½-miles to the South-west, lies on the same Escarpment Ridge and has a similar topographical situation.  Here a Wellhead at 797-ft OD is recorded as providing a constant 15-18ft. of water at a depth of some 400ft. This suggests that the Water Table is between 350-400ft below the excavated Site.  The local subsoil consists of Plateau Drifts & Sarsen Stones and overlies a thin deposit of Clay with Flints that in turn Caps the Chalk.  Water must have been a very carefully conserved Commodity here with the Water Table 350-400ft below. This explains the presence of a Dew Pond & Rainwater in the deeper Ditches: as probably collected for domestic animals, while Roof Water Tanks were perhaps kept in the Yard for human consumption. Before piped Water Supplies such practice was, common to all Hill Farms in this area; in a dry Summer, Water Carts had to be sent down to the Spring Line.  The Sadler’s Wood Farmstead probably had a mixed Farming Policy with the surrounding heavy, Stone-laden Soil only tilled to supply the Establishment’s primary needs. The Abbot of Abingdon is also recorded as having received Pannage for Swine that fed on the Beech Mast in Hailey Wood. Swine rearing was probably a part of the Economy of this Farmstead.

Map of the County of Oxford, from Actual Survey, by A Bryant, in the year 1823. Inscribed by permission to the Right Honourable the Earl of Macclesfield, Lord Lieutenant, and to the Nobility, Clergy & Gentry of the County.

New Inn Postcombe – Owned by Simonds Brewery, Reading with their Hop Leaf Trademark on the Pub Sign – Later the Pig & Whistle

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

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