Social Character & the Life of the Community
The Middle Ages
Throughout the Medieval Period the Parish’s 5 Hamlets maintained distinct Identities and were usually Taxed separately. Newington itself developed as a high-status enclave, the Church flanked by the Manor House & Rectory complex, with Peasant Housing kept separate a short distance to the South-East. Britwell Prior formed a Single Community with Britwell Salome (religious Worship apart), while Berrick Prior & Brookhampton were presumably closely connected with the adjoining Berrick Salome & Stadhampton. All of those Townships were united by Canterbury Cathedral Priory’s Lordship and were populated chiefly by unfree Tenants owing heavy Labour Services, Rents, & Fines, causing the Tenantry to Campaign (unsuccessfully) for a remission of part of their payments in 1331. Holcombe, by contrast, was predominantly a Community of Free Tenants, often with Resident Lords.
In 1086 Tenants of Newington Manor comprised 22 Villani, 10 lower-status Bordarii, and 5 Servi tied to the Demesne. In 1279 the Tenantry remained dominated by unfree Villeins: 17 in Berrick Prior, 14 in Britwell Prior, 13 in Newington, and 12 in Brookhampton. Each typically held a Yardland or ½-Yardland (although a few held more), and there were 6 Cottagers and a ‘Serf ‘. Only 2 Free Tenants (both in Berrick Prior) were recorded on the Manor, of whom one occupied a hide. By contrast, Holcombe Manor had 8 Freeholders and only one Villein (a ½-Yardlander), together with 3 Cottagers. One Freehold was Sublet, and the Lord (Reginald Angevin) was Resident.
Several families recorded in 1279 remained in the early 14thC when Berrick Prior’s Taxpayers were headed by Simon of Berrick. Simon’s son Hugh, a Servant of Edmund Bereford was educated in Law, travelling to Canterbury c.1340 to negotiate with the Prior regarding a relative’s Copyhold. In 1327 Simon was one of 7 Berrick people (perhaps including Berrick Salome) Taxed at more than 4s, the Median Tax there being 1s 9d. Median Taxes elsewhere in the Parish were 2s 6d in Brookhampton, 2s in Newington & Holcombe and 1s 3d in Britwell Prior, the 3 highest Taxpayers being William Laurence of Newington (10s 4d), Ralph Angevin, the resident Lord of Holcombe (7s), & Laurence Jakes of Berrick Prior (also 7s). Few Tenant surnames suggest immigration, although Holcombe Taxpayers included one William of London.
Newington Manor’s surviving Court Rolls, spanning the Period 1270–1430, suggest significant Social Tensions & Pressure on resources before the Black Death, illustrated by frequent Fines for damage to crops by animals, ploughing over and moving Field boundaries, and illicit cutting of wood & furze. In 1278 2 Tenants were accused of using Richard of Berrick’s plough & beasts at night without permission, while in 1300 a group of Tenants refused to mow the lord’s meadow. By-laws governing the Autumn Harvest and Pasturing of animals were strictly enforced.
After the Black Death Peasants were fewer in number but wealthier, and in 1377 some employed Servants. As elsewhere formerly separate holdings were amalgamated, so that by 1489–90, of the 26 Customary Tenants remaining on the Priory Manor, 7 held a Yardland, 14 2-Yardlands, 3 3-Yardlands, and the remaining 2 (both in Britwell Prior) 5 & 9-Yardlands, while 4 Free Tenants in Britwell Prior each held between 4 & 25 acres. Few of the Tenants’ surnames matched those recorded in earlier centuries.
From the late 14thC Newington Manor was generally leased to one or more Farmers, of whom John King (d.1505) probably occupied the Manor House and, at his death, left a Sheep to each of his Servants and a Cow towards Road repairs. In the late 15thC Fellows & Students of Canterbury College sometimes also lodged in the Manor House, on at least one occasion to escape disease in the College, and throughout the Middle Ages the Prior visited occasionally, as in 1311/12. John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury 1486–1500, apparently stayed at least once. Holcombe’s Manor House, rebuilt c.1360, was probably occupied by the Lord Richard English in 1377, but was presumably Leased in the later 15thC when his successors (the Cottesmores) lived in Brightwell Baldwin. Members of the Skirmot Family, Freeholders in Holcombe, were resident before 1479: Alice & Mary (d.1463), the respective wives of William Skirmot (d. c.1450) and his son John, were buried together inside the Church, commemorated with a Brass.
In the absence of resident Lords or Rectors, Parish Society in the early 16thC was dominated by leading Tenants such as Thomas Hall (Lessee of the Newington Demesne by 1516), or the Bisley & Crook Families, leading Farmers in Holcombe & Britwell Prior respectively. Thomas Bisley (d.1518) made bequests totalling £105, and Richard Crook the elder and younger were commemorated by Brasses in Britwell Prior Chapel. John Bisley paid the highest Tax in the Parish in 1523 (30s), closely followed by Thomas Hall (25s), while 3 other people (11%) paid between 3s & 4s 6d Over half paid 1s or less.
Newington acquired a resident Lord c.1546 with the arrival of John Oglethorpe, whose son Owen, twice Sheriff for the County, was the wealthiest Taxpayer in 1581, with goods worth £50. Remaining Parishioners all had goods or lands valued at £6 or less. Relations were not always good, particularly regarding the Oglethorpes’ Inclosing activities. Their successors the Dunches were similarly prominent in both County & Parish, Edmund (d.1623) and his son Walter (d.1645) each serving as Sheriff, whilst Walter’s Widow Mary (d.1678) gave a Bell & a Silver Chalice to the Church, and their son Henry (d.1686) probably built Newington House. Few Rectors of the Period engaged actively in Parish life, although Robert Hovenden was married in the Church by his Curate in 1577.
Holcombe also had resident Lords in the early 17thC, of whom George Carleton (d.1628), Surveyor of the Royal Stables, was buried in the Church alongside his wife Catherine (d.1619). His son John was ‘of Holcombe‘ in 1627 when he purchased a Baronetcy, but lived generally in Cambridgeshire and in 1639 the Family moved to Brightwell Baldwin. Britwell Prior lacked a resident Lord until 1729 when Sir Edward Simeon moved from Watlington Park to the newly-built Britwell House. There he employed a large Household Staff (at least 11 in 1767, including 3 Gardeners), and caused local unease by fostering a Roman Catholic mission. His successor Thomas Weld Leased the House, 1st to members of the Catholic Blount Family of Mapledurham, and from 1799 to around 20 English Poor Clare Nuns driven from Aire-sur-la-Lys in Northern France by Revolution; their number included several Ladies of ‘good connection’, including Weld’s sister Mary (Mother Euphrasia) and daughter Juliana. Newington’s 18thC Lords lived in Sussex, and Newington House was Leased, its Tenants including George Bailey (d.1742) and his wife Mary (d.1767), whom the Rector described as ‘a Lady of large fortune and a very Religious & Charitable Woman’. The House continued to be occupied by minor Gentry & Professionals following its Sale in 1776.
Among the more general Population, over half the Parish’s Householders (59%) were Taxed in 1662 on 1–2 hearths, suggesting very modest houses. Another 22% paid on 3 hearths, and only 4% (including Richard Blackall of Priory Farm) on 4–5. The separate Settlements showed little variation, with a mean of 3 hearths in Britwell Prior & Brookhampton, and 2 in Holcombe & Berrick Prior. The exception was Newington, where the Rector & Mary Dunch were Taxed on 10 & 12 hearths respectively and were seemingly the only householders.
Four Poor Labourers in Berrick Prior were exonerated from Hearth Tax, while Vagrants and ‘Way-goers’ mentioned in Parish Registers reflect a more transient Population. Inventories present a similarly varied picture in the period 1550–1730. The wealthiest inhabitants included Yeomen or Gentleman Farmers such as Nathaniel Wise (d.1683) and his Widow Elizabeth (d.1702) of Berrick Prior (£374 & £820 respectively), Edmund Spyer of Holcombe (d.1649, £454), and John King of Berrick Prior (d.1670, £369), whose Household Furnishings typically included featherbeds, fine linen sheets, & pewter. Overall 9% of Testators left goods worth £200 or more, and 15% between £100 & £200, although more than half (54%) left less than £50. Wills often included Gifts to the Churches or Poor of neighbouring Stadhampton, Berrick Salome, & Britwell Salome, suggesting strong Social ties across Parish Boundaries.
All 5 Settlements experienced the Petty Crime and occasional disharmony typical of most rural Parishes. In Britwell Prior the Tithes were a particular source of ‘great quarrels and disputes’, prompting accusations in 1604 that a Britwell Prior Farmer had stolen the coulter from a neighbour’s Plough. Moral behaviour was regulated in a Church Court held jointly for Canterbury’s Peculiars of Newington & Monks Risborough (Bucks), which in the 17thC heard frequent cases of adultery or fornication. Other offences included brawling in the Churchyard, abusing the Curate, and working on a Sunday, while crimes reported in the 18thC include theft of turkeys from the Rector’s Barn and, exceptionally, the sending of 2 ‘incendiary letters’. A set of Stocks was jointly maintained by Britwell Prior & Britwell Salome in the 1780s. Festivities included Whitsuntide Church Ales (recorded in 1617) and an annual Brookhampton Wake held on 1st September, while Pubs existed in Brookhampton & Berrick Prior by 1754.
The Parish remained predominantly Agric&and businesses. Most were at Brookhampton, which had a resident police constable in 1881 and a Police Station by 1891. The majority of inhabitants were still locally born, although Domestic Servants tended to come from further afield; so too did their Employers, not only at the Rectory & former Manor Houses but increasingly at the larger Farmhouses. In the absence of a resident Lord the Farmer John Deane of Ewe Farm, owner of 1,347a in 1873, was sometimes regarded as Newington’s Squire, while Berrick Farmhouse, occupied by the Fundholder & Landowner John Thorn Glanville, was renamed the Manor House by 1861. The Rector rarely made collections in Church owing to the poverty of his flock, and in 1861 3 Agricultural Labourers (2 of them deaf) were homeless.
Newington House & Britwell House were occupied by Professionals or minor Landowners as Owners or Lessees. The Soldier George Wroughton (d.1816), Tenant of Newington House, was buried in the Church, while Lessees of Britwell House included Richard Rochfort (d.1831), Soldier & Diplomat, & Thomas Gould Winter (d.1859), Soap Manufacturer & Homoeopathist. Ethel Sands, an American Artist who lived at Newington House from 1898 until 1920 with her partner Anna Hudson, found fame as a Society Hostess and became involved in local Politics, holding Liberal Party Rallies in Newington. She was also active in Parish life, giving Prizes at the School & Hosting Fêtes & flower shows in her Gardens. During WW1 she and Hudson served as Nurses in France, enabling Newington House to accommodate Belgian Refugees and (from 1915) a Convalescent Hospital for wounded Soldiers. Major Whitaker of Britwell House was Sheriff of the County in 1941.
The Parish’s Public Houses provided a Social Focus, hosting Auctions & Meetings: the Parish Council met at the Bear & Ragged Staff in Brookhampton in 1896, when the School in Newington (its usual meeting-place) was being used as a Diptheria Hospital. The Bear also accommodated the Brookhampton Hand & Heart Friendly Society, which had a Club Room there from 1846 and 15 members at its Dissolution in 1920. Its annual Feast was reputedly the largest in the area, and a Juvenile Branch ran from 1891 to 1906. A similar Society for Berrick Prior (documented 1840/2) met at the Chequers. At Holcombe the Stag Pub was established in the 1850s, its name perhaps inspired by the South Oxfordshire Hunt, which met regularly in the Parish and for several decades leased Coverts in Holcombe.
Stag-Hunting – never appears to have found much favour in Oxfordshire, though it was customary at one time for the Royal Buckhounds to meet annually at Stonor Park, the seat of the Lords Camoys. The following account of one of these ‘Gala Days‘ occurs, the date being Friday, 19th April 1861:-
Ran around the Woods above Stonor, then across Turville Heath & North End Common, downhill by Shirburn Castle, Pyrton Heath & Cutt Mill to Chalgrove, past Rofford to Ascott. Left Little Milton on the right, nearly reached Chislehampton, came back to Garsington and took the Stag in the Village. In 1862, Her Majesty’s Stag-hounds met at Stonor on 18th March and ran by Turville & North End down to Pyrton, on by Britwell, Crowmarsh & Mongewell, the Stag being taken at South Stoke.
Other Beerhouses proved shorter-lived, notably the Wheatsheaf at Brookhampton. A 1½-a Recreation Ground for Britwell Prior & Britwell Salome was laid out on Britwell Hill at Inclosure in 1845, while a Cricket Club with a ground in Britwell House’s Parkland was established in 1928. Both Cricket & Football were played on a Farmer’s Field in Newington c.1940. At Berrick Prior, Quoits (provided by the Landlord of the Chequers) were played c.1900 on a patch of grass near the Pub, the Site also of the annual Berrick Feast. A Village Hall, opened in the former Newington School after its closure in 1903, hosted various activities including (in the late 1940s) a Scout Troop run by the Rector, and remained Glebe Property.
Social change quickened after WW2, with fewer workers retained in Domestic Service & Agriculture, and new building including a few Council Houses. Inhabitants were increasingly employed outside the Parish, notably at Cowley Car Works, while some high-status Professionals moved in. The Rectory House was sold in 1951 to the art historian and arts administrator Sir John Rothenstein (d.1992), who with his wife Lady Elizabeth (d.2002) served on the Parish Council. Both are buried in the Churchyard. In 2014 the house belonged to Christopher Brett, 5th Viscount Esher, while Britwell House belonged from 1960 to 1979 to the designer David Hicks and his wife Lady Pamela, a daughter of Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
Social Life still largely revolved around the Pubs, of which the Bear and the Chequers remained in 2014. Newington Village Hall was sold in 1977, however, and thereafter the Parish lacked a Community Hall. Efforts to establish a playing field proved unsuccessful, although from 1975 the Parish Council provided Allotments. By 1999 Berrick Prior fielded cricket and rounders teams which competed annually against Berrick Salome, although Britwell Prior’s Cricket Pitch was relocated to Britwell Salome.
Britwell Prior shares the same Educational history as Britwell Salome, while Schools in Stadhampton & Benson have at times taught children from Brookhampton & Berrick Prior respectively. The earliest record of education within the parish dates from 1631, when a Brookhampton man was Presented in the Church Court for Teaching children to read only English and not Latin. Mary White of Oxford (by Will proved 1729) established a Charity to educate 3 poor children from Berrick Prior, who in 1807 were taught alongside 12 other Pupils funded by the Rector. By 1818 he supported 2 Day Schools (perhaps at Newington & Berrick Prior) with 10–12 Pupils each, and both Schools continued in 1835 when c.20 of the 35 children were paid for by the Rector, and the rest by their Parents. By the 1840s only a mixed National School in Newington remained, still supported by the Rector and taught by a Chelsea Pensioner, who in 1854 had 40–50 pupils.
In 1857 the National School acquired a purpose-built Accommodation costing c.£360, built on Glebe opposite the Rectory House. The premises, which comprised a brick-built Schoolroom, Playground, & Master’s House, remained Glebe Property, with the Rector as Sole Manager. In the early 1870s the School (under the same Master) taught 30–40 children, most of them ‘very young’. An annual School Rate paid by 6 Farmers and the Rector was agreed in Vestry in 1873, and by 1894, when average attendance was 35, voluntary contributions formed a 3rd of the School’s income, the rest coming from Government Grants and Mary White’s Charity (27s annually). An infants’ Classroom was added in 1895, but in 1899 the premises were ‘unsatisfactory’ with ‘a neglected air’. A damning Inspector’s Report followed in 1902, and in 1903, when control passed to the Local Education Authority, the School was closed, its c.50 pupils transferred to Schools in Stadhampton, Drayton St Leonard, & Benson. Mary White’s Charity was evidently lost by 1900.
In 1998 a Christian Montessori School (founded elsewhere) moved into purpose-built premises between Holcombe & Brookhampton. In 2009 it employed 11 staff and had 50 pupils aged 1–5, remaining open in 2014.