Map of Sydenham c.1800 The above Map is based on Davis’s Map (1797) and the Inclosure Award & Map (1826). The place-name has had many other spellings and means “by the wide Water Meadow“
The Parish covers 1,548 acres and lies on a belt of Gault Clay in the Plain between the Market-town of Thame, about 3-miles to the North-west, and the foot of the Chiltern Hills, about 2-miles to the South. By the early Middle Ages, Sydenham was a Chapelry of Thame, a connection which probably preceded the Conquest, but it was feudally bound to Chinnor, its neighbour on the South-east and being a member of Chinnor Manor. The chief interest, however, of the Parish’s History has been the long connection with the Abbots of Thame and their successors at Thame Park. This can be traced from the 12thC to 1917. Otherwise, no persons of national importance have been connected with the place. Nor has it been connected with any events of importance except during the Civil War. Although off the main lines of communication the Village can hardly have escaped from the Foraging Parties of both Parliamentary and Royalist Troops stationed in the Vicinity, but no record of their depredations has survived.
There have been no recorded Boundary changes and the Parish Bounds must be substantially the same as they were in Anglo-Saxon Times. The short Southern Boundary follows the Ancient Trackway, the Lower Icknield Way, and until 1932 when Towersey was transferred from Buckinghamshire to Oxfordshire part of the North-eastern Boundary was the County Boundary. Small brooks, notably Crowell Brook and its continuation Kingston Brook, as they were called in the 18thC, form parts of the rest of the Boundary. This Brook also flowed through the centre of the Parish and drove the Watermill lying to the South of the Village. There its waters were dammed up to form the Mill-pond and it was Bridged on the Chalford Road by a Bridge long known as Grimbaud’s Bridge after its 12th & 13thC Millers. Where the Brook crossed the Village Street to flow North of the Church near Vicarage End the Bridge was called Church Bridge in 1627. Another large Pond once in the North of the Parish has disappeared. It is now just Marshland and its Site is marked by Sea Pond Wood. In the North-west Corner parallel with the Cuttle Stream that divides Sydenham from Thame is a most interesting survival. This is the Stream cut by the Monks of Thame in the 12thC so as to connect the Cuttle (then called the Sydenham Stream) with their Stream in Thame Park. As the Fields were so well watered and the soil was largely heavy Clay, drainage must always have been a problem; and there is in fact evidence from the early 18thC that the regular scouring of Watercourses needed constant enforcement by the Courts.
Most of the Parish lies between the 250 & 350ft contour lines but the ground rises slightly higher in the West and to over 350ft in the South near the Lower Icknield Way. There is little Woodland except for Sydenham Hurst (c.45 acres) in the North, but the hedges are well Timbered.
OS Map 1919 Sth Oxon XLI.12 (Sydenham, Emmington)
The Chief Road in the Parish runs from Chalford through the Village to Emmington and links the main London Road with a minor Road from Thame to Chinnor. The last was probably the Royal Road (Via Regia) mentioned in a 13thC Charter and along which some of Thame Abbey’s Land lay. Sewell Lane, running South from the Village towards Crowell, used to be called the Mill Way since it was no doubt used by the Crowell Villagers to go to Sydenham Mill. Before Inclosure there were 2 Roads crossing the Open fields from Manor Farm and converging just before entering Thame Park. Davis’s Map of 1797 (below) shows them clearly along with Sydenham Windmill (as does the Parish Map of 1800) but there is no evidence of them today above ground or any evidence that they ever had a Stone surface. They were probably mainly used as Farm Roads by the Tenants of the Musgrave Estate. An old Stone Bridge across the Brook dividing Sydenham Fields from the Park might mark the place where the old track passed. Sydenham Windmill 1715-1794 was moved to Stone (Site of Jeffries Road) in Bucks in 1801
Richard Davis’s Map Of Oxfordshire 1797
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 2in to 1-mile. No more than 200 copies were ever made, evidence being 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 hachures. Davis was also Topographer to His Majesty, George III.
The Village is fairly centrally situated, but it is clearly the Brook by which it lies that determined its Site. It was a fairly large settlement both in the Middle Ages and in the 17thC when 41 of its householders paid Tax on 81 hearths for the Hearth Tax of 1662. Not all these houses, however, were in the Village. There were 2 big outlying Farms at the Grange and Upcot (now Manor Farm) that probably had cottages adjoining and there were perhaps a few cottages at West End and at Sydenham Stert. The only Cottage now left at Sydenham Stert was probably of late-16thC date. It is Timber-framed with massive beams and partly constructed of lath & plaster, partly of brick. It seems to have been 2 Cottages once or perhaps one Cottage with a Stable & Loft attached, for there are 2 blocked outside doorways in the walls of the 1st-Storey, indicating that it was once reached by external Staircases or Forestairs.
Many other 16th–17thC Cottages have also survived in the Village. At the Southend, Vicarage End as it is called, there are a couple of timber-framed Cottages of this period; they have brick (sometimes herring-boned) or lath-&-plaster infilling and are Thatched; a row of 3 timber-framed Cottages, now used as one house, are Thatched and also mostly built of brick, although there are traces of older construction. Some lath & plaster survive and at the Gable-end of the oldest Cottage, there are crutch beams. Other Ancient Cottages, including the very picturesque Post Office which is built of rubble stone, lie on the Emmington Road. Some Cottages here, built of mud (wattle & daub), were demolished in 1950.
In the 18thC, most of the Farmhouses in the Village were rebuilt and some entirely new Cottages were erected. There is, for example, a good Farmhouse at Vicarage End that belonged to the Musgrave Estate and was still called Musgrave Farm in the early 20thC. It is an L-shaped House of red brick of 2-Storeys & an Attic. It has a 3-Bay Front and a half-hipped Roof covered in old tiles. Ryder’s on the Emmington Road, named after its early-19thC owner, is a superior building of Chequer Brick. It has 2-Storeys & 1st-Floor string-course. There are 2 small gabled Dormer windows in the Attic Storey. Adjoining it are 4 brick cottages of contemporary date; they are brick-built and have a 1st-Floor string-course & brick denticulated eaves. Opposite is the Queen Anne House of the Burrows Family. It is L-shaped and the Wing at the back is constructed of brick & has casement windows, but the Front has shuttered sash windows and has been roughcast in recent times. It is distinguished by being set back from the Road behind a lawn and by its group of Ancient Yews and must have once been a dignified house. The Burrows Family, established as Wool Drapers at Thame in the 17thC, owned this Farm at least by 1745 when it was left by John Burrows, a rich London Wool Draper, to his son John, a fashionable London Clergyman.
Another Farm at the Northend of the Village and the ‘Sun‘ Inn were also rebuilt in the 18thC. The Inn is partly constructed of flint & brick and has become a private Dwelling. The Farm is of red brick and still retains its sash windows with small 18thC window panes. Many fine weather-boarded Barns, Thatched or Tiled, survive and are grouped around the Farm-yards. Davis’s Map of 1797 shows that the Village at this time was rather more compact than now and centred around the Church and a Green. There was a spreading Elm opposite the ‘Sun‘ & traces of the Green remain, but most of it has since been built on and Inclosed or converted into Roads. By 1851 the Village had 2 Public Houses: The Sun, and the Four Horse Shoes. The Sun had continued and the Four Horse Shoes closed in 1912. However, The Crown Inn had opened by 1939 and continues to Trade today albeit intermittent.
Increasing Population and prosperity in the 1st half of the 19thC led to rebuilding & expansion. By 1841 there were 86 dwellings in the Parish compared with 60 in 1811. Some of these were outside the Village: 6 new houses, for instance, were built at Cassilty Row on the Emmington Road and at some distance away. But a well-built Row of brick Cottages was also added to the Village Street. The chief additions, however, were the ‘neat & commodious’ Vicarage & the School. The former was built in 1846 in Elizabethan style at the West end of the Village some way away from the Church. The Site may have been a new one as there had been no Vicarage for many years. It was ‘surrounded by a well-planned and beautifully laid out garden‘. The construction of the School & Schoolhouse followed soon after. It is a picturesque ‘Elizabethan‘ building of flint & red brick facings. Today (1958) it is used as a Village Hall. Two Nonconformist Chapels were erected in the 1st half of the 19thC; one was rebuilt of cheap red brick in 1881. The 20thC contributed 8 Council houses of cement at Sydenham Grove: now due for demolition and their Tenants wantonly dispersed. They were built in pairs and lie off the Emmington Road. There is also row of Council houses, called Park View, outside the Village along the Road to the Inn at Emmington (formerly the Plough & Harrow).
Coopers Yard was originally owned by Thame Park up until 1918 when it was sold to the Kingham Family and used as a working Agricultural Barn until 2008. A Grade II listed early 17thC Barn within a Conservation area. Coopers Yard was originally an array of working Agricultural Barns, with the oldest one of Oak & Elm construction and dating back to 1600. The Oak trees were planted in 1527 and felled in 1599 to form the Oak Structure seen today.
Wheatsheaf Barn is believed to date back to the 17thC and was later converted into a Residential dwelling. The exposed floor to ceiling Oak beams throughout and the original Barn Doors retain the traditional Character of the Barn.
Of the outlying Houses, the oldest is Manor Farm, Brookstones. It is a rectangular building with some later additions. Its whitewashed plaster conceals what was once a Timber-framed House. This can more easily be seen from inside where much of the Timber has been recently exposed, but Timber-framing with brick infilling can also be seen in the right-hand Gable-end. The house has an Iron Porch of Regency or an early Victorian date with a Convex Roof. The Mill House, now a private Residence, was restored in 1945 by Miss G D Newberry and although there are modern additions it is still substantially an 18thC House of 3 Bays with a weather-boarded and brick Granary attached. The Grange Farm, which lies on the Site of the Medieval Grange of Thame Abbey, retains no features of interest apart from its 18thC Barns.
Early in 1815 a School for about 40 children, half of them girls, was established. It was supported by the Lady of the Manor, Miss Sophia Wykeham (later Baroness Wenman), but apparently no longer existed in 1818 when the Poor were said ‘to be anxious to have the means of education‘. Until 1849 Sunday Schools provided the Sole Education. In 1815 Parish children could attend the Sunday School at Towersey (Bucks), and by 1833 Miss Wykeham had given her support to a Sunday School at Sydenham. Sixty-five children (about 75 by 1854) attended, and there was also a Baptist Sunday School which gave free instruction to 39 children. In 1849 a National School was finally built; the Wykeham-Musgraves gave the Land and Private Subscribers & Baroness Wenman provided the money: it consequently became known as the Wenman School. School attendance was said in 1854 to vary from 20 to 40, and instruction was Paid for by pence and Subscription. In 1867 the average attendance was 48 in the day and 10 at night. Some years later, in 1884–85, the Inspector complained that standards had gone down because of overcrowding, but in 1886 the School was enlarged to take 100 children. The average attendance was 79; in 1890 it was 82. Some of the children came from Emmington. By 1890 almost half the Income came from a Parliamentary Grant. The School was described as a ‘good country School‘. Teachers complained of irregular attendance, particularly because of Agricultural Work: children were kept away, for example, to pick acorns. Nevertheless, the Inspector in 1898 and later said that the school was ‘zealously taught‘ and the children were ‘in capital order‘. In 1906 the attendance had dropped to 58. The Wenman School became a Junior mixed & Infants’ School in 1929 with 14 children; Seniors of 11 years & over walked or cycled to Chinnor. There were 18 children at the School in 1939, but in 1948 the School was closed and all the children have since gone to Chinnor.
In 1612 it was reported that a ½ acre of land in Sydenham, which had been given for Charitable uses, was in the Tenure of Robert Fox who had held it for the past 10 years and was taking the Revenue for himself.
By a Will dated 1661 Robert Munday of Sydenham, Yeoman, left a House and 23 acres in Kingston Blount Open-Fields in Aston Rowant Parish. The Income was to be used for the Poor of Sydenham, except for £1 a year which was to go to Church repairs. Accounts of payment dated from 1703, when 10s was given to the Church, and other smaller sums, ranging from £2 down to 6d, to different Poor persons, the whole amounting to £5 10s. By 1820, when there was a House and 30 acres, the annual value of the Charity had risen to £22 of which £1 was always given to the Church and the rest distributed to the Poor, about Christmas, whether or not they received relief, although formerly the Charity had been limited to those not receiving Relief. In 1835 under the Aston Rowant Inclosure Award the Lands were exchanged for 16 acres in Sydenham. These Lands were let in 1852 for about £20, all of which was given to the Poor at Christmas. In 1873 the Lands were being let to Parishioners of good conduct at 25s an acre. The Charity was regulated by a Scheme of 1925 which Authorised the Trustees to distribute it for the Benefit of the Poor of the Parish. In that year 149 persons received 2s 11d each.