Waterstock Economic & Social History

Nothing is known of any Early Settlement at Waterstock, but the name, meaning ‘Water Place‘, indicates an Anglo-Saxon origin.  In 1086 it was assessed at 5-Hides, 3 of which were in Demesne, with 2-Ploughs and a Watermill worth 9s-5d.  There were 5-Serfs, the only Inhabitants mentioned, and 36-acres of Meadow.  The Jurors declared that there was sufficient Land for 5-Ploughs, and a marginal note states that there had been that number in King Edward’s time, 3 of them on the Demesne.  The value of the Estate had appreciated from 20s to no less than 50s.

By 1279 the Servile Element in the Population had disappeared, and there had been considerable Tenurial Development.  The Lord of the Manor had 10½-Virgates in Demesne, together with a Fishery & a Watermill.  His Tenants held a further 12-Virgates.  Among them were 8-Virgaters who each paid 5s Rent & Services to the same value, and 2-Cottagers who paid 6s & rendered Services worth 2s.  There were also 5-Free Tenants, 4 of whom held a total of 4-Virgates & paid Rent amounting to 6s-8d, while a 5th held a ½-Virgate of one of the others in Socage.

The 14thC Tax Assessments support the impression given by the Hundred Rolls of a Village with few Tenants, all of whom had Small Holdings.  In 1306, for instance, out of 17-persons Taxed only 3, including Henry Bruley, Lord of the Manor, were assessed at more than 2s.  In 1327 of 25 Taxed for the 1/20th 10 paid 2s & over.  The total assessment was £2-7s.  Under the new Assessment of 1334, the total rose to £3-2s-4d for the 1/15th.

Only 51 persons over 14 were listed in the Poll Tax of 1377, possibly as a consequence of the Black Death & subsequent economic changes.  The returns for the Subsidy of 1523 indicate that there had been a concentration of Wealth since the early 14thC and perhaps some decline in Population. There were 11-Contributors to the total Tax of £1-7s-8d. The only Gentleman in the List, presumably the Tenant of the Manor, was the only man of means, with Goods worth £17 compared with the better-off Yeomen with goods worth £8 & £7.

Glebe Terriers of 1601 & 1609 give the earliest details of the Field System.  These show that there were 3-Arable Fields grouped around the Village. To the South lay Conygere Field, which was renamed South Field in the later Terrier. The old name survived in the Warren Close & Field of 17th & 18thC Indentures and the Warren of the 1848 Tithe Award Map.  To the East was Gravelly Field, said to have been called so on account of its Soil, but renamed East Field in 1609.  To the North of this lay the North East or Hamm Field, as it was Anciently called.  In addition, there was Lincroft in the Northwest, an Island of some 40 acres of Ley Ground that was divided into 2 series of 2-acre Strips.  South of Lincroft lay the small 2-acre Glebe Meadow, Moor Meadow, and the Cowleys.

The earliest recorded Inclosure was made in about 1530 when some Pasture was Inclosed to form West Field.  Further Inclosure apparently took place between 1601 and 1609, for the later Terrier was said to have been made ‘since the Inclosure‘.   It is not clear what had been done, for the Glebe Lands still lay unconsolidated in ½-acre Strips in each of the Common Fields.  But the South Field was now in 2-parts – apparently a new division of the old Conygere Field, the Parsonage having 7½-acres in 1-Field & another 7 in the other. This could be an indication of a change from a 3 to a 4-Field System of Cultivation.  There were 2½ Glebe acres in each of the other Fields.  The later Terrier also shows that all 3-Arable Fields were Hedged, and this may have been done since 1601, when there is no mention of other than Private Hedges. There is specific mention of the new Hedge in North East Field.

It is clear that considerable Inclosure of Demesne land took place in the 17th & 18thCs.  An instance of this may have occurred in 1618, when George Croke was given permission to convert 180-acres of Arable to Pasture.  In 1663 Sir George Croke Mortgaged the Windmill Ground of 105-acres to Edward Honywood, a London Citizen & Ironmonger.  This Land was said to be Inclosed and to have been at one time converted into Tillage but later laid down for Pasture.  The year before when it had been Leased for 21-yrs, together with the Mill Close of 10-acres, the Rent was £133.  In 1676 ‘further pastures’ of 92-acres adjoining Windmill Field were in the occupation of 2 of Croke’s Tenants.   As late as 1749 part of Windmill Field (adjoining Mill Close) was said to have been ‘lately’ Inclosed, although perhaps this should not be taken too literally.  In 1680 Lincroft, which had earlier been divided up into Strips, was said to be in the occupation of Sir George Croke himself.  In 1676 he had Mortgaged a number of Closes & Meadows, all said to be Demesne Land, which formed a fairly compact block of Land in the North of the Parish. The aggregate of their Rents was £202.  In the same year he had Mortgaged other Land, mainly Meadow, situated in the Southern part of the Parish, which produced £199 Rent.  It seems likely that most if not all of these Lands were Inclosed.
The Windmill features on the Maps of Ogilby, 1675 & Overton, 1715.  In other records, there are references to Windmill Ground in 1663 & Windmill Field in 1676.  Not far from the Watermill Location and on the right of the Road entering the Village from the West.

In the latter half of the 18thC there was one Landowner, the Ashhurst Family, in Waterstock, and 4 principal Tenants.  In 1749 the Ashhursts had leased Lands to Stephen Radford at a Rent of £200.  By the terms of his Lease he was permitted to Plough Windmill Field, together with some neighbouring Land, a 3rd at a time.  Each 3rd could be maintained as Arable for 5-yrs and used for 5-Crops only and was then to be returned to Pasture, the whole to remain Pasture for the last 5-years of the Term.  He was also allowed to cultivate other Fields for 5-yrs, but at the end of that time he was to sow Grass and to reconvert to Pasture under penalty of £5 an acre for neglect.  A Radford Family member remained as Tenant until at least 1832.  A 2nd Tenement was Leased for 21-yrs in 1760 to Humphrey Eaton.  His main Arable Land lay in Thameswhy Ground immediately to the North of the Oxford–Thame Road and consisted of 30-acres which he had to Plough in 10-acre Lots for 4-yrs & 4 Crops of Corn, which meant that over a period each 3rd lay fallow 1-yr in 3.  He could Plough other Lands for the 1st 5-yrs of his Term, but in the 5th they were to be sown with grass.  He was to pay £223 Rent, and £10 less in the last year of the Term.  The Eatons held the Farm until at least 1821, after which it apparently passed to the Parsons Family.  Of the other 2-Tenements assessed in 1785 much less is known.

As elsewhere in the neighbourhood there may have been an increase, though a small one, in Population in the last Quarter of the 18thC. The 1st Official Census of 1801 recorded 114-Inhabitants.  Earlier returns of the number of Houses in the Parish gave 16 in 1768 & 15, 30-yrs earlier.  If these figures are accurate there would appear to have been little change in Population since the 2nd half of the 17thC. Some 18-Householders were listed for the Hearth Tax of 1662 and 55-adults over 16 were returned for the Compton Census of 1676.

Arthur Young

Arthur Young (Agriculturist) gives some account of Farming at Waterstock at the beginning of the 19thC. He describes the Land as all Grass, which seems to have been an exaggeration, and as for the most part Inclosed Pasture.  The Grasslands were good & mostly Let, the Meadows for 50s & the Pasture for 40s an acre.  Two Tons of Hay were taken from every acre at the 1st-Crop, and one at the 2nd, although it was considered bad for the Land to take a 2nd-Crop.  W H Ashhurst appears as a progressive Dairy Farmer. He had planted cabbages (for cattle food), when these were still uncommon in Oxfordshire, and had brought in short-horn cattle, which were fed on hay, not straw, in the Winter. The Butter was sent under Contract to London.

In the 1st half of the 19thC there were 4 &, after 1821, 3-Tenant Farmers,  with Ashhurst keeping the smallest acreage in his own hand.  James Parsons, who farmed 158-acres at a Rent of £257, went Bankrupt in 1832. He was mainly a Cattle Farmer, but he also kept some Sheep & raised Crops of wheat, barley, oats & beans. He had a Malt-mill & Granary which, together with other effects, were valued at £55-8s-6d.

The 1848 Tithe-Award Map gives the 1st comprehensive View of Waterstock. To the West along the Bank of the River Thame lay a belt of Meadow & Grassland which broadened out to occupy the whole of the North-west corner of the Parish, while the Arable Land was concentrated mainly in the North-east & South. The total acreage was 653, of which 269-acres were Arable & 348 Meadow & Pasture.  Three Tenants occupied Farms of 244, 208 & 166 acres respectively.

For most of the latter half of the 19thC there were 2-Tenant Farmers.  A Document of 1876 gives details of the Farming methods imposed by the Landlord.  The Tenant was to cultivate the Arable according to a ‘5-Field System of Husbandry’, 3/5th in wheat, barley, or oats, 1/6th left fallow for turnips & vetches for feeding sheep & horses & 1/6th in clover, beans, or pulse. Not more than 2-white straw crops were to be grown in succession and even then they were not to be of the same kind.  The Tenant was to consume on the Farm all hay, turnips, straw, fodder & chaff produced there, and to spread all Dung on the Fields.  At least twice in a Summer he was to cut the thistles on the Pasture Lands.

In 1885, when W H Ashhurst took over the Waterstock Estate on the death of his father, there were 2-Farms of 206 & 326 acres, the Tenants paying Rents of £412 & £630 respectively.   Ashhurst probably kept about 116-acres in his own hand, as his father had done.   On the Estate were 20-Cottages, their Rents ranging from £2-5s to £2-12s.

There were 3-Farms in 1939, Home Farm & Park Farm in the Village, and Lower Farm on the Thame–Oxford Road, and the same number in 1959.  At both dates mixed Farming was practised.

The presence of Gravel had long been known and in an 18thC Lease Sir George Croke had reserved his rights to Dig for it in return for proper Compensation.  In 1924 Highways Construction were permitted to Dig Gravel for 2-yrs at a Rent of £10 an acre plus Royalties.  The Workings lay just to the North of the Village and the Contractors were allowed to lay a Light Railway to connect them with a Siding on the GWR Line South of the Oxford-Thame Road.

During the 1st 30-yrs of the 19thC the Population had risen fairly steadily from 114 in 1801 to a peak of 142 in 1831.  It then fluctuated until a new peak of 147 was reached in 1861.  Thereafter there was a steady decline until in 1901 – despite the addition of Draycott to the Parish – there were only 108-persons.  This trend was continued in the 20thC, and by 1951 there were 96-persons in the Civil Parish.


The Watermill was built on a Small island in the River Thame, the Water passing over Weirs on both Sides, the larger Weir on the West or Waterperry Side providing the Water for the Mill Race – it was apparently this Weir which was rebuilt in 1846 by John Collins of Wolvercote at a cost of £150.  By 1957 the Mill & Millhouse had been converted into a modern dwelling.  No trace remains of the Windmill.
The Sluice on the River Thame at Waterstock Mill was a complete barrier to Fish Passage (except when the River was in very high flow). On each flank, the Concrete & Stone walls were also Structurally failing. The removal of the Sluice Structure was not an option so instead, to provide Fish Easement a Pool was created on the Structure itself by constructing a wall at the Upstream & Downstream ends of the Structure to back up the Flow of Water.

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A Channel which is a Secondary Channel to the main River Thame was also restored as part of the project. It had been highly shaded by trees, with steep Banks, it was over wide and very Silty.  Brushwood berms were created by hand with the help of a Team of Fishery Officers from the Environment Agency and Gravel was added.  These works narrow the Channel and speed up the flow of Water which helps to keep the new Gravels clean of Silt.  It creates a variety of habitat for Fish & Invertebrate species.  The clean Gravel is also important for Gravel spawning Fish such as Chub & Dace.  Trees were managed along this stretch of Channel to create a mixture of shaded & open Channel. It’s all about variety when it comes to River habitats!

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Wind, Water & Horse Mills
A Mill at Waterstock is mentioned in both Domesday Book and the Hundred Rolls.  In 1528 there was said to be both a Water & a Horse-driven Mill.   In Indentures & Fines of the 17th & 18thCs 2 Water Grist Mills & one Windmill are commonly mentioned.  It is unlikely, however, that there were 2-Watermills under separate Roofs.  In 1676 the Water Grist Mill with a little Meadow was worth £30 a year.  In 1697 Sir Henry Ashhurst Leased to Richard Lamboll, formerly of Thame, for 21-yrs and at an annual Rent of £50 the Corn & Watermills under one Roof, a Dwelling-house, and 2 portions of Meadow containing 6-acres, as well as the Corn & Windmills under one Roof on Windmill Ground, together with Mill Close containing about 10½-acres.  Sir Henry reserved to himself & his Tenants the Right of pulling up the Floodgates every year from 1st May to 10th October, if Floods threatened their Property.  In 1725 there was a similar Lease to Richard Lamborne of Lamborn (Berks) for a further 20-yrs and at the same Rent.

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