Watlington Agrarian & Social History

The Watlington area was settled at an early date: a Bronze Age Axe & British & Roman Gold Coins have been found; there were Heathen burials on the Ridge.  A Settlement would have been encouraged by the Icknield Way, one of the 4 Chief early Roads in Britain, and by another early Route running at right-angles through the narrow Parish of Pyrton over Knightsbridge to the Ancient Settlement Sites above the Thames.  Watlington Hill which lies between the Town and the Chilterns is protected on its flanks by Mounds & Ditches, and it has been suggested that these Fortifications were constructed after the Romano-British pocket in the Chilterns was cut off from the West in 571.  However this may be, the Anglo-Saxon name for the Village, composed of the elements Waecel, probably a personal name, andington, itself indicates early Saxon Settlement, perhaps of the late 6thC, by the ‘Watelings‘.  A Charter of c.880, Granted by Ethelred, ‘Duke’ of the Mercians, mentions 8 Manses in Watlington and shows that the ‘Watelings‘ were not the only Settlers in the area since Ingham, now a lost Hamlet, was probably already Settled.  The existence of Communities at this and other Hamlets by the 11thC may be deduced with some probability from the Domesday Account, which reveals the growth of a number of Feudal Estates, including one, assessed at 3½-Hides, which was almost certainly later transferred to the new Pishill Parish.  The Chief Estate in 1086 was Robert d’Oilly’s Watlington Manor of 8 hides, but he also had land assessed at 1-Hide in Watcombe, and he held a holding at Adingeham, probably the later Ingham. In the Township of Watcombe, there was a 2-Hide Estate belonging to a Marsh Baldon Fee; later evidence shows that part at least of Préaux Abbey’s Manor of 5-Hides also lay in Watcombe.  In all, excluding the later Pishill Estate, there was said to be Land for 21½-Ploughs, or about 1,720 Field acres.  The total number of working Ploughs in the Parish was 18 or 19, which suggests that the Land was not worked to capacity.  The Chief Demesne Estate belonged to Robert d’Oilly, who had 3-Hides of inland with 2-Ploughs and 4-Serfs to work them in Watlington and another Plough in Demesne in Adingeham.  The rest of his Principal Estate was worked by 22-Villani & 5-Bordars who had 11-Ploughs between them.  His small Estate at Watcombe with land for 1-Plough was held by a Widow.  There is no record in 1086 of Demesne land on the other Estates: there was land for 4½ Ploughs on the Préaux Abbey Property, which was apparently all in the hands of the Tenants, the 7-Villani, 2-Bordars, and 2-Serfs who had 3-Ploughs;  Geoffrey’s Estate at Watcombe had land for 2 Ploughs and 1-Villanus with 1-Plough was recorded.  Woodland (1½ × ½ League on D’Oilly’s Estate & 7 x 3 Furlongs on the Préaux Estate) was a predominant feature of the Parish as in later times.  D’Oilly also had 4 acres of Meadow and Préaux Abbey had 6 acres as well as 11 acres of Pasture.  The Principal Manors showed a notable rise in value: D’Oilly’s had increased from £6 to £10; Préaux’s from £4 to £5, but the smaller Estates maintained their previous valuations. Adingeham was valued at £2 10s., D’Oilly’s Watcombe holding at 10s & Geoffrey’s Watcombe Estate at £1.

Based on an Estate map of Watlington (Below the Hill (1780), the Inclosure Award & Map (1815), and Davis’s map (1794).

Reclamation from the Waste probably continued in the 12th & 13th centuries as elsewhere, but it is largely unrecorded. However, Assarts on Préaux Abbey’s Estate are incidentally mentioned in 1217.  Early documents throw light on the extent of the Arable and seem to indicate that there was a 2-Field System by the mid-12thC which had been converted into a 3-Field one by the late 13thC.  Contemporary Field names, which survived into the 18thC, show that the Arable land stretched at the end of the 12thC from the Pastures called the Fleet in the North-east and Attmarsh in the North-west to South of the Icknield Way.  In fact, there is little doubt that the area of cultivation below the Hill was roughly about the same as that shown on the Field Map of 1780.  Charters Granted to Oseney Abbey mention Copdich, which the 1780 Map shows as the Ditch dividing Watlington fields from Britwell Fields; sorte furlong, lying just North of the Icknield Way; and Cudendone and Cuburyeles, lying near the Millway at the Northern end of the Fields.  A 2-Field system is suggested by a Grant to Oseney in the mid-12thC of 1 Virgate or 20 acres of Demesne of the Principal manor, which were distributed as 10 acres in one field and 10 acres in another.  These 2 fields were perhaps the East & West Fields of 13thC Documents.  In the later 13thC, the Accounts of the Principal Manor indicate that there was the usual 3-course rotation of crops, which may have come with a reorganisation of the Field System.  In 1272 the Earl of Cornwall’s Demesne Farm had 303½ acres of Arable, and in 1297 the Steward accounted for winter and Spring Crops sown on 258 acres of Demesne, and in 1331 on 201 acres.  Presumably, in both years there would be about a 1/3rd of the Demesne Farm fallow.


Less is known about Watlington-above-the-Hill, but there were evidently several small Medieval Settlements here and possibly more than one set of Open-fields.  There are 12th & 13thC references to Settlements at Howe (La Ho), Atcombe or Hattecombes, which later evidence shows lay near it, at Watcombe, and at Syresfield. Some of the Arable land of Howe and Watcombe in later Surveys lay intermixed in the Fields below the Hill, but it is likely that there were also small Open-fields above the modern Hamlet of Howe where the Inclosure Map shows Inclosed fields called Lower Atcombs, Atcombs Hill, Middle Atcombe, and Further Atcombs, and to the west of Howe Way.  In all probability, Syresfield had separate Fields on the Hill, and Warmscombe, where Tenants in 1279 are recorded as owing Week-work, must also have had its own Fields.


Grants to Oseney Abbey made before 1220 record that the land was distributed in ½-acre and 1-acre lots in the various Furlongs, such as Brocfurlong, Chelhurst, Hattemerse, and Sortefurlong, the names of which are familiar in later documents.  In a grant of c.1220, the land was described as 2 acres in Hattemerse Furlong, 2½ acres in Cudendone culture, 1-acre next to Cuburyeles, and another acre and 2½-acres reaching to the Millway and a ½-acre in Brocfurlong.  The importance of Pasture Rights is shown in a 12thC Grant to Oseney permitting the Monks to Pasture their Oxen with the Lords’ own Oxen in 1 Carucate of Common.  A later Lord, Peter Fitz Herbert, Granted the Abbey in c.1220 pasture for 8 Oxen and 1 Cow in his own pasture, and wherever there was grazing outside his Wood.  Both Fleet Pasture and the Moor in the North of the Parish were frequently mentioned in 12th & 13thC Charters.  In the late 13thC Oseney Abbey was granted all rights in the Common Pasture of Hulligrave in Watlington Field by a group of Freeholders, who agreed that the Canons could Inclose it with a Ditch or Wall or Hurdles at all times of the year.  The creation of Watlington Park by the Earl of Cornwall in the 13thC restricted the Commons, and in 1276 it was maintained that the Freemen of the area (de patria) used to have Free Hunting and that certain Freemen had Common there.  In 1272 the Pasture in the Park was valued at 5s a year if the animals did not have it, and in 1279 the Earl was returned as having 40-acres of Wood emparked.  A profitable sale of Pasture was recorded in the Earl’s yearly Account of 1278, when he received 38s-9d from Pasture sold in the Fields, 18s from Pasture in the Moor, and 8s-5d from Pasture in the Park.

A more or less complete picture of Landholding in Watlington in the late 13thC is given by the Hundredal Survey of 1279.  The Chief Estates were still those of 200 years earlier: there were about 27-Hides in the Parish, of which over a half (c.61 Virgates) was held by the D’Oillys’ successors, the Earls of Cornwall;  Preaux Abbey’s Estate of some 20 Virgates and the De la Mare’s Watcombe Estate of 8-Virgates were the same as those assessed at 5 & 2-Hides in Domesday.  New Lords had come into the Parish: Robert de Grelle, Lord of Pyrton, had 1 hide and John Fitzwyth, Lord of South Weston, was Overlord of Simon Fitzwyth’s Warmscombe Manor.  Other Religious Houses had also established a footing: Oseney Abbey’s 3-Virgates had been acquired with the Church in the course of the 12thC; the Prior of Wallingford had interests in some 3 or 4 Virgates; Notley Abbey was under-Tenant of the Grelle Hide and Dorchester Abbey of about 60-acres Rented at 40s a year.

About one Quarter (some 20-Virgates) of the Arable Land was Customary Land, held by Villein Virgaters.  The 13 on the Earl’s Estate paid 5s Rent a year, Scutage in proportion to their holding, and a Payment for the marriage of their daughters, as well as their Customary Dues.  The Virgaters and ½-Virgaters on the Abbey Estate paid Rent at the rate of 12s a Virgate, a Payment of 1s-9d at Christmas, and a ¼d Wardsilver; Cottagers paid varying sums.  The Warmscombe Villeins paid rents of 6s. to 10s. for holdings of 9 or 15-acres.

In other ways, the Tenurial Structure was strikingly different from that of 1086.  The exchanges and buying and selling of land which are recorded in 12th & 13thC Watlington Charters had led to an intricate network of Landholding on the various Estates.  Nine Free Tenants held 2/3rds of the Earl’s Property; some also held of other Lords and many themselves had under-Tenants, of whom some were Lords of Estates in neighbouring Parishes.  It is not always possible to tell where their land lay, but Robert de Syresfeld’s land seems to have been around the Hamlet later known as Greenfield. He held 4-Virgates for light-Ploughing and Boon Services, for Scutage & Suit of Court.  He himself had Suit of Court from 2 of his 4 under-Tenants. Another Tenant, William Anketil, paid 16s Rent for 2 Virgates and Light Services for a 3rd. Seven other Free Tenants held 1 or 2 Virgates each of the Earl either for Rent alone or with Light Boon or Ploughing Services; several had Cottagers or Smallholders as their under-Tenants. Besides the above-mentioned Tenants, the Earl had 2 Free Tenants with comparatively large Holdings.  The heirs of a certain Hugh held 6 Virgates for 1/6th of the Scutage (scutum) of a Knight’s Fee and Suit at Watlington Court; 5 under-Tenants, of whom one was Hugh Frelond, the Tenant also of a Watcombe Estate that was held of the Baldon Fee, held between them another 2¾ Virgates. Another Tenant, William de Hattecumbe, had 5-Virgates in Chief of the Earl for 33s a year, Scutage and Boon Services with 4 men as well as holding Land for Rent of the Abbot of Dorchester and Prior of Wallingford. He had 10 under-Tenants with 4 Virgates and 83-acres between them, most of whom owed Rent & Boon Services.

Besides the Free Tenants of the Earl who held of Watlington Manor proper, there were Tenants of other Manors in the Parish. Chief among these was William de la Ho, Lord of Preaux Abbey’s Manor of 10 Virgates, for which he paid 12 marks a year and other Services, including Suit at Pyrton Hundred.  He had 6-Tenants holding 4-Virgates in Villeinage and coterelli, including the Abbot of Oseney, with Cottages or a few acres.  A further 5-Virgates and some acres were held by 6-Free Tenants, among them Richard de Stonor.  A part of this Manor probably lay above the Hill and centred around the Hamlet of Howe.  The 8-Virgates of the Baldon Fee, in which were 120-acres of ‘Free Land’, were held by Hugh Frelond.  He paid 20s a year, Suit of Court in Baldon, and View of Frankpledge in Watlington.  Warmscombe Manor consisted in 1279 of the Demesne Estate (2/3 carucate) of Simon Fitzwyth, and the Holdings of the 2-Free Tenants and 4 Villeins who held only 3 to 16 acres each, amounting in all to 19 Free acres and 42 in Villeinage.

The Hundredal Survey indicates that Watlington was a populous Parish with over 30 Villein Tenants and over 40 Free Tenants, of which most appear to have lived in the Parish. The Account is difficult to reconcile with the returns for the early-14thC Taxes since the total paid and the number of contributors are both much lower than might be expected, particularly as Watlington was a Market Town.  In 1327, for example, the combined Assessments of Watlington and Watcombe were £4-15s-4d Warmscombe was assessed with South Weston, but its Assessment would be so small as to make very little difference to Watlington’s total Assessment. Watlington Parish was, therefore, assessed at only about a half the Assessment of Pyrton Parish, a difference which may be partly accounted for by its extensive Woodlands and by the larger amount of Meadowland in Pyrton.  There were 23-Contributors in Watlington and 12 in Watcombe; the highest contributor paid 10s in Watlington, but most paid 2s to 4s while about a 3rd in Watlington and one person in Watcombe paid under 2s.  In 1354 Watlington was allowed an Abatement of £2, a large sum for the Hundred, which suggests that the Town had been badly affected by the Black Death; Warmscombe & Watcombe had much smaller Abatements of 2s & 3s respectively.  The adult Population as returned for the Poll Tax of 1377 was 218.

It is possible to deduce something about the Management of the Watlington Manors from Accounts and the Hundredal Survey of 1279.  By the end of the 13thC, the Earl of Cornwall no longer used the Customary Labour Services of his Villein Tenants for the day-to-day Farm work. There were 15½-Villein Virgates held by 13-Tenants on his Watlington Property: in 1279 it was recorded that the Virgaters each paid 5s a year Rent and 8s a year for their Works, although the Lord could demand Service,  but the Account Rolls show that in 1278, 1286, and 1297, the Earl, in fact, received payment from the 13-Virgaters for their works.  The half-Virgater in 1279 was the Smith whose work of making 2-Ploughs was probably exacted; the Earl found the Iron and Shares.  As on many other Estates, however, the Lord exacted the Services in Autumn when all hands were needed for the Harvest. Each Villein Virgater had, at the Lord’s expense, to attend the 2-Autumn Boons with 2-men.  A Cottager attended the Chase at the Lord’s will, reaped for 1 day, and Carted at the will of the Lord.  The Earl’s Free Tenants likewise were called on to help at Harvests: 6-Tenants of 1 to 4 Virgates had to attend the Lord’s Great Boon in Autumn and bring men with them, and 4 of these had to attend personally and supervise (personaliter ultra dictam precariam), while the other 2 had to bring men to the ‘nedryp‘, probably the lesser Boon.  One of the Tenants had also to bring 1-Plough for 1-day’s Ploughing, a due which he passed on partly to one of his under-Tenants, who had to supply one of the horses for the Plough on that occasion.  A more important Free Tenant, William de Hattecumbe, who held a Farm of some 5-Virgates, had also to do 1-day’s reaping with 3-men, attend the Great Boon of Watlington with 3-men for 1 day, and do 1-day’s Ploughing with his own Plough, but at the Lord’s expense.  He himself had various under-Tenants and exacted Autumn Services from 6 of them, some of which he must have used for the Earl’s Harvest and some for his own.  According to the Hundred Rolls, the Villein Labour Dues on the Préaux Abbey Estate had also been commuted: 12s Rent was paid for a Virgate, but 6s of it was for works which could be reimposed at the Lord’s wish.  Similarly, at Warmscombe the Villeins, Tenants of only 9 or 15-acres, owed no week-work, but 3 days in Autumn with 1 or 2 men.  It is probable, therefore, that most large Farms in the Parish had their own Staff of Farmhands, as on Oseney Abbey’s Rectory Estate, where in 1280 there was a Carter, 2-Ploughmen & a Shepherd.  On the Earl of Cornwall’s Estate in 1297 payments were made to his Farmhands (familia), who included a Carter, 4-Ploughmen & a Shepherd, as well as to the Parker & Miller.  Threshing was paid for at piece-work rates (ad tascham) on both Estates.

Accounts of 2 Watlington Estates in the 13th & 14thCs show that Arable Farming was predominant.  In 1227 the King’s Manor was sown with maslin & wheat and £3-3s-6d was spent on restocking it with 6-oxen & 4-horses; corn & hay sold from the Manor were valued at 50-Marks.  At the end of the 13thC the Steward of the Manor, then in the hands of the Earl of Cornwall, accounted for wheat, oats, rye, barley, maslin & drage; no leguminous crops were mentioned.  The same crops were recorded in the Accounts of the Rectory Estate of Oseney Abbey,  and since both Earl and Rector received part of the crops of the Tenants, these crops must have been typical of the Agriculture of the Parish below the Hill.  A good proportion of the grain produced on both the Principal Manor and the Rectory Manor was Sold, while receipts from the sale of stock were small. The Earl of Cornwall’s Demesne Farm was one of the largest in Watlington. The valuations show that the Soil was not exceptionally fertile: in 1272 the Arable (303½a) was said to be worth 4d an acre, the 12-acres of meadow 6d an acre, and the 14-acres of pasture 3d an acre.  In 1278 136 qrs of wheat were sold, 54-qrs of barley & lesser quantities of other grain.  In this year, as in 1286 & 1297, over half the total receipts came from sales of grain produced on the Lord’s own Farm and received from Tenants, i.e. £55-3s-6d, £35-0s-10¼d & £48-4s-11d in the respective years.  Other receipts from Agricultural sources came from the sale of Pasture in the Fields & Park; from pannage, known in Watlington as gresenese;  from fruit, which with herbage in the Garden was said to be worth 6d. in the 1272 Survey; and from the sale of Wood from the Park, which fetched £12-5s-10d in 1278.  The Customary gifts of Hens & Eggs from the Earl’s Tenants were also sold.  Assize Rents made up only some £10 of the receipts in any one year and the sale of the Villeins’ Customary Works usually came to £6-12s-8d.

The Rectory Farm with 8-Virgates was only about 1/3rd the size, but it, too, was mainly an Arable farm, although much of the produce was augmented by Tithes.  In the half-year ending Michaelmas 1280, well over 2/3rds (i.e. £6-18s-1d) of the receipts came from sales of grain & malt, of which 21½ quarters of wheat came from the ‘new grange‘ and 7-qrs 1 bus from Tenants. Oats, barley, & maslin on this Farm went largely in fodder for the Steward’s Horses or in food for the Farmhands.  Sixty years later, in an Account Roll for part of 1340, the Canons received £5-5s-d from the sale of grain.

Sheep were an integral part of Open-field farming in this area and the Chiltern Pastures must always have supported large flocks in the Middle Ages, as they did in later times.  Few references to Sheep farming, however, occur in the Accounts of the Manors either of the Earl of Cornwall or of Oseney Abbey, but this may be because their land lay below the Hills.  In 1270 the Earl’s Reeve accounted for 21-sheep, 17-hoggasters or yearlings, and 25-fleeces. In 1280 Oseney Abbey’s Reeve accounted for wool, and 14th & 15thC accounts record expenditure on tar, hurdles, shearing & washing.  In the 14thC John de Stonor (d.1354) had 80-acres in Watcombe which stocked 100-sheep: as the Land was worth only 1d an acre it must have been mainly Pasture and probably above the Hill.  The most striking evidence for Sheep Farming comes from a Court Roll of 1393 when 4-Watlington Tenants were fined for grazing Pasture on the Stonor Estate in Watlington & Watcombe with flocks of 80-sheep & 10-lambs, 100-sheep, 80 sheep & 40 sheep respectively.  There is some evidence from an earlier 14thC Court Roll of trouble with Watlington Tenants over Pasture Rights: in 1331 no fewer than 22 persons were Cited for Trespass in the Stonor’s corn and Pasture; in 1363 about 16 people had trespassed in their Meadow and Pasture.  The Stonors’ well-known interest in Sheep Farming and the sale of Wool may have been responsible for the virtual disappearance of Warmscombe & of Watcombe Hamlets.  In 1279 the Hundredal Survey recorded that one of the Villeins at Warmscombe had to help shear & lift the sheep.  There is no record of what happened when the Land became Stonor Property, but Warmscombe ceased to be Taxed separately in the 16thC, and there were only 3-houses returned there for the 1662 Hearth Tax,  while Watcombe had become no more than a name.

16thC Tax Lists show that Estates were on the whole comparatively small and were mainly in the hands of Yeoman Farmers.  For the subsidy of 1523, for example, there were no outstanding Contributors: out of the 50 persons Assessed in Watlington the largest sum contributed was £1; 10-persons paid 2s to 10s & 39, a Quarter of them Labourers, paid under 1s.  Of the 7 Contributors in Greenfield 3 paid 4s to 6s-8d  For the subsidy of 1577 out of the 19 Assessed, 3 Estates in Watlington were Rated at sums ranging from £8 to £12, but almost all the rest were rated at £3 or £4.  As in the earlier 14thC Tax Lists, the Assessment of the Parish was unexpectedly low.  Edward Nash may be taken as an example of the prosperous Yeoman Farmer of the 16thC: his Family was established in the Parish in the late 15thC and in 1523 he held Watcombe Manor Site and 71-acres for a Rent of £3-6s-1d.  His descendants in the 17thC were important Yeoman Farmers.

There is no Survey of the Crown Manor before 1608, when the Rent from Free Tenants was £6-6s-d and from Customary Tenants £28-19s.  In c.1616 there were some 35 Customary Tenants of this Manor with Holdings ranging from 4 to 93-acres, 4-Leaseholders & 19-Freeholders with Holdings of 4 to 300-acres.  Customary Tenants held by Copy of Court Roll and took up their Holdings for one Life with freedom to nominate a 2nd & a 3rd life; a wife could succeed her husband and could be followed by the eldest son or daughter or next-of-kin.  Tenants of the Manor included both Yeomen & Gentry.  The Oveys of Greenfield held over 125-acres and other Watlington Tenants held farms of 63, 77, 80, and 93-acres;  Richard Yardley, a Gentleman, held Dame Alice Farm with 140-acres; Sir John Simeon was Tenant of Howe Farm (300a) and of another 120-acres, and Sir Barentine Molyns held Watlington Park (220a).  The rateable value of Holdings in the Parish is given in a Copy made about 1640 of ‘an ancient Book of Rates‘: Simon & John Bartlett had 8-Yardlands; 3 others had between 2 & 3½-Yardlands; 7 people held 1 or 1½-Yardlands, and 10 had under 1-Yardland.  At the end of the 17thC the highest Rates in Watlington were paid by the Owners of the Parsonage, by the Nashes, Yeomen & Traders of Watlington, by the Eustaces, Lords of Watcombe Manor, by the Adeanes, Lords of Britwell Salome, and by the Tooveys.  In Greenfield, the Stonors of Watlington Park, the Simeons of Greenfield (Lower Greenfield Farm), and the Oveys of Upper Greenfield Farm (later Lambourn’s) paid the highest Church Rates.

The rapid rise of Husbandmen & Yeomen is well demonstrated in the history of the Toovey and Ovey Families. In the course of the 17thC, the Tooveys came into possession of a number of Farms in Watlington and the neighbourhood and acquired Gentle Rank & much influence.  In 1665 John Toovey, Tenant of the Howe & Dame Alice Farms, had a fair-sized house with 4-Hearths in Watlington and Peter Toovey had a House with 3-Hearths.  John Toovey ‘of Northend‘ was Tenant by 1666 of the Stonors’ Christmas Farm in Greenfield.  Another branch of the Family was represented by Sampson Toovey, who had over 100-acres of Land in Greenfield by 1653 and a House there with 4-Hearths in 1665.  His son, John Toovey of Swyncombe, purchased the Howe & Dame Alice Farms and both he & his sons were described as Gentlemen in 1718. Another son of Sampson Toovey, Samuel Toovey Esq. (d.1712), succeeded to the Greenfield Property and was also an important Farmer in Shirburn.  His son Richard, described in 1732 as a Gentleman, was a London Merchant & Norwich Factor.

The Oveys, a Yeoman Family, had been established in Watlington since the 16thC at least.  Thomas Ovey (d.1595) of Greenfield had moveables worth £93-8s-4d and his implements included 8 Ploughs & Harrows.  The John Ovey, Yeoman of Greenfield (d.1614), who left goods valued at £252-16s-10d was probably his son and another John Ovey had a substantial House rated at 6-Hearths in 1665.

In the late 17thC Watlington as a Market Town was naturally more populous than the Rural Parishes of South Oxfordshire, but it was probably only about half the size of Henley. For the Hearth Tax of 1665 there were 87 contributors at Watlington, and 11 in Greenfield & Warmscombe, a total of 98 for the Parish compared with 230 at Henley.  What the relative number of Cottagers who escaped Taxation was is not known.  In the Compton Census of 1676, there were 760 names listed for Watlington compared with 1,258 for Henley.  In 1718 Rawlinson stated that there were about 272-houses and in 1738 the Vicar estimated 260 odd houses & cottages in the whole Parish.  In the 1770‘s, however, there were said to be about 200-houses, but there is no other indication of a decline in Population.

In 1785 there were about 12-Proprietors who had Property with Rentals of over £20; of these, 3 farmed themselves and the others Let to Tenants.  The Chief Landowners in the Parish at the end of the 18thC were the Hornes, Lords of Watcombe & Ingham Manors, whose Rental in Watlington came to £452-10s. and who paid 2/9ths of the Watlington Land Tax;  their Property, which included Dame Alice & Watcombe Farms, was held by Tenant Farmers.  The Tilsons of Watlington Park had Property valued at £385 in Watlington and paid 1/5th of the Land Tax there, but 2/3rds of this was for Tithe; in Greenfield, they paid almost 1/3rd of the Total Tax of £58-13s-4d.  Lord Macclesfield of Shirburn Castle, another large Proprietor in the Parish, whose Estate had been, built up in the 18thC,  held mainly Town Property, with a rental of £50 and Farmland worth £16.  There were a large number of other Owners & Tenants, e.g. in 1785, there were 118 Proprietors in all in Watlington, of whom 53 were Owner-occupiers and 61 Tenants.  Among the Chief Tenant Farmers at the end of the 18thC were the Hines of the Howe, the Wigginses of Watcombe Manor & Dame Alice Farms, the Braceys & Johnsons and Haywards who were also Brewers.  The Haywards were particularly noticed by Arthur Young for their Hop-growing for use as Manure  and between 1810 & 1812 William Hayward, with the generous support of his Landlord I H Tilson, was responsible for Building one of ‘the most completely & conveniently arranged Farming Premises in the County and perhaps excelled by none in the Kingdom‘.  In Greenfield, the Weld Property of Lower Greenfield Farm or ‘Greenfield Manor‘, which was 304-acres in 1827, was occupied, and after 1797, owned by Edward Goodchild; and Lambourn’s Farm (later Upper Greenfield) which was held by the Lambourns from the early 18th century at least, was held by a Tenant by 1785.  There were a number of smaller Farmers in the Parish still, and a Parish Rate Book of 1800 listed some 30-people occupying Land valued at £10 and under.  Despite Inclosure in 1814, the general picture altered little in the 1st Quarter of the 19thC.  In 1826, when the Property was described more fully in the Land Taxes, about 130-people were assessed on House Property or small amounts of Land; 13 had Land assessed at under 10s and about 14 had Land & Property with Rentals of over £50 and assessed at over £2.  The Hornes’s successor, Henry Hulton, was the largest Landowner with a Rental of over £500, and the Tilsons & Lord Macclesfield still held large Properties.

Most of Watlington-below-the-Hill remained Open-field until the early 19thC.  A map of 1780 shows that the Arable extended on all sides of the Town and was divided into a number of Fields.  From documents of the 17thC on it is clear that the Management of the Open fields was Conservative and in 1612 the Crown Manor’s land was said to be ‘intermingled and mixed with diverse other Manors‘.  Much Land was still held in ½ & 1-acre strips and in 1714 a Tenement which included ‘the Site‘ of the Crown Manor had one lot of 5-acres and another of 4-acres distributed in 1 & ½-acre strips, as well as a consolidated 8-acres in Clayhill Field and 3 other 2-acre strips.  ‘Mere’ Balks or Boundary Mounds & Ditches separated the Holdings: in 1650 a Tenant was fined for cutting away part of the Mound between Lands, and in 1714 a ½-acre was described as ‘lying on linches between 2 mear balks‘.

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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 one 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 and Hundred Boundaries, Rivers and Streams, Towns and Villages, Parks, and 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.

The 1780 Map & Richard Davis’s map of 1797 show that there was a certain amount of Inclosure even below the Hill.  There was some near the Church, where the site of the Crown Manor lay, and near Ingham Lane and Watcombe Manor-House,  but most of the Inclosed land was farther South on the Foothills.  Dame Alice Farm was Inclosed and if a Hamlet was once sited here, early Inclosure would account for its disappearance, a supposition supported by Rawlinson’s statement in 1718 that land near Dame Alice Farm, ‘being lately grubbed and converted into arable, shows apparent plain tokens of housing‘,  Other Closes, called ‘Hill Closes‘, lay just South of the Icknield Way and may have been Medieval Assarts from Woodland (converted to Arable land).

In 1718 Watlington-below-the-Hill was ‘mainly cornfields‘; the Soil was described as ‘blackish‘ near the Town, while near and above the Icknield Way it was ‘of a more sandy nature and fit for turnips and barley‘.  Above the Hill the Inclosures were said to be ‘strong and clayish‘ while others were ‘chalky‘.  Some Woodland had been converted to Arable ‘of late years‘ and was said to bear good crops of wheat and peas for several years, followed by ryegrass & clover, ‘if well manured with fat moist chalk‘.  Peas and beans are not mentioned in 15thC Farm Accounts, but they were commonly grown in the 16th & 17thCs.  There is no evidence, however, that Watlington Farmers were aware of the virtues of the 4-course rotation advocated by later Agricultural Reformers, or that they had dispensed with a Fallow year: in 1614 John Ovey of Greenfield, for example, had 22 acres of fallow and 60 acres of crops.  Some hemp was also grown in the Parish by the 17thC and in 1635 the Vicar claimed Tithes of Hops, a crop which was later extensively cultivated by the successful Brewers, the Haywards.
The Red Lion Public House, Couching Street at the end of the 18thC was one of 6 Watlington Inns which came into the hands of the local Brewers, Haywards

Rawlinson called the Commons ‘the most remarkable privilege of this place‘.  A Survey of 1608 listed the Commons belonging to the Main Crown Manor: the ‘dry’ Common (300a) on Watlington Hill and Heath, Greenfield and Seymour (Sermont) Greens (40a), the Fleet (6a., which lay to the North of Watlington Town, and Herbage near the Knowle.  The Moor to the North of the Town also belonged to this Manor: 15thC records show Payments made by Tenants to graze their animals there,  and in about 1616 it was said to be Common from Pentecost (50th Day after Easter) to 25th March, Tenants paying 6d for a cow grazed there, 8d for a horse and 4d for a young beast. At that time Sir Barentine Molyns, Lord of Watcombe Manor, was the Tenant, but he sublet it to the Townsfolk, who paid £3-6s-8d a year for the Moor and the Toll of Fairs and Markets.  The Wastes of the Manor were only the Streets & Highways.  In 1718 Seymour, Greenfield & Christmas Greens, the Moor, and the Fleet were the Pasture Commons of the Parish; there were Pasture Commons & Commons of Estovers (i.e. the right to collect wood) in Watlington Heath & Britwell Heath, and of Estovers only in Maiden’s Grove (Minigrove).  The 17thC Inventories of the Ovey Family show that much of the Pasture must have been used for sheep grazing: John Ovey (d.1614) had 140 and another John Ovey (d.1660) had 190-sheep.  Meadow seems to have been scarce in Watlington, and in 1635 some of the Hay ground on the West of the Town was said to have been Ploughed up; in 1718, however, Property sold included 3-acres which had been converted to Pasture & Meadow.

Watlington Woods were extensive, but there is little record of their Management. In 1432 2-men were presented in Court for causing Waste & Destruction in Minigrove Wood by the making and selling of slats.  The Timber of Tenants of the Crown Manor was carefully surveyed in 1608 when some 18-Tenants had 1 to 4 ‘loades‘ of wood & brushwood in their Closes. Customary Tenants were to have sufficient timber to repair their Houses. The Survey of c.1616 was particularly eloquent on the State of Watlington Park, which it described as ‘for the most part mountaneous and barraine soyle‘ and planted with small timber trees, bushes & some underwood. The best Timber in Watlington was said to have been felled & universally wasted. There were 2-Coppices belonging to the Crown Manor, i.e. Greenfield (42a) & Christmas (3a); Greenfield Coppice had Pollard Beeches, young Hazel, and ‘sellable‘ Oaks, but was said to be ‘much abused by the browse of cattell and unfavourable felling‘.  There were Deer in the Park in 1725 when 11 wagon-loads of them were taken out in order to Stock Swallowfield (Berks).  The Land Taxes of the early 19thC show that the Woods in Greenfield accounted for at least a 1/3rd of the Tax paid.  They belonged to the Owners of Watlington Park, to the Stonors, who also held the Woods of the Dean & Chapter of Windsor, and to the Welds.  In 1880 there were 33-acres of the Dean & Chapter’s Queenwood in Greenfield; 64 acres of Wood on Howe Hill, belonging to the Fanes & Hines, 187 acres in Pope & Lambourn’s Wood belonging to the Rev C E Rucke-Keen, and 134 acres belonging to Watlington Park Estate.  The Woods were normally kept in the Landlord’s hands. Watlington Park Woods & Plantations (139a) consisted chiefly of Beech with some Oak, Pine, Fir, Chestnut & Cedar.  Extensive Woods (500a) belonging to the Parish lay in Maiden’s Grove.

The Inclosure Award of 1815 divided and Inclosed 1,535-acres. The Commissioners sold 50-acres of Watlington Moor & Common and of Northend common for £2,315 and allotted about 6-acres for Road Materials.  Thomas Weld, as Lord of Minigrove Manor, was given 3a-1r 26p for rights equal to a Moiety of a 16th of Minigrove Common in Watlington; and Thomas Stonor had 4a-3r as Lord of Stonor for a Moiety of a 1/16th of Commons at Northend, Christmas, Greenfield & Seymour Greens. Allotments (41a 1r 34p) for the Poor were equal to a 20th of the remaining Commons.  Henry Hulton, as Lord of Watcombe & Ingham Manors, received money for his Rights in Commons & Wastes in the Open Down Commons, which was to be equal to the remaining Moiety of a 16th of Northend Common, Christmas Common, Greenfield Green, & Seymour Green, and to the other Moiety of a 16th of other Commons.  Stonor and others received monetary compensation for Minigrove Common in the Liberty of Warmscombe & Swyncombe Parish.  The Great Tithes belonged to John Tilson of Watlington Park who received about 312-acres for Tithe on everything except the Woodland, and also another 148-acres for other Allotments.  Henry Hulton, Lord of Watcombe & Ingham Manors, was allotted 290-acres. Other Allotments were well under 100-acres: the Earl of Macclesfield had some 45-acres; 7 others received between 20 & 44 acres; 27 between 1 & 20 acres, and about 47 under 1-acre.

The Inclosure at Watlington coincided with the end of the Napoleonic War and great Social distress, but there is insufficient evidence to say whether it contributed to the distress or alleviated it.  The increase in Population in the 2nd Quarter of the 19thC from 1,479 in 1821 to 1,833 in 1831 is attributed mainly to Paupers, and in 1830 there was Rioting & Burning near Greenfield Farm because of the Low Wages.

The 1851 Census returned 16-Farmers in Watlington, Greenfield & Christmas Common, 7 of whom had under 75 acres.  Watlington Hill Farm, created out of the Inclosure Allotments for Great Tithes, Lower Greenfield, Watcombe Manor, & Dame Alice Farms were from 250 to 350-acres: between 11 & 18 Farmhands were employed on each.  Watlington Park Farm, the Howe, Mill Farm, Greenfield & Christmas Common Farms were between 100 & 175-acres, employing 6 to 11-Labourers each.  Apart from Watlington Town, there were a number of small Agricultural Communities in the Parish: at Christmas Common, where there were 9-Woodmen, about 19-Agricultural Labourers, an Innkeeper & Blacksmith; at Lower Greenfield & Howe Hill; and at Maiden’s Grove which was partly in Pishill.

Throughout the 19thC the typical Watlington Farm was Tenant-occupied: in 1880, for example, only Watlington Hill Farm was Owned by the Occupier.  The Watlington Park Estate at this time consisted of the Park (100a) and Land & Woods (139a) in hand, while about another 285-acres were held by 3-Tenant Farmers.  As in other Chiltern Parishes, the large Farm at the end of the 19thC was an Amalgamation of several Holdings.  In 1880 there were 6 Farms over 200-acres, and in 1897, when Watcombe Manor Estate was for Sale, William Wiggins was Tenant of Watcombe, Dame Alice & Mill Farms, i.e. over 600-acres in Watlington & Britwell Salome,  While in 1903 William Nash held both the Greenfield Farms.  The changes brought about by more intensive Farming can be seen in a description of Lower Greenfield Farm in 1881, when Arable Closes & Orchards had been made into larger Fields, e.g. 2 Closes in Greenfield, & an Allotment in Minigrove Scrubs & Peatmore Wood, ‘now grubbed up‘, formed one 70-acre Field.  There were still small Farms in Watlington: 2 of the Watlington Park Estate Farms in 1879 were under a 100-acres, and the Glebe Farm near Fleet Meadow was only 52-acres in 1920.  In 1960 there was one Farm of between 100 & 150-acres, 3 with under 300-acres, and one Farm between 500 & 700 acres.


As the Grass was poor on the Chalk of Watlington-below-the-Hill mixed Farming has been the general practice and good crops of wheat & barley are grown.  Good crops are also sometimes grown on the Hill, for there are occasional Fertile patches of land there.  In 1897 Watcombe Manor Farm, for example & Dame Alice Farms were predominantly Arable, and in 1901 Howe Farm was about 2/3rds Arable, including ‘the grubbing‘.  There may have been a slight change over to Pasture at the beginning of the 20thC for in 1914 there was 38%, permanent Pasture; 21% was under wheat, 16% under barley & 21% under oats.  Milk production increased with the demands of the London Market and in 1929 the Town was described as ‘the centre of an important agricultural and grazing area‘, sending ‘a large & increasing supply of Milk to London‘.  In the 1920’s 2-Truckloads were sent each morning.  After WW2 very few Farmers in the district kept Dairy Herds, but Beef farming became more popular and Stock was sent to Thame Market.  Sheep Farming, as elsewhere in the County, revived: in the early 20thC there had been such a decline in the Chiltern Area that in 1914 Watlington had only 26-sheep per 100-acres.  In this Century smaller Farmers turned to more specialised Farming such as Watercress Growing & Poultry Farming. Watercress was sent to Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Manchester, and Pheasants & Pheasants’ Eggs from 2-Farms, one of them the Game Farm of Messrs England Bros, in Greenfield, were sent to all parts of the UK & Ireland. When Watlington’s Goods were sent by Rail the Goods Traffic was worth £1,000 a year at its height in 1924, but eventually, Producers changed to Road Transport.   In 1960 Sugar-beet was grown and the Farmers opposed the closing of the Watlington Railway for Goods on the Grounds that it would affect its Carriage to Market.

Watlington Watermill on the Marl Brook, was a small 19thC Mill with the Miller’s House.  It is now converted and used as a Residence

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