A Curious Find in Shipton: 1985

Here is a short item from the very first Wychwoods History journal from 1985. Sometimes it seems we are never far from the curious and mysterious, right under our feet. This article was written by the late Norman Frost. A PDF of the full contents of our Journal No 1 is here to download.

Flight Lieutenant and Mrs Fair of The Hawthorns, Station Road, Shipton are two newer residents in Shipton and in the course of tidying a very neglected garden have made many interesting finds like, for example, Victorian bottle dumps.

Recently they made a most interesting discovery. They found about thirty cigar-shaped objects, each 3-4 inches long which tests proved to be calcareous in origin. They baffled every member of the Society who looked at them and were not identified until they were finally matched with a collection in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. It appears they are sea urchin spines (Heterocentrotus Mammillatus) which are found in the Indian and Pacific oceans where they were used as a form of coinage or for making necklaces and other decorations.

The hat decorated with seashells and sea urchin spines

Pitt Rivers Museum produced a photograph of one of their exhibits – a wooden hat from Polynesia decorated with seashells and sea-urchin spines around the brim. The hat was carved from a single piece of wood and was used as a form of ceremonial headgear by the local kings. It was presented by the King of Sonsoral Island to a visitor when the SS Medora visited the island in 1884. So at last we know what they are! I hope no one asks how they got here.

The Shipton Prebend: An Early History

The following article by Anthea Jones was published in the 1995 Wychwoods Local History Society Journal No10. It asks some interesting questions about the origins of the Shipton prebend, and charts the political background to the development of the Prebendal in Shipton. The article is also available as a PDF here.

The Seventeenth Century Puzzles over Shipton Prebend

Anthea Jones

The fortunes of Shipton prebend during the seventeenth century provide an insight into national political events. A prebend is a ‘provision’ of income for a cathedral canon. In Shipton’s case, the provision had been made for a canon of Salisbury Cathedral who owned the land and drew the tithe income which had once been allocated to the Rector or Parson. A canon of Salisbury was thus Rector of Shipton, and the Rectory or Parsonage House can also properly be called the Prebendal House.  

There are several historical puzzles about the Shipton prebend. One puzzle concerns the statement that the prebend was ‘annexed’ to the Regius Professorship of Civil Law at Oxford by Act of Parliament in 1617. No parliament was called between 1614 and 1621 and so there could be no act of parliament in 1617. James I found parliament an exceptionally difficult institution, and as far as possible he avoided summoning it. He commented that:   

‘I am surprised that my ancestors should ever have permitted such an institution to come into existence. I am a stranger and found it here when I arrived, so that I am obliged to put up with what I cannot get rid of.’   (1)

The statement about an act of 1617 being concerned with Shipton prebend is made in a number of books including the Victoria County History of Wiltshire volume III (published 1956), which in turn had drawn the information from the register of office holders of Salisbury Cathedral published by W.H. Jones in 1879. In fact, James I had given the Shipton prebend to the Oxford Professor of Civil Law by his own authority. He issued a Letter Patent or ‘open’ letter on 20 March in the fifteenth year of his reign. The document is in the archives of the University of Oxford held in the Bodleian Library. It is endorsed by the archivist ‘1618’.  As James succeeded to the English throne on 24 March, his fifteenth year ran from 24 March 1617 to 23 March 1618, so the grant was made in 1618. (2) The canon of Salisbury who held the Shipton prebend, George Proctor, had died in 1617, which had given James I his opportunity, and hence no doubt Jones’ assumption about the date of the grant.  

The Letter Patent recites in Latin how interested James I was in encouraging learning in his University of Oxford, and in particular his special favour towards the Professor of Civil Law, whose stipend he had supplemented with the Shipton prebend. He therefore granted the prebend to the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University, and they were to appoint the Regius Professor to it whenever it should become vacant; the Letter Patent said specifically that the man need not be in holy orders, despite the fact that he was to be rector of Shipton and a canon of Salisbury.

As the King appointed the Regius Professor in the first place, it was a mere formality for the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars to appoint to the prebend, but it was this aspect of the arrangement which was apparently later regularised by an Act of Parliament, because the King had effectively given away his traditional right of appointment. The Regius Professor accordingly enjoyed the revenues of the Rectory of Shipton for the next 237 years, until 1855, when the recently created Ecclesiastical Commission investigated and reorganised Salisbury’s income and the prebend reverted to the church.  

The connection of Shipton with Salisbury Cathedral was not broken in 1618, it was merely the nature of the appointment which was changed. As the Bishop of Salisbury wrote later in the century, the Regius Professor was still “presented to the Bishop, obliged to take the oath of canonical obedience to the Bishop, to preach in the Cathedral church, to pay stall wages etc. and to perform all other things, as other Prebendaries are obliged. (3) (Stall wages were paid to vicars choral of the cathedral).    

The Professor of Civil Law appointed Shipton’s vicar and was responsible (as rectors always were) for the upkeep of the chancels of Shipton and Ascott churches, and he paid the stipend of ‘such as serve the cure in the church of Ascot’. (4)

The vicar of Shipton was also paid a stipend but in addition had a small estate of land and some of the parish’s tithes for his maintenance. It appears from a lease of 1641 that the rector or prebendary was also responsible for the upkeep of part of the bridge leading to Chipping Norton. (5)

The Regius Professor of Civil Law in 1618 was John Budden and he therefore became rector of Shipton and canon of Salisbury.  In 1620 Richard Zouch succeeded him, and he was still in office when the estate was confiscated by Parliament. During the Civil War between Parliament and Charles I, the Church of England was transformed into a presbyterian church, and archbishops and bishops, and deans and chapters of cathedrals were abolished.    

The victorious Parliament set about selling the episcopal estates in 1650, to which end they were first carefully surveyed. In Shipton, the five parliamentary commissioners found 40 acres of arable land in the common fields, 25 acres of wood, that is half Stockley coppice, and 14 acres of pasture and meadow, together with the Parsonage house, barns and outhouses valued at £35. The tithes of grain, hay and wool in the parish, ‘which parish doth comprehend the several villages or tithings of Shipton, Milton, Lyneham, Leafield, Ramsden, Langley and part of Ascot’ were worth £303. Dr Fox, doctor of physic of Fetter Lane, London, leased the estate from Dr Zouch for £50 per annum. The vicar’s income was estimated at £40.00 (6)

After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 the Bishop. Dean and Chapter of Salisbury recovered their Shipton estate. In 1661 a new lease was made by the Regius Professor, now Dr Giles Sweit, with James Stocke of Waltham Abbey, yeoman. (7) All the routine expenses, including forty shillings ‘stall wages’, were to be met by the lessee. There was an interesting obligation of hospitality which was also passed on from the prebendary to the lessee. Every Sunday and festival day. James Stocke

‘…. shall invite and entertain and have to his Table att Dinner and supper two couple of honest and neediest persons being dwellers in the said parish, allowing them sufficient Meat and Drink for their Relief to the Intent good hospitality may be kept and maintained within the said Mansion place.

Was this medieval tradition actually observed?  


1 S.R. Gardiner, History o f England 1603-1642 ii, 251.  

2 Bodleian Library/WPg/10/1.  

3 Bodleian Library/Tanner MS 143 f. 103.  

4 Oxfordshire Archives/Misc. Winch.1/1.  

5 Oxfordshire Archives/Misc. Su. XLII/1.  

6 Oxfordshire Archives/Gen.XXV/ii/1.  

7 Oxfordshire Archives/Misc.Winch.I/1.

Prebendal House, Shipton: Archaelogical Review

The following article appeared in the Wychwoods Local History Society Journal Number 4, published 1988. It features an in-depth study of the development of the building and its fabric.

This image of the Prebendal was published with the article, with accompanying reminder of the work carried out on the building in 1912.

The text of the article is also available here as a PDF

Prebendal House, Shipton under Wychwood
Senior Field Officer, Oxford Archaeological Unit

Prebendal House and its ancilliary buildings stand in an acre of garden on the east side of the village of Shipton under Wychwood. The plot is roughly rectangular, lying between the churchyard of St Mary’s Church and the flood plain of the river Evenlode. The property was formerly approached from the direction of the modern village green via Church Street, but a new entry from the north-west was established in the mid-19th century and has now become the main approach to the replacement front door in the 20th century east extension.

Following a succession of private owners, the house and grounds have been acquired by Dr and Mrs N. Clarke on behalf of Mitrecroft Ltd for conversion to a complex of sheltered accommodation including residential and nursing care facilities. The necessary alterations are designed to make minimum visual impact on the impression of a Cotswold manor house. There will however, inevitably be major internal works to provide seven suites of bedroom, bathroom, sitting room and kitchen, 24 bedsitting rooms with bathrooms en suite, and various communal rooms. The tithe barn is to be restored and refurbished to provide an indoor swimming pool and concert hall/theatre.

The house itself exhibits several architectural features which indicate medieval origins. The bam has been compared with major Oxfordshire 15th-century barns such as Adderbury, Swalecliffe and Upper Heyford, and there are medieval features in the range of small buildings dividing the two. The complex as a whole is roughly what would be expected of a rectory in any rural parish, with a domestic area and a separate barn area for the storage of tithed produce. Assuming that it is included in the Domesday valuation of £72 for the Royal Manor of Sciptone in 1086, it may indeed have begun life as a rectory, either on this site or nearby.

Location of Prebendal House and the old vicarage in the modern village of Shipton

The first surviving reference which can be seen to relate to this property or its predecessor is between 1111 and 1116, in a writ which implies that Shipton church had been granted to Salisbury Cathedral since the accession of Henry I (ie after 1100). It had been given by Amulf (or Arnold) the Falconer ‘for his son Humphrey’. Amulf was probably a royal officer, and may have been the king’s representative on the royal estate of Shipton. By extension therefore, his son Humphrey may have been the rector, who would have been a wealthy man on the valuation of 45 marks (£30), one of the twenty richest manors of any sort in Oxfordshire on Domesday valuations. Perhaps Humphrey wanted to join the chapter of Salisbury cathedral as a canon, and to pave the way for this his father asked the King to grant the revenue from his rectory to the cathedral in perpetuity. The church, the rectory and the glebe lands would thereby have become a ‘prebend’ of the cathedral, and the canon the first ‘prebendary’ of Shipton. The details are mere supposition, but the story is typical of the way in which cathedrals and monasteries were increasing their revenues in the post-Conquest period by acquiring interests in outlying manors.

The general plan of Prebendal House may therefore date back to a formative period in English history. The new owners were pleased to take advantage of the proposed alterations to learn more about the house, and thereby to provide their future residents with a historical perspective in their new surroundings. The Oxford Archaeological Unit was in turn pleased to conduct a series of small excavations aimed at sampling the deposits beneath the various ranges of buildings, to provide archaeological evidence for a review of its history. The Unit is very grateful to members of the Wychwoods Local History Society for their practical assistance organised by Margaret Ware, to John Rawlins for keeping a regular watch on what was disclosed by the contractor’s work and for his tireless research on the recent history of the property, and finally to Joan Howard-Drake for making available to the Unit her file of papers on its early history.

Shipton under Wychwood on the road from Burford to Chipping Norton (Davis Map 1797)
Shipton under Wychwood on the road from Burford to Chipping Norton (Davis Map 1797)

A small trench in the kitchen was designed to study deposits in the north-west corner of the medieval ‘hall’, which has been identified by the large late 13th/early 14th century blocked window in its west gable facing the church. A second trench in the adjoining lobby was designed to seek similar deposits in the north wing. There was no significant medieval build-up on either side of this wall, Feature (F) 306, but it was instructive to see that the threshold of a small ‘Gothick’ communicating doorway was originally at a level where it could have provided an opening from a medieval hall into a courtyard.

The interpretation of this range as the medieval ‘hall’ rests on the blocked window and the massiveness of the west and north walls. The chamfered course shared by the foundation of the west and south walls was not seen to the north, perhaps because this was a more mundane facade. The east wall of this block (F306/1) was seen in contractor’s excavations for a new partition wall, and alongside it were several human burials on a similar alignment to the church. These add to the many burials reported in the past from this part of the property, and show that the house was built over part of an older churchyard. A second partition footing to the west showed deeper fill of a ditch-like feature which may have divided two parts of the old churchyard; the only burial here was much deeper, and lying along the ditch roughly at a right angle to the church. The ditch may have still been visible when the first stone building was planned, because the footing was taken much deeper here (F306).

The Excavation: the ‘chapel’ and garage building (Figure 1, Area II)

The trenches were designed to look at deposits which are to be disturbed by the proposed dining rooms. By extending trenches within the garage and courtyard it was possible to reveal much of the plan of a late medieval building slightly broader than the existing one (built in 1900) but offset by about 3 metres to the south. The stonework of the foundations had been largely robbed out (F20S, 210, 211/2) but the standing west gable of the garage could easily be a medieval survival (F210/2). Within the medieval building was a thick accumulation of ashy floor yielding minute fragments of Tudor-type pottery, fragments of eggshell and a charred grain of barley (Layers (L) 201, 202 etc). This suggests domestic occupation, although there were three large hollows dug into the floor which might argue that there had been an industrial usage which for some reason had left no material traces (F203, 206, 208). A partition was later added, possibly a screened through-passage (F212).

Figure 1: Courtyard of Prebendal House showing archaeological trenches and medieval standing structure. (Note:In the text, feature and layer numbersare prefixed by F and L)

Most of the medieval finds came from this area. Bruce Levitan (environmental archaeologist, Oxford University Museum) reports that there were many bone fragments, mainly sheep and cattle, but including rabbit, goose, domestic fowl, wild duck and bony fish. Maureen Mellor (pottery researcher, Archaeological Unit) was interested to find that the medieval sherds were thicker, coarser and greyer than previous groups from Shipton, and there was nothing which closely resembled “Wychwood Ware”.

She suggests two possible reasons – either the sherds belong to a period which we have not seen from Shipton before, or they have come from vessels with a specialised function in the barnyard area. The absence of Wychwood ware may mean that the Prebendal household could afford better, either fine vessels from Brill in Buckinghamshire (3 sherds) or even metal vessels. Maureen hopes that her Survey of Oxfordshire Pottery will answer some of these questions.

Most interesting in this area was a substantial north-south wall sealed beneath the building F214 (not on plan), immediately west of F212. It appears to have had metalled surfacing to the west but nothing to the east, and is therefore tentatively suggested as an early curtain wall to the prebendal house at a time when perhaps the flood-free land may have been no more than a narrow strip against the churchyard.

If this was indeed the line of an early boundary wall it was clearly pushed eastwards in medieval times by the tithe bam (cruck trusses circa mid-14th century) and by the excavated building (not earlier than late 13th century on pottery evidence). New buildings of this period would explain the existence of two perpendicular doorways and windows which have been reset in the east facade of the 1900 building. These are reputed to have come from the ‘chapel’, but there is no clear indication where this was. Certainly the later use of the excavated building was domestic and it seems to have been described as a ‘barn’ by the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society in 1870. The description seems to imply that the medieval doorways and windows were originally in the south elevation of this building, ie in the wall F20S, and it was perhaps this which gave rise to the term ‘chapel’.

The Excavations: the ‘Romanesque building’ and farmyard (Figures 1 and 2, Areas I and IV).

Figure 2: The ‘Romanesque’ building; left, internal elevation of west gable; right, external elevation of north wall; top, reconstruction of early 13th-century granary

The most interesting surviving structure in the present north range is a small building with several Romanesque features recognised by John Blair of the Queen’s College, Oxford. The features include two shallow pilasters rising to first floor height (F5/6, S/9), a distorted round-headed doorway (F5/7), and a fragment of an impost which presently supports a timber lintel. Excavation has established that:

1. The pilasters are attached to free-standing piers which themselves rise through two storeys. Their overall height and the presence of supporting pilasters distinguish them from several other examples of square stone columns which support open-fronted farmyard-type buildings on the property.

2. The walls of the building have shallower foundations than these piers, and are therefore in the nature of infill panels between them. Architectural features of the walls therefore cannot necessarily be used to date the original construction of the pier building, even if they were assumed to be in their original location (which is questionable for at least the round-headed arch F5/7).

3. The floor levels within the adjoining range of buildings to the west had been dug at some time to give headroom and drainage for a stable floor which existed by the 18th century (L4). Any pre-existing medieval floors of this range are likely to have been removed in this process and consequently the excavation could not be expected to show original surfaces.

The ‘Romanesque building’ therefore consisted originally of free-standing stone piers 60cm (2ft) square, buttressed by 7cm (3in) pilasters to the first storey (F5/6, S/9). Incorporated in the upper part of each pier is an arrangement of three oak timbers running right through the pier east-west, and a further two running north- south, let into both the east and west faces. These immediately suggest composite supports for a first floor, and their location means they must have been inserted when the upper piers were built. A building raised on such high piers could well have been a granary, but as such it would be very unusual in an area where the familiar type of granary is raised no more than 60-90cm on ‘staddle stones’. This exaggerated height, coupled with the interesting, slightly stylised buttressing provided by the pilasters, could mean that the piers are very rare survivors of a 12th to early 13th-century granary. They survive principally because the infill panel (F5/8) formed a wall which was on a convenient alignment to be reused in successive farmyard buildings.

The granary is assumed to have been two bays wide at least, and subsequent infilling between the piers would have created a useful space. Eventually however it must have been replaced by buildings used for stabling animals, like that now surviving. This may have happened in medieval times, because a drip-course at a high level in the west gable of the adjoining garage building (F210/2) suggests that this was an external wall face, rather than something built against the end of a pre¬existing granary.

The Area IV trench was dug against the churchyard wall with the assistance of the Wychwoods Local History Society. It exposed the foundations (F402) and sloping floor makeup of an agricultural building shown on the 19th-century maps, probably of no antiquity. Most interesting was a ditch (F404), parallel to the churchyard wall, and yielding early medieval pottery. Was this an early division of the churchyard continuing that beneath the hall range? It seems possible.

The Shape of the Medieval Manor House

From the archaeological and topographical evidence it is possible to produce a plan of Prebendal House for the post-medieval period, and to extrapolate back to the medieval without stretching the evidence too far. The house would have occupied the strip of land between churchyard and floodplain, as previously recognised by Paul Drury (Inspector of Ancient Monuments, English Heritage). Early Saxon grass-tempered pottery in secondary deposits implies that there had been early settlement nearby, perhaps associated with a river crossing, but there was nothing to suggest any continuity of settlement through the Saxon period. If there was a rectory at Shipton before about 1100-16, it need not have been on this site, and human burials under the house and elsewhere suggest that part of the property was cut out of the Saxon churchyard. Perhaps therefore in the 12th or 13th centuries the churchyard was reorganised, making space for a house fronting onto Church Street, with a ditch demarcating the boundary between the two.

This gives a historical framework, and means that what is known of the house can be usefully compared with, for instance, the Bishop of Salisbury’s 12th-century houses at Old Sarum and Sherborne Castle. The former is sure to have been known to the incumbent when the property became a prebend of Salisbury in circa 1127. Both this and Sherbourne were built round very compact courtyards of between 30-40 metres outside dimensions.

The two ranges surviving at Shipton in 1839 (tithe map) could reflect a tradition of a quadrangle of buildings around the south lawn. Its proximity to Church Street may be significant. The street leads off the area of the modem village green and is now a cul-de-sac, but has many of the characteristics of a main road through the village leading to a river crossing and up the hill towards Chipping Norton. This would give additional significance to the frontage. No doubt there would need to be an access to the rear part of the property, where there may already have been a barnyard.

The Salisbury houses quoted above are both ‘castles’, and it is important to note that in a 12th-century setting many manor houses of the size of the Shipton prebend would have been fortified against the anarchy of Stephen’s reign (1135- 54). One need look no more than two miles downstream from Shipton to find two sites on the same bank of the Evenlode which were provided with impressive earthworks (Ascott Earl and Ascott D’Oilly).

The lack of earthworks may indicate that the Shipton prebend was comfortably protected by a fortress elsewhere in the village, perhaps the royal manor, wherever that may have been. It might be argued of course that such defensive works were restricted to secular magnates who were involved in the political hurly-burly of the period, but the sheer wealth of the prebend would make it a subject for protection.

On the other hand the lack of defences may simply mean that the rectory was elsewhere in the 12th century, and it is interesting to note that the 1870 visit by the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society concluded that it was the vicarage, ISO metres to the south, which had the defences. Could it be that when Elias Ridell presented the first recorded vicar in 1227, the vicar took over the existing prebendal house, and a new house was built on part of the churchyard? This would fit the assumed dating of the earliest tangible remains, the granary piers.

Tithing of an estate the size of Shipton must have produced large quantities of grain, all requiring storage in dry vermin-free conditions. The granary would have been at least three bays long and probably two bays wide along one side of the barnyard. Since the structures are unprecedented, it is a little difficult to be categorical about their date.

The stone is heavily weathered so that the tooling has almost disappeared, but it is apparently not as consistently diagonal as would be expected of 12th-century ashlar. I am therefore indebted to John Blair’s opinion that such slender pilasters have no place in Gothic architecture.

Even when applied to a free-standing pier as in this case, we agree that they must be Romanesque and hence no later than the early 13th century. In time the ground area beneath the granary could have been used for storing other materials and equipment, leading to the construction of walls between the piers, for weather¬proofing and security. This point may have been reached by the mid-14th century, perhaps the time of a major building programme which saw the construction of the great barn in its original timber form.

The shape of the barnyard would by this time have been well established. The layout was to be completed by a late medieval building continuing the line of the granary eastwards. The contrast between the thick carpet of ash in this building and the cleanliness of the floors of the hall range may indicate a difference in function, but the ash does not necessarily mean an industrial usage. Similar floors occur commonly in medieval domestic buildings in Oxford, and it is not impossible that this was in fact the residence of an official concerned with the administration of the prebendal barnyard.

It is ambitious to attempt to tell the history of such a complex building by digging a few holes in one area but this is the way that research on medieval buildings is likely to go in the future, and the exercise must be seen as a challenge.

There can be no doubt that the property has been taken out of the churchyard, possibly in the early 12th century but more likely around 1227. The only building of the period is the putative granary, but the existing hall or chamber block could have been built within a century of the later date, and both the barn in its timber form and the Area II building not long after.

The new discoveries also focus interest on the vicarage site, as a possible predecessor of the prebendal house. The most memorable thing to the writer however is the present north range of buildings.

The western room has been converted from a cowshed or stable, while adjoining it is the extraordinary little square building presently used as a passageway, with a re-set or deliberately faked Romanesque arch for one doorway, while the opposite wall retains two piers of a less ostentatious piece of true Romanesque building, the granary. And the range is completed by a 20th-century double garage, which is known as a ‘chapel’ by virtue of a medieval doorway which has been built into its east end, and which is now to become the kitchen. It could almost have been designed as an archaeological obstacle course.

Prebendal House showing medieval structure, with overlay of buildings shown on tithe map of 1839
Figure 3: Prebendal House showing medieval structure, with overlay of buildings shown on tithe map of 1839

Sources and References
Discussion of the date of the foundation of the prebend is in E. J. Kenley’s Roger of Salisbury (1972), 234-5.

Details of the tithe barn are taken from reports by J. Steane and M. Taylor for Oxfordshire Department of Museum Services (PRN 11755), and by P. Drury for English Heritage.

Notes on the house in the 19th century are from an excursion by North Oxford Archaeological Society in 1870, and Froc. Oxford Architectural and Historical Society N. S. Vol. 2 (1869), 132-5.

For identifications of bone and pottery I am indebted to Bruce Levitan and Maureen Mellor respectively.

Early 1960s Milton School Memories

At the Wychwoods Local History Society we are always delighted to receive local photographs to add to our archive.

Two fine pictures have come to the society recently, courtesy of our friends at Charlbury Museum. These are of the pupils and staff at Milton Primary School in the early 1960s.

Daphne Jeffs and Class 1961

Daphne Jeffs and Class 1961

Daphne Jeffs is pictured here with her class of 1961. Daphne taught at the Milton School from about 1955 to the early 60s, firstly under Mrs Pearce, and then under Mac Akers, at a time when head teachers lived in the head’s house on the school site. Headmistress Mrs Pearce was a fine Welsh lady, who had taught at Milton for many years and who had a reputation for discipline. Many parents of the children in these pictures would have been taught by her. She and her husband had moved to Milton from Wales in 1927. Mrs Pearce asked Daphne to take football lessons, so she had to learn the rules of soccer pretty quickly.

Two of her fellow teachers during this time were Mrs Bacchus, who had lived in Milton for many years, and Prue Nash, who lived at Idbury and drove to school in her bubble car, even though she was almost 6 ft tall!

Mr William (also known as Bill/Willie or Jimmy) James from Charlbury was a very jolly Welshman, who we think also taught at Milton for a couple of years as supply head. There is a story that he and Daphne once took the children for a nature walk to Bruern Woods one day and were horrified when some of the children came back to them proudly holding precious saplings to take back to school. Despite their attempts to replant the saplings, the ground was too dry!

Milton School 1960

Milton School 1960

Here we have a picture of the pupils and staff of the whole of Milton School, taken in 1960. The staff in this photo are Daphne Jeffs, Mac Akers, Judy Rowell and perhaps Mrs Bacchus?

Mrs Pearce’s son Colin continued to live in Shipton till his death in January 2020. Mac Akers left Milton to take up a headship in Woodley, Reading around 1962/3, and he died some years ago.

We would be pleased to hear from anyone who has stories to tell of these 1960s schooldays, and perhaps recognise themselves and friends in these pictures?

Ivan Wright & Family – Shipton Under Wychwood

by Lee Richardson

A photograph on the Wychwood’s Local History website prompted Lee Richardson to write this short biography of his relative, Ivan Wright. The photo shows the Wright family at harvest with John Francis Wright in the centre of the scene. John’s father was Ivan Wright, and a cousin of Lee’s grandfather.

Wright family haymaking 1938 George Bradley in white hat, John Francis Wright in shorts subsequently a victim of the second world war. Photo by Megan Bradley. The Wright family lived in the cottages just over Littlestock Brook

Ivan Wright

Ivan Wright was born in 1887 in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire. His father, Jack, was a native of Cheshire and in addition to being a farmer was also a greyhound trainer. It is through the greyhound connection that the family moved to Scotland. Jack Wright trained coursing greyhounds for Mr Leonard Pilkington of Cavens, Kirkbean and was appointed as farm manager to him.

Ivan Wright moved to London in the early part of the 20th century and joined the Metropolitan police force, in 1923 he married Edith Harris whilst serving as a constable in the city. They had one son, John Francis Wright born in 1925 in Romford, Essex.

The family association with coursing greyhounds goes back to Ivan’s grandfather who bred and trained dogs from the late 1870s onwards. Several of Ivan’s uncles and cousins successfully trained winners of the Waterloo Cup. Greyhound racing came to Britain from America in the late 1920s and according to the Greyhound Stud Book Ivan was listed as a public trainer of greyhounds whilst living at Ilford, Essex in 1935.

Ivan Wright as a young man

He appears to have retired from the force at some point and is listed in the 1939 register as living at the Kings Head, Chinnor, Oxfordshire with his family. Although they are the only people present at the address, his occupation is listed as Police Pensioner and not as Landlord. Three years earlier they had resided at The Royal Oak public house in the same area.

It is around this time that the family moved to Shipton Under Wychwood and the 1941 stud book lists Ivan Wright as living at Little Stock, Meadow Lane in the village. In addition to training greyhounds he is shown as owning several greyhounds.

Greyhound Stud Book samples, with Ivan’s listing

Disaster befell the family with the loss of John Francis Wright in 1944 whilst in Maidstone, Kent training as an officer cadet with the Royal Corps of Signals. He had attended Burford Grammar School and is mentioned as one of the fallen alumni at Christchurch College, Oxford. He is buried at St Mary’s churchyard.

As was common with the ownership of greyhounds Ivan gave his dogs registered names that started with his own initials: Indian Wave, Imperial Wave, Inky Wave, etc. I can perhaps only speculate but I suspect that Ivan Wright trained greyhounds for the sport of racing and possibly took them to the Oxford greyhound track which opened in 1939.

Stud Book entries, including names of greyhounds. Ivan’s wife’s middle name was Mary, and it seems she may have owned these dogs?

Ivan continued to train greyhounds at Shipton Under Wychwood until around 1950, his younger brother, Hardy Wright, saw some success in this era and trained Waterloo Cup winning greyhounds at Cummertrees, near Annan.

Ivan Wright passed away in 1971, his death being registered in Banbury and his wife Edith Mary Wright nee Harris died in 1996, her death was registered in West Oxfordshire.

Ascott Village Charity Booklet: Village History and Things to Know

A publication funded by the Ascott Village Charity can be seen here. The publication is offered courtesy of the charity. It highlights the fascinating and varied history of the village.

Ascott Earl Castle Looking South East: photo Hamish Fenton

The booklet contains a variety of maps and images. These include features of the village from Neolithic times and the later Iron Age. It describes Saxon field systems and also the Norman Age which saw the building of Ascott’s 12th Century Holy Trinity church. Also described is the founding of the Ascott Village Charity in 1480. Finally, the booklet also covers medieval, Victorian and 20th Century events and personalities.

All in all, this is a handy guide and is an inspiration to wander through the village and its surroundings and soak up its varied and deep past.

The booklet is available here as a PDF.

A Short History of Ascott-under-Wychwood
Copyright © Ascott Village Charity 2016
Thanks to Ascott Village Charity for permission to include this booklet. Not to be reproduced or distributed without the Charity’s written permission. Please check back with the Charity for any updates and amendments.

Shipton Memories: Jim Hudson

Here is an article by former Shipton resident Jim Hudson, which has been published in the Oxford Mail and also appears on the Wychwood Magazine website.


Jim Hudson

My name is Jim Hudson; I live in County Durham and work in ICT for a local council. Before that, I served all over the world in the Royal Navy and long before that and before my wanderings began, during the mid 1960s, I was a small child living with my parents in Shipton-under-Wychwood.

The Smiths’ Bus

Living at the top of Fiddler’s Hill in Cherry Tree Cottage, I would walk to St Mary’s School each morning and home again that evening usually on my own; this would be from the age of about five. Sometimes on the way home, if I was lucky, I would be picked up by the Smiths Industries’ bus taking workers home from the factory in Witney. I would walk down the length of the bus to where my Dad would be sitting and we would go home together. If I had missed the bus, I would walk home past an old hand-operated water pump.

During the summer (and it always seemed to be summer) I would stop to wash my face and hair, drinking the cool water as I did so. I remember at the School, one of the greatest honours was to be allowed to ring the school bell at dinnertime. A chain hung from the bell in a small bell-house at the top of the school, ran down a cast iron tube and into the hallway. I only remember being allowed to ring the bell once but I can still remember the feeling of importance. I must have been a very good lad that day.

Dinner time meant being served food that had been cooked and ferried in from Burford Primary School. It generally arrived in an open wagon during morning break, packed into large metal flasks. The drivers would employ all us kids to hump it off the wagon and into the kitchens, two kids to one flask. We finished the work and got stuck into the small one-third pints of milk we received mid-morning, small glass milk bottles and straws, served from battered metal crates.

Another Village!

On hot days, we were sometimes allowed to take the class desks and chairs outside into the courtyard. Again during the break, we sometimes stacked the tables up, one on top of another with chairs on top of that. We used this as a homemade climbing frame and called it ‘Table and Chairs play’. The teachers would stand by, telling us to be careful and not get ourselves hurt.

At Harvest Festival, we would all troop to church. Two by two, and it had to be boy next to girl – we were not allowed to walk next to our mates. At church we boys had to take off our school caps, girls of course could leave their bonnets on. Teachers fussed over us, making sure our hair was combed and our partings straight. They would spit on handkerchiefs and rub the muck off our faces.

Also once a term or so we would walk along the road – two by two again, all the way to Ascott-under-Wychwood School where we could bathe in their new bathing pool. It was three foot deep and outdoors. It was great fun, not only because we were splashing about in the water, but also because the whole class had walked all the way along a road to Ascott … and that was another village!

Hay-Bale Heaven

Outside of school, my mates and I would make camps and dens out of the hay bales in the fields. Staking them up, we would make structures two or even three storeys high. We helped the farmers to collect them at the end of the summer, riding on the open trailer and lifting the bales on. Above us, the Red Arrows aerobatic display team, based at Little Rissington, would be practising their next air display. I thought it was perfectly normal to have an air display nearly every day.

We spent long afternoons building go-carts from old tea chests and pram wheels. These carts were very special as you actually rode inside them rather like an armoured car. With a crew of two, one lad driving and one in the back with his head stuck out of a hatch, we ran them down Fiddlers Hill. Whoever was driving nearly always lost control at some point and crashed. We didn’t bother with brakes either, once the cart was going down the hill you could not stop it and you were therefore committed to experience whatever happened next. We certainly never worried about cars coming the other way. We were all grazed up and cut but it was great fun, we dusted ourselves down and pushed the cart back up for the next run.

I often think back to my time in Shipton, and surprise myself that I only lived there for about four years. Even now, so many years later I still consider myself as “growing up in Shipton” and consider it to be my spiritual home.

Are YOU in the Photograph?

Here is a photograph of Jim Hudson and classmates, dated on the back as 1967, so Jim would have been eight years old. He is the lad in check trousers, centre front. Second lad to the right of him is Duncan Barney and five to his left is Nigel Barrett.

So, are YOU in this photograph? Do let us know : Contact Us!

A Shipton Lad – Not just a Naughty Boy

Rob Taylor’s memories of Shipton 60 years ago, as told to Alan Vickers

Rob Taylor has lived in Shipton since 1958. His father came originally from Blockley and his mother from Longborough. Before Rob was born, his father, Charlie, had been working in Upper Milton for the Reynolds’. But by the time of Rob’s birth, in Moreton in Marsh hospital, his father was working for Bobby Bull in Bold, which was “three houses and a letterbox”. Rob’s first school was at Idbury and had just 15 pupils.

Rob Taylor

When Rob was 11, the family came to Shipton where his father was employed by Percy Holloway at Grove Farm. Rob’s two brothers got jobs with Dick Hartley, one as a pigman and the other as a shepherd. Eventually Rob’s father got a job as a length man for the Rural Council. This involved keeping the footpaths clear and maintaining ditches. His partner was a Mr Cox. They each had a spade and a bicycle. One of them would go off in the direction of Kingham and Churchill while the other would go as far as Fifield. Rob’s father was a keen follower of the local hunt and would always choose his working area according to whether the hunt was meeting. One of his jobs in the winter was to manually spread gritting from the back of a lorry and to roll out snow fencing to prevent drifting. This happened along the Chippy Road and along the Stowe Road. Rob remembers seeing snow almost the height of the telegraph poles at times. After the risk of snow drifts had gone, the wooden snow fencing would be rolled up again.

Rob’s father had always had a tied cottage while working on farms but was never in favour of this. When he got the job as length man, he had the opportunity to buy two cottages up on Fiddlers Hill – opposite where the telephone box is today. He was £50 short of the purchase price but Ken Early, one of his friends, lent him the money. The houses were separate dwellings – you had to come out of one to go into the other. There was no running water and no sewage although there was electricity. He remembered Gordon Duester living up there and using the shared outside tap.

Rob went for a short while to Shipton School, which he hated. Once he was put on coke shovelling duty by the Head Master, Tom John, for smoking in the classroom. He was found out when the smoke drifted up from the inkwell in the desk!

He was one of three pupils to pass the 11 plus and go to Burford School, which he also hated. The other pupils were David Hicks, son of the village policeman Stan Hicks and Monica Duester. New pupils were based at that time in the lower school where the boarding house is now located. This meant walking up Tanners Lane sometimes twice in the day to attend lessons.

He could read but found spelling difficult. He got little encouragement from his teachers and behaved badly. Not surprisingly he was “top of the league for being caned”. He remembers only two teachers with any fondness, Mr Atkins, the art teacher and Jimmy Weir a history teacher who had been in the Welsh Guards. Rob was good at art and Mr Atkins encouraged him. Jimmy Weir was strict and once hung him out of the window by his feet for looking at the girls playing tennis instead of paying attention to the lesson. On another occasion he was caned for putting carbolic soap in the woodwork master’s tea kettle! One of the worst lessons at Burford was cross country. This took two periods and often would finish after the bus for Shipton had gone. He and David Hicks worked out that the way to avoid having to walk home was to hide in one of sheds and take a short cut to finish early.

He missed quite a few days of school by deliberately not catching the bus in the morning. This usually happened on Thursdays when Hartley’s farm in Upper Milton, where his brothers worked, had hundreds of chickens hatching from the incubators. Rob would be employed in packing them. He eventually left school at 15 without any formal qualifications.

Rob’s father did not want him to work on the land. He advised his son not to work for a farmer or take a tied cottage saying, “You never see a farmer on a bike!” He arranged for Rob to have an apprenticeship in carpentry at Groves but this only lasted two weeks.

He then got an interview with Phyllis Smith who owned one of the Shipton tillyards (Wychwoods Manufacturing Co). Phyllis interviewed him at her home, coincidentally in the same room that I spoke to Rob in. She offered him a job at 1/6 an hour but advised him “not to tell the rest!” When Rob joined, the workforce consisted of:

Fred Smith Dir.Reggie Weston
Phyllis Smith Dir.Ernie Hedges
Laurie Pittaway DirRob Valentin
J. B. Broom Dir.Fred Russell
Rob ChampnessRaymond Puddle
Rob TaylorJack Beany
Wychwoods Manufacturing Co

His first role was to install two springs with two screws in the rear of the tills. If the till was to go overseas then it got a brass bell. If it was sold in the UK then the bell was made from steel. Later he applied filler to smooth the wood grain before polishing. The person who had finished each till had to put his initials in the back so any imperfections or faults could be traced. The company bought ordinary broom handles to make the spools for the paper rolls, They had a groove put in to hold the paper end and were then cut to size. One of Rob’s tasks was to bury the contents of the toilet bucket once a week. For this, he received an additional 2/6. It was a heavy job and he told Phyllis it was really a job for two men. She agreed and said two could do it. Rob thought they would be paid 2/6 each but the job rate remained 2/6 for both.

He found Phyllis a very shrewd business woman, “fair but strict”. She would make tea every morning around ten o’clock and bring the post in for the directors to discuss. “This gave us a rare ten minutes to mess about in!”
There was some animosity between Phyllis and her second husband Fred and the other directors. Fred has some underlying health problems with his heart and the others felt that he did not always pull his weight. For his part, Fred would often moan about his mother in law, Mrs Sifford who lived with them.

Rob left to work as a labourer for Groves’ for around four years and then returned to the tillyard for the last four years of its existence ie about 1970-1974. By that time Phyllis was living in the bungalow now occupied by Dave Johnson. Rob had helped with the footings by working at weekends for Ken Early. Her former neighbour, Jean Hawcutt was working in the tillyard packing the finished tills. At the end there was only Phyllis, Rob and two Mitchell brothers, Ron and Brian. The tillyard was bought by a Mr Cohen but Rob thinks it was used by a saddlers from Charlbury for around eighteen months.

Rob was approached by Bill Dore’s sons, Ray and Trig because their father was looking for a woodworking machinist. Although he had not been a machinist, the boys told Rob to answer yes to all the questions Bill might ask him. He got the job and fused the workshop on the first day because he was not aware that
much of the equipment worked on three phase current. Vic Avery was called out to put everything right.

Rob points out that, “If you were a lad in the village, you did not need to leave to get a job. You went to Groves’, the tillyards, Bill Dore or Bill Davis. Bill Dore always paid more than Groves’. Rob worked for twenty years for Bill at the workshop beyond the stream in Meadow Lane where there were around 50 employees. “I was sacked a few times but I never left”. He describes Bill as a larger than life character who would reverse his huge Van den Plas car up Meadow Lane while smoking a cigar. He had a full size dog track on the same site. When he got the job, Bill asked him what he had been earning. The sons told Rob to add a bit and he answered £20. Bill replied, “We can do better than that. Start on Monday and I will pay you £26!” There was no attention to health and safety. If an inspection was made then machines were simply disconnected and turned upside down.

Once he asked Rob to prepare 100 fence posts, five feet high. Rob got them done but Bill was upset because Rob “had not allowed for the two feet in the ground!”

Rob worked part time for Lady Sarah Moon, who lived at Cromwell House opposite the Red Horse and was married to Sir Peter Moon. Sir Peter had an affair and Lady Sarah got her revenge by giving away his valuable stock of vintage port and cutting up his clothes. She also poured paint on his BMW and went on to found the Old Bags Club for women who had been wronged.

Rob himself had a smart purple Triumph Herald but no driving licence. He took the driving test six times in Banbury and failed, always driving himself there alone with learner plates. If the village policeman ever stopped him, he would be told to remove himself from the village because the constable did not relish the necessary paperwork.

Now, in retirement, Rob maintains his allotment and pursues his lifelong hobby of keeping canaries. He has around one hundred birds and travels the length of Britain as a recognized judge.

That is Rob Taylor – a Wychwoods character for six decades and no longer a naughty boy after all.

The Shipton Tillyards


This article is also available as a PDF, downloadable here.

Wooden cash tills, usually with an opening on the top to accommodate a paper roll, were common in small shops throughout the country until about the 1970s. More often than not such cash tills came from workshops in Shipton under Wychwood. From the First World War until the late 1970s, the village housed three such businesses (see Map), which have now completely disappeared. This is the story of this local enterprise, which for so long was an important part of the village’s economy.

The first till manufacturing business was established by Alf Baylis just after the First World War. Alf Baylis had been raised in Shipton. His father was a railway signalman at Bruern and the family lived at 1 The Row next to the Red Horse public house.

Alf had a reputation as a bit of a “ladies’ man” who appreciated fast cars. He had learned the cash till construction business at Gledhills in Halifax (who in turn had copied from the National Cash Register Co) and brought Jimmy Wallace and Harry Crabtree with him from Halifax to work in his new business which traded in Upper High Street Shipton under the name of The Oxon Cash Register Co. Alf Baylis later lived at Wayside, Milton Road, Shipton.

The site of Alf Baylis’s new business was a builder’s yard belonging to Shipton Court. It had been described as the “Estate Yard” in the sales catalogue of 1913 and as having a carpenter’s and painter’s shop, an engine shed and saw shed with saw pit. There were also hardware and timber stores. In total the area was given as occupying one rod and 11 perches. This reference to a “yard” encouraged the naming of the cash till manufacturing works as a “tillyard” and this was later applied to the other locations where cash tills were produced. Diagram 1 shows the layout from memory of the Baylis works (source Bob Coombes).

In 1919 Henry (Harry) Coombes and his second cousin William Edwin (Ted) Coombes joined Alf Baylis. They had worked at Groves, the Milton builders, before the First World War. By 1923 the relationship between the workforce and Alf Baylis had deteriorated, for example over clocking in procedures (the clock in question is shown in the mess room on Diagram 1) and possibly pressure to work on Sundays (both Harry and Ted were staunch church members and had been in the bell ringing team before the First World War – see Photo 3). One day in 1923 Alf Baylis lost his temper and told some of the men to leave.

Map showing the locations of the three Shipton Tillyards

The vicar of St Mary’s Shipton, the Reverend Nixon, helped the unemployed men set up their own business in the stable loft at the Vicarage but there were objections to men in working clothes being housed about the Vicarage. After some two years, premises were obtained in Station Road for the new United Woodworking Company. For a while the two cash till companies worked independently although social connections seem to have been reasonable. In 1927 the Parish Council for example thanked both Harry Coombes and Alf Baylis for carrying out work to provide a coal store at the village hall.

Shipton Tillyards Diagram
Diagram 1: The Oxon cash register Co’s works (later the south or lower Tillyard of the United Woodworking Co.) Camera A is the position from which photograph 1 was taken. Similarly, camera B is the position for photo 2.

By the second half of the 1920s, The Oxon Cash Register Co. was getting into financial difficulties. One factor may have been the building of a large show room (which later became Shipton’s cinema) described as a “white elephant” by Bob Coombes, and the old Baylis business was bought out using money from Sam Groves and William Willett. By 1929 Alf Baylis had moved to Lyneham and resigned from the Parish Council. He disappeared from view, although he is reported to have traded in furniture in Manchester and is believed to have died relatively young.

The Station Road works now became known as the North Works and was run by Harry Coombes while the Oxon Cash Register Co.’s works continued as the South Works under the supervision of Ted Coombes. Both units cooperated in the manufacturing process where required. For example the North Unit had a dovetailer machine while the South Works, which mainly made shop fittings, had a corner locker machine.

Photo 1: The workforce at the Oxon Cash Register Co in about 1923 (presumably after the exodus of Harry and Ted Coombes who do not appear in the photograph). The man crouching on the left of the front row is Charles Duester. The fifth man from the left in the front row is Alf Baylis. Standing behind him in the back row is Ken Earley. Between them, in the middle row is Bertram Powell who is also third from the left in photo 2.

The layout of the Station Road or North Unit as it was just before the Second World War is shown in Diagram 2. The top shed with an engine in what later became the polishing shop was the extent of the first works. By the mid 1930s a second shed had been erected housing the machine and fitting shops. This second shed was joined to the first via the polishing shop. The adjacent business was Bradley’s Garage, belonging to Reg Bradley, who had served with Harry Coombes in the Royal Naval Air Service. Harry Coombes lived in Glenhurst opposite the Station Road Tillyard and then in 1935 moved to the adjacent villa, Hawthornes. In about 1945 a further shed was built parallel to the “lean to” and this housed the timber store, the fitting shop for the poultry incubators and the garage for Harry Coombes’ car. A small office and mess room were built to the right of the plan, ie parallel to the main road.

Photo 2: Workers in the fitting shop of the Oxon Cash Register Co. About 1923. Note that the wall behind them backed onto the slaughter house run by Dick Avery. Rats from there often ran along the shelf visible behind the workers in the photograph. They would have been standing over the old saw pit. When eventually a house was built on the site in 1980 a digger rediscovered this pit by falling into it! The rear of the photograph has the names Jack Baylis and Bert Powell. Jack Baylis was the brother of Alf.
Photo 3: The bell ringers at St Mary’s Shipton around 1910. Harry Coombes is at the end of the back row on the left. Ted Coombes is fourth from the left in the back row. Standing on ted’s left is Alf Miles who later worked at the Oxon cash register co. And whose Ascott road workshop was taken over after the second world war by the Wychwood Manufacturing Co, the last of the three Shipton cash till businesses to start up.
Diagram 2: The Station Road Tillyard just before World War 2.

About one year after the move, in 1926, a young woman, Phyllis Siford (later Phyllis Longshaw and finally Phyllis Smith), came from grammar school in Cheltenham to be the new and indeed first bookkeeper. She later recounted (WLHS archives), that the administration was in a state of some disorganisation with bills stuck on nails and the cash flow not receiving the attention it required although this was probably to be expected in a new and growing business.

According to Bob Coombes, Ted did not get on with Phyllis but she and his father Harry always had a good mutual liking and respect even after she left in 1946 to set up the third Shipton operation, Wychwood Manufacturing Co. They were both very shrewd, the one a modern, well educated girl from outside the village while Harry had left school at twelve and was very much a pillar of the local community – Chairman of the Parish Council, a member of the Rural District Council, Church Warden, Grandmaster of the Oddfellows and on the Board of Governors of the Workhouse. Photograph 4 shows the workforce at the Station Road yard in about 1936.

Photo 5 shows the interior of the Oxon Cash Register Co.’s workshop after it had been bought by the United Woodworking Co.

Photo 4: United Woodworking Company workforce In About 1936. Photograph taken in front of the polishing shop. Back Row from left – Ernie Belcher (Lyneham), Cyril Lainchbury, Victor Brookes, Don Pittaway, Horace Pittaway, Alf Carpenter. Middle row from left – Jim Slatter, Sid Harvey, Phyllis Longshaw (Nee Siford), Dan Wiggins, Alf Smith, Harry Coombes, Jaybee Broom, Laurie Pittaway, Francis Dix, Sid Tierney (Church Street), Norman Cooper. Front row from left – Albert Longshaw (First husband of Phyllis Siford), Charlie Norgrove (Mount Pleasant), Charlie Stringer (Fifield), Arthur Shirley (Ascott), Fred Smith (Milton, Second husband of Phyllis Siford), Alf Harvey Alf Harvey and Sid Harvey were brothers as were Horace and Don Pittaway. Alf Harvey and Don Pittaway worked for the company from its inception In 1923. Sid Tierney was possibly the only man to have worked in all three Tillyards when they were independent operations.

There is some disagreement over the identity of the workers shown on Photo 5. The best suggestion is that the man on the left is Jim Slatter. The two men (second and fourth from the left) are Jimmy Wallace and Harry Crabtree who had come to Shipton with Alf Baylis from Halifax. At the front right is Ernie Souch and behind him Albert Longshaw. The man between Jimmy Wallace and Harry Crabtree has not been identified.

Photo 6 is of the interior of the Station Road Workshop of United Woodworking at about the same time.

Photograph 5: interior of the Oxon Cash Register Co.’s workshop early 1930s

Both workshops were in operation until the start of the Second World War although by then the South Works was mainly making shop fittings. The Station Road Works concentrated on cash tills. The range comprised about a dozen models including one for fitting under counters (used in public houses) and one with a separately locked desk shaped top. Some wooden furniture was also produced (for example chairs for the Village Hall and cotton reel cabinets to a German design for Coates). There was still a relationship with Groves. This mainly took the form of Groves buying occasional fittings from United Woodworking and United buying English timber from Groves. Photo 7 shows typical Shipton cash tills.

One day early in the Second World War a Ministry of Supply controller, working for the Air Ministry, called at the South Works. He inquired whether they might be interested in making aircraft parts from wood. Ted Coombes apparently tugged his moustache in disbelief and showed the caller the door. Thus vanished any opportunity for Shipton to be the site for the production of the Mosquito fighter bomber! Shortly afterwards Ted sold off the machinery in the original works to Kings of Oxford and he, Reg Duester and about half a dozen other workers moved into the Station Road Works while about a dozen of the workforce including Fred Smith and Horace Pratley went to work at De Havillands (later Smiths Instruments) in Witney, ironically on the Mosquito.

Photo 6: United Woodworking Co’s Station Road workshop probably in the early 1930s and taken looking towards the end of the making shop. The man on the left is Charlie Norgrove. The man facing away from the camera. Second on the right is Jaybee Broom. On the left is Jim Slatter and on the extreme right is Sid Tierney.
Photo 8: A consignment of cash tills leaves the Station Road Tillyard
Unity cash till – new era cash till of United Woodworking Co of Wychwood Manufacturing Co

Photo 8 shows the Great Western Railway lorry picking up a consignment of cash tills from outside the Station Road tillyard. The driver is Ernie Clemson and the photograph would have been taken during the mid 1920s. Bradley’s garage is on the right.

The old premises were used during the early war years to shelter cars owned by well off car owners from Birmingham. After the War, they became a store for agricultural materials for Pratt and Haynes. In the 1950s, films were projected in the old showroom. Its final use before demolition was by the Newbolds, of the Court stables, to house pigs.

Photo 6: United Woodworking Co.’s Station Road Workshop probably in the early 1930s and taken looking towards the end of the making shop The man front left IS Charlie Norgrove. The man facing away from the camera, second on the right is Jaybee Broom. On his left is Jim Slatter and on the extreme right is Sid Tierney.

During the Second World War the number of employees declined until, according to Bob Coombes, there were only two or three boys, too young for national service, and half a dozen women including his mother. Besides cash tills, they made battery boxes and rubber stamp mouldings for the Post Office.

By 1946 however the workforce had recovered to sixteen people. The list taken from the wages book for the week ending 19 April 1946 was as follows:

H Pittaway

Makers or Assemblers
R Duester
S Tierney
P Hepden
J Sheehan
H Moss
G Duester
B Miles
V Brookes
H Pittaway
J Broom
F Smith
D Pittaway

F Richards
R Brookes

P Smith

This was the last page written in Phyllis Smith’s neat handwriting. The next week’s entries were in the hand of Mr R Williams (Ted Coombes’ son in law). A group of employees (Phyllis Smith with her husband Fred, Laurie Pittaway – who had been one of the originals to have split from Alf Baylis in 1923 with Harry and Ted Coombes – and Jaybee Broom) b^Jieved they could do better on their own and gradually left to found the Wychwood Manufacturing Company. Harry Coombes had apparently wanted to make Phyllis a director of the United Wood Working Co. but Ted had objected. Phyllis Smith left first. She was followed by her husband Fred Smith on 10 May (Alf Harvey rejoined United Woodworking that week as a polisher and Arthur Shirley also rejoined but as a maker). Laurie Pittaway left on 24 May and Jaybee Broom on 21 June.

At first they worked at Phyllis Smith’s bungalow, Alstone in Station Road just the other side of Bradley’s Garage but then took over workshops in the Ascott Road belonging to Alf Miles and used for his woodworking and undertaking business. Alf continued to work there until he died (and presumably was responsible for the “undertaking” mentioned on the new company’s promotional material).

Diagram 3: Plan of the Ascott Road Tillyard

Diagram 3 depicts the layout of the Ascott workshop as recalled by Bim Champness. The structure was of wood with a corrugated tin roof. There is no known photograph of the Ascott workshop and only one, rather poor photograph of the interior taken for the Oxford Mail (see Photo 9)

The workforce in the mid 1950s as recalled by Fred Russell and Bim Champness consisted of:

The four partners – Phyllis Smith who ran the operation, Fred Smith (in charge of making), Jaybee Broom (polishing) and Laurie Pittaway (machining). The partners all lived close to the workshop – the Smiths in Church Street, Jaybee Broom in Ascott Road and Laurie Pittaway in the High Street but next to Jaybee Broom’s house.

Bim Champness, who was Fred Smith’s nephew by marriage, was a polisher.

There were six assemblers – Bill Slatter (Ascott), Bernard Wicksey (Fifield), Philip Hackling (Milton), Basil Miles (Milton) and Sid Tierney (Shipton) plus a trainee assembler Fred Russell (Ascott).

There were evident tensions. Fred Smith suffered badly from asthma and was often unable to work so that Laurie Pittaway and Jaybee Broom felt they had to do more than their fair share. Jaybee Broom had taken something of a demotion in joining Wychwood Manufacturing. At United Woodworking he had been foreman in the making shop. Fred Smith in fact had started his career as Jaybee Broom’s “boy”. Laurie Pittaway (who later returned to work for United Woodworking in Station Road) was felt to have a rebellious streak and Fred Smith was critical of his cutting at times. It probably did not help that two’ of the four partners were married to each other and could carry on business conversations out of hours.

Conditions were hard especially in the winter. The wood glue used to freeze solid over night. At first heating was from the “slow but sure” stove in the making shop. It was Fred Russell’s job to pack the stove with sawdust the evening before and then get it started when work began again at 7.45 the following morning. There was apparently no water. He used to fill up a kettle from the neighbouring gas works so that Phyllis Smith could make tea for 9.45. She and Fred would then sit on the tool box and discuss priorities. Sometimes she would say, “There’s a bit of post Fred” and this was a signal for the directors to meet informally.

Phyllis Smith always had a reputation as a sharp business woman. She knew the value of information. In 1958, when the Oxford Mail visited both working tillyards, United Woodworking was frank about its current production level of some 200 tills a month. Wychwood Manufacturing’s output however was a secret! Phyllis Smith would allegedly tip the lorry driver, who collected the output from both tillyards, ten shillings a week so that he would pick up the tills from Wychwood Manufacturing after those of United Woodworking and she could see how well the competition was doing and to whom they were selling! She would also look at the United Woodworking Co.’s paying in book at the bank (these were apparently often left open on the desk at the bank in Shipton) and tie up payments with known deliveries. In this way she was able to undercut United Woodworking .

Wychwood Manufacturing concentrated on the production of cash tills (according to Fred Russell 80% of sales consisted of cash tills in batches of 30 units which would take up to three days to produce) although invoices prepared in the mid 1950s still listed ‘cabinet making, undertaking and general repairs’ among the activities. There was a greater concentration on exports than at the United Woodworking Co. and, according to Phyllis Smith, this brought support from the Board of Trade when Sam Groves tried to get them closed down just after the War.

In the 1950s employment at both tillyards fell by roughly half as wooden fittings gave way to plastic and more sophisticated cash tills became popular. Neither firm was in direct contact with its market as they only sold to wholesalers who generally marked up prices by 100%. Brunton and Williams of Peckham took around a quarter of the production of the United Woodworking Co. while Morden and Green, also in London, were an important outlet for the Wychwood Manufacturing Co.. Neither till producer had the means or perhaps the initiative to employ their own sales people and both suffered from a lack of space to allow them to hold stocks.

In 1972 the Ascott Road business was bought by a Mr Cohen of Adsit Typewriters of Birmingham who wanted to close it down and build on the site. Phyllis Smith stayed on for the new owners for a further two and half years until the business eventually closed in about 1975. After that the deteriorating building was briefly occupied by a tramp until a fire caused further serious damage. Now brambles have completely taken over the site.

The United Woodworking Company lasted three years longer. Harry Coombes had bought up the Groves, Willet and Clifford shareholdings and obliged Ted to retire just before his seventieth birthday in around 1954. Harry himself fell ill in 1956 and died in the following year. The day before he died, Phyllis Smith turned up to ask what arrangements were being made for the tillyard! She was told that this had been decided some three years earlier. Harry’s son, Robert (Bob), who had his own busy accountancy practice, took over the running of the company (he had been partially involved during the period of Harry’s illness). At Harry’s death about 80% of revenue still came from the production of cash tills. Bob made efforts to diversify the business. New ventures included pheasant and turkey incubators, bale sledges, bar and drapery store fittings (Avery’s store in Shipton was refitted twice and Langston’s pub in Kingham was fitted out as a night club) and garden furniture.

Roger Watts worked at United 1959-1964. He estimates the business employed approximately 17 people at that time. Harold Lord was the foreman. Other workers he remembers included Jim Claridge machinist, Terry Stowe fitter, David Rathbone, assembler and Roy Rathbone assembler. Interestingly there were also three mixed race assemblers, Mervyn Case, Johnny Neibeer and Clifford Glynn whose fathers had been American servicemen during the Second World War. Working hours were to 12.00 with a quarter of an hour for tea at 9.45. Lunch was from. to 13.00 and then work resumed until 17.30 with a ten minute tea break at 15.00. There was work on Saturdays from 7.30 to 12.00.

As with the first tillyard, clocks were an important feature in the daily life of the business. Roger Watts relates how Jim Claridge, while playing football, hit the works clock and broke the glass of its elaborate cupboard. Harold Lord continued to open the glass case for six weeks to wind the clock up before he realised the glass was missing!

From the time of the business’s inception until 1978, according to Bob Coombes,- it rarely sold less than 300 cash tills in any one month. The peak month was 3,000 tills probably in the boom years just after the Second World War! Decimalisation in 1972 however led to the introduction of even more sophisticated automatic cash tills and there was no longer the need to write on a paper roll as with the Shipton tills. The National Cash Register Company (which had first inspired Gledhills and indirectly Alf Baylis fifty years earlier!) had large stocks of automated decimal machines which would do both the calculation of the sale and the recording. Demand for traditional wooden cash tills dried up. Even the Company’s diversification programme ran into problems. Larger, specialist agricultural machinery manufacturers brought out bale sledges which stacked the bales so that they were easier to pick up. Several large orders for turkey incubators were cancelled when hire purchase of agricultural machinery was stopped. By 1978 the business was no longer viable and was wound up. Of the long-time workers, Philip Hepden, Eric Pratley, Horace Pittaway, Ernie Hedges, Jimmy Woodward, Alf Harvey and Reg Duester were there until the end.

Shipton probably produced at least 500,000 wooden cash tills in the half century from 1920. There are no production records so this must remain a rough estimate. What is true is that this micro industry allowed a significant number of men in the Wychwood villages to exploit carpentry skills largely learned at Alfred Groves and Son so that they could earn higher rates of pay than were available elsewhere (including Groves) and generally enjoy better job security without having to commute to Oxford. Its insularity was initially a strength but led eventually to its demise because the industry was, to use the modern jargon, product orientated rather than market orientated.

This article owes much to the painstaking collection of information, including audio recordings made over the years with Wychwood inhabitants, by John Rawlins. The author is also very grateful for interviews with Bob Coombes, the son of the founder of United Woodworking and Roger Watts who worked there from 1959 to 1964.Gordon Duester who worked at United Woodworking at the end of the War also made several valuable suggestions. Similarly, with regard to the Wychwood Manufacturing Co, information and recollections were generously shared by Fred Russell who worked at the Ascott Road works from 19s4 to 1958 and then again from 1964 to 1966 and Bim Champness who also worked at the Wychwood Manufacturing Co. from 1956 to 1966.

Life in Old Milton

This article was by Olive Barnes, later Mrs Olive Frost, who was born in The Square, Milton under Wychwood in 1907 and later lived in Calais Cottage, Frog Lane. It is taken from the society’s Journal No 6. It is also available as a PDF here.

My Mother rented three cottages which stood apart because, as she said, she wouldn’t have other peoples’ noise and stinks. In 1914 we moved to the last house in Frogmore Lane, which had a drive and stood in an acre of ground. My Mother Lizzy Barnes, formerly Lizzy Norgrove of Shipton, was a very clean and hard-working woman, very well-known and respected. She married Henry Barnes in Milton Church in 1888. She refused to use the work ‘obey’ in the marriage service and said instead ‘to love honour and nobay’.

Olive Barnes, aged 3 years (1910 )

Until 1910 we were quite well off; I remember my Father dropping sovereigns through his fingers intd my Mother’s lap. Groves’ men did contract work at that time. (I am delighted that Dad’s photograph is on page twenty-six of the Wychwoods Album; he is on the extreme right front.) He was very smart and good-looking and I adored him. In 1910 he met with a terrible accident. He went with other Groves’ men to dig gravel from a pit near the top of Milton High Street. They hadn’t been working long when the walls caved in and Dad was completely buried. His friend Percy Greenaway dug with his hands to find Dad’s face so that he could breathe. Dad never worked again and from then on we were very poor. Half his basic wage was paid to him weekly, amounting to 11. 3d. (56p).

Mother was very proud and although she had six children at school, not earning, she refused to allow the powers that were to put us into a home. She did all sorts of work to keep us fed and clothed. What wonderful people they all were, helping each other in ever)’ possible way, day and night. As we all nine grew up we became better off, and indeed our home was a palace.

The gardens were a joy to behold and it was usual to see people standing at the bottom o f the drive admiring the beauty. Mother would go to furniture sales at the big houses and buy beautiful furniture. She would bid against Marky Bunting, a well-known furniture dealer of Shipton. Mother always won. I still have a large mirror she bought at Shipton Court. The stories Dad told us on winter nights around a big fire, some handed down the generations, were a great joy to us children. Stories of local ghosts, highwaymen and murders; rather different to today’s television as our stories were all true.

When my Mother was eight years old she called at ‘The Lodge’ at Shipton and asked a lady if she would teach her to sew. ‘What a dear little girl’, said the lady, ‘ask your Mother if you can spend half an hour each afternoon and I will teach you to sew’. What a blessing that turned out to be. In our badly-off days Mother would buy clothes from rummage sales, given by the gentry, and reshape them into clothes for us. She made beautiful bedspreads for Mrs Samuda of Bruern Abbey who was very much looked up to.

My sister Dolly Barnes used to get smacks from my Mother because she refused to curtsey to Mrs Samuda. Dolly was a character and no mistake. She died in 1985 at the age of 88. Her real name was May Diamond jubilee because of her date of birth. I remember at her wedding, Molly Timms (later Mrs Jim Puddle) shouting ‘Good old Doll, keep your pecker up’, as my sister walked down the aisle of Milton Church on Dad’s arm. The whole village turned out for weddings and funerals then and we all went to church or chapel on Sundays. A very united village was Milton in those days.

Our house was known as Calais Cottage, pronounced Callis. The fields were First, Second and Third Callis. Dog Kennel Lane was so called because the Peppers of Shipton Court had kept dogs there. The cricket ground at Shipton was known as Shortcraft, the best cricket pitch in Oxfordshire. The fields nearby were called Diggerspit, Cow Common and Forty-eight Acres. Calais Cottage looking towards Frog Lane, Milton, before 1914 The paths through Bruern Wood were called the Vestry Light and Unkid Light.

Frog Lane Milton under Wychwood – Calais Field Bridge over stream – Calais Cottage on left – Homestead on right c. 1909

When war broke out in 1914 the Milton men left their ploughs in the fields and went to join up. I remember standing outside the Baptist Chapel one Sunday afternoon watching young men sign their lives away. Some were only seventeen. There were 827 inhabitants in Milton at that time and we lost 48 of our lovely boys. Some also died later of their wounds.

Milton was a wonderful village in those days. Mr Guy Mayman was the tallest man in the village and Mr Dorset, the smallest man, worked for him. It was a common sight to see Mr Mayman being driven about in his pony and tub by Mr ‘Dosset’. The Maymans lived in Kohima, now Heath House. In the High Street lived old Mr Wright who had fought in the battle of Balaclava in 1855. Walking or running home I would pass the blacksmith’s and at the end of Jubilee Lane was the wheelwright’s where Mr Keen made lovely yellow wheels for tubs or traps. Roy Ridley was the carrier and I was often sent to Chipping Norton by carrier to collect goods Mother had ordered. We went through Churchill and the horse knew all the stops.

Our Vicar Mr Horlock was very much loved. As he lay dying, he said ‘Bury me near the organ so that I can hear it’. I was taken to see his corpse by Louie Pittaway of Shipton. I could never understand a word Mr Shildrick the curate said. When we sang the hymn Make mine eyelids close, I sang with much feeling thinking it meant a girl named Eyelid was needing clothes. Shipton had much loved vicars too: Mr Carter who christened me in Shipton Church in 1907, then Mr Nixon, a big man who went about on a bicycle and greeted everyone he met. People came from miles around to hear him preach. I was in Shipton Church when Miss Dee fell dead as she sang a hymn. They carried her body home on a hurdle. How sad we all were.

I knew Alfred Groves well; he was bent double with age, a nice-looking old gentleman with a stick. He used to put pears on the spiked railings for us children to find. Taking a short cut home from school through The Square, I would pass Renee Hedges’ house with her 13 cats. Her brother Jessie who had been a sailor lived with her and he wore his seaman’s hat until he died. There was no money for his funeral, so he was buried by the parish. The coffin was a cheap one and we could see his hair through the cracks. There was no one to follow him to the grave so kind Hilda Rathband said, ‘I’ll get my hat and follow the poor old b—’ and follow him she did

Mr Keen, wheelwright, in Jubilee Lane c.1929

I remember her Mother always standing by the Methodist Chapel. We used to go to Tangley for picnics during the long summer holidays and one day we ventured down the tunnel that leads from Tangley Farm to Bruern Abbey. When we came upon a dead sheep, we beat a hasty retreat.

There is a chapel in this tunnel under Two Bush Hill, and Dad used to tell us of two poachers who had a smoke in it. I think part of this tunnel formed Granny Green’s cave on Chipping Norton Hill and then went on to Chadlington House. Our Mother took us to tea with Granny Green. Granny used to smoke a clay pipe, just like a man.

There was a beautiful beech tree over the cave. I asked her if she was nervous, living all alone up there and felt very humble when she answered, ‘My dear, the Good Lord looks after me’. As we used to whizz down Chipping Norton Hill on dark nights with our shopping, we would call out ‘Good night, Granny’ and she would answer ‘Good night my darlings, God bless you’. The hedges were aglow with glow-worms. A bygone age