Charlbury Then and Now – New Publication

Charlbury – Then and Now

Charlbury – Then and Now is an interesting new book by long-term resident Dr Geoffrey Walton, published by Down Stone Books and available locally. The book offers a detailed and fascinating exploration of the fabric and buildings of Charlbury  from the early 1970s to the present day.

The book records – and explores reasons for – many of the changes visited upon Charlbury since the arrival of the author in the mid 1970s.

Copiously illustrated, Charlbury – Then and Now includes aerial view photos, a town map and a particular focus, using 10 interesting iconic pictures in the Foreword, showing a little of what was happening before and after the author came to the town. These include views from the church tower looking East, the old primary school, and indeed the cover image of animals being driven the “wrong way” along Market Street.

Cattle herded up DyersHill (1991)

Of particular interest to the Local History enthusiast are the two sections which make up the substance of the author’s detailed research.

The first of these sections is a chapter which presents a logical tour of the town, sector-by-sector, with recent photographs of its many and various buildings. These currently might be shops, offices, pubs, or residential properties inter alia. Each building is described with its current use and the changes of use – and often, descriptions of the personalities involved – over time. It forms the substance of the “Now” of Charlbury.

The second of these sections of Local History interest is in a substantial appendix, which contains over 70 historic (pre-2020s) photographs which further illustrate the changes which have happened in the town. These photographs show mainly shops and businesses that since being closed and the buildings re-purposed. Among them are pictures of individual residents. And so here we have the “Then” of Charlbury, copiously illustrated.

Perce Bateman serving petrol at Dave Coles’ garage in 1981 before the pumps were banned

By his own admission the author presents the book as a personal view of the main drivers of the developments illustrated in these two sections. He occasionally refers to his discussions of these drivers as a “polemic” and as such, readers can expect some forthright views which are certainly part of the debate around the benefits and drawbacks around national and local decision-making processes.

The book is on sale in Charlbury at Cotswold Frames (opposite the museum), at Chadlington Quality Foods in Chadlington and at Jaffe and Neal in Chipping Norton.  It can be purchased direct from the author ( please Contact Us for details).  The price is £15.

Lewis Carroll and the River Thames: Our April 2022 Evening Talk

Alice’s Adventures in Oxford – Lewis Carroll and the River Thames

Our April 13th talk in Milton Village Hall was given by Mark Davies: “Alice’s Adventures in Oxford – Lewis Carroll and the River Thames”.

35+ members and guests enjoyed another enjoyable, entertaining and instructive evening, where Mark gave the story of the creation of Lewis Carrol’s enduring classic some intriguing and engaging perspectives.

We were presented with a true detective story – tracing some of the origins of Lewis Carroll’s two books based on Alice’s adventures.

Mark showed how both ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ were developed by Carroll from stories he told to entertain the Liddell sisters during lengthy boat trips along the Thames. He also showed how these stories were full of characters cleverly disguised but actually very recognisable to the girls. We saw how things that happened in the stories were inspired by real life events and places they visited along the river.

We learned that Lewis Carroll, who as Charles Dodgson was Professor of Mathematics at Christ Church college, met the Liddell family in 1855 when Henry Liddell was appointed Dean of Christ Church and moved there with his young family. Carroll with his friend Robinson Duckworth accompanied some or all the Liddell siblings on a total of 19 boat trips between 1856 and 1863

Mark’s research drew on sources including Carroll’s own diaries and uncovered the significance of many places along the Thames from Godstow to Nuneham.

Lewis Carroll self-published ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ with his own illustrations because the real Alice had implored him to write the stories down and others convinced him there would be a wider appreciative readership. But no one, not even the imaginative Lewis Carroll himself, could have dreamt that the Alice stories, now associated with the wonderful Tenniel illustrations, could have become as famous worldwide as they are today.

A measure of the interest shown was the fact that every one of the copies the associated book “Alice in Waterland” which Mark had brought with him were sold at the end: a first for the group, one might say.

See Mark Davies’ Book Alice in Waterland here

About Mark Davies

Mark is an Oxford local historian, guide, and author with a particular interest in the history and literature of the city’s waterways, having lived on a residential narrowboat in Oxford for nearly thirty years.

His relevant publications are Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford and Alice’s Oxford on Foot.

Mark has helped to organise Oxford’s annual ‘Alice’s Day’ since the first one in 2007, provides the only Alice-specific guided tours and boat commentaries in Oxford, and is on the committee of the Lewis Carroll Society.

Read more here.

The History of FWP Matthews Mill: Our March 2022 Evening Talk

History of FWP Matthews Mill

Our March 2022 evening talk was with Bertie Matthews who presented the history of FWP Matthews Mill in Shipton under Wychwood.

The evening was another particularly successful one, with around 55 members and some new faces coming to enjoy what was an engaging talk around what must be described as an icon of local enterprise. Many of us who came had family and friendship connections with staff and workers at the mill over time, and so the talk had plenty of personal interest.

Bertie Matthews is the latest generation of his family to run its grain merchant and flour milling business, joining the family mill in 2017. He gave a brief introductory overview of family research into the Matthews name from the 1400s up to the 1780s. Matthews names (originally “Mathews”) derives from medieval families around Llandaf in Wales including a connection with a David AP Mathew in the 1400s. The name was associated with wind and watermill ownership. Later Matthews families in Warwickshire, associated with Nailcote Manor were involved in milling traditions.

However, the story of the Matthews family in Shipton starts with “Generation One” with the name of Marmaduke Matthews 1 (1782-1840) and his arrival from Warwickshire to Fifield House in 1802. In addition to farming activity Marmaduke rode the wave of the Agricultural Revolution with its huge increase in efficient grain production and was able to build a seed-trading enterprise and so set the tone for the Matthews family involvement with local produce and quality grain.

Efficiencies continued to drive the expansion in national agricultural activity, and with “Generation Two”, Marmaduke Matthews II (1812-1883) sourced grain and samples from local farmers, increased the acreage of the Fifield farm, though with no large corresponding increase in the number of workers needed to sustain it. This foundation, operating in local markets until the 1840s, was the basis for further expansion, which came with the railways, and the opening of national markets – clear signs that the time to diversify into milling was near.

Two more generations followed to take advantage of these changes. Frederick Matthews I (1841-1911) expanded the business to wheat and barley selling for several years. His son, Frederick William Powell (FWP) Matthews (1868-1930) was the driving force towards the idea of milling locally grown wheat. In the context of the collapse in grain prices in the late 1880 due to American imports, this was a mandate for business survival.

Although he was the driving force behind the plans for the mill, unfortunately Frederick I died before it was completed, and so it was his son FWP Matthews who oversaw the mill’s completion. It was built in 1912 by Alfred Groves and Son and housed the revolutionary Roller Mill technology first developed in the 1870s and used for the first time in Liverpool.

The decision to use locally grown grain – soft wheat grown locally in the Cotswold hills – meant that the market for Matthews flour at this time was around “biscuit” flour. Especially under FWP Matthews’ son Frederick Eric Matthews (1897-1973) the business won successful contracts with famous companies such as Huntley and Palmers in Reading, Peek Frean in London, and Jacobs in Dublin. A regular sight locally at this time was of the flour was transported by rail by horse and cart on the 25-yard journey between the mill and Shipton Station to those customers.

Ex-POW as he was, Frederick Eric Matthews was the prime mover in keeping the business solvent during the post-war years. As well as maintaining those lucrative contracts, the business divested itself of land and focussed on milling, trading as a coal merchant and later starting the diversification into bread flour.

Frederick Eric Matthews had two sons: Frederick “Gordon” (1922 – 2020) and Ian, who worked in partnership, trading off each other’s individual strengths in business. Ian Matthews bought in new milling technologies from what is now the Czech Republic, and so massively improved throughput at a time when the “commodification” of food in the post war years was the watchword, and so smaller milling enterprises began to fall by the wayside. We learned for example that in 1950 there were 252 mills and 235 milling companies in the country, but by 2020 these figures were 51 and 29 respectively. Frederick “Gordon” was instrumental in introducing malting barley and supplying local bakeries with bread flour.

Paul (Bertie’s father) and his cousin Graham ran the business from the 1990s to the 2010s, focussing on premium and speciality flours, pioneering organic concepts, and increased production from 100 tons weekly to 500, and with modern machinery could package 6 tons every hour. They also introduced brand names based on local villages and landmarks. However, despite these halcyon moments in the history of the business, in 2017 the company suffered severe setbacks which culminated in a loss of half the annual revenue and staff lay-offs and was forced into Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVA).

However, in spite of these major setbacks, the company has worked through these difficulties, and reset itself to focus on speciality flour production, embracing digital technology for its sales (hugely beneficial during the pandemic lockdown and associated restrictions), and under Bertie Matthews’ leadership has founded the Cotswold Grain partnership and working with local families, farmers, bakers and agronomists in the environment of Regenerative Agriculture. [ More here : YouTube Video]

Iterations of the Matthews’ family business have weathered many changes over the centuries, and Bertie Matthews described these with enthusiasm, aided occasionally by his great aunt Anne Matthews who was able to make impromptu and amusing corrections to his narrative! In the process, we were reminded of changes of time in agricultural practice and the fluctuating ebb and flow of commodity markets, up to and including today’s focus on sustainable farming and food supply. We were left with a deep sense of the place of this landmark Shipton under Wychwood enterprise and its connection and response to these seismic shifts – not least those of the present moment in global grain markets.

See more about the history of FWP Matthews Mill in our Wychwoods Album feature

Roman Tackley: Our January 2022 Evening Talk

Wychwoods Local History Talk Jan 2022

On Wednesday January 12th at 7.30 we were pleased to welcome John Perkins, who presented insights into Roman Tackley. John is a historian of science with a particular interest the science of 18th-century and Revolutionary France. Since retiring from Oxford Brookes he is now chair of the Tackley Local History Group and indulges a passion for local archaeology and history.

The talk – this time by Zoom due to the current uncertainties – was attended by 35+ members and guests.

John presented a fascinating talk on Roman Tackley, with many insights derived from fieldwalking, metal detecting and crop mark surveys, undertaken by members of the Tackley History Group and building on the research of others

Thanks to John’s planning, attendees were able to come prepared with a simple printout depicting the area around Tackley, highlighting the extraordinary number of farms and small settlements in the area. A PDF copy is here. What follows in this review can only include a few of the highlights among the many indicated on this map.

Roman Tackley: Farms, Villas, Temples and Cemeteries

John’s talk contextualised his subject in three main ways. Firstly, a simple historical timeline from the Iron Age (800BC – 43AD). From approximately 400BC the general increase in settled agricultural activity is reflected in the locality.

The area was at a junction of influence of three Iron Age tribes – the Dubonni, Catuvellauni and the Atrebates. The presence of Grim’s Ditch (including West of Tackley by the River Glyme) and Aves Ditch (a few miles to the North East of Tackley) are testament to existing settlements at the time of the arrival of the Romans in the early 1st century AD.

Akeman Street Near Sturdys Castle

Secondly the growth of activity can be understood in the context of the building – and development from Iron Age causeways in parts – of Akeman Street by the Romans. This road joined the important administrative centres of Verulamium (St Albans) and Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester). Akeman Street joins modern Oxfordshire near Alcester. The road traversed the district which now includes the village of Tackley and so added to the region’s prosperity in the shape, for example, of the settlement at Sansom’s Platt.  Sansom’s Platt straddles the border with Weaveley in Tackley parish and is a 1st-century farming settlement, succeeded by a villa occupied from the 2nd to the 4th century. This settlement grew to service the burgeoning activity around this important thoroughfare.

This example was one of several other settlements of growing importance, including Tackley itself and Gibraltar Point, a site which John’s Tackley History group has had the opportunity to excavate and research.
(More here )

And indeed this was the third thread of context for exploring the richness of the area: the development of archaeological interest in the region. This grew in no small measure from the enthusiasm of William Evetts (1847–1936), who was an owner of Tackley Park and Wood Farm and was a passionate amateur archaeologist who built up a large collection of artefacts found on the fields around the village.
More about William Evetts is here .

Evetts’ influence on the continuing desire to understand as much of the story is well-demonstrated by John’s fascinating research notes here

Tackley History Group at Gibraltar Point

John was able to present in some detail, the work done by the Tackley Group: from examining crop marks, establishing archaeological digs with test trenches in promising locations, metal detecting and fieldwalking. These were all in the mix to present details of interesting finds including some high-value jewellery items, coins and pottery shards.


Star examples included a piece from an amphora originating in Spain and a bronze terret ring (dated approx. 150AD) found at Leys farm. This latter was part of a harness which did not show marks of wear. Excitingly, this could indicate it may have been a souvenir belonging to the farm’s owner: possibly then an ex-military man given the piece of land as a service reward in retirement?

We also learned a little of the methodology to understand and so calculate the possible population numbers of the area around Tackley. This was done by studying the density of pottery shards, coins and manure scatters, and so extrapolating the sizes of each individual farmstead. By comparing these with the 1851 census, when farming was still to see the machine-age in earnest, family sizes could be similar, and farm sizes clearly known. Thus, a population size could be arrived at using these parameters.

John’s talk did include a mention of the extraordinary find of the Street Farm villa in Tackley village. This was uncovered by a housing development and excavated in a short period ending in 2018, when the site was finally covered by the new buildings. The subject of this villa alone could easily occupy another evening’s presentation. More details are here

The evening gave us a wealth of information and insight. In particular we developed an understanding of an almost seamless development of farming and cultural activity which straddled the Iron Age and the Roman occupation to create what we might call Romano-British Tackley.

William Green, Clockmaker of Milton under Wychwood – From the Society Journal No 22

As we mark the closing of another year and look forward to the dawning of a new one, here is a short article befitting the marking of passing time. It was written by Sue Jourdan and is taken from the WLHS Journal No. 22 (2007). We republish it here as the last of our occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over the past 40 years. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

Post Script: Quite by chance, WLHS Secretary and researcher John Bennett noticed a clock by William Green of Milton featured on the BBC’s “Repair Shop”, broadcast on January 5th. Regrettably they did not mention anything about the maker, but the name is clearly visible on the clock face, and we see the clock’s inner workings. The programme is available on iPlayer here [ Series 8, Episode 11: link active January 8th 2022 ].

From WLHS Journal No 22

Peter Meecham, Clockmaker, who has lived in Milton under Wychwood all his life, now has in his collection five clocks made by William Green of Milton under Wychwood. William’s name is inscribed on the dial and from the style of the clocks it would appear that William was a Quaker. The first mention of a Quaker meeting in Milton under Wychwood was at Robert Secoll’s house in 1655 with a meeting house built by 1669. It would appear that these properties were in Green Lane as that is the site of the Quaker burial ground and there are still properties called Quaker’s Meet and Quaker’s Piece.

A: A typical 30 hour clock, that is, it has to be wound every day, made about 1760 with a brass dial engraved in the centre with a leaf pattern. Engraved Roman numerals on an applied chapter ring, cornucopia spandrels and steel single hand, coloured blue. This clock would have hung on the wall without a case.

B: Similar 30-hour movement but with a painted dial, which would have been obtained from Birmingham, and two hands, made about 1775. Brass dials had become unfashionable by this time.

Because of their religious convictions, Quakers were unable to swear the Oath of Allegiance and therefore were excluded from higher education or from joining a guild in a town. Clock making was one area where they could apply their skills and, working in country districts, they produced simple inexpensive clocks in localised family networks whose primary bond was one of religious affiliation. How much local fabrication was done by apprentices and to what extent they assemble movements and fitted cases is not known but the Quakers worked to a basic similar design, possibly obtaining engraved dial plates, chapter rings and spandrel castings (corner castings) from someone like Gilkes of Adderbury (1715-1787) another Quaker clockmaker who supplied parts to others.

The Gilkes were a large family of clockmakers working in north Oxfordshire and south Warwickshire in the eighteenth century. Many were one-handed clocks as these were simpler and cheaper to make, and of the four examples illustrated two are single and two have two hands. Again with cost in mind they are 30 hour long case clocks with a frame to hang on the wall without a case with two metal spikes to push into the plaster wall. Any clock without a case is more vulnerable to damage.

C and E: Another brass dialled movement, this time with two hands, of about 1760 and a different star engraving to the centre. The case is of cherry wood and was bought as an extra, most likely made by the village carpenter or undertaker.

The addition of the case would have doubled the purchase price but protected the movement from dust and the hanging weight and pendulum from children, pets and draughts, thus prolonging the time between costly overhauls and improving the accuracy of the time keeping. The clock case would have been made separately by the local carpenter, undertaker or joiner and were usually in inexpensive woods like in pine or oak. Customers would have been local farmers and shop keepers.

D and F: Another single-handed movement similar to A but with a different hand pattern and urn-style spandrels. This is in a pine case, originally painted and varnished.

It has not been possible to find out much about William Green but C.F.C Beeson in Clockmaking in Oxfordshire 1400-1850 suggests that he was born in 1722, possibly the son of Isaac and Joan Green of Tadmarton, and died in 1770. In John Kibble’s Historical and Other Notes on Wychwood Forest in 1928 he states ‘William Green of Milton under Wychwood had a clock club into which so much per week was paid to get a clock.

References
1 Clockmaking in Oxfordshire 1400-1850. CFC Beeson. Museum of Science 3rd ed 1989. pp 107
2 Historical and Other Notes on Wychwood Forest. John Kibble. 1928. pp 46

More about William Green: Milton’s Quaker Clockmaker

A 2014 article published in the Wychwood Magazine is taken from Tim Marhshall’s book “The Quaker Clockmakers of North Oxfordshire” >> PDF here

William Morris and the Cotswolds: Our November 2021 Evening Talk

Evenlode Tapestry Design

The Society’s second talk of the 2021/22 season was again held in the Village Hall. There was a pleasing attendance with 30+ members and guests – and with some newcomers included.

The speaker was Juliet Heslewood whose topic was William Morris and the Cotswolds. This was a nicely structured talk around some key elements of William Morris’ connection with Cotswolds landmarks.

William Morris © The William Morris Society

Early Life and Influences

Though he was born in London and had childhood years in Essex, it was clear that a major influence on Morris’ creative mindset derived from his time at Exeter College in Oxford. Surrounded as he was with medievalist architecture and imagery, both in Oxford itself, and on regular visits to local churches, he became less interested in his studies in theology and more immersed in the medieval aesthetic which surrounded him. A protracted visit to Northern France and exposure to the great cathedral art and architecture there further cemented the decision to abandon theological studies.

Oxford Union Library Murals © The Oxford Union

The Pre-Raphaelites

With the blossoming friendship with Edward Burne-Jones – a fellow-student at Exeter College – a creative relationship flowered. The pair soon met with Dante Gabriel Rosetti, when joining him on a project to design and paint the panels in the Oxford Union Library in 1857, richly illustrated in Juliet’s talk. It was through the influence of Rossetti, that the friendship between Morris and Burne-Jones would lead to the birth of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The group mapped those early medievalist influences onto an interest in Arthurian Legends and the concept of Brotherhood.

At this time Rosetti and Burne-Jones came across Jane Burden, a stableman’s daughter, at a theatre event in Oxford. Struck by her unusual beauty they invited her to model for the Oxford Union Library murals. Thus Jane Burden’s destiny was set in motion as she soon became William Morris’ wife and muse. Juliet remarked on the irony of the triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere finding its reflection in the relationships between Jane, Morris and Rosetti.

Jane Morris and the Blue Silk Dress

Cotswold Churches and Stained-Glass Window Design

With this as the background, Juliet took us through the many images and examples of the designs of the Pre-Raphaelites in the stained glass windows of churches in the Cotswolds. The challenges of the window shapes to the designers were palpable but led to a unique style and approach which is instantly recognisable. Examples included Selsey Church near Stroud , Bloxham church’s East Window , Middleton Cheney and in particular its images of the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel.

Stained glass by Morris and co. at Buscot Church
Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace: Middleton Cheney Church © The Heseltine Gallery

Focus on Kelmscott and Broadway Tower

Much focus of course was on William Morris’ house at Kelmscott, and stories of his travels from London to enjoy family summers at the house, exploring and immersing himself in local life.

Also of great interest are the tales of the regular visits to Broadway Tower during these family summer Kelmscott idylls. By the mid-1870s the tower was rented by C J Stone and Cormell Price, the latter being headmaster of the United Services College at Westward Ho! Morris made several visits to stay, delighting in the wildness of the place. He also took his daughters Jenny & May to visit the folly and they were enchanted by the sense of freedom there. He loved the top of the tower with its view into 16 counties.

Broadway Tower August 2019

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Of particular interest, and a reminder of William Morris as a champion of tradition, was his love for and support of the ancient church of St John the Baptist at Inglesham . Morris oversaw St John’s restoration in the nineteenth century, ensuring it kept its original medieval identity.

Inglesham Church Interior
Saxon Carving in Inglesham Church

This was a standout example of his opposition to a perceived thoughtlessness in the Victorian ‘restorations’ of medieval churches which was exemplified by his response to work done on the tiled floor of Burford’s St John the Baptist. Out of this experience, Morris formed the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB – which is still active today).

Grave of William and Jane Morris at Kelmscott Church

Juliet’s rich and rewarding survey – of which these are a selected set of examples – was followed by many questions and observations from the group, ending another enjoyable gathering for the Society

About Juliet Heslewood

Juliet studied History of Art and English Literature at London University.  She lived in France for nearly thirty years where she wrote many books, including The History of Western Painting for young people, that was translated into 12 languages.  While there she gained an MA in English Literature at Toulouse University.  She has devised and led art study tours in six different regions in France and now, returned to England, she devotes much time to writing.

Images © David Betterton except where indicated

The 1870s: A Decade of Decisions – From the Society Journal No 3

Here is an extended piece discussing the trials and challenges of agricultural workers in the Wychwoods during the 1870s. It is taken from the WLHS Journal No. 3 (1987). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

As we look at the Wychwood villages in the 1870s it may be helpful to consider the viewpoint and fate of a local agricultural labourer, such as Thomas Turner, a Milton man, who in 1873 was married with a family of eight children. What was lifelike for such a family? How much were they affected by, and aware of, happenings elsewhere in England and overseas?

Farmers at this time had been benefiting from a period of steady or rising prices; in fact, they were near the end of what was later seen as the ‘golden age’ of Victorian High Farming. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 had removed protection from home-grown crops but was not immediately followed by a serious slump in prices, as had been feared. It was only after the mid-1870s that competition, first from increased grain imports and later from foreign refrigerated meat, began to have its effect. This was eventually reflected, as we shall see, in a shift to greater dairy and livestock production in the Wychwoods area. More immediately falling corn prices signalled the beginning of a time of difficulty and depression in farming, locally and nationally.

By the 1870s improved communication, not just by rail, but also along improved roads, had enabled the development of a cheap and efficient postal service and telegraph network. Speedy delivery of national, and a rapidly expanding number of local, newspapers was also possible. In Milton and Shipton educational provision had been considerably expanded during the mid-century. The Education Act of 1870 introduced national compulsory elementary education to the age of ten. Levels of literacy began to rise. All these developments were making it more possible for people of all classes to be more aware than ever before of what was happening in other places.

An Oxfordshire farm labourer, like Thomas Turner, in the 1870s was earning 11-12s a week, a basic average of about £35 p.a., allowing for loss of pay during bad weather or illness. Turner may not have read a newspaper, but he was probably aware than industrial workers’ wages were higher than his own (in fact some 50% higher), and that farm workers in the north were also able to command better pay. There farmers, faced with competition for labour from nearby manufacturing towns and receiving higher prices for produce because of local market demand, had to be more generous. In Milton Thomas was expected to work long hours, from sunrise to sunset, under very hard conditions for his small and uncertain wage. This pay alone was scarcely enough to feed a family, even on the poorest diet, and was inadequate to provide for reasonable clothing against wet and cold. Many local farm workers lived in cramped conditions, in tied or rented cottages with no security of tenure.

Things did not get better in the Wychwoods during the mid-century. Population rose considerably in both villages between 1801 and 1901, by 53% in Milton and 65% in Shipton. For both communities the most intense period of growth came between the 1830s and 1860s (Table 7 and Figure 4). By 1871 Shipton and Milton had reached a peak of population. Thereafter they experienced stagnation or absolute decline. It was the 1870s which set the seal on this change of fortune, for it was during these years that the village economies finally proved unable to sustain the rapidly enlarged population. The basic problem was clear in the Milton work force, of which Thomas Turner was part in 1871.

There were ten farmers who employed 58 men, six women and 21 boys, whereas some 100 men were described in the census as farm workers. There was more labour than there were jobs, and despite the non-farming occupations of mason and quarry work for the men, and gloving for the women, there were insufficient alternatives to absorb this surplus (Figure 7). Some of those not taken on by farmers might hope for seasonal work like hedging, ditching, or harvesting, or do casual work like hoeing, stone picking or threshing, but unemployment was becoming an increasing threat to their existence.

Life had been less grim for villagers when they could still benefit from nearby Wychwood forest. There had been no royal hunting or strict control of the forest since the previous century and people grazed cattle, hunted game and collected fuel there. With enclosure and the clearance of the forest after 1856, there followed a few years when surrounding villages could enjoy surplus timber and venison and there was plenty of work to be had; all this came to an end when the new enclosed farms came into production. Not only were the villagers deprived of their source of game, probably their only meat apart from a household pig, but the Poaching Prevention Act of 1862 had brought in harsh new measures which enabled the police to search anyone suspected of carrying a bird or rabbit which had been taken illegally. The penalty for night poaching could be three months in jail with hard labour. To add to all this was the new Poor Law introduced in the 1830s and based on a punitive workhouse test.

The growing number of friendly societies in Shipton and Milton at this time shows the dread that labouring families had of becoming unable to support themselves, and worst of all, of suffering the stigma of a pauper burial. The Shipton Friendly Society was established in 1860. It met at the Crown Inn on the second Monday in February, May, August and November when its members spent two hours in friendly but sober company, and paid 4s into the box’. Of this 3s went to the Stock Fund, 6d to the annual feast, 3d to an incidental fund and 3d towards beer. Members had to meet definite conditions before being voted into the society; they must ‘bear a good character, be of sound habit of body, not labouring under known or concealed distemper’, and be between the ages of 12 and 45 years. After a year’s membership they would receive when ill or not working, 8s a week for up to 52 weeks, and then 4s a week. Society membership also ensured a decent burial, not only through help with the daunting expenses, but also through much valued marks of respect from fellow members before and during the funeral. The friendly societies also provided welcome opportunities for fellowship and a rare chance for labourers to organise their own affairs, although, as at Shipton, local clergy and notables were frequently involved.

Outside the quarterly meetings society affairs were operated by two stewards and their four assistants, whose job it was to visit sick members weekly (unless they had smallpox or some other contagious disease), to engage a ‘medical man’ when necessary, to account for all expenditures, and generally to maintain a well-ordered and respectable appearance. This was the tone of the Society as a whole, with its rules excluding from benefit any member who ‘wilfully ran himself into danger, such as cudgeling, or football playing, fighting, drinking or such like’, and expelling anyone claiming benefit whilst still working or found ‘at a public house or gaming, or engaged in any other improper way’. A door keeper was appointed to ensure that only members entered the Society’s meetings.

Despite these sober strictures Society events were enjoyable and important parts of village life. This was especially true of the annual feast, a rare day off work, In Shipton this took place on the Wednesday of Whitsun week and was paid for from the members’ quarterly 6d and an additional payment of 2/6d for the dinner. Feast day had an elaborate ritual of its own. Each member was required to attend divine service, walking in procession in twos ‘as they stand on the books’, or pay a fine of 1s.

The stewards were to solicit the local clergyman to preach a suitable sermon or be fined 2/6d. Festivities then lasted until ten at night with the feast in the club room at the Crown, followed by a more general fete and fair for the women folk and children of members. To belong to a friendly society was an important thing in a labourer’s life; it provided special occasions and fellowship in a hard life, and some relief from the constant threat of unemployment or sickness. Was it enough for the farm labourers of the Wychwood villages?

In the early 1870s rural workers started to take more radical action to remedy their situation. Joseph Arch, a Warwickshire hedge cutter and Primitive Methodist preacher, urged his fellow workers to fight for better pay and conditions by means of a trade union. In February 1872 Arch held his first meeting at Wellesboume, Warwickshire. Two months later on 16 April the first meeting of what was to become the Oxford District of the National Shipton Friendly Society Club Day, Whitsun 1908.

Shipton Friendly Society Club Day Whitsun 1908. Shipton Band are entertaining the crowd outside Shipton Post Office in Church Street

Agricultural Labourers’ Union was held on the green at Milton under Wychwood. Fifty men joined that evening, having appointed 35 year-old Joseph Leggett of Milton as their secretary. Leggett had been born in Windsor, married a Milton girl, and was not himself an agricultural labourer, but a carpenter employed by Alfred Groves of Milton. Like many of his fellow unionists Leggett was a Dissenter in -religion, a Baptist. The April meeting elected a committee of six, two from Milton (James Mills, agricultural labourer, and William Barnes, carpenter), two from Shipton William Ri ht and Charles Cox, agricultural labourers) and two from Lyneham. Once started the movement grew at an amazing speed. A week later they held a second meeting, also at Milton, at which rules and objectives were agreed. These included the demand for a nine-hour day, with extra pay of 4d per hour for overtime and Sunday work. The minutes of that meeting state that ‘After the rules were read a large number joined the Union from different parishes, an excellent feeling prevailed among the men, who quietly dispersed to their homes’.

By May, only a month later, 13 branches with over 500 members had been set up in the area. Demands were extended to include a basic minimum wage of 13s a week, and a day’s work at harvest time of 13 hours, including 2 hours for meals, paid at 4s a day without beer.

The idea of working men joining forces to demand fairer treatment was resented and strongly resisted by the farmers. In July Mr Maddox of Shipton dismissed six of his 25 labourers for joining the union. Tensions affected all three Wychwood villages, including Ascott where, as John Calvertt of Fairspear Farm recorded in his diary, ‘Mr. Robert Hambridge …. told me how lie had been persecuted by the Josh Arch-ites, two or three years ago’. Union members paid a subscription of 2d per week to the union funds, which were used to assist those who suffered loss of employment because of their membership. Thomas Turner of Milton was one of those who claimed assistance; he was paid 9s for-one week in January 1873, perhaps because of a lock out.

In the spring of that year the Wychwoods attracted national attention over the notorious affair of the women ‘martyrs of Ascott’. In April Robert.. Hambridge who farmed some 400 acres at Ascott, was approached by his labourers for a rise of 2s per week in their basic wages. Hambridge refused and the men went on strike. Within a week, labourers on other farms in the village followed their example. In May Hambridge decided to hire men from Ramsden to take the place of the strikers. On the morning of 12 May, a group of wives and daughters of the Ascott strikers met two of these men as they came to work in the village and tried to persuade them to stay away.

Although initially deterred, the men subsequently returned, under the protection of a single police constable, and began work. For their allegedly intimidatory action 17 Ascott women were arrested and charged at Chipping Norton Petty Sessions with breaching the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871, a piece of legislation aimed at restricting picketing by trade unionists. It was claimed that the women had threatened violence. Sixteen of the Ascott women were found guilty and sent to prison, seven of them for ten days and the remaining nine for seven days hard labour.

They were transported to Oxford jail under police escort. The sentencing magistrates were the Revd W,E.D. Carter, Phillimore’s successor as vicar of Shipton, and the Revd Thomas Harris rector of Swerford. The harshness of the sentences, and the fact that two of the women were nursing babies, which had to go to prison with them, caused an outcry not just amongst union supporters but nationally. The affair was debated in the national press and in Parliament. The Lord Chancellor required the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke_ of Marlborough, to investigate events. Despite the Duke’s stalwart defence of the rigorous action of the magistrates the Lord Chancellor disagreed, firmly pointing out to the Duke that ‘the authority of the law would have been in this case better vindicated by a different and more lenient course’. Many Wychwood unionists were Nonconformists; and the actions of the local clerical magistrates must have added religious resentment to social and economic grievances. When the Ascott Martyrs were finally released from prison there were large demonstrations, and on 20 June at the gates of Mr. Hambridge’s farm, Joseph Arch himself presented each of the 16 women with £5 and a silk dress in royal blue, the union colour.

By this time the NALU Oxford District had set up headquarters in Oxford with Joseph Leggett of Milton as organising secretary. The District was affiliated to the national headquarters of the union in Leamington. The Union made a major policy decision to assist families to emigrate, arguing that as long as there was surplus labour available the farmers would not give in to their demands.

In July 1872, when the first efforts of the Union were being blocked by the farmers, Charles Carter, an emigration agent from a New Zealand construction firm, Brogden and Sons, held a meeting at Shipton, at which he recruited ten families. They left on 13 September, and arrived at Napier, Hawke Bay on 28 December, a journey of over three months. Letters from these first emigrants, giving glowing accounts of life in New Zealand, were passed around at home in Oxfordshire, and did much to encourage others to take the same course. Fares were paid for families on condition that the men either worked for a stated period for the construction firm or agreed to refund the loan once they were settled.

This was the start of a period of massive emigration from the area. Over 200 per 100,000 of population left Oxfordshire, the highest figure for any county except Cornwall, with its special problems of a failing mining industry.

In November 1873 the emigration agent, Carter held another meeting at Milton. This took place in a large marquee, which was used frequently at this time for chapel and union functions. It was owned by Isaac Castle a typical example of the respectable Victorian radical working man. Isaac was a Primitive Methodist who ran a coffee tavern in Milton to assist the cause of temperance. In 1881 he appeared in the census living in High Street, Milton with his wife Anne. Castle was then aged 55 and described as a woodman.

In 1873 his marquee was pitched in a field near the village and there 5-600 gathered for a meeting lit only by lanterns. The audience had come from far and near to hear Carter speak for an hour and 40 minutes on the wonders of life in New Zealand, comparing it to the ‘march downhill with the workhouse at the bottom’, which they faced in England. A collection of £17 was made to help a group about to leave for Hawkes Bay.

We do not know the exact number who left Milton, but the shipping company records tell of about 100 adults and children going from the village, including Thomas Turner with his large family. By 1881 Milton’s population had fallen by 126, a loss of 13% during a decade when Shipton’s population fell by 5% and that of Oxfordshire remained stable (Figure 6). The Milton emigrants included several large inter-related families, and many of those active in the union movement and in the Nonconformist chapels. These Dissenting groups, which organised their own affairs and provided lay preachers from amongst their own ranks, did much to provide the determined, lively-minded men of independent and radical spirit who led Wychwood trade unionism in the 1870s.

By comparison with the adjoining village people in Shipton took little part in active unionism. Perhaps Milton’s larger population, the fact that it had undergone more rapid and radical changes in its property-owning structure in preceding years, and had no big house or strong Anglican presence, all contributed to its position as the real stronghold of local unionism. Certainly before 1874 only the Wiggins family had emigrated from Shipton. In May 1874

Shipton was described the NALU journal, The Chronicle as a ‘large respectable village with only about 14 or 16 in the Union’. Then a party of 17 from Shipton joined the ‘Cospatrick’, which sailed on 11 September. The ship caught fire in the South Atlantic and sank, leaving no survivors from the 429 emigrants on board. A memorial to this disaster stands on the village green at Shipton showing the names of more extended family groups, the Hedges and the Townsends, lost to the village.

After tragedy interest in emigration waned. The incident was a great shock to the area, and at the same time the outflow of workers that had been taking place during the previous three years was having its affect. Wages and conditions of work were gradually improving as the bargaining powers of the labourers strengthened. Even in Shipton, Union membership increased sharply in 1875. A very large demonstration was held at Milton on Wednesday 28 July 1875. Joseph Arch, the NALU President, was led in procession from Shipton station to Milton village green. Bands played, banners waved, and nearly 800 people had tea in Isaac Castle’s great tent. The demonstration was said to have been attended by 3-4,000.

The NALU members certainly had reason to be pleased with theft achievements during those first years. Basic wage rates had risen 20-30% between 1873 and 1874, and 40-50,000 people had emigrated under Union-sponsored schemes. Total Union membership had reached over 150,000. From this point however, the movement was destined to run into difficulties. A prolonged period of strikes and lockouts in East Anglia laid great demands on the Union’s central funds. When eventually the strike collapsed it led to bitterness in other parts of the country, as branches saw 75% of their contributions being diverted to the Leamington headquarters. There were disputes at the Oxford District HQ as to future policy, and the old strong feelings of united purpose gradually slackened as real wages improved. Of the pioneering leaders many had left for New Zealand, including Joseph Leggett, James Mills and William Barnes, all from Milton. All this weakened the Union’s position, but another factor was soon to become dominant.

By the second half of the decade the prosperous years of farming were well and truly over. John Calvertt’s diary tells of year after year of disastrous weather. Successive harvests were ruined by rain, and when there was a dry spell it seems to have been fatal to crops, cereal and fodder alike. In years past a bad season might have caused a rise in market prices, but now the American prairies had been opened up, and ship loads of cheap cereals were arriving at English ports, causing prices to fall. Some farmers like Calvertt were able to continue in their comfortable lifestyle despite these troubles, but many smaller farmers did not manage to survive this period of depression, and landowners were finding it hard to dispose of leases on vacant farms.

As things became genuinely difficult for farmers the labourers were forced to accept some cuts in wages, but since the cost of living had fallen their real wage was in fact still better than at the beginning of the decade. Although the period of heady agitation had died down, the villagers now had a sense of what could be achieved by co-operation. The Union lapsed, and many of the young and vigorous leaders amongst the working men had gone. Amongst those who were left was there some legacy of the independent spirit which had helped families to brave the long voyage to the other side of the world, and to risk hardship by challenging farmers for better conditions? Now in more defensive mode, it was into allotment schemes, friendly societies and chapel-going than energies flowed.

See and download this article as a PDF here.

Sources and References

Rules of Shipton Friendly Society, 1860, ORO Willis I/v/1;

Census enumerators’ books Milton and Shipton, 1881, PRO microfilm in LHL;

The minute books of the Oxford District of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, 1872-9, published in P. Horn (ed.), ‘Agricultural Trade Unionism in Oxfordshire 1872-81’, Oxfordshire Record Society., Vol. XLVIII (1974);

Rollo Arnold, Oxfordshire Emigrants to New Zealand during the Farm Labourers’ Revolt in the 1870’s (typescript of lecture to Wellington Group of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, 17 June 1976).

More Memories of Shipton -The Village Shops and Roundsmen | From the Society Journal No. 10

Here is a second extended piece by Dorothy Brookes, taken from the WLHS Journal No. 10 (1995). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

Mrs Brookes, born Dorothy Coombes, grew up in Shipton under Wychwood during the second two decades of this century. Her earlier recollections were published in Wychwoods History no. 7 (1992), and are also available here.


Most local villages were almost self-sufficient; there were family grocers, bakers, dress makers, wheelwrights, a butcher, several smaller shops and one or two public houses. Shipton was no exception.

When my mother’s youngest sister Lily Longshaw left school, she went to day work at the Bankhouse. The owner ran a family grocer’s business as well as a small bank. Her wages were two shillings a week and a bit of lard to take home to her mother. In those days grocers bought whole pigs and boiled the bacon for sale over the counter along with the home-made lard and brawn. The owner used a shovel to pick up the sovereigns in the bank and Aunt held open the canvas bags for him to tip the money into. She then had to clean the room for the next day’s business. He told her he knew her father Robert had brought the family up to be honest, so he had no worries about losing any of the money.

While Aunt Lily was there, the then Prince of Wales called in one day for help with a hunting accident. He was out with the Heythrop Hunt and MajoeBrassey had been thrown from his horse.

The people who kept the grocery shops didn’t inspire much loyalty. The one with the bank attached to it was well-stocked and always had good, smart staff and a regular delivery man. The owner, however, was not so popular as he was overbearing, noisy and could have a child shaking in its boots in seconds. His wife never deigned to speak to village folk; their only son was not allowed to mix with other children but had a governess instead of attending the village school. I don’t think us school children ever envied him, we saw him as a lonely little figure forever muffled against the cold, the governess dragging him along when he looked over his shoulder at the ‘working-class’ children playing happily on their way to and from school.

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Bank House Shipton estimated 1900s

The other big shop (now Shipton House Stores) had little railings to prevent children leaning against the windows. The maiden ladies who, with their brother (Ernest, Mary and Ellen Dee) kept this establishment, just didn’t approve of children window-gazing. They would come to the shop door and ask if mother had sent us down for something. But they never shouted at us and ‘Miss Mary’ was our kind Sunday School teacher who once organised a picnic for us. One side of this shop was given over to drapery sales, and near to Christmas a lighted Christmas tree appeared in place of the usual hats, stockings and rolls of cloth. The tree was surrounded by books, dolls, games. paintboxes and numerous small toys. Once the cry went up that ‘Dees’ had decorated, we tore out from school and spent the next couple of hours deciding what our Mam would ask Father Christmas to bring us. The grocery side was festive too, with huge mounds of dried fruits, cheese and sugared almonds. How we loved it all.

The village sweet shop was older with a distinctive smell and usually a couple of cats sitting on the counters. They stocked everything that was tempting to a child with a Saturday’s penny to spend – lovely glass jars filled with boiled sweets, hundreds and thousands, broken toffee, sticks of barley sugar, long ‘shoelaces’ of liquorice and numerous other delights. They also sold the basic groceries. Woodbines, cheap tobacco and snuff. What was more important, they gave credit to poor families, and there were plenty of these. Neither did they mind weighing up two ounces of cheese or loose tea. If they could not pay their bills they borrowed a box of stores from a similar shop in the next village. The first imported New Zealand lamb was sold at the back of this shop and, later on, fish and chips.


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Hathaway’s shop High Street Shipton 1930s. Originally Dees stores, the shop was built in 1919 when Mr Dee moved from his premises opposite Shipton Lodge. The drapery section was upstairs with the groceries below. Deliveries were made to surrounding villages by Stanley Gorton seen here with Mary Barnes and the Model A Ford van. The railings around the shop went in the war effort in 1940


A notice on the yard wall said ‘Stabling and Horse and Trap for Hire’. This was a relic from the days when my great-grandfather Peter Townsend owned all this property. When my Granny (Eliza Coombes nee Townsend) was a child they lived in what is now the Doctor’s house near the school. It was only a cottage then and her father did cobbling. (During later alterations the window he sat by was discovered, walled up in a passage). He also drove for people who did not have their own coachman. He bought property at the top of Church Street and opened refreshment rooms, a pork butcher’s shop and had a horse and trap for hire, the stables being down where the gasworks were later built (now the site of ‘Bowerham’ sheltered flats). Her mother sold ‘piece goods’ (materials by the yard) in the room over the refreshment rooms. Most of the property was eventually sold except for the refreshment rooms which were turned into a grocery shop. Granny’s sister Maria married Richard Avery from Burford and they lived there with their two sons.

Later on you could hire a car from here, and once we all went to Chippenham for the day for 42s. We started at eight o’clock in the morning with Mother, Dad, three children and the driver, all in a red Ford car. We had several adventures on the way: this was 1922 and the roads weren’t quite as good as they are today. We got lost once or twice before finally reaching my uncle’s house, and on the homeward journey the car had several punctures. A kind lady at a roadside cottage lent a bicycle for our driver to go to a garage miles away for help while my brother and I sat on a roadside bank watching several adders basking in the evening sunlight. Eventually we got home safely, my mother paid the driver and Dad gave him 2/6d. It was a good thing he didn’t charge for his time!

Grampy Coombes had a brother (Henry) who was for several years the village undertaker and wheelwright, while his wife and daughters ran the post-office. I only ever saw them from the other side of the counter and was expected to call them ‘Miss’. (These were Kathleen, later Mrs George Wiggins, and Miss Jessica Coombes).

There were several smaller shops where sweets were sold from tins, and like the others they had a tobacco licence and sold snuff. On their shelves were packets of starch, soap and blue bags. They also sold loose tea and sugar but not much else. All these shops suffered terrible losses when the Cooperative opened at Chipping Norton and started delivering twice a week around the villages – groceries, shoes, clothes, bread and cakes and, what was most useful, they also brought bags of pig food in the shape of ‘toppings’ and barley. The great attraction was the quarterly dividend; few women could resist this and many found it their first form of saving.

Besides the gypsies who came round the village with pegs and ferns, there were regular pedlars or packmen. They came every few months with lace, ribbons and cottons. There were no operations for bad hips in those days and one saw much suffering and quite a few crippled people. On the principle that everybody had to eat, most women kept back a few pence to spend with these unfortunates. One such old man rested his basket on the wall and gratefully accepted a cup of tea; he had a speech impediment too.

A reel of white cotton cost 21/2d; he took your shilling and counted out your change as follows: “uppence-‘appeny, ‘eppence, ‘ourpunce, ‘ipunce, ‘ixpense and a ‘illing’. Then there was the Thankyo’ man who bought rabbit skins, rags and old iron. He always paid the best prices and when he left he would slam the gate with a flourish, loudly callingThankyo’; that way the next housewife know he was on his way.

Another old couple brought gravy-salt, bar-salt and pepper. They sometimes brought lardy-cake and could be heard crying their wares ‘lardy-cake and lamp-oil!’. These two old boys had wonderful hair which they said was due to them wiping their paraffin-soaked hands through it before serving the lardy-cake. If you were going out it was quite safe to leave the money on the door-step for the paraffin, shoe-polish etc. Fresh fish and fruit were brought to the door, the fishman meeting the early morning train to get the fish sent overnight from Yarmouth so that it reached our tables in less than twenty-four hours.

Early Days at Shipton | From the Society Journal No.7

Here is an extended piece by Dorothy Brookes, taken from the WLHS Journal No. 7 (1992). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

I was born Dorothy Mary Coombes in 1911 in a small cottage, the last in a row of stone-built houses called Blenheim Cottages erected on land known as ‘manorial waste’ alongside the Burford Road. The top three were much older than the others: ours, ‘Top House’, the one nearest Burford, had a stone staircase. None of them had back doors. Farther down the road there was a common wash-house and drying ground. The cottages faced west and from their tiny bedroom windows could be seen Icomb Roundhouse, Stow-on-the-Wold and, away in the distance, Batsford Park. Tiny gardens and a rough pathway separated the cottages from the road which went up the hill to Burford or downhill through Shipton village, past the railway station and then on to Chipping Norton.

My mother always said that history unfolded itself on the Burford Road. There was no railway at Burford so people from there had to travel the four miles over the Downs to Shipton Station. There were carriages from the big houses, carters from the farms with their teams and huge wagons loaded with corn, cattle being driven, a horse-drawn bus and a few people on foot.

When I was three years old we moved just down the road to a better cottage. My father made many journeys to the new home with a truck he had made, my brother and sister helping him each time to push the load while I rode on top as I was the youngest. Mother scrubbed out as each small room became empty. A new tenant would make a thorough inspection of the vacant house and report to the neighbours if it had been left dirty.


The new house was a `back-to-back’, ours facing the west and the Burford Road like the one we had left, the back tenant facing east with their garden path going into a small lane. It was a much nicer house than the old one; there was a good garden with a pig sty, a good shed and our own lavvy’. But it had its drawbacks: there was no pump, so water had to be fetched from the stand-pipe some distance away. When it rained hard my mother had to stand at the door with a broom to turn away the water that cascaded madly down the steps. However, enough rainwater could be collected in a huge tub for washing the clothes, ourselves and for boiling the pig-swill.

I am told that the day I was three years old, I demanded a clean ‘pinny’ and a note for the teacher as I was now old enough to go to school. It seems that at two years old I had followed my sister and brother the mile to school and I vividly remember my mother snatching me away from the wallboard

'Top house', Blenheim Cottages, Burford Road about 1945
‘Top house’, Blenheim Cottages, Burford Road about 1945

where I was making an effort at writing my name. I was scolded all the way home with Mother saying ‘You shall go the day you are three my girl, I’ll have no more of this worry’. And go I did, although I must confess I don’t remember that day.

The Great War had started on August 4th of that year and our dad had volunteered for service on September 5th. My mother told us of the day he left home in his best suit to catch the train to Oxford. Here he enlisted in the 2/4th Oxon. and Bucks. Light Infantry. After a few weeks’ training and embarkation leave he was soon en route for France. It was along time before we saw him again and each night Mother led us, her three children, in prayer for his safe return. One night I was watching her brush and comb her lovely long hair when she said ‘It’s moonlight, the same moon that is shining on your dad. I wonder where he is tonight?’ We soon found out, for in a few hours’ time there was a shout from the garden of ‘Mother, open the door!’

Mother lit the candle and, carrying it downstairs, opened the door to a weary, muddy and pack-laden soldier. In a very short while she had our dad into clean clothes and, sitting by a blazing fire over a cup of strong tea, he told us how a few days’ leave had been granted following a terrible battle. A troop train had brought the soldiers from the Channel boat at Dover, up to London and then down to Oxford. From there, there had been no further transport. The men could either sleep on the platform or find their own way home; some lived in Oxford but others out in the villages.

Dad and his companion, a young man from Taynton, had walked to Shipton. The young man had come Shipton way to see Dad indoors and then had the long, cold walk over the Downs to his own home at Taynton. While Dad was at home he helped Mother with the garden and mended our shoes and boots. Mother ironed his uniform to kill the many fleas he had brought back with him, arid then left us at Granny’s while she went to the station to see him off again. In a few days’ time she took us to stay at Chippenham with her brother Walter Longshaw and his four children. We lived there for almost a year.

I was six when we returned home – too young to know anything of war? Our schoolmaster didn’t think so. There was no radio or television in those days, but Mr Strong read the war reports to us from his newspaper. He told us when local young men were killed in action and who was badly wounded; we were taught to sing patriotic songs and to hate the Kaiser and his people. None of the schoolchildren had ever seen the sea but we were taught that the navy was playing a vital role in the defence of our island. To illustrate this, my dad sent me a Navy ABC for Little Britons. I took this book to school many times and have it to this day.

The way to school led through the churchyard. One morning I had raced ahead of my brother and sister and turned the corner into the narrow path. There, leaning against the wall was a familiar figure – it was ‘our Dad’. He had travelled down on the first available train from Oxford and was waiting near the school to see his ‘mites’ before walking the last mile home. The schoolmaster met him too and said that we children could go home. We heard that he had been awarded the DCM and were very proud to read the following week in the Oxford Times:-

Lance-Corporal T.T. Coombes of the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks. Light Infantry has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for Auspicious Gallantry.
When an enemy torpedo knccked a man over the parapet severely wounding him, Coombes went out in full view of the enemy at 150 yards range and lifted the man back into the trenches. Lance-Corporal Coombes is an Oxfordshire man – his home being at Shipton under Wychwood.

We were soon to hear that he had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Later I remember the lovely Easter egg Dad sent us from Eastbourne, where he was recovering from burns from a discharged Very pistol. My brother saved most of his share to give to Mother the next Sunday. At times, food was not very plentiful but Donald never started his dinner until he was sure that ‘our Mam’ had hers on the table. He helped her in the garden, ran errands, cleaned the shoes and knives and was generally the ‘man of the house’. He was still only nine when Dad came home from active service. The schoolmaster told us about the coming Armistice and explained what it was. We expected Dad to come at once but of course this was not to be for a while. There were great celebrations in the village and Mother took us to Oxford to see the victory parade. I remember the decorated trellis arches and Dad waving to us as he marched by.

Eventually Dad resumed his work as a stonemason at Groves’ but, once home in the evening and in by the fire, he did not want to go out. He slept badly, haunted by the spectres of his young comrades dying in the mud and filth of Flanders, of the countless women and little children fleeing before the battles, the many screaming horses and cattle and miles of the cruel barbed wire that tore at flesh and clothes. I heard Dad say ‘The man who invented barbed wire should have been hanged with it’. The world ‘Fit for Heroes’ to live in proved not to be so.

Before long, men and boys who had been feted and cheered on their return from France were roaming the countryside looking for work. They often called at our house for hot water, tea, bread and cheese or perhaps an old pair of shoes or a jacket. Homelessness is no new thing: some of these men were on the road for years, and soon whole families were tramping, making their way to Northleach or Chipping Norton workhouse. There were hard hills to climb to get to either of these places where the men were expected to work for their supper. This may seem practical to those who have never known poverty, but these people were hungry, cold and ill-clad against the weather. They were in no shape to do much wood-chopping or scrubbing. No wonder they preferred to find a dry barn in which to bed down for the night.

Once a month there was a cattle sale down in the village; the sale ground was where the Bowls Club now have their green. Most of the cattle drovers were men who ‘lived rough’; they started early in the morning bringing the cattle in from neighbouring farms. Some came from villages many miles away: we could hear cows and sheep coming over the hill from Burford: not much time was wasted getting ready for school on sale day. Plenty of help was needed with the droving once the animals got near the village.

With my friends I stood at road junctions and open gateways to prevent the awkward cows straying off the road. At dinnertime we helped drive animals up the Burford road, very reluctant to go in to our dinner which Mother had cooling on the plates so that we could get quickly back down to the sale where we mingled with the grown-ups until the second bell for school.

We went back again after school, and this time helped a drover take cattle to the crossroads on the Downs. These men were paid a few shillings for this work and they usually gave a penny to any young child who would go up the hill with them. At Fulbrook, school-children would be waiting there to carry on to Burford. This continued until the cattle reached their new home, often miles out over the Cotswold Hills. From these huge farms, corn was brought to the mill at Shipton Station.

Shipton livestock sale, 1930's, held regularly at the back of the Crown Inn, now the vegetable garden and bowling green
Shipton livestock sale, 1930’s, held regularly at the back of the Crown Inn, now the vegetable garden and bowling green

The carters had to make an early start and usually got to Shipton as we were ready for school. Their wagons were piled high with great loads of corn, and each drawn by a team of enormous but very gentle shire horses. The horses were decked out in well-shone brasses and some wore little caps on their ears. The wagoner had a ‘bolton’ of straw he could sell to provide his dinner money; it went to the first pig-keeper who had a shilling to spare.

We school-children followed the wagons down the street, hanging on to the tail-board and lifting our feet off the ground, thus getting a ride for a few yards. Envious school-mates would soon cry ‘whip behind’ and the wagoner would grin and curl his whip over his shoulder, trying to tickle someone’s ears. Later in the day the wagons had to make the long journey back to their farms. I was very friendly with one of the carters and instead of riding on the wagon he would walk up the hill towards Burford chatting to me. He wanted to hear bits about the world we had learnt at geography lessons and said he wished he had got a bit of learning. He liked to hear the recitations and songs and would make the cart horses stand until he had heard the last verse.

The horse-drawn bus made regular trips to Shipton Station to meet the trains. It came from Burford, picking up passengers from Fulbrook and the top end of Shipton on the way. The coachman was fond of ale and often stopped at the Red Horse too long so prudent passengers alighted here and walked the last quarter mile to the station. The once-talked-of branch line to Burford was never built although it was mentioned on the deeds of a cottage my father once owned as it might have gone through that cottage garden.

Other vehicles came up and down the ‘Turnpike’ (now the A361), mostly horse-drawn. There were the gaily-painted caravans of the fair people who came to the village twice a year and put up roundabouts, swinging-boats and stalls. The women folk went round the houses with baskets of pegs and cottons; if you bought from them you had a lucky face; should you refuse, calamity or sudden death were forecast. We knew one of the men with the fair as he came into the village in spring and autumn to sweep the cottage chimneys.

One year there was a constant stream of Foden lorries through the village, all heavily laden on the southbound journey, with their loads hidden under tarpaulins. We wondered what they were and finally found out that surplus shells and ammunition from the war were being taken to Bristol to be dumped in the Channel. These lorries had to pass close to our gate and one day the road surface gave way and the wheel sank in, firmly stuck in the clay. My mother went out to see what was the matter and made cocoa for the man and boy while it was decided what to do

. In those days the only telephone in the village was at the Post Office, so a telegram was sent for help but it was three days before a relief with hauling tackle arrived, during which time the lorry had sunk even deeper into the clay. The driver slept in the cab and the boy in our wash-house and Mother helped with the food situation: the driver did have a tin of bully and some bread with him. The village children swarmed around to look at the shells and we wondered if we might get blown to bits in our beds.

The first rescue attempt was a wash-out; the thick steel rope broke and bits flew far and wide: it was lucky no-one watching was hurt. We children were sorry to see ‘our Foden’ finally rescued as it had been quite an exciting few days. The Fodens were steam wagons and ran on coal: the driver gave Mother a bit of coal for her kindness.

Haymaking in the early thirties
Haymaking in the early thirties

Other events came along to claim our attention. Sparks from the chimney of the Foden belonging to Groves the builders set fire to a barn up the Station Road; the horse-drawn bus turned over and people were injured; a school-friend was impaled on the spiked railings outside the Baptist Chapel; one night a terrific gale brought many trees down, blocking roads and lanes; torrential rain or melting snow caused the River Evenlode to flood the meadows and Station Road so that we were sorry that the school wasn’t on the other side of the river.

On the whole though, school-days passed pleasantly enough, and it was soon time for those not lucky enough to go to Burford Grammar School to think about looking for work. The girls mostly went into domestic service and the boys either to the farms or, if they were lucky, to an apprenticeship to a carpenter or into the building trade. There were a variety of ways of getting to the Grammar School, mostly scholarships of one sort or another. Boys walked to Burford from the villages and those from Kingham came to Shipton on the train and then on by foot or bicycle.

The Girls’ Grammar School had only just been opened then (1922); previous to this, a favoured few who could afford the train fare went to Oxford with forgotten scholarships somehow brought out into daylight for these lucky ones.

My brother won a scholarship to Burford: I missed the exam because I caught the dreaded scarlet fever. No-one knew where I caught it as there was not another case in the district. It was contagious and, in those days often fatal, but my mother said she would nurse me at home as the nearest isolation hospital was many miles away at Reading. She faithfully carried out the strict rules laid down by the village Doctor and as a result I recovered and no-one else caught the complaint from me.

I got the rest of my education when and how I could, reading books considered too old for me, watching others and, later on, attending W.E.A. classes and taking full advantage of anything offered by the Women’s Institute and their wonderful Denman College.

But before that, there were changes at home. Dad bought Rock Cottage round the corner and we moved our bits and pieces to a much larger place. Mother got the pig to move by rattling his food bucket; not having been fed all day he was no trouble to get into his new home.

There was a lot of work to do on this old cottage but with Mother as labourer it soon became a good home. Dad dug stone from the garden to build the garden wall. This cottage had a tithe on it and after quite a battle with the powers-that-be Mother and I went to the Old Bailey in London and finally got it redeemed. It was many years before there was a water supply – I had left home long before that came about.

The Burford horse-drawn bus at Shipton station, about 1910

Reproduced from the WLHS Journal No.7 (1992)

Observations on Ridge and Furrow in Honeydale Field | From the Society Journal No. 7

Here is an extended piece by Jim Pearse, taken from the WLHS Journal No. 7 (1992). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

Honeydale Farm lies on a spur of the Cotswold limestone, looking southeast over the valley of the River Evenlode, in the parish of Ascott under Wychwood. The farm takes its namc from the seventeen-acre field known as Honeydale since the Enclosure of 1838. Prior to this, Honeydale furlong within this same area dates back to at least the fifteenth century.

The origin of the name stems from the nature of the soil which is sticky yellow clay. I ploughed, cultivated and harvested Honeydale field between 1954 and 1967, after which it was laid down to permanent grass. Although using a tractor and three-furrowed plough, I maintained the old ridge and furrow system because of its advantages. No drainage system, however modern or efficiently laid, will remove large quantities of surface water as quickly as ridge and furrow. Excess water is immediately transferred down the gradient of the ridges to the furrows which become temporary ditches carrying water downhill to the nearest watercourse. Land drains, though very effective in the long term, only work by removing water after it has soaked down through the soil. This takes time on clay, so that in a wet season with rain nearly every day, the surface of a flat field will remain wet.

See this video of what is happening at Honeydale these days

A continuing tendency for ridges to level down each time the ground is cultivated results in an infill in the furrows making it necessary to ridge up the field once in every three years. That is done starting at the central backbone of each ridge, turning the soil upwards to form a peak and working outwards to the furrow thus leaving the furrow open. In the remaining years the field would be ploughed as normal with wider lands as on a flat field. In wet years furrows produced a poorer crop whilst ridges did well; in dry years the reverse occurred. On average only a quarter of the land, the extremes, was badly affected, three quarters producing a fair crop.

Ridge and furrow in the Evenlode valley – not Honeydak Field, but looking south from the Ascott Road near Shipton. Ridge and furrow often shows up clearly in frost or snou (as here), or in the early morning or late evening in oblique, low sunlight.

When corn was harvested in sheaves and needed to be left standing in stooks to dry, oats which had very green stems required the longest drying time and needed to stand in the fields ‘while the bells were rung on three Sundays’. In wet summers it was an advantage to stand the stooks on the ridges to catch the drying wind. Carrying the corn was also made easier when wagons could be drawn along the furrow allowing the load to be built with less effort. If sheaves were stacked too damp or green they would either go mouldy or ferment, possibly sufficiently to produce spontaneous combustion.

When the soil was loosely cultivated or freshly planted, it did tend to wash down the furrows, but the curving shape of the ridge and furrow slowed the flow of water which left some of the moving soil on the sides of the furrows instead of washing it down the field. It is frequently stated that the curving shape of the ridge and furrow arose by the manoeuvring of the ox ploughs at the ends of the fields. But I wonder if it was partly deliberate through the desire to prevent soil erosion as suggested. It would be interesting to test this theory by checking slopes for curved ridges and flat land for straight ridges. From our view of the valley, only the former are in evidence.

I am convinced that the ridge and furrow system was created deliberately and not as an accidental effect of ploughs repeatedly cultivating individual strips. If the ploughmen of the past knew how to plough, they also knew how to keep the field level if they had wanted to. This is reinforced by the fact that oxen could have pulled a plough on a flat plane across a slope much more easily compared with the effort required to plough up and down which was the normal practice.

The width of modern machinery – drills, sprayers and combines – causes difficulties on ridge and furrowed land. They hit the ridges too hard and miss the furrows. This is the main reason for the modern levelling of these fields. But flat fields displaying large pools of water in winter and early spring are quite possibly levelled ridge and furrow. Of course, nowadays modern fertilisers can normally revive crops affected by waterlogged soil.

The deeper, more fertile soil under ridge and furrow was better suited to wheat production than was the surrounding stonebrash. When wheat was making very high prices at the beginning of the nineteenth century, my guess is that most of these ridge and furrow lands were growing the crop for high profit. But ridge and furrow is still an advantage on grassland since, after prolonged heavy rain, a flat field will be waterlogged whilst furrows channel away all the excess water allowing the ridges to dry more rapidly.

There is no doubt that the ridge and furrow system as practised in the past with a large workforce and mostly manual farming methods was a practicable proposition but one which is not compatible with modern arable farming.