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.

The 19th Century Letters of Thomas and Hannah Groves | From the Society Journal No. 2

Here is an extended piece by Norman Frost, taken from the WLHS Journal No 2 (1986). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 2 can be found here).


The following are extracts from the letters of Thomas and Hannah Groves written in the year 1851 when they visited London in order that Thomas should receive medical treatment for a growth on his face. We are very much indebted to Mrs Marjorie Rathbone (a great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Groves) for not only preserving these letters over the years but also for allowing the use of them for this article. When quoting the contents of the letters, spelling and punctuation (or lack of it) is as in the original.  

Thomas was born on the 3 June 1789 and died on the 12 July 1860. The 1851 census shows Thomas and Hannah living with their family at Elms Farm in Shipton Road, Milton under Wychwood. He is described as a mason employing 16 men and a farmer of 12 acres on which he employed one man. His wife Hannah was born in 1792 and died in 1870. They are both buried in Milton churchyard. Members of his family, employees and local inhabitants are mentioned in the letters and a brief description of each one is given in the final paragraph of this article.   

Thomas Groves visited Dr Batty of South Newington, Middlesex for treatment in the summer of 1851. He and Hannah were able to obtain lodgings in the Pegasus Tavern near to Dr Batty’s residence.

In an undated letter Hannah wrote: ‘we was much put to get lodgin we thought we couldnt get a bed in the place we pay 2 pound a week at this place your father is so well he has never been laid up one day since we have been from home that is a great comfort to me in a strange  place’.  

On 25 July Thomas writes:   

‘Mr Batty informs me that he can cure my face’.  

On 1 August he again writes:   

‘I received Sarahs letter yesterday and was happy to heare you are all well and that Alfred is able to get out in the mornings I have named his case to Mr Batty and he say^.he must leave off those destructive pills He says he will send him something that will remove it’.  

On 4 August he is obviously anxious about his mason’s business:  

‘Have Alfred seen Harwood of Charlbury about the rim of the arch is the coping set on Upstones wall [Upstones lived at what is now Holly Corner, Upper Milton] Use plenty of lime in the foundations of the bridge’.  

8 August:   

‘Mr Batty has taken the lump off my face this morning they put in arches here like the one I have sketched [drawing of  elliptical arch of the style used by Isambard Brunei when building the Great Western Railway a few years earlier] if the centre is made as I proposed’you will want 4 or 5 stiff pieces of larch large enough to make two it would be better to stand on edge 5″ by 8″ or 9″ and 20″ long Matthew had better do it be sure to have it strong enough’.   

11 August:   

‘I am pleased to hear you are getting on with the bridge hope you will endeavour to please Mr Bayliss’.

14 August:   

‘Philip if you have finished at the quarry you had better get the harvest started but let it stand till ripe have Matthew finished The Carfax how does the old arches turn out’.  

A very cheerful letter is dated the 21 August:   

‘Dear Children, Pleased to hear that you are all well and that you have plenty of business and plenty of money and to inform you that we had £10 pound off Uncle Silman if Edward should come he may bring us some cash for this is a very expensive place’.  

However a following undated letter was very much back to business:  

‘Dear Edwin, I should be obliged if you would call on Mrs Edward if she has not been to pay her rent Also if John Miles and Richard should pay thers you must not give them anything back as we have to pay the takesis (taxes) and that is 8 or 10 shillings a year and ther rent is £3-3s a year and Mrs Edwards £3-10s’.  

On 4 September:   

‘Pleased to hear the bridge is making good progress should wish to have the ashlar for the parropet etc worked well as the season is rapidly advancing for using to much mortar Philip had better set on more men to get out more [stone ?] block if he takes on more men it may be getting dry and fit for use how is he coping with the harvest you may get the coping sawed for the bridge as soon as you can and some of the best dry block your coping on the wing walls will finish under the string courses Sarah will please bring me a warmer waistcoat’.  

A very descriptive letter follows on 1 October:   

‘I fear you will think we have quite forgot as I have not rote to you before my hand has been shaking that I could not rite We left Purfleet yesterday morn at 10 oclock by boat to Blackwall then took train and came to London took a cab and came to the Bank and took the bus I gave order to the conductor to put us down at Rathbourn Place instead of that he took us nearly to Camden Town we had to walk to Woborn Place took a bus then to South Place your mother was tired down we took a coop of tea and spent a very pleasant evening after a very tiresome day Send me a line today to say how you get on with the bridge if the plowing is wanting to be done get Pratts team plant some winter beans if you think best Tell Ellen you must let her please herself about staying with us another year’.  

Evidently one of his men had an accident for on 31 October he writes:

‘Pleased to hear R Pitts is likely to occupy his place so soon and trust it will be a warning to him to fasten the ladder How are you getting on in the feild and in the quarry do not come from the quarry without a load of wallstones let them be chopt a little off the rough and be laid at the end of the house on the left of the stable door opposite Mr Bursons door or Alfreds shop Your mother says she shall want a great many loads when you have time you may draw some mortar by doing so you will oblige your affectionate Father & Mother T & H Groves’.   

The good news came on 1 November:   

‘I am just returned from Mr Batty and he says my face is perfectly cured of the disease I wrote tonight as I knew you would be very pleased do not talk much about it the less the better at present’.  

21 November:   

‘We intend coming home by the Moreton coach if we can if we cannot we must come by the other to the top of Burford Hill hoping that we shall arrive safe please send the rag cloak yours affectionately T & H Groves’.  

These extracts are but a small selection of the total so carefully kept by Mrs Rathbone. The total lack of any punctuation and the rapid change of subject require them to be read very carefully. However, they do give a good idea of life 130 years ago.

The remarks about the cost of living in London would apply equally well today. London apparently had quite a comprehensive transport system from the remarks made by Thomas when travelling by boat, train, cab and horsedrawn omnibus, even if the conductors were not too reliable. With today’s banking services it is easy to forget the problems of those days when one must have had to carry any cash that was likely to be needed.  

Unfortunately I have yet to discover a great deal about the masonry work that made Thomas so anxious – I would particularly like to know more about his elliptical arches.  

Of the names mentioned in his letters I have been able to discover a little more. George, his eldest son, was born on 25 September 1817 and died on 2 August 1886. He is buried in Milton churchyard. At the time of these letters he was married to Charlotte (nee Pargetter of Lutterworth) who was nine years his junior. Their first child, also Thomas, was born  in May the next year and was followed by seven more children. At this time he shared a house with his brother Phillip at Upper Milton but later moved to Jubilee Lane. On his father’s death he took over the Milton quarries.  

Philip was born in 1821 and also became a stonemason. He died on 9 April 1900 and was buried in Milton churchyard where his wife Mary, who predeceased him on 18 May 1860, was also buried. Sarah was Thomas’s only daughter. She married twice but had no children. She and her first husband, James Ellis, had a bakery and grocery shop in Milton High Street. They are both buried in Milton churchyard.  

Edwin, the third son, was born on 20 December 1825 and was unmarried when he died on 13 April 1873. He had a tailor’s business in the High Street next to the Baptist chapel.  

Alfred the youngest son, was born on 28 December 1826 and died on 16 January 1914. He is buried in the Baptist burial ground at Milton. Locally he is possibly the best known of the family as he carried on the family business as a stonemason at The Elms and formed the modern company of Alfred Groves & Sons. His first wife, Ann Shepard, bore him three children but died in 1855. His second wife, Mary Reynolds, gave him another ten children and thereby ensured the direction of the family business unto the present day.  

Matthew was Thomas Groves’ younger brother, born in Shipton in 1796. He was a carpenter by trade and lived with his wife Ann Sophia Pratt from Leicestershire in Milton High Street next to the Butcher’s Arms. So far we believe they had three children, some of whose descendants correspond regularly with this society.   

Ellen Miles was a living-in servant to the Groves family. Thomas’s remark ‘tell Helen she must please herself about staying’ was presumably a reference to the end of her year of service when a servant would then go to the hiring fair (possibly Burford Fair) to seek employment for the coming year. Thomas gave her the option of staying with them. Evidently she thought they were good employers and we can see in subsequent letters (not quoted here) that she stayed. Her parents Richard and Elizabeth (nee Puddle) were tenants of Thomas Groves and lived in a now demolished cottage on the site of Poplar Farm Close. From Thomas’s letter their rent was £3 3s a year.  

The tenants quoted in these letters were John and Jane Miles (nee Hunt) who lived in Lower Milton. They were in their late seventies and obviously John was beyond working as a farm labourer as both were living on parish relief.  

The last tenants to be noted were Thomas Edwards and his wife who lived in a cottage on the Shipton Road at Milton, possibly now part of the present house ‘Hoplands’. They were both newcomers to the village. They had three children and Thomas worked for Groves as a plasterer.    

Information used to supplement these letters was obtained from:  

Family papers in the possession of Mrs Marjorie Rathbone.  

1842 Milton under Wychwood Tithe Returns.  

1851 Oxfordshire Census.  

Milton under Wychwood Graveyard Surveys compiled by Jack Chapman.  

Acknowledgements are made to Roy Groves of Illinois U.S.A., Keith Barrie of Newport Beach, Australia and Keith Miles of Milton for information received

The Burford – Shipton Omnibus: A Note from the Past

Here is short piece by Norman Frost, taken from the WLHS Journal No 2 (1986). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 2 can be found here).


The Burford-Shipton omnibus was started in 1870 by William Matthews. In 1888, the date of this timetable, the proprietor was T. Paintin & Son who ran the coach three times a day to connect with trains at Shipton station. The journey time was a little under one hour.

The Burford-Shipton Omnibus

They also ran a daily coach to Witney Station, leaving at 9.15am and returning at 5.05pm. The first Witney station was opened on 13 November 1861 when the Witney Railway opened its line to Yarnton Junction near Oxford. On the 15 January 1873 the East Gloucestershire Railway opened its line from Fairford to a junction with the Witney Railway just south of the old Witney station. A new station was opened on the East Gloucester line and the old station was used for goods traffic. It is still in use today but sadly without its railway.

Burford Omnibus Service Poster

The timetable is headed with the title ‘The Original Burford Omnibus Service’. This in conjunction with the final paragraph suggests that there had been competition for these services. A little over thirty years after this timetable was printed the service ceased. A photograph taken about this time shows the coach in Shipton station in a run down condition and near the end of its days. The proprietor was then Walter Holloway.

Bones under the Pew

Here is short and somewhat mischievous piece by Jack Howard-Drake, taken from the WLHS Journal No 2 (1986). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 2 can be found here).


In October 1732, Sir Thomas Read and George Read were granted a faculty or licence by the Bishop ‘to appropriate a Place in the Parish Church of Shipton under Whichwood commonly called or known by the name of the Scull house being under the respective Pews or Seates of the aforesaid Sir Thomas Read Bart and George Read Esq.,…’. They were to dig another ‘Scull house’ near the old one ‘to put all sculls and bones in for the future’ and were granted the old ‘Scull house to be a Dormitory or place of Buryall’ for their families provided they kept it in ‘constant and decent’ repair at their own expense.

Efforts to locate these ‘Scull houses’ with any certainty have so far proved unsuccessful. They were presumably under what is now known as the Read chapel. The old one, which became the Read’s family burial place, measured about fourteen feet from north to south and about nine feet from east to west, measurements which are difficult to reconcile with those of the present chapel, the floor of which is at two different levels above the main floor of the church. There is perhaps a clue in what appears to be the top of an arched entrance to a vault low down on the outside of the east wall immediately under the centre of the memorial window.

It is within living memory that the area of the chapel was screened off from the rest of the church and that the Pepper family used the small door on the south side to go in and out unobserved. But we have so far failed to find any record of the building of the chapel in its present form.

We should be glad of any information which might help us to discover the history of these burial places and the use of the chapel for the private pews of the local gentry.

Exhibition at Churchill Heritage Centre

“A case of tax avoidance in Churchill” – a new exhibition is now on until September, at the Churchill Heritage Centre. Curated by local historian Christine Gowing, the exhibition tells the story of one particular individual’s plan to avoid the Hearth Tax of 1662. The disastrous consequences were, and are, a salutary tale.

Exhibition Poster

The hearth tax imposed in 1662 by Charles II’s government, which was always looking to raise revenue. had put pressure on the villagers of Churchill, just as it was putting pressure on the nation. But for one woman in 1684, the temptation to avoid the tax in order to light her fire to bake bread became just too strong.

At some stage she had made a funnel to join chimneys with that of her neighbour and on Wednesday 30th July 1684, she was found out when her house was set ablaze and fire spread throughout the village. It resulted in the loss of four Churchill lives and twenty dwellings. And the event led to the creation of the village we now know – with the rebuilding of stone houses at the top of the hill.

This was not her first offence, and the exhibition tells what happened to this serial tax evader and how the local communities at the time reacted and supported the ravaged village of Churchill.

The story of our feckless baker and the devastating result of her irresponsible actions is the central theme of exhibition in the Centre.

The exhibition is on now until September 30th. The centre is open Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from 2.00 pm- 4.30 pm.

More about Churchill Heritage Centre here

The Society’s 25th Anniversary Remembered

In this year of the society’s 40th anniversary, here is a short trip down memory lane to the society’s 25th Anniversary in 2006. Amongst activities that year, the society produced a commemorative porcelain mug.

The Wychwoods Local History Society 25th Anniversary Commemorative Mug: 2006

Here are some short biographical notes on the four interesting Wychwoods characters which featured on it, with links to more information about them.

Gladys Avery, neé Habgood

Gladys Avery

Gladys’s father, Robert Habgood, took over the tenancy of a farm at Chadlington in 1931. In Wychwoods History volume 13, Gladys remembered the way of life on a farm before the Second World War, and the great changes that came about after 1940 when the War Department took 90 acres of land for a landing ground for the R.A.F.

Gladys worked for her father for 14 years until 1957 doing every job there was to be done on a mixed farm, except exercising the bull! She was very adept with the scythe. She lived in Shipton under Wychwood until she passed away in Spring 2007.

More information about Gladys is featured in the artcle “Farming Memories of Chadlington” in the Wychwoods History Journal No 13 p. 51

Reuben Rainbow

Reuben Rainbow

Depicted playing the piccolo in the band he founded in early 1900s after returning from fighting in the 2nd Boer War. On his left wrist is his music score. He was born in Shipton under Wychwood in 1871 and enlisted in 1888 aged 16.

He was then called up as a reservist in 1899 and fought in the Boer War with the 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers. He kept a diary from December 1899 until July 1900. This was later transcribed (a copy is in the WLHS archives) before being deposited in the South Wales Borderers and Monmouthshire Regimental Museum in Brecon.

An article about Reuben and the diary was published in Wychwoods History 17 p46. The diary records all the day to day activities of an army in the field, plunged into the most difficult conditions. He returned to Shipton, married the following year and died in 1911 aged 40 years.

See more in Second Wychwood Album here

Fanny Rathband neé Honeybourn

Fanny Rathband and the Wychwoods Local History Society Emblem

Mrs Rathband was the last surviving Ascott Martyr when the photograph, on which this portrait is based, was taken around 1925 outside Milton Methodist Chapel. In 1873, at the age of 16, she was sentenced with fifteen other women (two with young babies) to ten days in Oxford jail for picketing a farm in Ascott.

The cause of the dispute was the sacking of farm labourers who were members of the National Union of Agricultural Labourers. The harsh sentences imposed by two Reverend magistrates caused a national outcry but because Parliament was about to recess, nothing was done.

After several days, when some of the women had already completed their sentence, the Home Office advised Queen Victoria to remit the remainder of the sentence of the seven women still imprisoned. The warrant eventually arrived on the day that the remaining women were due for release.

Mrs Rathband lived in The Square in Milton, dying in 1939 at the age of 82.

See more in The Wychwoods Album here

Richard Hartley 1848-1927

Richard Hartley

Based on a photograph showing him standing in the timber yard of Alfred Groves, Milton under Wychwood, Richard Hartley was the first of the Hartley family to farm in the Wychwoods.

He had been a miller and an astute businessman as well as farmer before moving his wife, five small children, the family’s goods and chattels, 32 horses, numerous cattle and 15 men from Wigginton Mill near Banbury to Grove Farm, Shipton under Wychwood in 1892.

Once in the Wychwoods, he took over other farms in the area, particularly Manor Farm and Lower Farm in Milton under Wychwood.

See more in The Wychwoods Album here