Past Talks

Victoria County History

Date: 17th October 2005
Speaker: Simon Townsley

The Speaker addressed the Meeting following Bicester Local History Society’s Annual General Meeting held at The Pop-In Centre, Crown Walk, Bicester. Twenty four members attended.

Bob introduced the Speaker, Simon Townsley, part of a small team responsible for researching and publishing the Oxfordshire Victoria County History. The Ploughley Hundreds Edition was published in 1959.

Simon explained that it was an aim of the project to provide a complete coverage for the County and that there were still significant areas to be covered. The project had started on a national scale in 1899 to set up a history of all the areas in England. Fourteen volumes had so far been published relating to Oxfordshire. Witney was the most recent addition to the archives and a volume relating to Carterton and Minster Lovell would be published next year. Work on the Burford, Henley and Vale of the White Horse areas was still ongoing.

Most material produced had appeared in book form although recent developments had seen material appearing on the internet where links to other sources also appeared. Most of the research was document based research but maps were important also. An architectural historian had been employed to research building history and features. Evidence provided by recent archaeology, fieldwork and aerial photography was increasingly important and tithe documents made an additional contribution to the body of research evidence.


Simon identified three areas in the County that had recently been added to the Victoria History archives:

KELMSCOTT: A small agricultural village on a flat landscape where William Morris had spent time in the late C19th. The community of thirty homes had a high proportion of ‘gentrified’ buildings e.g: Manor Farm, Bradshaw’s, Home Farm, etc. Village society had been dominated by a few gentlemen farmers. This was reflected in the range and richness of the Parish Church monuments. The wealth of the gentry was shown in the wills and the inventories dating from various historical periods.

CARTERTON: The community enjoyed major development in C20th especially as the Brize Norton Airbase developed. The town started as a colony of small holdings in 1900 specializing in market garden production although it was located on an ancient landscape. William Carter, a local builder was responsible for the early development of the town. He originally purchased Rock Farm (700 acres) and divided it up into 2 – 3 acre plots for small holders. Evidence for this is shown on early taxation maps of the district. The original small corrugated roofed bungalows were replaced with more substantial buildings which reflected the influence of the Air Force Base in their design. The community has expanded rapidly over the last fifty years.

WITNEY: Witney owes its major expansion to being a planned medieval town developed by the Bishop of Winchester. (This has provided excellent documentation about the town’s growth.) The cloth and blanket trade made a significant contribution to this development from early times. Additional historical information has been obtained from C16th Court rolls, C19th Urban Council records and C20th newspaper cuttings. The medieval town plan is still apparent in the pattern of properties in the old town, the market space and the burbage plots. The Church and Bishop’s Palace are reminders of this period. The woollen industry developed in C16th with enclosure of the surrounding countryside for sheep farming. Small scale cloth industries developed with 4/5 loom operations. The blanket industry enjoyed a world wide reputation. The Blanket Hall was built in C16th to ensure quality maintained in production. Mechanisation came late to the industry as there was no rail link to supply cheap coal. Social conditions were cramped for the residents working in the cloth industry.

Simon concluded his talk by answering questions. The Meeting closed at 9:43 pm.