Chesterton Lodge, now Bruern Abbey Preparatory School.
Chesterton Lodge, now Bruern Abbey Preparatory School

Chesterton is a village just outside Bicester. The village has sometimes been known as Great Chesterton, to distinguish it from the hamlet of Little Chesterton, which lies to the south in the same parish. The 2011 Census recorded the parish population as 850.

The village is located on the course of Akeman Street, the Roman road between Watling Street and Cirencester, about 1 mile north-west of the site of the Roman settlement at Alchester. When the M40 motorway was extended from Wheatley to Birmingham in the late 1980s, the motorway cut through Akeman Street just to the west of the village. The Roman layers of the road were exposed about 2.6 feet below the modern surface. The Romans had metalled the road with brashy subsoil quarried from roadside ditches, had subsequently patched the surface, and finally resurfaced the road over a layer of 8 inches of soil and detritus.

Chesterton had a watermill since before the Norman Conquest, and by the time of the Hundred Rolls in 1279 a second had been built. Presumably the mills were on Gagle Brook. One mill survived until early in the 19th century, and for a time had been converted into a hemp mill. Chesterton’s vicar of that time complained that despite the Duke of Marlborough having spent much money trying to improve the mill it was not working well. The vicar may have been correct, for in 1822 it was closed down.

Just before the Norman conquest the manor of Chesterton was held by Wigod, a Saxon Thegn who was a kinsman of King Edward the Confessor. The Domesday Book records that by 1086 it was held by Miles Crispin, the son- in-law of Robert D’Oyly. Crispin had connections with Wallingford Castle, and Chesterton remained part of the feudal Honour of Wallingford until the 13th century. In 1272 it was sold to Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall who founded Ashridge Priory in Hertfordshire in 1283 andgrantedthemanor of Chesterton to the priory in 1285. Ashridge Priory was suppressed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries and in 1540 Sir Thomas Pope bought the manor of Chesterton from the Crown.

The tower and west end of the parish church of St Mary.
The tower and west end of the parish church of St Mary

There was a mansion at the south-east end of the village by the early part of the 18th century. It was improved in the middle of the 18th century, and its grounds were extended for George Clarke, Sheriff of Oxfordshire, by diverting part of Akeman Street. By 1823 it was the principal house in Chesterton and Clarke’s son lived there for many years. But by 1887 the house was unoccupied and in 1889 it was replaced by a new Italianate house built for Henry Tubb, a banker in Bicester. By 1939 the Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation owned the house, but by 1955 it had passed to Audley House mixed preparatory school and it is now home to Bruern Abbey Preparatory School.

The oldest part of the parish church of Saint Mary is a 12th century arcade of three arches between the nave and the north aisle. The arcade is in the Transitional style between Norman and Early English Gothic. The church was rebuilt in the 13th century and reconsecrated in 1238. The chancel arch and arcade of the south aisle date from this period. The Decorated Gothic bell tower was added in the early 14th century. In 1852 the chancel’s east window was replaced with a four- light Decorated Gothic one, and in 1854 the chancel arch was restored. In 1866 the architect F.C. Penrose restored much of the building, including the windows in the south aisle and some of those in the north aisle. He also added a turret staircase to the tower.