The village of Cottisford lies about 3 miles south of Brackley. The parish includes the hamlet of Juniper Hill and its northern edge forms part of the northern boundary of the BLHS area as well as part of the county border between Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire.

Flora Thompson
Flora Thompson

The village stands beside Crowell Brook, which is a stream that passes the villages of Hethe, Fringford and Godington before entering Buckinghamshire, where it becomes part of Padbury Brook, a tributary of the Great Ouse. Cottisford’s toponym refers to a former ford across Crowell Brook. In the 13th century the village was called Wolfheysford or Urlfesford.

The Domesday Book records that in 1086 Hugh de Grandmesnil was feudal overlord of Cottisford Manor and his son-in-law Roger d’Ivry was the lord of the manor. After d’Ivry’s death, his widow Adeline gave Cottisford to the Benedictine Abbey of Bec, in Normandy. Bec Abbey owned Ogbourne Priory in Wiltshire, which administered many of the abbey’s English manors, including Cottisford.

In 1404 Henry IV was planning a military campaign in France so he seized Ogbourne Priory and all its manors and granted them jointly to his son, John of Lancaster, the churchman Thomas Langley, and the Prior of Ogbourne, William de Saint Vaast. The Prior died soon afterwards. Then in 1414 Henry V suppressed the priory and by 1422 Thomas Langley had surrendered his share of the rights to the manors to John of Lancaster, whom Henry V had made Duke of Bedford.

The Duke died in 1435 and Henry VI later granted Cottisford to his uncle Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. However, in 1440 Henry VI founded Eton College and the following year he granted Cottisford to the new school. For several centuries the school leased out the manor to successive tenants who were lords of the manor. In 1885 the school sold the manor house and Warren Farm, and in 1921 it sold the remainder of its Cottisford estate.

Richard Eyre, son of the Reverend Richard Eyre, Prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral, obtained the lease on the manor in 1739 and renewed it in 1752. He had spent 28 years working for the East India Company and became “a power in the village life”. In 1760, the year before Richard died, the school granted the lease to Thomas Bramston and Richard’s nephew, Sir James Eyre. Bramston was a barrister at the Middle Temple in London and Sir James was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. However Richard’s widow, Martha Eyre, remained at the manor house until her death in 1772, and the following year the lease was sold by order of her executors.

The buyer was Reverend John Russell Greenhill, Rector of Fringford and owner of Chequers Court (now the country house retreat of the Prime Minister), who held the lease until his death in 1813. His son Sir Robert Greenhill-Russell, Member of Parliament for Thirsk, inherited the lease but gave it up in 1825.

Manor Farm is a 14th century manor house built of rubble masonry. Surviving 14th century details include two windows and an octagonal chimney stack. Four more windows date from the 15th century. The house has a solar and originally had a mediaeval hall, but in the 16th century an intermediate floor was inserted to create upstairs rooms. Also in the 16th century a south wing containing a parlour was added. The house was enlarged again in the 19th century. The house is a Grade I listed building.

Cottisford House is a newer manor house, built before 1707. It is of coursed rubble with ashlar quoins and has a hipped roof with attic dormers. William Turner, who leased the house from 1825, had it altered and enlarged in about 1830. In its grounds is a square dovecote.

The parish church of St Mary the Virgin
The parish church of St Mary the Virgin

It has been suggested that parts of the parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin may be Saxon. It has proportions typical of a Saxon church: long and narrow, and it is taller than it is wide. The quoins at all four corners of the building are a puzzle. They are a mixture of long flat slabs and tall narrow blocks, typical of Saxon quoins in many other buildings, but they are not laid in the strict long-and-short alternation common of Saxon work.

All the windows are certainly later work, but in the nave the windows at the west end are high up, in positions similar to where Saxon windows would have been positioned. Low down in the east wall is a blocked arch very roughly made of uneven stones. It is of such rough workmanship that it could be from any period, but if it were Saxon it would be the wall of a porticus.

Cottisford certainly had a parish church by 1081, when Hugh de Grandmesnil gave it, along with its tithe income and a hide of land, to the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Evroul-sur-Ouche. In 1167 St. Evroul Abbey transferred its property at Cottisford to Bec Abbey, which already owned the manor.

St. Mary’s was rebuilt in the 13th century. It is a small building with only a nave, chancel and south porch. The porch is Early English Gothic and has a sundial. The east window of the chancel dates from about 1300. The Gothic Revival architect Charles Buckeridge restored the building in 1861 and the present font was added at the same time. There is no bell tower but there is a belfry in the apex of the roof. The church had two bells in the 16th century. These have not remained but the church now has two bells cast in 1710 and 1858 and a small 17th century sanctus bell.

A watermill was built in about 1230, presumably on Crowell Brook. In 1292 the parish had both the watermill and a windmill. Neither mill’s fate is clear, but by the second half of the 18th century the estate seems to have been using a mill at Fringford instead.

An open field system of farming prevailed in the parish until 1854. Attempts by successive lords of the manor to get Parliament to pass an enclosure act for Cottisford’s common lands were defeated in 1761, 1777 and 1809. Parliament finally passed an enclosure act for the parish in 1848, but the enclosure award to redistribute the land was not settled until 1854.

The enclosure award included setting aside a plot of land for a village school and in 1856 the school and adjoining schoolmistress’ cottage were built with funds provided by Eton College. The parish church ran it as a National School until it closed in 1920. Oxfordshire County Council reopened it as a county school in 1924 and reorganised it as a junior school in 1929. It was still open in 1954 but has since been closed.

The author Flora Thompson (1876–1947) grew up in Juniper Hill and was a pupil at Cottisford School. She wrote the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy of novels, in which she modelled the village of “Fordlow” on Cottisford.