Lower Heyford

Lower Heyford is a village on the banks of the River Cherwell, about 6 miles west of Bicester.

The Domesday Book of 1086 records the village as Hegford. The toponym evolved as Heiford until the middle of the 13th century, Heyford ad Pontem after the bridge was built, Heyford Purcell since the middle of the 14th century, Nether Heyford after 1474, and sometimes Little Heyford. “Lower” distinguishes it from Upper Heyford which is about 1 mile upstream along the Cherwell valley. There are both a Nether Heyford and a Little Heyford in Northamptonshire, so the current “Lower Heyford” reduces confusion.

Aves Ditch, also known as Ash Bank or Wattle Bank, is a 3 mile long pre- Saxon ditch and bank structure on a northeast to southwest alignment. It is believed to have been used as both a Roman boundary dyke and an Anglo-Saxon field boundary. It now forms the boundary between the civil parishes of Lower Heyford and Middleton Stoney.

Before the Norman Conquest of England the manor belonged to Edwin, the son of a Saxon thegn. William the Conqueror granted the land to the powerful Geoffrey de Montbray, bishop of Coutances. The manor then passed through various hands until 1533 when Sir Edward Baynton sold it to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Corpus Christi College still owned the estate in the 1950s.

St Mary’s Church
St Mary’s Church

Wufwig, Bishop of Dorchester, consecrated a parish church at Lower Heyford in the 11th century. The current Church of England parish church of Saint Mary was first built in the 13th century, then rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style in the first half of the 14th century. The Perpendicular Gothic clerestory and south porch were added later. The building underwent a Victorian restoration in 1867–68.

In the reign of Edward VI the church tower had a ring of four bells. It now has a ring of six, of which the second and fourth were cast in 1766 by Matthew III Bagley of Chacombe, Northamptonshire. W&J Taylor cast the fifth bell in 1825, possibly at their foundry in Oxford. Mears and Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the tenor bell in 1867 and the treble and third bells in 1925.

The church is said to have had a 17th-century clock that was made in 1695 and removed during its Victorian restoration.

In the latter part of the 17th century Lower Heyford had a Quaker congregation. There was also a Methodist congregation by 1804, which soon had a chapel in the village and eventually became part of the United Methodist Church. A new chapel was built in 1906 and was still used for worship in 1955, but it has since become a private house.

In the Middle Ages Lower and Upper Heyford had two watermills on the River Cherwell. One of which was still in use in 1858.

Heyford Bridge
Heyford Bridge

There has been a bridge over the River Cherwell at Lower Heyford since at least 1255. The present bridge has nine arches and was noted by the early 16th-century antiquary John Leland. In the 1970s Jennifer Sherwood dated part of it to the 13th century, and its north side to either the 15th or 16th century. However, English Heritage dates the earliest parts of the present bridge to the 14th century, its alterations to the 17th century, and its widening to the 19th century. The bridge is a Grade II* listed building and forms an important part of the view from the adjacent historic landscape garden of Rousham House.

In 1797 the road between Bicester and Enstone was made into a turnpike. Lower Heyford had two toll-gates: one at Heyford Bridge and the other at the east end of the village. The road was disturnpiked in 1876, it is now the B4030 road and Heyford Bridge continues to carry its traffic.

The stretch of the Oxford Canal between Banbury and Tackley was completed in 1787. It runs along the Cherwell valley and bounds Lower Heyford on its north and west sides. Coal mined in Leicestershire and Warwickshire was unloaded on Heyford Wharf at Lower Heyford and distributed throughout the local area. Coal was sent via the turnpike road to Bicester until 1850 when the Buckinghamshire Railway linked Bicester to Bletchley on the London and North Western Railway and coal was able to be brought in that way instead.

Construction of the Oxford and Rugby Railway between Oxford and Banbury began in 1845. By the time the line opened the Great Western Railway had taken it over. In Lower Heyford the railway runs parallel with the canal on the west side. The GWR opened Heyford railway station at Lower Heyford in 1850. The route is now the Cherwell Valley Line and Heyford station is served by First Great Western trains.

In 1808 the village had two dame schools, and by 1833 there were three more formal schools. A National School was opened in 1867. In a reorganisation of schools in 1932 the National School became a junior school and senior pupils from Lower Heyford had to go to Steeple Aston. Lower Heyford school became a Church of England controlled school in 1952. It then closed in 1974 and is now a private house.