Middleton Stoney

The village of Middleton Stoney lies about 2 miles west of Bicester. The western boundary of the parish follows Aves Ditch, a 3 mile long pre-Saxon ditch and bank structure which is believed to have been used as both a Roman boundary dyke and an Anglo-Saxon field boundary.

The current village is based around the crossroads of two main roads. The north-south road used to be the main road between Oxford and Brackley. In the 1920s it was classified as the A43, but in the 1990s the M40 motorway was completed and the stretch of the A43 through Middleton Stoney was reclassified as the B430. The east-west road is the main road between Bicester and Enstone. In 1797 an Act of Parliament made this road into a turnpike. It was disturnpiked in the 19th century and in the 20th century it was classified as the B4030.

In 1086 the manor was held by Richard Puignant, a Norman tenant in chief of whom little else is known. In the mid 12th century it was in the hands of Richard de Carnville, who was almost certainly responsible for building the castle which was located next to the parish church.

Excavation of the castle in 1973.
Excavation of the castle in 1973

The earliest reference to a castle on this site dates from 1194, but it was probably built before this. In 1216 King John ordered its destruction and there is no evidence to suggest that it was ever re-fortified.

Just to the west of the castle there was a medieval deer park whose creation was authorised by King John in 1201. In 1203 the king gave deer from Woodstock Park to stock it. This was later followed by gifts of deer from Beckley Park and Wychwood Forest. In 1295, 11s 8d was paid to the King’s huntsmen for catching wolves in the park. The boundary of the park still shows as a bank and ditch surrounding the present Middleton House estate.

The medieval manor house was originally built within the inner bailey of the castle, after it had been destroyed. Nicholas Harman is said to have built a “commodious residence” near the site of the castle. It is therefore possible that Nicholas Harman built onto a more ancient dwelling. This house survived as a farmhouse until the early 19th century. The desertion of the old manor house in favour of an isolated mansion in its own grounds appears to have occurred in the early 18th century, when Middleton Park House was built within the area of the medieval deer park, which was by then landscaped. This house was destroyed by fire in 1753 and replaced by a “handsome brick structure”. This building survived in a much altered form until 1938, when the ninth earl of Jersey demolished it in order to build a new house designed by Sir Edwin and Mr Robert Lutyens. This last house, which still remains today, was one of the last country houses to be built as such in England.

All Saints Church
All Saints Church

The original village was built around the castle and church. But, in the early 19th Century, George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey, set about the expansion of the manor park and the extinction of the old village. The eastward extension of the park was completed in 1825, when the old manor house and adjoining cottages were demolished, leaving the church and castle mound isolated between the mansion and the park gates. New cottages were built on the edge of the park, now forming the nucleus of the present village, under the direction of Lady Jersey. Each cottage had a rustic porch and a flower garden, conveying to one contemporary observer “an idea of comfort and respectability seldom enjoyed by the working classes”.