Upper Heyford

High Street cottages in 1904.
High Street cottages in 1904

Upper Heyford is about 6 miles northwest of Bicester on the east bank of the River Cherwell. It has access to the Oxford Canal which runs parallel to the River Cherwell from Banbury and Somerton in the north towards Lower Heyford and Oxford in the south.

The Portway is a pre-Roman road running parallel with the River Cherwell on high ground about 1 mile east of the river. Its course bisects Upper Heyford parish and passes just east of the village. Part of it forms a minor road to Kirtlington.

The Domesday Book of 1086 records the village as Haiford, with a manor of 10 hides that was owned by the Norman baron, Robert D’Oyly. Along with many manors of the D’Oyly estate, Heyford became part of the Honour of Wallingford. The manor was tenanted by the de Chesney family until the late 12th century, when Maud de Chesney became married to Henry FitzGerold, chamberlain to Henry II. Maud left the manor to her eldest son, Warin, who had succeeded to the manor by 1198 and after whom the village became called Heyford Warren. Warin’s daughter, Margaret, married Baldwin de Redvers, son of William de Redvers, 5th Earl of Devon. Heyford Warren remained with the Earls of Devon and thereby passed to Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Devon, in 1262.

Isabella outlived all her children, so after her death in 1293 her inheritance was disputed between Warin de Lisle and Hugh de Courtenay, who later became 9th Earl of Devon. Warin died in 1296 but his son, Robert, eventually won legal possession of Heyford Warren in 1310, except for two and a half virgates that were awarded to de Courtenay. Robert also received the nearby manor of Fritwell from the Countess’s estate. In 1380 his great-grandson, also Robert de Lisle, sold the manor, along with some land at Barford St. Michael, to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, for £1,000. William then made them part of his endowment for the foundation of New College, Oxford.

Tithe barn
Tithe barn

In about 1400, New College had a tithe barn built at Manor Farm. It is 120ft long by 24ft wide, spans nine bays and was built of coursed rubble with ashlar quoins and buttresses. The roof is of Stonesfield slate and has raised-cruck trusses. The building has similarities with tithe barns at Swalcliffe and Adderbury, both of which were also built for New College early in the 15th century. It is a scheduled monument and a Grade I listed building.

Upper Heyford’s common lands were enclosed in 1842 and New College still held the manor in the 1950s.

The village had a church by 1074. The current parish church of Saint Mary may have been rebuilt in the latter part of the 15th century, but only the Perpendicular Gothic tower survives from that time. Major repairs to the roof and south aisle were made in 1668 and 1769, but by the 1860s the nave and chancel were in a poor condition again. The architect, Thomas Talbot Bury, demolished all except the tower in 1865 and rebuilt them in a Gothic Revival interpretation of Perpendicular Gothic. This Victorian building has extremely regular coursed masonry, which departs conspicuously from the traditional Medieval rubble masonry of the tower. Bury preserved only a handful of features from the Medieval church: a Perpendicular Gothic window in the north wall of the chancel, a piscina, a tomb recess and a 13th- century effigy of a priest.

The tower has three bells, the oldest of which is the tenor bell cast in 1624 by Richard I Purdue, who had foundries in Glastonbury and Stoford in Somerset. Mears & Stainbank, of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, cast the second bell in 1866 and the treble bell in 1946. There is also a Sanctus bell of unknown date.

Upper Heyford Air Base
Upper Heyford Air Base

Just to the east of the village is the former RAF Upper Heyford air base. Originally established as an RFC aerodrome in 1915, the RAF used the air base from the 1920s as a bomber station.

Not long after World War II, the USAF leased the air base from the Ministry of Defence as part of the NATO alliance. In 1952 the USAF’s Strategic Air Command B-47 bomber aircraft arrived and stayed until 1965. The 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing took up residence with the RF-101C “Voodoo” until 1969. By the mid-1970s the F-100s of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing arrived and were replaced soon after by the F-111E “Aardvark”. The US drawdown brought a close to USAF occupancy and operations at the air base in 1994, at which time the site was returned to the Ministry of Defence.

Roadside fire hydrant, a sign of the USAF presence on the site.
Roadside fire hydrant, a sign of the USAF presence on the site.

Since its closure in 1994, the base has become a substantial industrial and commercial estate. Whilst some of the buildings have been left to decay, the runway, once the second longest in Europe, is used to store new cars awaiting delivery to dealers. Numerous Cold War relics remain including disused bunkers and water towers, but a lot of the derelict structures have now been demolished to make way for new housing developments.