"What else can I say about Charlbury? Well this, that if she progresses for the next fifty years as she has in the passing fifty, in trade, in improvement, in extension, in education, in political and religious freedom, she will still be entitled to her ancient name that she has borne for a thousand years, viz: the home of the free."
by Jesse Clifford
Jesse Clifford was Master of the British School on the Playing Close from 1842 to 1884. These Reminiscences were published in 1892.
You can download a version of a map that Clifford drew in 1859, showing the town as it then was, by going to Attachments at the foot of the page.
About the Charlbury Cliffords
Geoff Clifford is an artist, picture framer, beer expert (!) and former schoolteacher, who lives in Charlbury. (See his website.) He writes of Jesse:
Jesse Clifford was my great grandfather's brother, which makes him my great great uncle.
He was headmaster of the British School, Charlbury for 42 years, and was known to be an important person with literary skills who was relied upon to read letters and documents of legal and social importance to the many in the locality who were illiterate.
His grave can be seen in the graveyard off the Chipping Norton Road in Charlbury, 20m in on the right of the footpath. It has a broken cross, generally meant to denote a person cut off in their prime. This is slightly odd as he was aged 76, but maybe he had remained energetic up to a sudden death. His dates are: b. April 19th 1816, d. July 29th 1892.
My great grandfather was David Clifford (1806–1882). He was a woodman and local preacher in Charlbury. He married Enid Biles (b.1810) in 1833. They had fifteen children and she worked in a glove factory.
Their youngest child was Jabez James (1853–1921) who moved to Oxford aged about sixteen and trained to become a tailor. Sometimes he walked out to Charlbury from Oxford on a Sunday morning to visit his parents, cutting through Blenheim Park and arriving in time for breakfast.
He married Louise Ellen Maria Bough in 1877. They lived in East Oxford, ending up in Pembroke Street, now Rectory Road, Oxford, where my father was born in 1898, the youngest of seven children: four boys and three girls.
Interestingly, like Jesse, my father had a long career, working for 52 years in the Oxford University Registry from the age of 17 after a year as a 'Bodley Boy'. He remembered coming to Charlbury as a child to visit the aged Clifford family, a rather stuffy Victorian atmosphere he recalled!
Mrs Price, when she ran the shoe shop in Charlbury in the 1970s, told me that she remembered the Clifford brothers, all with substantial beards!
A number of my relatives are buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Charlbury. There are two Clifford gravestones under the trees opposite the church porch.
One tells us that "David Clifford, died October 25th 1882, aged 76; also his wife, Edith, died November 6th 1859, aged 50."
The other grave has inscriptions on both sides, with the following dates of birth and death:
"Jane, wife of Jesse Clifford died January 15th 1871, aged 67: also Jane Lily Clifford, daughter of Jane and Jesse, died January 26th 1867, aged 21."
On the reverse:
"James William Clifford, who drowned whilst skating at Wanstead, aged 22, in 1871." (He was Jesse's son, born in 1849.)
The only relative left in Charlbury when I moved here in 1974 was Ruth Bunting. She was my second cousin, having been born a Collins and her mother born a Clifford to my grandfather's brother. Ruth was a teacher for many years at Charlbury Primary School, as was I from 1974 - 1978. She died in 2005.
The photograph above is probably from the 1890s. It shows five of the six sons. Back row: David Price (1838-1901), William, Edward. Front row: James, Henry. The other brother, John (1840-1858) was drowned.
The photograph below was taken about 1910. It shows four of the six Clifford brothers, sons of David Clifford (1806-1882): left to right, Jabez James (1853-1921), William (1848-1920), Rev. Henry (1845-1933) and Edward (1841-1911).
There are no surviving photographs of the nine sisters.
An old market town, on the Evenlode, a tributary of the Thames.
I well remember two families of the name of Franklin resident here a few years ago. I first saw the light and opened many eyes amid the transient gleams of sunshine and the fitful showers of April in 1816, A.D., a sad and sorrowful era in England’s history, which closed on the bloody field of Waterloo in 1815, a war in which England had no business ever to have taken a part. Her rulers should have remembered, when, in the 17th century England’s King would neither hear rhyme nor reason, but stubbornly taking his stand on divine right of kingship versus ‘vox populi,’ the people put him under the standard of equal rights and ascertained that he was a head too tall, of which member they deprived him. Other Kings of Europe, who held by the doctrine of ‘divine right’, looked on, and cursed and swore at the rough and ready islanders; but ‘hands off’ was the order of the day, for England then possessed a stalwart and noble band of yeomen, out of whom Cromwell formed his Ironsides. Where are they now? Used up — destroyed.
But what has Charlbury to do with this? Much every way; for the conscript law made every young man of 18 years of age liable to be drawn into the Militia, in which he must either serve or find a substitute; and £70 was paid to a man whom I knew well, to go as a substitute for a yeoman’s son, whose father mortgaged his lands to do it. William Jones, a Quaker here, was drawn, and of course refused to go. His goods were sold at the market place, till enough was realized to engage a substitute. My father was drawn, and served five years. These wars, entered into to punish the French for doing in the 18th Century what the English had done in the 17th, brought ruin to our middle class, and famine to the poor, and compelled me to eat barley bread. And had it not been for the noble principles of Christianity, as taught in the 14th and 15th centuries, the imbecility of our rulers from 1760 to 1816 would have sunk us to a lower position than Spain or Portugal is in at this present time.
But Charlbury obtained a share of the wasteful expenditure of war. Nearly 40 sawyers were located here for over two years in preparing oak timber for the navy, felled in the Forest, Walcot and Dytchley estates. The earnings of these men helped to support the Crown, the Bull, the Bell, the Oak, the Ball, the Star, the Bear, the Swan, the Orange-tree, the Dog, and the Black Horse. In addition to these, three other houses on the Fair Days, sold by the bush. Charlbury must be either a very thirsty place, or else it never went dry. No brewer’s vans ever came to Charlbury then. Each landlord brewed his own good ale, and to supply the malt, Hixet wood furnished one malt-house, Church Street one, Watt’s Lake two, Church Lane one, and the well-known Dog Yard one. Three of these are converted into cottages, one into a wool warehouse, one into a china warehouse, and one into a coach-house and stable.
In the last century the whirr of the spinning-wheel and the thrum of the hand-loom were familiar sounds; but the invention of the spinning-jenny and the power-loom destroyed this trade. But the making of Woodstock gloves, introduced by the late William Albright, soon became a nourishing trade here, which with many fluctuations still maintains its footing. The making of stock-locks was once a trade here, located in Watt’s Lake. Sixty years ago two of the forges were to be seen there. The oak for stocks, and charcoal for fuel, were indispensable to the trade till coke superseded it, and the trade passed away to Wolverhampton.
At the end of last century the Turnpike Road Trust was formed, strongly supported if not proposed by the Albright family here, by which Charlbury was brought into improved relations and trade with Witney, Woodstock, Burford and Banbury. Before then the pack-horse was much used, and a ford for horses, and the stepping-stones for foot passengers, formed the road to Walcot, Shorthampton, &c., &c., and early in last century, to Cornbury. On the subject of roads in bygone days, the Wood Lane, Ticknell or Old Woodstock Road, and Stonesfield Lane, show that the pack-horse was the common and usual means of trade use. Charlbury, when the Turnpike Roads were formed, established Carriers to Oxford, Saturdays; Banbury, Mondays and Thursdays; Witney, Thursdays; Burford, when occasion warranted. Before the Turnpike Roads, Oxford was visited on Saturday by Sorrell, who, with two horses and strong cart, left Charlbury about 3 a.m., along old Woodstock Road, by Aubridge, into Dytchley Riding, past New Barn, and on to Oxford, arriving there about 10 o’clock; leaving at 2, reached home (all well) by 11 p.m.
As soon as the present roads were constructed, Waggoner Johnson left Charlbury for London, Monday morning, 4 o’clock, arrived at the Warwick Arms, Oxford Street, Wednesday, 12 o’clock; left London at 12 on Thursday, arrived home Saturday evening. London could be reached in the day by going to Enstone, and by coach from there. Twenty-five coaches passed through Enstone, up or down, every day.
Previous to this time post letters were obtained by sending to Woodstock for them. (A singular incident once occurred to a post letter. A man climbed a tree in Lee’s Rest Wood to take some young kites, a species of hawk, and found in the nest a post letter addressed to Dr Lester, Charlbury, who received it after its singular resting place.) But on the establishing of the Mail Service from London, via Oxford, to Warwick and Birmingham, Charlbury became a sub-office to Enstone till now.
The Court Leet, a relic of feudal times, met for the last time on Easter Monday, 1889, after existing for at least 1000 years. A Jury of 24 Copyholders i.e., owners of property in Charlbury, Finstock and Fawler, of whom 13 formed a quorum, was chosen on Easter Monday to conserve the rights of the Lord of the Manor, the reputed owner of all the property, except Freehold and Long Leasehold, and who claimed a fine in money from every fresh owner, whether by purchase or heritage; also a yearly rent, and if sold, a fine from both seller and buyer; also all minerals hid beneath the surface, and all derelict property became his. And should an heir omit for three years to come into Court and pay the fine and claim to be admitted to his own, the property reverted back to the lord, who could sell it or keep it. And if sold, and not surrendered to the lord and the fine paid, and the purchaser did not pay and be admitted, the transaction was void.
I knew of two properties in Charlbury which were sold, and enjoyed for years, till, after the death of both buyer and seller, the heir of the seller claimed the property and had it again, simply because it had never been through the Court. And every householder, too, had to do suit and service to the lord. That in olden times meant to seed the lord’s land, and gather in his harvest, &c., without fee or reward. This service was long since commuted to appearing at the Court Leet and answering to their name, or paying a penny.
I knew one man who once stubbornly refused to appear or pay, and the jury condemned him for contumely, and he had to pay 6/8 by sunset that day, to be released from the Amerciament begun by the order of the jury. These pence were given to the jury to spend. (All men over 60 years old were exempt from suit and service). This jury adjudicated on all questions of ownership, boundaries, rights of way, and landmarks. They were chosen for one year, and could at any time be called out to settle disputes. Their fee was 10/-. (This was cheap law and final). I have twice had a share in settling disputes, and once was a witness in a case, all three of landmarks or boundaries. Alack! our old customs are passing away.
The Friday market here was good till the middle of the last century, when a virulent attack of small-pox made sad ravages. This was soon followed by the black fever, and the market collapsed. The four fairs, viz.: New Year’s Day for horses; Lent for cattle generally; May for cows; Michaelmas hiring fair, held their own well into the present century. An ox-roast enlivened one of these fairs annually, and itinerant vendors of Irish linens, Welsh flannels and hose, and Manchester cottons, regularly made their appearance.
The shambles, which stood in Church Street, opposite the watchmaker’s shop, were removed while this century was young. The market place, so unique a specimen of architecture, was taken down not many years since. This act of vandalism by the Lord of the Manor robbed Charlbury of an ornament the like of which you would journey far and wide to find. But the memory of it is preserved on the Seal of the Burial Board, where it does duty for a coat or arms.
Apropos of the fairs, the Forest Fair, albeit not strictly Charlburian, was practically so, for being within 1 1⁄2 miles of Newal Plain in the Forest where it was held, and no other town near (Witney was five miles off) that could accommodate man and beast, Charlbury was full of parties who, for business or pleasure, came to the rendezvous, from the Monday to the Friday of the week in which it was held on the Wednesday and Thursday.
When in the heyday of its splendour and sin, Forest Fair was a sight once seen never to be forgotten. On the top and back of the plain, near to the trees and bushes, stood the Menageries of Wombwell and Shore, in full force, of 20 or more carriages of beasts, &c., flanked at each end by smaller affairs, animal and human monstrosities, such as the pig-faced lady and the calf with two heads, &c. I saw the seven-legged racer there. Boxing tents and theatricals too were there. About twenty yards in front of the shows was a street of booths for refreshments of both kinds, drink predominating. Another space, and on the brow of the hill overlooking the pond, was a well-planned street of stalls for sale of sweets and confectionery. Others, too, for sale of cloths, flannels and hosiery. Pickled salmon was much patronised. The Vauxhall dancing saloon was there, with harps and violins, and when at night lit up with its 500 coloured lamps, looked splendid. It had a buffet for the sale of refreshments, and retailed its famous sandwiches at 30/- per lb.
The gates of Cornbury Park (then Blandford Park) are thrown open for all carriages, carts and vehicles carrying pleasure parties. The shows go up Burford Road and by Ranger’s Lodge, or come in from Witney. Passing through the Park you enter the Forest at Buckleap Gate in the Vista Light, and on your right hand are a row of horses, tethered to ropes secured to the trees; on the left hand, carts, &c., under the care of the horsekeepers. The Broad Light is full of pleasure seekers wending their way to the plain. You reach it about two o’clock, and what a sight! There cannot be less than 15 to 20,000 in the tumultuous sea of human beings. The plain is literally thronged. The shouting, the calling, the gongs, the music, is bewildering. On the lake you see Lord Churchill’s pleasure boat (the “Fanny”) anchored at the upper end. Everybody seems bent on enjoyment. Lord Churchill, the Forest Ranger, has had the Forest keepers and several of his workmen sworn in as special constables to preserve the peace. Hey! but it is a pleasant scene.
But 3 o’clock is come, and a loud shout from Vista Light is heard. It is taken up by a crowd of sightseers, a lane is formed in front of the shows, and amid hurrahs and notes of welcome, the carriage and four, with two postillions in scarlet and gold, of the Duke of Marlborough, with the Duchess and family, followed by Lord Churchill’s equipage, with coachman and footman in scarlet coats, red plush breeches, white stockings and cockades. Then came B. Holloway, Esq., of Lee Place, and a long string of carriages of all the nobility and gentry round. These came back in same order between the booths and stalls. And now music is heard from the lake; on the boat is the Yeomanry band, and martial strains mingle with the sounds of the plain. ’Tis tea-time now, and numerous little fires among the bushes tell you that parties are picnicing and enjoying the day in a rational manner.
You have seen the bright side of Forest Fair. Now for the reverse. Every kind of evil genius went there; thieves and pickpockets were in strong force. Rough and ready was the law enforced on the plain. I saw a pickpocket who had been detected, hustled down the bank and ducked three times till, nearly dead, he lay on the bank the very personification of abject despair. At the last fair held on the plain, two Charlburians watched the manoeuvres of a woman with drunken men after the darkness set in. They kept her in sight, and she, noticing their espionage, came with an accomplice off for Charlbury. But just on the top of Watt’s Lake Hill these two seized them, and out of her long hair they took seven watches, which they called their own. Lord Churchill had so many cases before him next day to adjudicate, that he limited it to one day, and eventually prohibited it on account or the drunkenness and debauchery, after existing for 50 years under different phases and conditions.
A gentleman I know well told me the origin of that famous holiday. He, Mr Paine, of Fawler Mill, with Mr Bolton, of Finstock, being well-known Wesleyans, with Mr Early, of Witney, agreed to invite their Methodist friends of Witney, Finstock, Charlbury, &c., to a picnic on the plain, on the Wednesday in Witney Wake week, which was then the great day of the carnival, and so enjoy themselves without the fear of pollution. So successful was the affair that the third year a speculator, without their cognisance, brought refreshments, and so the thing increased, and about 1830 it reached its highest pitch of notoriety, and consequently of sin.
Speaking of Methodism, I will tell you what I know about it. Tradition says it first found a home in Charlbury in the house of Mr Grace, rope-spinner, in Thames Street, now owned by Joseph Williams (1891). There its adherents met for religious worship. Mr Paine, of Fawler Mill, met them, and Mr Early, of Witney, at his weekly visit here to bring wool for spinning and take back the yarn, also met with them. The usual persecution and contumely used to these pioneers (of whom my grandmother was one), produced the usual results. A larger meeting-house was needed, and upon the very spot where I write this stood a barn the property of Mr Bolton, of Finstock, who fitted it up as a place of worship. It was the first Wesleyan Chapel in Charlbury, and in 1823 the present Wesleyan Chapel was built, on the plot that my father had previously occupied as a garden.
In 1844 the Sunday schoolroom was built. I was a Superintendent of the W.S.S. that year. The first W.S.S. here was started by two young women of the Clary family, in a cottage now a warehouse of F. T. Horniblow’s. Edward Lardner joined as a teacher. My brother David and Absalom Harwood soon followed suit, and soon after the new Chapel was built the School came to it, as more convenient quarters. In 1835 I became a teacher in it, and on Jan. lst, 1837, W. Kibble and myself both joined the Society as members. He, with praiseworthy consistency, has continued a member. But I was too radical to be advised by ministers to see faults and faults only in the three ministers who were turned out by Conference for publishing the fly-leaves, and counselling reform of Church government by bringing laymen into the Council. The superintendent preacher was cautioning us members against the leaven of reform, as it was pernicious, when I said to him, “The reformers appeared to have good reasons for what they have done.” He reproved me for my views, and William Mann and myself on that account resigned our membership (about 1853).
The Primitives established themselves here about that time, and have continued till now with more or less success. The Baptist Chapel and Society are of quite recent date, Mr George Baughan, uncle of Mr W. H. Baughan, left the money to build it. Mr Bliss, of Chipping Norton, was Trustee, and after some years it was joined in co-pastorate with Chadlington. It was built during the construction of the railway, and Mr Gingal, the Railway Missionary, was in charge of it during his stay here.
The Hyper-Calvinists were of later date. Mr Aldred built a chapel for his fellow-believers, but it dwindled for want of disciples. it has recently revived, to linger on under the auspices or Mr J. Clack.
The Friends’ Meeting-house dates from 1770, the palladium of civil and religious liberty, the birthplace of the social status Charlbury now enjoys. “Freedom to worship” was their watchword, and till 1848 they (the Quakers) annually suffered the spoilation of their goods for Tithes and Church rates.
They built and supported the British School, till England awoke to the fact in 1844 that an ignorant people was a dangerous people, and took 26 years (till 1870) to bring out a scheme of National Education, which, like good government, can never be laid down on hard and fast lines, but must follow on improving as fast as the increasing intelligence of the people require it to do so. I am no believer in the Tory creed, “As it was in the beginning so let it continue.”
The Church I shall notice as I knew it. A beautiful carved screen or oak enclosed the chancel, in which stood the pews of Cornbury, Walcot, Lee Place, and the Vicar; also the Tenants of the Marlborough estate. All the middle of the church was filled with high pews, and also part or the south aisle.
Cornbury, Ivy House, and Mr E. Smith’s pews were curtained round, while Lee Place and the Vicar’s had fine carved oak canopies. Two galleries, the blue and the oak, stood, the blue in the middle aisle, with back to the Tower, used by the singers; and the oak over the front door with stone stairs outside. On the wall, above the arch leading to the chancel, just over the reading desk, the Royal Arms were painted in cardinal red and gold; and above the arches leading to the north aisle, along the wall was written in Roman type, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Decalogue, in what appeared beautiful marble frames,with the date 1555 beneath the centre. And above the arch leading into Pudlicot aisle, in marble-like frame, Micah Ch. VI., v. 8. In the north aisle, above the arch leading to the vestry, in similar style, I Peter, Ch. IV., v.7.
The Church and Graveyard underwent some changes during the incumbency of Dr Silver, the oaken screen disappeared from the chancel, the curtains from the pews, as he wished to see his congregation. He had the locks broken off all pew doors that were not unlocked by the time of the reading of the second lesson. The Churchyard contained a great many tombs of freestone, with rounded tops, but the inscriptions destroyed by the weather and time. These he had used for quoins to a place he built at the east end of the Church, as a retiring-place for the Sunday Scholars.
The Church Sunday School was commenced in 1827 by the Rev Mr Appleton, who was in charge till a Vicar was chosen to succeed Dr Cobb. This gentleman did not please the ringers. He requested them not to practise on Sunday afternoon. They stubbornly persisted in doing so; and at Xmas he would not give them money which he had received, on account of their conduct. They burned his effigy in front of the Vicarage with a Bible in his hands; but they were glad to apologise and ask his forgiveness, and give up their key of the belfry, as the Ecclesiastical law would have punished them severely for burning the Bible.
Dr Silver opened a school for girls and infants, and did not see the necessity for the British School; and in December 1845, the following notice was sent to his allotment holders:
“I am directed by the Rev Dr Silver to inform you that he wishes you to send your children to his Schools; the girls to Miss South’s School, and the boys to Mr Hill’s; and to attend the Church Sunday School; and you and your wife to attend the Church. And unless these rules are attended to, the allotment of land you occupy will be taken away. Charlbury, December 22nd, 1845 Richard Taylor, Agent.”
Soon after, in the Oxford Chronicle, appeared an answer as follows:
“To the Editor. Sir – I send you an exact copy of a notice received by a poor Nonconformist at Charlbury. What a blessed thing it is when the Successors show such praiseworthy zeal for the conversion of the heterodox, ‘with apostolic blows and knocks.’ It would appear that poor Noncon had been in the habit of singing, amongst the Wesleyans ‘Wisdom to SILVER we prefer,’ and the consequence is that, bad as the potato crop is this year, he is to have none next, unless he goes to Church. An old-fashioned Apostle declares ‘Whoso hath this world’s goods and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?’ But the Successor hath adopted for his banner, and I hope it will be heralded with other donations on the usual boards inside Charlbury Church: ‘No Church, no Potatoes.’
In the course of the next week was seen chalked up on every barn door and public hoarding “NO CHURCH, NO POTATOES.” The coercion was not acted upon, and the British School still remained open, and continued its unsectarian teaching.
When the Church was restored in 1857, the two galleries and all the high box pews disappeared: and within seven years the Church rates followed suit, and our noble old Church is now maintained by the freewill offerings or the congregation. The Tithes in Charlbury have their history as to their collection. The Tithe-barn, or Grange was standing 30 years ago in what is now Mr Shilson’s garden. Till 1848 the corn tithe was collected by each of the Duke of Marlborough’s tenants from the lands contiguous to their farms. The Vicar’s tithe was farmed by some person who agreed to pay so much for it yearly, who claimed the milk every 10th day of every milch cow, and the 10th pig of every litter, and the 10th of all live stock, aye, even the eggs before the chickens were hatched; but I never knew of their taking a 10th child, even when offered to them.
I have often seen a man going to milk Wm. Albright’s cow in the Greens, and oftener seen the goods of Friends sold at the market place for Tithes.
Local government in Charlbury till 1832 was in the hands of the parish vestry, who annually appointed two Church-wardens, two Overseers, one Constable, two Tything-men for Charlbury, and two Sidesmen for Finstock and Fawler. Gossip says that one overseer got a new waggon in his year of office, and the farming stock of others improved in similar manner.
The Easter Vestry audited all accounts, and finished up the day by adjourning to the Oak, Bell, or Crown.
Some enterprising tradesman undertook to maintain the aged and helpless poor in the workhouse for a certain sum yearly; and such food as I have seen given to old people there to eat, no decent dog would touch now – bread made of barley and bean-flour mixed.
The perambulation of the parish boundaries was made yearly on Holy Thursday. Refreshments were paid for, for those who went, out of the Church rates.
The last perambulation was made by myself and Captain Topliff, of the Ordnance Department, to verify the accuracy of the new map, about 1870.
About 1832, the Temperance Society was inaugurated here, abjuring ardent spirits as a beverage, but allowing malt liquor in moderation to its members. Four years later total abstinence was inculcated. This temperance question was introduced by William Albright, and some of the best lecturers on the subject were brought here. The landlord of the Royal Oak tried to get up an Anti-Temperance Society and found a ready helper in Thomas Brookes, malt maker to James Sessions, and also a Wesleyan local preacher and class-leader. He publicly discussed the question with a lecturer in a public meeting, not with much honour as a Christian. His party got up a public meeting which he addressed to his and their satisfaction. And on a fine summer afternoon a waggon was drawn into the Playing Close to serve as a platform.
A procession formed at the Royal Oak, headed by a band of music, followed by a publican bearing on a salver a sliver cup adorned with ears of barley. Next in order Thomas Brookes, the hero of the day, arm-in-arm with two publicans, followed by the drink-loving citizens of Charlbury to the rendezvous, where the apostle of intemperance harangued his audience on the virtues of beer and porter and the evils of drunkenness. I quote one sentence: “Never touch a drop more, when you find you have had enough. Keep your mouth shut: the devil can’t make you swallow it if you don’t open your mouth.” And with a flourish or trumpets, a loud hurra, and “He’s a jolly good fellow,” “Britons never will be slaves”; and all who chose drinking the health or the champion or malt-liquor, gratis, out or the silver cup which was then presented to him, this unique assemblage broke up well pleased with themselves and their guest.
But the Wesleyans of Charlbury looked with sorrow on their local preacher and class-leader. Some left his class for another, and many would not go to the chapel to hear him again.
Temperance has maintained a place among us ever since its first introduction; and the Royal Oak Coffee House, Reading Room, Town Hall, and Y.M.C.A. Room are indebted for their existence to the Temperance reformation.
In speaking of Temperance in Charlbury, I have looked through the Parish Map and Terrier of 1820, and I find that nearly 100 houses, cottages, and buildings, and over 300 acres of land, have changed ownership once, or twice, through drink, and the estates passed through the wine cup, the spirit flask or the beer barrel. Out of all the publicans I remember, and they are not a few, only three left, at their death, their estates intact to their children; and these three estates were dissipated and gone virtually from the inheritors within ten years of their receiving them. Such property here has not been transmitted to the third generation during the last seventy years.
Keeping the peace
The peace of Charlbury was preserved by the Constables, aided by the stocks, which stood under the market-house, and which held the breakers of the peace fast by the legs. The posts at each end had handcuffs into which the hands of those who were to be publicly whipped were made fast. But this punishment was obsolete before my time.
Coming from Church one Sunday morning in 1829, I saw a big fellow who was strong in the arms, but weak in the ’ead engaged in breaking the stocks, in which he had been put the night before for getting drunk. As soon as released in the morning, he went up to the Town Quarry and brought a heavy stone with which he had his revenge. A Blind House was then built in the Workhouse Yard, and when that property was sold it was put up in the Playing Close. The present Fire Engine House now adorns the site. The fire engine and all its apparatus was kept in Pudlicot Aisle in the Church till an Engine House was built in the Playing Close.
The British School was built in 1815. The Friends were the chief donors and supporters. They carried it on with more or less success till 1887, when the Board was formed to continue the work.The Rev H. A Pickard told me he found the children of Charlbury were more intelligent than in the villages round, which he attributed to the long existence of the British School. I conducted it for 42 years under the Committee, and resigned the charge of it in 1884.
The Infant School was built in 1857. Mrs Pollard gave £50, and the Friends guaranteed £50 more. The Rev. S. H. Russell was Secretary and Treasurer. He gave the stone, the farmers the greater part of the hauling. I made the plan and superintended the building, which cost nearly £200, class-room included.
The Grammar School was a gift of a lady – Ann Walker, who left an estate to support it near Banbury, the yearly income of which, till the depression in farming, was £114. Charlbury gave its manor-house as a residence for the master. The other charities are the Playing Close and Church Slade, Poor Boys Close, and Long Hedge. An old Charity of Lady Jenkinson is lost, said to be worth £20 per year. It was given in bread on Sunday morning after Church, and in doles to poor widows.
Mr Penson’s Charity is of recent date.
The Sports of Charlbury were in character with the times. I saw the last bull-baiting in the Playing Close in 1820. I saw two dogs thrown up. The bull was chained to a block let into the ground, and its poor face torn into strips by the dogs, its eyes streaming with blood, when a bucket of brine was thrown in its face. Mad with pain, it broke the chain and dashed away to the turnpike. Caught there, it was brought back; but neither men nor dogs could make it renew the attack, so it was taken to the slaughter-house.
Badger-baiting was often indulged in by the grooms, &c., of those gentlemen whose horses lay here for the season to hunt with Duke of Beaufort’s hounds, which were kennelled at Heythrop.
The WITSONALE, celebrated once in 7 years,was a scene of pleasure and immorality. The bowery was erected in front of the Bell Inn. The maypole came from the Forest, and from Whitmonday till the end of the week the dancing and fun was kept up.
The Morris dancers I have often seen on May 29th here, and very pretty they looked. Twelve young men of Finstock and Leafield, dressed in knee-breeches and white stockings; and six rows of little goggle-bells (such as now pet cats or dogs occasionally wear), tacked on red braid, from knee to ankle, adorned each leg; a white wand and a large silk handkerchief formed the equipment of the dancer. The musicians with tabor and fife (of 3 fingerholes) led the dance,while the zany, with a bladder attached to a handstaff, and a moneybox, kept a ring for the dancers, and collected fool’s pence. The reel, the change of places, the clattering of the wands, the passing under the handkerchiefs held archwise, all to the music, was pleasing.
The Clubs held their feasts on May 29th, when two bands or music enlivened the scene. In the morning, service in the Church, in the afternoon, revelling and drunkenness, with an adjournment in the evening into Walcot Meadow for a fight (the constable could not act there), such was Charlbury Club of old. The 30th was spent in clearing up the remains or the previous day’s feast. These Clubs gave 8/- per week sick pay, but no doctor, and when the late Lord Churchill got a Bill passed that no sick funds should be spent in bands, banners or feasting, and a yearly account sent to the Government for audit, this was a death blow to the Bell and Crown Clubs, and all founded on the same basis.
How different is Charlbury Sunday now to what it was 60 years ago. Then, squirrel-hunting in the forest or the woods, or hockey in the Doctor’s Acre (the field adjoining the Cemetery). In summer, cricket in the Park or Common. The children passed the day in the Playing Close. How different now, and how much better. It is beyond me to say. May it still improve.
Poaching was a crime only against the rich, who owned their lordly estates. The people generally did not condemn it, but rather fostered it: and 70 years ago Charlbury could reckon an ignoble band of poachers. The proximity of the Forest, and the woods on Dytchley Estate were a fine field for operations, and many a deer, besides smaller game, came into Charlbury.
So strict were the Game Laws then that no gentleman could take out a shooting license unless possessed of £500 per year. A Ramsey, Esq., took a license in Charlbury, and twenty or more shot and snared without a license at all. All this is altered for the best, and Charlbury will not again be shocked by the murder of a poacher at Lee’s Rest; or the murder of a keeper in Dytchley Woods by a Charlbury poacher.
The improvement in the buildings is very marked. Not a street 50 years ago in Charlbury but had thatched houses in it: and no sewers to carry off filth, but surface drainage only, and that of the worst kind.
Till 1830 you could not see any attempt to make footpaths. Only Spindler’s pibbles were to be seen, and those in front of Albright’s shop.
The Turnpike Trust made a sewer down Church Street and Watt’s Lake, and the Waywarden had a few blue bricks laid yearly till the amalgamation of the Highway Board which ordered that all stones to repair the roads should be broken to less than 2-inch cubes, that carriages might roll easily, but no improvement should be made to footpaths, except by the owner or occupier of the house intended to benefit.
Mr Albright, in Jubilee year, improved Thames Street, and years before, Mrs Pollard made a footpath up to Brown’s Lane turnpike.
Plate glass windows to the shops are all of less than ten years’ growth.
The Coffee House, Reading Room, and Town Hall are among recent improvements, and the work of the Albright family.
Witchcraft, ever heard of here? Yes! poor old Betty Ball lies in the churchyard, who was dragged perforce, once, from her cot at Sandford Slade into Hixet Wood, to say the Lord’s Prayer, and bless everything belonging to a man whose cow had cast a calf. I think of it when I look at the stone that marks his grave.
Our churchyard has nothing remarkable about it. One tomb, surrounded by iron railings, has an epitaph historical of the Harrises:
“In hostile arms from Normandy
Our ancestors descend,
With William King of England,
His rights help to defend.
Some of us since have into foreign nations strayed,
But God within or near this place
Our heads in peace hath laid.”
This tomb contains the body of William Harris, gentleman, and others of the family. The family of Harris owned considerable properly in Charlbury in 1820.
I once read the following (trade descriptive) epitaph on a stone to the memory of Robert Mace, Blacksmith, in Spelsbury Churchyard:
My sledge and hammer lies declined
My bellows too have lost their wind,
My fire’s extinct, my coal’s decayed,
And in the dust my vice is laid;
My forge is left, my iron is gone,
My nails are drove, my work is done.
(Time has obliterated some words. The above is as I could read it).
In 1843 a man sold his wife, in a halter at the market-place, for 2/6, and the purchaser, the seller, and the sold, went direct into the Bull Inn and spent the half-crown.
The Mummers are dying out; I knew them in their heyday, and good fun they made at Xmastide.
The Skimmington, too, to shame ill-doers, who transgressed the marriage vow, and also wife-beaters, told of the evil deeds with rough music for three successive nights, and effigies were burnt. An old common law of England, honoured best in its disuse.
Fiction is strange, but facts more strangely fall,
And CHARLBURY NAMES eclipse in strangeness all.
Pass we then, reader, thro’ each lane and street,
And mark the curiosities we meet.
Ascending from the Railway, first we note
A TAYLOR lives who never made a coat.
In Market Stret what wonders on us pour,
Behold a DRAPER there who deals in Flour.
And at the entry of the street we stop,
Amazed to find a BASKETT keeping shop.
While, to increase the wonder of our stare,
A FARMER shaves you, or curtails your hair.
On t’other hand there doth exist the Charmer,
A COOPER, who by business is a farmer.
With sweetest smile pervading all his face,
A MILLER offers ribbons, tapes, and lace.
(That placid smile the consequence, ’tis said,
Of leaving every fear, at least ALDRED).
And of these prodigies the list to close,
A COLLIER stands the Landlord of the Rose. (& Crown).
In Church Street, too, believe me, ’tis no myth.
A banker, druggist, grocer, is a SMITH.
And Park Street shows – will wonders never cease? –
A FOX the Charlbury Constable of Police.
(Here parenthetically – don’t say fudge –
The man who was our policeman is a JUDGE).
And if to legal matters we’re compelled,
Our SESSIONS in a brewery is held.
Descend the hill, and, reader, if you choose,
A PARROTT will provide you boots and shoes.
(Here I’d remark, that searching Charlbury through,
You’ll find a stock of BOOTS and SANDALS too).
Again ascend, behold, and ’tis most queer,
A PARROTT’S nest a noted house for beer.
If Hixet-wood you now incline to scan,
A gardener’s wife you’ll find who is a MANN.
And still a little farther on you’ll find
A GARDNER lives, who’d nothing of the kind.
Of Charlbury facts a trio more to give,
Dames may be WIDDOWES while their husbands live.
The Park Street folks need never want for meals,
For Watts Lake now contains a stock of EELES.
By him no flock to fold or pasture led,
A SHEPHERD’S time is spent in making bread.
The study, Charlbury, of thy fair domain
Affords one pleasure, but ’tis mixed with PAINE.
Nought that appears deceitful would I praise,
And yet I must admire your HOLLOWAYS.
To tell the truth, e’en to the very letter,
Your PAINTINGS and your PARSONS might be better.
And how with MASON’S work doth it accord,
To drop the trowel, and assume the sword?
Once more the muse gives Pegasus the rein,
Stranger, whoe’er thou art, attend the strain.
As for the climate, strange though it appear,
In Charlbury there is WINTER all the year.
But fear of frost dwells not in Charlbury souls,
For Winter never fails to bring us coals.
For total abstinence we do our share,
Of WELLS and BROOKS have plenty and to spare.
Although the muse in whispered accents tells
There’s not much water in some BROOKS and WELLS.
Tho’ Nonconformists swarm on Charlbury ground,
A host of little CHURCHES may be found.
And to Conservatives a joy how great,
Our town can boast that she has CHURCH and STATE.
As to her children and her numerous friends,
So to her GODSON, Charlbury’s love extends.
So firm her sympathies, that nought can shake ’em?
Offers her HANDS to all – will no one take ’em?
Let sporting gents drop in, as they pass by,
We’ll give a HUNT, or for a SALMON try.
But rogues avaunt, with such we’ve nought to do,
We have our DORES and keep a BoLTON, too.
Hast music in thy soul? A visit pay
The White Hart Inn, and thou shall hear a LAY.
Or Fawler’s turnpike shall provide thee AYRES
To charm thine ear, or dissipate thy cares.
The feast of reason and the flow of soul
Are thine, do thou but seek the enlivening BOWL.
Though deepest sorrow wrap they soul in night,
Seek but the Enstone road, thou’lt find ALBRIGHT.
Doth Flora charm thee with her motley train?
Thou’lt POLLARDS find, nor SORRELL seek in vain.
And if perchance thy steps to Thames Street stray,
Fair EDEN blooms with beauties ever gay.
Hast love for aught that tells of scenes of yore?
Behold our PRIORS and our CASTLES hoar.
Or doth thine eye for novelty entreat?
Each day a NEWMAN shall they vision greet.
Tired Pegasus would rest his wearied wing,
And haste to quaff the cool Pierian spring.
Falters the Muse, although she fain would tell
Of other GRACES that amongst us dwell.
Parting she turns, and with a smile demands
How as a type of life, fair Charlbury stands?
Canst answer, reader? Thus, throughout the Town
CROSSES enough thou’lt find: a single Crown.
(The above is presumed to be from the pen or Dr Clifton, an assistant of Mr Cotterill.)
‘Awake! ye men of Charlbury, to battle and renown!
The battle cry hath sounded in your quiet grim old town.
Arouse ye Charlbury heroes, to you your townsmen cry,
Invaded is our Freedom, Oh, to the rescue fly!
Come, doughty Walter, waken! for worthy of thy blade
Awaits thee in the person of a kindly, weak old maid,
Who fills her house with children and proudly dares to boast
That she’s a right to treat them to music, tea and toast.
Come, Walter! though the Dr says thou must not worried be,
Wilt sheath they sword and slumber, while such vile things can be?
They gallant comrades muster. To you the part belongs
To fight their mighty battles, to triumph over wrongs.
Come gird they sword and buckler, thou knight of Pill and Phleam,
Throw physic to the bow-wows. Be ready, Dr M!
It is the hour of conflict, and sure they bosom throbs
With pride to head they tinkers, and lead they band of snobs.
The girls of thirty summers who’d win they loving glance,
Bring them to pipe war-music, and execute its dance.
Don’t drench the pretty darlings with vile Teetotal slops.
Let Bacchus rule the concerts, and ’bacca grace the hops.
Come gallant H. the pliant! They trumpeter is dead,
Yet crown they name with glory, and blow they horn instead.
Go forth and join they comrades, behold, they head the way!
Go, man, and follow bravely, be sure the thing will pay.
Hark to the voice of battle! ah! now begins the fray.
Four stout and daring warriors at midnight wend their way,
To wait in silent ambush, with faces firm, though pale,
Where Charley brews his peck of malt, and keeps his ancient ale.
And there with hearts heroic they wait like beasts of prey
To seize the old maid’s music, and bear the prize away.
Ant they agreed between ’em, sans fear of Judge or Court,
That two should seize piano and two should hold the forte.
Alas! we’re told that often there comes twixt cup and lip
Ere we can quaff our potion, some unexpected slip.
And so these gallant fellows soon proved the proverb true,
When rising up before them like phantoms clothed in blue,
Behold a staff of ‘peelers’ for law and order armed,
And ripe for ready action, this brace quartet alarmed.
Then did the keepers tremble, but did not stay to fight,
They knew a trick worth double, and showed the feather white.
Poor gallant souls defeated, oh, how I pity you,
And also for your laundresses I feel some pity too.
You good brave Charlbury heroes, be not by this dismayed,
For oft by Generals wisest, some sad mistakes are made.
Hold fast your courage, brave ones, and keep your armour bright,
And still in gallant action this bold old maiden fight.
Disperse her band of children (how dare she feed them free?)
Seize, seize her chairs and music, and rout the toast and tea.
Wag, wag, your tongues of venom, dip, dip, your pens in gall,
Before such deadly weapons the autocrat must fall.
And when the pens historic your noble deeds recount,
To every cheek in Charlbury the flush of pride shall mount.
How grand shall be your trophies, your triumphs O, how great,
When kindred friends and townsmen each other learn to hate,
When rent by bitter faction, by party strife and spleen,
Against itself divided each peaceful home is seen;
When neighbour shrinks from neighbour, or pass with menace dread,
No friendly hands are shaken, but only fists instead.
When every Church and Chapel within itself shall know
Not each in each a brother, but meet as foe to foe;
When all the children quarrel at home, at play, at school
About your noble battles, and call each other fool;
When social ties arc severed, and when the air is filled
Like noise of many waters, with strife that can’t be healed –
Oh! then what proud emotions must fill each dauntless breast
Of heroes who have brought us this state of peace and rest.
We’ll crown their cross with glory, and give them honour due,
Twine hemlock and the nightshade, the cypress and the yew,
And let these floral chaplets for every head be made
Of those who led the battle against the dear old maid.
Arouse, ye men of Charlbury, for glory and renown;
The battle cry is sounding within your quiet town.
This is no time for piping, no peace within it dwells,
Bring out your pots and kettles, and ring your belfry bells.
Let music, subtle music, you know what music charms –
Awake your sons to valour and your maidens into arms.
For there shall be a struggle, a war of pen and tongue,
That shall be traced in story, and by the poet sung.
To scatter seeds of kindness is not your leaders’ plan,
But get who may’s their motto, and let them keep who can
Then lay aside old friendships, forget fond ties of yore,
The love and peace departed, shall Charlbury see no more.
Otmoor, or Oatmoor, was a large common on which the villagers could turn their geese or other live stock free. But the Lord of the Manor, on the principle that he should take who has the power, and he should keep who can, enclosed the common, and by quickset hedges divided it into cultivable fields. The commoners resented the action of the lord, destroyed the hedges, and laid the common open again.
To put a stop to this rioting, the D troop of Oxfordshire Yeomanry Cavalry, under the command of B. J. Whippy, Esq., their Captain, were called out one Sunday in 1832 to go to Otmoor to quell the riot and arrest the rioters. I remember the hullabaloo that morning, the grinding of swords, the furbishing of arms, the saddling the warhorses, the bugle call to horse, and the address of the Captain to use forbearance, and not to use the sword but in extremity. They started on their twenty miles ride to put down revolution and uphold the majesty of the law (in this case of stealing the land of the poor from them). They arrived on the scene of strife, and ’twas said (and I never heard it contradicted), took two boys and a woman prisoners, who for a time defended themselves valiantly against these troopers with some pikes. Next day they escorted a waggon-load of prisoners to Oxford, amid the jeers and some missiles, of the sympathisers of these asserters of their rights. A wine merchant of Oxford befriended the prisoners, became bail for them, and employed counsel for them at the Assizes. The jury acquitted them of all blame, and their Common was restored for the time. I never heard how the Act of Enclosure of Commons of 1845 affected them. Hope they have their Common now. The Troopers came home with all their ‘blushing honours thick upon them,’ and some who were not used to riding, terribly galled in their seats. So ended the battle of Otmoor.
Otmoor, about 5 miles from Oxford, has its legend. The lady of the manor asked her lord to give the tenants a Common for their cattle. He consented to give them as much land as she could ride round while an oat-sheaf was burning. (I fancy they tied the sheaf rather tight, and she rode rather fast).
By will she disposed of her gold watch and chain, silver spoons and sundry jewellery, the silver buttons, made of shillings, of her late husband’s coat, and also the same made of sixpences, on his waistcoat. I believe she rests with others of her tribe in the north-east corner of our churchyard.
On Feb. 15th, 1892, I wrote the following letter to the Daily News:
Rural life in our country districts - how to maintain it, and keep our people on the land - is a problem many are trying to solve. The following facts respecting allotments and small holdings may be of use to them.
Charlbury, Oxfordshire, is a small, old-fashioned town of about 1,500 inhabitants and 2,700 acres of land. No baronial hall or stately mansion casts its shadow over it, whose owners can lay their fingers on its broad acres and say - ‘These are mine.’ For in 1820, 145 owners of houses and land had divided it among them. In 1890,152 owners existed among us. Before 1830, thirteen acres were left in allotments, varying in size from two chains to three-quarters of an acre. These gradually increased, till in 1860, 80 acres were thus let, and in 1890 110 acres were in allotments varying from one chain to two-acre lots. We have also over 400 acres in small holdings of from four to forty acres.
We are very conveniently situated on the Great Western Railway from Oxford to Worcester, and if any of your correspondents would like to see what allotments can do, and are doing, let him pay us a visit in July, and I will find him a guide, who, if he is good for a six-mile tramp over the land, will show him the golden wealth that is cultured, and is maturing for a supply of winter food for man and beast. Before 1820, four individuals here had solved the problem that three acres and the cow were both practical and profitable.
But all the above advantages have not increased our population. We are in 1892 the same as in 1820 - about 1,500. We are a very healthy community. Our death rate averages 17 and our birth rate nearly 40 per 1000. Where is our surplus? Gone to fresh fields and pastures new. We have two small glove factories, which employ about twenty men and boys, while woman folk in their cottage homes do the sewing. All the rest of our men and boys are in the land or in the ordinary occupations of country life. If, Sir, every 2,700 acres in rural England kept 1,400 or 1,500 people on it, the same as Charlbury does, there would not be much over-crowding of large towns or depletion of life in villages. We have not a single acre here out of cultivation, or left to luxuriate in growing thistles and scatter its pestiferous seed over the neighbouring fields.
Our name and date are Saxon (literally the Franklyns’ or Freemen’s Town), and King Stephen granted to Charlbury a charter to hold a weekly market on a Friday, nearly, or quite, 800 years ago, while Liverpool was a poor fishing village, and Birmingham unknown. But we have no coal beds to rest upon, and are therefore left behind in the race for wealth; but as a compensation we have had a good supply of brain wealth, consequent on our facilities for education. For more than two hundred years we have had a free grammar school, and in 1815 a British School was built accommodating 150 scholars.
These forces have done much, and when in 1846 the Committee of the Council on Education issued their reports, both schools went ahead, the first as a secondary, the British as an elementary, and when, from 1850 to 1860, Free Trade rolled its flood of golden wealth over England, the railways developed so rapidly, we had a crop of lads who had good Saxon grit, improved by Norman blood, in them, ready to take their places according to ability, as porters, clerks, and station masters, or to go to our busy centres or trade and commerce to aid in increasing the nation’s wealth, as well as their own. Their places are supplied by others, but as we are twenty years ahead of the surrounding district in education, we still hold our own, and send our young people to the United States and British Colonies, to become the owners of the land they cultivate there.
The foregoing facts offer the following deductions – namely, the more owners of land, the more interest in its usefulness; the more holders of land, the greater the production of food realised in its cultivation. If the Duke of Marlborough’s dictum is correct ‘that land in England has lost its value, albeit the title still remains,’ let Parliament loosen the tied up estates, so that industrious, thrifty working men can become owners of land at a fair cost, and by placing their feet upon the soil, increase its fertility and double its produce, render us less dependent on the foreigner for our food supply, and let our rural England become what she really ought to be – ‘First gem of the Ocean; First flower of the Sea.’
I am, &c.,
What else can I say about Charlbury? Well this, that if she progresses for the next fifty years as she has in the passing fifty, in trade, in improvement, in extension, in education, in political and religious freedom, she will still be entitled to her ancient name that she has borne for a thousand years, viz: the home of the free.