Its known human past is of course much more recent but can also be traced back to prehistoric times, to the ancient Britons, the original tribes of hunters and food gatherers who lived here during the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. In the last five centuries of the BC era, their numbers swelled with the arrival of migrants from continental Europe of widely mixed tribal stock, who were only much later referred to generically as Celts, including large invasions of Belgae from the Rhine towards the end of that era. Relics of this long prehistoric past in Charlbury and its environs have been found over the years, such as hoar stones and even a famous stone circle (the Rollright Stones are only ten miles away), flint arrow-heads and scrapers, family tombs or long barrows, bronze and later iron tools and weapons, hill forts, earthworks (notably Grim’s Ditch or Dyke, which cut through the local countryside and may have been dug as a linear defence against the Roman Conquest), and other traces of early human settlement.
Later, the history of Charlbury reflects the successive impact of invasions by the Romans, the Angles and Saxons, the Vikings, and the Normans, and then of the various royal dynasties which have ruled here since the mid-twelfth century: Plantagenet (including its Lancastrian and Yorkist branches), Tudor, Stuart, Hanoverian, and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (since July 1917 the restyled House of Windsor). Written records, churches, religious and cultural artefacts of various kinds, secular buildings, ruins, coins, domestic utensils, roads, ditches, and many other features of the landscape offer abundant evidence of life in all those periods of our local history and place it firmly in the national story.
Some developments within that long process have done more than others to frame this story. The first of these was the institution of written records and the imposition of a common jurisdiction (albeit by a foreign sovereign) under the Romans, which lasted for nearly four centuries, from AD 43 to 418, by which time the last of their legions had left Britannia. Charlbury lies within easy distance of Roman remains, like the villa near North Leigh and traces of others at Ditchley, Fawler and Stonesfield, or Akeman Street and the Fosse Way, or the site at Lee’s Rest earthwork of a Romano-Celtic temple and other surviving relics of our first conquerors. Invasions by the Angles and Saxons had started even before the departure of the legions, and intensified after it, as Romano-British rule slowly collapsed under their onslaught. Their conversion to Christianity by missionaries from other lands, notably Ireland, from the seventh century onwards was to have a still greater influence on our national and local history. It shaped English society for many centuries to come, establishing the early primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, which lasted until the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
It was during the earlier Anglo-Saxon period, probably in the seventh century, that Charlbury got its name, the pronunciation of which can still prompt animated and sometimes rather pedantic dispute today. According to claims made much later in the eleventh century, the original Ceorlincburh (sometimes Ceorlingburh) was the burial place of St Diuma, a Scot from Ireland sent by the Bishop of Lindisfarne as a missionary to the Middle Angles and Mercians in 653. He was consecrated first bishop of the Mercians in 656, and he died in 658 in a region called Infeppingum in the land of the Middle Angles. He had enough success even in that short time to merit an honourable place in the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, completed over seventy years later, around 731, and itself the major primary source for Diuma’s missionary work. Some modern scholarly evidence suggests that Diuma may have founded a monastery in Charlbury on the hilly ground above the river Evenlode now bounded by Church Lane, Dyer’s Hill, Market Street, and Church Street.
Whether the name of the town as we know it today is more properly pronounced ‘Chorlbury’ or ‘Charlbury’, it is generally agreed that the Old English word ceorl denoted a freeman or free peasant – of lowly status according to some (whence ‘churl’), or of some substance according to others, including those who think that Ceorl may have been the proper name of just such a prominent person, and that burh (meaning a fortified place) was his stronghold. This in turn has spawned the notion that Charlbury has been a settlement of free men ever since, a view still proudly held by some local people.
The Viking invasions of the late eighth and ninth centuries penetrated the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms one by one, until eventually only Wessex was free of them; but if they also disturbed the process of Christianisation, they could not reverse it. In fact, during the reign of King Alfred the Great of Wessex (871-99) the Vikings were driven out into their own Danelaw, and even this the English kings had largely recovered by the middle of the next century.
The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought the steady entrenchment of new political and social relationships between King William I and his band of Norman knights. Commonly known as ‘feudalism’, these were rooted in a new system of seigneurial landownership and jurisdiction, and were accompanied by an unprecedented census of property ownership across England, of which the completion of Domesday Book in 1086 was the high point. This famous source does not mention Charlbury by name, but it has been suggested that an entry in the final Latin version listing certain landholders within ‘the land of Dorchester’ (with which the town had very old associations) as Angli libri may have been an indirect reference to it, which again would support the ‘free men’ legend. Indeed, some then and since have lamented the loss of old ‘English liberties’ and customary ways which they believed Norman rule entailed. The traditional Anglo-Saxon council of wise men (witenagemot) had been replaced by the Norman royal advisory council (Curia Regis), for instance, and it was not until well into the Plantagenet period, notably as from 1264, during the last years of King Henry III’s reign, that what became known as the English ‘Parliament’ was more frequently summoned.
In the centuries which followed the Norman Conquest, as indeed before it, the history of Charlbury was influenced by the hold of absentee landlords, and at times this even included the gravitational pull of the royal court in London. In 1094 the former Anglo-Saxon episcopal estate in which Charlbury, Fawler, and Finstock were incorporated was detached from the vast diocese of Lincoln and granted to Eynsham Abbey, a Benedictine house. The Abbot thus acquired what was known as the Lordship of the Manor of Charlbury with Fawler and Finstock, which lay in the Banbury hundred. This marked the start of a period of local governance that was to last for nearly 450 years, recorded in the Abbey’s Cartularies (registers), and spanning the great sweep of English history from the Norman and Plantagenet kings to the Tudors. The royal manor included the mother church of St Mary the Virgin and its dependent chapelries at Chadlington and Shorthampton, along with most of their profits. These increased when in 1296 the Vicarage was instituted in place of the former Rectory. The collection of tithes was supervised by the Abbey’s Bailiff, who resided in the Court House (erroneously renamed The Priory, which it never was, in the 1890s), where the Manorial Courts were held until 1539. His functions were supplemented by those of the Reeve (collector of dues) and his assistant, the Beadle.
In 1256 Henry III granted Eynsham Abbey a charter to hold both a weekly market (on Mondays) in Charlbury and also an annual fair there lasting four days in August. These were to be major features of the local economy, and the market at least survived in some form and with some interruptions until 1955. It was held initially in St Mary’s churchyard, but under Edward I it was moved to the top of Church Street, which explains why the latter was made so wide. In the fifteenth century the market day was changed from Monday to Friday. Although some have questioned just how prosperous these markets and fairs actually were, the evidence suggests that on the whole the Abbot and monks of Eynsham did well out of their commercial rights in Charlbury. In 1678 the annual August fair was changed by royal charter to four one-day fairs a year, two of which were later extended to cover several days. Initially, all of them were also held in Church Street, but part of the business of both the local markets and fairs moved to the Playing Close in the early eighteenth century, and there are some interesting reports on their vitality in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, which began weekly publication in 1753. It seems that all four of the traditional fairs, which throughout their history were occasions for dealings not wholly but mainly in livestock, had ceased by the 1880s. If the Friday market had a slightly longer lease of life, the old medieval Market House itself at the corner of Church Street and Sheep Street was finally demolished in 1890, following a period in which it had been put to other uses. By then, the Playing Close was the long-established venue for what remained of the market.
Under the Tudors, England experienced the momentous events of the Reformation, Henry VIII’s break with Rome in 1534, and his subsequent dissolution of the monasteries and confiscation of their property and income. Inevitably, this meant the end of Eynsham Abbey, which closed in December 1539, and of its long hold over the Lordship of the Manor of Charlbury. What followed, however, was half a century in which there were changes of ownership in Henry VIII’s remaining years and then a longer period of disputed ownership among various lay and ecclesiastical grandees, which dragged on for much the greater part of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. But eventually, in 1590, through formal recognition of the rightful title granted earlier by Elizabeth in 1574, the Lordship and its appurtenances (including the Vicarage of St Mary’s and various lands and tithes around the town) were vested in St John’s College, Oxford. Its President and Scholars in their turn at last brought the lingering dispute over tenancy rights to an end in 1592, when they agreed new Articles of Custom with local townsmen and Sir Henry Lee of Quarenden (Bucks), K.G., who had bought the Ditchley estate only two miles from Charlbury from Thomas Gibbons in 1583, and then been granted the lease of the Manor itself in 1590. So began the largely undisputed succession of predominantly lay beneficiaries of the Lordship of the Manor which has continued ever since and which, to date, has lasted almost as long as the original ecclesiastical association with Eynsham Abbey.
The Lees of Ditchley themselves held the Lordship for nearly two centuries – until 1776. In that time the eight successors of Sir Henry, K.G., also held the title of Baronet of Quarenden (Bucks) from 1611 and then, as from 1674, when the 5th Baronet was the incumbent, that of Earl of Litchfield (second creation) as well. When the last holder of both those titles, Robert Lee, the 8th Baronet and 4th Earl, died without issue in 1776, two important changes immediately affected Charlbury. First, the Lordship of the Manor was resumed by the President and Scholars of St John’s College, Oxford, where it remained until 1857. Secondly, the Ditchley estate passed to the 4th Earl’s niece, Lady Charlotte Lee, who had married Henry, the 11th Viscount Dillon, an Irish Peer. And so, in their turn, he and the subsequent Viscounts Dillon were to own Ditchley in unbroken succession until 1933. Their direct influence on Charlbury itself is easily exaggerated, however, and hardly compares with that of the Lees, which reflects to this day in several local place names. Lee’s Rest near the town, for instance, was built by Sir Henry in 1610, the year before his death, and was originally the family’s hunting lodge, set in woods and appealing enough to attract King James I on occasion. It appears to have been demolished in the 1720s, and was later replaced by a farmhouse. Lee Place in Charlbury itself is believed to have been rebuilt as a dower house for Charlotte, widow of the 1st Earl of Litchfield, who died in 1718, only eighteen months after her husband. By comparison, the Dillons are much better known for their association with Spelsbury, one and a half miles north of Charlbury, and especially with All Saints Church in that parish, which included Ditchley itself. For the same reason, the Lees had also had important connections with Spelsbury, and there are monuments in the church to members of both families, as well as several of their graves.
In assessing the history of the Lees of Ditchley, one is struck above all by their close and at times distinguished connection with the Stuart court, most notably after the restoration of Charles II in 1660. The foremost example here is surely Edward Henry Lee, the 5th Baronet and 1st Earl (1663-1716). His marriage to Charlotte Fitzroy in 1677, when they were both mere teenagers, brought the Lees closer to the blood royal than most other aristocratic families could claim, since the bride was the illegitimate daughter of Charles II by Barbara Fitzroy (née Villiers), one of the king’s many mistresses, and later Duchess of Cleveland in her own right. Edward and Charlotte became hugely prolific parents, who are credited with no fewer than eighteen children, most of whom died before their parents, several very young, which was not uncommon in those times. It was their son George Henry Lee, the 6th Baronet and 2nd Earl, who built the present stately home at Ditchley Park in 1722, to a design by James Gibbs (the name ‘Ditchley’ itself is thought to derive from Grim’s Ditch or Dyke, the linear earthwork which probably dates from the first century AD and runs through much of the estate). The portrait galleries at the house today are a veritable monument to both the high aristocratic status of the Lees and to the skills and styles of contemporary painters.
It is all the more curious, then, that Ditchley in Stuart times had another celebrated scion who went the other way, gaining prominence in the measure that he gained notoriety. Sir Francis Henry Lee, the 2nd Baronet, died of smallpox at the age of 23 in 1639, and five years later his widow, the formidable Anne St. John, married Henry, Lord Wilmot, a staunch royalist, who in 1652 was given the title of Earl of Rochester by Charles II. Their son, John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl, grew up at Ditchley, but is much better known as a colourful rake and boon companion of the king at the Restoration court. He wrote a good deal of bawdy verse and other such stuff, posed for a couple of flamboyant portraits, and died in 1680 at the age of 33, having ‘blazed out his youth and his health in lavish voluptuousness’, as Dr Johnson later remarked. The Earl, too, was buried in All Saints Church, Spelsbury, and with the death of his wife and their young son (the 3rd Earl) in the following year the Wilmot claim to the Rochester title ended.
The Lees of Ditchley were not the only aristocratic family with an ancestral home near Charlbury during those turbulent years of Stuart rule. The Hyde family of Cornbury Park, originally a royal hunting lodge in the Wychwood Forest on the south-western periphery of the town, also became prominent at the Restoration court, and also benefited from royal favours – but then royal displeasure. Edward Hyde had loyally supported the royalist cause during the Civil War and gained his reward at Charles II’s restoration. First he was appointed Lord Chancellor, and then in 1661 he was granted the title of Earl of Clarendon and the ownership of Cornbury Park, which Charles I had given in 1642 to Henry Danvers, the 1st Earl of Danby, who had lived there since 1615. Only a few years later Clarendon fell from grace, however, and had to seek exile in France, where he died in poverty in 1674. The title passed through two male heirs, before ending with the fourth incumbent, Henry Hyde, already the 2nd Earl of Rochester, whose father Laurence had been created 1st Earl when the Wilmot line ceased. But the real significance of the Hyde family in Stuart times was that the 1st Earl of Clarendon’s daughter, Anne, was secretly married against his wishes to the Duke of York (later King James II), by whom she had three children. The first, Charles, died in infancy; but their two daughters survived to become Queens of England. Mary, the elder, had married Prince William of Orange, a staunch Protestant, and in February 1689 they became co-monarchs, after her Catholic father had been deposed in the Glorious Revolution at the end of the previous year. Queen Mary died of smallpox in 1694, but her younger sister Anne, married to the Protestant Prince George of Denmark, eventually became Queen on the death of William III. She reigned from 1702 to 1714, from 1707 (after the Act of Union with Scotland) as the first sovereign of Great Britain, and also the last of the Stuart line.
It was under Queen Anne that a third great aristocratic family of England with which Charlbury has had some sort of historical association first made its impact on national and local life. John Churchill, 1st Earl of Marlborough (second creation) since 1689, who had already established a reputation as a fine soldier by the time Britain was drawn into the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13), was elevated to the title of Duke of Marlborough by Anne in 1702. His wife Sarah (née Jennings), a close friend of the queen and her Lady of the Bedchamber since 1683, was immediately appointed as Mistress of the Robes and Keeper of the Privy Purse, positions from which she would use her influence over Anne to pursue the interests of the Churchills through devious machinations at court. The duke himself provided a perfect cover for such ruthless intrigues by famous victories over the French at Blenheim (1704) and Ramillies (1706). In recognition of his achievements at Blenheim, the queen granted him the royal Manor of Woodstock and the wherewithal to build Blenheim Palace there, gifts confirmed by Act of Parliament. The house was built by Sir John Vanbrugh, the celebrated architect, took seventeen years to finish, and its proximity to Charlbury soon gave the Marlboroughs a strong influence over local affairs.
This influence suffered a temporary reverse when the duke and duchess fell out with the queen in 1710-11 because of their whig sympathies. They were stripped of all their positions, and further grants for Blenheim ceased, prompting them to go and live abroad, and returning only after Anne’s death. They returned to favour under the new Hanoverian monarch, George I, and the influence of the Marlboroughs over local affairs in Charlbury and its environs actually increased after the duke’s own death in 1722, since in his will he had left instructions for the enhancement of his widow’s property inheritance. It was to be the start of a long process of family aggrandisement, which later included the purchase of Cornbury Park in 1751, of the Perrot estates in Fawler in 1756, and of the Walcot estate on the outskirts of Charlbury in 1759, which included extensive property in the town, while the other purchases also commanded valuable great tithes in Charlbury and Fawler. The Walcot estate had been the ancestral home of the Jenkinson family, Baronets of Walcot and Hawkesbury, who had fallen foul of the royal court by supporting the Jacobite cause. In 1762 much of the Jenkinson mansion at Walcot was demolished by George Spencer, the 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817), to further the local interests of his own family.
Those interests were ultimately managed from Blenheim, and clearly they already constituted a very considerable portfolio of properties. Apart from those in private family use, all these purchased lands were leased to copyholders. Official records show that in 1786 the same 4th Duke was easily the largest payer of the land tax in Charlbury, Finstock, and Fawler, and further aggrandisement of the family estates was to continue under his successors. In 1847, the year in which the Tithe Award was drawn up for Charlbury township, the 6th Duke of Marlborough and the 14th Viscount Dillon of Ditchley held more than half the land between them, the former very much the larger share. The same two landlords then owned almost the entire township of Fawler, while in Finstock the largest landowner was the 2nd Baron Churchill, of whom more will be said later.
As several episodes in those foregoing family histories suggest, the political and religious divisions of the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of the seventeenth century, and then of the Jacobite insurrections of 1715 and 1745 after the Hanoverian succession, were played out in the local life of Charlbury. In general, the loyalties of most townsfolk during the Civil War had been strongly royalist, notwithstanding a prominent Cromwellian military presence in Cornbury Park, then effectively in the possession of Sir John Danvers, a committed Roundhead, in stark contrast to his elder brother mentioned earlier, the royalist Henry Danvers, the 1st Earl of Danby, who had died in 1644. But the Revolution of 1688 raised other issues of religious and dynastic loyalty. If most prominent families or individuals came out prudently in support of the Protestant cause, and in some cases were rewarded by the royal court, others took the side of James II and his descendants, covertly if necessary. Besides the Jenkinsons of Walcot, one might mention Henry Hyde of Cornbury, the 2nd Earl of Clarendon (d. 1709) and his nephew, also Henry Hyde, the 2nd Earl of Rochester (second creation) and later 4th Earl of Clarendon, in whom the two peerages were merged until they became extinct on his death in 1753. Another rather unusual Jacobite sympathiser was William Coles, formerly Vicar of Charlbury, who was forced from his living for refusing to swear the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, but then found refuge as a domestic chaplain at Cornbury until his death in 1735. Jacobitism in the Charlbury area eventually died out when its last enclaves, Cornbury and the Walcot estate, were bought by the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Marlborough in 1751 and 1759 respectively, as already noted.
The year 1776, when St John’s College resumed the direct Lordship of the Manor of Charlbury, also marked the start of the American War of Independence, and 1857, when an exchange of property transferred its formal governance to the owners of Cornbury Park, came soon after the end of the Crimean War (1854-6). This chronological framework has a nice if coincidental military symmetry about it, because during those eighty years most of the great political and religious passions which had so riven English society during the earlier conflicts were easing. The great alarms of the period had more to do with conflicts abroad, starting with the loss of Britain’s American colonies in 1783, and then the prolonged strain of the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon (1793-1815), which ended in victory and our greatly enhanced naval supremacy and primacy as a commercial power in the world. However distant those hostilities may have been, the people of Charlbury and its region were not unaffected by them. Like those in other parts of Britain, they were subject to a whole raft of direct and indirect taxes (chiefly excise duties) to pay for the wars. These fell on various goods and services, and in 1799 the government of Pitt the Younger introduced income tax as a temporary measure to help finance the French wars. The cumulative impact of such impositions seems to have hit Charlbury’s vital glove industry hardest of all. Furthermore, local men of eligible age were then liable to military service, if their lots were drawn, or to the considerable cost of buying substitutes; and the oak trees of the Wychwood Forest were regularly cut down for shipbuilding by commissioners from the Royal Navy.
Yet these were wartime stringencies which abated after 1815, and in general everyday life for the people of Charlbury under the Lordship of St John’s College probably had more to do with the economic and social changes we associate with the agricultural and industrial revolutions, mainly from the latter half of the eighteenth century. One characteristic development here had already reached a fairly advanced stage earlier in the century, between 1715 and c. 1750. This was the enclosure of what had traditionally been common land, which had extended to all the relevant areas of the town and its surrounding countryside (North Field, Middle Field or Home Field, and South Field), sometimes provoking protests from those with ancient rights to the commons and now excluded from the new arrangements. The whole process of enclosure favoured the better-off farmers and was to continue on into the nineteenth century. Another important development was the coming of the turnpike roads right at the end of the eighteenth century and the creation of a Turnpike Trust for this neighbourhood in 1800. Two of these roads ran through Charlbury, and the improved communications they brought with nearby towns and larger markets further afield proved the biggest fillip to the local economy before the building of the railway.
The importance of this latter event in Charlbury’s economic history would be hard to exaggerate. Work on the railway started in 1851, attracting navvies from many parts of the country, and the line was formally opened by the directors of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway Co. on 7 May 1853. Providing as it did regular and fast connections to Oxford, Reading, and London eastwards, and westwards to Evesham, Worcester, and beyond, it soon became a vital link for both passenger and commercial traffic into and out of Charlbury, and from 1863 it was absorbed into the network of the Great Western Railway. It boosted the supply of livestock and agricultural goods for the local weekly markets, and it enabled the bulk transport of coal to Charlbury station, where supplies could be ordered by local residents for their own domestic use. The coal also fired the works of the Charlbury Gas Co., which were opened nearby on the other side of the track in 1869 and then, in 1906, taken over by the Mid-Oxon Gas Co. As a result, gas was used for most of the lighting in the town (streets, shops, churches, and many private homes) until the conversion of most of its street lighting to mains electricity in October 1929. By the time war again intervened ten years later, the process of converting private homes to mains electricity was also under way, and it accelerated after 1945.
The railway also gave a huge boost to Charlbury’s leather glove industry, which many still regarded as its ‘traditional industry’, not least through the import of essential raw materials to supplement supplies from the local tanneries. Gloving in the town had its roots back in the eighteenth century, or possibly earlier, and its first significant development is associated with William Albright Jnr (1777-1852), albeit on a small scale. Its major expansion dated from the mid to later nineteenth century, however, following the arrival here around 1840 of Samuel Pritchett from Woodstock, who set up a glove factory in Sheep Street and soon became a big employer. After the sale of all his property in 1872, including his tannery at Weaver’s Bottom below Fisher’s Lane, others entered the field, and the industry continued to grow up to the Second World War. At its height in the later 1930s, there were six glove factories in the town, which together employed hundreds of workers on site and many more (mostly women) as part-time outworkers. After agriculture, which included both crop and animal husbandry, gloving was certainly the most important economic sector for local employment, especially as the farms suffered a long decline during the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries. The two largest factories were both offshoots from established Worcester firms. One of them, and perhaps the most celebrated of all, was Messrs Fownes Bros, who opened their Charlbury works in 1896. It operated from buildings on the land behind Rock Villa (later the youth hostel), off the Ditchley Road and near Hundley Way, but eventually closed at the start of war in 1939. The other large factory, Dent Allcroft, started manufacturing in 1933 at Baywell Gate on Five Ways, now the site of Hydac Technology Ltd, but its fast growth was interrupted in 1939, when the Government requisitioned the factory for the de Havilland Co. to make aircraft parts during the war. Dent’s recovered their premises and resumed glove making in 1945, and then continued to trade until 1968 – the last of the local glove factories to close indeed.
In view of such vitality in Charlbury’s key manufacturing industry, marked fluctuations in its population growth in modern times may be thought surprising. By the time of the first decennial census for England and Wales in 1801, the terrible epidemics which had wiped out so many people in the land were scourges of the past. Like most other English towns, Charlbury had been grievously afflicted by the Black Death of 1348-9, when as many as two-thirds of the population perished, and there had been further if less lethal visitations of the plague in 1361-2 and 1369. In the seventeenth century, too, smallpox had been a recurrent killer, without respect for class, and further major outbreaks occurred in 1712, 1718-19, and as late as 1766, before improved vaccination methods (including path-breaking work by the apothecary Edward Lyster in Charlbury itself) helped to rectify matters.
We should be better informed about population trends since then, but sadly it has to be said that demographic estimates over the years have given widely discrepant figures for Charlbury, partly because different geographical units for counting seem to have been used, and partly also because official census data are not always widely available. The respected Victoria County History, in its volume 10 for Oxfordshire (1972), cites generally low figures: a total of only 965 in 1801, followed by a fairly steady rise to 1,526 in 1851; but then a slow decline to a low point of 1,271 in 1931, after which there was another rise to 1,649 in 1961, and fast growth ever since. Other estimates and graphic material available online, and purportedly derived from official sources, present a somewhat different picture (see for instance: www.visionofbritain.org.uk/data). They confirm the rise from 1801 to 1851, in spite of a blip in 1831-1841, followed by two decades of slow decline until 1871, and then a much sharper drop to the lower totals of 1881, 1891, and 1901, at which point females outnumbered males by roughly 54% to 46%, and there were then only just over 300 households in Charlbury. Thereafter, these same estimates show, the local population stagnated until the interwar years and beyond, and began to rise significantly again only after 1951. If we review the whole picture in wider historical perspective, it is clear that the prolonged fall after 1851 was due primarily to the relatively poor performance of agriculture, and its low wages, with the consequent drift of labourers to larger towns in search of work, or even their emigration to other lands. The first clear sign that the cycle had turned sharply upwards again came between 1961 and 1971, when the total population of Charlbury stood at 2,258 in something around 525 households. Its expansion has continued steadily since then, and the most recent official figure (2001 census) is 2,984.
Other aspects of Charlbury’s social history in recent centuries bear witness to the resilience, resourcefulness, and self-reliance of its people in good times or bad. One of its most striking features is religious diversity, and in particular a strong Dissenting tradition. The oldest foundation is of course the Anglican Church of St Mary’s, which dates from the late eleventh century and was built on the site of what may have been an original Saxon church. Its turbulent passage through the Reformation and Dissolution, the Civil War, and the Jacobite conflicts is well recorded; but here too religious life was generally calmer for most of the Hanoverian period and in Victorian times. Between 1842 and 1860, initially at the instigation of Dr Thomas Silver, Vicar of Charlbury (1828-53), Finstock and Fawler were detached in stages to form a separate parish, and by 1869 that living was a full titular vicarage.
Although parts of the present building of St Mary’s itself can be traced back to the twelfth century, the early history of its clergy remains obscure. We know that from 1094 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII its Rectors and then (from 1296) its Vicars were appointed by the Abbot of Eynsham, but none can be definitely named until the incumbency of Walter de Sancto Edmundo, Subdeacon (1234-65). He is the first of the last three Rectors whose names appear on a handsome wooden plaque attached to the wall of the south aisle of the church. The full list, including all the 46 Vicars to date, has 49 names with dates, although some exact details are missing among the earlier entries. Several of those incumbents were among the most distinguished clerics and scholars of their day, most notably Robert King (1528-57), the first Bishop of the newly created diocese of Oxford from 1542, and Ralph Hutchinson (1593-1606), from 1590 President of St John’s College, Oxford, and later one of the translators of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible, although he died before its completion. His successor as Vicar, Roland Searchfield (1606-22), was also Bishop of Bristol for the last three years of his life; and two much more recent Vicars, Julius Delmege Payne (1903-40) and Martin Chadwick (1979-96), were Honorary Canons of Christ Church, Oxford.
The survival of Roman Catholicism in these parts during the religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries owed much to the piety of the Browne (later Browne-Mostyn) family of Kiddington Hall, landowners around here from late Elizabethan times, who maintained their own chapel and missionary priest. While stories of crafty priests’ holes and ingenious secret ways of celebrating Mass are part of local folklore, religious observance for the ordinary Catholic faithful who did not have the protection of wealthy patrons was necessarily covert and at times precarious until well into the nineteenth century. A new mission was opened in the 1840s in the village of Radford (near Enstone in Oxfordshire), where it was to flourish later with the help of Jesuits from Heythrop, and Mass was also said in Enstone and Charlbury. Even so, the present Church of St Teresa of Lisieux dates from only 1931, in a building on the corner of Fisher’s Lane and Sheep Street erected in 1853 originally as a Primitive Methodist Chapel, which later became a Salvation Army Citadel and then a laundry. The building was bought for only £100, and for nearly forty years St Teresa’s was a daughter church of Holy Trinity, Radford, where the priest resided. It became the parish church (with a priest resident in Charlbury) in 1970, following the sale of Holy Trinity and its presbytery in Radford, and it forms part of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
As for the Dissenters, the community with the oldest roots in Charlbury is the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), whose first adherents dated from the seventeeth century. Most notable among them were Anne Downer, the daughter of a local Vicar and a convert to the Friends, who preached in Charlbury and Chadlington with much effect in 1656, and the Spendlove family, the earliest of whom (Edward Snr and family) settled here in the 1680s and were in time to be prosperous bakers and maltsters. It appears that their ancestors had once owned estates in Shropshire, which had to be forfeited during the Civil War, and Edward (Snr) himself owed his success as a baker more to hard work and careful investment of his earnings than to inherited wealth. By such means, too, his descendants became more prominent still as landowners in the eighteenth century, none more so than Robert Spendlove (1726-1822), the great survivor of a family stricken by many early deaths, who lived to the age of 96 and is remembered for both his vast wealth and his philanthropic deeds.
Other Quaker families were also to make their mark on the town later through the ownership of several of its grandest buildings. This was particularly true of the industrious Albright family, whose progenitor William (Snr) had been the first to arrive at the age of 21 in 1767, and then quickly established himself as a resourceful mercer at a house in Market Street. He was another who had not inherited great wealth – his Quaker family in Bedfordshire had actually been persecuted for refusing to pay their Church tithes – and his rising prosperity was due to hard work and financial prudence, traits he passed on to his descendants. In due course, his children and their own children proliferated, and at different times in the nineteenth century various members of the family owned the Albright House itself, a mercer’s shop opposite it which later became a butcher’s, the property now called Gothic House, and the former Royal Oak Inn (which was turned into a coffee house and temperance hotel), all in Church Street; both Hazeldean and Wychwood House at the top of the Enstone Road; and also briefly through marriage the Corner House on Market Street, formerly much better known as a Spendlove property. Most of the best-remembered Albright men and their wives, as well as Robert Spendlove and his wife, are buried in the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House in Market Street, which was first built in 1681, pulled down and replaced by the present one in 1779, and then extended in 1987.
Other Nonconformist communities in Charlbury were of later origin. The local Methodist Chapel in Fisher’s Lane dates from 1823 and was built on land given by the Bolton family of Finstock, prominent followers of John Wesley, and rooms for an adjoining Sunday School were soon added. Methodism in the town was inspired by the pioneering work of Richard Reece, who lived in Oxford, and John Gatfield, an educationalist. Primitive Methodists were also active here around that time – their chapel was built in 1853, as we have seen – but their movement later declined. The Baptist Chapel at the top of Dyer’s Hill was also built in 1853, an event sometimes linked to the opening of the railway that same year, on the grounds that some of the navvies were Baptists and needed a spiritual home while working here. The argument against this supposition is that many more navvies were Irish and so, presumably, Roman Catholics. What is not in doubt is that the building of the Baptist Chapel owed much to the generosity of George Baughan, a local man, and of William Bliss, the wool magnate of Chipping Norton and a leading Baptist there. While the latter’s religious motives in helping to fund the new chapel were altogether beyond reproach, he also had a business interest in the local railway for his own tweed mill eight miles away – making him at once a benefactor and a beneficiary of Charlbury.
The same religious diversity also reflects in the history of education in Charlbury, which before the coming of the state schools in the twentieth century was shaped by private as well as institutional endeavour. An early Quaker initiative in the seventeenth century was stopped after opposition from the Church of England, and a more publicly acceptable one took form a few years later when Charlbury’s Free Grammar School was opened in 1675. It owed much to the generosity of a benefactor, Anne Walker, whose will (proved in 1667) provided an endowment for its foundation. It was aimed at the poor, and from the start it established a local link with another Oxford college, Brasenose, which had received the endowment and from its proceeds offered two scholarships, whenever possible to Charlbury boys. Its site was the building then known as the Town House (formerly the Church House) at the lower end of Church Street, where Manorial Courts had been held from the late sixteenth century, and much later transformed into the two adjoining properties of the Manor House and Sunnyside we see today. Its close association with St Mary’s Church also ensured its future, and in 1837 Brasenose College built a new schoolroom at the top of the hill near the wall of Lee Place, up from what is now Park Street, which became known appropriately enough as Grammar School Hill.
The Grammar School itself was to survive for 227 years, with some difficulties and controversies at times, not least at the end of the very long tenure of the last Master, George Morris, which finally prompted its closure in 1902. Its services were supplemented in the nineteenth century by other educational ventures, most fairly short-lived. These included two private Methodist foundations: Gatfield’s School, at first in Poole’s Lane and then in larger premises at the corner of Church Lane and Dyer’s Hill, and, on the latter site later, Richard Thomas Heel’s Charlbury Academy, which he soon moved to Witney. Private schools run by prominent Quakers also opened around that time, one at Prospect Place (now Dyer’s Hill House), which closed after only a few years, and two others in the buildings of Sycamore House and Egypt on the Playing Close, but neither lasted much beyond the mid-century.
An altogether more ambitious project with a much longer history had been started in 1815 by the Charlbury British School Society, a group of prominent philanthropic townsmen and women led by Robert Spendlove, the principal founding benefactor, who were concerned about the lack of educational provision for the local poor. It became known as the British School, operating from a building on a plot of land at the south-east corner of the Playing Close with the permission of the Thomas Gifford Trustees, the then successors of an important local property trust dating back to 1592. It admitted both boys and girls, and its early success and rising numbers allowed the original loan to be paid off quickly. Thereafter, public subscriptions by local residents, mainly from the Quaker community, were enough to meet its running costs, and in 1863 an additional infants’ block was built. But deaths among its subscribers led to financial difficulties later, and these became more acute after the retirement of Jesse Clifford, its distinguished Master from 1842 to 1884, and in 1888 the school (with its small infants’ block) was entrusted to the Board of Education, which oversaw a big increase in the total number of children and infants over the next fifteen years or so.
This was to prove something of a watershed. As elementary education became free but also compulsory as from 1891, and when the County Councils were made responsible for it in 1902, so the British School became increasingly subject to interference from the public authorities based elsewhere. In matters of education, as in other public spheres, Oxfordshire County Council had precedence over the Parish Council formed in Charlbury in 1894. This caused resentment among local people, especially when alterations and additions to the school, like the new classroom built by the County Council around 1902, were funded from ratepayers’ money. But at least its own educational standards were maintained by able and devoted leaders; indeed, they flourished under the exemplary headmastership of J.E. Barton between 1904 and 1939, when more and more children from surrounding villages were bused in and out each schoolday.
In the postwar years the school, like those in other British towns, experienced all the vicissitudes of further intrusion by public bodies. These included the building of the new Spendlove County Secondary Modern School in 1958, while the old school became the Charlbury County Primary. The Secondary Modern closed in 1982 and is now remembered by locals chiefly for the extreme ugliness of its prefab building (demolished in 1998) on what for thirty years before its erection had been the attractive school gardens in Spendlove Close, worked by the children for vegetables, eggs, and honey, and also serving as a public park. In 1987 Charlbury Primary School moved into new premises at the top of Crawborough, still its present site, and all the old school buildings on the Playing Close were eventually demolished in 1998 and replaced by private houses. Finally, there were quite a few other much smaller and sometimes more socially exclusive private ventures to educate the young in residential homes, including the so-called ‘dame schools’, or to set up kindergartens. The earliest of these dated from the 1840s, but none lasted very long, and the last closed sometime after the Second World War.
The year 1857 was to be doubly important in the history of Charlbury. First, the Lordship of the Manor passed to the owners of Cornbury Park, and with them it has remained successively ever since. Secondly, Wychwood itself was then also disafforested, which meant that it ceased to be a royal forest governed by special forest laws. Instead, much of its land was cleared of trees and divided into half a dozen Crown farms, each with its own new farmhouse and other buildings, over the next few years. The new owner of Cornbury was Francis George Spencer, the 2nd Baron Churchill of Wychwood, to whom St John’s College, Oxford, gave all rights except the advowson to St Mary’s Church, in exchange for some of his estates in south Oxfordshire. He had inherited the title in 1845 on the death of his father, Francis Almeric Spencer, the 1st Baron Churchill of Wychwood, created in 1815, and his own son and heir, Victor Albert Francis Charles Spencer, was to keep this baronial branch of the ducal family at Blenheim going until he was himself created Viscount Churchill in 1902.
Besides allowing the new Crown farms to be formed, the disafforestation of Wychwood also spelt the end of the old Forest Fair held there in September each year. It had started soberly enough in 1795, on the initiative of three Wesleyan familes, but in time it had become a rowdier event, and the 2nd Baron Churchill eventually achieved his aim of stopping it in 1857. This was a huge disappointment to Charlbury people, who had come to regard the Forest Fair as a major annual event. But some thirty years later they were to be affected by more important changes at Cornbury. In 1886, the year in which the 2nd Baron Churchill died, all the land in Charlbury belonging to George Charles Spencer-Churchill, who had become the 8th Duke of Marlborough in 1883, was sold off by his trustees. A period of uncertainty followed: at first, Cornbury Park was let to L.M. Wynne, a lawyer, but he went bankrupt in 1896. The property was then bought by Harvey du Cros, Chairman of the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co., who set about major refurbishments and alterations, and breathed new life into the Manorial Court. As its principal benefactor, he also presided at the opening of the drinking fountain on the Playing Close on 25 August 1900, which commemorated Queen Victoria’s visit to Charlbury in November 1886, the provision of a water supply for the town in 1896, and Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The handsome fountain was designed and built by John Kibble of Charlbury (1865-1951), also a celebrated local historian whose best-known writings, which first appeared in the interwar years, are now available in modern editions published by the Wychwood Press.
Financial irregularities at his firm forced Harvey du Cros to sell Cornbury in his turn, however, and in 1901 it was bought by Vernon James Watney, who came from a family which had made its money in brewing, and who published a learned and still well-regarded book on Cornbury and the forest of Wychwood in 1910. In time, he and his wife Margaret (née Wallop) gained a high reputation as Lord and Lady of the Manor, who were gracious and generous in their good works for the town and its region, and revered by their local employees. On Vernon Watney’s death in 1928, his son Oliver inherited Cornbury. One of his first acts, following Parliament’s abolition of copyhold tenure in 1926, was to offer all his tenants freehold rights at just a modest cost, keeping only the mineral rights as Lord of the Manor. When he died without male issue in 1966, the estate passed to his niece, Mrs Helen Buller. Facing stiff death duties, she sold it in the following year to Herbert Robin Cayzer, the 2nd Baron Rotherwick, whose son Robin has been the 3rd Baron since his father’s death in 1996.
As for Ditchley, the long association with the Dillon family ended in 1933, the year after the death of the 17th Viscount, when the estate was bought by Ronald Lambert Tree, a wealthy Anglo-American who was soon to be a Conservative MP, and his wife Nancy, later Nancy Lancaster, the celebrated designer and decorator, whose tasteful handiwork is still very much in evidence there. Ditchley became Winston Churchill’s weekend refuge from German bombers, ‘when the moon was high’, as the saying went, for the first time in November 1940, two months after the start of the Blitz on London, and then for twelve more official visits up to September 1942. It was apparently a safer retreat than Chequers, and part of the Lend-Lease agreement with the USA was negotiated there in 1941. After the war Ronald Tree lost his parliamentary seat at Market Harborough in 1945, was divorced from Nancy in 1947, and then remarried. He sold Ditchley in 1950 to Lord Wilton, who in turn sold it to Sir David Wills, the well-known philanthropist. Sir David donated the house and 280 acres of parkland to the Ditchley Foundation, which he formed in 1958. His aim was to provide a quiet and comfortable venue for Anglo-American conferences at high level, at which issues of mutual national interest could be discussed in a relaxed atmosphere. These began in 1962 and have continued from time to time since then. The Foundation still owns the house today.
Lois Hey, in her interesting short History of Charlbury (Wychwood Press, 2001), remarks that ‘Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 emphasised the feeling of fin de siècle’ – here, as elsewhere in the land. Britain was then engaged abroad in the Boer War of 1899-1902, and I have personally had the privilege of meeting descendants of one Charlbury family which sent sons, two brothers who volunteered, to serve in that distant campaign, and who returned to a heroes’ welcome. The new century which was now just starting would bring greater and more harrowing conflicts much nearer home, and, as an older military theme was played out again, and then yet again, Charlbury was not immune from them. The memorial in St Mary’s Church dedicated to local men who died in the First World War of 1914-18 records 32 names, 20 of whom were privates, and the others officers of low to higher rank. Since Asquith’s Coalition Government did not introduce compulsory military conscription (in stages) until January-April 1916, all those who fell before then, and no doubt others later, would have been volunteers. For comparison, the accompanying memorial in St Mary’s to Charlbury’s fallen in the Second World War of 1939-45 has eight names.
It is now increasingly difficult to find eyewitnesses to life in Charlbury during the First World War, but fortunately enough of those who lived through the Second are alive and able to recount their memories of it. These bear remarkable testimony to the spirit of local people at the time, confirming as they do a familiar story of resilience and self-reliance, matched by a strong sense of the need to work together as a community. For those, including the present author, who have been fortunate to live in an era of peace and plenty at home, it may be hard to grasp the full extent of the privations of two World Wars and the austerity of the interwar years, with its economic Depression. The Second World War itself brought strict rationing of food, petrol, and clothing. It brought invasion scares (especially in the summer of 1940), compulsory blackouts, and various other civil alerts. Yet, somehow or other, local volunteers were found to man the Home Guard, the Civil Defence Group, and the fire service. Women volunteers came forward to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and other such wartime services open to them, or to serve in the Red Cross, to work as nurses and caterers, and to care for evacuees and their children from the London Blitz. Like their menfolk, they did so in addition to their own professional or domestic work. Charlbury also had its fair share of the legendary ‘Land Girls’, officially known as the Women’s Land Army, from other parts of the country, and some were to marry local men and become long-term residents here.
In short, everyone who could, played a part. Besides the evacuees who had to be housed, local families were also billeted with troops from other counties who were stationed here, like the Durham Light Infantry Regiment in the earlier stages of the war. Cornbury Park became a major depot for the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the Royal Army Service Corps. Charlbury had its local variant of the British Restaurants created to ease the strain of food rationing. Residents responded to the call to ‘Dig for Victory’, whether in their own gardens or by cultivating allotments which were then much more numerous than they are today, and they also kept chickens, rabbits, and pigs to supplement food supplies. And somehow, too, they and their wartime visitors managed to find entertainments, such as the so-called Town Hall Cinema, or the soldiers’ dances to which women of the ATS would be invited, or the traditional conviviality of the pubs (of which sadly only four survive today, when there were then six or seven, and even more in earlier times), or simply the radio at home, where favourite comic programmes like ‘ITMA’ (‘It’s That Man Again’ – with Tommy Handley and company) offered light relief from the BBC’s more serious news broadcasts.
Now, of course, none of all this was unique. The citizens of most other provincial towns of comparable size in Britain came through the war showing similar mettle. And yet, if we ask how Charlbury people rose to its challenges and hardships, an important contributory factor was the nature of their local economy. For a start, most of them could feed and clothe themselves, warm themselves in winter, and transport themselves by road or rail, in many cases on foot, whether for work or other purposes. The town then had many more grocers, bakers, butchers, greengrocers, milk suppliers, confectioners, drapers, tailors, shoeshops, ironmongers, glovers, garages, coal and coke merchants, and other private trades and services than it does today. If one defines local ‘businesses’ in the broadest terms as all professional activities producing a livelihood of some sort for those engaged in them, then Charlbury was well able to provide for itself. I have compiled my own list of all such ‘businesses’ active sometime between 1918 and c. 1950 and come up with a total figure of over 70, even if those (quite a lot in fact) which changed hands over the period are counted only once, and if all the legal, medical, educational, and other public professions are excluded. The total number of individual traders working in them (some women among them) is nearer 100, not counting members of their families who helped them and all other employees. Most of these ‘businesses’ were run by owner-occupiers, in other words by people living in their place of work, and with roots in the town. Their steady disappearance in the postwar period has meant big changes for local commercial life, and with their demise something of the old Charlbury has disappeared as well.
And so, as the postwar history of Charlbury has continued to the present day, many of the developments we now take for granted as signs of ‘modernity’ have changed the former way of life and physical aspect of the town which older surviving residents still remember and sometimes lament. If most of the old shops and all the old factories and garages have gone, many more people now own cars and can buy what they need elsewhere, and they also have access to a much wider range of goods, including plastic, synthetic, and electronic products not available to earlier generations. Many more women now go out to work, often full-time, and more local residents than formerly regularly commute to work elsewhere, chiefly in Oxford and London, but without making Charlbury a dormitory town like so many others near large cities. The Great Western Railway, like all other private railway companies at the time, was fully nationalised by the Transport Act of 1947. It became part of British Railways (later British Rail), but was then privatised again in the mid-1990s, operating since 1998 as First Great Western. The station house in Charlbury, designed as a wooden chalet-type building in Italianate style by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous engineer, still retains many of its original features. It was restored in 1979 and, along with the two early station nameboards, still in place, is now a Grade II listed building. Major work on the Cotswold line has begun very recently to restore the other half of the former double track so improvidently dug out in the late 1960s, as part of the further economies following the Beeching cuts earlier that decade, and with it the return of a second station platform here is also anticipated. Over the past sixty years or more, the gas and electricity industries have also undergone the same process of postwar nationalisation and more recent reprivatisation.
Other signs of ‘modernity’ in Charlbury are obvious all around us. Old photographs of the main streets before the advent of tarring suggest that road surfaces then usually consisted of rolled crushed aggregate, sometimes brought in from North Warwickshire, which was used because (unlike local stone) it did not break down in frost. Today, of course, nearly all the streets, lanes, and pavements are tarred, a process which made its first significant headway between the wars. A few roads have been widened, a few others are now restricted to one-way rather than the earlier two-way traffic, and (in theory at least) the legal speed limit of 30 mph applies within the town. Mains gas and electricity are generally available in homes and other buildings. So is recycled Oxford mains water, provided since the 1960s in place of the old supply which from 1896 had been pumped up by windmill from clean springs at Wigwell Field to a reservoir on Ditchley Road, thanks to the generosity of Arthur Albright. He had bought the field near Hazeldean, where his younger brother John Marshall Albright lived, and his Charlbury Waterworks Co. had continued to supply water to the town until 1939, when Chipping Norton Rural District Council took on the responsibility. Water is another major industry which has oscillated between various forms of public and private ownership since the last war. The Water Act of 1973 removed it from local authority control in England and Wales, and set up ten larger Water Authorities, including Thames Water, which still serves this area. Then, in 1989, all those Authorities were privatised by the Thatcher Government, and with some regulatory changes have remained in the private sector ever since.
In Charlbury itself, mains water is now available in nearly all homes, shops, and offices, although wells are still in use in some private residences. The provision of mains sewage and drainage started back in the 1890s, and the sewage works later built on the western side of the railway line probably date from before the First World War. Flush toilets go back a surprisingly long way in English history, but the mass-produced variety at least were first brought into use in Charlbury really only during the interwar period, then spread more rapidly after it, and of course they are more or less universal today. The old system of manual collection of sewage buckets and coal ash from private homes by cart for disposal in a field in the woods behind what is now Ticknell Piece Road ended sometime after the last war. Yet even if mains sewage and drainage are services which most residents now take for granted, modern methods of sewage disposal through septic tanks are used in dozens of homes. Finally, doctors’ surgeries which were once exclusively private – the work of Dr Henry Pennington Croly (d. 1954) at The Poplars (now Dyer’s Hill House) is legendary – have been steadily superseded by group practices in Charlbury or other nearby towns operating within the National Health Service since its inception in 1948.
Inevitably, too, the urban environment of the town has changed in recent decades, subject to the planning regulations which apply to the Charlbury Conservation Area, as designated in 1974, under the authority of West Oxfordshire District Council, which was formed on 1st April that year with its base in Witney. Alterations to private homes, shops, or other buildings in the historic parts of the town have been fairly regular in that time, and undertaken not least by comparative newcomers with their own ideas of home improvements, and with the means to implement them. In a number of cases the work has involved major extensions to existing buildings, or the conversion of former small terraced cottages into larger single houses – instances no doubt of the private affluence widely evident here. If the results have not always been aesthetically pleasing, it is gratifying to note that some at least of those developments have been carried out to a high standard with local materials of good quality, and have also been an important source of local employment. New houses, including many in new housing estates, have also been built – notably between Crawborough and Hixet Wood, and on the periphery of the town south-east of Sturt Road, and in the areas around Ticknell Piece Road and Nine Acres. One result is that the social complexion of the local population is probably more diverse and fluid today than it has ever been. In November 1986 Charlbury became part of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is widely considered a pleasant town to live in, and it also attracts many tourists each year.
© Geoffrey Ellis 2010. Not to be reproduced without permission.
About the author: Geoffrey Ellis was for forty years (1964-2004) an undergraduate, a postgraduate, and finally a senior member of Oxford University, where he had affiliations with three colleges: Magdalen, Christ Church, and Hertford. For the last thirty years of that period, until his retirement in 2004, he was a Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Hertford College (of which he is now an Emeritus Fellow) and a Lecturer in Modern French History in the University. He and his wife have lived in Charlbury since 1998. He is currently writing ‘A Social History of Charlbury 1900-1960’, in which he hopes to draw on the recorded oral evidence of local residents as well as on more traditional written sources.