Lower Heyford

Lower Heyford

Lower Heyford is a village and civil parish in the Cherwell district of Oxfordshire, England. The village is on the bank of the River Cherwell, and is close to Steeple Aston, Rousham and Upper Heyford. It is the site of sparsly served Heyford railway station.

Heyford means the "hay ford" as in a ford used mainly at hay-making time. The 'lower' differentiates this ford from the one at Upper Heyford, a short distance downstream.


How long have people lived here?

Lower Heyford has been settled since at least the 6th Century AD, and probably since prehistoric times. The Romans certainly knew the area. There was a Roman villa in Caulcott; a Roman road, Portway, crosses the high plateau to the east of the village; a Roman coin from the time of the Emperor Constantine (4th century AD) was found near the Church in the 1940s and another in Victorian times in the field to the east of the Lane. There was an Anglo-Saxon pre-Christian cemetery and possibly an Iron Age hill fort outside the village near Cold Harbour, and crop marks show evidence of early farming, which may also date from the Iron Age. The site was popular, no doubt, because it was close to two fording points of the River Cherwell, and is plentifully supplied with water from springs and wells. When the water meadows to the north of the B4030, between the railway and the River Cherwell, flood after winter rains, the site of the mediaeval settlement can be clearly seen. A hundred years ago the village was described as nestling in a hollow on the river bank, and its agricultural land rises gently from the centre of population. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Caulcott was larger in size than Heyford, and the joint parish was among the most prosperous in the Ploughley Hundred. Caulcott had fallen into decline by the early 17th century, and much of the previously cultivated land had reverted to rough pasture.

What was the village called?

Until the mid 13th century, the village was called Heiford, probably because the ford was used at hay harvest. The spelling Hegford was used in the Domesday Book (1088). After the building of the bridge in 1255, it became known as Heyford ad Pontem (Heyford at Bridge). From the mid 14th century until the 19th century, it was sometimes known as Heyford Purcell, after the locally important Purcell family. Nether Heyford was first recorded in 1474, and later, Little or Lower Heyford were also used.

Who owned the land and houses?

By the time of the Domesday survey most of the land in the village was divided between two estates valued at ?6 each. By the 12th century, the manors were held by the Earls of Cornwell and Gloucester, but a freehold estate was established by the 13th century. In mediaeval times the two manors passed through the hands of a number of minor gentry and lords before being sold in 1533 by Sir Edward Baynton to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The price paid for Lower Heyford and Caulcott, including all the farmland, was ?709.

For the greater part of the 16th and 17th centuries, Corpus land was farmed by yeoman families, mainly the Bruces and the Merrys. The Varney family of Caulcott date from the Tudor period, and their descendants still thrive. William Bruce rebuilt the manor house in 1699 on the site of a smaller house built by the Purcell family, who held lands in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Merry family farmed much of the same land as the current farmer in 2002, and were noted for their longevity. Simon Merry died in 1588 at the age of 100, and Gabriel Merry, commemorated in the church died in 1684 aged 93. Later members of the family were millers in the village, until the last member emigrated to America in 1845.

On the Langdon map of 1606, the settlement clusters around the Market Square, with houses along the village street eastwards towards Mill Lane. From the building of the bridge in 1255 until the end of the 19th century the village had a market. The 17th century mill was enlarged in the 18th century; it had four pairs of millstones, though the flow of the river limited use to two pairs at any one time. An enlightened Rector named Filmer owned wasteland on either side of the lane, now the upper part of Freehold Street; he gave several leases to people who built on the land. Between 1771 and 1881, the number of houses in the village more than doubled from 56 to 116.

What were the roads like?

As in so much of the country, local roads were appalling. They were deeply rutted and impassable in wet weather, and preyed upon by highwaymen (see Hopcrofts Holt). The turnpiking of the Bicester to Enstone road in 1793 brought some improvement and tollgates were built at the eastern end of Heyford bridge and the Town Gate close to the Bicester turn.

When did the railway come to Heyford?

The Oxford to Banbury branch of the Great Western Railway opened in 1850, employing a Station Master and six porters at Heyford station. For some distance near the village the railway runs along the old course of the river Cherwell, which was diverted as a consequence. The engineers failed to provide sufficient culverts beneath the embankment, and this led to an increase in flooding. By the end of the 19th century villagers were using the trains not just to go to Oxford or Banbury, but to take holidays and even day-trips to the seaside.

Places of Interest:

Heyford Wharf

When the Oxford-Coventry canal opened in 1790, it was among the first of the commercial waterways to be constructed in England. The Lower Heyford wharf instantly put the village in the centre of a thriving business route. One of the main cargoes was coal from the Wednesbury Colliery, and this ended a longstanding local fuel shortage due to the lack of woodlands in the area. Oxfordshire Narrowboats now operate from the wharf, while the timber yard to the south of the road bridge has been developed for residential use.

St Mary's Church

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin was consecrated in 1057 by Wulfin, Bishop of Dorchester. Nothing of this original building remains. The earliest architectural features from the 13th century remaining today are a fine-pointed lancet window on the north wall by the altar, and the piscine near the porch door. Major rebuilding in the mid 14th century provided the East window above the altar, chancel windows and timber roof. The clerestory (upper windows) in Perpendicular style, the tower, porch, rood screen and staircase leading to the no longer existing rood loft date from the 15th century. Fragments of mediaeval stained glass, mounted in the west window behind the font, were discovered during 19th century restoration, and depict coats of arms of Lords of the Manor of Lower Heyford identified as de la Mare 13th century, de Clare 14th century and Baynton 16th century. Dated 1662, the font is a remodelling of the original mediaeval one. The candelabrum hanging over the font is a fine example of 19th century workmanship. Steps high on the wall and beam holes across the rear wall of the Church in front of the tower are evidence of the 18th century musicians' gallery. The Heyford Chest, near the font, dating from the mid 12th century pre dates the existing Church by nearly one hundred years. Built by a local carpenter in obedience to an order of Henry II, for placing money chests in parish churches to help pay for the Crusades. The stained glass in the window above the altar is by the well-known 19th century artist C.E.Kempe . The Cheeseman Memorial window, above the south altar, dated 1928 by J.E.Nuttgens, is a fine early example of the Arts and Crafts movement.

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