Binsey: History (2)


BINSEY was confirmed to St. Frideswide’s priory at its refoundation in 1122, and, like the other properties of the earlier house, was taken by Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and restored in 1139. (fn. 93) The priory’s possession of the island seems to have been disputed by the townsmen of Oxford in 1139, (fn. 94) presumably because it was claimed to be part of Port Meadow, but thereafter the priory’s title was unchallenged.

Langney was granted to Oseney abbey by Geoffrey de Clinton before c. 1143, (fn. 95) and, after a dispute over ownership, was granted by the abbey to St. Frideswide’s between c. 1190 and 1200. The grant was confirmed by Hugh Plukenet as lord of the Northgate hundred, in which Langney lay. (fn. 96) In 1388, after a further dispute, Oseney remitted to St. Frideswide’s a rent of 20s. a year from Langney. (fn. 97)

In 1279 the prior of St. Frideswide’s held Binsey, assessed at ½ hide, and Langney, described as ‘a meadow behind Oseney’, of Hugh de Plessis at yearly rents. (fn. 98) By the end of the 13th century, however, the properties and rents seem to have been combined. (fn. 99) At the dissolution of St. Frideswide’s Binsey passed with the priory’s other possessions to Cardinal College, then, in 1532, to Henry VIII’s College, and in 1546 to Christ Church. (fn. 100) It was then described as Binsey manor with appurtenances in the vill and fields of Binsey with Wyke, and St. Margaret’s Well. Robert Perrot (d. 1550) acquired a 60-year lease of the manor, granted in 1518, and a grant of the reversion for 80 years from the expiry of the first lease. His son John (d. 1572), left two-thirds of the property to his brother Leonard and a third for various charitable purposes. (fn. 101) On the expiry of the first lease in 1578 Christ Church attempted to recover the property, but agreed in 1588 to lease two-thirds of the manor to Leonard Perrot for three lives. (fn. 102) The lease was renewed in 1624-5, but by 1680 the whole manor was in the hands of Christ Church. (fn. 103)

In the late 13th century it was said that WYKE had been included in the burgesses’ grant of Medley to Oseney in 1147, (fn. 104) and in 1313-14 the abbot and convent were lords of Wyke. (fn. 105) In 1388 St. Frideswide’s released to Oseney the rent of and suit of court from a croft at Binsey called Reynold’s Wyke, perhaps identical with Wyke, (fn. 106) but there is no further record of Oseney’s interest in Wyke, and it was included with Binsey in the grant to the bishopric of Oxford in 1546. (fn. 107)

MEDLEY seems to have been part of the burgesses’ common pasture of Port Meadow. In 1138-9 the burgesses granted it to St. Frideswide’s in exchange for land in the town, but in 1147 they gave it to Oseney. (fn. 108) The ensuing dispute between Oseney, St. Frideswide’s, and the burgesses was settled in 1191 when the burgesses agreed to pay St. Frideswide’s a yearly rent for Medley, and then granted the island to Oseney at a slightly lower rent. (fn. 109) In 1279 the abbot of Oseney was returned as holding the land and meadow of Medley, (fn. 110) and the island was again confirmed to Oseney, after a further dispute with St. Frideswide’s, in 1388. (fn. 111) Med ley was first described as a manor in 1356. (fn. 112) The estate, then held by Henry Royse for a term of years, was among the former Oseney properties granted to the bishopric of Oxford in 1546. (fn. 113) It was taken from the bishopric by Elizabeth I, and in 1575 granted to John Herbert and Andrew Palmer of London. (fn. 114) The manor was later held by the Spencer family of Yarnton, to whom the occupant of the manor-house paid rent in 1712-13, (fn. 115) and from whom it passed, probably by sale, to Benjamin Sweet (d. 1744) who was said to have built a house at Medley c. 1723. (fn. 116) From Sweet the manor presumably passed to his heir at law Adrian John Sweet of Train (Devon), a bequest for charitable purposes having been found invalid. (fn. 117) A. J. Sweet presumably sold the estate which was then held by a succession of owners, many of whom ran the house as a public-house. (fn. 118) In 1811 it was described as Medley Farm. (fn. 119) In 1829 the estate was in the possession of William Tuckwell, (fn. 120) and in 1861 the manor and the estate, which included copyhold land in Binsey and in St. Thomas’s parish as well as the freehold land at Medley, was sold at auction and acquired for Christ Church. (fn. 121) Christ Church sold the property, then known as Medley manor farm and comprising c. 120 a., in 1954. (fn. 122) Benjamin Sweet’s house, according to an early 18th-century print, (fn. 123) had a symmetrical east front of 5 bays and stood in a walled garden running down to the river. It is hard to reconcile such a house with that which survived in 1975 which was probably the eastern end of a 17th-century house with a mid18th-century service wing on the north-west, unless the elevation depicted is that to the south. The garden wall is largely of re-used stone, including some 12thcentury voussoirs with chevron and beak-head ornament.


In 1279 the prior of St. Frideswide’s had 21 villein tenants at Binsey of whom 14 owed labour services from Midsummer to Michaelmas. (fn. 124) The services were later described as mowing the meadow of Presteit, making hay with one labourer for a day, carting hay with one man from Midsummer to Michaelmas, and working three times a week with one labourer, except for the three autumn boon works; the villeins also owed ‘sant’, langafol (rent), ingafol (rent), churchscot, and tolcestre (a toll on ale). (fn. 125) In 1378 the priory had leased the whole of its southern meadow of Binsey (presumably Langney) and ‘hok’ (presumably Wyke) to Robert Watlington, an Oxford butcher, presumably for grazing. (fn. 126) Much of Binsey and the whole of Langney and Medley was meadow, and the inhabitants also held rights of common on Port Meadow, where their cattle were sometimes looked after by a herdsman employed by the village. (fn. 127)

The arable land lay to the north and west of Binsey village. (fn. 128) A yardland there c. 1739 consisted of 12 a. arable and 6 a. meadow in the common field. (fn. 129) In 1800 the arable was in a bad state of cultivation: it was cropped every year, and in many places floods destroyed the corn half way up the furrows. Flooding had also impoverished some of the grassland. (fn. 130) By 1818 the common field was ‘in a shocking condition’ from flooding, and ‘almost useless’ because of the way in which it was farmed; holdings were dispersed in a great many small pieces, the field was commonable until 15 November, although wheat should have been sown before that, and it was divided into 8 or 9 furlongs, so that nearly one-eighth of it was taken up in headlands. (fn. 131) In 1821 the 120 a. of common field were inclosed, all copyholds having been surrendered to Christ Church, who thus owned the commons absolutely. (fn. 132) After inclosure an increasing amount of arable was converted to pasture (fn. 133) and by 1975 there was very little arable left.


In 1139-40 the burgesses of Oxford acknowledged that the canons of St. Frideswide’s had their hundred in all things at Binsey; (fn. 134) in 1376 the canons claimed lordship and franchise and held courts leet for their tenants there. (fn. 135) The liberties apparently included a gallows. (fn. 136) Christ Church chapter likewise claimed court leet, court baron, and view of frankpledge, and continued to hold courts until 1835. (fn. 137) The court’s main business was admissions to and surrenders of copyholds, but 17thcentury courts made by-laws governing the commons and the common field, and appointed a constable, tithingmen, and fieldsmen. (fn. 138)

Binsey was a separate unit for poor law purposes. Expenditure rose from £19 18s. 6d. in 1776 to £70 5s. 7d. in 1803 and £91 10s. in 1821. (fn. 139) After 1834 it was in the Abingdon Union. (fn. 140)


Binsey chapel perhaps owed its existence to St. Margaret’s well, presumably the holy well associated with the legend of St. Frideswide, (fn. 141) which is in the churchyard, just west of the church. The chapel was confirmed to St. Frideswide’s in 1122 (fn. 142) and remained dependent on the priory throughout the Middle Ages. In 1341 it was attached to St. Edward’s parish, (fn. 143) with which St. Frideswide’s parish had been amalgamated in 1298. As late as 1552 Binsey had no burial rights, bodies being taken by river to Oxford for burial, but by 1558 there was a graveyard. (fn. 144) Until at least 1801 Christ Church treated the chapel as a peculiar; in 1752, for instance, the college forbade the churchwarden to attend the archdeacon’s visitation. (fn. 145) In 1801 the living was described as donative, in 1856 as a perpetual curacy, and from 1891 as a vicarage. (fn. 146)

The living was taxed at 6s. 8d. in 1291, (fn. 147) but was not valued in 1535. In 1423 St. Frideswide’s was ordered to give to the canon who served Binsey food and clothing for himself and his servant and ‘honest living and support’. (fn. 148) In 1558 Christ Church paid a third of the curate’s salary, Leonard Perrot the rest. (fn. 149) The living was augmented by Queen Anne’s Bounty with grants of £200 each in 1743, 1750, and 1793 to meet benefactions from Christ Church; (fn. 150) in 1778 it was worth £53 a year, in 1802, £110, and in the late 19th century between £70 and £95. (fn. 151)

Simon, chaplain of Thornbury, imprisoned in Oxford in 1293, was the only recorded medieval chaplain. (fn. 152) After the Reformation almost all the chaplains or curates were students of Christ Church. John Singleton, appointed in 1659 and expelled from his studentship in 1660, later became a nonconformist preacher. (fn. 153) Some later curates were eminent, but their stay at Binsey was usually brief and they probably had little to do with the village. (fn. 154) J. A. Cramer, curate 1822-45, regius professor of modern history, began a period of longer incumbencies, and his successor Robert Hussey (1845-57), regius professor of ecclesiastical history, took his cure seriously and visited regularly. (fn. 155)

In the early 19th century there was one Sunday service and Holy Communion was administered four times a year to c. 10 communicants; the parishioners attended regularly. (fn. 156) In 1854 the Sunday service was attended by c. 20 people, and Holy Communion was administered once a month to c. 5 communicants; there was ‘much godless apathy’ in the village. (fn. 157) Congregations, described as very small and ‘very far from learned’, at times fell as low as 5 or 6, but increased after the restoration of the church in 1875. (fn. 158) The living was held in plurality with Wytham (Berks.) from 1919 to 1950, thereafter with St. Frideswide’s, Oxford.

The church of ST. MARGARET comprises a chancel, nave, and south porch, as did the 12th-century church, of which the south door and the door jambs of the south porch survive. It was partially rebuilt in the 13th century when a central bellcot was added, windows inserted in the west and south walls, and a doorway, later blocked, in the north wall. In the 14th century the chancel arch was rebuilt and the chancel reroofed; in the 15th century the east and south windows of the chancel and the west window in the nave were inserted and the nave was probably reroofed. (fn. 159) A ceiling, later removed, seems to have been made in 1718, and in 1721 the bellcot was rebuilt to its original design. (fn. 160) The chancel was repaired in 1833. (fn. 161) The whole church was restored in 1875, (fn. 162) and repairs were carried out in 1933 and 1963. (fn. 163) In 1975 the church was unheated and lit by candles.

Monuments include those to Richard Tawney (d. 1756), and his sons Sir Richard (d. 1791), and Edward (d. 1800), all mayors of Oxford. Queen Anne’s arms are displayed. The 12th- or 13th-century plain cylindrical font has a modern base. In the east window are fragments of 14th- and 15th-century glass. (fn. 164) The plate includes a silver chalice and paten-cover given by Daniel Porter in 1690. (fn. 165)


A Sunday school was first recorded in 1814, (fn. 166) and William Corne, a former curate, by will dated 1818, left £100 for its support. (fn. 167) In 1823 there was a day-school, but it had closed by 1833, when only 2 boys and 8 girls attended the Sunday-school. (fn. 168) In 1846 a former curate, John Bull, gave a further £100, the income to be used for the parish school, and in the same year Corne’s legacy was invested by Christ Church. (fn. 169) The Sunday-school continued, although in 1854 the curate reported that few of the children in the village were old enough to learn anything. (fn. 170) In 1878 a dame school was being run, at the vicar’s expense, for the younger children; older children attended schools in Oxford. (fn. 171) Binsey was included in the Oxford School Board area in 1872.


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