Hethe – the Domesday village of Hedham
Today Hethe is a small village of 123 dwellings with about 275 residents. It is situated within Hethe Parish, 4.5 miles north of Bicester in Oxfordshire. We have a pub, an Anglican Church, a Catholic Church, a village hall and an adventure playground.
This compares with the self sufficient village in 1841.
The central area of the village is designated as a Conservation Area
and there are fifteen Grade 2 Listed buildings. In 2018 Cherwell District Council is reappraising the conservation area and presented its proposals at an exhibition and public meeting in Hethe on 27 March. The appraisal document is available here for Part 1 and here for Part 2..
The structure of local government for the village is as follows:
- Oxfordshire County Council
- Cherwell District Council
- Hethe Parish Council
The name – Haep to Hethe
Hethe has been known at various times as Haep, Hedham, Heda, Hetha, Heath Ham, Hehe, Hethre and Heath!
1086 Domesday Survey
Before the Norman invasion, Hethe was known as Haep, Old English for uncultivated land. The uncultivated land stretched from Hethe to Hardwick. In 1086 it was known as Hedham. It was part of the Kirtlington Hundred and is recorded in the Domesday survey under Northamptonshire:
Roger holds Hedham (Hethe) of the Bishop. There are 8h. There is land for 8 ploughs. In demesne there are 2 (ploughs) with 1 serf; and (there are) 8 villeins and 5 bordars with 1 plough. There are 20 acres of pasture. It was and is worth 8li (pounds). Ulward held it freely.
The village land was held by the Bishop of Coutances. The Lord was Roger of Ivry who had taken over from Wulfward who was the Lord at the time of the Norman Conquest. The above Domesday entry translates to a value of £8; 14 households; 8 villagers, 5 smallholders, 1 slave; 20 acres of pasture; 8 ploughlands, 2 lord’s plough teams, 1 mens plough team.
A Brief History
The village was developed in three stages, starting from the area around the brook before recorded history, then up to the central area around the Church and Village Green in the 12th Century and lastly the houses along the Hardwick Road after the 2nd World War.
The following is an extract from “The Story of Hethe” by John M Sergeant MA:
Hethe owes its first beginnings to the lovely little brook, the haunt of moorhens and kingfishers, of otters and yellow irises, which flows through the middle of the parish to join a tributary of the Great Ouse which forms Hethe’s southern boundary, some two hundred yards west of Fringford Bridge. In the Middle Ages it was called Wundedbrook, but is now generally referred to as “Hethe Brook”. The rich alluvial soil along the valley of this brook afforded easy cultivation and invited settlement when the land on the hill top, where most of the village now stands, was still “heath”. In those days it was still virgin forest, used only for timber and pannage (pasture for pigs).
We know there was considerable settlement in the area during the Bronze Age by the number of round barrows (burial mounds) which can still be traced in the fields by aerial photography. In 1975, which was a particularly good year for aerial photography, a number of new prehistoric sites were found in Hethe. Most notably the remains of a Bronze Age burial mound were located behind Hardwick Road.
The founding father of Hethe is thought to be Lord Norman de Verdum. He was the son of Bertram de Verdum who came to England with William the Conqueror. Lord Norman received the village as part of a marriage dowry. He cleared the top of Hethe and settled many peasants there to work the land. He endowed a church and rectory on the hill to St Edmund, former King of East Anglia and Martyr.
The widow of Lord Norman de Verdum later gave a “hide” of land to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, and the advowson of the church to the Priory of Kenilworth in Warwickshire. The land formed Hospital Farm up to the time when it was purchased by the Shelswell Estate in the 20th Century and became Montague Farm. The monks of Kenilworth provided the Rectors for Hethe up to the Reformation.
Near the brook is a Medieval, or later, “Shrunken Village” (a settlement where previous house sites are now unoccupied, but are visible as earthworks, crop or soil marks).
Recorded names of inhabitants in the 13th Century infer that they lived by the stream and bridge:
Henry Ate Streme
Roger Ate Brugge
Notable landmarks are the bridge over Hethe Brook (at one time known as the Wundedbrok), the Town Well (known originally as St George’s Well) and the War Memorial on the village green .
An Oxfordshire Directory in 1939 stated that “electricity is now available” in Hethe. The Directories also record a Police Station in the village, which was manned in 1915 by Constable William Lester, in 1920 by Sgt John Bradbury and in 1924 by Sgt John Woods.
The War Memorial
Hethe War Memorial was unveiled by George Mansfield on 29 August 1920. A globe on the top of the Memorial has been replaced by a cross, and the casualties for WW2 were added, otherwise it has not been changed. Further details about the war years.
The Church is Grade 2 Listed and is sited within Hethe Conservation Area. There is also a Grade 2 Listed Headstone dated 1682 (approximately 10 metres south of the porch).
The first church on this site was dedicated to St Edmund and was built in the early 12th Century by a Lord Norman de Verden, whose father served with William the Conqueror. A hundred and fifty years later Hethe had outgrown its small Norman church which was rebuilt and on a St George’s Day around the turn of the 14th Century, it was rededicated to become the Church of St Edmund and St George.
In 1859 the Gothic Revival architect G.E. Street restored the building, widened the chancel arch, and added the bell-turret and the north aisle. Street moved the east window from the chancel to the north aisle and inserted a new east window in the chancel in its place.
In the 18th and early 19th century Catholics from Hethe attended services in the Fermor family chapel in Tusmore and later Hardwick. When the chapel in Hardwick closed in 1830 mass was said in different houses until the priest from Hardwick, Alfred McGuire, bought a piece of land and built the present Church in Hethe which was opened in 1832.
The congregation in 1948 numbered about sixty. In the 1950’s it was serving the RAF station at Bicester.
In 1779 a Mrs Mansfield opened a boarding school for girls in Hethe. In 1786 it was advertised as:
a Boarding School for Young Ladies; Principal Mrs Mansfield – 11gns a year; 1gn entrance; instructed in needlework, English Grammar, writing and dancing.
In 1808 twenty children were being taught in two “Dame” schools. A Dame school was an early form of private elementary school usually taught by women and often located in the home of the teacher. These had closed by 1815 and in 1819 only a Sunday School was recorded. By 1833 there were two day schools, the first with an average attendance of 26 boys, the second with 9 boys and 31 girls.
The village later had two schools – the National School in the Bainton Road and a Catholic School attached to the Holy Trinity Church in the Hardwick Road.
The National School
The National School was built in 1852 in the Bainton Road and enlarged in 1874. In 1903 the school had been redefined as an Elementary School. Senior school pupils started to be sent to Fringford School in 1924. In 1948 the school was reorganised as an infants school (juniors aged 8 and over were sent to Fringford school). The school was closed for a period between 1950 and 1954.
The school closed in 1973 and is now a house – with the old school bell still visible on the roof.
The school could at one time accommodate 80 children. The lowest average attendance was 19 in 1954 up to 67 in 1887.
See also the war years.
The Catholic School
The Catholic School was opened in 1870, next to the Holy Trinity Church in the Hardwick Road. It was closed in 1930 but reopened in the Second World War to cater for London evacuees. In 1940 thirty children came, attended by two nuns, increasing to sixty in 1941. It finally closed in 1943.
The church building is now St Philip’s Hall and is used for community events.
In 1883 the school could accommodate 50 children although it probably never had more than thirty-three drawn from the families of local agricultural labourers. The recorded average attendance varied from 10 in 1891 to 29 in 1903.
A special concert was held in the school in 1895 to raise funds for the school harmonium. In the book “Hethe-with-Adderbury” it is stated that:
Miss J Dagley, although only quite a young performer, seven years of age, very sweetly sang “The Lost Chord”, and fairly enraptured her hearers with her exquisite rendering and her sweet clear voice.
Miss Dagley grew up to be the choir mistress and a music teacher.
The book “Hethe-with-Adderbury” was written by Joy Grant and is the “Story of a Catholic parish in Oxfordshire”.
Hethe Parish was part of the “Ploughley Hundred” – from Mixbury/Finmere to the north; the Heyfords to the west; Goddington/Launton to the east; Islip/Noke to the south. The Ploughley Hundred became Ploughley Rural District Council which was amalgamated into Cherwell District Council in 1974.
Hethe Parish covers 1,425 acres.
Geologically the parish lies partly on the Great Oolite (limestone) and partly on Cornbrash ( also limestone), both covered except in the south east by drift gravel. The highest point is a little under 400 feet above sea level.
In the 18th Century Hethe was “owned by the Lord’s of Shelswell”. The following farms were listed:
- Nestleton (or Wesselden circa 1575)
- Hospital – land owned by St Bartholomew’s Hospital (London) since the 12th Century
- Glebe – on the western boundary (land at Glebe farm was allotted to the Rector of Hethe in 1772 under the Enclosures Act)
- Willaston – on the eastern boundary
The Shelswell Estate was bought by Gilbert Harrison in 1782.
J. H. S. Harrison, Esq, of Shelswell Park, “Lord of the Manor”, and principal landowner gave a piece of land for the building of a National School.
It was this John Harrison who also built Hethe House as the Dower House for the estate.
The last Shelswell Manor House was built by Edward Slater-Harrison in 1875 and demolished in 1981. The last Squire was John Dewar-Harrison who never lived in the house and died in 1967.
Extract from the Kingfisher News October 1981:
Next Thursday, 5 November, the annual Bonfire will be held at 7pm up by the old house at Shelswell – just follow the signs. There will be the usual feast of hamburgers, jacket potatoes, tea, coffee and squash. A number of fireworks will be purchased by the Development Fund but you are welcome to bring your own for everyone’s enjoyment.
The Muddy Duck
The Muddy Duck is a Grade II listed building dating from the late 17th/early 18th century with 20th and 21st century alterations.
The pub has been the subject of at least two name changes. It was known as the Maltsers Arms until it was restored by Thomas Whitmore in the early 19th Century, who then renamed it after himself. Thomas Whitmore was a member of a Shropshire family, who rented Hethe House during the period 1808 to 1811 from John Harrison, squire of the Shelswell Estate.
The landlord of the Whitmore Arms from 1823 to 1826 was William Blencowe. William owned other properties in Hethe, including the “Off Licence” in Main Street, now known as “The George”. His company, W Blencowe & Co Ltd, later owned many pubs in the area and at least two breweries, including one in Brackley and another in Cannock. Most, if not all, of the company’s property was sold by auction in October 1925. The Cannock brewery was bought by Butlers Ales. The Brackley brewery and Hethe “Off Licence” were bought by Halls Oxford & West Brewery.
The Village Hall
The village hall was originally located on the ground floor of Hethe House, opposite the Church of St Edmund and St George, having been conveyed to three trustees in 1949. It was agreed in 1986 that:
This meeting agree that Hethe House should be sold jointly with The Shelswell Estate and that the village share of the proceeds should be put towards the building of a new purpose-built hall on the Playing Field.
Hethe House was sold by auction in 1986 and the proceeds divided between the village and Shelswell Estate. The village portion of the proceeds was used to help pay for the new village hall which opened in May 1987 on the village playing field behind the Hardwick Road. Hethe House Sale
The Community Park
The Community Park is situated on Hethe Playing Field which was purchased by the village in 1982 and is owned by the Parish Council.
The playground element of Hethe Community Park was opened on Saturday 21st November 2015.
It was a beautiful, clear day – if a little arctic for playing outside! The playground was wrapped up in red and white barrier tape and after a countdown from 10, the VIPs (the children of Hethe and the surrounding area) ripped off the tape and started playing on their fabulous new facility. Thank you to the whole community for getting behind this project and turning the dream into a reality. The children were absolutely thrilled and insisted on playing for hours – much to the disappointment of their frozen parents!
Literary Connections – ”Lark Rise to Candleford”
Hethe is midway between Juniper Hill (the fictional “Lark Rise”) and Fringford (the fictional “Candleford”). The author of the books, Flora Thompson, was born in Juniper Hill. Her mother Emma was born in Ardley and buried in Hethe. Flora would have known Hethe as she passed between Fringford and Juniper Hill. It is believed that her book “Still Glides the Stream” was based partly on Hethe Brook.
Further to this, Flora’s cousin, Violet McGovern, was born and lived in Hethe. Violet, or Vi as she was known to her friends and acquaintances, was the youngest child of six, born to Albert Lane and May (Emma’s sister). Violet died peacefully on 9th June 2009 and is buried in the Holy Trinity churchyard.
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