This small historical research group has been delving into old documents from the town in a quest to improve our understanding of what life was like in Charlbury in past centuries.
When it was formed in 2013 by Geoffrey Castle and Barbara Allison, the group's aim was to transcribe the surviving historical probate records, both wills and inventories, the earliest dating from 1524 and the latest to 1857 (after which the granting of probate was transferred from the ecclesiastical courts to a civil Court of Probate ). The older documents required us to learn to read Secretary Hand, which was taught to us by Adrienne Rosen, Emeritus Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford.
After four years of hard work by all members of the group, the project is near completion. The project was split into two sections: the first section for the earliest wills granted probate before 1732,and a second section for wills covering the years from 1733 to 1857. They relate to Charlbury and its surrounding settlements of Chilson, Cornbury, Lees Rest, Pudlicote, Shorthampton and Walcot. The probate documents relating to Finstock, while it is also in the parish of Charlbury, are being transcribed by the Finstock Local History Society.
The documents should form an invaluable resource for historical research into the history of the town. Through their work, some members of the group have started their own research into some of the families who lived here, into old maps and field names and other topics which have caught their interest. A selection of articles on some of these subjects have been published in the Charlbury Chronicle and are reproduced below.
We could not have progressed with this undertaking without the generous grants from Charlbury Town Council, The Charlbury Beer Festival, ChOC and from the Charlbury Motor Fire Brigade Fund; these have made it possible for us to obtain copies of the documents held by The National Archives, and The Oxfordshire History Centre.
If anyone has a particular interest or skill that would relate well to this work and would like to be involved then please contact Geoffrey Castle on 01608 811122 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you would like to enquire about seeing any of the transcribed wills, please contact Barbara Allison (email@example.com).
Charlbury Parish: A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10, Banbury Hundred, Pages 127-157. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1972. Includes image of 1761 Thomas Pride map of Charlbury.
A Charlbury Mercer's Shop, 1623 By D. G. Vaisey: Footpaths radiating out from Charlbury today were established centuries ago as people walked backwards and forwards from nearby hamlets to Charlbury which was an important trading centre for the surrounding area. This fascinating inventory of the mercer's shop run by Thomas Harris was itemised after he died in March 1623. His shop sold cloth and household articles, along with preserved and dried groceries with many spices having been imported from abroad.
By John Fielding, published in Charlbury Chronicle June 2015
On the 16th of September 1544 Richard Cooke dictated his will - he was probably illiterate. 'I Richarde Cooke of Bullen late of Pudlicote mylle in the Countie of Oxon sowdear in the retinew of Thomas brydge Esquyer make my Testament.' Bullen was the contemporary spelling, and pronunciation, of Boulogne. So Richard was a soldier in the large army mustered for Henry VIII's siege of the town in the course of his second French war. Richard made that will just as, the town having succumbed to bombardment earlier in the month, its castle was undermined and surrendered. Had Richard been injured? Many English soldiers there were of course killed, some by their own explosives. We do not know where Richard died. Presumably not in France since the wills of Englishmen who died abroad were proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Richard's was proved in Oxford on 20th March 1545/6, a good 18 months later. Is that - unusual - delay significant? Charlbury parish records do not begin until 1559 so we have no baptism, marriage or burial date for him here.
Richard mentions neither wife nor children and had little to leave: one coffer and a pan to his godson, Thomas Cotes; one coffer to William Cotes and, as an afterthought, a pair of sheets to Alice Coxas, wife of his friend Robert. The rest of his goods and sums owing to him, not substantial enough to be specified, he leaves to Christopher Cotes, servant to Thomas Bridges. He seems to have been close to the Cotes family.
Thomas Bridges was, with his brother Sir John, an intimate of the king and both had profited greatly from the sale of church lands at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. When Thomas died in 1559 he left properties or the income therefrom to provide for life for his kin and servants. Of the lives and estates of the Bridges family the documentation is extensive. Of Richard Cooke, soldier, this will is his only trace in history - as far as I yet know.
By John Fielding, published in Charlbury Chronicle December 2014
If you go down to the weir today, just before you pass through the gate onto the water meadows, which constitute the old mill ham (the land belonging to the mill), on your right in the wall is a worn mill stone. This is the site of the Charlbury Mill which provided flour for the community for over 700 years. The building was still working as a mill in the early 20th century and a map of 1881 shows exactly where it was. The Research Group has been trying to trace its history. We know that towards the end of Elizabeth I's reign a benefactor gave money to Lincoln College with which they 'unwisely', according to a recent college historian, bought a lease of Charlbury mill at a rent of £3 a year, which the college then sub-let to a series of millers. The tenant in 1780 was still paying rent to Lincoln. So the purchase can't have been so unwise.
Lincoln's archive has a fairly comprehensive list of tenants for the fifteen and early sixteen hundreds. However, in 1686 Robert Gladwin, the then miller, died intestate and without issue. His widow, Mary, had an inventory prepared which valued his property at £107, a not insubstantial sum. Though Robert had no children he had a brother and nephews in Gloucestershire. According to the law at the time they would inherit equal shares with the widow. She was clearly not happy with this and made a number of attempts to have the estate revalued - that is undervalued - so that her late husband's relatives would proportionally inherit less. In the records of the Oxford Consistory Court, at which the brother-in-law must have made objections, the crossings-out and attempts at altering the valuations are remarkably clear. Most of the dealings there are in Latin - medieval lawyers' Latin - and in one of the documents the widow replies to a sequence of questions that this is true or not true, but we don't yet know what the questions were. It seems that Mary remarried and her new husband became the new miller. An intriguing story; there is much more to investigate.
By Linda Mowat, published in Charlbury Chronicle December 2014
John Penn, baker of Charlbury, died in 1695, leaving his worldly goods to his widow Ellenor. He did not list these items in his will, but the inventory subsequently made of his possessions offers us a rare insight into the life of a seventeenth-century tradesman in the town. John's premises included a bakehouse and a boulting chamber with a boulting mill for sieving flour. He owned a furnace, two kneading troughs, two kevers (tubs for rising dough), four moulding boards (for forming loaves), six peeles (staves for moving loaves in and out of the oven) one pair of scales, a cake pricker (possibly for marking baked goods for individual customers) and a pair of panniers (perhaps for deliveries). While none of these items had much monetary value, John also had a growing crop of wheat, barley and peas worth £20, sacks of meal worth £8.13s.4d, 4,000 faggots (fuel for the bakehouse) worth £20 and a 'hovell' to protect the faggots worth £4. He owned animals worth £12 and lease land worth £23. His whole estate came to £120, out of which his widow was to pay his debts of £38. John Penn therefore appears to have been successful baker with a going concern, growing his own ingredients which were probably ground into flour at Charlbury mill. It is tempting to surmise that his house and fields were close to the mill, but unfortunately we have been left no clue as to where in the town he lived and worked.
By Barbara Allison and Linda Mowat, published in Charlbury Chronicle September 2014
Where did that name come from? The earliest map of Charlbury - the 1761 Thomas Pride map, tracings of which are in the museum - called the street we now know as Hixet Wood Hicks's Wood. So like most people, we thought this street name was a corruption of Hicks, and was named after someone called Hicks. This is plausible. The parish registers do record the baptisms, marriages and burials of members of the Hicks family from the 16th century, but there aren't many. However, it may be that a Mr Hicks owned the land, but he did not live here.
But Thomas Pride's 1761 map shows a large area of land along Hicks's Wood called Hicks's Wood Close. Now we have found a will of 1615, made by Abraham Hedges, in which he leaves his wife three closes. (Closes are enclosed parcels of land rather than strips in the open fields). The closes are Parkgate Close and Baywell Close, and 'one Close of arable and pasture called Thicksett wood containing by estimation four acres or thereabouts be the more or less' Is this the origin of Hixet Wood? Has it changed over time, from Thickset Wood in 1615 to Hicks's Wood in 1761 to Hixet Wood now? Further research may bring up other records that could resolve this but we may not be that lucky. 1955 photo of Charlbury from Hixet Wood