A History of Wardington

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WARDINGTON is an inviting and pleasing stone-built, tile, slate and thatch roofed village in the extreme north-east corner of Oxfordshire lying on high ground between 400-500 feet (122-152 m.) above sea level. The A36l road from Banbury to Daventry and beyond passes through the village after climbing Williamscot Hill — known locally as Kalabergo’s Hill after an Italian travelling jeweller and clockmaker of that name who was murdered there by his nephew in 1852.

The parish of Wardington includes the hamlets of Williamscot, one mile south-west en route to Cropredy, and Coton, 1 mile south near Chacombe, which is an administrative arrangement that has existed for several centuries. For many centuries following the Norman conquest of Britain it was in the diocese of Lincoln; today it is in the diocese of Oxford.

The name Wardington first occurred around 1180, but the place was most likely settled in the early Anglo-Saxon period (468-1066 AD). “A History of Oxfordshire” interprets the name to mean Wearda’s Farm, whereas Beasley’s “History of Banbury” suggests the original name of Wardenton identifies a Roman term i.e. ‘Warden’ meaning military occupation, and ‘ton’ being an early English word meaning ‘field’ as used in the early English language translation of the Bible, e.g. St. Luke Ch. XV, v. 15 “and he sent them into the ʻtonʼ to feed swine”. As there is some evidence of the existence of a Roman encampment in the immediate neighbourhood, the interpretation of Wardington meaning ‘military field’ may be justified.

Today, Wardington village consists of two parts — Upper and Lower Wardington. Until early in the last (20th) century they were two distinct settlements. The construction of a row of houses in Mount Pleasant, of the Memorial Village Hall, and of the Greensward housing estate joined Upper and Lower together. In 1841 the total population (including the hamlets of Williamscot and Coton) was 865: by 1981 it had dropped to 623. Historically, Lower Wardington was the principal settlement since it contained the church and in the Middle Ages was probably the centre of the Bishop of Lincoln’s landed estate in this area. Upper Wardington, on the other hand, developed around the manor houses of the Bishop’s tenants of squires and knights. Lower Wardington used to be referred to as Ash Tree End or Ashen End and Upper Wardington as Barn End or Old Barn End after an old barn to the south-west of the village.

Williamscot (Williamʼs Cottage), locally pronounced Wilmscot, is first mentioned in 1166. Never large, the hamlet’s principle residence, Williamsot House, was, for several generations, the home of the Loveday family. Until the mid-19th century Williamscot was a thriving community with a population (142 in 1811) large enough to support several small shops, at least two inns, a smithy, and a grammar school which was founded for the education of boys of the parish of Wardington and neighbouring villages between the ages of eight and eighteen. By 1877, however, the population had fallen by as much as two-thirds, 35 buildings, including eight farmhouses, having been demolished, among them many of the shops, the smithy, a couple of inns, and the “poor man’s cottage” in which Charles I had reputedly slept after the Battle of Cropredy. Today, Williamscot, but for two farms, is a small residential area.

Coton was recorded in 1225 as being occupied by six tenants of the Bishop of Lincoln who took their names from Coton. In 1811 there were said to be as many as 60 inhabitants. In the 1851 census twelve houses and a single farm were recorded. A fire in the 1890’s destroyed the farm and six adjacent cottages; only the farm was rebuilt but on a smaller scale. There are no visible remains of the original hamlet today.

Wardington parish was involved in the Civil War. The Battle of Cropredy Bridge was fought over part of its land and some of the soldiers killed in the battle are said to be buried locally. It is recorded that  “… in the ‘Ash Ground’ at Wardington (see reference to Ash Tree End or Ashen End above) stood the ‘Wardington Ashʼ beneath which King Charles I dined on the day of the Battle of Cropredy”. The exact spot where this celebrated tree stood is by a bridleway leading from Cropredy Bridge and Williamscot to Wardington, about 70 yards from the (turnpike) road. It is said that in olden times witches used to dance round this stately tree. The witches have long since gone and so has the historic tree, but in 1841 another ash tree was planted on the same spot.

Another important skirmish occurred in the vicinity. On 26th July 1469, during the War of the Roses, the Battle of Educate was fought on Danseur (N.E. of Wardington) between the Lancastrian forces led by Robin of Redesdale and the Yorkists commanded by the Earl of Pembroke. Robin emerged the victor; Pembroke subsequently lost his head.

 

Its Historic Buildings

 

PERHAPS the most attractive and picturesque building in Wardington is Wardington Manor, the estate of which can be traced back to tenants of the Bishop of Lincoln. A stone in the centre of the moulded parapet facing south-east bears the date it was built, 1665, and the initials G.C. for George Chamberlain, its owner and builder. Beneath is a carved shield with the arms of Chamberlain and Saltonstall, the family of Chamberlayne’s wife. The property has seen many owners, several of whom have made alterations and additions to it. By the third quarter of the 19th century it was in a very bad state of repair but in 1874 the house was bought by George Lovely, a grandson of the first Hon Lovely of Williamscot House, who proceeded to restore it. In 1917 the then owner, Falconer Lewis Wallace, sold the property to Mr J. W. P. Peas, who, upon being ennobled in 1922, took the title “Lord Wardington” and whose son Christopher, the second Lord Wardington, continued to occupy the manor until his death in 2004. Numerous improvements were made by the late Lord Wardington which included a small south-west wing, the south-west porch, a new staircase modelled on the original, the large oriel window in the library, the renewal of the upper storey of the library and much more, all of which earned the description of being ‘one of the most imaginative programmes of restoration of an older house in the (Oxford) county’. The 17th century stone chimney-stacks, some stone-mullioned windows and the moulded gate piers with ball finials at the drive entrance are original.

Wardington House, situated in Lower Wardington on the A36l , was formerly an inn. Over the door runs an inscription: ” This house was built upon the place only as a mark of grace, and for an inn to entertain its lord awhile but not remain”. In the last (20th) century it was remodelled and enlarged as a private residence and the owner (H. F. Blosse Lynch) also erected the ornamental archway at the drive entrance which he is said to have copied from an archway in France. Today, Wardington House is a private nursing home.

Two houses in Lower Wardington date back to the 17th century — “Old Bonham’s” (so named after a Mr. Bonham, the village carpenter who made, in the last century, in addition to coffins, much of the church furniture), and “Judges” — originally Judge’s Cottage, so called from a family name. Wardington Lodge, also in Lower Wardington, is of 19th century origin and was built, according to local information, as a dower house by the Cartwright family of Educate and, later, of Anyho. The family, at one time, also owned Aubrey Hall (formerly “The Aubrey’s”) which originally was a 17th century farmhouse and later remodelled as a residence.

Other buildings of historic interest in Wardington are: Bazeleys Farm, dated 1699, and still a working farm; Sundial House (originally Wilkes Farm), on the east side of the village green in Upper Wardington, which is probably 17th century in origin and has a carved sundial on the south gable end; High Wardington House, also in Upper Wardington, for many generations was a farm dwelling the foundations of which were laid down in the 17th century. It ceased to operate as a farm when it changed hands in the 1970’s and, following reconstruction and renovation, it is now a private residence. Unfortunately, many of the houses which would have existed in Upper Wardington between the 12th and 16th centuries have disappeared without trace.

Another property which can be identified by a sundial high in the gable end is the building on the down-side of post-box cottage in Lower Wardington. It is probably late 17th or early 18th century.

Between 1753 and 1786 three inns were recorded in Wardington, “The Green Man”, “The Hare and Hounds” in Lower Wardington, and “The Wheatsheaf” opposite the church. “The Green Man” ceased to exist as an inn sometime between 1786 and 1821. Later records show the addition of two more inns, “The Plough” and “The Red Lion”, both in Upper Wardington. “The Wheatsheaf” closed as an inn in the mid-1970s followed by “The Red Lion” in 1996. Two inns remain – “The Hare and Hounds” and “The Plough”.

The building at the south entrance to the churchyard has a long association with generations of Wardington parishioners. It was built in 1845 to accommodate a national/church-aided free school and the earliest records available shows that in 1854 the daily attendance was 46 boys and 32 girls with a slightly lesser number attending a Sunday school. By 1870 the school had an average attendance of 102 with 159 children on the roll. The general condition of the school was described by a visiting inspector as “above the average”. It was renovated in 1947 since when it was attended only by children up to the age of 11, the older children having to travel to senior schools in Banbury. Regrettably, by 1990 the number of children attending the school had dwindled to a single figure causing the education authorities, in consultation with the school governors, to decide it was no longer viable. It was closed in 1991. Children of primary school age now attend Cropredy school or elsewhere as arranged by their parents. The Wardington building is now a private residence, but its original purpose is identified by a plaque which reads “Wardington School 1845—l991”.

“The Bishop’s House” is one more property of interest. It is situated in the centre of Wardington, the left hand property of three opposite the old school and the south entrance to the churchyard. It is certainly a property of antiquity, but little is known of its history. It derives its common reference from the fact that it was the home for many years of Bishop Lovely to whom reference is made elsewhere.

Williamscot is not without properties of interest: “Poplars Farm”, a two storied building with gabled attic dormers, dates from the 16th or 17th century; “Home Farm House”, on the road through Williamscot to Cropredy, is an example of what was a yeoman’s house and bears the date 1699 over the front door. A nearby pair of cottages is possibly of a similar period, one of which was formerly an inn.

Williamscot House dates from the 16th and the late 18th century. The main block facing south was built in 1559 and a five bay library wing was added in 1799. There is some 16th century armorial stained glass in the main block. One window, dated 1568, contains the arms and crest of William Calcite, an early owner, and the arms of the Staple Merchants (Calcite being a successful staple merchant from Hook Norton). It was the same William Calcite (died 1582) who built and endowed the Williamscot school mentioned earlier (the Calcite arms can also be seen on what was the schoolmaster’s house a hundred yards along the lane leading from the main house to the Cropredy road). A sundial dated 1777 in the garden of Williamscot House commemorates the marriage of the first John Lovely to a kinswoman, Anne Taylor Loder, the only child of the then owner, William Taylor Loder. The property descended to the Lovedays through this marriage and remained in the Lovely family until 1968 when it was divided and sold.

In Wardington and its two hamlets there are other buildings and dwellings which very likely date back two or three centuries. Unfortunately, there are no known records to identify them.