Elsfield in the 17th Century

In the 17th century, the fields, meadows and waste land were steadily enclosed. Enclosure was a continuous process as a selective change towards more efficient farming: heavier yields of grain, more sheep, cattle and other livestock. About half of Oxfordshire was enclosed by 1730. But there were pre-Parliamentary enclosures made by private agreement and in that case the fields were big: 50 or 60 acres.

Most of the land in Elsfield must have been finally enclosed by private agreement between 1689 and 1703, since the map of the parish drawn up by Edward Grantham at that later date shows large amounts of land enclosed. Some land in Elsfield was subject to piecemeal enclosure, particularly on the higher ground because here the soil is drier and better suited to long-term grazing. These fields would have been enclosed by hawthorn hedges set on a bank with a shallow ditch at either side. Forest trees such as elm or ash were planted at wide intervals in the hedges. The standard width of the access lanes to the fields was forty feet, which when tarmacked in the twentieth century means that the roads have wide verges. These lanes formed junctions at sharp angles with other lanes to provide access to the fields.

In 1690, Sir George Pudsey, then lord of the manor, died, leaving debts which resulted in his son selling Elsfield to the North family in 1691. At this time the annual value of the parish was estimated at £1,200 and the Norths paid £25,000 for it. There were 28 or 29 occupiers of fields or houses beside the squire, including three widows. Because of the change of ownership the North family drew up an estate map which is in the Bodleian Library.

The terrier[1] of 1699, which spells out who owes what in tythes to the vicar, gives the names of some of the people living in Elsfield at that time and the names of their fields. This information supplements what is given on the 1703 map, where many of the names are difficult to decipher. It appears that while all the land in Elsfield had been enclosed, land over the parish boundary in Headington had not, since the document refers to an acre of land in the common fields and a ley in Headington Mead.

The document describes the land belonging to the vicarage: a little close and garden adjoining. The vicar is also entitled to tythes levied on several holdings, as shown in the following list.

Vicar’s entitlement: A tythe of Name of field and/or farmer
11 acre of arable land in the common fields
One ley within the common mead Headington Brook Mead
On the west side: a close First Close at Holly Berry End: Edward Tony
The one next to it Mr Pudsey
The paddock next to Burnham’s John Freeman
The one next to it Richard Penne
The one next to Phillips’ Joseph Priestley
An orchard Thomas Specker
The close next to Specker’s Thomas Hanks
The close next to Hanks Andrew Meads
The close next to Meads’ Formerly Slatter’s Close: William Allen
Close next to Allen’s on west side William Coombes
Pond Close William Allen
Small close next to Allen’s John Amborrow
Next to Amborrow’s Richard Beesley
Close where John Hood has his home Mr Pudsey
Close lately owned by the widow Mansell Pacey’s Close: Mr Pudsey
On the south side:
Close John Allen
Close and small paddock next to vicarage Keeper’s Close: Richard Penne
Close next to Prior’s Hill John Alton
East side:
Close next to his home close Richard Penne

There were various exclusions. Mrs Hiett paid £4-13-2d a year instead of a tythe on the fields called Stretfield, Shrub Haies and Green Pasture, and land belonging to the church such as Prior’s Hill and the close and orchard at the Homestead which had never paid tythes. Nor was the vicar entitled to any dues from Seed Leys, owned by Mark Bolt.

In 1810, the tythes were commuted for a rent charge apportioned to the whole community amounting to £185 per annum but variable according to the price of corn. At that time by far the most productive crop was oats, followed by barley, then wheat.


[1] A record system for an institution’s land and property holdings.