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From Domesday to the 17th Century

14th Century

In 1327, Gilbert de Elsfield, who died in 1397, applied for a royal licence to ‘impark’ his wood at Elsfield which would give him the right to protect young trees from grazing animals and also to preserve his own deer. There is no written record to show that he actually did this but Cole concludes that the purlieu was made between Woodeaton and Elsfield running from the Islip road to the Cherwell, i.e. along the northern boundary of the parish. Gilbert also obtained a grant of free warren which gave him the right to hunt small game such as roe deer, rabbits, pheasant and duck.

1348 saw the arrival of the Black Death in England. It raged for two years and wiped out a large percentage of the population. This had an important effect on the land. Because there were fewer people to cultivate the soil, much of it was turned over to pasture. Farmers learned an important lesson from this: the importance of leys. This is arable land which is put to grass for short or longer periods and which enables the soil to recover its fertility. There are several leys shown on the 1703 map of the parish, alongside the Woodeaton road.

In 1369, the one hide of land held by the monastery of St Frideswides, which at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII became Christ Church, was relocated so that they held 74 acres in three equal portions (implying a three-field system). In the parish there were seven acres of meadow, 43 acres of pasture, said to be swamped most of the year, and 36 acres of wood, which was held in common.

In 1363, Elsfield was stated to be out of the Forest, which does not mean that all the trees had been cut down but rather that the Law of the Land applied rather than the Law of the Forest. So Elsfield villagers had no common rights in the forest but they were allowed to pasture their pigs in the king’s woods in and around the village for which they paid twelve shillings per eight pigs. The forest law was not formally abolished until the reign of Charles I, and at that time Elsfield commoners were granted land as compensation for the loss of their rights. They received twenty acres of Forest Farm, which was outside the parish and remained so until 1991.

Gilbert de Elsfield, who sought to empark his wood, was the last man of his line, but his daughter Anne left a daughter Joan, who in 1407 married John Hore of Childerley in Cambridgeshire. Several generations later a daughter, called either Edith or Eliza, married as her second husband Rowland Pudsey, whose descendants were lords of the Manor until 1692.

16th Century

The 16th century saw land being enclosed to graze sheep but there is no record of what happened in Elsfield. In 1516, Henry Wilmot converted 36 acres of arable land to pasture but this was a minor matter. Two inventories of Elsfield men called Day were compiled in 1589. Neither had any sheep. John Day had 17 beasts, three horses and a colt, seven hogs and seven stores (i.e. lean pigs for fattening), twenty capons, cocks and hens. Richard Day, a much poorer man, had only three kine, three bullocks and a calf.


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