The mediaeval parish of Stowe included the hamlets of Lamport, Dadford and Boycott. It was crossed by two significant roads: the Roman road from Bicester to Towcester, and a road from Buckingham via Dadford and on to Wood Green, Biddlesden and Brackley. This road (or rather, track, since – like most “roads” of the period – it was not paved) was known as the Hey Way. The “way” part may derive from the Anglo-Saxon weg, which usually implies a route not suitable for wagons – either through being too steep, or having very muddy stretches. The “hey” part probably means “high” – i.e. going over the high ground at Stowe. Its exact route through Stowe until it meets up with Dadford High Street near Vancouver Lodge is unclear, but it must have included a fairly steep incline from the top of the Stowe ridge. The village takes its name from the ford where this road crossed the brook – it was originally “Dodeforde” meaning “the ford of a man named Dodda”. By the 18th century, the brook became known as the “river Dad”! A further road ran from the south via Lamport to join up with the Roman road at the north-east edge of the parish, near where the parish boundary still runs along a remnant of the road which forms part of Holback Lane.
Although only Dadford retains a significant population, it is likely that Lamport was the original settlement. Its name derives from Anglo-Saxon and means “long market”. It has been suggested that it was an early market place until this function was effectively transferred to Buckingham when the Saxon fortifications there were developed in the early 10th century. Stowe as a place name usually denotes a meeting place – either a holy site, or by the 10th century the meeting place of the hundred court. Stowe was in the centre of the original hundred of Stotfold, which also included the surrounding parishes of Radclive, Water Stratford, Turweston, Westbury, Shalstone, Biddlesden, Akeley, Maids Moreton, Foscote, Lillingstone Dayrell, Lillingstone Lovell, Luffield Abbey and Leckhampstead. For ease of access, these hundredal meeting places were frequently sited on or near Roman roads, especially near crossings with other significant routes, and often on high ground. If (as seems likely) Stowe was indeed the meeting place of the Stotfold hundred, its importance as a settlement would have increased as that of Lamport faded. Stotfold hundred was combined with those of Lamua and Rowley into the new, larger Buckingham hundred during the early 14th century.At the time of Domesday, there were six manors in the parish – two in Dadford, two in Lamport, and one each in Boycott and Stowe. However, the existence of a manor does not necessarily imply the existence of a nucleated settlement – much habitation was at this time still dispersed. By the time of the Reformation, five of these manors had passed into the ownership of the church – Osney Abbey in Oxford, and Biddlesden. We know little detail of the parish in mediaeval times. However, a nationwide survey ordered by Edward I took place in 1279, when Dadford was recorded as having 30 cottagers and four free tenants
The earliest record of the church is in the 13th century, and there is an ancient yew tree just outside the church yard which appears to date from around this time. The chancel and the tower date from the first half of the 14th century, and their construction would imply that the parish was reasonably prosperous at this time. The effigy now on the wall in the Penystone chapel is also of this date, and is likely to be associated with a prominent local personage, who possibly sponsored the building work. We do not know who he was, but it is known that in 1330 Osney Abbey maintained a manor house at Stowe occupied by a steward.
Sometime after the end of the 12th century, a chapel dedicated to St Thomas à Beckett was established near Luffield Abbey to the north of the parish. Holback Lane then acquired some importance as a route to the chapel. The memory of this chapel is maintained in the name of Chapel Copse, and two of the bends in Silverstone race track – Chapel Curve and Beckett’s corner.
The layout of the main street in Dadford is highly suggestive of a mediaeval planned expansion – possibly established when the common fields were laid out. The original plots appear to have been evenly spaced along the road with a frontage of four perches (66 feet). Remnants of this arrangement can still be discerned in aerial photographs and on Google Earth. A deliberate expansion of the settlement would accord with the apparent prosperity of the parish at this time as deduced from the church building and enlargement.
The earliest positive date in the church is the death of Alicia Saunders, whose memorial brass is in the chancel – she died in 1479. We know nothing else about her, but at the time of her death we know that the manor of Stowe was leased by Osney Abbey to a Thomas Saunders – possibly her husband. Thomas died in 1493, and left a legacy to buy a new bell (which no longer exists). There seem to have been more bells, since in 1520 George Pynnocke of Akeley bequeathed two pence to the ringers of the parish (as well as two pence to the ringers of Moreton and Foscott). Browne-Willis says that the current bells were re-cast from a ring of 4, but there is no corroboration for this.
In 1522, Henry VIII carried out a “muster roll” of the whole country. This was nominally to ascertain the number of able-bodied men aged between 16 and 60 who would be available for military service, together with their classification as pikemen or archers. Gentlemen were assessed as to how much horse harness they could provide. These financial enquiries over harness and weaponry were in effect a thinly disguised means of assessing the possibilities for taxation. Altogether there were 25 able-bodied men aged between 16 and 60 living in Dadford, 19 in Lamport and 35 in Stowe. At that time a George Saunders (was he a descendant of Alicia?) was the most wealthy tenant of the parish. However, a Thomas Rugston at that time owned land worth nearly as much as all the other landowners, and had income as much as the tenants put together.
After the reformation, the ownership of the manors (except for one of the two Lamport holdings) passed formally to the Bishop of Oxford, and they were leased out to tenant farmers. At the time of the dissolution of the monastries, the tenant was George Giffard, succeeded by his son Thomas, and then by the Temples from about 1571. Four of them (Stowe, the two Dadford holdings, and one of the Lamport) were then sold to Thomas Temple in 1590. The Temple family had earlier benefitted from a similar availability of land at Barton Dasset. Settlements there were depopulated to enable enclosure and the consolidation of holdings for very profitable sheep farming.
Baptismal records of the parish now housed at Aylesbury attest to a rapid increase in the young population of the parish in the years after the Temples acquired ownership of the manors. This period corresponds to the presumed date of the building of the Penyston chapel in the church. It seems likely that the new lords of the manor wished to emphasise their status by providing themselves with a (private) chapel, as was frequently the case at this time. Thomas Temple also enhanced his status when he became one of the earliest to purchase a baronetcy from King James I.
However, from about 1630 his son Sir Peter Temple followed the example of his ancestors by progressively enclosing the common grazings, arable fields and woodlands of the Stowe manors. Sir Peter was not so much interested in sheep farming as in creating a deer park – a status symbol for the nouveau riche which was already going out of fashion. The parish records show that in the 1630s the number of baptisms in the parish plummeted by 50% – down to below the level in the 1590s, when the Temples had first obtained the lordship. This seems to indicate that the displaced inhabitants were not simply rehoused (e.g. in Dadford) but left the parish altogether. By the time of the civil war in the mid 17th century, the ancient village of Stowe had effectively disappeared.
Sir Peter’s enclosures did not proceed unopposed. Besides the displaced tenants, significant resistance was provided by the owners of the remaining Lamport manor, the Dayrell family (who would have had common rights over at least some of the enclosed land). Before the civil war, there were numerous appeals to Parliament over the Temples’ activities, and the Dayrells’ employees were wont to go out at night and remove the deer palings which the Temples’ employees had erected during the day. On several occasions this resulted in fisticuffs and the employment of cudgells. There is a certain irony here, in that the Dayrells had earlier depopulated Lillingstone Dayrell by enclosure for sheep farming in the same way that the Temples had enriched themselves at Barton Dassett.
Boycott remained as a separate holding until the manor was purchased by Viscount Cobham in 1717, after which the land was subsumed into his ownership. However, the ancient manor was still a detatched part of Oxfordshire, and so retained some sort of independent identity until the local government reforms of 1844. It is interesting to note that the tithe apportionment map of 1850 shows that the territory of the ancient hamlet was still tenanted as a recognisable unit.
The Dayrells retained their ownership of Lamport until 1824, when they sold the manorial rights to the first Duke of Buckingham. However, although the conveyance went ahead on payment of a deposit, the Dayrells did not receive the balance of their money until after the old Duke’s death in 1839 – ancient enmities clearly persisted to the end. At the time of the tithe apportionment map, there were still about a dozen dwellings in Lamport. Interestingly, almost half the plots in Dadford had no house upon them at this time.
Significant changes to the layout of the road system in the parish took place after 1850.
Thanks to Laurence Gibson for the above text.
- Following the exhibition Dadford Past, People and Places held at the Village Hall in 2012 and in Buckingham Old Gaol 2013, some of the photos on display may be seen on YouTube under Dadford Past Exhibition, 2012
- Stories of some people buried in Dadford cemetery: The Lives Beneath our Feet. Please contact us if you are interested in buying a copy of this booklet.