The name Asthall Leigh, formerly ‘Astallingeleye’ (1279), means ‘woodland or cleared woodland of the people of Asthall’, implying woodland used by Asthall people, and an assarted settlement. It may have been the area of 2 hides and a yard land (at an unspecified location) recorded in association with Asthall in 1086. It was first mentioned independently by name in 1162–3. A settlement, called a ‘hamlet’, was recorded from 1272, but presumably existed much earlier, and in the early 13th century Asthall Leigh had its own fields. By the late 13th century the hamlet may have included the lordly residence known in the 15th century as Knightplace or Knightscourt.
In 1279, 12 tenants held land at Asthall Leigh, and 16 taxpayers were associated with it in 1316 and 17 in 1327. After contracting in the late Middle Ages population had probably increased by 1642, and 24 householders were assessed for hearth tax in 1662.
In the mid 18th century and later, buildings lay alongside several roads.
At the west end of Asthall Leigh, three two-storeyed, two-bayed houses, Old Crown Cottage, The Paddocks, and The Old Farm, date from the later 18th century, while converted farm buildings south of Pinnocks farm are of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The building of St John’s chapel at a crossroads in 1861 provided a focal point, and a Memorial Hall was built 1922.
Infilling at Asthall Leigh in the 1950s to 70s created a more nucleated settlement.
Church View, south-east of the crossroads in Asthall Leigh, dates from the earlier 19th century, and to its south are two pairs of cottages probably close in date to Pinnocks Farm opposite, which was built around 1870. College Farm at Asthall Leigh was also built in stages in the 19th century
Around ten more houses, mainly bungalows, were built between 1950 and the 1970s, most of them near the church and the Memorial Hall.
Asthall Leigh had two pubs, ‘The Rose & Crown’, recorded from 1779 to 1811, which apparently occupied a house at the north end of the village.
And ‘The Crown’ at the west end of Asthall Leigh opened probably around 1841 but closed in 1965.
The Memorial Hall, built in 1922 provided the hamlet and local Parish with a secular social venue, and in 1924 a social club met fortnightly in the hall during winter months. From 1999 a ‘village pub’, called the ‘Astally Arms’, was provided in the hall on the last Friday evening of the month.
The villages lie just south of the River Windrush, which also forms the south-eastern part of its boundary and a minor road through Fordwells forms most of the parish’s northern boundary. The remainder of the parish’s boundary is formed by fields.
The course of Akeman Street, the Roman Road that linked Watling Street with Fosse Way passes through the parish just south of the village of Asthall and through the middle of Windrush Farm. Traces of a Roman settlement have been found on both sides of the course of the road on low-lying land between Windrush Farm and the site of the Roman river crossing. It was occupied from the middle of the first century AD to the latter part of the fourth century. Artefacts recovered include a bronze figurine of a bird seizing a hare.
Most domestic buildings in the parish are of coursed limestone rubble with stone-slated roofs, though many were originally thatched.
The earliest surviving house is probably Toque House (formerly Asthall Farmhouse) to the north-east of Asthall village and is a two storey house of five irregular bays. Two bays date from the late 16th century and have a chimney stack at their west end. The west bay and north-west staircase projection were added in the 17th century, and the eastern two bays were rebuilt in 1700 when the front was apparently changed from north to south: the south elevation was re-modeled with timber cross-windows, of which two survived in 1998, and was plastered with fictive quoins and naively Baroque non-figurative panels. A large north-east extension was built in the 20th century.
Several two and three bayed houses of the late 17th century cluster round the main road-junction in Asthall village. Originally of one and a half storeys, they include Downham Cottage, No. 1 Cottage, May Tree Cottage, and Round Cottage.
Several two-storey 18th-century houses stand behind the earlier houses in Asthall village and to the north-west of the main junction. The latter include Cooks Cottage, with a date stone of 1738, and Old School Cottage, built probably by 1743. Lime Tree House at the village’s north-east corner is a larger house probably of the earlier 18th century; its north-east wing includes a late 18th-century door hood, and a date stone.
Kitesbridge Farm was rebuilt in 1814, with six wide bays and two storeys with segmental headed windows; another bay was added later and the house divided into two dwellings. Behind the house, flanking the farmyard, are an early 19th-century six-bayed barn and stable, while to the north-east a five-bayed implement shed with an arcaded front dated 1881 remains from a former group of buildings.
An L-shaped group of motor-house and stable was built at the north-west end of Asthall village street probably in 1920 for Lord Redesdale, and Walker’s Row (four council houses in traditional Cotswold style) was built in 1947 south of the village.
Between the mid 17th and mid 18th century several charities were established which supplemented the assistance available from statutory parish poor relief. Most were founded by members of the Fettiplace family, which possessed lordship and land in and around Asthall and in the neighbouring parish of Swinbrook.
In 1738 the vicar was paying for a few children to be taught to read. In 1743 Sir George Fettiplace left £6 a year for a schoolmistress to teach reading and needlework to 12 girls, including six from Asthall and Asthall Leigh. He also provided a house in Asthall village on the south side of the main street called The Old School Cottage to serve as the schoolhouse and mistress’s residence.
His executors failed to maintain it and by 1820 part had fallen down and the remainder was uninhabitable. The mistress closed the school in 1773 because her salary was unpaid.
In 1842 Miss E.F. Webb, apparently heir to Sir George Fettiplace enlarged the building and made it habitable again. Its façade, with segmented-headed windows and pointed doorway, and the rear lean-to probably date from that time. By 1854 the endowment was supplemented by subscriptions from the parish and a weekly fee of 2d. per child was noted in 1867. The school was then attended by 19 girls and 11 boys, all labourers children, who were taught by a certificated teacher. In 1871 the school could accommodate 27 children, and 21 attended on inspection day.
In 1873–1924 A new school with accommodation for 60 was built south of the old schoolhouse in 1873 with financial support from the Diocesan Education Society and to a design by John Collier of London. Built of stone with tiled roofs, it comprised in 1963 a single storey rectangular schoolroom, two entrance porches, and a rear closet. The school came under government inspection in 1884, when there were 28 children on the roll, rising to 38 by 1894, during which time reports were mainly good. From 1872 an apprenticing charity supported the school and in 1898 and 1899 the school received grants from the Diocesan Association, after which it was ‘in excellent order’. In 1902 the roll was 58.
In 1923 the school was reorganized as a junior school, senior children attending either Swinbrook or Minster Lovell schools. Only 13 children remained at Asthall school which was closed in 1924. The schoolroom became a parish hall briefly reopening as a school during the Second World War when 34 evacuees and 9 local children were taught. In 1956 the schoolroom, schoolhouse, and land were vested in the Diocesan Board of Finance which sold them in 1963, and the schoolroom was later converted into a private dwelling
The public house in Asthall was called The Three Horseshoes when it opened around 1772, but was remained in 2004 to The Maytime Inn in 1975.
From 1919 to 1926 Asthall Manor was the home of Lord and Lady Redesdale and their seven children, including Diana, Unity, and Jessica Mitford, who were later active in politics; Nancy Mitford the writer, whose local experience was reflected in The Pursuit of Love (1945), and Deborah, future duchess of Devonshire.
Asthall village was also the birthplace and long the home of the actor Bob Arnold (d. 1998), famous as Tom Forrest in the BBC radio series ‘The Archers’. In 1997 Patricia Jane Scotland, a resident of Asthall village, was created a life peer with the title Baroness Scotland of Asthall, and in 1999 was the first black woman to be appointed to the British government.
The hamlet of Fordwells, to the north of Asthall Leigh, developed in the 1860s on newly enclosed land, straddling the boundary between Wychwood (later Leafield) and Asthall parish with a few buildings in a detached part of Fulbrook parish.
The hamlet was named from the spring and pool by the southwest corner of Lowbarrow copse which were called Sewkeford in 1300 and Fordwell Pool or Duckpool by 1641.
The first buildings were erected probably in Wychwood parish, on roadside plots created by the Minster Lovell Allotments Enclosure Award Scheme of 1861: construction probably began almost immediately, as a Methodist chapel was being planned in the summer of 1862.
Building in Asthall parish probably followed soon after Asthall’s Enclosure Award later that year, and in 1864 Fordwells was called a hamlet of the Asthall Parish.
By 1871 Fordwells contained 7 households (29 people).
The area in the north-east of the parish, is known as Field Assarts, an “assart” being an area within a forest cleared for cultivation or grazing. It is a French term used after the Norman Conquest and as Wychwood Forest was owned by the King, he was paid a “fine” for these clearings.
Woods to the north-east of the parish of Asthall included Purveance Wood which was recorded as part of Fulbrook Manor in 1272. It was one of four woods belonging to Fulbrook Manor which are recorded in the 1298 Perambulation of Wychwood as having been taken into the King’s hand for waste in the reign of Henry III.
In around 1306 Purveyance Wood was cleared to make Purrens or Purrance Field, Sartes Grene and the fields to the east of it. The adjoining hamlet of Field Assarts may have originated around this time. In 1596 it was known as “the Field in Asthall” when William Towley, a resident and far carter is recorded in the Witney Court Books.
The hamlet included two cottages in 1609 (and possibly much earlier) and by 1693 is recorded as Field Assarts and lay mostly in Asthall, with only one house (later the Royal Oak pub) on the Leafield side of the parish boundary.
In 1814 there were four cottages and homesteads in the areas western part and one in its eastern part, facing respectively north and west onto Field Assarts green. By 1861 the part of Field Assarts within Asthall parish included 15 houses, with a population of 63, which fell to 11 households and 38 inhabitants by 1881.
Today the origin of the “assart” is retained by Purrants Lane to the north of the hamlet and with re-generation there are currently 22 households but sadly no pub, the Royal Oak having closed in the 1970s.
A History of Oxfordshire XV page 42 et sec
Beryl Schumer: The 1298/1300 Perambulations of Wychwood Forest, and Oxford Forests 2004 ORS Vol 64.
The Witney Court Books, 1596
Oxford History Centre
Meaning ‘Wulfmaer’s ham or hamm‘, Worsham was the site of a corn mill probably by 1086, which was replaced around1830 by a blanket and mop factory. A row of cottages was built to the north-east soon afterwards forming a small industrial hamlet which in 1841 contained five households, 28 people.
Six houses and at least 21 people were recorded in 1861, but only two houses of 11 people in 1881, when four of the dwellings were uninhabited.