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An Outline History of Stanford in the Vale

Browse Chapters:
Domesday Stanford
Medieval Stanford
Reformation and Tudor Stanford
Civil War Stanford
Early Modern Stanford
19th Century Stanford
The First World War
The Inter-War Years
The Second World War
Post-War Stanford
Church and Chapel
Schools and Libraries
Civic Administration
Health and Social Services, and Young People
Village Halls
Fairs, Festivals and Fetes
Clubs and Societies
Acknowledgements & Further Reading
Additional articles:
BBC Domesday 1986
Church Green Fire 2005
Coat Of Arms
Virtual Tour 2003


Anglo-Saxon helmet When the Roman Legions withdrew from Britain in AD 410, local leaders invited groups of Saxons to settle in the area as a counter force against invaders. However, these supposed protectors rebelled against the locals and instead undertook a period of invasion and settlement. From the 5th to the 6th century A.D., these invaders soon became settlers and farmers, and developed a farming system based on a manor and two or three open fields. The Anglo-Saxons were good water engineers, and knew how to grind corn with water mills; it was around the nucleus of the manor, mills, and, later, the church, that Saxon Stanford grew. The earliest archaeological evidence for Saxon Stanford was found during test pitting in the village, where 8th C Grass Tempered Ware pottery was found. However, this evidence does not necessarily suggest that the Roman settlement was abandoned at this time, as vessels made of perishable materials, which do not survive well in the archaeological record, could have been used instead of pottery.

By the 8th-9th centuries, the Vale was being run systematically by large estates granted by the Crown to nobles and the Church. The area was again threatened by war as Viking war bands raided further into Wessex, but towards the end of Alfred's reign (871-899) the position improved with the introduction of the Danelaw, and a peace of sorts returned to the Vale. Christianity arrived in the Upper Thames area in about 635, when St. Birinus became Bishop of Dorchester. In Stanford, a simple Saxon church (most likely of timber and thatch construction) was built in the 10th C, adjacent to the early manor house (underlying the present one). Geophysical survey work has identified that both the Saxon manor house (mott) and church were surrounded by a defensive ditch. Through excavation this was found to contain pottery dating to the 10th C, as well as waterlogged wood remains. The site of the Saxon church is thought to underlie the present stone church.

Saxon ditch surrounding Manor House and Church, as identified through geophysical survey data.
Saxon ditch surrounding Manor House and Church, as identified through geophysical survey data.

The size of late Saxon (10th C) Stanford, has been estimated through recent archaeological test pitting and subsequent excavation works carried out in the village. From the pottery recovered it has been found that the settlement of Saxon Stanford stretched from Upper Green in the north down to the present day High Street in the south, making the settlement nearly 600 m long. Furthermore, the settlement would have been centred on the manor house and church, where the largest quantity of Saxon pottery was found within the top fills of the Roman settlement boundary ditch. This evidence shows the likelihood of an extensive settlement at this period.

The influence of Abingdon and Dorchester would have drawn traffic from Stanford, across the River Ock, rather than directly towards the south and Wantage, particularly as a large swamp, called Baccan Mor, stretched from Charney Bassett to Woolstone. However, it has been suggested by Margaret Gelling that the 'stony ford' of Stanford may have been across the Frogmore Brook rather than the Ock. A possible location for this fording point is either at Horsecroft or, from archaeological evidence, close to Frogmore Lane.

The earliest reference to Stanford is as 'Sanfordinga', in a charter for Shellingford dated 931 and copied about 1200 by the monks of Abingdon Abbey, who may have been keen to establish ancient claims of tenure to our neighbouring parish. Whether this was simply a corrupted reference to 'Stanfordinga', or whether the crossing-place was known at one time as 'Sandford' and the name later changed by the monks of Abingdon Abbey to avoid confusion with the nearer Dry Sandford, an idea mooted by Clive Spinage, is unknown. Certainly, 'Stanford', with variant spellings was what the village became known as, and so appears in the Domesday Book of 1086, and in documents from 1174, 1184, 1237, 1248, 1253, 1254 and so on. The epithet 'in the Vale' appears in documents dating from 1496, i.e. comparatively late in Stanford's history.

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