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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

Medieval Stanford

Possession of the Manor changed with the changing fortunes of power struggles around the Crown during the medieval period. In 1230, Henry de Ferrers' descendant William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby (d. 1249), was granted by Henry III a charter to hold a weekly market in Stanford on Thursdays, and a yearly fair on the vigil, the feast and the morrow of St. Denys (patron saint of France, martyred about A.D. 286, to whom the church in Stanford, and, incidentally, those at Northmoor, Oxon., and Stanford Dingley, Berks., were dedicated). The likely location for both the fair and market is the area of land fronting the Church, Church Green, during this period, when Stanford is thought to have been a town. Also at this time William partially rebuilt the Manor House and added to its grounds over a seven year period. In 1231 he received a gift of six bream for the stocking of his fish-pond; in 1232-33 he received twenty joists from Savernake Forest for buildings at the manor and then ten oaks to build a new kitchen; and then in 1237 thirty more joists for the additional of a chamber at the Manor House at Stanford.

Medieval Pottery from Stanford.
Medieval Pottery from Stanford.

Robert de Ferrers (1239-1279), was granted the manor in 1253 but, having championed the baronial cause against Henry III, forfeited his earldom and estates in 1266, and the Manor was granted to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford. Through female heirs, the Manor passed from the Clares to the Despencers, Beauchamps and Nevilles. It was attacked at irregular periods in about 1320 by forces opposed to the Despencers, and Hugh le Despencer, father and son, were hanged, drawn and quartered on the 24th November 1326. Thomas Despencer, a later heir to the Manor, was imprisoned at Bristol and beheaded on the 17th January 1400.

Anne Neville (1426-1492), Countess of Warwick, held the Manor in 1445 but, like many of her predecessors with excessive manorial holdings, there is little or no evidence that she ever visited Stanford, let alone lived there. No conclusive evidence has been found that she and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, crowned Richard III in 1483, were married in St. Denys' Church, although proponents point to some intriguing associations between the royal pair and the village. The south porch of St. Denys' church bears the arms of York and Warwick and was built in about 1475, perhaps to commemorate the royal wedding.

In 1489 the Manor was restored to the Countess of Warwick, who then promptly gave it to Henry VII. In 1520 it was granted to the Fettiplace family, and in 1532 it passed by marriage to the Englefield family. John Englefield was denounced as a traitor in 1559 and Queen Elizabeth seized his estates, subsequently granting Stanford Manor to the Knollys family in 1564.

The medieval solar still extant at the south end of the manor, as well as the central part of Vine Cottage fronting Church Green, are some of the few visible traces of the buildings of this early period. However, one of Stanford's greatest medieval standing buildings is the church of St Denys. Founded in the 10th C, the structural development of the church began in the 12th century with the construction of a stone nave. This was followed by the addition of the two lower sections of the tower in the 13th century. In the 14th century, almost all the church was rebuilt apart from the 13th C tower. The 12th C nave was demolished and rebuilt, and the north aisle, porch and chancel were added. It should also be noted that the arches which support the clerestory windows, although contemporary, are of a type previously thought to have first been used 175 years later than the date of the clerestory windows above them. This, with the major rebuilding of the church at this time, may show that the church was at the forefront of architectural fashion, as well as being within an economically wealthy area that were able to pay for these works. In the 15th C the southern porch was built together with the large window above it. In the early 16th C the nave walls were raised, the earlier steep roof replaced by a shallower one and the later clerestory windows above the north aisle added. With the top storey of the tower and the battlements added (the clock was added in 1768, and made in Wantage), the church began to look as we see it today. The advowson of the church went with the Manor until the end of the 15th century, thence by Queen Anne to the college of St. Margaret & St. Bernard, Cambridge, and thence by Henry VII or Henry VIII to Westminster Abbey. It should also be noted that apart from the standing buildings dating to this period, other medieval stone and timber structures have been found within the Stanford during archaeological works. This includes a minimum of six further stone buildings and two timber structures, within the centre of the town and fronting the High Street.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) data indicating the foundations of the 12th C church underlying the current internal floors 1.3m below the surface (in Red lines).
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) data indicating the foundations of the 12th C church underlying the current internal floors 1.3m below the surface (in Red lines).

For the common people of Stanford, life must have been very hard at subsistence farming level, relieved by markets, fairs and the ever present church ceremonial. Presumably there was also the passing traffic to watch and from which to gather the latest news. Pack horses loaded with wool from the Cotswolds came down the 'Hrycg Weg', a ridge of slightly higher ground linking Stanford with Faringdon via Shellingford, and more illustrious people braved the medieval roads and fords and often got stuck in the mud, as, for example, the Bishop of Hereford did in 1289. Recent archaeological evidence has shown that within Stanford, the economy was not just being supported by subsistence farming, but also through the production and working of iron, copper alloys and glass within the settlement. Furthermore, through artefactual evidence, it has been shown that the market thrived, with either the import in to the area, or production and then sale, of unique and exquisite artefacts, such as the unique bronze skillet found within the grounds of the Manor House in 1962.

In the area surrounding Stanford, there is some evidence for a series of deserted medieval villages (DMVs) located at Circourt in Denchworth parish and Barcote in Buckland parish, although Gainfield, for instance, has been rejected as a possible deserted medieval village by John Brooks. There is also a known DMV at Stanford (Stanford Wick) but unlike other DMVs in the area, this is thought to have been part of the main settlement of Stanford at this time, and was deserted as Stanford shrank at the end of the 14th C. There is further evidence of this shrinkage also occurring in other settlements within the area such as Hatford, Goosey, Baulking and West Challow.

The moated site at Stanford Park Farm is likely to be 18th century, not medieval as was once thought. Archaeological works were carried out on the site in 1963 by Oxford University Archaeology Society, which found no signs of occupation within the moated enclosure, but did reveal a second enclosure to the south. Due to these findings the moated enclose is thought to relate to the adjacent Stanford Park Farm buildings.

By the beginning of the 14th C it is thought that Stanford was a prosperous town which stretched from Upper Green in the North to Wick Close in the South (nearly 1km), with a flourishing market and craft production area, and in turn, a thriving economy. However, archaeological evidence indicates that Stanford's influence as a market centre declined rapidly, and shrunk from a town to a village in the late 14th C, for two main reasons. The first of these was a change in climate, as at this period the Little Ice Age started to affect Europe and, with this, a rise in the water table occurred. This is seen in the village archaeological record, with the construction of a raised cobbled surface measuring 25m across, possibly to keep cattle and sheep on. The second reason was a change in the wool economy at this period. At the end of the 14th C, a steep drop occurred in the volume of primary wool stocks which were exported to the continent. This drop greatly affected the Vale and Cotswolds and so they were unable to sustain their economies. These two pressures may have also affected other settlements in the area, such as Baulking which was a market town by 1219, although further work is needed to confirm this. With both Faringdon and Wantage having royal vills before the Norman Conquest, and Abingdon having its large monastic complex, it is thought that these market centres were able to survive the economic downturn due to their wealthy connections (even though Wantage was worth about half the amount of Stanford in the 13th C Lay Subsidy), at Stanford’s expense.

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