This brief history of the village conveniently splits into three parts, the first being the early history up to the 1600s. The second part looks at the major changes that occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries to both the village and the parish. The third and final part of this brief history focuses on the development of the village in the 20th century and the possible changes in the future.

In addition, there is some very interesting information available on the 'British History Online' website dealing specifically with the economic history of South Leigh. The link will take you there directly.

  • Archeology

    The presentation by Smiths of Bletchington on Tuesday, 31st May 2011 in the Village Hall was well attended. The extensive gravel workings in South Leigh parish, north of the River Windrush near Gill Mill, are being rehabilitated into nature reserves with limited access (Rushy Common Nature Reserve), and some areas of more accessible water parks (Tar Lakes). Smiths presented their plans to extend the quarry area to the south and west; this should ensure another 15 years working life for Gill Mill Quarry, with extraction continuing at the current rate.

    Some villagers may know of my long-term interest in landscape history. The series of parallel north-south tracks which are still evident within our parish (e.g. Barnard Gate Road north from The Green, Church Lane north from the church, Hill Street north from Wayside) all attest to a droving system for livestock, to wood-pasture in Wychwood Forest. But where did the tracks go to the south? The evidence is under a blanket of alluvial soils washed down from the Cotswolds in Roman times and later, covering large areas of the Thames valley and its tributaries, including the Windrush, concealing evidence of earlier land use and particularly river crossings.

    During gravel extraction, this alluvial deposit is stripped off (and stored for later reclamation), revealing an earlier landscape. Archaeologists have been observing, excavating and recording during the whole life of Gill Mill Quarry (since 1988), and will continue to do so as new areas are opened. Naturally, full archaeological interpretation of the findings will not be available until the recording is complete, but Smiths have kindly let me have sight of an interim report prepared by Oxford Archaeology. The findings so far are exciting and unexpected. There was evidently an extensive Roman settlement around Gill Mill area, with houses, roads, and enclosed fields. Of significance for South Leigh, there was a river crossing and some evidence for a cattle market. The site has always been subject to flooding, and the wet conditions mean that waterlogged artefacts such as leather shoes have been recovered, though full analysis of deposits will take time. Huge quantities of pottery of various origins and dates have still to be analysed, but should give some indication of trading routes and commodities.

    This is a long-term project, potentially of national importance, as such a large area is involved, and the nature of the settlement seems to be unique. Excavations at Gill Mill Quarry are going to influence the interpretation of Roman urban settlement in Britain - it is just not certain yet what the outcome will be.

    Heather Horner

  • History part 1: 12th - 17th centuries

    The early history of South Leigh is cloaked in the mists of time; there is no known evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement in the area, although Romano-British remains have been found close by at Tar Farm and at Gill Mill. South Leigh isn't listed in the Doomsday Book (1085) and we have to wait until the late 12th century for its first mention in print; how long the village had existed prior to this date is unknown, although it did have its own church by then. The village is presumed to have its origins in the 11th century, or possibly earlier, and in 1190 it was recorded as a forest clearing colonized from Stanton Harcourt and described as a vill, which is a feudal township.

    In 1068 what was to become the parish of South Leigh was part of the manor of Stanton Harcourt owned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux. Odo was governing England while William 1st was abroad but was eventually disgraced for extortion in the King's absence. The Manor was divided in two in the early 12th century, part stayed with the manor of Stanton Harcourt and the rest became part of the manor of Stanton Wyard. It remained split between these two manors throughout the Middle Ages. The parish during this time had an area of 2,074 acres, excluding two bits of Stanton Harcourt parish which were within South Leigh parish boundaries, one of which was Tar Wood. A large part of this acreage was woodland, some of which was cleared in the 13th century to become pasture or arable land. Most of the tenant farmers in South Leigh owed labour services to the manors as well as rent. In addition they were required to mow a meadow in the royal park at Woodstock and to cut "browse wood" for the deer there in winter.

    In 1176 South Leigh church was granted to the monks of Reading Abbey who had already acquired Stanton Harcourt church. South Leigh was at that time a dependent chapelry of Stanton Harcourt and remained such until 1868 when it became a separate ecclesiastical parish under the Bishop of Oxford. The church had burial rights by the early 16th century although these probably existed from 1176 because the grant to Reading Abbey included land for a cemetery.

    Following a period of expansion in the 13th century, there were over 40 households by 1279; the population of South Leigh fell during the early 14th century. This was partly due to the deaths that occurred with the Black Death and the population did not fully recover until the early 16th century.

    During the 15th century the church was altered extensively when the chapel wardens were leasing the manorial quarry at North Leigh. Masons employed by William Orchard of Oxford and Stanton Harcourt added the north aisle consisting of three bays, the north chapel, new windows in the nave and the embattled tower with turret staircase was completed. Other alterations at this time were the insertion of new windows in the south and east walls of the chancel. Some fragments of 15th century glass can still be seen in some of the church windows.

    The village is assumed to have been centred at Church End at this time but by the late 15th century houses existed on the south side of what is now Station Road, adjacent to Moor Lane. It is interesting to note that the Witney to Stanton Harcourt road was designated as a "King's Highway" in 1490 and that about the same time there is also mention of Moor Lane; it's fascinating to think these have both been in use for well over 600 years.

    In the 16th century the village had a pub! which was licensed in 1587. Members of the Harcourt family lived in the village, this being one of only two occasions when the "gentry" resided here. The manor house (now Church Farm) was built in the late 16th century possibly for one of the Harcourt family members.

    In the early 17th century, 1604 to be exact, what was described as the manor of South Leigh, but, in actual fact, was a detached township of Stanton Harcourt, was sold by the Harcourts to John Skinner of Grays Inn, London. It took Skinner until the 1630s to establish South Leigh's status as an independent manor with clearly defined boundaries. Skinner sold the manor in 1628 to Sir Henry Marten, M.P. for Oxford University, who leased it back to Skinner for 21 years. Mary Skinner, John Skinner's wife, was a nonconformist and between1621 and 1630 was fined a number of times for "recusancy", i.e. refusing to attend Church of England services. The manor was sold again in 1641 to William Gore of Morden, Surrey, on whose death in 1662 it passed to his son Sir Thomas Gore. It was he who left £10 in his will of 1675 to be invested for the poor. This bequest, along with other benefactors who left money for food and clothing for the poor, was amalgamated in the early 20th century to form a single charity which still exists today.

    In 1633 the manorial officers of South Leigh consisted of a constable, two tithingmen, two field overseers, a hayward (responsible for fences and enclosures), a cowherd and a taster! Presumably the taster was to ensure the Lord of the Manor didn't get poisoned! These manorial officers seem to indicate that the manor was a relatively prosperous endeavour, even if the Lord was not always held in the highest esteem! In the mid 17th century there were 17 tenant farmers in South Leigh manor with holdings of 30 acres or more and 28 cottagers and other smallholders. The crops grown at this time were wheat, rye, peas, beans, barley, oats and vetches. Mixed farming was the norm so as well as growing the above crops many farmers owned sheep and some had cows and/or pigs.

    The 17th century also saw the end of a short lived custom. Apparently large numbers of local people from neighbouring towns and villages descended on South Leigh for two days of events such as running, wrestling and general "revelling". By 1692 this had become such a disturbance that the South Leigh villagers asked the justices of the peace to stop the custom. Perhaps this is something the Village Hall Committee might consider reintroducing!

    Main Source: This brief history has been compiled using the Victoria County History Vol. 12, (Wootton Hundred South including Woodstock), Oxford University Press, 1990. This county history is also available online at www.british-history.ac.uk

    M.D. Osmundson

  • History part 2: 18th & 19th centuries

    We saw in Part 1 that the changes to the village and the villagers' lifestyles over the first 600 years of South Leigh's history were relatively minor. The next two hundred years saw vast changes to peoples' lives with such events as the Inclosure Acts, the Industrial Revolution and improvements in farming practice all having an impact. The scale of these changes was unprecedented. For instance, the enclosures across England had been happening since the 12th century but between 1750 and 1860 21% of the land, that is nearly 7 million acres, were enclosed and no longer available for common grazing. The outcome of this was that farms became larger and with new farming techniques and mechanisation requiring fewer labourers this led to an exodus from the countryside to the towns. Fortunately, this was just at the time when mills and factories were being established and creating a need for large numbers of workers. Indeed, it is probable that we would not have had the Industrial Revolution were it not for this movement of the labour force.

    In 1724 Tar Wood House was built as a farm house. The early part of the 18th century also saw John Wesley preaching his first sermon (1725) in St. James the Great. In 1727 the Vicar or Curate of Stanton Harcourt was renting one of the church houses at Church End as a schoolroom. This is the first record of education in South Leigh although in 1682 it was said that there was an Anabaptist schoolteacher in the village which was denied. There were about one third of the inhabitants who were Anabaptists by 1738 and between 1759 and 1771, as there was no meeting place in South Leigh, the five long-established Baptist families had to attend a meeting house at Cote in Bampton. In 1771 John Wesley again preached in South Leigh but this time in a house owned by a Mr. Winter. It is not recorded whether he preached in the village in the intervening 46 years between 1725 and 1771.

    On the subject of highways and roads, by 1774 what is now a footpath along the east side of Tar Wood was in fact a 60ft wide public road. It is hard to imagine that what is now a pleasant walk in the summer was once the largest, and one assumes therefore the busiest, road into and out of South Leigh.

    In 1791 John Sibthorpe M.D., who was Regius Professor of Botany at Oxford University, acquired what remained of the Stanton Wyard manor, which then became part of the main South Leigh estate when in 1792 he purchased South Leigh Manor from the Gore family. It is possible that around this time the public house, later known as the Sibthorpe Arms, may have already existed in Bond's Lane. Bond's Lane was named after the family who held land there in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    In South Leigh in the 1790s there were 6 farms of over 100 acres partly as a result of holdings of yeoman families such as the Collins, Talbots and Fosters being merged and partly the effects of the Inclosure Acts. These 6 farms included the Bartletts, the manorial farm (later Church Farm), Homans, Warners and a large amalgamation of 476 acres centred on what was later called Station Farm. The parliamentary Inclosure carried out in 1793 awarded the Sibthorpe's 1,239 acres, the Bishop of Oxford, as Rector of South Leigh, 65 acres and a John Nalder 25 acres for his freehold tenement. Cottage allotments amounted to 9 acres divided among 10 tenants. The population in 1801 numbered 240 people housed in 41 houses; by 1831 this had risen to around 280 with an average of seven people per house and peaked in 1851 at 359, which is almost exactly the current population of the village. The 19th century saw sheep farming becoming important and by 1854 South Leigh was noted for its cross bred Oxford Downs and Cotswold flocks.

    Around 1800 the Manor House became known by that name because it was occupied by someone who had temporarily "rented" the manorial rights. It was during this period that a new block was added to the east side as well as lean-to additions at both ends and the two storey bay windows. The original building is 17th century in origin. It was also around this time that the name Tar Farm appeared, having originally been known as Glebe Farm. In 1803 it is noted that there was a workhouse on Green Lane, details of how big it was and how many inmates there were, or when it closed needs further research.

    Between 1805 and 1829 the Sibthorpe family were paying for between 12 and 20 children under the age of 10 to be educated. This apparently took place mostly during the winter months as the children were needed to help on the farms for the rest of the year. Between 1829 and 1871 education was virtually non-existent in the village. In 1871 the St. James' National School was built for 80 children with the help of a government grant. The Sibthorpe family donated one acre of land, a rent free cottage for the teacher and paid for half the building cost. The average attendance was 35 children and infants but for some reason it was often found to be inefficient and the government grant was frequently withheld. It was noted that no boy stayed long enough at the school to read fluently.

    In 1814 there were two private houses registered as meeting places for dissenters, who were thought to be about half the villagers. In 1831 more than 40 children from the village attended the Wesleyan Sunday School in Witney. By 1851 the average attendance at an evening service, which was held in William Widdows' cottage or out buildings at Church End, was 100. It wasn't until 1876 that the chapel, designed by Charles Bell, was built in Chapel Road and in 1878 it was said that many people attended both the chapel and the church!

    The village was described in the 1830s as "cottages thinly scattered up and down the village and a general air of neatness" It was also noted that the lane to Church End was flanked by large elm trees. Like most villages of the time South Leigh had its own tradesmen within the village so in 1851 we have a blacksmith, a carpenter and a "machine-maker" who employed 5 people. One assumes that this little industrial complex was based mainly around the supply and maintenance of farming machinery but again more research is needed to discover exactly what those 5 employees were making. It is likely that they were hit by the agricultural depression of the 1860s/70s when 12 families from South Leigh emigrated to New Zealand. The village also had a post office by 1871, originally located in White Cottage but then moved across the road to No. 76. There was also a grocer's shop then and by 1891 there were three shops in the village.

    Perhaps the most dramatic change to the village was the coming of the railway in 1861. Originally part of the West Midland Railway but later acquired by the Great Western Railway it would have had a tremendous impact on the movement of farm produce and livestock as well as opening up travel opportunities for villagers. Just think of the savings in time and the reduction of greenhouse gases if it was still in operation today for those commuting into Oxford and beyond! In 1881 the railway in South Leigh had a plate layer, a station master and a porter. The station master in the 1880s and 1890s was a local man, James Phipps, whose family had been in South Leigh since the 16th century.

    In 1868 South Leigh became a separate parish and in 1871 the first vicar, Gerard Moultrie, was appointed. In this year the brick vicarage was completed, designed by John Gibbs of Oxford in Italianate style and now known as Glebe House. At this time the church was described as being in a "ruinous" state and in 1872 Moultrie set about its restoration. It was then that the 15th century wall paintings were rediscovered, the earliest being over the chancel arch. All except the mouth of hell were heavily restored by Burlison and Grylls, the soul weighing being redrawn at twice its original size! Moultrie who was a well known writer and composer of hymns was also instrumental in bringing the National School, now the Village Hall, to South Leigh. He established a surpliced church choir, inaugurated a clothing club for labourers and a lending library. In 1875 he started the successful St. James's College, now Holyrood House, with a view to improving the literacy of the choir boys. Arthur East who was vicar from 1885 to 1912 improved the fabric and furnishings of the church and also completed the restoration in 1897-8.

    The Sibthorpe family, although not resident in South Leigh, did take an active interest in the village as demonstrated by their support for the National School and by contributing to the restoration of the church and to the new vicarage. Despite the decline in the village population in the 1860s and 1870s due to the agricultural depression there was still a need for farm workers housing. This need was met by a member of the Sibthorpe family at the time, Coningsby Charles Sibthorpe, who built the group of cottages east of Moor Lane, including Stow Cottage and The Halt, numbers 76-80 and numbers 69-70 at Church End and Blue Barn Cottage. They were all designed by William Wilkinson of Oxford and built of local stone (where was the quarry?) and Broseley tiles. The Manor House had by 1875 been converted into three separate tenements.

    In 1875 South Leigh manor has another change of ownership when James Mason (not the actor!) of Eynsham Hall buys a large part of the estate, 1,430 acres including the village. Brasenose College, Oxford bought 530 acres and built College Farm house in 1878. It is possible that the Sibthorpe Arms in Bond's Lane closed in 1879 when the Mason Arms, named after the new owner of the manor, was opened. Around 1877 the present Tar Farm and cottages were built and Station Farm was rebuilt on the site of the earlier farmhouse.

    Due to the agricultural depression, by 1878 of the six large farms mentioned earlier only two were working, the rest were vacant. By the end of the 19th century College Farm and Station Farm were worked as one unit. The tenant was a John Bryan and his livestock consisted of 40 horses (26 of which were working horses), 80 cattle, 70 pigs and 400 sheep. Things didn't go well for him, partly due to successive crop failures in the first 5 years of his tenancy. Drainage was also inadequate (no change there then!). His finances never fully recovered and he died insolvent in 1914.

    It is also in the late 19th century that the name Margery Cross appears for the junction of Station Road and Chapel Road. It is not known how the name arose as there is no evidence of a cross or monument ever having been there.

    Main Source: This brief history has been compiled using the Victoria County History Vol. 12, (Wootton Hundred South including Woodstock), Oxford University Press, 1990. This county history is also available online at www.british-history.ac.uk

    Malcolm D. Osmundson

  • History part 3: 20th century

    The beginning of the 20th century saw the start of the break-up of the old estate, Eynsham Park, which owned most of the parish of South Leigh. James Mason, the owner of the estate at the time, died in 1903 and his son J. F. Mason sold off Tar Farm in 1911 and Bartlett's Farm in 1919, as well as several cottages. This was a trend that was to continue throughout the first half of the 20th century where land and housing was sold into private hands.

    As this third, and final, part of our village history is to be published in November and because it is the 90th anniversary of the ending of hostilities in the First World War it would seem appropriate to mention the losses the village suffered during both World Wars. In St. James the Great churchyard there is a gravestone with an inscription which appears to be the first war casualty in the 20th century. He was Thomas Henry Pickett of Tar Farm who served in the 40th Imperial Yeomanry and was killed in action in the Boer War at Hartebeestfontein, South Africa on the 18th February 1901; he was aged 28. Little mention is made of the Great War 1914-1918 in the Victoria County History of South Leigh but one must assume that it had a tremendous impact on the village, as everywhere else, with the young men going off to war. In fact 16 men from the village were killed in action, which was a huge number for a small village. One assumes that a very much larger number from the village actually served in the armed forces during the war. Just inside the porch of St. James the Great are two memorials to those killed in the world wars, a wooden plaque listing the First World War and a stone one listing the Second World War casualties. It would appear that three families lost two members during the First World War and one of those families lost another member in the Second World War.

    I list below the details contained on the two plaques.

    The tables below will only display when viewed in a landscape position so, if you are reading this, please turn your device 90ยบ to reveal them.

    World War I

    Killed in action

    Rank and name


    12th March 1915

    Captain Alex M. Wallace


    5th June 1915

    Private John Henry Smith

    Oxon & Bucks Light Infantry

    6th August 1915

    Private George Wm. Claridge

    Oxon & Bucks Light Infantry

    6th August 1915

    Private Arthur Wm. Snoshill


    8th March 1916

    Lieutenant Cyril Walter Wallace

    47th Sikhs

    31st May 1916

    Stoker First Class Hubert C. Claridge

    HMS 'Indefatigable'

    25th August 1916

    Private Frank Edmund Smith

    Royal Warwicks

    21st November 1916

    Grenadier Arthur Robert Hoare

    Royal Field Artillery

    6th April 1917

    Private Frederick Orpwood

    Oxon & Bucks Light Infantry

    6th August 1917

    C.Q.M.S. Lionel Robert Penson

    26th Royal Fusiliers

    22nd August 1917

    Private Herbert Green

    Oxon & Bucks Light Infantry

    16th April 1918

    Private Charles Radbone

    North Staffs

    26th April 1918

    Sgt. Frederick Albert Wilkins

    Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars

    15th May 1918

    Bombardier Harold Guy Penson

    Royal Field Artillery

    11th February 1919

    Private Claud William Church

    King's Royal Rifles

    World War II

    Killed in action

    Rank and name


    28th October 1940

    Pilot-Officer Eric Wright Blackwell


    4th January 1942

    Sergeant Paul Chaning-Pearce


    19th November 1943

    Corporal Charles Townsend

    Royal Berkshire

    27 February 1944

    Pilot-Officer Geoffrey Alexander Brown


    13th April 1944

    Fusilier James Herbert Claridge

    Royal Scots Fusiliers

    No doubt there were other villagers who served in the armed forces after World War II and were in action in Korea or the Falklands or maybe served in Northern Ireland. If any villagers know of such individuals I would be interested in hearing from them.

    If we now return to what was occurring in the village we find that by 1923 St. James' College, which if you remember was built 1875, had become an orphanage and later still was converted to a private tutoring college. After World War II it housed nuns from the Holy Trinity Convent in Oxford. It was renamed Holyrood House in 1956 and became a private residential psychiatric home which in the 1970s came under the remit of the Oxfordshire Health Authority.

    The buildings in Bond's Lane, of which hardly a trace remains, were occupied until 1934. At this time the pub, the Sibthorpe Arms, had become a Keeper's Lodge. However, in 1934 they were all burnt down, possibly by a fire started by a lightning strike.

    South Leigh's other claim to fame, the first being that John Wesley preached his first sermon in St. James' the Great in 1725 is, of course, the fact that Dylan Thomas stayed at the Manor House from August 1947 to April / May 1949 with his wife Caitlin and was later joined by his two children, Llewelyn and Aeronwy. The house had apparently been bought in 1947 by Margaret Taylor, wife of the well known historian A.J.P. Taylor, for the Thomas's and their children. However, the Victoria County History of South Leigh states that Eynsham Park Estate didn't sell the Manor House until 1958 when it also sold off Homan's Farm. Whether it was bought or rented is of no real consequence apart from historical accuracy. In some of the writings about Dylan Thomas's short life, he was only just 39 when he died, it is said that he wrote a large part of that wonderful "play for voices" Under Milkwood while living in South Leigh. Dylan, notorious for his drinking habits, made good use of pubs in Witney and Oxford, as well as the Mason Arms, not only drinking beer but apparently crème de menthe! The 1940s also saw the sale of six cottages in the village owned by Brasenose College who, if you recall, had bought a small part of the South Leigh estate including College Farm.

    The 1950s saw the first major increase in the village's housing stock since the mid 19th century with the start of building of Lymbrook Close on pasture land known as Birds Hay. It was also in this decade that the decline in the village population that had been taking place since the agricultural depression of the 1860s and 70s was halted. In fact, an increase in population occurred due in part to the changes in the parish boundary but mostly because of an influx of "non-agricultural" workers, i.e. commuters! The late 1950s / early 1960s saw the building of the three bungalows in Stanton Harcourt Road.

    It might be worthwhile here to spend a little time on a subject dear to my own heart and that is the railway. Witney Railway, as it was originally called, opened for passenger service between Yarnton and Witney on Wednesday 13th November 1861.The East Gloucestershire Railway extended the line to Fairford and this was opened on the 14th January 1873 and the whole branch line was finally subsumed into the G.W.R. in 1890. South Leigh, as one of the smaller stations, only had a 150 foot platform but by the 20th century this had been extended to 300ft and in fact virtually reached the level crossing. The station building was probably designed by Sir Charles Fox, who as a partner in Fox and Henderson became well known for his work on the Crystal Palace, and may have been built, or at least completed by, Witney builder, Malachi Bartlett. The station was converted into a private dwelling after the line was closed and was eventually demolished around 1980 and replaced by a bungalow. The only other substantial railway building was referred to in the Bartlett's ledger as "South Leigh Lodge" i.e. the crossing keeper's lodge and now known as "Old Crossing".

    The longest serving Station Master was a James Phipps who served for 31 years. It was in 1922 that a Mr. Gunn was Station Master, after whom Gunn Cottage was named. The last recorded Station Master was a Mr. Woolford. By the late 1920s G.W.R. had abolished the post of Station Master at smaller stations and the station was manned by two Class 2 porters, Mr. Howell and Erne Wickson. Bill Mitchell, who took over from Mr. Howell, and Erne Wickson remained in charge of the station until its closure.

    South Leigh passenger ticket sales were relatively high in comparison to say Fairford or Lechlade mainly due to the fact that the village had no bus service. So the railway was used for short shopping trips into Witney and Oxford as well as the occasional outing to the seaside and visits to London. In the early years of the 20th century ticket sales were in the region of 6,000 per annum with the train service peaking in the 1950s at eight trains per day each way. When you add in the freight traffic and that this was a single track line it must have been pretty busy!

    Another important use of the railway was for the transport of milk to London. This twice daily event saw milk being brought from Station Farm, College Farm, Church Farm, Green Farm, Tar Farm and Clementsfield Farm at Barnard Gate and amounted to an estimated 1,000 gallons a day. Unfortunately this traffic ceased around 1940 when a local farm arranged for a milk lorry service which collected milk from the farms and delivered it to Oxford.

    Goods traffic, as you might expect, was largely agricultural in nature with cattle and produce leaving South Leigh and cattle feed and fertilizer arriving. Coal was another major goods traffic item with the Hopkins family at the Mason Arms being the local coal dealer.

    During World War II the station was used by the Home Guard and some 8 to 10 men were posted there. This was a sensible place to house them not only for the protection of the railway but also because it was one of the few places in the area that had a telephone so the Home Guard could quickly be alerted should there be an airborne invasion. Fortunately South Leigh suffered no damage in the war although both Witney and the Stanton Harcourt airfield were bombed.

    As part of Beeching's cuts the G.W.R. Oxford to Fairford branch line was closed. Its use for passengers finished on Saturday 16th June 1962 and for goods on Monday 2nd November 1970, the line finally being dismantled in 1971. Just imagine how useful that line would be today for all the commuters into Oxford and beyond. But because so much of the land has been sold off and has subsequently been either built on or incorporated into farmland it would seem an impossibility ever to reinstate it.

    It was also in the 1970s that the Wesleyan Chapel in Chapel Road was converted to a private dwelling. The original vicarage, Glebe House, built in 1871 was sold in 1963 when a cottage at Church End was acquired as a vicarage. Glebe House became an extension to the private psychiatric home at Holyrood House but was again sold, this time into private hands in 1977.

    The post office, which had been part of the village since 1870, firstly in White Cottage and then across the road in number 76, finally closed in 1987.

    So what of the future? We are all by now aware of the plans that Eynsham Park Estate has for the old MAFF warehousing site. The proposed small development would consist of 12 houses where the warehousing is, some of which are to be "affordable", and potentially a new village hall / sports changing facility adjacent to the existing football pitch. The latter is a much needed facility as our current hall, although it has served the village well for many years is becoming more difficult and expensive to maintain. Whether Eynsham Park Estate's plans ever come to fruition remains to be seen but in the meantime the Village Hall Committee and other volunteers are attempting some remedial work on the Hall to at least make it habitable for the foreseeable future.

    I hope you have enjoyed this brief history of our village; I've certainly enjoyed researching it! For those that would like to delve deeper, then the Victoria County History is a good place to start. Also Phyllis Broome's two volumes on "South Leigh Remembered", which is a collection of reminiscences of villagers, are extremely interesting to read.

    Finally if anyone has a particular interest they would like as a follow up to this series, perhaps they would like to get in touch. From my own point of view, with my interest in industrial archaeology, I would very much like to investigate further a business in the village that was described as a "machine-maker" employing 5 people. What exactly did they make and where were they located?

    Main Source: This brief history has been compiled using the Victoria County History Vol. 12, (Wootton Hundred South including Woodstock), Oxford University Press, 1990. This county history is also available online at www.british-history.ac.uk.

    In addition the following references were invaluable in putting together Part 3 of this history.
    South Leigh Station by Stanley C. Jenkins - Great Western Railway Journal No. 56 Autumn 2005.
    South Leigh Remembered by Phyllis Broome published by the author.
    South Leigh Remembered Book Two by Phyllis Broome published by the author.
    Thomas Untutored by Andrew Lycett in Oxford Today the University Magazine Volume 16 Number 2, Hilary Term 2004.

  • South Leigh charities

    I thought it might be of interest to villagers to know something of the charities that were started in this little village of ours in 1675 and still exist today, nearly 335 years later. A condensed history of the charities is as follows.

    The manor of South Leigh was sold in 1641 to William Gore of Morden, Surrey, on whose death in 1662 it passed to his son Sir Thomas Gore. It was he who left £10 in his will of 1675 to be invested for the poor. This bequest, along with other benefactors who left money for food and clothing for the poor, was amalgamated in the early 20th century to form a single charity.

    In St. James the Great Church, a board high up on the wall, near the vestry, lists these benefactors. It reads as follows:

    "Sir Thomas Gore gave ten pounds the interest to be applied to their use forever. John Hart gave fifty pounds the interest to be laid out annually in Coats for Christmas for ever.

    Mr. Lawrence Betts gave five pounds the interest to be distributed at Easter for ever. Mr. Thomas Guy gave ten pounds.

    With forenamed sums and two pounds given by Mr. John Spier a purchase of land was made at Hailey in the Parish of Witney.

    Mr. Richard Talbot gave ten pounds, the interest annually to be distributed in bread the last Sunday in January forever."

    The purchase of land was actually made in 1692 and then exchanged in 1824, at the time of enclosure, for 11.274 acres at Crawley and is still under the ownership of the South Leigh charity today.

    For several years the annual rent of £8.00 was used to pay for fencing the land. However, by 1819 twelve coats were distributed at Christmas as well as money at Easter. By 1871 the rent had increased to £33 per year and was spent on clothing. Today the rental of this land generates the income which is then distributed annually to the needy of the village.

    The Richard Talbot monies were invested in 1765 in ¾ acre of land at Eynsham. This was eventually sold and the money reinvested.

    In 1916 all these individual charities were amalgamated and finally, in 1977 a scheme for the "relief in need" distribution of the income was put in place. The charity is governed by Charity Commission rules and administered within the village by a small group of Trustees.

    Malcolm D. Osmundson.

  • South Leigh schoolchildren and floods

    I came across an interesting letter to the editor in the Oxford Chronicle dated 24th March, 1916. The letter was written by a Mr. W. Muscott, Headmaster pro-tem at our village school (now the Village Hall).

    Mr. Muscott was complaining that on four recent occasions the following percentage of pupils were unable to attend school – 66%, 83%, 85% and 80% - due to flooding. Unfortunately he doesn’t quote the actual numbers of pupils involved, so we can’t get an idea of the scale of the problem.

    Mr. Muscott states that these pupils "could not reach the school because of the flooding and an utter want of proper footpaths". He suggests the responsibility lies jointly with the District Councillor, Parish Councillors, the Church authorities, the School managers and the chief landowners. He goes on to mention the inadequate clearance of ditches and says that what is required is a raised footpath and a plank bridge.

    So what has changed in nearly 100 years? Very little; we don’t have the village schoolchildren trying to get to the village school but we still have the not infrequent problem of road closures due to flooding. Can we make the assumption that as this was during the First World War there was not the man power on the land to clear the ditches? It would be interesting to have details of flooding prior to this and also during the inter-war years to see if ditch clearance is really the answer to our flooding problem.

    Malcolm Osmundson, June 2013

  • 'The Village of The Mad' by a writer who lived in South Leigh

    Some extraordinary people have made their mark on South Leigh over the years.

    Dylan Thomas, one of the greatest of Welsh poets, lived in our house with his family for about eighteen months between 1947/49. The Manor House had been lent to him by a doting, wealthy benefactor and, when he wasn't here writing, he was at the pub or travelling, mainly to the BBC in London for which he both wrote and read. At home, chaos seems to have reigned so, for peace and quiet, he worked in a gypsy caravan in the adjacent field.

    In a letter of July 1948, Dylan Thomas describes their new digs: 'My house here, though with such a dignified address, is a pokey cottage full of old people, animals, and children. And everyone I want to meet, I have to meet outside somewhere, generally, and preferably, the pub'. He later writes of three cows having broken into the outside lavatory.

    Under Milk Wood starts here
    It is documented that while in South Leigh, Dylan wrote most of the first half of Under Milk Wood, his celebrated 'play for voices' for the BBC. Originally called, 'The Village of the Mad', its loony characters include Organ Morgan who dreams of playing to sea gulls; Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, a nutter who won't take guests at her B&B because they might not be clean; and her husband who commits suicide by drinking her disinfectant.

    It is suggested that some of his characters may have been based on folk he knew in South Leigh! And while reports of Dylan's personality vary widely, interviews with local residents at the time state that this 'extraordinary little man' was 'adored' here.

    Picture: A copy of Under Milk Wood rests on the wall at The Manor House.

    Dylan Thomas' published letters written from The Manor House start on 19th September 1947 and end on 27th February 1949. They reveal a shambolic, brilliant, tormented, infuriating yet captivating, hard drinking smoker whose charisma could be spell-binding. He loved conversation and beer, especially with ordinary people, and his Welsh voice was hypnotic (to me, more so than Richard Burton's), and he could perform magic with ink.

    Chaos reigns at The Manor House
    Dylan's wife, Caitlin McNamara, co-directed the domestic bedlam. She was beautiful and a writer, too. And a dancer. She lived beneath a rick of flaming red hair, a fag, with feral children attached to her apron, and animals everywhere. Their relationship was passionate and tumultuous. They loved, fought, drank and she would dance on the table in the pub, and on the bus. She'd been brought up with the family of Augustus John, the eminent Welsh painter. She sat for him as a very young woman, and became his lover.

    Dylan would escape to London as often as he dared 'hunting bread and butter'. Caitlin would remain in charge of the children and Dylan's sick parents, whom he had brought to the village. Finally, they relocated to Laugharne in South Wales in May 1949. How, out of this maelstrom, could come words written with such naïve calm, joy and childish carelessness as in his Fern Hill, is bewildering. And his moving Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night villanelle, casts a spell.

    Dylan Thomas was one of few poets who became celebrated in his or her own lifetime, but it seems that he was unable to assemble his life as he could his prose. When there was money, it popped with the Champagne corks. Then, while on a reading tour in the US for a decent fee, after a long night out in New York, he collapsed. He was resuscitated by a mysterious Dr. Feltenstein, who was known for his 'winking needle'. But, the second time, Dylan did not recover and died in Greenwich Village on 9th November 1953.

    The life of Dylan Thomas, late of The Manor House, South Leigh, and buried in Laugharne, had been meteoric. One observer wrote that 'he was a poet and a performer, and that it was the performer that killed him.' He was just 39.

    Martin Spurrier (14.08.2020)

    Dylan Thomas painting at The Manor House
  • Ridge & Furrow field, Station Road

    Note the earth bank across the middle of the photo, with no ridge and furrow this side... this is the bank of the village pound, in which stray animals were collected; it has never been ploughed. There is still an ancient though decaying thorn tree on this bank, the only survivor of the former hedge on the bank which kept the animals out of the corn. The ridge and furrow field ('High Mountains') was taken out of arable cultivation at Inclosure in 1792, so the thorn tree must be a lot older than that.

    Heather Horner

    Ridge & Furrow field

    Ridge and Furrow field to the south of Station Road © Martin Spurrier