A Steeple Claydons’ History


 An Oseney charter of 1281 makes it clear that by that date both Steeple Claydon manors were holding courts which their respective tenants had to attend. The main business of these courts, which were held by the  stewards  assisted  by  a  jury  of  tenants, was to register transfers of property  and  to  see  that  the  Lord  of the Manor received his full feudal dues. The courts’ minutes were entered in parchment   rolls, some of   which have survived.    Two fifteenth century fragments are all that remain  of  the  Rectory Manor rolls, but after  the  Chaloners  had  obtained  both  the manors the two courts were amalgamated and several of  the  later rolls are still preserved at Claydon House. The earliest complete surviving Court Roll is dated  20  April  1558, and its contents throw a good deal of light on  sixteenth Century Claydon. Apparently the Court’s first duty was to recognize the Lord’s right on such occasions  to  a  penny  from each  of the tenants (later this  was  known  as  head  silver’  and  collected at Michaelmas by households

Absentees were then reported: Henry Stanley is excused because he is ill in bed; the other defaulters would normally have been fined 2d.  but on this occasion (it was probably Sir Thomas Chaloners first court) the Lord pardons them. The two village constables were then elected (one of them is the curate) and also two tithingmen (a relic of the medieval   frankpledge  system  by  which  the    inhabitants  were  divided  up  for police purposes into tithings or groups of ten, each under a tithings or groups of ten; their only surviving duty  was  to  collect  the  ‘headsilver. (Thirteen jurors were then elected; they seem to have been generally) nominated by the bailiffs, who were also responsible for providing   the steward with the names of those entitled to attend the court. The   1558   jurors   report on oath   that the constables, tithingmen and other officials had carried out their duties faithfully.  They stated  that  Alice  Snyll  is  ‘a  common  tippler’  (alehouse  keeper) wl10 overcharges for her beer; she is therefore ‘  in  mercy’  ( i.e. liable to a fine). Since the last court a horse-shoe worth 4d.  has been found which the Lord claims as a waif.  Marion Kyng has died. She had   some freehold property, and also a house and two virgates, (sixty  acres)   copyhold  on  which  two   separate   heriots  are· due (a heriot was the best beast of a deceased  villien  or copy­ holder  which  feudal  custom   assigned   to   the   Lord   of   the   Manor; in  later  Claydon  rolls  we  find  heriots  of   a  cow,  a  black  pony worth £5, a  mare, etc.).    Hugh Snowe, a new copyhold tenant, ‘takes from the Lord’s hands  one  cottage  built  on  the  Lord’s  waste  to have  and to   hold for  life.’   For  this he  is  to  pay  a  shilling a year, he also  promises   to  attend  the  manorial  courts,   to  pay  a heriot when it falls due (i.e. when he is dead!), and, as the preliminary fine to  which all  new  copyholders  were  liable,  to  give  the  Lord  a pair   of gloves  next  Christmas  (in  the   later rolls there  are  fines  of 2d. and   3s.   4d.).   He then takes an oath of   faithfulness to the Lord and   is admitted   as   a tenant.   There is a similar entry for John Bugge, and the Court then turned to    agricultural offences before concluding   with a   number   of   petitions.    One  of   the   petitions was for the revival of the old custom  of  house bote’ (i.e. the right of a  tenant  to  take  wood  from  his  landlords  estate  to repair his ho u s e). The petition was  not  granted  as  the  Lord  prudently wished  first  of  all   to   find  out   rather  more  about  the  custom from the old rolls.

The court rolls continue, with intervals, to 1792, when the number of householders owing  suit  of  court  had  dropped  to  forty-four and the court was transferred  to  Bicester  where  it  became  a  mere legal  formality.  They are largely a repetition   of   the   1558 roll. Two other   officials,   however,   in   addition   to   the   constables   and tithing men, were generally appointed. These were the affearerswho were responsible for assessing the fines of absenteesThere were  two  courts  a  year,  in  thspring  and  the  autumn.   They opened   at 9 a.m. and   sometimes   lasted   for   two or   more days.

After 1656 they were held in the School House.