THE HUNDRED OF PYRTON
In the 19th century the hundred covered 14,190 acres and was thinly populated,
having only 3,525 inhabitants in 1841. (fn. 1) It was composed of the parishes of Pishill,
Pyrton, Shirburn, Stoke Talmage, South Weston, part of Wheatfield, and the
market-town of Watlington.
The ancient trackway, the Icknield Way, running at the foot of the Chiltern hills
divides the hundred into two, and roughly separates the highlands from the lowlands.
The soil and landscape are very varied: to the south-east are the chalk hills of the
Chilterns, covered with beechwoods and rough pasture; to the north-west, which is
mainly flat and hedged, lie clay arable fields and meadows which, although there was
much early inclosure, were not completely inclosed and hedged until the first decades of
the 19th century. The plain has always produced comparatively rich crops: Arthur
Young, to take one observer, when crossing from Thame by way of Stoke Talmage to
Goldor in Pyrton, noticed 'much good pasturage' and 'very fine open field arable'. (fn. 2)
The hills in the 19th century, though cultivated in parts, were chiefly used as sheep
walks. The hundred was wholly given over to agriculture, for Watlington had no industry of any importance and lived mainly by its market, shops, and inns.
THE HUNDRED OF PYRTON
The area marked by the letter A is a detached part of Newington parish in Ewelme hundred.
The beauty of the countryside and its productive soil have always attracted a number of
residents of means. In the 16th and 17th centuries many of these families, notably the
Stonors of Stonor and the Chamberlains and Gages of Shirburn, were devoted adherents
of the old religion, and today Stonor is still a stronghold of Roman Catholicism. The
earls of Macclesfield in the 18th century made Shirburn famous as a scientific and
literary centre and have since played a leading part in county affairs.
The hundred is distinguished in having two medieval houses of historic importance,
Shirburn Castle and Stonor Park, as well as the remains of a third small medieval
manor-house at Pishill. The Elizabethan manor-house at Pyrton has also survived, but
Lord Charles Spencer's 18th-century mansion at Wheatfield was destroyed by fire in
1814. The church at Wheatfield, remodelled in the 18th century, is also noteworthy.
The area has no important prehistoric or Roman sites though there are many indications of early settlement and of Roman occupation, (fn. 3) but it is of interest for the number
of sites, some of which have not yet been located, of deserted medieval hamlets.
Pyrton is one of the few Oxfordshire hundreds named in Domesday Book, (fn. 4) but the
hundred is first described in detail in 1279. (fn. 5) There is no reason, however, to suppose
that the principal villages comprising the hundred in 1279 did not do so in 1086 or
when the hundred was originally formed.
A calculation of the hidage of the villages in 1086 comes to 103 hides, a close approximation to the normal 100 hides. Pyrton was assessed at 40 hides, Shirburn at 20, Stoke
Talmage at 10, Watlington at 23, of which 3 were definitely stated to be in Watcombe
and 2½ in Ingham (Adingeham), South Weston at 9 hides, and Wheatfield at two. (fn. 6) A
striking point about these hidages is that in many cases it can clearly be seen that they
were assessed on estates that preceded the parish. Pyrton and Watlington apparently
divided Pishill between them; South Weston included land assessed at 1 hide in Wormsley and other land in Wheatfield. (fn. 7) Before 1106 Wormsley was alienated to Abingdon
Abbey whose chief estate in this part of the Chilterns lay at Lewknor in the neighbouring hundred. It was probably, therefore, at this time that Wormsley was transferred
to Lewknor hundred. (fn. 8) Otherwise, the composition of the hundred remained unaltered
until 1841. (fn. 9)
The hundred, with the other 3½ hundreds, was given away by the Crown and came
under the lord of Wallingford honor and the Earldom of Cornwall in 1244, and was
later attached to Ewelme honor. (fn. 10) The Earl of Cornwall was said in 1279 to have all
royal rights and liberties within the hundred, and in 1285 he claimed specifically the
right to have return of writs, gallows, and assizes of bread and ale. (fn. 11)
The hundred court and view were held at Pyrton under the honor of Wallingford,
but not all the villages of the hundred attended, for some were original fees of the honor
and, therefore, owed suit to the view of the honor at Watlington. These fees were Pishill
Napper (i.e. one of the manors in Pishill), the Baldon fee in Watcombe in Watlington,
and Watlington itself with its hamlet of Syresfield. (fn. 12) By 1284 Stoke Talmage, which
used to attend Pyrton hundred court, had ceased to do so, as the Earl of Cornwall had
granted view of frankpledge and suit to the hundred to Rewley Abbey, which in turn
granted these privileges in 1287 to Thame Abbey. (fn. 13) Stoke Talmage, therefore, does not
appear in the later records of Pyrton hundred.
Records of the three-weekly hundred court and of the view which were administered
under the bailiwick of Wallingford survive. The annual view court was attended by four
tithing men from Shirburn, two each from Pyrton and Clare, and one each from Goldor
and Standhill, both tithings of Pyrton, one each from Pishill Venables (i.e. the other
manor in Pishill), Warmscombe, Watcombe (i.e. the Préaux Abbey holding in Watcombe),
South Weston, and Wheatfield. They paid cert ranging from 6d. to 4s. (fn. 14) The absence of
a tithingman for Assendon seems to be explained by the fact that Pishill, as on other
occasions, includes the tithings of Pishill Venables and Assendon: later records sometime refer to 'Pishill alias Assendon'. (fn. 15) Little business was transacted at the threeweekly court or view by the 15th century: the tithingman usually said that all was well
or presented a few cases of breach of assize of ale or petty assault, and in the year 1431–2
the profits of the seventeen hundred courts totalled only £1 16s. 11d. The view of
frankpledge court held in April 1432 collected 16s. 5d. cert money and 8s. in small perquisites. (fn. 16) In the 16th century the views seem to have been reorganized and the court
was held jointly with Lewknor. On several occasions it was held at Shirburn, (fn. 17) but
later at Lewknor down to the 19th century. (fn. 18)
By the 17th century the hundred was divided into a north and south division. The
north consisted of Clare, Goldor, Standhill, Stoke Talmage, South Weston, and Wheatfield, and the south of Assendon, Greenfield, Pishill, Pyrton, Shirburn, and Watlington.
The chief constables were yeomen, Watlington traders, and gentry.
As an administrative unit the Crown used the hundred in various ways, notably to
collect taxes, to regulate alehouses, place apprentices, and see to the keeping of watch
and ward and proper provision of poor relief. (fn. 19) Its use to control vagrants is seen in
1600 when the two high constables reported that they had kept watch and ward on the
night of 1 November and the day following, but that nothing had happened. (fn. 20) In 1639
a number of owners and tenants of the hundred, 'aggrieved at the surcharge' on the
hundred for ship-money, petitioned the Privy Council. (fn. 21)