Marsh Baldon, Toot Baldon, Baldon on the Green, Little Baldon, Big Baldon, Baldon-in-between
This old rhyme is a reminder that there are a number of ancient settlements in the area known as the Baldons. Toot Baldon is probably the earliest settlement dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, although the area was inhabited in the Roman period. A Roman Road passes through the parishes and Roman pottery and coins have been found. The Anglo-Saxons liked to settle on high ground and reference can be found to “Bealda’s Hill”, while Toot is the Saxon word for a look-out. A good water supply and fertile soil would have encouraged this early habitation.
The Domesday Book refers to Baldedone and does not differentiate between the various hamlets, which shared a common field system with strip farming. However, there were already seven different estates and there is little doubt that the four hamlets Toot Baldon, Marsh Baldon, Baldon St.Lawrence and Little Baldon named in 13th Century documents were already in existence at the time of Domesday.
It is possible that there were Anglo-Saxon chapels both at Toot and at Marsh Baldon but the first clear reference to a Baldons Church is in a Papal Bull of 1163 and research suggests that the church was at Baldon St. Lawrence.
By 1279 the land was mainly divided between 3 or 4 manors and the tax returns for 1316 and 1327 indicate that Marsh Baldon was now the largest village. In 1377 there were 10 taxpayers at Baldon St. Lawrence, 22 at Toot Baldon, 25 at Little Baldon and 67 at Marsh Baldon. It is interesting to note the apparent size of Little Baldon at that time. Enclosure of the land was the main cause of decrease in population and by the 16th Century much land had been enclosed. However, the common field system which was shared by all the hamlets continued on a 3 year rotation until the 18th Century.
Some details about the regulation of common pastures have survived; in 1527 a man might pasture 30 sheep and 3 other beasts for every virgate (22 acres). The use of Marsh Baldon Green was also restricted and carefully managed. Sheep and pigs were not allowed on it at certain times of the year and pigs had to be ringed. Horses were also kept on the Green. Growing crops had to be guarded from straying animals and no one could allow hens to be at large at the time of sowing the grain.
These matters and all other aspects of village life, such as the management of ditches and drainage and the building and repair of houses and out-buildings, were strictly controlled by the Manorial Courts. In 1514, for example, a farmer was presented to the court for allowing two houses to fall down and for selling iron bars and lead outside the Manor. Licences were required for taking down a house or moving it.
By the mid sixteenth century a large part of four Domesday estates had been acquired by the Queen’s College. In Tudor times fellows and students used to withdraw to the college’s properties in the village when there was plague in Oxford. In 1519, for example, the whole college was in residence at Toot Baldon. It is likely that the manorial courts were held at Court House Farm.
Marsh Baldon Manor grew in prosperity during the 16th and 17th centuries and for 60 years from 1712 Elizabeth Lane was a highly active lady of the manor, which she had inherited from her parents John and Elizabeth Pollard. Her husband Dr. Lane came from Bristol and had a long-standing trade association with Christopher Willoughby, who bought the manor after Elizabeth Lane’s death.
Elizabeth Lane’s most obvious legacy was Marsh Baldon School, started as a result of a bequest by her in 1771 for the education of 6 poor boys and 6 poor girls. Other children could be educated at the expense of their parents. It was said that, owing to early employment in the fields, the children did not profit from their educational opportunities. However, by 1866 the numbers had risen to 56 and the curriculum included reading, writing and casting accounts. By 1815 Toot Baldon also had a school which by 1887 was reported to be a good school. It had been enlarged in 1886 to cater for 60 children. It survived until 1920 when the managers closed it and the children were transferred to Marsh Baldon.
The Willoughby family had a profound effect on the village. The second Christopher Willoughby made important advances in farming, which included introducing a far more varied pattern of crop rotation and encouraging the cultivation of Swedes which were said to be twice as nourishing as turnips. He farmed about 400 acres himself and aimed at raising everything that the climate permitted which a family of 30 might consume. He killed 80 sheep a year, ate his own beef and kept 19 cows for butter, milk, cream and cheese. He had a pigeon house and fish ponds and an abundance of poultry and game. He also grew his own wheat, oats, hay and hops, providing poles for the hops from his estate. He was an innovator and experimentalist and his methods had a widespread effect on the prosperity of the whole estate.
The Baldons, being fair sized villages were more self supporting than some. In the 16th, 17th and 18th century mention is made of a tailor, two butchers, a slaughter house, a currier, a maltster, a sawyer, a carpenter and more unusually, a bone-setter. In the latter half of the 19th century there was a blacksmith, a grocer, a baker, a butcher, a wheelwright and a beer-retailer. There were also 3 pubs.
The population in 1801 was 208 in Marsh Baldon and 223 in Toot Baldon. In 1901 the figures were 280 in Marsh Baldon and 228 in Toot Baldon. The 2001 census shows 289 in Marsh Baldon and 136 in Toot Baldon. Remarkably little overall change in two hundred years.
Although both Churches have been altered over the centuries, Toot Baldon Church is essentially a good example of a small early thirteenth century church and Marsh Baldon Church is mainly fourteenth or early fifteenth century. The present north aisle at Marsh Baldon was built in 1890. At various times both the congregations and the buildings were neglected but both have had times when the energy and enthusiasm of an incumbent have restored order in the Parish.
In the 19th century The Rev Thomas Fry was responsible for much good work at Toot Baldon. It was reported in 1854 that the congregation of 180 was perhaps increasing and that there were 22 children in the Sunday school. The building too was fully repaired and two new bells installed, the earlier ones having been lost at the time of the Civil War, one apparently had been thrown into a pond.
Marsh Baldon church was put into “very neat repair” by Dr Lane, husband of Elizabeth and the Church, as well as the rural economy, benefited from the energy and ability of Sir Christopher Willoughby. In 1802 the inhabitants were “very regular in their attendance at church and orderly in their behaviour there”. This was attributed to the example and authority of the squire. The church building was also cared for. However, matters deteriorated after the institution of Hugh Pollard Willoughby as Rector in 1831. He quarrelled over tithes with his half brother, Sir Henry Willoughby who was now the squire and the parish was neglected by both the Rector and the squire. In 1854 the curate had a congregation of 150 which he thought was increasing and a Sunday School for 42, but he was unable to attract the older children. However, he had a successful evening school for seven months in the year and held a small singing class twice a week for the remaining five months.
In 1954 the benefices of Toot and Marsh Baldon were united and patronage passed to Queen’s College which was already patron of Toot Baldon. The two parishes had been under the care of one clergyman since 1913.
The Willoughby family retained ownership of their Marsh Baldon Estate until the 1914 - 1918 war but in 1848 Sir Henry Willoughby leased the house and estate to Guy Thomson, the Oxford banker. The Thomson family lived at Baldon House for nearly 40 years and were held in high regard.
The Willoughby estate was put on the market in 1914. It extended to 2,500 acres and included properties in Dorchester and Drayton St. Leonard. It was offered at auction in its entirety, or in lots. Baldon House was offered with 163 acres, and included the lordship of the manor, the gift of the living and the soil of the village green. In the event the house and surrounding land was bought by Dr. and Mrs. Priestley in 1915 and the village green and other parts of the estate were sold to Queen’s College in 1921.
Looking at the old maps it is remarkable how little the form of the old villages has actually changed over the last four hundred years. The old open fields finally disappeared with the Enclosure Act of 1836 but the 24 acre village green, which was specifically excluded from enclosure is still carefully preserved and is perhaps rather tidier than it was when cows, pigs, sheep and horses were grazing on it. Many interesting old buildings remain and there are plenty of historical clues to be found on a walk around the villages.
Finally, here is a touching tribute which is the frontispiece of a book of photographs presented to the Thomson family when they left the village in 1880. It reminds us that history is about real people:-
“In grateful and loving remembrance of Guy and Mary Thomson
For nearly forty years the most true and kind friends and benefactors to our Parish
And as a token to their son and daughter-in-law John and Laura Thomson,
Of our deep respect and most affectionate regard for them and their sisters,
Who are all so greatly beloved by us for their unceasing care for us & our children
And their true-hearted sympathy with us in every affliction and trouble
This book is given by the inhabitants of Marsh Baldon
With an earnest prayer to Almighty God that he will vouchsafe
To bless and prosper them all their days.
The information for these notes has been drawn from the following sources:-
The Victoria County History
The 1st Edition of the sale document for the Willoughby Estate
The 1836 Act for dividing, allotting, and laying in Severalty Lands in the Parishes of Marsh Baldon and Toot Baldon,
The Thomson Family Album
The history of the Baldon Churches, prepared by the Rev Dr. Marcus Braybrooke.
The Victoria County History provides a comprehensive history of the three villages. See:
Marsh Baldon - http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=101879
Nuneham Courtenay - http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=101894