Sutton Courtenay shown within Oxfordshire
|Population||2,413 (2001 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Civil parish||Sutton Courtenay|
|District||Vale of White Horse|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
Sutton Courtenay is a village and civil parish on the River Thames 2 miles (3 km) south of Abingdon and 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Didcot. It was part of Berkshire until the 1974 boundary changes transferred it to Oxfordshire.
In the past agriculture, a local paper mill and domestic service were the main sources of employment within the village. Now the prime employers include local scientific establishments and Didcot Power Station. There are many commuters using Didcot railway station, London being 45 minutes away.
Settlement in the parish dates from at least the Neolithic era, when the alluvial plains of the Thames made the area fertile for agriculture. The Romans were present in the village as evidenced by a surviving ceremonial site and road. Excavations have revealed rough Saxon huts of the early stages of Anglo-Saxon colonization, but their most important enduring monument in Sutton was the massive causeway and weirs that separate the millstream from Sutton Pools. The causeway was probably built by Saxon labour. In 2010 the Channel 4 Time Team programme excavated a field in the village and discovered what they then thought was a major Anglo-Saxon royal centre with perhaps the largest great hall ever discovered in Britain.
Written records of Sutton's history began in 688 when King Ine of Wessex endowed the new monastery at Abingdon with the manor of Sutton. In 801, Sutton became a royal vill, with the monastery at Abingdon retaining the church and priest's house. It is believed that this was on the site of the 'Abbey' in Sutton Courtenay. The Domesday Book of 1086 shows that the manor of 'Sudtone' was owned half by the King and farmed mainly by tenants who owed him tribute. There were three mills, 300 acres (1.2 km2) of river meadow (probably used for dairy farming) and extensive woodlands where pigs were kept.
Sutton became known as Sutton Courtenay after the Courtenay family took residence at the Manor in the 1170s. Reginald Courtenay became the first Lord of Sutton after he had helped negotiate the path of the future king, Henry II, to the throne.  Most historians believe that Matilda, the elder of the two children of Henry I of England, was born in Winchester; however John M. Fletcher argues for the possibility of the royal palace at Sutton (now Sutton Courtenay) in Berkshire.
Industry and economy
At one time Amey plc had its head office in Sutton Courtenay. In 2003 Amey had been in financial trouble and was bought by Spain's largest construction firm, Ferrovial Servicios. At the time it employed about 400 people at Sutton Courtenay.
Didcot Power Station is in Sutton Courtenay parish, as are several large quarries that have been used for gravel extraction and then used for landfill taking domestic refuse from London via a rail terminal.
On 30 January 2008 there was an explosion and fire at Sutton Courtenay Tyres and petrol station, which led to about 100 nearby houses being evacuated for fears that acetylene cylinders might explode.
Manor houses and rectory
In the Norman era, the oldest surviving buildings of the village were built. The 'Norman Hall' is one of the oldest buildings in the village, being built in about 1192 in the reign of Richard I, Coeur de Lion. Across the road from the Norman Hall is The Abbey, actually the rectory house, which dates from about 1300. The 14th-century Great Hall has an arched oak roof. The manor house was formerly known as Brunce's Court when it was the home of the Brunce family, one of whom, Thomas Brunce, became Bishop of Norwich. It is a five-gabled, two-winged house which has had many additions over the centuries but originated as the great medieval royal hall, frequented by King Henry I and then taken over by the Courtenay family, who gave their name to the village. All Saints' Church was also built at this time (see below), and is a fine example of local Norman and Medieval architecture.
Prime Minister's residence
In 1912 the Prime Minister H. H. Asquith chose The Wharf (which he built in 1913) and the adjoining Walton House for his country residence. Asquith and his large family spent weekends at The Wharf where his wife Margot held court over bridge and tennis. She converted the old barn directly on the river which served for accommodation for the overflow of her many weekend parties. A painting of the period by Sir John Lavery (now in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin) shows Elizabeth Asquith and her young friends lounging in boats by the riverside. Asquith signed the declaration that took Britain into the First World War here. The house has a blue plaque in honour of Asquith. He and his family remained in the village after he resigned as Prime Minister. He is buried in All Saints' churchyard (see below).
All Saints' Church
Sutton Courtenay Church, as it stands today, originated in the 12th century. The interior shows Norman zig-zag work and later carved capitals. On the tower door, there are crusader crosses inscribed by soldiers either hoping for or giving thanks for a safe return from the Crusades. The main south door is surrounded by a brick-built south porch built with money left to the poor of the parish by the 15th-century Bishop Thomas Bekynton of Bath & Wells. Over the porch is a parvise reached by a narrow stairway from inside the church. Other fittings include a 17th-century wineglass pulpit (installed in 1901), a carved mid-12th century font with fleur-de-lys pattern and three late 14th-century misericords. There is a close resemblance between the misericords at Sutton Courtenay and those created shortly afterwards at Soham, Cambridgeshire and Wingfield, Suffolk. It is possible that the same itinerant carver made all three sets. The church was nearly destroyed during the Civil War when munitions stored by the Parliamentarian vicar exploded in the church.
The churchyard is the burial place of Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell. As a child he fished in a local stream. He wanted to be buried in the churchyard of whichever was the nearest church to where he died. However he died in London and none of the local churches had any space in their graveyards. Thinking that he might have to be cremated against his wishes, his widow asked her friends whether they knew of a church that had space for him. David Astor, a friend of Orwell's who lived in Sutton Courtenay, explained the problem to his local vicar, and arrangements were made.
The churchyard also contains the graves of David Astor and Lord H. H. Asquith, Earl of Oxford. Asquith so much loved the simplicity of the village that he chose to be buried there rather than in Westminster Abbey.
- Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister and Earl of Oxford (as above)
- Margot Asquith, socialite, wife of prime minister, and countess
- David Astor, newspaper publisher (as above)
- Thomas Bekynton, Bishop of Bath and Wells (as above)
- Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell, as above)
- Thomas Brunce, 15th-century Bishop of Norwich
- Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter bought the Mill House in 2006. It was previously leased by her grandmother, Violet Bonham Carter, and owned by her great-grandfather Herbert Asquith.
- Jacques Goddet, organiser of the Tour de France, went to school here.
- Empress Matilda, 12th-century "Lady of the English" and claimant of the throne of England, was probably born at Sutton Courtenay Manor.
- Hugh Macdonald Sinclair, nutritionist
- "Area: Sutton Courtenay CP (Parish): Parish Headcounts". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
- The Drayton Cursus is 0.6 miles (1 km) west of Sutton Courtenay and has been dated to between 3635 and 3385 BC. Excavations in 1981–82 also found Mesolithic artefacts.
- Leeds, E.T. (1922–23). Archaeologia 73: 147–92.
- Leeds, E.T. (1926–27). Archaeologia 76: 59–80.
- Leeds, E.T. (1947). Archaeologia 92: 79–94.
- "Sutton Courtenay - Dig Report". Time Team. Channel 4. 7 May 2010.
- Page & Ditchfield 1924, pp. 369–379
- Ford, David Nash (2008). "History of Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire (Oxfordshire)". Royal Berkshire History. Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
- "Amey bids for high-flying firm". Oxford Mail (Newsquest Oxfordshire). 22 January 1999. Retrieved 13 August 2011. "Servisair, based in Stockport, Cheshire, has operating licenses in eight countries and provides services at more than 60 airports across Europe,[...]"
- "Amey takeover wins approval". Oxford Mail (Newsquest Oxfordshire). 2 June 2003. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
- "Blaze rips through mansion". Oxford Mail (Newsquest Oxfordshire). 29 August 1998.
- "Investigation into garage blaze". BBC.
- "H. H. Asquith (1852–1928)". Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Scheme. Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board.
- Ford, David Nash (2001). "Sutton Courtenay Parish Church". Royal Berkshire History. Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
- "Bonham Carter buys back family heritage for £2.9m". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
Sources and further reading
- Page, W.H.; Ditchfield, P.H., eds. (1924). "Sutton Courtenay". A History of the County of Berkshire, Volume 4. Victoria County History. pp. 369–379.
- Pevsner, Nikolaus (1966). Berkshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 235–237.
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