Somerton, Oxfordshire

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St James, Somerton from East.JPG
St James the Apostle parish church
Somerton is located in Oxfordshire
Location within Oxfordshire
Area8.00 km2 (3.09 sq mi)
Population305 (2011 Census)
• Density38/km2 (98/sq mi)
OS grid referenceSP4928
Civil parish
  • Somerton
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townBicester
Postcode districtOX25
PoliceThames Valley
AmbulanceSouth Central
UK Parliament
List of places
51°57′14″N 1°16′30″W / 51.954°N 1.275°W / 51.954; -1.275Coordinates: 51°57′14″N 1°16′30″W / 51.954°N 1.275°W / 51.954; -1.275

Somerton is a village and civil parish in Oxfordshire, England, in the Cherwell valley about 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Bicester. The 2011 Census recorded the parish's population as 305.[1]


Fourteen Saxon or early medieval graves have been discovered at Somerton's former Free School.[2]


The Domesday Book of 1086 records that William the Conqueror's step-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, held most of the manor of Somerton.[3]

The de Greys and their heirs[edit]

In 1230 the manor of Somerton was divided between two heiresses. In 1245 Walter de Grey, Archbishop of York, granted one of the halves to his nephew, also called Walter de Grey. The de Grey manor house seems to have been on low-lying land near the Cherwell. By 1295 it had a court, dovecote and fishponds. By 1300 Somerton had a watermill.[3] Remains of the fishponds survive today. The manor was passed down through the de Grey family, and then to their descendants the Deincourts and then the Lovells of Minster Lovell. In 1485 Francis Lovell was created 1st Viscount Lovell. Francis is believed to have been killed in 1487 in the Battle of Stoke Field at the end of the Wars of the Roses.[3] Thereafter the Crown held the manor for the next 25 years.

The Fermors[edit]

In 1512 the Crown granted the manor to William Fermor of Witney. William built a new manor house, above the village in contrast with the de Grey manor house that had been close to the Cherwell. It remained the Fermor home until about 1625 when Richard Fermor made Tusmore the family's principal home.[3] In the 18th century most of Somerton manor house was demolished, but part of the hall wall still remains.[4] In the 16th century the south aisle of St. James' church was converted into the Fermor family chapel.[4] However, after the English Reformation the Fermors were Recusants and had a private Roman Catholic chapel at the manor house.

When Thomas Fermor died in 1580, his will provided for the founding of a "free school" for Somerton boys to be instructed in "virtue and learning".[3] Somerton's present school building dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, but includes a late 16th-century window which may be from the original building.[4] During the English Civil War of 1642–51, Henry Fermor stayed neutral but his kinsman by marriage Henry Arundell, 3rd Baron Arundell of Wardour, another Recusant, was a Royalist who fought for King Charles I. As a result, in 1646 the Commonwealth sequestered Arundell's estates, including Somerton. However a relative bought Somerton from the sequestrators and in the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 the manor was restored to the Fermors.[3]

Villiers family[edit]

In 1815 William Fermor sold the manor to George Villiers, 6th Earl of Jersey. As the Free School accepted only boys, Julia, Lady Jersey, opened a girls' school in Somerton.[3] Lady Jersey was the daughter of Sir Robert Peel. A century later George's son Victor Villiers, 7th Earl of Jersey died and the Somerton estate was sold.[3]


Parish church[edit]

The medieval cross in St James' churchyard is a Grade I listed structure.[5]

The Church of England parish church of Saint James the Apostle is known to have existed by 1074.[3] A Norman carved doorway in the nave dates from this period. Much of the building, however, including the bell tower, is Decorated Gothic from the first half of the 14th century. St. James' also has features from the 13th, 15th and 16th centuries.[6] St. James' is a Grade I listed building.[7]

The tower has a ring of eight bells.[8] Henry I Bagley of Chacombe, Northamptonshire cast the tenor and seventh bells in 1635.[9] One of these bells was paid for by John and Isabel Aston.[3] Henry I Bagley cast also the fourth bell in 1646 and the fifth bell in 1670.[9] His descendant Henry III Bagley cast the sixth bell in 1707,[9] completing the set of five bells noted in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1827.[10] John Taylor & Co of Loughborough cast the third bell (which then would have been the treble) in 1896,[9] making a ring of six. In 1974 the Whitechapel Bell Foundry added the present treble and second bells, increasing the ring to eight.[9] At the same time all eight bells were also rehung.[8] St. James' parish is now part of the Cherwell Valley Benefice along with five other parishes: Ardley, Fritwell, Lower Heyford, Souldern and Upper Heyford.[11]


Even after the Fermors moved to Tusmore, the Roman Catholic Mass continued to be celebrated at the Somerton manor house chapel. In 1738 St. James' Church of England rector reported that 47 Roman Catholics attended Mass at the manor house chapel once a month. Somerton's Roman Catholics were respectful to the Anglican rector, good farmers, and so neighbourly to Anglican fellow-villagers that there were numerous intermarriages between the two denominations. The rector concluded that the two denominations "are so blended and united together" that it would be inadvisable to enforce the laws against Roman Catholicism that made it an offence to celebrate the Mass or for anyone to harbour Roman Catholic clergy.[3]

Economic and social history[edit]

Somerton Deep Lock, completed in 1787

Somerton was farmed in an open field system of four fields until William Fermor secured an enclosure act from Parliament in 1765.[3] Thereafter Somerton's population grew, reaching 400 in the 1821 census. The stretch of the Oxford Canal between Banbury and Tackley was completed in 1787.[12] It runs along the Cherwell valley, and at Somerton it passes between the river and the village. Somerton Deep Lock was built 25 mile (1 km) north of the village.

Building of the Oxford and Rugby Railway between Oxford and Banbury began in 1845. By the time the line opened the Great Western Railway had taken it over. In Somerton the railway threads along the valley between the Oxford Canal and the foot of the hill on which the village stands, and a bridge carries it over the road to North Aston. The GWR opened a station just south of the bridge in 1855;[13] originally named Somerton, it was renamed Fritwell & Somerton in 1907, although Fritwell is 2 miles (3 km) away. The station attracted the opening of a public house, the Railway Inn.[3] British Railways closed the station in 1964. The Railway Inn has since followed suit.

Some of the land on which the railway was built belonged to the Free School, and some of the money that the GWR paid in compensation was spent on repairs to the school.[3] In the 19th century the village population grew and the school population grew with it. In a reorganisation of schools in 1930 the Free School became a junior school and senior pupils from Somerton had to go to Fritwell. The school was still open in the 1950s[3] but has since closed.

Barnes Memorial Hall[edit]

After the First World War the Rev Dr Barnes, who had been Rector of Somerton since 1875, organised the building of the first village hall. Barnes retired in 1923; the hall was completed in 1924 and it was named the Barnes Memorial Hall in his memory.[14] By the 2000s the first hall was suffering from subsidence and a leaking roof. In December 2008 the Big Lottery Fund granted its trustees £311,000 to rebuild the hall for the village.[15] The new Barnes Memorial Hall was completed in May 2010.[14]


  1. ^ "Area: Somerton (Parish):Key Figures for 2011 Census: Key Statistics". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Anglo Saxon Inhumation Cemetery at Somerton". Museums and Archaeology – Oxfordshire Historic Environment Record. Oxfordshire County Council. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Lobel 1959, pp. 290–301
  4. ^ a b c Sherwood & Pevsner 1974, p. 768
  5. ^ Historic England. "Churchyard Cross approximately 12 metres north of the Church of St James (Grade I) (1225734)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  6. ^ Sherwood & Pevsner 1974, pp. 767–768.
  7. ^ Historic England. "Church of St James, Church Street (Grade I) (1225707)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Somerton". Tower Guide. Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, Banbury Branch. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d e Hedgcock, James (15 September 2009). "Somerton S James Ap". Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Central Council for Church Bell Ringers. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  10. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, 1827, p. 115
  11. ^ Archbishops' Council. "Benefice of Cherwell Valley". A Church Near You. Church of England. Archived from the original on 13 January 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  12. ^ Compton 1976, p. 37.
  13. ^ Compton 1976, p. 117.
  14. ^ a b "Village Hall History". The Village. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  15. ^ "Big Lottery Fund cements future of Oxfordshire Memorial Hall". News releases. Big Lottery Fund. 17 December 2008. Retrieved 20 November 2016.

Sources and further reading[edit]

Road bridge over the Oxford Canal at Somerton

External links[edit]