Mixbury: Its History and Archaeology - A Summary

February 2021

Mixbury Topography Map

1. Mixbury, built on a narrow plateau which falls away to the east, north and west, is located in an archaeologically rich area in north-east Oxfordshire. A website identifies 83 finds from the Bronze Age to the Roman within a five-mile radius of the village, although we know of many more such locations not yet included in that website. Mixbury is a special place: we can track a significant amount of it’s history and archaeology from pre-history through to the C21st. The numbers on the map are metres above sea-level of the contours it shows. The village is located on a spur of land between 120 and 122 metres above sea level. We are going to test at different heights above the ground the sight line from near the north-west corner of Beaumont castle, where the Normans built a keep of some sort, to assess the look-out value of this topography.

2. We have found snippets of aerial photographs and pottery sherds from several places in the parish which attest to the Iron and Bronze Ages up to 4,000 years ago! We are fairly certain that the village started in the Iron Age, to the north of the castle site. People farmed here and later used water from the springs to the west of the current village. Evidence points to a Roman road (Margary 56a), probably built upon an Iron Age track, running through the parish, carrying salt from Droitwich to London: it is still shown as Salt Street to the south of Banbury. 33 sherds of Roman pottery have come from the eastern bank of the castle. Why is Mixbury here? We think that the springs to the west of the village created a significant stream which ran north and then turned east towards Fulwell and the Great Ouse. This stream and the boggy land which lay around it would have been more of an obstacle to cross than it is today, and the village and fortification grew up at the crossing point. There is some evidence of bivalate earthworks to the west of the site of Beaumont Castle, pointing to the possibility of an Iron Age hill fort.

3. After the collapse of Roman rule, we can see the beginnings of Anglo-Saxon influence. Saxon pottery sherds have been found at the castle site and the Saxons probably built a fortified hall, although the castle site was large enough to accommodate a number of houses. The Saxons built a mill to the west of the village, mentioned in the Domesday Book (1087) and almost certainly its first church. In fact, the village was located in a ‘frontier’ position in the Iron Age (Catuvellauni and Dobunni) and Saxon times (Wessex and Mercia), then near to the Danelaw line. Mixbury’s name comes from Old English: Mixen, meaning dung heap; and burgh, meaning fortified site - together, ‘a dung heap at the fortified site’ (Margaret Gelling). An alternative meaning comes from the name the Normans used for the manor in the Domesday Book, Misseberrie, which would translate as “a marsh at the fortified site”. This would also fit, given the information in paragraph 2 above, but as it was a Saxon settlement it seems more appropriate to use the Old English meaning.

4. In 1066 Mixbury passed from it’s Saxon lord, Wigod of Wallingford, to the prominent Norman lord, Robert d’Oily. It was then made up of three villages: Mixbury and Fulwell (2,449 acres), and Willaston (523 acres, actually located in Hethe). Willaston, which no longer exists, was transferred from Mixbury in 1888. In 1077 d’Oily gave Mixbury to his brother-in-arms, Roger d’Ivry. He, or his son, Roger II, is identified in the Domesday Book as holding several manors, particularly in Oxfordshire. Mixbury was a well-established agricultural community; and was to remain so until into the C20th. The decline of agriculture as an employer can be seen through the C19th censuses. Robert d’Oily built a castle at Oxford, so Mixbury’s Norman castle earthworks (no walls or building now) probably came from the d’Ivry’s. We think it’s keep or main building was built of stone and the photograph opposite is of a stone found on the castle site in the late 20th C.

5. All Saints Church, which replaced the Saxon church, was also built by the Normans. Earliest evidence of a church dates to 1074 but following extensive refurbishment over the years the only Romanesque (Norman) feature left at All Saints is the south doorway. Our latest thinking is that the church was built about 1200 by the Earl of Oxford (de Vere): there is a record of his coat of arms in one of the church windows. Richard I had apparently given Mixbury to de Vere after the king had confiscated it from the St Valery family who had supported the French against Richard.

6. In 1194 Richard I granted a licence for ‘tournaments’ to be held ‘between Brackley and Mixberi’. Not jousting, with two knights on horses trying to unseat each other, but small-scale warfare with large ‘teams’ of armed men in combat. It wouldn’t have fitted between Brackley and Mixbury: the most likely site was near what is now the Croughton military base.

7. By the mid C13th Oseney Abbey had acquired Mixbury and Fulwell; the castle was defunct. The village escaped the Black Death which reached Britain in 1348: records show no significant fall in population at that time. With the dissolution of the monasteries around 1539, Henry VIII confiscated Mixbury and gave it to Sir John Wellesbourne. Thereafter it went from the Wellesbournes to the Sill family and then Benjamin Bathurst in 1704. In 1662 34 householders were listed for the Hearth Tax. By 1768 the total number os houses was about 60. This rose to a peak of 77 at the time of the 1871 census, after which the number declined.

8. During the English Civil War the parish was in "no man's land". There were Royalist and Parliamentary skirmishes in Brackley (5.5 miles away) and Finmere (2.6 miles), but none recorded in Mixbury. The Royalist "capital" was Oxford (23 miles), with Aylesbury (23 miles) and Northampton (25 miles) as main Parliamentary strongholds. Mixbury's Lords of the Manor were certainly Royalist - in 1609 a Wellesbourne placed a bell in the church inscribed "God Save King James", and a Wellesbourne Sill donated another bell inscribed "God Save King Charles 1627". We do not know how the villagers felt.

9. Benjamin Bathurst was an MP (3 constituencies) for 50 years but was never recorded as having spoken in Parliament. He had 22 children with his first wife and 14 with his second! He was the Lord of the Manor when Mixbury's Enclosure Bill was passed in 1730 which, essentially, rationalised all the Mixbury land between him and the rector, Lawrence Broderick. A plaque in memory of Bathurst is located on the wall in the north aisle of the church, but there is a mystery here, Who erased all the words after those remaining on the plaque and why? They were mainly a eulogy to his second wife, Catherine Broderick. Before he died in 1767 he sold Mixbury to Stanlake Batson. In 1823 Batson's son, Stanlake Ricketts Batson, sold half the estate (including Willaston) to John Harrison of Shelswell.


This Monument is erected.

He died Nov 6th, 1767 Aged 76.

Also to the Memory

of the best of Mothers,

the most affectionate of Wives,

the sincerest of friends,

And most benevolent of Women,

Who crowned a life of Virtue,

With a patient resignation to the Will of Heaven,

Under a severe and tedious illness,

of which she died 18th October, 1796, aged 79,

She was daughter of Lawrence Broderick, D.D.,

Rector of this Parish,

and Wife of the above-mentioned

B. Bathurst, Esq., Lord of this Manor

10. When S.R. Batson died in 1871 his son was a minor, and the Court of Chancery took responsibility for the village. Aware of the awful state of the houses and the poverty, the Court required in 1874 that the Batson estate ‘hovels’ be demolished, and 40 new houses be built in the village, which you see today.

The photographs below show, top left, one of the houses which were demolished: bottom left, front of a new house with proud tenants: right, one of the blocks of the new houses

11.Most of the improvements in the village in the early C19th came from the Rector, W.J. Palmer (also Rector of Finmere). He paid for the school, refurbished the church and helped many of the poorest people in the village and in neighbouring Finmere where he was also the rector. However, we have discovered that some of the Palmer family's money came from the slave trade and slavery in Granada and India. In 1830 when the British Government compensated owners when the slave trade was abolished in the colonies, W. J. Palmer claimed directly for his share in a Granada plantation. The C19th censuses show agricultural labouring as the main occupation for men, and lacemaking for women and girls, between 1851 and 1881. The photographs below show Hannah Bolton and Mary Harris: Hannah, on the left, is working at pillow lace - the nightgown is trimmed with Mrs Bolton's Mixbury lace.

12. S.R. Batson’s son was not good with money: after he became of age he defaulted on several loans he had taken, including one from a Mr. "Cayler". In due course Charles Edward Kayler (who built Mixbury Hall) acquired Mixbury and became the new ‘Lord of the Manor’. This passed from him to the Aldworth family and then, in the early C20th, a Metropolitan Railway Company acquired these houses. They were sold to the public in the early 1960s, the first time that the majority of houses in the village were not owned by a single landlord.

13. During the second World War there was a secret airbase by Middle Farm, extending into Shelswell. While several new houses have since been built at the northern end of the village, the old part was designated as a Conservation Area in 1988. We now face the prospect of HS2 running across the eastern side of the Parish; another, in this case unwanted, milestone for the village.