WOODFORD HALSE, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
This short history
draws heavily on Brenda Courtie’s “The Story of Woodford cum Membris” and on Jim Anscomb’s “Woodford cum Membris
and the Great Central Railway”. It covers the most important parts of Woodford Halse’s history but much more is
known about the village, its history, its buildings and people that is not mentioned here.
To locate buildings, modern street
names have been used, although these may not have been used when the buildings were constructed.
The Bull family were
one of the oldest in the next-door village of Eydon, being amongst the first names listed in the church registers
of 1540 and continued living in the village for the next four hundred years. The last baptisms are recorded before
World War-1, with the older people dying out just after World War-2.
Somewhere along the
way the Bull family must have “overflowed” to Woodford Halse, for it was from here that Susannah Bull met and
married Thomas Chamberlain of Preston Capes, 17 October, 1831.
Prehistory & Roman Times
Almost nothing has
survived from the people that would have lived around Woodford Halse in prehistoric and Roman times. Some Bronze
Age flint tools found to the west of West Farndon show that people were here around 3000 years ago but we just
don’t know whether they lived on these hills or were only passing travellers on the Jurassic Way between the major
prehistoric centres in Peterborough and Wiltshire. Certainly nothing has been found to show signs of permanent
settlement from that period.
Even the Roman
period seems to have left no real trace beyond a few pieces of pottery from the second and third centuries AD found
near to West Farndon. However, with the major settlement on Borough Hill near Daventry and the Roman town of
Lactodorum (Towcester) nearby it is likely there was farming in the area.
Saxon Wodeford & the
origin of village names
From about 600AD,
Northamptonshire was part of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia and it is from Saxon times that we have the first mention
of the settlements that would come to make up Woodford Halse. Collection of the Danegeld (a tax to fund "protection
money" paid to deter Danish invasion) in 991AD was arranged through groups of settlements called "Hundreds" and
Waredone Hundred (Chipping Warden) included the settlements of "Farendone", "Hintone" and
originated from local features and people. Hintone came from "Higna Tun" (Higna's Farm), Farendone from "Feren Dun"
(Fern Hill) and Wodeford presumably from "Wood Ford", a crossing of the River Cherwell.
Less than 100 years
later, Saxon England was over-run by the Normans after their invasion in 1066. In its aftermath the great
assessment of the lands of England carried out By William I and recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 provides our
first real insight into Woodford, Hinton and Farndon.
Woodford and Hinton
were of similar status, both having two hides of land (once thought to have been 120 acres, a “hide” is a measure
of value, representing the land that generated £1 income each year.) with five ploughs and a mill and both valued
at sixty shillings. Even then, Farndon was the least important of the three. It was valued at only five shillings,
with a quarter of a hide with only a single plough.
The three manors of
Woodford, Hinton and Farndon were held (along with 100 or so others across England) by Hugh de Grentesmaisnil, a
French nobleman, one of only 15 individuals named in contemporary accounts as taking part in the invasion alongside
By 1202, Farndon had
already become known as West Farndon. (There were originally more houses to the east of the present hamlet but
these were abandoned, perhaps in the 14th century and are now known only through archaeological excavation. The
"West" was added to refer to the current part of the hamlet presumably to distinguish from the eastern properties
and remained when the eastern part of the hamlet was abandoned. In records of the time, William of Farndon admits
before the local Justice that the church at Woodford has rights to eight acres of land at West
By 1200, the first
stone parish church had also been built – parts of the current building date back to the 1100s. It was the fact
that the three settlements all shared one priest, one burial ground and one church (at Woodford) that gave rise to
the name of the parish as Woodford-cum-Membris meaning “Woodford and its members” (the settlements of Hinton and
Although the three settlements were
joined together in the single parish, at some time in the 12th or 13th centuries Woodford and Farndon became
separated from Hinton. In 1329 Lady Matilda de Holand became Lady of the Manor of Halse. Halse, near Brackley, was
a major Saxon manor. When Matilda became Lady of the Manor, Halse also included the dependent manors of Brackley,
Syresham, Farthingoe, Astrop, Woodford and Farndon. The word Halse was added to Woodford in the 19th century, to
distinguish the village from the other Northamptonshire Woodford, near Thrapston.
Woodford and Farndon have at
various times been owned by the Earls of Stafford, Shrewsbury and Ellesmere and the Duke of Bridgewater. Hinton
passed through the hands of the Catesby family of Althorp (one of whom famously took part in the Gunpowder Plot of
1605), the Drydens and the Knightleys of Fawsley.
Given that Woodford
and Hinton were of similar size, why was the parish church in Woodford rather than Hinton? The belief is that the
church was built on the site of an earlier burial ground located on higher, well-drained, land. Certainly, Hinton
was always prone to flooding. In dispute records from 1202 about grassland at Hinton, jurors sent to view the site
couldn’t do so because of floods.
There is still
something to be seen in the fields around the parish from the medieval period. In this time farming was carried out
using the open field system, with strips of land of an acre or half an acre each farmed by an individual farmer.
The three villages were surrounded by these open fields and the long lines of ridges and furrows that can still be
seen in fields around Woodford Halse.
Apart from that, the
only visible remains of the medieval period are in the church. The main door dates from the 13th century and the
chancel and pews from the 15th. Most of what can be seen of the church today dates from its restoration in 1878,
In 1469 a great
battle involving perhaps 20,000 men, part of the Wars of the Roses, took place at Edgcote. It is hard to imagine
that Woodford Halse was not touched in some way by the event but there is nothing to tell us if it
Farms & Manor Houses
In the 17th and 18th
centuries, many open fields across England were enclosed by land owners. Enclosures began in Northampton-shire in
1727, reaching Hinton in 1753, Woodford in 1759 and West Farndon in 1761. At the same time as fields were enclosed,
public roads were identified to make it easier to travel between villages where the fields had been enclosed. These
public roads are the basis of the network of lanes in and around Woodford Halse today. The word “lane” is a memory
of the enclosure of the open fields; it means “hedged on either side”.
Around the middle of the 17th
century many of the old houses of Woodford Halse—probably originally built with cob walls (made of earth, cow dung,
straw and lime) on a shallow foundation of stones and with thatched roofs—would have been rebuilt in stone. It is
still possible to see what may be the original foundations for cob as shallow plinths at the foot of some of
Woodford’s old stone buildings.
By the end of the
17th century, Woodford was made up of a number of houses along what is now School Street, High Street, Quinton Lane
and Parsons Street. Between the Church and High Street was an area of glebe land belonging to the
Hinton too was a
cluster of stone houses around Pool Street and Hinton Road while West Farndon would have been larger than it is
today, with houses clustered around where the farms are now.
There were a few
larger houses. Some were the house of farmers—Jaffe House, Vicarage Cottage, Top Farm, Tews Farm and Pool Farm all
date from the late 17th century. There was certainly one manor house. Hinton Manor—at the junction of Phipps Road
and Hinton Road—was begun in 1695 and was intended for the use of the Lord of the Manor although it was never
finished as intended. Woodford Manor, a grand building on School Street dating from the 17th century was never
occupied by a Lord of the Manor since Woodford and Farndon were still part of the Manor of Halse. Perhaps a steward
responsible for the village was housed in the house that preceded it. Before Woodford became part of the manor of
Halse it would have had its own manor house but so far it has not been identified. Equally, Manor Farm in Farndon
may have housed a steward for that part of Halse.
was a mixture of animal rearing and crop growing. Farmers would often butcher their own animals but for grinding
corn they would rely on one of the mills in the parish. In 1786 there were at least two mills nearby; records show
a Thomas Jessop took out insurance policies on his mills at “Farnton” (later known as Woodford Mill at the foot of
Barnett’ Hill on the road between Hinton and Eydon) and at Burnt Mill (actually in Eydon parish). These were both
water mills. There were also windmills, probably wooden built post mills. One was at Woodfordhill on the road
towards Canons Ashby and the other on the Farndon Road from Hinton just before where the railway bridge is
From the reign of
Henry VIII onwards, St Mary's church weathered the changes from Catholic to Protestant back to Catholic and finally
to Protestant again. Its fortunes evidently waxed and waned—records talk of broken stained glass, missing and loose
seats in the chancel, the need for a bell and parts of the church needing paving. In 1706 the churchwardens
repaired the roof and in 1749 they were repairing the church bells. In
the 18th century other places of worship also began to appear in Woodford Halse.
First came a
community of Moravians, protestant Christian evangelists that trace their origins to persecuted protestants in
Bohemia and Moravia. In 1788 William Hunt licensed the property now known as School House as a Moravian preaching
place. The congregation grew so that only 21 years later, they were able to build a chapel and minister's house in
Parsons Street. A new chapel was built after the community’s 100th anniversary and opened in 1906. This building
and the minister’s house (“The Manse”) next door are still standing.
In the early 19th
century, Methodism reached Woodford. In 1808 a Methodist preaching place somewhere in the village was registered
and in 1813 a second. In 1820 a building at Farndon Mill was registered as a preaching place. Other Methodist
preaching places are known in Hinton and by 1879 the first purpose-built chapel (together with a stable and coach
house to accommodate the visiting preacher’s transport) had been built near the junction of Phipps Road and Hinton
Road. A new chapel—the one still in use today—was built alongside it and opened in 1902.
In 1917 the Roman Catholic Church
of St Joseph opened its doors. Built beside what is now the Social Club on the site of three cottages, the church
ceased to be used and is now a private house. Today, Catholics from the village worship either in Aston Le Walls or