Lecture Details and Reviews

The History of Ewelme

7th October, 2014 Dr Simon Townley, Victoria County History

Dr Simon Townley is well known to us through his research for the Victoria County History volume XVI on Henley and Four surrounding parishes as well as the paperback on Henley. This included the setting up research groups, which kept many Group members very busy over many years. He has given several illuminating talks on the subject and has since moved on to researching several other Oxfordshire parishes. The work on theEwelme Hundred, recently finished, has produced a huge amount of fascinating information on historic Ewelme itself and its surrounding parishes. This is the subject of Dr. Townley's talk to us on 7th October.


Reviewed by Valerie on 20th November, 2014

On 7 October the first meeting of the new session saw a full house to hear the talk by Dr Simon Townley on “A Thousand Years of Ewelme History”. This research project forms part of the Victoria County History volumes being prepared for Oxfordshire. All but one of the 14 parishes of West Oxfordshire are now available for download on the VCH website.[VCH Oxfordshire XV111] will be published in 2016

Ewelme Hundred [stretching from Warborough to Nettlebed] is an ancient settled landscape, with cropmarks relating to Neolithic and Iron Age / Roman activity around Dorchester and Benson. Benson itself was the centre of an Anglo- Saxon royal estate stretching to Henley. This was also a diverse landscape, including the vale around Benson and the Chiltern uplands.

Ewelme itself is a parish of two halves; uplands and valley. The name Ewelme can be traced to the Anglo-Saxon word ‘aewielm’ meaning a spring. In the 13th century the name of the Hundred changed from Benson Hundred to Ewelme Hundred probably because the Saxon and Medieval Court met in what is now Ewelme parish. A detailed map shows Ewelme/Benson/ Berrick Salome sharing a vast open field system until the 19th century

Focus is placed on the diverse landscape of this area, with individual villages interspersed with Benson as the centre of an Anglo-Saxon royal estate. West Oxfordshire is an ancient settled landscape with cropmarks relating to Neolithic and Iron Age/Roman activity around Dorchester and Benson.

The name Ewelme can be traced to the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Quelle’ meaning spring. In the 13th century the area place name was changed from Benson Hundred to Ewelme Hundred, i.e. where the hundred court met in the Saxon and Medieval period.

There existed small local discrete manors granted by the King. There are four entries for Ewelme in the Domesday Book. Evolution of the modern village occurred in 12-13th centuries, with evolving settlements of houses in the late Middle Ages. There is a complex of mid 15th cent church, almshouses and school, and the remains of a huge manor house, which was occupied by the powerful De La Poles of Suffolk. The background of the family and their building developments in the 15th cent were described in detail.

Ewelme is a parish settlement of two halves: uplands and valley; a detailed map shows Ewelme/Benson/Britwell Salome sharing a vast open-field system until the 19th cent.

Dr Townley was thanked for his genial, well-informed presentation of this ongoing VCH project.

Valerie Alasia

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