The parish of Wootton has a modern heritage dating back to medieval times but there is an earlier history as well.
Its more modern heritage of the last 1500 years includes the fertile farming land sandwiched between Abingdon, one of the oldest towns in Britain, and Oxford the City of Dreaming Spires and the home of the oldest university in the English-speaking world. The parish still performs the same role to this day of supporting the Green Belt which prevents Oxford and Abingdon from coalescing into a single conurbation.
164 Million Years to 12,000 years ago
If we stood at the crossroads in Wootton and walked through Wootton village up Sandy Lane to the top of Boars Hill we’d be walking through 164 million years of geology. So if we tried to walk towards Wootton from the crossroads 164 million years ago the first thing we’d notice is that it’s a lot warmer. Not only is Oxford further towards the equator (somewhere near Barcelona) but because of volcanic activity and the earth’s orbit and angle towards the sun, it’s very warm. That means the ice caps are melting.
It’s also wet. We’re in a shallow lagoon, we’re wading through lagoons and reefs strips of land and islands.
It’s also dangerous. We’re in the Oxfordian Stage of the Jurassic and there are dinosaurs about!
And it’s getting wetter, a lot wetter. In the next 64 million years we will see changes in sea levels. As we walk into Wootton and then along and up Sandy Lane we’d be walking along a seabed with 200 metres of water above our heads. Read more about the Geology of Wootton Parish here.
We’ve been in and out of seas for millions of years. At the top of Sandy Lane, we can finally jump towards around 3 million years ago. It’s now getting cold, very cold. We’re in an Ice Age. Over the next 2 million years we’re in and out of Ice Ages but it’s very cold. We’re not quite sure as to the extent of the ice sheets but our Parish could be under a two-mile thick ice sheet, or if not we’d have a view of a huge wall of Ice close to us. At this point, there are glacial deposits and river deposits of sands and gravel (Hence the name “Sandy Lane”.) all around us during the periods between glacial periods.
Proto-humans such as Neanderthals were in Britain 800,000 years ago but ice ages will mean settlement was sporadic.
Modern humans intermittently colonised Britain, and possibly our area from around 40,000 years ago and continuous settlement of Britain happened from around 12,000 years which marks the end of the last Ice Age in Britain – it would seem reasonable to suggest that humans first walked over our Parish during this time.
12,000 years ago to the 9th Century
There were settlements in Oxfordshire in the Neolithic (to 4000BCE) Age, the Bronze Age (3,000 to 1,200BCE) and the Iron Age (500-300BCE) and it would seem reasonable that people inhabited our Parish continually at some point during these periods.
Settlements and kilns making Roman pottery were created in the Roman period (56 to 500 AD) on Boars Hill. The Roman Oxford Potteries on Boars Hill developed in the early second century AD and underwent a major expansion as imports of Roman red ware began to decline in the mid-third century. The potters produced high-quality, durable domestic ware for kitchen and tables – the ancient equivalent, perhaps, of Poole pottery. To make grinding bowls (mortaria), a well-known product of the kilns, the potters used quartz sand from sources such as Boars Hill.
Settlements were ongoing in the Early Medieval Periods (500 to 800AD).
9th to 18th Century
At the time of Domesday (1086), the population was small, with no more than 20 men and their families; even in the mid-18th century, it was only 300-400.
The Parish of Wootton Near Abingdon derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘the township in the wood’ (It is referenced on various historical maps as WudTun, Wotton, Wood-tun). The origin of the village goes back at least over 1,200 years when a group of Saxon farmers made a clearing in the woodlands below Boars Hill (referenced on various historical maps as Boreshulle, Boreshill, Bowshill) which in those days covered all the lower slopes of the hill and much of the valley below. Read more about Wootton Parish in the 9th to 18th Century.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a village pound for stray animals, near the present-day Waterworks Crossroads, and Whitecross may have been named after the 16th-century village constable, Thomas White. This was the era of prosperity for the yeoman farmers of the village – the families of Mayo, Richards, Bond, Badcock, Broughton and Busfield. The community was largely self-supporting, growing their food, making cloth from their sheep and the flax cultivated in ‘Flex field’, and brewing their ale in the farmhouses. The smithy was near the village green.
At the end of the 18th Century Wootton and Boars Hill underwent Enclosure by Act of Parliament in 1795. Read more about the Enclosure of Wootton and Boars Hill and view the original enclosure map which is over 200 years old and gives a fantastic insight into many of the field boundaries still seen today.
Until the 20th century, practically everyone in Wootton and Boars Hill made a living from the fields which stretched from the parish boundary with Dry Sandford to the foot of Boars Hill ridge. The heathland on the top of the ridge was used for grazing sheep. Hay could not be grown satisfactorily in Wootton, and had to be grown and fetched from meadowland near Donnington Bridge, and carted up Hinksey Hill to Wootton.
19th Century to Present
The turn of the 20th century saw great changes on Boars Hill when many large houses and gardens were built. Residents like Sir Arthur Evans, the archaeologist, and Lord Berkeley transformed the appearance of Boars Hill with their tree planting and development. See how Wootton Parish changed in the 19th and 20th Centuries by viewing historical maps of Wootton Parish in the 19th and 20th Century.
Sir Arthur Evans became interested in the local Scout troop and in 1914 built a Scout hall within his l00 acre Youlbury estate, 70 of which were used for scouting purposes. The army and airforce used the estate during the Second World War and in 1947 the Scout HQ bought 36 acres.
The 1920s and 1930s saw the most startling changes in the village. Abingdon airfield became operational in September 1932, and this, together with the beginnings of the Amey Group development and the expanding motor car industry in Oxford led to a rapid increase in the population, resulting in new housing and shops on the southern and western edges of ‘Wootton Village’. In the early 1950s, the community centre was built, within reach of Dry Sandford and the ‘new’ Wootton; a Roman Catholic chapel in Cumnor Road was founded in 1952, and in 1959 Wootton school was rebuilt.
The Church of St Peter
There was no church in Wootton until the 14th century when a chapel of ease to the mother church at Cumnor was built. This chapel, and the parish of Wootton and Boars Hill, remained dependent on Cumnor for practical purposes (e.g. burials) until 1735, and the old track northwards over the fields of Wootton to Cumnor (now a bridle path) is evidence of the route by which the people of Wootton once had to carry their dead to Cumnor. It was not until 1885 that Wootton became a separate parish. Read more about The Church of St Peter in Wootton Village.
Wootton Parish Water Works
There is a comprehensive website on the old waterworks at White Cross junction in our Parish. You can read all about the waterworks that served Abingdon by clicking this link.
‘Parishes: Cumnor’, in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4, ed. William Page and P H Ditchfield (London, 1924), pp. 398-405.
The Oxfordshire Village Book. The Oxfordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes.
Henig, M. and Booth, P., Roman Oxfordshire (Stroud: Sutton, 2000)