Burford (St. John the Baptist)

BURFORD (St. John the Baptist), a market-town and parish, in the union of Witney, hundred of Bampton, county of Oxford, 18½ miles (W. N. W.) from Oxford, and 73 (W. N. W.) from London, on the road from Oxford to Cheltenham; containing, with the hamlet of Upton with Signett, 1862 inhabitants, of whom 1644 are in the town. This place is of considerable antiquity, and was by the Saxons called Beorford, of which its present name is a variation. In 685, an ecclesiastical synod was held here by the kings Ethelred and Berthwald, at which Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, was ordered to write against the error of the British Church respecting Easter. In 752, a battle was fought at Battle-edge, a little westward from the town, between Ethelbald, King of Mercia, and Cuthred, King of the West Saxons, who had revolted against his authority: Ethelbald was defeated, and the royal standard, bearing the device of a golden dragon, captured; which event was commemorated for several ages by an annual festival, on Midsummer-eve, when the inhabitants paraded the streets, bearing the figures of a dragon and a giant. Soon after the Conquest, the town was bestowed on Robert, Earl of Gloucester, natural son of Henry I. In 1649, an encounter took place here between Fairfax and the royalists, the former of whom was victorious.

The town is pleasantly situated on the banks of the small river Windrush: the houses are indifferently built; the inhabitants are well supplied with water. Races were formerly held, but they have been discontinued for many years. The making of saddles, that formerly flourished, and a considerable trade in malt and wool, have much declined; and this, added to the diversion of the line of road, which now avoids the town, has reduced it from a thriving condition to a state of comparative poverty. The market is on Saturday; and fairs are held on the last Saturday in April, for cattle, sheep, and cheese; July 5th, for horses; and Sept. 25th, for horses, sheep, and cheese. A charter was granted by Henry II., conferring on the inhabitants "all customs enjoyed by the free burgesses of the city of Oxford," of many of which they were deprived by Justice Tanfield, in the reign of Elizabeth. They are entitled to elect an alderman, a steward, two bailiffs, and twelve burgesses, at Easter; but of late years these officers have not been appointed: the town is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold petty-sessions for the division; and a court leet and a court baron are also held. The parish comprises 2606a. 2r. 14p., of which 2319 acres are arable, 227 pasture, and about 60 woodland.

The living is a discharged vicarage, with the living of Fulbrook annexed, valued in the king's books at £31. 13.; net income, £294; patron, the Bishop of Oxford; appropriators, the bishop, and the provost of Eton College. The tithes were commuted for land and corn-rents in 1794. The church is a spacious structure, chiefly Norman, but displaying beautiful specimens in every style of English architecture: the tower, which is surmounted by a spire, is Norman; and the interior of the belfry, still in its original state, is a good specimen of the early period of that style. At the west entrance is a fine Norman arch; and the south porch, which is in the later English style, is exquisitely rich. In a chapel on the north side of the chancel, is a monument to Sir Lawrence Tanfield, Knt., a judge of the court of king's bench: within the Sylvester chapel, or aisle, is a stone coffin of unusual size and form, which was dug up on the estate of William Lenthall, Esq., and was found to contain a skull. In the nave is an ancient font of cylindrical form, ornamented with a rude sculpture of the Crucifixion. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, and Wesleyans. The free school was founded in 1571, by Simon Wisdom, alderman, who assigned property for its endowment, which, with subsequent benefactions, produces £84 per annum. An apartment over the schoolroom is the town-hall, where the assizes for the county were held in 1636. John Wilmot, the celebrated Earl of Rochester, and the late Earl of Liverpool, received the rudiments of their education in the school. The Great Almshouse was founded in 1457, by the Earl and Countess of Warwick, for eight poor widows; Wisdom's almshouse was founded before 1628, for four widows. Four messuages were assigned for almshouses in 1726, by the will of Dr. John Castle, for four aged widows, with a small endowment; and there are various other charitable endowments, the principal of which are, the church estate, which yields £56 per annum, and Pool's estate, producing £62 annually. Adjoining the town was a priory dedicated to St. John, the revenue of which was valued at £13. 6. 6. at the Dissolution, after which it was granted to Edward Harman, who erected a mansion on its foundation. Having reverted to the crown, the estate was disposed of in the reign of Elizabeth, to Sir John Fortesque, who sold it to Sir Lawrence Tanfield, by whom the Priory and manor were left to his grandson, Lord Falkland, who was born here, and was killed in the battle of Newbury. The property was afterwards purchased by Mr. Speaker Lenthall, who enlarged the Priory, and built a beautiful chapel adjoining it: Lenthall died here, in 1661, and was interred in the family vault. The eminent cosmographer, Dr. Peter Heylin, was born at Burford in 1600. The town gives the inferior title of Earl to the Duke of St. Alban's.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.