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The Radcot Story By E Pocock

INTRODUCTION

 

While history ever speaks of Radcot’s importance, no reason has been given to explain why. It is true it became a very important river crossing, yet why was this so, when on either side within a mile lay other prehistoric crossings

The answer, within this booklet, comes from the very site itself, from the remains of a past age, which fortunately have not been covered over and lost under buildings. The finding of the painting of Pidnell Bridge and the recognizing of the ancient wharfage system has helped reveal this past, and allowed. perhaps for the first time, the age of the Garrison to be known.

That Radcot had 3 ancient stone bridges is generally not realised. The fact that the bridge over the main river has survived without being rebuilt is no doubt due more to human awkwardness than anything else. Of the three, it alone, always hail two owners. As will be seen, Radcot is the oldest bridge over the river, the old Folly Bridge at Oxford was built earlier but has been rebuilt.

 

• He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He. lcadeth me beside the still writers Psalm 23 BC l000c.

 

Rocote 1086 Ratrotam 1150 Radrota 1163

 

Redcote 1176 Rotcote 1220 Rutcnt 1220

 

Roccote 1296 Rettecotc 1315 Rodcott 1761

 

 

The meaning is uncertain. It could be Reed (thatched) Cottage or Cottage amongst the reeds. But then as the modern word road comes from rail or red perhaps it could just have been the Cottage by the road.

 

RADCOT AND ITS BRIDGE

by E. A. Pocock

Radcot is a hamlet on the North bank of the River Thames or Isis, situated where the ancient route from Burford and the Cotswold’s, crosses the river to Faringdon and the Downs beyond. It forms a civil parish with Crafton, is in the Ecclesiastical parish of Clanfield and county of Oxon. It has a farm, hotel. 2 cottages and last hut by no means least a beautiful Elizabethan Manor House which was a Farm House until recent times.

Today its waters give great pleasure to an increasing number, but it was not always so. On three occasions when disorder broke out in our land Radcot became the scene of action. in 1141 as Matilda Countess of Anjou sought to claim the throne. Radcot was a site she chose for one of her castles. Then in 1387 lie Vere’s army was trapped near the bridge by the revolting Lords. Finally in the civil war of King against Parliament more than one skirmish took place by the bridge and Manor House.

But Radcot is not only known for its warlike activities, two things bear witness to its importance in more peaceful times. It is the proud possessor of the oldest bridge on the River Thames and it was the site used by Christopher Kempster of Burford and others to load their stone on to barges to he carried down for the building of the new St. Paul’s. Yet whilst everything speaks of its importance at a very early time, nothing tells us how it came about. It is only as we carefully unravel the site that we understand this.

The first thing we can see when we look at the air photo is that at one time the road from Clanfield went straight to the bridge and that the modern twisting road that goes by the Swan Inn is really a detour. On the site this detour is seen to be because someone built a garrison or earthworks across the old road. But a study of the ordnance map tells us more, for it shows that even this old way replaced another which had been marked out across the valley. Long before towns and villages were found in our land, a highly developed Nomadic culture had marked out this ancient way and had chosen Radcot as a river crossing, their alinement can still be followed from Black Bourton Barrow to Furze Hill, passing through Clanfield Churchyard, Radcot Bridge and Faringdon Church. South from Faringdon the way is lost, but Southampton Street as the name implies and as the older residents of Faringdon can tell us was at one time the pack horse way to Southampton and the coast.

These ancient ways were served by ‘burghs.’ These were small earth-banked enclosures built at the side of the way, perhaps an acre perhaps less, which provided shelter and security for the Nomads. Shelter for their temporary homes from the wind, security at night for their animals from all that might attack them. The shallow hollows in the west paddock between the bridges at Radcot, appears to be all that remains of one of these. When the new cut was dug across the end of it in 1787 a double edged stone axe head of their period was found. This was placed in Reading museum but cannot now be traced.

Later during the Iron Age, Radcot does not seem to have been very important. The new peoples with their centres at Faringdon and Bampton made use of the ford at Burroway some three-quarters of a mile lower down. Neither it seems were the first Saxon families who came to settle in the land, interested in Radcot, rather they sought the higher parts. But eventually when land became short, families did venture here, and its name took on the usual form of -cot which late settlements were often given.

The first record we have of Radcot is in the Doomsday Survey of 1086. Here we read that’ Rocote’ like Langford is owned by the King but held and farmed by Alsi of Faringdon. It was registered for taxation purposes as a two family or farm unit with 24 acres of meadow which had increased in value from £2 to £4 between 1066 and 1086. On the air photo two groups of Ridge and Furrow can be seen one each side of the road. That on the West side is clearly the oldest as can be told by its untidy shape. That on the East appears as a tidy new unit having been opened up in one go by a new group of settlers. However, like its neighbours over the river at Camden, Thrup, Pidnell, and Puckety in Faringdon Parish, continual flooding made arable farming uneconomic. Yet whilst those settlements died out remaining only as farm names, Radcot survived. Perhaps survived is the right word for Radcot never seems to have grown in numbers.

No families were recorded in the Doomsday Book because Alsi farmed the whole himself, but according to similar places, it must have had about four families of serfs to run it. This would be about 20 people including children. From the tax returns of 1377 there were 24 over the age of 14; in the census of 1801 there were 31 all told and in that of 190 l—29. From the earliest times people found a living independent of the land. In 1219 Robert and Godwin were fishermen, Miles was a wildfowler and William had charge of the bridge.2 At one time there was a Chapel at Radcot under the Church of Langford but it has disappeared so long ago that no one knows its site.

However nothing in this tells us why Radcot was important, why a bridge was built here, why Matilda built a Castle here.  Again we must return to the site to find this. ‘lhe answer is to ne found in the uneven ground in front of the Swan Inn. Here between the backwater of the Thames and the Garrison field, unrecognised, partially buried under silt and river dredgings, lies an ancient system of wharfs. When the water level rises the main pool, with its entrance blocked up, still fills with water. On its North side lie older and narrower wharfs which this larger and better one replaced. Both of these systems were dug up to and so served by, the old road, the track of which can still be faintly seen coming over the Garrison field.

How old are these wharfs? The painting of Pidnell bridge, the most northern of Radcot’s three bridges, shows that in 1845 a late 12th century bridge similar to Radcot Bridge’ then existed. As this is on the detour road we at once know that the Garrison is older and must be Matildas of 1141, not one of the later Civil war, and that the old road and wharfs must be earlier still!

Who would need such a system of wharfs as early as this? Two things point us North. Burford in its old open fields had a ‘Radcot Furlong’ and ‘Radcot Way.’3 This means at a very early time Radcot was the important place the road went to. Then there is this road itself. As it leaves Clanfield for Radcot it becomes a causeway. its course can be followed, West of Radcot House, by the wide ditch at its side from which the spoil was dug. Having crossed the Garrison field it stops and at the end of the wharfs it becomes an ordinary low twisting road. It had reached its destination.

Now the Doomsday Book records that in 1086 a very valuable stone quarry was then being worked at Taynton near Burford. This village had been given in 1059 as a single gift by Edward the Confessor to the Abbey of St. Denis in Paris, a church which was being added to in the 11th century. From other sources we find the trade for stone between our country and the continent was very old. In the 8th century King Offa was buying a special black stone from the Frankish kings.4 Later in 1087 Caen stone from Normandy was being brought over to build the old St. Paul’s.

Therefore the story of Radcot’s rise to importance appears to be this. It was chosen as the most convenient place for loading the Taynton stone, already well known even before Doomsday, on to rafts, for Paris. Once the stone had been dragged out of the Windrush valley to the top of White Hill, Burford, all the rest of its journey along the old Swinbrook road through Black Bourton parish to Radcot, was downhill. Perhaps when the Abbey of St. Denis obtained Taynton she hoped to float it down the Wind-rush to Northmoor, another of her estates where it could be loaded on to larger boats, but the old way proved the best. Somewhere downstream it was reloaded into larger vessels for Paris.

But other people were wanting stone. It is unlikely St. Pauls would not be interested in Taynton stone when already it was floating by. No record exists of the Old St. Pauls using it but Taynton stone is to be found in the Crypt of the New St. Pauls~ and the New St. Pauls was begun by using the ruins of the Old as a quarry.6 Moreover the different workmanship of the Crypt compared with the perfection of the Church above, strongly suggests the Crypt was built with the stone from the Old St. Pauls. This great demand for stone, wherever it went to, would explain the rise in Radcot’s value in the Doomsday book, the building of a Causeway across the marsh from Clanfield and the digging of a bigger wharf system to take larger rafts or vessels.

But the existence of the older quays suggests that stone had already been loaded here for many years.

How many years we shall never know, but in 1141 it came to an abrupt stop. Civil war had broken out in the land, as a very determined lady tried to wrest the throne from King Stephen. We read that Matilda Countess of Anjou came to Oxford and in 1141 built casts at Woodstock, at Bampton on the Church tower, at Cirencester and ‘one in the hamlet of Radcot am so surrounded by marsh and water as to be inaccessible’. Later we read ‘King Stephen . .. arrived unexpectedly at Cirencester with a large force and finding it empty with the garrison gone burnt it and demolished the rampart and stockade to the foundations. He then marched to Bampton and Radcot. When the one had been taken by storm and the other surrendered at discretion, he went on to Oxford !

We do not know how many troops she stationed there to stop Stephen using the river crossing and the wharfs but so effectively did she block the road that still today we have to make a detour.

The remains of Matilda’s castle are to be seen in the Garrison field, North of the Swan and in front of Radcot farm. It was not a stone castle, but a site defended by a ditch and wooden stockade.

When the troubled reign of Stephen came to an end in 1154, trade in the country began to move again. Within a few years Radcot must have been busy once more. But now a new road was in use. The locals found it easier to go round the garrison than pull a gap through its walls. At the point where the old road came to the garrison they turned left to the back lane (now the present road) and from there on took the present way past the Swan Inn. In view of the increased importance that soon came to Radcot it is difficult to understand why the road across the Garrison was not cleared. But the easy way out the locals had taken using pre-existing lanes and no doubt wooden bridges, became accepted by all.

The increased importance of Radcot is shown by a very expensive building programme that someone carried out at this time. Three stone bridges were built which obviously must have replaced existing wooden ones, and been an economic proposition. The existing one, Radcot Bridge is built of Taynton stone.5 The other two have now gone but from Rocques map of Berkshire in 1761 we see the positions have not changed. One stood where the new Canal bridge is and the other, Pidnell bridge, in front of the Swan. The record of these three bridges is found in Thos. Baskerville’s travels through England in 1692. He wrote ‘Radcot bridge, the maine streame where boats pass through, is 22 yards over and has three great arches; the second streame has a bridge with 2 arches which leads to wyer (weir); the third stream has a bridge over it with 4 arch’s but not for great boats to go through.’8 The weir was still there in 1775 according to a sale note in Jacksons Journal of May 13th.

It is difficult to understand why history is so silent about the two bridges that are gone. If it were not for Thos. Baskerville and later Mrs. Davenport, we should have no idea of their existence. Not once do they appear to be mentioned in the official records.

The building of the bridges shows that Radcot was now not only of importance to the North, but also a centre for the area South of the Thames, and an important river crossing. It could well be that the causeway on the Berkshire side was built at this time. The bend in the road about 50 yards south of the bridge tells us the builders began their work at the bridge end. Taking the line of the Oxfordshire road at first, they then changed their mind and made for the road in the Pidnell Open Field. New to block the road from Burford to Witney and Newbridge. Lord Derby, the future Henry IV was to block Radcot Bridge.

The story appears to be’ It was December 20th and a foggy day which made it impossible to see very far. De Vere with 5000 troops having spent the night at Stow on the Wold and being told by his scouts that all roads to London were blocked moved South to Burford. As he rested there for a meal, news reached him that his advance party had had a brush with Arundel’s troops on the Witney road. He then decided the best thing to do was to take the nearest road into Berkshire and so get round these forces. He made for Radcot where there was a bridge which would allow him to get his baggage over the river and so reach Faringdon for the night. But as he marched South in a great hurry, he made a fatal mistake, he never sent scouts back to check his rear. Little did he know that at a prudent distance he was being followed by all the forces that had blocked his way East.

On reaching Radcot he found to his dismay that the bridge was blocked by the force under Lord Derby who had pulled part of the bridge out so that he could not get his baggage over. He conferred with his Officers. The men were tired and hungry, they had been marching all day and were looking forward to warm quarters at Faringdon. It had been a dry Autumn; the river was low. He decided to rush the Bridge and the old ford. The colours were raised, the troops were drawn up ready for the attack, Sir Thos. Molyneux Constable of Chester castle was at their head, whilst de Vere no doubt was discreetly behind, making sure there were no deserters. Suddenly to his horror he saw a great host of troops coming out of the mist down the Clanfield causeway. He quickly summed up the situation as it applied to himself and galloping over the bridges out of the island disappeared in the gathering gloom across the meadows towards London. Molyeux was not so lucky. He was trapped in front of his troops. He tried to rush through the ford on his horse, missed it, got into deep water and was easily dragged off and killed as he floundered out on the other side. The troops with their leaders gone were in no mood to fight. They immediately surrendered to Gloucester who taking away their weapons and equipment allowed them all to go off back to their homes.

In the meanwhile de Vere had galloped off to the next bridge at Newbridge but as this too was defended with archers, perhaps in case he had got past Arundel, he galloped on to ford the river by Bablockhythe. A tired and dejected man must have knocked at someone’s door very late that night. Eventually, he was able to escape to France.’.

The Barons who now could tell the king what to do, soon became unpopular because next year they voted themselves £20,000, presumably to pay for this campaign.’.

When Lord Derby came to the throne in 1399 as Henry IV, he does not seem to have trusted his fellow Barons and Lords. Quite a few of them had been disposed of already by Richard but when, as was the custom Henry offered a free pardon, he said it was for all except ‘those Lords who met at Harynyng and Radcot Bridge’ they had to apply to him personally for pardon.’

The damaged bridge does not appear to have been repaired properly for seven years, for as we have seen, it was not until 1393 that permission to charge Pontage was given. Unlike the previous times only two years were granted which suggests a much greater volume of traffic was now using it. The job done was poor and nothing like the standard of the original builders. The central arch which they built was of a different type to the others and as can be seen by looking along the wall joints, has November 22nd Capt. Aytwood set off from Radcot with 30 horse to drive them out but found them much tougher than he thought. He succeeded in getting himself shot in the thigh and had to retire threatening to return with larger numbers. He immediately sent word to Faringdon. These sent off a party of 100 foot solders and 150 cavalry who were to charge into Lechlade after dark. When they arrived there at 7 o’clock the nearly full moon was high in the sky and the Roundheads, having been forewarned by Aytwood, were waiting for them. As the Royalists entered they were met by a withering fire from 60 musketeers hidden behind a wall. Six of the Royalists were killed and it took an hour and 20 minutes to extracate themselves with their wounded. Being fearful to cross St. John’s Bridge nearby, lest they should be ambushed again, they made off along the meadow road to Radcot.

About half an hour after they had got away, the Roundheads’ Cavalry appeared on the scene and taking some foot soldiers with them set off in pursuit. The Royalists, slowed down by their wounded were overtaken just as they were getting to the Manor House at Radcot. Confusion and panic must have reigned as 150 horse and nearly 100 foot solders with the wounded tried to get through the Manor gate to safety. Major Duett who was in charge of the Royalists must have personally led the fighting rear-guard for he with 20 others were killed, 30 more were taken prisoner and 26 horses and 60 firearms captured. One wonders how many of the killed were the wounded men trampled to death beneath the frightened horses. The Roundheads were free to take all they could find in the moonlight outside the walls. A few years ago Mrs. Lumsden the then owner of Radcot House whilst tidying up the bank outside her West wall came upon various bits of armour. Relics perhaps of this gruesome occasion.

The end of the war for Radcot came on May 24th 1646. In the middle of April local Roundheads under Col. Sanderson appeared blocking up every road so that the Royalists could only get out by stealth. The Parliamentarians knew the end was not far off so they were isolating all Royalist outposts. On May 10th Sir Thos. Fairfax’ who was laying siege to Oxford sent off a further company under CoI. Cook to take Radcot Bridge. When it became apparent that Col. Palmer and his men inside Radcot House had no intention of surrendering, the Roundheads decided to take it by storm. The fighting in and around the house became so fierce and so close that in the end the Roundheads were throwing grenades into the house itself, one actually falling right through the damaged floor into the cellar below. Col. Palmer now knew the situation was hopeless. After some six weeks of siege, food was short and now much of what was left was spoilt by the grenade. He decided to surrender. 100 men paraded from the house and laid down their guns on the grass outside whilst the Roundheads kept them covered. But such was the discipline of the Roundheads that although 6 of their number lay dead all the Royalists were allowed to go off to their various homes. The war for Radcot was indeed over, but strange to say in spite of the numbers killed there, none of their graves ever appear to have been found.

After the time of the Commonweath and during the reign of Charles II, Radcot regained its importance through a tragic happening, the Fire of London. The awful plagues that had ravaged the towns of our land on and off for generations came to a head in London in 1665. Next year in 1666 the old pest-ridden houses were alight. The fire began in September in a bakery fused to maintain it. Finally after some lengthy correspondence the County Council took it over. Pidnell Bridge, as it was very old, needed extensive repairs in 1860, according to the turnpike authorities. The Lord of the Manor was still the owner. This beautiful bridge appears to have been pulled right down and new piers built on the old foundations, but the arches were replaced by girders on which is the date 1863. The new bridge adds little to Radcot’s charm.’

In 1873 the Swan Inn was built by Mr. W. ‘F. Clare a well known member of a local family. That it replaced an older one is seen by a sale advert in the Jacksons Journal of March 1790 when an estate at Clanfield was being auctioned at the Swan Inn, Radcot. Baskerville’s reference to a’ Wyer ‘in 1692 suggests the old one was there, then.

For a good number of years now Radcot has been the centre for swimming and boating. In August 190020 a regatta was started by the then proprietor which continued for many years until the 30’s. Large crowds used to gather to watch the boating and swimming races. Great fun was also had in the sliding along and fighting on, the greasy pole. But the climax was the duck race, something that would 1 suppose not be allowed today. All the swimmers were lined up and a duck was let go in front. Sometimes the duck tried to get away by swimming under water. In the end someone always caught it and had a good dinner out of it. In 1909 Radcot was again the scene of fighting but this time no deaths were recorded. Large army manoeuvres took place in the area and once more Radcot Bridge became a battle ground.

Actual hostilities began on Monday, September 20th at 4 a.m. with the Red army field headquarters at Shipton-u-Wychwood and the Blues at Marlborough. 60 red cyclists immediately occupied Radcot Bridge and repulsed an attack by the blues. On Tuesday the blues drove out the reds and later in the day a dingdong battle broke out all around the bridge. It was recorded in the press ‘the Swan was ‘in ruins and a gun was put so close to the hotel that it blew out all the windows, emptied the old mulberry tree of fruit and it was said so frightened an old lady that she turned a somersault.’ It is to be hoped the last was a figment of the writer’s imagination.20

Little work was done in the area as all who could, followed the course of the battle on their bicycles. It finished up on Wednesday in a mangold field near Coleshill with the troops throwing mangolds at each other. The cost of this effort being £123,000 was a little more than that of 1387.

During the 1939/45 war the Thames valley was fortified against parachute landings. In between the rivers at Radcot two of these concrete block houses can still be seen. The bridge through much of the war was guarded by the Clanfield Home Guard with their quarters in a hen house. Many tales were told which like the fish, grew with telling. One such was the time two service girls decided to go out in a boat at night. Having misjudged something or other they finished up with nothing dry. The Home Guard had to turn out of their quarters. The rest of the night was spent with two very dejected girls inside, a strong guard outside, the rest of the guard sleeping under the wall, and a bridge that had to look after itself.

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