Village History

There may have been people living in this area as long ago as the Iron Age. We certainly know that there was a lot of activity here in Roman times, as a Roman pavement and other remains have been discovered. When the Romans left, the Saxons took their place. Inevitably, little is known about this early history, but both Steeple and Middle Aston are mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

It is thought that there was a church here before that date, but the first record of a Rector of Steeple Aston dates from 1180. There is a 13th century stone coffin lid in the churchyard. The church’s font is thought to be of Norman origin, and the rest of the church we see today was added over several hundred years. The tower, for example was built at the end of the 14th century, probably replacing an earlier one.

In 1640, the village school was founded by Dr Samuel Radcliffe, the Rector of Steeple Aston and Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford. In Northside, you can see the original school, which is now a private house. Next door are the Old School House built for the schoolmaster, and two almshouses which Dr Radcliffe also funded.

The village has benefited from its close contacts with Oxford and the university in particular. Several interesting characters have lived here, including famous academics and military men. Among the most notorious was Sir Francis Page, known as “the hanging judge”, who was the owner of Middle Aston Estate. In 1730 he commissioned a grand memorial to himself and his wife, which can still be seen in the village church.

The village grew and thrived over the centuries. In 1831 the population was 562, by the time of the 1991 census the total had risen to 874. As transport improved, even more people wanted to come and live here, and more houses were built during the 20th century. Many newcomers arrived in the village, including the novelist and philosopher, Dame Iris Murdoch, who lived with her husband Professor John Bayley at Cedar Lodge in Northside for 30 years.

Other newcomers included, for a while, Americans from the US Air Force base at Upper Heyford. The base is now closed, the F111s have gone home, and the skies above Steeple Aston are much quieter as a result. This has made our village an even more desirable place to live in the 21st century.

Further information

SAVA

The Steeple Aston Village Archive Trust was set up in 2000. It has established a physical archive, which is kept in the village hall, and holds a Spring Talk and Autumn Exhibition every year.

SAVA has also produced several CDs containing village photos and back copies of the village magazine Steeple Aston Life, and a third that contains complete facsimiles of three rare books about the history of Steeple and Middle Aston: History of Steeple and Middle Aston (1929) by The Reverend C. C. Brookes. Annals of Steeple Aston and Middle Aston (1875) and Antiquities and History of Steeple Aston (1845), both by William Wing.

SAVA also publishes booklets based on its exhibitions, including “Business and trade – 300 years of commerce in Steeple Aston”, “Steeple Aston at War” and “Village Personalities”. To order any of these publications go to the SAVA website (www.steepleastonarchive.org.uk). The website also has further historical information, photographs and the catalogue of items kept in the archive. There are also useful links to other websites for those interested in local or family history.

Village History Online

The British History Online website includes a full searchable copy of A History of the County of Oxford, Volume XI: Wootton Hundred (Northern Part) edited by Alan Crossley

This volume contains histories of 19 parishes in the northern part of Wootton Hundred, stretching from Stonesfield, Wootton, and Tackley in the south to Deddington, Barford St. Michael, and South Newington in the north; the other parishes are Glympton, Heythrop, Rousham, Sandford St. Martin, the Astons, the Bartons, the Wortons, and the three Tews.

The book, which was first published in 1983, is part of the Victoria County History Series, and includes a history of Steeple and Middle Aston from the 11th to the 20th century with extensive footnotes for those who want to pursue the subject further.

To see the Steeple and Middle Aston section, please click here.

Further reading

Three booklets on the history of the village written by local resident Jean Stone are available from the village shop. They are are A Century of Change, Steeple Aston 1900-2000 (2007), A Stroll Through Steeple Aston (1999) and The Steeple Aston War Memorial (1997). There is also An Account of Steeple Aston Church (June 1982, updated 2003) and a personal memoir, The Rector of Steeple Aston 1946-1976 by Michael Hayter. Both are on sale in the church.

If you are interested in tracing your family history in Steeple Aston or nearby, try the Oxfordshire Family History Society website for lots of useful services and links. It’s www.ofhs.org.uk