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BRITWELL SALOME, Oxfordshire - the home of the STEVENS Family

Click here to view the STEVENS Family Tree,
The Stevens Family History

My grandmother, Hannah Louisa Newman, was the daughter of Louisa Stevens and Charles Bulley.

The Stevens family are first found in the village of Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire. The first persons who "belong" to our family that I have found there are John Stevens and his wife Susannah. These would be my four times great grandparents. I can find no record of this couple either being born, marrying or dying in Britwell Salome but their children were born there. The children were Susannah, baptised 7th March 1757, Mary, baptised April 1760, John, baptised 2nd March 1762, Elizabeth, baptised 13th July 1766 and my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Stevens(1), baptised 11th August 1771.
On 11th April 2010 I had an email from Denise Thomas who is descended from John and Susannah Stevens through their grandson Joseph. She told me that John died on 1st February 1800 and Susannah 22nd February 1809.

In the Spring of 1999 I was able to visit Britwell Salome. It is a very small and delightful village surrounded by rolling farmland and distant hills. Its church, St Nicholas, a small compact building, is about half a mile from the village. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with two ladies who had lived there for many years and one of them, Mrs Rust, was able to tell me where some members of the Stevens family had lived although, unfortunately, no Stevens live in the village now. She was also able to lend to me a wonderful little book called "The Two Britwells", compiled by Biddy O'Sullivan, which is full of interesting and useful information about the two Britwells and the people who lived there. The two Britwells mentioned are two adjoining villages, or hamlets, Britwell Prior and Britwell Salome.

Information taken from the old church register book and reproduced in this book says that the Stevens family were in Britwell from approximately 1720. However in a much earlier will of a Britwell Salome woman, Mary Gregory, in 1676, is found the following:- "all the rest and residue of my goods and Chattles Credits plate and implements of household whatsoever unbeqeathed I give to and bequeath unto my loving niece Sarah Stevens who I doe hereby make and Ordain sole and whole Executrix of this my last will and Testament." Mary Gregory had also stipulated that she wanted to be buried in the church of `Brittwell Sallome' and apparently there was a monument to her in the church which carried an inscription that "her lovinge niece Sarah Stevens hath erected this monument" Whether or not this Sarah Stevens has any connection with our family I cannot say, nor do I know where the Stevens family were before we find them in Britwell Salome.

Both the words "Britwell" and "Salome" have had various spellings and pronunciations over the years. There seems to be some confusion of whether Britwell was given to Christ Church, Canterbury in 979 by Aelfthryth or by Emma, wife of Canute, in 1032. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 as follows:-

"Amalric holds of Milo five hides in Brutewell. Land for three ploughs. Now in demesne one plough and two serfs and seven villeins with one bordar have one plough. There are seven acres of meadow. Underwood three furlongs in length and one in breadth. It was and is worth 3 li.[pounds] Wlstan held it freely. From the five hides of this land Amalric has rendered neither geld nor anything else. In the same ville William holds one hide of Milo, land for one plough. There are two villeins and six acres of coppice. It was and is worth ten s."

At one time there was a castle in Britwell which was held for King Steven against the son of the Empress Matilda, Henry Plantagenet in 1153. After Steven's death in 1154 Henry Plantagenet, (by then Henry II), had the multitude of castles which had been built in the time of Steven, including that at Britwell, razed to the ground. The only signs of it now are the names "Castle Hill", "Castle Church" (for the Britwell Prior chapel) and a tree covered mound "two and a half chains from the road leading to the present church."

In 1235 it is recorded that Almaric de Suleham (one of the spellings of Salome) was lord of the manor of Brutewell (a spelling of Britwell). This appears to be the first time that the two names came together.

In "The Two Britwells" (which I now have a copy of) I found a John Stevens who is listed as a member of the Homage in the Court Baron in Britwell Salome in the year 1766. I guess this is our John. This was a position under the Manorial System which can be compared today to a parish councillor so he must have had a reasonable standing in the village.

In mediaeval times, the tenants on a manor were totally subordinate to the Lord of the Manor, and when from time to time he held open court, they would all have to come along, place their hands between his, and swear homage to him - to be his men for ever, obeying all his orders, fighting for him as necessary.

This image of pure loyalty and submission slipped over the years, and lords mostly never bothered to attend their courts, which became purely business affairs, every six or twelve months. The business of the court was to report the death of any copyhold tenant and state who his natural heirs were; surrendering a tenancy to be passed on, or being admitted to one; paying rents and dues etc., to report any infringement of the rights of one tenant by the lord or by another tenant (stopping up streams, blocking paths, encroaching on another's land or on the common ground, running sheep or cattle on pasture before the set date, and so on).

By the 17th Century, the lord rarely attended, but operated through a steward, either his direct employee or a local lawyer appointed to handle his affairs. The tenants too did not all bother to attend court, though they had either to send an excuse (essoin) or pay a few pence for a while. By the mid 18th century even this fine ceased. Those who did come were generally either those with direct business (reporting death, claiming admission to land, etc.) or the sort of people who always come (usually the older, less directly working men).

These tenants who actually attended court formed the Homage, though often a less loyal and submissive bunch you would go a long way to find. They spoke on rights and customs and often enforced their views on the steward, especially if he was an outsider who didn't know 'Custom of the Manor, zur, from time of me grandfer and his grandfer'. They were there to see fair play, or enjoy the fun of a fight. If there was a major dispute, off they went to London as witnesses.

St Nicholas, Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire.

So, as our ancestor, John Stevens, is listed as in the Homage, he must have been a tenant (free or copyhold), probably among the older and bigger properties. As by my estimation he would have been quite young, probably in his thirties, he was probably there to handle some business or to argue about some right. The business of this particular Homage was to do with defining the boundaries between fields, "all the greatest part of the landmarks in the common fields are ploughed up or decayed and therefore we do order boundary stones to be fixed in the usual places within twelve months from this day, and that no tenant shall plough up the ground within one foot of each side of the said boundary stone or landmark, upon forfeiture of ten shillings for each plowing (sic)", disputed tenancy of land, money owing for back rents, making sure that animals were not driven in certain places, deciding the time when the ploughing should be done (wheat fields at Bartholomew tide other fields at Michaelmas tide) and encroachments in the Highways and Commons between the Lord and the tenants and tenants and tenants.

John and Elizabeth Steven's youngest son, Thomas Stevens (1) was married to a woman called Elizabeth. This may have been Elizabeth Eason (or Ashton) as a marriage has been found on 18 July 1793 in Oxford, at the church of St Martin between a Thomas Stevens to Elizabeth Eason (or Ashton) and this date fits quite well with the births of his children. There are later connections with Oxford in the family too. Thomas and Elizabeth lived in Britwell Salome and their 9 children were born there. They were Martha, baptised 18th October 1793, Elizabeth, baptised 22nd November 1795, Mary, baptised 1st May 1798 and buried 3rd June 1798, another Mary, baptised 18th August 1800, Ann, baptised, 4th September 1803, John, baptised 10th November 1805, Louisa, baptised 13th May 1808, Thomas (2) (my great-great-grandfather), baptised 29th March 1810, Henry, baptised 12th July 1812 and Joseph, baptised 18th August 1816.

Thomas Stevens (1) died, and was buried in Britwell Salome on 6th December 1824. Elizabeth was buried there on 23 January 1836. In the parish register Thomas (1) is named as a watchmaker.

The house that was once called "Elm Tree Cottage"
where John Stevens lived. Now called "The Old Post Office"

In "The Two Britwells" I found the mention of two other men with the name of Stevens. These had been taken from the "Gazetteer & Directory of Oxfordshire" of 1841. They are J. Stevens, Iron-founder and J. Stevens, Baker and Grocer. The same two are named as tenants paying tithes to the incumbent of the Britwell Salome church, St Nicholas when in 1844 the tithes were commuted to rents.

On the apportionment for the tithe map of 1843 we find that John Stevens owns three houses. Two of these are let (one to a Joseph Stevens) and the other he lives in himself. The one that was let to Joseph Stevens is "Canary Cottage" where Mrs Rust lives. It is now a fairly character-less, pale brick cottage but she told me that it used to be covered with a yellow creeper (hence its name) and had a thatched roof. The house that John lived in himself was, at that time called "Elm Tree Cottage". Mrs Rust was able to show us which house this was, although it is now called "The Old Post office". I am fairly certain that this John Stevens is a son of Thomas Stevens (1), my three times great-grandfather and that Joseph Stevens is his younger brother. John Stevens seems to have been an iron founder and Joseph a baker and grocer.

Next door to The Old Post Office is a house built of a mixture of brick and flint, as are most of the houses in Britwell Salome, but The Old Post Office is mostly of brick. If, as is likely, it was built in the 18th century, then brick was regarded as a far more `up market' material to stone or flint. As John was the eldest son in the family it is highly possible that "Elm Tree Cottage" was inherited from his father who may also have lived in the house with his wife, Elizabeth. It is a big family house. Maybe it is where Thomas (2) was brought up.

Also mentioned on the 1843 tithe apportionment is a Thos. Stevens as occupying a cottage belonging to Lowndes Stone (a big landowner) in Britwell Prior. This was certainly not my three times great-grandfather, Thomas Stevens (1) as he had died in 1824 and does not seem to be my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Stevens (2) either as it would seems that he had moved to Oxford before that date. From his Australian death certificate his eldest daughter is listed to have been born in Oxford in about 1831 and neither his marriage nor the birth of any of his children are mentioned in the parish records of Britwell Salome.

Map of Britwell Salome with a key to the properties of John and Joseph Stevens. John Steven also owned `an allotment on Britwell Hill' which is not on this map.

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