Traces of ancient Walton
Posted - December 06, 1996
An excavation behind a house in Walton Street offered a glimpse of a late-Saxon settlement and a medieval farmhouse.
The ancient name of Walton implies a settlement beyond the walls of Oxford. So its origins must be later than the first walls built around Oxford by the Saxons in AD 911. Nevertheless the ancient manor of Walton was certainly in existence before the Norman conquest in 1066.
This was quite a large area - stretching from the Northgate to the southern boundary of Wolvercote and including the land between the Thames to the East and the Cherwell to the West. The name ‘Walton Field’ occurs in the late 12th century and within 200 years the whole of north Oxford was known by this name. The modern Walton Manor Estate which lies to the north of Jericho was the result of a planned development by St. John’s in the 1860s.
Much of Walton Field was agricultural land. There was only one settlement worthy of the name and that was the ‘Waltone’ mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. Later we know that between 1210 and 1228 the priory of St. Frideswides (in Botley Road) which held possessions in Walton granted land to William, the son of the dean. He had to return most of this to pay his debts, but asked for a lease for life of ‘the principal house at Walton with its garden and meadow’. This was the first real indication of a particular building in medieval Walton. Then in 1306 there is mention of a grange (an independent monastic farm) belonging to the abbot of Osney, which according to the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire, was ‘presumed to be on the site of the later manor house’. But where was that?
One clue appears following the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1541 Henry VIII sold the monastery holdings in Walton to his physician Georg Owen, and in 1573 Georg’s son Richard sold them on to St. John’s College. At this point the description of the property refers to ‘the ferme house in Walton’ and a medieval survey in the college records shows the chief part of the property to lie to the west of Walton Street so there is a good chance that the farm house also lay on the west side. A further clue is provided by Anthony Wood, writing in 1661 ‘... I shall speak of ... Walton Street ... leading from Stockwell Street by Gloucester College to Walton farme’, indicating that the farm lay somewhere close to the end of Walton Street. On the basis of these indications, Anthony Clarke in 1889 located the farm house roughly where the chapel once stood in St. Sepulchre’s cemetery.
But a small-scale excavation behind 75 Walton Street some years ago suggests an alternative location. The excavation revealed a small pit containing finds belonging to the late Saxon settlement. This was sealed by a layer of rubbish of the 15th and 16th centuries, including a glazed ridge tile, and a piece of glazed floor tile, suggesting a building more substantial than a peasant’s cottage. A likely candidate is the medieval ‘ferme house in Walton’. The large timber-framed house at 73 Walton Street seems a probable successor of 18th century date.
Author: Ray Inskeep, Walton Street