A Description of the Village of Steventon in 1999

Steventon is a medium-sized village of about 1500 people in central

southern England about 75 miles for the sea to the east">
 

A Description of the Village of Steventon in 1999

Steventon is a medium-sized village of about 1500 people in central

southern England about 75 miles for the sea to the east, south and west. It

is 4 miles south of Abingdon and 12 miles south of Oxford on the main

trading route that has linked the Midlands with Winchester and the port of

Southampton since pre-Roman times. London is 60 miles to the east, and

since 1840 the main railway line from London to Bristol has passed through

the village, though it lost its own station when the railway network was

simplified in the mid-1960s.

The village lies at the southern edge of the Thames Valley. Further south

is Steventon Hill, the precursor of the Berkshire Downs, part of the long

line of chalk hills that stretch from the Dorset coast to Norfolk and then,

turning north, through Lincolnshire to the cliffs of Flamborough Head in

Yorkshire. This is ancient country, for along the line of these hills runs

the Ridgeway, the oldest road in England. More than 5000 years ago it was

the route along which the flint of East Anglia was traded for Phoenician

bronze wares. From the crest of Steventon Hill, a rambler has excellent

views of a tranquil landscape, dotted here and there with rural villages and

small market towns — still the very essence of the southern English

countryside.

To the north, the land rises slowly to the line of corallian-limestone

hills stretching east and west of Oxford, the first occurrence of stone for

house-building as one travels from the southeast across England. Beyond

these are the Cotswolds, also of limestone and justly famous for their

stone-built towns and villages. Most of the land to the west of Steventon

is agricultural and very flat, the site of a post-glacial lake bed, now

called the Vale of the White Horse for the elegant tribal figure carved into

the chalk hillside in about 1500 BC. Four miles away to the east is the

railway junction of Didcot. The six cooling towers of the adjacent Power

Station tend to dominate this part of the Thames Valley, being the first

feature a traveller sees as he comes over Chiltern Hills from London or the

Berkshire Downs from Winchester and Newbury. They are even visible from

near Burford at the edge of the Cotswolds, 25 miles away!

The Parish of Steventon covers 2,401 acres and its boundaries are, for much

of their length, mediaeval in origin. The land is very flat and the village

was once marshy and subject to flooding. The small Ginge Brook, which rises

some 5 miles away at Lockinge, near Wantage, runs through the village from

west to east, with many parallel streams and ditches. It meanders rather

secretively through Steventon. To the casual observer the stream is visible

only where it passes under Mill Lane and where it is crossed by Stocks Lane.

Its passage under the High Street is almost completely hidden. Of the three

mills noted in the Domesday Book, only one remains, now a private residence

although used for milling up to the first quarter of the 20th century. Part

of the Berks & Wilts canal crosses the north-east corner of the Parish, but

it was abandoned in 1905 and is now filled in and its route not easy to

recognise.

The village is 200 ft above sea level at the village green but Steventon

Hill rises to 300 ft. The subsoil is Kimmeridge Clay, Gault and Upper

Greensand. The warm Upper Greensand between Steventon and Blewbury has

fostered the growing of fruit, notably cherries famous since the reign of

Queen Anne and celebrated in the song "Cherry Ripe". Nowadays, the

orchards on these higher levels produce apples, plums, redcurrants and

blackcurrants.

The village is roughly star-shaped. From north-east to south-west runs the

Causeway; the road from the neighbouring village of Hanney approaches from

the west; while the road from Abingdon, the High Street, traverses the

village from north to south. This last, a turnpike road of the 18 Century,

has thankfully been displaced a mile to the east by the modern 2+2 trunk

highway, the A34, with its intensive traffic of cars and lorries.

The ancient Causeway, a raised flood-path, was the main highway through

Steventon in mediaeval times. Originally the spine of the village, it

intersects the High Street almost at right-angles and runs from near

Milton's parish boundary in the north-east for nearly a mile to the church

at the south-western edge of the village. Whereas most of the houses built

during the present century have been sited along other roads or subsidiary

village streets, the old village with its timber-framed houses lay parallel

with the Causeway. A considerable number of these fine old houses date from

the 16th and 17th Centuries are still standing, having been modernised with

care in recent years.

The Parish Church of St. Michael and All Angels belongs largely to the

Decorated Period, although it contains evidence of a former Early English

church on the same site, as well as three Perpendicular windows of a later

age. The layout of the church, with its bell-tower on the south wall, is

also rather curious. The most striking feature of the building, perhaps, is

its fine wagon-truss roof. In the churchyard are several yew trees, most of

which were planted in the 19th century. One yew tree, however, standing near

the north-west corner of the nave, has a massive bole and is reckoned to be

about 1,200 years old.

Opposite the church to the south is Manor Farm, a Georgian brick-built

building dating from the 18th century. Behind Manor Farm stands an old

granary barn, raised on brick arches. Following the Causeway eastwards from

the church, the first building on the right-hand side is the Priory, a fine

three-gabled house now divided into three dwellings. A little farther on is

the Old Vicarage, a timber-framed building with two gabled wings. Several

19th Century brick cottages were built in the spaces between these old

houses. On the opposite side of the Causeway is Rookery Farm of 1650, as

well as two modern bungalows. Beyond is the level crossing over the railway,

and then follows a delightful row of timber-framed houses dating from the

14th, 15th and 16th centuries. These culminate in Tudor House, a gabled

building marked with the date 1657, although the original structure is

considerably older. Opposite Tudor House is the village school, built in

1864 and enlarged in 1890.

The North Star, a picturesque public house named after the locomotive that

pulled the first trains out of Paddington Station in London in 1837 — and as

far as Steventon in 1840 — stands next to Tudor House. At this point the

metalled Causeway Road crosses the raised flood-path, and Stocks Lane comes

in from the south. A small triangular island at the road junction, planted

with flower-beds and supporting a mature horse-chestnut tree, marks the

position in former times of the village stocks — strategically located in

front of the ancient Inn!

The street from here to the main road is lined on one side with houses,

most of comparatively recent construction but including some interesting old

buildings, notably the Little House, Pound House and Cruck Cottage (which

has been dated by dendrochronology to the spring of 1415, the year of the

Battle of Agincourt). Opposite each of the ancient houses along the

Causeway tiny flagstone bridges and pitched steps provide access across the

ditch and up to the Causeway crest. Since no such amenities exist in front

of the later houses, the little bridges provide good evidence for the layout

of the village in olden times.

Between the Causeway and St. Michael's Way is a small green enclosing a

children's playground in one corner, and several acres of allotment gardens.

At the High Street, in the angle formed by the Causeway and the Hanney Road,

stands the village War Memorial, a stone cross with pedestal and base-slab.

The Causeway continues to the north-east of the High Street as Milton Lane,

with a number of intreting old houses on its south-easterly side. A

famously spacious village Green occupies the area on the opposite side of

the Causeway here, lined by a wide ditch beside the Abingdon Road and a

handsome row of forty mature chestnut trees planted in 1887 to celebrate

Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Several houses, including Butcher's Farm,

lie to the north of the Green. The King's Arms, an old coaching inn halfway

between Birmingham and Southampton, overlooked the Green from the west until

it closed recently. The elevated Causeway skirts the Green and then peters

out, becoming a cobbled path proceeding a short distance in the direction of

Milton village. The Causeway thus forms the spine of the ancient village.

In the High Street, running south from the War Memorial to the road bridge

over the railway, are a number of shops, a petrol-filling station, two

attractive old inns named The Fox and The Cherry Tree, as well as one or two

old houses. Astride the railway line on the west side of the bridge is the

site of Steventon Station, opened in 1840 and closed in 1965. An industrial

site was developed here in 1989. Behind the old station yard are two

impressive stone buildings, designed by Brunel, one of which used to be the

station-master's dwelling and the other famously the board-room of the Great

Western Railway for six months of 1840 and subsequently a hotel for

passengers continuing by road to Oxford before its branch line from Didcot

was opened in 1844. Both houses are now privately owned.

 

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