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Chapter II.


THE etymology of ‘Souldern’ is a subject of much speculation. The earliest record we have upon the subject, and this was written subsequently to the Norman Conquest, renders the name as ‘Sul-thorne.’ It is evident that this name is of Saxon origin, as no Norman scribe could have corrupted any anterior name into ‘thorne’ as the th was unknown to the Norman vocabulary, except in such Saxon expressions as ‘thane,’ ‘theft-book,’ &c. About two-thirds of the Saxon place-names are composed of two elements, each member being a noun, although the first is used as an adjective. This is in accordance with the genius both of the Saxon and English languages. The word grass-field, for instance, will serve as an example. The question then arises a, to the relationship the component parts bear to each other. ‘Sul,’ besides signifying ‘a plough,’ denoted ‘plough-land,’ as may be seen from the Saxon word ‘Sul-uicle,’ a small portion of plough-land―‘uicle,’ a little piece of anything. ‘Thorn’ might have denoted a brake of thorns; Dorn-burg in Germany corresponding to Thornbury in England. Ainsworth in his Dictionary gives ‘Sul’ as a current English word in the last century for a plough, although it is used now only locally. It is perhaps derived from ‘Sulcare,’ to plough or furrow."*

Another contributor to these “Notes,” to whom we are also much indebted, writes―“the name of Souldern, I think, is probably derived from ‘Sulod,’ or sylod, ‘acru,’ a ploughed place: exactly corresponding to the name given to the supposed tumulus (?) “Ploughley Hill.” Whilst the Rural Dean, the Rev. J. C. Blomfield, has suggested the derivation from “Sel”-thorn, “the great thorn,” as distinguishing it from Blackthorn and Highthorn, two places in the neighbourhood, and also in the line of the Portway.

The name appears in all public documents until 1469 as Sulthorn, with rare and very occasional variations of Suldren or Sul­phorne, ph being a mis-reading for the A.S. th.

* Contributed by Marmaduke Dolman, Esq.

The present village is in the Hundred of Ploughley, Deanery, Union, and County Court District of Bicester, in the Diocese and County of Oxford. It is bounded on the N. by Aynho (Northamptonshire), on the W. by the Cherwell, on the E. by Fritwell, and on the S. and S.W. by Fritwell and Somerton. The elevation of the high ground above Souldern is a little over 500 feet above the sea.

*“Souldern is mostly situated upon the lower beds of the Great Oolite. Below this, on the slope at the eastern end of tho village, the ferruginous sandy beds of the Inferior Oolite crop out. These surround the village in the form of a ring, a quarter of a mile wide. Exterior to this, and on still lower ground, the clays of the Upper Lias make an outer broken ring of about the same width, open to the east; one limb turning south towards Ploughley Hill. Above, towards the old tollgate, the lower beds of the Great Oolite again come in; and are well shown in the old quarries in Mr. Crook's field, where a good section of the flags and shells may be seen. In the “Memoir of the Geological Survey of Great Britain,” to accompany map 45, a drawing of this section is given, showing—

1—Vegetable soil resting on a band of clay.
3—White Marl.

The stone is strongly jointed and dips 4° to S.E. Many fossils may be seen; and Mr. Crook has some .fine slabs with fucoids from this place. Numerous species from somewhat higher beds are scattered about the field to the S.W. On the north side of the road leading to the Tower Farm, just within the allotment ground, a quarry, now apparently disused, shows the same beds dipping strongly to the north. A third of a mile to the N.E. there is another quarry with higher beds showing the commencement of a roll which once carried the continuation of these beds over there about the tollgate. The white limestones have been largely quarried about here for building purposes and road stone, and are still used for these purposes. The country between Souldern and Aynho is much broken by ‘faults;’ two cross Aynho Park from N.E. to S. W., the more southerly one coinciding with the county boundary; another runs from ‘Inland's Farm,’ skirts the village on the N.E., and is lost in the last-mentioned fault. They complicate the surface-geology, though the displacements are not very considerable. The following fossils were collected from the Great Oolite beds two years ago:—

* Kindly contributed by Mr. Beesley.

Chemnitza Lonsdalei, M. & L.
Ostrea cistata, Sow.
Ostrea Sowerbyi, M. & l.
Pecten vagans, Sow.
— sp.
Modiola imbricata, Sow.
— Lonsdalei, M. & L.
Macrodore Husoriensis, D'Arch.
Pteroperua costatula, Disl.
Cardium Stricklandi, M.& L.
Unicardium variosum.
Trigonia denticulata.
Lucina crassa.
Cypicardia Barthonica.
— Islipensis.
Ceronya Bajociana, D. orb.
— undulata, M.& L.
Homomya ventricosa, Ag.
Myacites decurtatus, Goldf.
— securiformis, M.& L.
— unioniformis, M. & L.
Pholadomaya Heraulti, Ag.
Rhynchonella concinna, Sow.
Stomatopora antiqua, T, &amp R.
— Mülleri.
Echinobrissus clunicularis, Lloyd.
— Woodwardi, Wr.

Many others might have been found.”    (Mr. Crook.)

The area is 2270 acres. The population (1887) is about 500. In 1879 there were 117 houses and 498 inhahitants: of these 262 were members of the Church of England, 63 “Exclusive Methodists,” 66 attended Church and Chapel indiscriminately, 39 Where Roman Catholics, and 62 ignored every form of religion. There are the Church, a Roman Catholic Chapel, and a Wesleyan Meeting House, in the village. The Rector, the Rev. Dr. Stephenson, states that before the opening of the Oxford and Birmingham Canal, which runs through the parish, the inhabitants of Souldern only numbered 160 to 200 souls. The nearest point whence coals could be obtained was from the adjoining county of Bucks, and it was almost impossible for the poor to get any fuel. The Canal having removed this difficulty, numerous families of labourers settled in the place, and in a few years the population more than doubled.

Souldern is 16 miles from Oxford, 3 from Deddington, 8 from Banbury, and 7 from Brackley and Bicester. The nearest Station is Aynho on the Great Western line, within 4 miles distance. From the want of capital or of energy, or more probably of both, on the part of the inhabitants, no successful attempt has been made to obtain a more direct route. The modern town is pleasantly situated on the outskirts of Aynho Park, and slopes down so abruptly from the turnpike house (well known to members of the Bicester Hunt as Souldern Gate) that little of it can be seen from the high road. After the short and abrupt descent to the town­well, whence a road branches off to the Church and Rectory, the village extends upwards and onwards in a westerly direction until it ends in the Manor House belonging to Col. Cox, which stands on the brow of the hill overlooking the valley of the Cherwell. In the main street are several substantial looking houses, built of the white stone of the neighbourhood; thatched cottages with apricot trees on most of the walls; and two Elizabethan buildings, occupied respectively by Mr. Thomas Merry and John Boddington. About 1851 Mr. James Minn gave a piece of land and 2 cottages adjoining, for the accommodation of school-teachers. Since the recent Education Act the school has been much altered and enlarged, a good house has been erected in place of the cottages, and a clock has recently been put up. Mr. and Mrs. Tingey (1887) are the present worthy master and mistress.

The supply of water in Souldern is abundant. A never failing stream rises in a field called “Bove-well,” which after supplying the town pond, passes the Rectory, and finally finds its way into the county brook, which divides Oxfordshire from Northamptonshire. Prior to the enclosure of 1856–7 there was another spring in that part of the common land called “Chadwell,” where the water was collected in a stone tank dedicated to St. Chad; unfortunately this well is now stopped up.

The population is chiefly agricultural. Until recently nearly every cottager had her lace pillow, but modern education has closed the doors of the three schools formerly devoted to the teaching of this industry in the parish. Souldern could at one time boast of its three crosses; but during the period of miserable Vandalism which succeeded the Reformation, and reached its height at the Great Rebellion, these were almost entirely destroyed. The steps and base of one, however, may still be seen in the churchyard; the base of another only, called Cole's Cross, in Col. Cox's field (see Charities); but of the third not a vestige is left. There are no remains of Butts in the parish, though probably these at one time existed, as by an ordinance of the 5th year of Edward IV, it was required that “Butts should be made in every township, at which the inhabitants were to shoot up and down upon all feast days, under the penalty of a half-penny for every time anyone of them neglected to perform this exercise.” We are inclined to think that the Butts at Souldern were placed where the bowling-green was afterwards established. Remains of the latter are to be traced on the right hand side of the road leading from the village to old Souldern Gate. The remains of the stocks are also to be seen at the corner near the Fox Inn.

The only days now kept with special customs in the village are 14 Feb., 29 May, the Feast Day, and Christmas. On Valentine's Day the children come round shouting—with outstretched hands, and laying great accent on the last line of the distich—

“Good morrow, Valentine!
I be yours and you be mine,
Plaze give us a Valentine.”

May Day, although shorn of some of its glories by the intolerance of the Puritans, is still May Day, for groups of children, dressed in their Sunday best, go from door to door with their pretty and often most tastefully arranged garlands, bright with kingcups and daisies and all the bravery of spring flowers, chanting the following quaint old ditty

“Gentlemen and Ladies,
  We wish you happy May,
We come to show our May Garland
  Because it is May Day.
    Chorus—Because it is May Day, &c.

A branch of May we bring to you
  And at your door it stands,
It is but a sprig, but it prospers a bough,
  The work of our LORD'S hands.
    Chorus—Gentlemen and ladies,” &c.,
        repeat 1st Verse.

On the 29th of May, the anniversary of the restoration of King Charles II., a large branch of oak is displayed in the principal street, and oak apples are extensively worn. On this day also the annual meeting of the Souldern Club or Friendly Society is held. This Club was originally established in 1816, but has been worked under a new system with great success for the last few years. There are at present (1886) 84 actual members who pay an admis­sion fee of 5s., and 4s. per quarter, and 12 honorary members, who subscribe from 10s. to one guinea per annum. Michael Blencowe and Jesse Lake are the stewards, and James Tingey treasurer and secretary; trustees, Messrs. Hill and Welford. The allowance during illness is nine shillings per week for one year, and half pay for any time of sickness afterwards. At the end of every five years the surplus fund, with the exception of £1 per head, is divided in proportion among the members. Those who have received more than the amount in sick pay, forfeit all claim in the division.

The Village Feast or Wake is kept on the first Stmday after the 18th of September. In all probability it was originally held on the first Sunday after the 8th, that day being the anniversary of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, to whom the Church is dedicated. We are told that as late as the middle of the present century Souldern feast was looked forward to from September to September. Open house was kept from Saturday till Monday; rich plum puddings were made and joints of beef cooked by all who could afford them, and the poorest cottage had its cake and bottle of home-made wine. Relations and friends from all parts flocked in, old friendships were renewed, and old differences made up.

The observance of the 5th of November has almost become a thing of the past; a contemptible bonfire just serves the purpose of collecting a few roughs.

Christmas is still kept up in somewhat of the olden style; carol singers and mummers come round to all the houses for more than a week beforehand. These mummers are said to be the representa­tives of the secular players, of whom John of Salisbury wrote in the 12th century that “their plays had little to do with morality  . . .  they consisted of comic tales, dialogues and stories, to which were added coarse and indecent jests.” Whether this description were true or not, it is an undoubted fact that mummers were welcome Christmas visitors in the halls and castles of England, and that the pieces performed by them were of a secular character as dislinguished from the miracle and mystery plays of the monks. What the plot of the modern performances may be we are at a loss to say, but as far as we can gather old John of Salisbury's description still holds good. There is a female called “Molly,” always represented by the biggest young man who can be found; a fight in which some-one is killed, and the doctor comes in on his hobbyhorse to bring the deceased to life. Then “Molly” has the toothache and the doctor operates on her, and extracts a tooth the size of a decanter stopper. His man “Jack” is in active attendance, and the Clown or Jack-pudding introduces himself in the following terms—

“Ear comes as never come yet,
With my gret yead, and my little wit;
My yead is gret, my wit is small,
I'll do my, dooty to plaze you all.”

As to costumes, the actors appear to have robbed every scarecrow in the parish; and as to thee play, it is difficult to say which is most to be wondered at—its intense stupidity or extreme vulgarity.

The greater part of the following biography was communicated to the late Mr. W. Wing, and may be foulld in his excellent work, “Annals of the Bicester Union.” Of Souldern worthies there are no records extant. The only individual of whom any notice remains is one Daniel Brown, surnamed ‘Belcher,’ a poor half-silly creature, the butt of the village, who is said to have performed many eccentric feats, among others that of riding on the back of a bull into the town pond. Being strictly honest he was often employed as a messenger, and at other times amused himself by wandering about the country. On one occasion he found his way as far as London, and feeling somewhat hungry after the long journey, he invested his all in the purchase of a lemon. This having failed to satisfy the cravings of hunger, and being too proud to beg, he found himself in Cheapside in a state of complete desti­tution. Fortunately Mr. Cartwright's carriage was passing at the time, Belcher hailed the coachman with delight, and although our hero looked anything but a creditable acquaintance, the man acted the part of a good Samaritan, took him to his own lodgings, gave him a meal, and sent him back to his native village by the next waggon with this ticket on his back, “Belcher Brown—Souldern Town—pass him on.” Whether he again visited the metropolis is not known; we hear nothing more of him but his will, which runs as follows—

“My soul I leave unto the Lord
  My body to the ground;
My 'bacca box to Master Ned,
  My clothes back to the Town.
Unto my old friend Shepherdless (sic)
  To him I leave my knige;
I think it best to make my will
  Whilst I have strength and life;
But if the Shepherd should be dead,
  My knife goes back to Master Ned.”

The Master Ned here referred to was one of the Clifford family, who had evidently shown Belcher some kindness. This document (the will) and the 'bacca box are ill the possession of the present Mr. Clifford.*

* The following anecdote has been related to us of another Souldern man. Having gone up in 1861 to London to see the Great Exhibition, he was, when inside the Palace. naturally enough, staring and gazing about him. when suddenly a fair specimen of the Yankee hailed him with “Wal, stranger, what are you looking for?” The Souldern man was equal to the oocasion, for he answered without hesitation, “Well. I was looking for a bigger fool than myself, and 1 think I've found un !