Buildings and infrastructure, past and present
The Roman Roads
Much of Central England is bounded by a great equilateral triangle of Roman roads, with vertices at St Albans, Cirencester and High Cross (Leics). Its sides are Watling Street (now the A2 and A5), running north-west from Dover to Wroxeter (near Shrewsbury); the Fosse Way, running north-east from Exeter to Lincoln; and Akeman Street, running west from St Albans to Cirencester. One reference to our Roman road calls it Stratton Road, though Strat can refer to any Roman street. It runs from Dorchester-on-Thames to Towcester, crossing Akeman Street just south of Bicester at a substantial Roman settlement called Alchester (note that Bicester itself, despite its name, is not a Roman settlement - see its local history website). Stratton Road runs along the line of the A4421 Bicester to Finmere road and passes the door of Finmere's pub, The Red Lion, before petering out in fields as it makes its way to us. Its line crosses the river well to the north-west of the present road bridge and joins the modern road near Town Farm (see below). From there it sticks fairly closely to (but slightly east of) the line of the road through the village and on through Stowe Park, eventually meeting Watling Street at Towcester.
While the line of Stratton Road is clearly visible in many places, there is less evidence for another Roman road - from Water Stratford to Stony Stratford, an undoubted Roman settlement twelve miles away where Watling Street forded the Great Ouse. The Vicar of Buckingham from 1854 to 1862, Revd Henry Dawson Roundell, was an antiquarian who is quoted by Sheahan in 1862 as stating, 'There is very little doubt of the existence of a Roman road from Stony Stratford to Water Stratford. The course is marked by the Roman remains at Foxcot (now called Foscote), at Castlefield two miles from Foxcot and in the parish of Buckingham (now called Castle Fields and lying on the north west edge of Buckingham), and again by remains found at Radclive and Tingewick.' If this claim is valid then much of the route would be on the line of the present A422 from Buckingham to Stony Stratford. It is not clear what relevance Roundell saw in Roman remains at Tingewick, as a line from Water Stratford to Castle Fields passes well north of Tingewick and even Radclive. There is also potential for confusion between Foscote near Buckingham and Foscote near Towcester, which also claims Roman remains. Finally, as Stony Stratford and Towcester are only about seven miles apart, one wonders why the Romans should need two routes from Water Stratford to Watling Street. However, our village's earlier name of West Stratford would make good sense if it were at the western end of a road to Stony Stratford. Perhaps the two routes flourished at different periods of the Roman occupation.
The Domesday Book
otal tax assessed was 8 gold units which is very large compared to other places. The households were headed by 10 villagers. 5 smallholders and 3 slaves. The village's value to its lord was £7. There was land for 8 ploughlands (3 lord's plough teams and 5 men's plough teams), plus meadowland, 6 ploughs. and a mill.
People mentioned in relation to the village are: 'Alric; Alwig, man of Alwine Varus; Azur son of Toti; Beorhtric, thegn of King Edward; Doding, man of Esger the staller; Ealdraed, man of Earl Morcar; Edmund, thegn of King Edward; Esger the staller; Fin the Dane; Geoffrey de Mandeville; Germund; Gilbert de Ghent; Miles Crispin; Osbert; Queen Edith; Ralph; Ralph Basset; Robert; Robert Gernon; Robert d'Oilly; Roger; Swaerting; Swaerting, man of Esger the staller; Swein, man of Esger the staller; Turstin; Ulf, man of Esger the staller; Ulf, thegn of King Edward; William de Keynes.' Clearly many of these were higher authorities but some must have been village inhabitants
If any building still standing in the village was ever home to the 'Lords of the Manor' then this house, the most northerly within the village curtilage, is the only contender. It bears a date stone inscribed 1598 (probably the year of its completion, as the sale document of 1919 gives a date of 1578) and the upper flight of the staircase has early 17th century pierced balusters. It was much altered in 1669 and parts of the building are much more recent. The date of 1598 means that it was built, and perhaps lived in, by Anthony Frankish (1540-1615) who was Lord of the Manor at that time. His eleventh child and fourth son, Edward, was christened in Water Stratford on 17th September 1598.
However, the present farmhouse for Manor Farm was built on open land in 1971 and this, together with the evidence of the censuses, makes it clear that for most of its existence this building served as the farmhouse for Manor House Farm. The change of name to The Manor presumably reflected the fact that after 1971 it no longer had any connection with the farm.
The censuses show that the farm was around 300 acres. It was farmed by tenants: Thomas Tomes in 1911 and William Townsend in 1901 and 1891, but much of its history is bound up with the Lines family. Benjamin Lines married Rebecca Hinton in Water Stratford in 1768 and their eldest son, Edward, was born here in 1770. Edward and his wife Ann had eleven children in the village between 1798 and 1814. Edward died in 1839 and the occupants of the farm at the time of the first census in 1841 were three of his children, Benjamin, John and Sarah. Although John had moved to another village by 1851, it was his son, Benjamin Augustus, who took over the farm after his uncle Benjamin died in 1865. His aunt Sarah never married and remained on the farm all her life, dying there in 1875. Farming tended to become much less profitable towards the end of the century and it seems likely that Manor House Farm couldn't support Benjamin Augustus, his wife and seven children. In 1901 and 1911 he was driving a horse-drawn tram in Hackney, and he died in West Ham in 1923.
At the sale of 1919 Thomas Tomes bought the freehold to 263 acres for £5,000 but he died in 1928 and Buckinghamshire County Council became the new owner. In 1936 the north-eastern 138 acres of the farm were bought by a private farmer and named Spinney Hill Farm, while BCC kept the remainder. In 1971 it sold the house to a private owner and built a new farmhouse for what was now called Manor Farm.
The Old Rectory
The Rectory was built by 1639 for Samuel Marshall, Vicar from 1627 to 1642, so was relatively new when Revd John Mason became Rector in 1674. The upstairs window from which it is thought he addressed his followers at the end of his life is still there. This house was thatched but the rectory was almost doubled in size in 1819 with the addition of a new, slate-roofed, South wing. This followed the arrival of Revd Woolley Leigh Bennett and his young family (four children when he was appointed and three more born here). Renovation took place in 1834, still in Bennett's time, and in 1878 Revd Edward George Andrew had much of the original building rebuilt. Presumably the remaining thatch was replaced with slate on one of these dates.
The building was occupied by Rectors until the outbreak of war in 1939 when Revd Leslie Buttle left to be Assistant Chaplain of Felsted School and a chaplain in the RNVR (he died in 2009, aged 101). It was used for evacuees during the war and they included enough children to necessitate reopening the village school, which had closed in the early 1930s. After the war it was sold and became a private house.
Town Farm was built in the 17th Century but only one gable end is left from the original, as most was destroyed by fire and rebuilt early in 1919. Just as the history of Manor Farm revolves around the Lines family, so Town Farm is tied to the Morris and Hilsdon families. The censuses show that from at least 1841 to 1883, Joseph Morris (1780-1856) and then his bachelor sons John (1803-83) and Thomas (1805-63) were tenant farmers of around 140 acres. As Joseph was born in the village, it seems likely that his father John Morris farmed here before him.
In 1891 Ernest P Smith is shown as a farm manager but around 1896 William Hilsdon arrived from the Brill area of Buckinghamshire and he and his descendants were farmers here for the next hundred years. William was a tenant but his son Henry bought the freehold to 167 acres for £5,000 at the great auction of 1919. In 1998 the farmhouse became a private house and new houses were built on parts of the farmyard but branches of the Hilsdon family still farm in Water Stratford and surrounding parishes.
Water Stratford House and the Trumpet Clock
The Trumpet Clock is a notable folk memory in Water Stratford and neighbouring Finmere. Its story starts with the Clark family who were minor gentry, originally from Chetwode Priory but tenants of Finmere House from 1830 until about 1894. Dr James Clark (1796-1873) and his brother Charles (1800-78) were both GPs but appear to have practised very little and are probably better thought of as educated gentlemen experimenters and philanthropists. They did a great deal for Finmere and nearby villages and were particularly interested in clocks, reputedly giving the church clocks in both Finmere and Barton Hartshorn, the latter village being where they are buried. The Finmere local history site has pictures and more information concerning the Clark brothers,
James and his two sisters (who also lived at Finmere House) died unmarried but Charles' marital situation was most unusual: he married and had two daughters by a local maid, Eliza Ford, but they did not live with him and she falsely described herself as a widow in the 1861 and 1871 censuses when she was living in lodgings. But by 1881 Eliza was mistress of Finmere House: James, Charles and their elder sister were dead and the younger sister had moved away. Presumably either James or the elder sister (both older than Charles) had refused to receive Charles' low-born wife and only their deaths in 1872/3 allowed Eliza to move into her husband's house.
James Parke Sikes (1817-68) was a gentleman farmer of 400 acres at Tilton on the Hill, Leicestershire. Aged 44 he took a young wife, Harriett Needham (1841-1903), by whom he had five children, the eldest being John and James. He died seven years after the marriage and Harriett soon married a Scottish youth 10 years her junior. They embarked on a nomadic life through the English midlands and in 1881 were at Shelswell, a hamlet close to Finmere. It seems probable that while there she would have made the acquaintance of the newly widowed Eliza Clark and may well have introduced her to her eldest son, John Sikes (1862-1926).
Local folklore says the Trumpet Clock was built by John Sikes for the Clark brothers but this is clearly untrue: he was only 16 when Charles Clark died in 1878 and still an apprentice in Leicestershire in 1881. He must have been employed by Eliza Clark to complete or mend an existing clock. But the connection didn't end there, as he married her younger daughter Elizabeth Clementina (1868-1939), soon after the birth of their first child, John Edgar Boyfield Sikes. Eliza died in 1892 and the Sikes family and the clock moved to Water Stratford House in 1894/5. This house is believed to have been started in 1699 and extended in the 1800s, but recent re-pointing revealed that one gable is about 350 years old and the other about 300. The bricks used are thought to have been produced at a Water Stratford brickworks near the river that existed before WWI.
The Trumpet Clock had four trumpets which sounded the hours and eighteen bells to chime the quarters. It is believed that the trumpets could be heard at a distance of five or more miles and could be used to summon Dr Clark if needed. John Sikes is also thought to have built the clock at Stowe House, now Stowe School, for the birthday of Lady Kinloss. He had seven children by Elizabeth and the sonorous name of his first son was eclipsed by some of his later offspring: his second son was Thomas Hazlerigge Hastings Sikes and his second daughter Winifred Martinall Saddington Basildon Sikes.
In 1918, John’s eldest daughter, Clementina Gwendoline Sikes (1890-1972), married her first cousin, Robert Gordon Sikes, who is listed on the Water Stratford war memorial. He was born in 1888 in Leicestershire, the son of James, the younger brother of John Sikes of Water Stratford House. Clementina was living in Water Stratford when Robert died and had a son, also Robert Gordon, in September 1919. She continued to live in the village until her death. All John Sikes' family had nicknames: in her youth she was Boff, a good cricketer who coached the Water Stratford lads, and in later years was Granny Sikes, a stalwart of the church, playing the organ and taking the collection. She was her father's executor and in 1949 is believed to have contested the ownership of Water Stratford House with her eldest brother's widow in the High Court. The matter was finally resolved with the sale of the house out of the Sikes family in the 1950s. The new owner of the house dismantled the clock and suggested it should be installed in Buckingham Town Hall but this never happened and the clock is back in his family's possession. It weighs a ton and needs very expensive expert renovation, so the chances of it returning to Water Stratford are not good.
This was a small thatched cottage which stood right on the roadside between Manor Barn and Water Stratford House. It was of timber-frame panel construction, the panels being filled with soft red brick in a herringbone pattern, and is thought to have dated from the Tudor period, thus being one of the oldest buildings in the village. It was of architectural merit but sadly was pulled down in the late 1950s. Perhaps this was the picturesque thatched cottage that housed the original school in the 1830s. Dorothy Fells lived there when she arrived in the village in the early 1940s. She subsequently moved to Thistledowney which she had built on open land on the opposite side of the road. The cottage was then occupied by her maiden aunts, the Misses Cox, until their deaths in 1957 and 1958.
For a long time the village was supplied with water from a spring in a field at the northern end of Town Farm. The water came through an iron pipe, buried about 18” deep, via gravity to an underground tank in land behind Corner Cottage. This tank (still there) was connected to another underground pipe along the line of the street, terminating outside the church gate. Villagers collected their water by filling buckets from any one of three attractive old cast iron hydrants which were supplied from the latter pipe. The first (still apparently complete, but half-buried) was in the verge outside what is now Meadow View, the second (still apparently complete) was near the blue brick arch adjacent to Rose Cottage and the third (now incomplete) near the church notice-board. Water would gush out when a heavy spherical lever was lifted (the remaining levers are now seized up). Mains water was connected to the village at some time between the Wars. The brick arch housed a stand pipe which was fed from another spring at the top of the field called Jackson’s (formerly Jackman's) Close to the north of the Rectory garden. Frank Lucas, who lived in Rose Cottage, used this to water the prize dahlias he grew in the Old School garden.
A single track railway line was opened in 1850 from Buckingham to Banbury and crossed the road through the village on a girder bridge just south of the church. In 1956 the branch was selected for experimental use of new lightweight single unit diesel railcars, and two additional halts were built at Radclive and Water Stratford. The guards issued tickets from these halts and the service was extremely popular, especially on Saturdays. The service is described in more detail on this website devoted to disused stations, from which both photographs are copied, with thanks (permission to use them was sought, but no reply was received).Railcar at Radclive Halt in August 1956,
photo by W A Camwell
At Water Stratford there was a single timber platform just to the east of the bridge, built from old railway sleepers. It was very low, necessitating the use of portable steps for less agile passengers. A simple painted wooden nameboard and some old oil lamps mounted on timber posts were the only furnishings. The picture on the right gives a good idea of what it was like, though it is actually of Radclive, the next station towards Buckingham. Water Stratford Halt survived until January 1961 when, as part of the vandalism that is commonly attributed to Dr Beeching, this section of the line was closed to passengers, the rails taken up and the platform demolished. All that remains to be seen of the railway today are the bridge supports ﬂanking the road and the arches of the viaduct where it crossed the River Great Ouse.
Radclive Halt, photo by John Smith
In Records of Buckinghamshire 1893 there is an article by John Myres entitled History and Antiquities of Water Stratford, Bucks, in which he mentions archaeology uncovered during the construction of the railway in 1847-48. Extensive remains of buildings were found during the of excavation for the piers of the viaduct which spans the river near the old ford, and in the cutting made to allow the road to go under the bridge. An eye-witness described these buildings as Roman, as were earthenware vessels and quern-stones found in the buildings.
The end house of a row of three thatched cottages is now known as the Old Post Office. The first record of postal activity that has been found is a mention in 1891 of a wall letterbox that was cleared at 5.10pm on weekdays only. The sub post office was opened and issued with its own rubber stamp in 1910 and closed in September 1983. In 1911 Mrs Bertha Whitehead (née Aris, a surname that occurs in Water Stratford records in the 17th Century and is still prominent in Tingewick and Buckingham today) aged 26 is listed as sub-postmistress. She was the wife of Myron Whitehead, grandson of long-time village residents, James and Emma Whitehead. Letters arrived via Buckingham at 7.35am and 1.35pm and were dispatched at 1.25pm and 5.25pm on weekdays only. By 1924 the sub-postmistress was Mrs Frances Pearson who lived in the cottage with her husband Walter and son William George. Their elder son, Thomas Walter, is remembered on the village war memorial. At this time there was a tiny counter inside the house and a postbox on the wall outside. Mrs Pearson retired in 1954 after over 30 years' service and died in March 1957.
When a Mrs Williams took over she expanded the shop and sold 'almost anything from fishing tackle to Rodwell's lemonade and American soda - a treat for the local boys in the 1950s'. In the 1960s Mrs Weir from Paddington was sub-postmistress and became a feature of village life. At Christmas the postman would bring all the cards to her and she would personally take them to each house, knocking on the door and delivering them by hand. She was a small lady with grey hair and someone who was a child in her time remembers buying penny sweets from her and eating them with her schoolfriends by the river bridge. Access to the shop and post office was via a side alley to a room at the back. The post office closed in 1983 but there is still a postbox and public telephone outside the house.
John Mason. Between autumn 1693 and Easter 1694, hundreds of people sold their possessions and moved to the village, where they occupied the rectory, local houses and barns, and tents on the field that they called Mount Pleasant or Beersheba. In more recent times, until about 1960, there was a roadside stone cottage of the same name on the site, where Thomas Ridgway, a gamekeeper and woodman, and his wife had thirteen children between 1885 and 1904 and successfully reared all of them to adulthood. The photo shows Mrs Ridgway outside the cottage around 1921. The occupant in 1939 was described as a dairy farmer and the only other building nearby was a small brick cowshed which was only recently demolished. The field was briefly a 'pick-your-own' strawberry site in the 1990s and now bears several new large barns used for storing hay and straw.
Thanks to Brian, Chris and Tina and all those whose research and memories have contributed to this page and others.