Oaksey History

It is likely that the first settlements around what is now Oaksey date from around 4500 BC, but the earliest evidence of Man dates from the Bronze Age – the period from 2500 to 800 BC. We know this from the existence of Round Barrows – thought to be graves or boundary markers, and from a flat axe discovered in a large field north of Park Farm.

Evidence of the Roman occupation is provided by the remains of a Roman villa close by the Swill Brook. This is thought to date from 80 to 90 AD. The discovery of tiles, pots, bowls and brooches nearby point to the existence of a tile factory with a small settlement for the workers.

The Romans withdrew by 410AD, and were followed by successive invasions of Angles, Jutes and Saxons, and Oaksey became part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex. The large forests in the area had begun to be cleared to make way for agriculture and settlements had combined to form villages.

The first evidence of the Norman Conquest was the building of a motte and bailey castle north of Dean Farm. This was an enclosed fortified courtyard containing houses and the local garrison, and a mound topped by a wooden tower. Traces of this are still visible.

The Oaksey manor was held by the Anglo-Saxon landowner Beorhtric, who was an ambassador to Edward the Confessor. He was later replaced by the Norman De Bohun family. The Doomsday Book of 1086 records the name of the village as Wochesie, and the name has changed many times since. The book records that the village had six hides (measurements of land), enough to support six plough teams.

At this time Oaksey was on the edge of Braydon Forest – a small part of a huge forest stretching from the Thames Valley to Dorset. In the thirteenth century a deer park was created in the Braydon forest by the de Bohum family, and there is evidence that King Henry VIII and James I hunted there in later years.

Oaksey is a linear village, which was originally two separate settlements: one around the church and the other at the west end of the village. Over time the two settlements have merged to form the village as it is today, and our present road system around the parish largely reflects the tracks and paths established up to five hundred years ago.

The earliest surviving building in the village is of course, the church. The architecture is Early English and Perpendicular, and the wall paintings date from the fifteenth century. At this time the other major building was a large fortified manor house south of the church, which survived for at least 250 years. Next to the church is Latchetts, built in the fifteenth century – the oldest surviving residence in the village.

In the fourteenth century the Black Death struck much of England, including Wiltshire. Estimates of the percentage of the population who died range from 25% to 50%. Oaksey was not spared and the population fell as further outbreaks occurred until the seventeenth century. It has been suggested that there was a plague pit for the dead situated near the Yew trees in the churchyard.

When our village school was built in 1854 it opened with about fifty children with ages ranging from 5-13, but the efforts of the authorities to enforce attendance were hampered by the poverty and ill-health of the children and periodic outbreaks of diphtheria. In addition, families withdrew the children at harvest times to work in the fields. They were also expected to work before and after school.

At the end of the nineteenth century Oaksey was still largely a self-contained community. Contacts were made by foot or by horse drawn vehicles. Although a railway line from Swindon to Cirencester opened in 1841, it was not until 1929 that villagers could board the trains at Oaksey Halt (its short life ended with its closure in 1964).

Village life had altered very little from the previous century, but the first decade of the twentieth century would see the beginnings of rapid change for Oaksey – in transport, mechanisation and the impact of the outside world.