Marston history: Descriptions

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Marston in 1800

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1800 Pt 2, pp. 105–7:

Topographical Description of Marston, co. Oxford, February 1800

Marston contains about 1050 acres of land, and is bounded by the parishes of St. Clement’s, Hedington, and Elsfield, on the south, south-east, and North, and by the river Cherwell on the West, and South-west. The town, as it is called, of Marston consists of 43 dwelling-houses; the number of inhabitants are about 250. There is no house or habitation in any other part of the parish, except the hut of a solitary fisherman on the bank of the Cherwell, where he resides for the purpose of attending his nets and his wheels.

No person above the rank of a yeoman dwells in this parish at present. The family of Croke inhabited the manor-house before, during and after the grand rebellion. Another branch of the family also dwelt here. The house of the latter is now an ale-house, distinguished by the sign of the White Hart, in the possession of Mr Joseph Bleay, an old and respectable inhabitant, who carries on the triple employments of a farmer, a baker, and a publican. The manor-house is a heavy stone building, erected without much attention to elegance or regularity. It is now inhabited by six families of paupers (sic transit). The present lord of the manor is Henry Whorwood, esq. There is a great quantity of excellent bacon cured here, which is disposed of at Oxford.

I cannot find that any of the Crokes now reside in this county. The family were devoted for several generations to the study of the law. There are, I believe, three books of Reports, by three different authors of this name and family, collected in three different reigns. Some of our learned correspondents may be able to furnish the publick with memoirs of this antient but decayed family. At the end of these hints, I shall add a story related by Dr. Plot, in his Natural History of this county, wherein the learned Serjeant Unton Croke, whose epitaph I have noticed [see Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. LXIX], bore a conspicuous part. The inscription on his grave seems to confess his want of popularity.

There are no remains of antiquity in this place except two rude stone crosses, one of which is the church-yard, the other in the street, without either carving or inscription on either, and both mutilated.

The inhabitants of Marston may be divided into three classes, viz. farmers, or yeomen, labourers, and paupers. There are but three or four mechanicks in the place; a blacksmith, a carpenter, and a weaver. Luxury has not yet extended to Marston, near as it is to the University and a populous city. The farmers are most of them persons possessed of considerable property, yet they live in the most frugal and plain manner. The names most general here are Sims, Bley, and Loder, and there are several families bearing each name.

The soil is generally a rich dark-coloured argillaceous earth to the depth of three or four feet; under which a bed of gravel is discovered of considerable thickness. The air is damp on account of the low situation, and the neighbourhood of the slow river Cherwell: yet there are persons of both sexes here of very advanced ages. The ague was formerly an almost universal distemper, but for the last 14 years it has been hardly known. Its successor is the rheumatism. There are three females deaf and dumb, of whom two are sisters. The poor are numerous and expensive, notwithstanding the attention and liberality of Dr. Curtis, and the charity of some of the principal inhabitants. The Doctor also keeps several poor children at school at his own expence.

Among the birds of prey I observed the milvus, the fork-tailed kite, or glead; the milvus regalis, the long-winged kite (or puttock); and the accipiter merularius, the sparrow-hawk. These find prey among the columbae sylvestres, of which I have observed great numbers of the two following species, viz. the palumbus torquatus, the ring-dove, or quiest, and the columba cavernalis, the frock-dove, or wood-pidgeon. A pair of the latter built in a fir tree within a few yards of the window of my room, and would have bred there had not the nest been cruelly destroyed.

The land is very rich, and yields good crops, and of all kinds of corn and pulse, especially beans. I cannot, however, compliment the farmers here on the neatness of their husbandry. A considerable number of house-lambs are raised here; the breed of sheep are chiefly the Berkshire kind. The timber trees are the elm, ash, abel, sycamore, and (but very few) oak. The elms grow to a great size and height. Here is a great variety of good fruit, for which a market is found in Oxford.

Among rare spontaneous plants I discovered the geranium columbinum maximum, or great-jagged dove’s foot crane’s bill; the viola palufris rotundifolia, the round-leaved violet, and the euphrasia, or eye-bright.

In the fossil kingdom the ostracites are found in vast numbers among the gravel. It has been often observed, that the deep or convex shell is only found. They burn into a lime exquisitely white, which effervesces violently with water. The smell and taste of the lime is very disagreeable. The Belemnites, called by the Germans alphen-schos, i.e. fairy arrows; the Danes call them ghost candles; here they are called arrow-head, finger-stone, and thunder-bolt; these are found in the gravel in all their various shapes, of which I have numerous specimens.

This parish is well watered; for, besides the Cherwell, there are many springs, and a small brook which divides this parish and Elsfield parish, and runs into the Cherwell at Lescot. In this brook are jack, perch, chubb, dace, loaches, minnows, and bullheads; and it abounds with large and fine cray-fish. The Cherwell is a considerable river, and joins the Isis at Oxford; there is a fishery on it in this parish, where great numbers of pike, perch, chubb, roach, eels and grigs, are taken; both the latter grow to a very large size. The griggs are a different species from the eels, and though they should weigh four or five pounds, they are never called eels by the fishermen. There is a species of roach peculiar to this river; it is called a finscale, and which is said to be very delicious meat. Here are also the smaller fish, such as gudgeon, bleak, minnow, &c. and great numbers of cray-fish, which are sold at Oxford for three shillings the hundred. Angling is permitted, and is a favourite diversion with the gentlemen of the University.

There are some peculiar expressions used by the natives of Marston, among which the word unked is most frequently introduced in conversation. Everything that is unfortunate or unlucky, or not as it could be wished, is unked. The word may be derived from uncouth, and has, in many instances the same meaning. When the roads are miry and dirty it is said to be hoxey; and when they are clean and dry, it is quite path.

[A long anecdote is then reproduced from Dr. Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire about Anne Green, a servant maid from Duns Tew, who miscarried at four months. She was arraigned at an assize in Oxford before Serjeant Unton Croke of Marston, who sentenced her to be hanged. Her body was taken for dissection afterwards, and she was found to be alive.]

I hope this very imperfect topographical attempt will be followed by parochial descriptions worthy the attention of your readers, from the pens of your learned correspondents in every part of the kingdom.

Yours, &c. J. S–mnds.

See also Gentleman’s Magazine, 1816, pt. 2, p. 577
(engraving of Marston village showing the Cross)

© Stephanie Jenkins

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