Burford in 1840
Burford is in Bampton hundred, on the southern bank of the Windrush, 18 miles west by north of Oxford, through Witney. The area of the parish, including the hamlet of Upton and Signet, is 2,170 acres ; the population, in 1831, was 1,620 for the town, above one-sixth agricultural ; and 246 for the hamlet, about half agricultural : together 1,866. Burford was the scene of conflict (A.D. 752) between the rival kings of Wessex and Mercia, Cuthred and Ethelbald ; the latter was defeated, and his standard, a golden dragon, taken. The scene of the engagement is still distinguished as ‘Battle Edge;’ and Dr. Plot informs us that ‘ within memory’ the towns-people were accustomed to have an annual procession on Midsummer-eve, in which the figures of a dragon and a giant were carried in procession, in commemoration, as he supposes, of Ethelbald’s defeat. Burford was the native place of Dr. Peter Heylyn, a well-known writer of the time of Charles I.
The houses of the town are ancient, and, with a few exceptions, irregular and ill-built. Some of them have ancient Gothic doors of good composition, and there are some fine wooden gables with pannels and hanging tracery. Burford has diminished in wealth and importance from the decay of the coarse woollen manufacture and the malting business, which once flourished here, and from the diminished traffic along the line of road which passes through the town. The church is a large ancient cruciform building ; it has a central tower of Norman date, a fine Norman doorway at the west end, and various portions of Norman and early English adjacent to the tower ; but the greater part of the church is of perpendicular character and of various dates. The tower is crowned with a spire of perpendicular character. There are several large chapels ; a stone chapel in the nave of good composition, is used as a seat, and there is a wooden chapel, also of good composition. The south porch is a fine specimen of late perpendicular. The roof of the nave, now much mutilated and altered, has been of remarkably fine wood-work. There are several ancient monuments, a wooden pulpit, and some other portions of good wood-work, a fine circular font lined with lead, with niches and statues, and a few small portions of very good ancient stained glass. Under part of the church is a crypt, used as a bone-house. There are in the town some dissenting places of worship, a school-house, an upper room in which is used as the town-hall, and several almshouses. There was anciently a small priory or hospital, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, the revenue of which was valued at the dissolution at £13, 6 shillings, 6 pence ; its site is occupied by a mansion, still called ‘the Priory,’ interesting from its having been the property of the excellent Lord Falkland and of the Speaker Lenthal. Much of the old house has been taken down and rebuilt ; the present mansion contains some interesting historical portraits by Holbein, Vandyke, and Cornelius Jansen.
The market is held on Saturday, and there are three yearly fairs. The town was incorporated by charter of Henry II, and is said to have sent a member to parliament for one session, and to have been relieved, on petition, of this (at that time) costly privilege. The corporation has no jurisdiction, and of late years the officers have not been regularly elected. The county magistrates hold a petty-session here. The living is a vicarage, united with the chapelrv of Fulbrook, of the clear yearly value of £294, with a glebe-house, in the gift of the bishop of Oxford.
There were, in 1833, an infant-school, with 97 children ; a free grammar-school, with 40 boys on the foundation and about 30 others ; eight other day or boarding and day schools, with 53 boys and 87 girls; and three Sunday-schools, with 422 children. A parochial library is kept in the church vestry-room.