Reformation, Revolution and Reaction, 1540-1800
In this Section
- The Lord Farmer Crokers, 1530-1670
- The Great Civil War, 1642-1646
- Passages in Village Life, 1640-1820
- The Duke of Buccleuch
- Enclosures: Winners and Losers
For historians, the breakup of European Christendom in the Protestant Reformation is the key turning-point in the transition from the Medieval to the Early Modern eras. In Hook Norton, the official religion changed to the new official Anglicanism, in the various forms defined from time to time by the nation’s rulers. The rise of Puritanism within the Church in the early seventeenth century helped to produce the Great Civil War of 1642-1646, during which two new religious sects appeared in the village, the Baptists and the Quakers. Persecuted after 1660, these two dissenting sects won religious toleration, though not civic equality, in 1689 and brought an important social and cultural diversity to the parish, as explained in the Religious Life section.
In secular terms, the Reformation appeared to end the medieval division of the parish into two manors, belonging respectively to Church and State. At first, control of the two manors and thus of the village fell into the hands of the Croker family for most of the century following 1540, but the close connection of Gerard Croker with Charles I’s Court proved politically disastrous and the Great Civil War briefly shattered the family’s power. They were able to restore their possessions during the 1650s, but under the challenge of law cases were never able to regain the same local command and by 1670 or so had lost their possessions here.
The eighteenth century would prove ever more conservative and elitist, but now aristocratic power operated in a very different world. Hook Norton was unusual in that manorial power was once more divided between ecclesiastical and secular authorities, but the Bishop of Oxford now leased the Hook Norton estate to his own relations who operated it more on business lines. That represented about one-third of all the land in the parish. Much manorial land had been sold off and was now widely distributed among notable local families like the Lampetts and the Austins. They constituted a wealthy local oligarchy that dominated the affairs of the parish church and through it much of the work of local government. The lord of the secular manor probably held less land and exercised less local influence than he once had, but he could still be a personage of great public distinction. Most impressively, in the mid-eighteenth century the Duke of Buccleugh held the position, though his major interests lay in Scotland. He too took part in the growing exploitation of Hook Norton for the advancement of the wealthy.
In many ways the revolution that affected most lives in the parish was not religious or political but agricultural. Traditionally farming had operated on a communal basis that shared good land and bad land among the inhabitants. As the eighteenth century advanced, the more important landowners wanted a more efficient, more productive system and gained their way with the passage of the Hook Norton Enclosure Act of 1774. As this website’s articles in other sections make clear, this measure had a deleterious impact on the poorer people of the parish, heightening poverty, creating a crisis in poor relief, and leading to considerable emigration from the parish after 1800. Not for the last time, communal facilities were destroyed in Hook Norton for the benefit of wealthy individuals.
The character of daily life in the parish is much better documented from the late seventeenth century onward than it had been earlier. This has enabled some historians to make imaginative but well-informed attempts to recreate specific moments and specific episodes over the years that follow. We take particular pleasure in reprinting here, under the title “Passages in Village Life, 1640-1820”, an impressive series of short articles published in the Village Newsletter in 1987-1989 under the pseudonym CANITIES, together with a largely forgotten, imaginative piece by Margaret Dickins.
© Donald Ratcliffe