Enter to skip to main content

Masthead showing parish logo, followed by photos of the two pubs and the church

Click for Parish Council Website A PDF version of the entire Millennium Book is available on request from the Parish Clerk (parish-clerk@berrickandroke.org.uk).

Village History

Compiling a history of all four villages is not easy. Historical records present data from various sources, including censuses, which apply to main villages such as Berrick Salome and Benson. The smaller outlying hamlets of Berrick Prior, Roke and Rokemarsh are mentioned mainly in association with the larger villages, and rarely get an item to themselves. It was only in 1993 that Berrick Salome's boundary was rationalised to include the whole of Roke and Rokemarsh (previously largely in Benson's parish) and Berrick Prior (previously part of the parish of Newington). The history that follows, then, is largely about Berrick Salome but the interesting facts about the way people lived are nevertheless completely relevant to life in the entire community.
Before we start on the history of Berrick, however, we should note a few of the village amenities that used to exist in the past. During the 1800s, alcoholic refreshment could be found in five locations: the Chequers in Berrick Prior, the Home Sweet Home in Roke and the Horse and Harrow in Rokemarsh were all hostelries, while the Plough and Harrow in Berrick Salome, now Plough Cottage, and The Welcome in Roke were off-licences. Only the first two survive to this day. There were several shops and post offices, and a petrol pump at Woodbine Cottage in Roke, now all closed. It also appears that there was once an infant school at Roke, which had already closed by 1884, but within living memory infant classes were held in the Band Hut.
The remainder of this article is the result of Susan Radice's research on Berrick Salome.

The village of Berrick Salome is situated in south-east Oxfordshire between the villages of Benson on the Thames to the south, and Newington and Chalgrove on the north. To the NNE lies Brightwell Baldwin and to the WSW Warborough. The open fields on the upper edge of the parish give an extensive view over the Thames valley to the long line of the Berkshire Downs with the isolated chalk ridge of the Sinodun Hills crowned by Wittenham Clumps as a focus in front of them. To the east one can see the foothills of the Chilterns.
Some of the boundaries of the parish in a map of 1900 seem impossibly complicated, but on the east of the village it follows the only well-defined natural feature in the area, namely the shallow valley of Hollandtide Bottom. Certain authors have identified this valley with the "Aculfes Dene" mentioned as a boundary in a land grant by Aethelred II in 996. The present boundary along the valley apparently follows that between two ancient pre-Norman manors. The northern of them fell into the hands of King Canute "through forfeiture of a certain thegn". It was begged of the King by his wife, Emma, who passed it to the monks of Canterbury. This transaction swelled the neighbouring parish of Newington which was a peculiar of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Berrick Prior thereafter acquired an administrative status quite different from that of Berrick Salome, for even in the present century directories referred to it as the "liberty of Berrick Prior" which reflected a sometime exemption from the jurisdiction of the Sheriff of Oxfordshire.
The name "Berewic" means "corn farm". "Salome" is a corruption of a family name. In the 13th century Aymar de Sulham held the manor; Sulham itself near Reading, Berkshire is the "ham in a sull or narrow valley". Successive changes have been Berrick Sallome (1571), Berwick Sallome (1737, 1797) and finally by the time of the 1863 Inclosure Act, Berrick Salome. Berrick Prior means the corn farm belonging to the Prior of Canterbury.
The parish of Berrick Salome has probably at all times been an extremely unimportant unit. In the Domesday Survey the place was returned as worth only £5 a year compared with £30 and £15 respectively for the neighbouring parishes of Bensingtone (Benson) and Neutone (Newington). Its population amounted to 4 serfs, 10 villeins and 6 bordars who with their families would probably total more than 50. Berrick occupies no strategic position and there is no indication that it ever held any building more important than the little ancient church, or was inhabited by any person of importance. As the incumbent reported to his bishop in 1738 "there is no family of note", even the incumbent himself living in Chalgrove, and Berrick church having always been a chapelry of Chalgrove.
However, a church was established at Berrick probably long before the Conquest, for it is dedicated to St Helen. St Helen has been described as the favourite saint of King Ethelbald of Mercia who took the Benson area from Wessex early in the 8th century. Today the siting of Berrick church seems odd: well outside the village, near, but not on, Hollandtide Bottom, evidently a route since before the Romans came. All that can be said is that a dig north-east of the church on the other side of Hollandtide Bottom might possibly bring to light the remains of ancient buildings that were more than cottages.
The church itself is only about 65 feet long including the bell-tower, which has no access from the nave and rises only about three feet higher than the roof ridge. Part of the fabric has been claimed to be pre-Norman and so has the font, with its interlacing ornament introduced into Anglo-Saxon work from Northumbria in early missionary times. It is unlikely that the little building ever had much stained glass; all that exists is a single diamond-shaped pane, each side about 4 inches long, on which is depicted a golden-yellow butterfly or moth.
Over three hundred and fifty years ago the roof of the nave was replaced by one of typical queen-post type with a complex timber truss. The result is of great functional beauty. Sixty years later, accommodation was increased by erecting a simple wooden gallery at the west end of the nave, with a dormer window opening at each end of it in order to give it light. The tower is remarkable in being framed in timber. A photograph taken just before the restoration in 1890 shows it had then merely been faced with simple weather-boarding carried nearly to the top, whereas now horizontal apertures have been contrived to release the sound of the bells. Contrary to expectation, the tiny wooden tower houses a fine peal of bells, the earliest two that are dated being 1621 and 1622, the latest 1836.
The Church is so old that restoration work is a constant requirement, organised by Churchwarden Christopher Whittle. In recent years, two massive fund-raising efforts, energetically led by David Pelling and Nicol Glyn, have produced the necessary resources to restore and renovate the fabric of this beautiful medieval little church.
There can be no doubt that the location of Berrick Salome was determined in the earliest times by the accessibility of water. Except for a narrow strip of greensand on the upper edge of the parish, the subsoil nearly all consists of bluish-white gault, enclosing thin streaks of gravel. Close to the junction of gault and greensand, springs of beautiful clear water break out. Probably throughout human history the most important of these springs was that which wells up by the ancient Grove Barn, a quarter of a mile NE of the church, and which flows down Hollandtide Bottom. It passed by but apparently did not feed the village pond, and then ran past the front of the Chequers Inn. Those households that did not have their own well depended upon this flow for their water. A big dipper was kept on the bank just upstream of the Chequers and a short length of railing was sited to help people to lean over and scoop cleanly.
Berrick Salome, along with other Oxfordshire villages, would not have had piped water installed until the 1930's or possibly not until after the Second World War. Sanitation would also have been rudimentary. Each villager had in the garden what was known as a "dunnekan". These simple earth closets are said commonly to have been two-holers with a lower seat and smaller hole for the children of the family. Periodically the contents would have to be emptied and buried in the garden. According to accounts in "Oxfordshire within living memory" most villagers literally celebrated the installation of electricity and piped water in their homes. However, although in the times of using wells and streams the high water table was an advantage, since the installation of piped water and at least one bathroom in every village home, drainage has been a problem particularly in the winter. "Drains and drives, drains and drives!" is the cry of many a beleaguered villager, struggling with not only an overflowing septic tank, but a vehicle unable to cope with the depth of Berrick mud
Right up to the Inclosure Award of 1863 most of the parish of Berrick Salome was still farmed on the ancient open-strip system and field enclosures were few. Nevertheless Berrick memories that went back to the 1890s retained no impression that village life was gravely disrupted by the Inclosure Award. The probable reason for this is that the proportion of common land abolished was so small, only one ninth of the parish. But the Berrick Salome Inclosure Award did establish two things that were of great importance to the local people. Firstly, 3 acres, 2 roods and 25 poles were allotted "unto the Churchwardens and Overseers of the poor" of Berrick Salome "to be held by them and their successors in trust as a place for exercise and recreation for the inhabitants". To this day the annual cricket match is held there, but it was of far more importance in the 19th century and earlier part of this century when every Saturday afternoon there would be a cricket match and Berrick Salome "never got beat".(An older villager recalls cricket being played in the field next to Jakemans, and says this land was exchanged by the farmer for the present site where the current recreation ground stands.)
The second sop to Victorian conscience provided by the Inclosure Award was the allocation of another 2 acres and 10 perches of land to "the Churchwardens and Overseers of the poor" of Berrick Salome "to be held by them and their successors in trust as an allotment for the labouring poor of the said parish". All the Berrick plots were eagerly taken up in those days, for the cottager's bulwarks against privation were his pig, his garden and his allotment.
Over many centuries in Berrick there was virtually no alternative to working on the land. The first Ordnance Survey map from 1890 is reproduced at the end of this history, and it shows a total of six working farms. At Berrick around 1900 the wages for a full-grown "day-man" were about 12 shillings a week [60p], a figure that had not increased much for a long time. However the rapid spread of mechanisation, beginning with the appearance of the first tractors shortly before the First World War, brought about a steady decline in the number of farm labourers. The first combine harvester was imported from the States in 1928. Two more came in 1930 and one of these was based in Shillingford. As farms became more mechanised, young men sought other employment. In the thirties many young men in Berrick got jobs at the Cowley car works where they earned three times as much as a farm labourer. They went to work on motor-bikes and purchased their petrol from the shop next to the Chequers which at that time met most of the needs of the villagers.
Although surrounded by land from peripheral farms, there is now only one working farm left in Berrick - Manor Farm - and that is simply run by the farmer himself and his wife. Today the cottages of Berrick Salome are more likely to be owned and lived in by bankers or businessmen than by farm workers, and the original inhabitants would not recognise their humble homes if they were to walk into them today. But if Berrick Salome had not undergone this evolution it would have died as a place of habitation, the cottages built of clunch leaving no more trace than those made of "muddle-and-dub", as thatch was let go and stones were carted away to use elsewhere. Better by far that the village is still alive and thriving though with a very different population. Indeed, the number of people enjoying life in Berrick has increased. A look at the census figures for Berrick Salome between 1921 and 1991 shows that the population was 104 at the earliest date, took a dip in '31 and '51 to 90, and then began steadily to increase to the 1991 figure of 162. Moreover, between the census of '71 and that of '81 the number of households increased from 35 to 53. Could this have had anything to do with the opening of the M40 motorway in 1974? At the turn of the century even the best of the local roads were appallingly bad, being made of what was euphemistically called "gravel", in effect flints dug out the local parish pit. Indeed, in 1894 a local coroner informed the Highway Board with some disapproval that in an inquest on a lady a verdict had been returned of "accidentally killed by falling from a tricycle in consequence of it coming into contact with a large flint". But in 1974 London was no more than an hour's journey away in the comfort of your own car.
By the 1980s the inhabitants of Berrick Salome could even consider working from home, for the majority, if not all, of the week, being in touch with the office or with potential clients by telephone, fax or modem. A self-employed villager estimated that roughly 30% of the male population now worked in this way, and that, coupled with the number of retired people in the village, it had greatly enhanced village life to have more people available during the working day. Available for what, you might ask? Well, to join in the many village events and activities that have sprung into life in recent years, particularly those centred around the Berrick Church Restoration fund. These include a FĂȘte in June held in the garden of the Malthouse by kind permission of Mr Percival, and the Village Show (which alternates with the FĂȘte) held on the recreation ground in September and jovially rounded off with a barbecue and dance in the evening. The Village Hall, erected in 1979 on the edge of the recreation ground, has often proved useful in the staging of these events, and is always the venue for the cricket tea after the annual match between Berrick Salome and Berrick Prior, which invariably takes place on a long hot afternoon in early September. At the other end of the year, when the days are still short and the nights often long and cold, there is an evening when villagers can be found wandering around with torches and brollies, in friendly groups, gathering and dispersing at various points in the village, getting more and more enlivened as the evening wears on: yes, it is the night of the progressive dinner, an idea for entertainment and fund-raising introduced into the village by Mr Norman Willifer of Crickhollow and greatly enjoyed by many.
So at the end of the second millennium, Berrick Salome is alive and well, and since 1993 has been joined with its near neighbours, Berrick Prior, Roke and Rokemarsh, into a much larger and more significant parish unit which has even more of a future as a community.

Susan Radice September 1999


"The Departed Village" by R. E. Moreau.
"Years of Change" by Mike Soper.
"Oxfordshire Within Living Memory" compiled by the Oxfordshire Federation of Women's Institutes
Mrs Irene Franklin. Chris and Mary Whittle