Deanshanger and Passenham


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The parish of Passenham no longer exists, being subsumed under the modern civil parishes of Deanshanger and Old Stratford.  Passenham and Deanshanger are treated together in the following discussion.


The present-day civil parish of Deanshanger occupies some 2,468 acres in the far south-east of Northamptonshire, in the extreme south of Cleley hundred. The current boundaries of the parish date back only to 1951, when the south-eastern portion of the ancient parish was transferred to the newly established civil parish of Old Stratford. Prior to this reorganisation, the ancient parish of Passenham (renamed Deanshanger in 1948) occupied almost 3,253 acres. In the south-east, the ancient parish bordered upon the Buckinghamshire parishes of Calverton and Beauchampton, from which it was separated by the River Great Ouse. In the south-west, the boundary with Wicken ran partly through fields near the Ouse but mainly along a tributary of the river, King’s Brook. In the extreme north-west, Passenham abutted the detached portion of Lillingstone Dayrell which lay within Whittlewood Forest (transferred to Lillingstone Lovell in 1878). The parish’s irregular northern boundary with Potterspury stretched from ‘Westmead Dike’ in the west to Watling Street in the east, at which point Passenham in fact abutted a detached portion of Cosgrove (transferred to Potterspury in 1883). Watling Street formed the parish’s north-eastern boundary for over a mile, separating Passenham from Furtho and, at the point at which the road passes through Old Stratford, the ancient parish of Cosgrove.

The entire parish of Passenham is depicted on the Whittlewood Forest map of c.1608. This illustrates clearly the four constituent elements of the parish: the village and fields of Passenham; the village and fields of Deanshanger; the enclosures at Puxley; and the woods of Whittlewood Forest. Each of these elements will be considered in turn. The northern boundary of the parish is not marked on this map. From King’s Brook in the north-west, the border with Lillingstone Dayrell follows the riding separating Sumpton Quarter from Briers Sale until it reaches Westmead Dike. From there the boundary with Potterspury passes through The Ridges to the riding separating Young Ashwells from the Pheasantry, before turning northwards along the riding between the Pheasantry and Hill Coppice. Passing through Wakefield Lodge to the pond, the boundary turns eastwards along the stream to the edge of Brownswood Green, which it follows to the edge of the enclosure measuring 9a 1r 36p held by a tenant named Clarke. From there the border plunges in a straight line south-eastwards into Shrob Lawn, before following the edge of part of Young Castle Coppice and all of Old Castle Coppice north-eastwards to Watling Street. The settlement at Old Stratford, which lay partly in Passenham parish but mostly in Cosgrove, will be discussed in a separate report.

(i) Passenham

The forest map shows the village of Passenham lying in the far south-east of the parish next to the River Great Ouse. Approximately 15 buildings are marked clustered around the church of St Guthlac, an 8th-century Mercian saint who was popular in the 10th and 11th centuries. A similar number of buildings are listed in the Passenham field book of 1566. This records the location, on the north side of the street, from east to west, of the following tenements: one messuage of 1¼ acres; a cottage and garden; two cottages with gardens; a barn and close; and a messuage with a barn, stable and garden. On the south side of the street, the watermill with a house called Bolinghams lay to the east. Moving westwards, the guardians of the church held a house and barn called the Townhouse, while the parson occupied a house, two barns and an orchard. The church and churchyard were situated in an acre of ground, to the west of which lay the manor house with associated grounds amounting to 1½ acres. In the far west of the village lay a ‘meseplace’ called Masons of half an acre, and another messuage with a garden and curtilage of half a rood. In total the village occupied 10¼ acres.

The village was surrounded by meadows, described as ‘for the most part reasonable good’ in a survey of 1591. In all Passenham possessed nearly 124 acres of meadow in 1566 (not including Deanshanger’s meadows which lay separate). At the time of the tithe apportionment in 1844 an almost exactly similar amount of meadow belonged to Passenham, lying in a swathe beside the meandering course of the Ouse. The names of individual meadows, such as Denton’s Holme, remained unchanged between the 16th and 19th centuries.

The forest map of c.1608 depicts Passenham surrounded by four open fields. To the north lay Little Stow Field (232¼ acres); to the north-west Parsonage Field (43½ acres); to the west Kings Hill Field (74¾ acres); and to the south-west Breach Field (57½ acres). In addition, three closes (51 acres) lay to the north of Parsonage Field abutting Watling Street. This amounted to 459 acres in all. The field book of 1566 presents a somewhat different picture of Passenham’s fields. Three fields are described: an east field (206¾ acres) containing 12 furlongs; a west field (69 acres) containing two furlongs and a close; and a north field (187 acres) containing 18 furlongs. The total area of these fields was 462¾ acres.

The east field probably occupied most of the later Little Stow Field. One furlong called Gorebrode lay to the east of the windmill, and there was also a Windmill Furlong. A windmill is depicted on the forest map of c.1608 lying in the south of Little Stow Field, on the north side of the lane leading from Passenham to the main Buckingham road. Nevertheless, it is difficult to establish with certainty the precise location of all the furlongs in the east field. Furthermore, the tithe map of 1844 reveals that the area available for arable cultivation to the east of the Buckingham road (excluding meadow) was at most 199 acres, rather than the 206¾ acres of 1566. This suggests that the furlongs of the east field must either have encroached upon areas of later meadow or extended beyond the lanes that bounded the field to the west and south. This last suggestion is a possibility. One of the furlongs was described as lying ‘south of the way’, although whether this refers to the main village street remains open to doubt. The furlongs of the east field were described in the following way:

1 the yate furlong (6¾ acres), the strips there lying ‘east and west in length’.

2 the furlong north-east of the same (9¾ acres).

3 the furlong north-west of the same, called long furlong, until Hicksbridge balk (41¾ acres). The strips begin at the balk south-westwards, then at the north end of long furlong they move eastwards until they reach Hicksbridge balk.

4 Ringfurrow furlong, east of Hicksbridge balk, beginning in the west (5½ acres).

5 the hole furlong north of the same and Millhillwall furlong, beginning in the south (20½ acres).

6 the linch north of the same (37 acres), the strips of which abut ‘the way west’.

7 the furlong south of the same way (39½ acres), beginning in the north. The strips include one acre called Townelande and 32 acres described as the ‘parsones pece’.

8 the furlong east of the same called Berehill (14½ acres), beginning in the west.

9 the furlong east of the same (2½ acres), beginning in the south.

10 Gorebrode furlong east of the windmill (6¼ acres), beginning in the north.

11 the furlong called Pathefurl south of the parson’s furlong (18¾ acres).

12 Windmill furlong east of the same (4 acres).

Also in 1566, in the field which lay to the west of the main Old Stratford to Buckingham road, the ‘irmytage’ furlong contained 13¼ acres. According to a perambulation of Passenham manor conducted in 1591, a hermitage lay close to the forest pale between Shrob Corner and the cross on Stony Stratford bridge. This has been located at the ‘brow of the hill at Old Stratford’, either on or close to Watling Street. Armitage Copse, part of Shrob Walk depicted on the forest map of c.1608, abutted two of the closes which lay to the south of the Roman road, and which probably formed part of the earlier ‘irmytage’ furlong. To the east of this furlong lay an enclosure of four acres, held by Lord Pawlet. The field book then describes the parson’s furlong, 51¾ acres held by the parson of Passenham. The 69 acres of the west field of 1566 almost certainly extended into the Parsonage Field illustrated in c.1608.

The description of the north field of 1566 begins south of the way, probably in the Breach Field of c.1608. One furlong which lay to the east of the Portway (the Buckingham road) was named ‘Howseendes’, suggesting a close proximity to the village. The furlongs extended westwards, almost certainly into the later Kings Hill Field, as indicated by the furlong called ‘Longe Kyngshull’. Another furlong abutted Deanshanger, lying next to the ‘Heyebrooke’, which is likely to be the stream issuing from King’s Hill Spring, shown on the map of c.1608. The tithe map suggests that the area of Breach Field and Kings Hill Field encompassed no more than about 170 acres. For the north field to measure 187 acres implies that it perhaps extended into the later Parsonage Field, which in the 19th century formed part of the rectorial estate. Certainly it may be concluded that the forest map of c.1608 does not necessarily depict the boundaries and layout of the fields recorded in 1566.

The surviving documentary evidence does not allow the open fields of Passenham before 1566 to be reconstructed with any certainty. It can only be assumed that the 16th-century field book preserves the essence of the village’s medieval field system. Nevertheless, a degree of continuity can be demonstrated between the 16th century and earlier periods. For example, a document of 1402 records the names of particular pieces of land – Syndelynges, Stonymoder, le Hechyng’, Hakethornbussh – which reappear as furlong names – Sedelynges, Stonymoore, Hitchyn, Hackebusshepece – in 1566. A grant to Snelshall Priory by Thomas le Despencer in the late 13th century included half an acre on ‘Longekingeshulle’, which lay in Passenham’s north field in 1566. A distinction is also usually made in 13th- and 14th-century charters between the manor and fields of Passenham and those of Deanshanger. For example, in 1347 John Linot alienated a cottage in Deanshanger and an acre in the field of Passenham. Similarly among the Snelshall charters the two sets of fields are clearly demarcated. It is almost certain that the villages of Passenham and Deanshanger possessed their own open field systems from an early date.

When Henry, earl of Lancaster was granted livery of his brother Thomas’s estate in 1327, an extent of Passenham was made. It was found that Thomas had held a capital messuage with a garden and curtilage adjoining, with a croft inside an enclosure; 300 acres of arable in demesne worth £5 a year; 21 acres of assart worth 7s.; 30 acres of meadow on the Ouse called le Hamme worth £3; 40 acres of meadow in various parcels worth £3; two pastures called le Hay worth 12s.; and a several fishery in the Ouse worth 3s. 6d. Together with a number of free tenants, there were 12 villeins, each of whom held a messuage and half a virgate, paying an annual rent of 4s., and performing a variety of labour services: ploughing, harrowing, weeding, harvesting, and haymaking. A further two villeins held two messuages and half a virgate between them. The earl collected, in addition, a variety of rents in Deanshanger. Again, the two manors were clearly distinguished.

In the village of Passenham, it appears that the medieval manor house may originally have been situated towards the east end of the village, in the field named Robins Leys in 1844. A moated site was discerned from aerial photographs and an excavation in 1967 uncovered house walls, together with pottery dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. House platforms were also found. The resident lords of Passenham in the second half of the 13th century were the Passenham family, who held the manor, firstly, of the Ferrers earls of Derby, and then, after 1267, of the earls of Lancaster. When William de Passenham died in 1278 his son and heir was judged to be of unsound mind and the manor was taken into the king’s hands. It was said to consist of 2 messuages, 243 acres of arable, 57 acres of meadow, 32 acres of pasture, 2 acres of wood, a fishery in the Ouse, and a total of £9 7s. 11½d. in rents, aids, and labour services.

It is unclear when the original manor house, in Robins Leys, became derelict. Perhaps it was as early as the 14th century, during which period Passenham may not always have had a resident lord. There was, however, a manor house (location unknown) in 1402 when the king granted to John Cok of Passenham and John his son ‘the houses of the site of our said manor … with the gardens of the said site together with the demesnes’. This may have included the ‘great chamber at the south end of the hall’, of which the roof was repaired with slates in 1383-4. Certainly by 1566, though, the manor house lay to the west of the church, even if the earliest portion of the surviving building dates only from the first decades of the 17th century. The new manor house is assumed to be the work of Sir Robert Banastre, who purchased the manor of Passenham in 1624. If this is the case, it seems likely that he rebuilt an existing structure.

In Passenham in 1524, 19 taxpayers contributed £1 11s. 4d. to the lay subsidy; in 1525 only 10 taxpayers paid £1 3s. 10d. However, in both years a total of 32 taxpayers resided in Passenham and Deanshanger together, paying £3 4s. 11d. in 1524 and £3 5s. 5d. in 1525. There was clearly some uncertainty as to where particular individuals lived or worked. Thus, Richard Lord, who was taxed on £3 worth of goods, was included under Passenham in 1524 and Deanshanger in 1525. According to the 1566 field book, the descendants of Richard Lord held some land in Passenham but the bulk of their strips lay in Deanshanger. By the 16th century, if not before, it is likely that Deanshanger was the main centre of population in the parish.

In 1301 a total of 50 taxpayers contributed to the lay subsidy levied in Passenham and Deanshanger (and probably Puxley as well). This may represent a population of about 500, at a time when the medieval population of England reached its greatest extent. The impact of successive waves of plague in the late 14th century is indicated by the poll tax of 1377, to which just 146 taxpayers contributed in Passenham, Deanshanger and Puxley, and the population of the parish may not have recovered to the levels of the pre-Black Death era until the mid-17th century. The Compton Census of 1676 reveals that 500 conformists and three non-conformists resided in the parish. In 1801 the population was 685.

(ii) Deanshanger

The village of Deanshanger developed from an original nucleus around a large green, where the main Buckingham road crosses King’s Brook, at a junction with the roads from Puxley and Wicken. The forest map of c.1608 shows 28 buildings lining the streets of the village, together with a much larger house situated to the south-west which belonged to Sir Ralph Winwood, who purchased the manor in 1603. This house is the present Dovehouse Farm, which dates from the early 17th century, although with a 19th-century extension and modern alterations.

According to the field book of 1566, at the eastern end of the village on the north side of the High Street, Thomas Palmer held a messuage and orchard and a close of five acres. A further 11 plots, varying in size from a quarter of a rood to one acre, lay to the east of the well; four plots lay to its west. To the south-west Robert Serjeant held a close of one rood called Moulton Park and John Tirling held a close with a pond called Broukes Close or Moores. On the south side of the High Street, five plots lay to the west of the stream, with another next to the stream. On the north side of Little Deanshanger Street lay 12 plots, including, at the western end, a granary on the site of a former horse mill. On the south side of the street, at the west end, was situated the farmhouse (the later Dovehouse Farm) in 1½ acres of grounds. A further seven plots lay to its east. In all the village occupied just over 24 acres.

The forest map depicts Deanshanger surrounded by three open fields. To the north of the village lay North Field (261¾ acres); to the west Denshanger Field (108¼ acres); and to the south South Field (409 acres). This does not, however, accord with the evidence of the 1566 field book. This describes the north field of Deanshanger as occupying over 349 acres and containing 30 furlongs. Their arrangement can begin to be reconstructed. The first furlong was called ‘Heyefurl’ (13¼ acres) and may have encompassed the close called ‘The Hayes’ illustrated in c.1608. The furlongs then extended northwards, lying either adjacent or close to Kings Hill Field. There followed the furlong between the way and ‘Duddeswellbrooke’ and another at the corner of the pale. This presumably refers to the boundary with Shrob Walk. ‘Shorte Foxehedge’ furlong (18 acres) lay to the west of the pale, to the north of which was ‘Longe Foxehedge’ furlong (17¾ acres). Two other furlongs lay to the north and west, before reaching ‘Lowsiebusshebalke’. One furlong lay to the south of this balk, another ‘in Boynehill’ (10¾ acres) to the north.

The remaining furlongs of the north field were described as follows:

1 the Kinges Standing furlong (24¼ acres), otherwise the Over Hale, the strips extending from the east.

2 the furlong at Costleyes Corner (1¼ acres), the strips extending from the north.

3 the Depehale furlong south of the same (8½ acres), the strips extending from the east.

4 the Ferme Corner furlong west of the same (22½ acres), the strips extending from the west.

5 Rewehedge furlong (5½ acres), the strips extending from the north-west.

6 Woodefurlong (9½ acres ½ rood), the strips extending from the south.

7 Coddefurlong south of the same (10 acres), the strips extending from the north.

8 Duddeswellbrooke furlong (29½ acres), the strips extending from the north.

9 Lynnecrofte furlong south of the same (20¾ acres), the strips extending from the east.

10 Dunstede furlong north of the same by the hedge (5 acres), the strips extending from the west.

11 Peacefurlong east of the same (22¼ acres), the strips extending from the south.

12 Hardingesweye furlong west of Brookefurlong (3 acres), the strips extending from the west.

13 Wallesworth furlong in the corner (8¼ acres), the strips extending from the west.

14 Little Stockynge south of the forest (15½ acres).

15 Great Stockynge west of the same (40 acres).

The location of these last two furlongs ‘south of the forest’ suggests that the north field of 1566 extended into the enclosures south of Stocking Quarter, as depicted on the map of c.1608. In order to measure more than 349 acres in 1566, the north field must also have extended into the enclosures to the west of ‘Pooksly gate’, or perhaps encroached into Shrob Lawn, as suggested by the location of ‘Kinges Standing furlong’. Kings Standings is shown within Shrob Law on the map of c.1608, and King’s Standing Oak is similarly marked on the six-inch Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1880-2.

The west field of 1566 contained 11 furlongs and occupied 163½ acres. It lay to the south of ‘the stockyng’, in what was described as Denshanger Field in c.1608. The furlongs almost certainly extended into the enclosures shown on the forest map, and perhaps also into the riding south of Old Coppice, as suggested by the enclosure map of 1772. The south field of 1566 contained nine furlongs and occupied just over 87 acres. The nether field contained 11 furlongs and occupied 181¾ acres. Both of these fields must have lain within the South Field of c.1608. The meadows of Deanshanger (146½ acres) were also largely located in this area, close to the Ouse. In total the two fields and the meadows measured just over 415 acres, close to the 409 acres of the South Field of c.1608.

The earliest reference to the manor of Deanshanger appears to be that found in the perambulation of Whittlewood Forest of 1299. The boundary passed ‘between the fees of Passenham and Wyke Dyve to the garden of Elias de Tingewick’ and proceeded ‘by a certain ditch to include the said garden together with his [Elias’s] manor and vill of Great Deanshanger’. Deanshanger was included within the entries for Passenham at the time of the Domesday Survey. Nevertheless, its separate identity appears to be confirmed by a charter of 937 which conveyed an estate whose bounds seem to correspond closely, if not exactly, to those of the vills of Deanshanger and Puxley. The charter describes an estate beginning at the stanweg (?Watling Street) and running along the slaed to the foul rod (?assart), before following the slaed to Dinneshangren (?Deanshanger); then out through Dengyth’s grove to the hawthorn, then to the hloew, then to the elder-tree, then to the bank of the Ouse by Aelferth’s hloew, then to suthfeld, and so by the wyrtwalu (?turn in boundary) to the efsan (?edge of the wood); then to the withy, then by the wyrtwalu to the boundary-thorn on the east side of Branteswyrth (?Brownswood), and so to the stanweg.

In the 13th century, land in Deanshanger and its fields was granted to Snelshall Priory, including an acre in Lowefurlong, which is probably to be identified with the furlong of the same name in the nether field in 1566. A number of 14th-century charters also contain references to furlongs in Deanshanger recorded in the field book, such as Middle furlong and Rowley furlong. The division of the large field south of the village into the south field and nether field, identified in 1566, may have been medieval in origin. A charter of 1322 refers to the ‘campis del suth de Deneshanger’, although the number of fields is not recorded. Some assarting occurred at Deanshanger during the 13th century. Elias de Tingewick held two acres there in 1286. However, most of the assarts in the parish were located at Puxley, according to the surviving forest regards.

(iii) Puxley

Puxley is depicted on the forest map of c.1608 as a group of 16 enclosures lying between Hanger Walk and Shrob Walk. Four houses are shown, three to the west of Shrob Lawn, and one to the south of Brownswood Green. This accords with Bridges’ description of Puxley in the 1720s as ‘an hamlet of four mean houses … formerly a much greater number’. The 16 enclosures of c.1608 measured some 261 acres in all. In 1566 the field book records just nine enclosures at Puxley measuring 33 acres, together with 100 acres of pasture in the possession of Nicholas Throckmorton. The field book ends with the note that ‘there is decayed in Puxley a tenement called Nuttces in the tenure of Nicholas Clerke and also diverse other tenements and cottages there decayed, the names and number whereof are not known’. The discrepancy between the acreage recorded in 1566 and depicted in c.1608 probably resulted from uncertainty as to which closes at Puxley belonged to the manor, an uncertainty which is evident too in the survey of 1591. By the end of the 18th century the parishioners had difficulty identifying the boundary separating Puxley from Passenham and Deanshanger, although they knew that it had once been a township in its own right.

In the 14th century Puxley had been a settlement of considerable size. In 1341 the former Spigurnell estate consisted of 29 messuages, 4½ virgates, an assart of 12½ acres called ‘le Niewestockyng’, and a further 11 acres of land. This was just one of the two manors at Puxley recorded in Domesday Book. The other, held by Thomas le Forester on his death in 1361, comprised two messuages, 80 acres of land, a dovecot, a horse-mill out of repair, and half an acre called ‘le Stokyng’. A charter of 1384 reveals that open-field agriculture was practised at Puxley at this time. Of the 3 acres 1½ roods granted, ‘lying separately in the various fields’, four selions lay in Barnevill croft, one acre lay in the field of Puxley at Hanggynook, half a rood lay in the field of Deanshanger abutting Chyrchewey, three roods lay in ‘le Nethercumylton inlond’, and half an acre lay in ‘le Overcumylton inlond’.

There can be little doubt that Puxley expanded markedly between the 11th and 14th centuries as a result of assarting. However, Puxley does not feature in the earliest surviving records of the assarting movement in Whittlewood, from the beginning of the 13th century, and makes only occasional appearances in those of the mid-13th century. In 1250, for example, it was reported that Hugh de Stratford had made a purpresture out of the king’s demesne at Puxley, consisting of a quarter of a rood, on which he had built seven cottages, of which he himself held two, John Page held one, William son of Elias another, William son of Robert a fifth, Richard Neuman a sixth, and John Edmund the seventh. Hugh had also assarted 1½ acres and half a rood, from which he had harvested a total of 12 crops, six of wheat and six of oats, suggesting that the land had been cleared perhaps in the mid-1230s. A larger body of references to the assarts at Puxley may be found in the records of the late 13th and 14th centuries. Many of these record the clearance of tiny plots of land on ‘Poukeslegrene’, on which houses were then constructed. Thus, Benedict le Fuller of Puxley had created a purpresture three perches long and one perch wide, on which a house had been built which Isabella held. Larger encroachments were also recorded. In 1343 Henry Gobion and his son Hugh assarted 40 acres from ‘Grobyhull’, which they enclosed with a small ditch and low hedge, and on which they sowed oats one year, wheat the next, and which the following year lay fallow.

From the forest map of c.1608 it might appear that the whole of Puxley was once woodland, and that the creation of the settlement and its fields separated two walks of Whittlewood Forest – Hanger and Shrob – which had formerly been undivided. This may have been the case, but Puxley was certainly in existence by the time of the Norman Conquest, and no documents recording its creation survive. Nevertheless, the early history of the settlement was intimately linked with the stewardship of the royal forest. In an undated charter Henry II granted to his forester, Broneman, a demesne tenement at Puxley, which lay between the forest at Wakefield and the fee of Letitia de Ferrers at Passenham, with the houses, men and cattle there; a piece of demesne land called La Haye; and custody of Whittlewood Forest, which was to be hereditary in him and his heirs. Broneman was to render 33s. 4d. for the keepership of the forest and 2s. for the tenements. This was the nucleus of the estate held by Broneman’s descendant, Thomas le Forester, in 1361.

(iv) Whittlewood Forest

The ancient parish of Passenham included within its bounds about 1,187 acres of Whittlewood Forest, according to the survey of 1787 (over 36 per cent of the parish’s area). This included part of Wakefield walk (about 381 acres) in the north-west corner of the parish, and the whole of Hanger walk (513½ acres) and Shrob walk (292½ acres). The one major change in the area covered by the forest between the early 17th and late 18th century was the reduction of Shrob Lawn, from over 150 acres depicted on the forest map of c.1608 to just over five acres in 1787.

The historical evidence by itself does not allow us to reconstruct the area covered by woodland in the middle ages. It may have been more extensive than in c.1608, particularly in the area around Puxley, the scene of the most active assarting in the parish and the location of large amounts of timber cut down for royal building projects or as gifts to local parish churches and religious houses. Although the whole of this part of the forest was administered as Wakefield walk in the 13th century, the later walks of Hanger and Shrob seem to have had their own identity at this time. In 1278, for example, the keeper of the forest was entitled to ‘a place which is called La Siche for herbage between Shrob and Puxley’. The copses too were probably in existence by this time. The names of several of the copses shown on the forest map are also recorded in documents of the 13th and 14th centuries. Ashwells and Grubby Hill are among the examples.


Passenham village lies immediately north of the River Great Ouse, 1.5km south-west of Stony Stratford (SP 780 395). The modern settlement is comprised of a church, manor house, farm, rectory, mill and a few houses all standing west of a small lane leading to bridging point over the river.

Any review of the archaeology of Passenham must begin with the definition of its spatial bounds since the ecclesiastical parish no longer exists. The former parish has been totally subsumed by the modern civil parishes of Deanshanger and Old Stratford. The boundary of Deanshanger is, with the exception of its south-eastern quarter, coterminus with Passenham, and lies wholely within this former parish. Similarly those parts of Passenham lying outside Deanshanger are now entirely contained within Old Stratford parish, but the latter now encompasses areas to the east of Watling Street (A5) which formerly lay within the parishes of Cosgrove and Furtho. These parts of the new parish are not considered here.

Beginning at the point where Watling Street crosses the Great Ouse, the southern part of the former parish extends to, and follows, the river upstream over a distance of some 2.5km. The boundary then turns sharply north-west following a dog-legged course across fields to the Buckingham Road (A422) before following an anciently formed hedgeline, winding north to meet King’s Brook immediately west of Deanshanger. The boundary then turns west-north-west to follow this water course again for nearly 2.5km. The extreme north-western part of the parish forms a thin salient in country, today and formerly, dominated by woodland. Indeed the parish boundary follows some of the internal divisions of Whittlewood Forest, notably east along the southern extent of The Ridges and thence along the northern and eastern limits of Redmore Copse. From here the parish boundary follows the road system, with small deviations to a point north of Puxley, where it dives south for over 1km before returning north and then east to rejoin Watling Street which it follows south-east to its origin.

The line of the boundary, and the features which it respects, provide clues to its origins. Clearly the most dominant elements are natural, the Great Ouse itself, and its major tributary, King’s Brook. Elsewhere, however, the coincidence of the boundary with man-made features raises the question of precedence. Were these features in existence and thus followed by the boundary, or is the position of these features dictated by the already established boundary? These elements include:

  • the dog-legged section dividing Passenham from Wicken parish – does this suggest a boundary following furlong boundaries?

  • the sinuous course following the ancient hedgeline north of the Buckingham Road – is this an old enclosure or a woodland boundary?

  • the banks and ditches of the Whittlewood copses in the north-west of the parish.

  • the road system north of Puxley – is this respecting the detached portion of Cosgrove parish named Browne’s Wood. Common on the c. 1608 Whittlewood map?

  • Watling Street itself.

A major source for the chronological development of this territorial arrangement is the contested Deanshanger Charter dated 937. This records the grant of land by Aethelstan to Sigulf at Niwantune. Previously thought to relate to Hackthorn, Lincolnshire, the charter has also been linked with Deanshanger and has been accepted so to do by Riden in his forthcoming VCH volume. He follows the interpretation given by Brown and Roberts, who in turn follow that given by Gover et al.

‘From Watling Street through Shrob Woods to a clearing, then turning left down by the Hayes to Deanshanger, across the Buckingham Road to the Brook next to Drinall, and by this to the Ouse; thence by the River and the old South Field to the boundary with Wicken Parish, sharp right turn to follow this to the edge of Whittlewood. Thence following the edge of the wood to Puxley and Brownswood and then by the kink in the Parish boundary returning to the Watling Street.’

This version was critically examined by Green who identified various problems. The first is the association of Watling Street with stanweg, noting that in other charter boundary clauses, for example that for Church Stowe dated 944, Watling Street is specifically named (Watlingstraet). Green argues that stanweg must, therefore, refer to another metalled road of Roman origin. Secondly, Green is uneasy with the translation of Branteswyrth with Brownswood, suggesting as better alternatives either ‘Brant’s enclosure’ or more likely ‘burnt-out byre or homestead’. He then provides another account of the boundary which can be precised thus. Starting 300 yards north of the A422, at a point where Margary identified a section of metalled road (stanweg) in a ditch cut, he follows the current parish boundary north towards Dovehouse Farm in the south-west of the village of Deanshanger. From here the boundary follows the road, towards a mound located on the site of the Roman villa below the modern school (first hloew). From thence, the boundary continues to the elbow of the unstraightened Buckingham Road before descending to the Ouse at the point where another prominent mound (second hloew) can be located on the ground (SP 777 393). Here the boundary follows the river upstream, around South Field, to the Wicken parish boundary. It turns sharply away from the river (wyrtwalu) to Winterbrook (withy – literally ‘willow’, often an osier willow and thus closely linked with water) where it takes a second sharp turn (second wyrtwalu) passing Branteswyrth before completing its circuit. Green associates Branteswyrth with a patch of dark earth immediately to the west of the current parish boundary close to the Grand Union canal (SP 763 385).

Whilst Brown and Roberts’ interpretation of the boundary describes an area more closely linked to the later parish of Deanshanger, it is highly conjectural and, at the very least, employs creative interpretation of the topographical features mentioned. That Deanshanger parish is a 20th-century creation with no historic precedents further weaken their argument. Green’s interpretation, on the other hand, is more compact, accounting for each element in turn, and crucially linking these with physical features that still survive in the modern landscape. On balance, therefore, Green’s bounds appear to recommend themselves more than those of Brown and Roberts, particularly when viewed from an archaeological rather than historical perspective.

If the charter can be shown conclusively to relate to Deanshanger, and if the boundaries can be firmly located on the ground, then the charter provides valuable information relating to the 10th-century landscape. Notable is the reference to South Field (suthfeld) suggesting the existence of common fields by this point (why identify it as South Field if this was the only field?), and suggesting that the kinks in the boundary separating this estate from Wicken might indeed be furlong limits. It is interesting to note, however, that this boundary is in places not coterminus with furlongs visible from aerial photographs. Both interpretations would appear to suggest that the modern parish boundary to the south was established by 937 at the latest and that the open fields predate its creation. It can also be remarked that woodland elements do not feature strongly in the text. Dengyth’s grove suggests an isolated wooded stand, whilst other elements such as the hawthorn and elder tree can only have been distinct landscape markers in a non-wooded context. Again, this probably places the bounds south of Whittlewood forest rather than incorporating large parts of it as Brown and Roberts’ interpretation insists.

Of the archaeology of Passenham, little systematic research has been undertaken. The parish remains to be surveyed thoroughly by the Whittlewood Project and only small parts of the extreme north-east of the parish have been fieldwaked by Birkbeck College. This brief survey of the current state of archaeological knowledge, which covers the period c.500BC - c.1500AD, is treated chronologically, but long-term trends and inter-period associations will be noted as and when they occur. Emphasis is placed on archaeological information which might potentially help to explain observed medieval patterns of settlement and landuse. Less attention is given to single, often poorly accounted, chance finds.

Evidence for the occupation of Passenham in the Iron Age is restricted to the identification of three firmly established, and one probable, settlement sites. Three lie in the extreme north-west of the parish, within the narrow salient. The first (SP 7370 4178), which produced quantities of pottery, lies immediately north of current limit of East Ashwells Copse on the Wakefield Lodge Estate. The site would have formerly lain within the medieval copse. The second (SP 7291 4204) is located 850m north-west of the first by Briary Wood, whilst the third was discovered north-east of Forest Farm (SP 743 414). All three are in areas later colonised by woodland as depicted on the c.1608 Whittlewood map. The fourth (SP 770 396), immediately south-east of Deanshanger, comprises a circular post-holed structure with associated pottery. The RCHM(E) survey of south-west Northamptonshire also suggests a ditched trackway of probable prehistoric origin north of Shrob Lodge Farm (SP 770 417) running north-east to Watling Street over a distance of 300m and identifiable from aerial photographs. This is certainly, however, surviving evidence for copse ditches relating to blocks of woodland named Old and Young Castle Coppices shown on the c.1608 Whittlewood map. Nevertheless, there is an outside possibility that the positioning of this later arrangement may have been dictated by an earlier feature.

Whilst the evidence is sparse, Mynard accepts that finds of small quantities of both hand-made and turned pottery of this date do probably indicate settlement sites rather than less permanent occupation or chance losses. His more regional survey of North Buckinghamshire showed settlement at this period exhibiting a preference for the low fertile river valleys, as is the case for the Deanshanger site, but this is tempered by an imbalance in archaeological research in these areas in advance of gravel extraction. Importantly, he also noted a class of settlement on higher clay-dominated ground. East Ashwells, Briary Wood, and Forest Farm are all located on the Great Ouse-Tove watershed on Boulder Clay. This limited information, in combination with data from neighbouring parishes (for example sites north of Knotwood Farm, Potterspury immediately east of Watling Street and Old Tun Copse, Whittlebury, suggest a fairly densely populated zone in the late Iron Age, with exploitation of both light and heavy soils alike. The regularity of settlement might also suggest a landscape cleared in part of woodland to provide the space for the arable fields which must have been associated with these individual settlements, but no evidence for prehistoric field systems has been found, either from fieldwork or from study of aerial photographs.

There appears to be evidence for two cases of continuity of settlement from the Iron Age to the Roman period. At Briary Wood (SP 7291 4204), a settlement area of 30m x 90m, containing a number of floor surfaces, was identified and quantities of coarse and samian wares, stone, ash, wall-plaster and coins were recovered. Adjacent to the site, heaps of worked limestone blocks, apparently cleared from its surface to avoid unnecessary damage to the plough, were observed during the Whittlewood Project’s woodland survey. It has been suggested that this collection of crude buildings may have been the casae of native workers servicing more important Roman buildings at Bradlem Pond and Wakefield Lodge, both within 2km of this site. Similarly at Deanshanger the Iron Age material was found in association with later Roman occupation. Here the parts of the ground plan of a stone-built corridor villa, and other buildings grouped around a 75m x 60m courtyard have been discovered. The pottery evidence suggests continuous occupation from the first century through to the third century, although later evidence suggest a more agricultural/industrial function for the site as attested by corn-drying ovens, metal-working hearths and a large barn measuring 13m x 21m. Another settlement site is suggested just south-east of Passenham (SP 783 393) but the material was found in dredging detritus and cannot be securely located. But Roman activity in or near Passenham itself is further suggested by the discovery of an important hoard located in Windmill Field immediately north of the village. Two other concentrations of Roman material may be noted with the parish: the first at Puxley (SP 744 415 - 777 414) was identified during pipelaying and should probably be linked with a nearby settlement site; the second is a collection of coins and other metal artefacts apparently purposely deposited at Holywell (SP 7605 4206), which might be best interpreted as a religous site. Further Roman sites are known immediately east of Watling Street in Old Stratford parish, at Firs Farm (SP 781 412), Knotwood Farm (SP 772 442) and Dogsmouth Bridge (SP 779 416), and at Mount Mill Farm, Wicken (SP 764 377) but these lie outside the scope of this discussion.

The rise in the number of settlement sites during the Roman period, when compared with the earlier period, probably accurately mirrors a rise in population at this point. This may have been accompanied by more intensive exploitation of the landscape. Certainly the ubiquitous discovery of low-density pottery scatters dating to this period suggests large areas under cultivation, even in areas that were later to be wooded. Fieldwalking at Forest Farm by the Whittlewood Project produced Roman material but no medieval artefacts in an area that is depicted on the c.1608 Whittlewood map as part of the copse system. Whether Roman material should be related only to agricultural practice or can be linked with industrial activity remains to be answered. Of the known settlement sites, however, there is clear evidence for a rural hierarchy, with villa sites served by communities of native workers in secondary settlements as at Briary Wood. The apparent simple continuity of settlement pattern, however, is more complicated that it first seems. High-status Roman buildings only appear to occupy earlier sites where these lie on the lighter soils. So at Deanshanger, the villa and Iron Age structures are located on river gravels. Similarly the buildings at Wakefield Lodge and Bradlem Pond, immediately north of Passenham, are both located on limestone outcrops. At Briary Wood, however, on Boulder Clay, the Roman settlement is of lower status. This preference for different geologies has been further borne out by fieldwork undertaken by the Whittlewood Project in other parts of the wider study area. In Leckhampstead and Lillingstone Lovell, other Romano-British farmstead sites, producing both fine and coarse Roman wares but without building materials (suggesting wooden superstructures), have been identified on the Boulder Clays, but to date no evidence for high-status occupation has been encountered.

Generalised assumptions relating to the whole of the study area in the Roman period, taken from the example of Passenham, are fraught with danger. Passenham need not be representative. Indeed the proximity to Watling Street almost certainly makes it different from parishes more distant from this major artery. The Watling Street corridor is certainly likely to have attracted more intense occupation than those areas away from this access route, so calculations of population size and settlement density might overstate the overall picture. The type of occupation might also be different, perhaps linked more closely with the small Roman town of Towcester (Lactodorum) and the urban economy than to exploitation of the countryside. Nevertheless, the image of Roman Whittlewood, and Passenham in particular, appears to be one of a large population, living in close proximity, but in settlements of varying and ordered rank, served by a network of major and minor routes, in a landscape largely clear of woodland with most available space exploited for arable return. It was this type of infrastructure on which later generations would have built.

Early medieval evidence is restricted with one exception to chance finds, for example a silver penny of Eadgar, issued 973-5 from the Northampton mint found close to the Briary Wood site (SP 729 419), and an unlocated find of two sherds of St Neots ware and a primary sceat of Porcupine type dated c.690-725. Saxon material is also said to have come from Puxley, found during the laying of a pipeline (SP 744 425 – 777 414). The exception, however, is an important one. In three places in and around Passenham village skeletons of early medieval date have been found. Seven skeletons were discovered during building work at the rectory, south of the church. Further human remains are reported to have been found 400m north of the church and a further fifty were found when a vault was prepared within the church itself. Whilst dating is difficult, some burials have been found in association with 5th-century pottery.

The current state of archaeological research in Passenham, therefore, does not inform on the landscape and settlement pattern of this period. The three principal settlement within the parish do, however, all carry names which imply early medieval foundation – Passenham (Passa’s hamm), Deanshanger (Dynne’s hangra), and Puxley (Pucca’s or goblin’s leah). All three occupy the best soils. The geology of Passenham is dominated by heavy Boulder Clays. This covers the whole of the north-western part of the parish and much of the central region around Puxley Grange Farm to Old Stratford. The lighter esturine soils are restricted to the Great Ouse floodplain, whilst tributaries to this river such as King’s Brook and an unnamed stream passing through Puxley to Dogsmouth Brook have exposed areas of underlying limestone and outcrops of sands and gravels. Passenham sits on first terrace soils above the alluvium of the flood zone. Deanshanger occupies a central position within a large outcrop of Blisworth and Upper Esturine limestone, whilst parts of the modern dispersed settlement of Puxley are found similarly on Blisworth limestone.

This correlation between geology and early medieval settlement pattern is clearly of note. Neighbouring settlements exhibit the same preference for better soils – Potterspury and Wicken are both located on limestone, whilst the lodge at Shrob is similarly associated with a small finger of exposed limestone. Early medieval settlements, therefore, occupy the same soils as their high-status Roman predecessors. The question of continuity, however, remains unanswered. That these sites occupy the same area need not suggest continuity between periods. Rather it might be argued that the pattern is dictated more by the geology rather than constant occupation. Indeed, occupation, lengthy abandonment, and then recolonisation of similar soils would produce the same pattern. The juxtaposition of villa and medieval village may thus be a product of independent decision making by generations of settlers unaware of previous practice. On the other hand, it might indeed suggest that the infrastructure left by the Romans was to influence later settlement patterns.

Further evidence for pre-conquest settlement and landuse is elusive. The church, for example, which may preserve late Saxon fabric, does not in this instance. At Passenham, the church dedication to St Guthlac, an 8th-century saint whose popularity rose in the 10th and 11th centuries, may allude to settlement and the establishment of a church at this date, as does Edward the Elder’s decision to stay at Passenham during the refortification of Towcester in 921 as described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. But a survey of the church reveals no early work. In the nave, parts of the north wall, including a dressed stone course and the piscina, are thought to belong to the earliest stone-built church, probably constructed during the 12th century and it is suggested that the south wall too may belong to this structure. Around 1300 Early English windows appear to have been inserted into the north and south walls. A further one hundred years later, the windows in the south wall were replaced by others in the Decorated style, and further storeys were added to the tower at the west end. This is all that remains of the medieval fabric since the church was later to undergo substantial changes in the 17th century, particularly in the chancel, and the nave roof required rebuilding after the collapse of the spire capping the tower at the west end.

The church does, however, offer an insight into later medieval Passenham. There appears to be no evidence, for example of the lengthening of the nave which might accompany major population expansion. Nor, with the exception of the piecemeal replacement of windows to the fashions of the time, is there any evidence for a substantial growth of wealth, although some of the changes can be associated with changes in lordship, notably in the 17th century. The limited evidence to be gleaned from the church thus suggests a stable community at Passenham, whose fortunes and size changed little over the medieval centuries.

Stability in population, however, is not mirrored by a continuity in the form of the settlement. The current manor house lies immediately to the north of the church. The oldest parts of this building appear to date from the seventeenth century and should probably be linked with the reorganisation of the estate undertaken by Sir Robert Banastre. The c.1608 map of Whittlewood forest depicts a house on this site but this is dwarfed by both the rectory to the south of the church and another building lying east north-east of the mill and should not be seen as the principal seat. This, in all probability, is the second house noted above, standing alone to the east of the village. This appears to be positioned adjacent to an earlier manorial site surrounded by a rectangular moat (SP 7825 3940). This is still visible on aerial photographs. The site was partially excavated in 1967, revealing good-quality building materials, and pottery said to date from the second half of the 13th century. That no post-medieval structures were encountered, and that no post-medieval artefacts were recovered, suggests that the building shown of the c.1608 map was established outside the moated area, although its precise location remains ambiguous from simply the cartographic evidence alone. The house is shown standing back from the lane leading to the bridging point over the Great Ouse, very close to the moated site. It might be suggested that the late medieval building stood immediately south of the moat, itself forming part of the gardens associated with the later structure.

Today, all the houses in the village of Passenham lie to the south-west of the lane. There is evidence, however, for the location of a further seven buildings on the opposite side running from the current Manor House past the church towards the mill. These are defined by low banks or scarps, together with limited traces of former closes backing onto the ridge and furrow of the former open fields. The Royal Commission survey also suggested that further house platforms might be observed in the gardens east of the Manor House, south-east of the road, but the location of this is not shown on their earthwork survey of the village.

Settlement evidence for Deanshanger and Puxley is less forthcoming. Whilst at Deanshanger the green around which the early settlement appears to have been founded is visible in the modern road pattern, domestic and industrial infilling and suburban expansion have masked almost all evidence of earlier arrangements. It is possible, however, to identify some of the subdivision of plots, notably north of the green, with parcels shown of the c.1608 Whittlewood map. Whether these have medieval origins, however, remains open to question. Chance finds from the village, whilst of interest, are unable to further elucidate on the origins and development of Deanshanger. Puxley, too, has frustratingly little known archaeology and it is difficult to establish the origins or nature of the settlement although it is presumed that Puxley was, and remained, a relatively small dispersed forest-edge settlement with no obvious centre. Certainly no earthwork remains have been discovered on the ground and study of aerial photographs has been unable to identify house platforms or other features associated with settlement.

A large area to the east of Green Farm, Puxley, was fieldwalked by Birkbeck College as part of its Towcester Hinterland project. No medieval pottery was recovered although a scattern of limestone, tentatively suggested as a former house platform was observed at SP 7613 4195, just south of the stream draining into Dogsmouth Brook. This lies central to an area of early irregular enclosures shown of the c.1608 Whittlewood map. At this point there is a curious kink in one of the field boundaries, although the map does not show any building here. The field immediately south-east of the moated site (SP 764 423) on Watling Street was also surveyed. This field is now crossed between Potterspury and Deanshanger parish boundary. One hundred metres south-west of the moated site (SP 763 422) a concentration of 200g of medieval pottery was recovered perhaps suggesting a settlement associated with the high-status site. A further two bags of medieval pottery from this area (SP 761 421 and SP 762 421) are housed in the Central Museum, Northampton, although the circumstances of their discovery are unknown.

The moated site, itself, now in Potterspury parish, is not easily understood. This area was not mapped on the c.1608 Whittlewood map, apparently being part of Browne’s Wood Green, a detached part of Cosgrove parish. Later maps, however, suggest that the Cosgrove portion was defined by the loop of the modern road system and did not include the wedge-shaped parcel lying south of the road and north of the stream within which the moated site is located. The area is not part of Passenham at the time of the tithe map, nor is it part of the estate of Potterspury mapped in 1727. It is unlikely that the area was extra-parochial, thus the more likely explanation is that it was either part of the non-titheable part of Passenham, later to be transferred to Potterspury, or that it was indeed part of Cosgrove and that this had contracted before the 18th-century map was drawn up. If the former, there is an outside chance that this moated site should be associated with Puxley, and may have been one of its manorial centres. Indeed it may have been the location of the lodge linked with the office of steward of the royal forest, later transferred to Wakefield. Several forest or hunting lodges are known to have been moated, for instance King John’s lodge at Writtle, Essex.

Archaeological evidence for the open fields of Passenham, Deanshanger and Puxley is limited. Modern ploughing and gravel extraction along the Great Ouse floodplain have removed large areas of ridge and furrow. Survival in Deanshanger’s South Field is piecemeal, with the major survivals lying either side of the Grand Union Canal (SP 763 391 and SP 768 393) directly south of the village and towards the river (SP 773 383). Eight individual furlongs can be made out. Only small fragments of ridge and furrow can be discerned in Deanshanger Field (SP 757 398) at the extreme southern extents of Kings Hill Field (SP 774 400) and North Field (SP 773 397) where two interlocking furongs set at right angles to each other occupy the bend in old Buckingham Road. South of this road into Breach Field, the furlongs survive well (SP 773 396). Again eight furlongs can be identified, all of which appear to be orientated to drain into water courses. Ridge and furrow extends, according to the RCHM(E) survey of the village into Kiln Piece immediately north-west of the village. In the eastern half of Little Stow Field, there is evidence for at least five interlocking furlongs (centred on SP 781 398), but no survival in the western half bounding the Buckingham Road. The furlongs again, appear to drain towards the meadowland on the banks of the Great Ouse. Indeed the interface between meadow and open field is clearly demarked and follows the bounds of the field named on the Tithe, and depicted on the c.1608 Whittlewood Map, as ‘Shoulder of Mutton’. Ridge and Furrow also extends into Robins Leys to the backs of the closes associated with the string of house platforms lying north-east of the lane through Passenham (SP 782 394). Even less survives of the Puxley field system, with only one area now, lost to ploughing, south of Grange Farm showing on aerial photographs (SP 759 413).

Whilst the archaeological evidence from the parish is far from extensive, the general organisation of Passenham, Deanshanger and Puxley in the later Middle Ages, together with their fields, meadow and woodland resources, can begin to be established. More work is certainly required to understand fully the nature of the settlement at Puxley and to identify its common fields. Further work in Deanshanger is also vital if a reconstruction of the village is to be undertaken. In all cases, there appears to be reasonable evidence for a reconstruction of the Roman infrastructure but there is little evidence to help establish the chronology of both landscape and settlement development. Both Puxley and Passenham offer the opportunity for focused archaeological fieldwork designed to answer some of these questions and would be useful foci for research in the second phase of the project.