History of Sutton Courtenay

Sutton Courtenay, situated as it is on the banks of the River Thames, has been settled since earliest times. The river provided a source of fresh water while the surrounding rich alluvial soil, deposited on top of sand and gravel beds, was ideal for agriculture. 

The village is located at an intersection where the small River Ginge, which flows down from the Berkshire Downs, meets the River Thames. Around 4000BC Neolithic settlers set up an encampment a mile or so to the west of the village which is thought to have been a ceremonial site. Later there are signs of many Iron Age farmsteads in the area. Later still, the Romans occupied the area and a Roman villa has been excavated close to where the Neolithic settlement had been. A couple of miles to the East, on the banks of the River Thames near the village of Appleford, there was a second Roman villa which yielded up a 4th century hoard of pewter hidden in a well.  Important Anglo-Saxon settlements have been excavated.

The first written record of the village was in AD688 when the king of Wessex, King Ine, endowed the new monastery of Abingdon with the Manor of Sutton, as the village was then known. “Sutton” is a corruption of Sudtone or South Town, a town to the south of Abingdon. 

In AD801 Sutton became a Royal vill with Abingdon monastery retaining the church and the priest’s house. This was more than 300 years before the present Norman church was built and suggests that there was an earlier Saxon church here, but no trace of it has been found. The first recorded priest was Aelewin in 1091 which is again indicative of an earlier church since the present church was not started until the latter half of the 12th century when the lower two sections of the tower were built, along with the central section of the nave and the chancel. The lancet windows in the North wall of the chancel date from this period.

The Domesday Book of 1086 records that King William I (the Conqueror) held the Manor of Sudtone and that it contained three mills, 300 acres of river meadows and extensive woodlands. 

Fifteen years later in 1101, King Henry I sent his wife Matilda, a Scottish princess, to his Royal vill at Sutton for her first confinement. It seems that the child died in infancy. Between September 1101 and February 1102 Henry issued three Royal Writs from Sutton. Their second child, a daughter, may also have been born here, and she grew up to marry the Holy Roman Emperor and became the Empress Matilda. Her second marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou led to the birth of Henry II, the grandson of Henry I. 

In adult life Henry II had a friend Reginald de Courtenay, a French diplomat who hailed from the town of Courtenay, South East of Paris. Between 1175 and 1179, just around the time when the church building began, Henry II signed a charter granting the Manor of Sutton to Reginald de Courtenay. From that date on the village changed its name to Sutton Courtenay. 

For a more detailed history of Sutton  Courtenay see “Sutton Courtenay - The History of a Thames-side Village" by John Fletcher (1990) available from All Saints’ Church, Sutton Courtenay.

The following are some significant events and dates in the history of Sutton Courtenay:

Ca. 40,000 years ago – Archaeological excavations show evidence of the presence of Neanderthal man, woolly mammoth, rhinoceros, bison, lions.

Ca. 37,000 years ago – Climate becomes too cold to support humans.

Ca. 4,000BC – Neolithic man set up ceremonial site a mile west of Sutton Courtenay.

Ca. 3,700BC – Cursus constructed running roughly North-South parallel to Milton-Drayton road.

100-400AD – Roman villa at Dropshort and beside the Thames near Appleford. Hoards of Roman coin and pewter found near Appleford.

688AD – Wessex King Ine granted the Manor of Sutton to the monastery at Abingdon. First written record of Sutton.

801AD – Sutton becomes a royal vill (the medieval name for a collection of houses and adjacent lands) with Abingdon monastery retaining the Saxon church and priest’s house.

950-1000AD – Construction of the causeway and millstream.

1086 – Domesday survey shows that Sutton had three mills, 300 acres of meadow and extensive woodlands.

1091 – First recorded priest (Aelewin).

1101 – Henry I’s queen, Queen Matilda, had her first confinement at Sutton.

1102 – Henry I issued three writs from Sutton.

1150-1200 – Phase I of construction of All Saints' Church: lower three sections of the tower, narrow chancel, three lancet windows in north wall of chancel, Norman font.

1175-1180 – Henry II signed charter granting the Manor of Sutton to his French friend Reginald de Courtenay. After this “Sutton” became “Sutton Courtenay”.

1190-1200 – Norman Hall constructed by Robert de Courtenay, son of Reginald. This is a recent name for the building and is a misnomer as the Courtenays were French not Norman.

1310-1325 – Phase 2 of construction of All Saints’ Church commissioned by Rector John Brouns. Widening of chancel with new chancel arch and wagon-shaped roof, addition of narrow side aisles with steep roofs, old chancel arch (crenulated) moved to south aisle, Easter sepulchre in north wall of chancel.

Ca. 1325 – The Rectory House, now the Abbey, built by the Rector, John Brouns.

1390-1400 – William Brouns built the open hall and north wing of Brunce’s Court (now the Manor House). The cellar may date from early Norman times. Manor Cottage may date from as early as ca. 1300.

1420-1443 – Thomas Bekynton was Rector. Later he became the Bishop of Bath and Wells (1443 – 1465). He influenced Henry VI in founding Eton College.

1436 – 1445 – Thomas Brouns, a descendant of John Brouns and William Brouns, was Bishop of Norwich.

1480-1520 – Third phase of church development. Walls of Norman nave replaced by arcades with octagonal piers; aisles widened and roofs raised; nave rood raised and clerestory windows put in; nine perpendicular style windows installed; brick entrance porch built in memory of Bishop Thomas Bekynton (1500).

1485 – Battle of Bosworth Field. The Lord of the Manor (Lord Ferrers) slain, accused of High Treason, and the Rectory was appropriated by Henry VII and transferred to the Dean and Canons of Windsor (1495-1500).

1500 – Reginald Nutt (Mutt?) became the first Vicar of Sutton Courtenay.(d.1501). The effigy in the chancel is thought to be of him.

1642-1646 – Civil War

1642-1658 – Thomas Fitch was vicar. He was a Parliamentarian and stored gunpowder in the church. In 1643 the gunpowder exploded and the East window was blown out. Fitch was dismissed under provisions for the “ejection of scandalous ministers”.

1660 – Restoration of the monarchy. King Charles II coat-of-arms painted above the chancel step.

1660s – Manor House: ornamental gateposts and pigeon loft constructed.

1697-1724 – Bank of England (founded 1694) awarded contract to Thomas Napper of Sutton Mill to produce special paper for printing banknotes.

1700-1720 – Room above the church porch used as a schoolroom.

1741 – The Mill House built for the foreman of the mill.

1804 – The Mill House enlarged.

1807 – Toll Bridge from Sutton Courtenay to Culham opened.

1854 – Robert Loyd-Lindsay (later Lord Wantage) awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in the Crimea War at age 22.

1886 – Lord Wantage VC purchased the entire manor estate (including Hales Farmhouse, now Norman Hall).

1895 – Lord Wantage gave the entire estate to his cousin Colonel Harold Lindsay.

1901 – Lord Wantage died. Colonel Lindsay donated the 17th century wineglass pulpit in his memory.

1908-1916 – Herbert Henry Asquith was Prime Minister of Great Britain.

PC Asquith

The Rt Hon Herbert Henry Asquith, Ist Earl of Oxford and Asquith KG, PC, KC, FRS (1852 - 1928)

Born in Morley, Yorkshire.  After brilliant career at Oxford, called to the Bar.   

Elected MP for East Fife in 1886.  Home Secretary 1892-95.  Chancellor for the Exchequer 1905-08.  Succeeded Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in 1908.

Prime Minister at the start of World War I.  Replaced by Lloyd George in December 1916.

1910(?) – Chimney of the Paper Mill felled.

The Wharf with Asquith's Rolls Royce

1912 – The Asquiths moved into the Wharf which was bought by Margot Asquith with the help of a benefactor.  

Shortly after, they purchased Walton House and, later, the Mill House was also acquired by the family.   Asquith resided in Sutton Courtenay until his death in 1928.

1914 – Asquith's government declares war on Germany, 4th August. For more information about Asquith's connection with Sutton Courtenay at this time click here.

1914-18 – First World War. 32 Sutton Courtenay residents killed serving their country.


Inauguration of Suton Courtenay War Memorial

1925 – Asquith elevated to the peerage as Earl of Oxford and Asquith.

1928 – Asquith died and buried in Sutton Courtenay churchyard.

Asquith Grave

The Asquith Grave in All Saints' Churchyard

1936 – Sir Charles Duff owned Ramsey’s. Stanley Baldwin, his friend and Prime Minister, planted the walnut tree.

1939-45 – Second World War. 11 Sutton Courtenay residents killed serving their country.

1945 – Margot Asquith died and buried in Sutton Courtenay churchyard.

1950 – Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell) buried in Sutton Courtenay churchyard. 


The grave of Eric Arthur Blair aka George Orwell in the graveyard of All Saints' Church, Sutton Courtenay

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