Cassington parish lies on the north bank of the river Thames at its confluence with the Evenlode, and covers 2,299 a. (930 ha.) of alluvium, river gravel, and Oxford clay. It contains the hamlet of Worton and the site of the deserted medieval hamlet of Somerford. The parish boundary follows the Thames on the south, streams of the Evenlode on the west, and field boundaries on the east and north-east; in the north the parish extends into Burleigh wood which in the later 13th century was claimed by both Cassington and Bladon, and the boundary there is probably later than that in the rest of the parish. The streams which form the southern part of the eastern boundary were straightened in the earlier 19th century, and were in 1982 little more than drainage ditches. By the end of the 18th century the main branch of the Evenlode flowed out of Cassington parish to Eynsham mill and then turned west to flow past Cassington mill, cutting off the south-west corner of the parish. The Thames has also changed its course slightly, leaving a small strip of Cassington, once an island, on its southern bank. A small brook which rises on Bladon heath and flows south through the parish to the Thames formed the boundary between the townships of Cassington and Worton; the southern part of its course was straightened at enclosure in 1801. A smaller stream flows from north to south through Cassington village and then through drainage ditches into the Thames.
The land rises from 60 m. on the wide alluvial flood plain of the Thames to high points of 111 m. on Worton heath and 102 m. in Burleigh wood on the northern boundary, and 98 m. at Purwell Farm in the west. Along the western boundary the land slopes steeply down to the Evenlode at 65 m. Most of the parish is open farmland, but Burleigh wood and Worton heath on the northern boundary were both wooded in 1982. The latter was a 19th- and 20th-century plantation, having been rough pasture and furze in 1797. Burleigh wood was said to have been taken into Wychwood forest by Henry II, and although by 1300 the Evenlode formed the eastern boundary of the forest, leaving Burleigh outside it, the area has remained woodland.
Until the building of the Oxford northern bypass, the A 40, which opened in 1935, the main road from Oxford to Eynsham and the west ran south of the Thames, and only local roads ran through Cassington. One, the medieval ‘king’s way’, called in 1310 the king’s road from Bladon bridge to Oxford and in the 18th century Woodstock Way, ran through Burleigh. wood and over the open fields to the northern edge of Cassington village where it turned east into Yarnton parish; the section between Cassington village and Yarnton was known as the Port Way from the 13th century. Another road entered the parish from Eynsham, crossing the Evenlode by a bridge as early as 1215, and ran north-east through Cassington village to meet the king’s way; the section of the road between the parish boundary and Cassington mill was a causeway by 1316. There was a ford at the mill in 1767, but it seems to have been replaced by a bridge by 1797. Both roads were substantially altered at enclosure in 1801, the road to Bladon being straightened and moved eastwards, that to Eynsham being moved c. 1/4 mile to the north. Until it was stopped at enclosure, a third road, called Hastings Way in 1797, crossed the north-east corner of the parish, running from Burleigh wood to Yarnton where it was known as Frogwelldown Lane; it was replaced by a footpath on a slightly different course. A minor road from Cassington to Worton also survives as a footpath. The name Somerford, given both to the hamlet which lay just north of the Thames, and to a meadow across the Thames in Cumnor parish, implies a seasonal crossing of the river there. No evidence for such a north-south route survives in Cassington, but a riding on the boundary between Cumnor and Wytham, running south from Somerford meadow, was said c. 1800 to be the former ‘church road’ from Cassington to Cumnor. Although the association with any church is certainly incorrect, the name may preserve a memory of an earlier route from Cassington to Cumnor and Abingdon.
Between 1800 and 1802 the duke of Marlborough built a short canal from the Thames to a wharf on the Cassington to Eynsham road. The main railway line from Oxford to Worcester, built between 1851 and 1853, crosses the northern part of the parish; a branch line to Witney, running across the southern part of the parish, was opened in 1861. A halt at Cassington, on the Witney line, was opened in 1936, moved in 1948, and closed, with the line, in 1962. Cassington men supplied, and presumably bought from, Oxford market in the 17th century, and in the later 19th century and the earlier 20th carriers’ carts ran from Cassington to Oxford once or twice a week. There was no post office until c. 1915.
Streams and wells presumably supplied both Cassington and Worton with water from the time of the earliest settlements in the parish. As late as 1934 there were complaints that some of the wells, upon which villagers still relied, were polluted by their proximity to rubbish pits. An electricity supply was connected in 1934.
Cassington was not enclosed until 1801, and until that date the parish was farmed from houses in the village; detailed maps of 1797 and 1801 show no outlying farmhouses. There was a barn in Burley Breach, north of the modern Burley Farm, in 1604, but it was not there in 1797. The existing L-shaped farmhouse and outbuildings were built soon after enclosure (the date 1801 is on one of the roof timbers), but the builders re-used earlier material including 18th- century beams, doors and mouldings, and a datestone of 1605. Purwell Farm, whose plan is almost identical to that of Burley Farm, was also built immediately after enclosure, again re-using 18th-century materials. The materials may have come from houses in Cassington village demolished by the Blenheim estate. Jericho Farm was built in 1804.
The areas of gravel terrace in Cassington, like those elsewhere in the upper Thames valley, attracted early settlement. There are three in the south, one extending from Cassington mill into the western part of Cassington village, the two others covering the eastern part of the village and the fields between there and Worton village; a fourth patch of gravel lies further north around Purwell Farm. All four areas have produced pottery and other evidence of occupation from the Neolithic to the early Anglo-Saxon period. In the south the Iron Age finds suggest two settlements, one centred on a large ring ditch, possibly a fort, near Cassington mill, and the other north-west of the modern village. Romano-British and early Anglo-Saxon material found in the same areas suggests similar settlement patterns in those periods, the Romano-British settlement probably being quite dense. The Anglo-Saxon name ‘caersentun’, meant ‘tun where cress grows’. At Purwell Farm at least 21 burials, c. 20 small working huts in 2 groups, and 2 pottery kilns, all of the 6th or 7th century, have been excavated, and a settlement on the site in the late Anglo-Saxon period gave rise to the medieval field name Francwordy, ‘Franca’s farm or homestead’. None of the archaeological finds can be dated closely enough to show how much of the gravel was occupied at any time, or whether occupation in any one place was continuous. The most likely interpretation of the evidence seems to be a pattern of comparatively small, shifting settlements, both in the south part of the parish and at Purwell Farm.
In 1086 a total of 30 tenants and 2 servi was recorded in Cassington and a total of 13 tenants in Worton; in 1279 there were 46 tenants in Cassington, 19 in Worton, and 7 in Somerford, including some free tenants who may not have lived in the parish. That probably marked the peak of medieval population, for Somerford seems to have been deserted in the early 14th century; 4 men were assessed for subsidy there in 1306 but it was not recorded thereafter although there may have been a house there in the 16th century. Its site is marked by a hollow way, house platforms, and the boundary ditches of gardens and crofts. In 1377 only 64 people paid poll tax in Cassington, 63 in Worton, suggesting that although the population of the parish as a whole had fallen by about a third since 1279, that of Worton had risen slightly. By 1525, however, Cassington, with 24 or 25 men assessed for subsidy, was about twice the size of Worton where between 11 and 14 men were assessed.
In 1642 a total of 75 men in the parish took the protestation oath and 2 refused; 202 adults were reported in 1676. In 1774 the population was said to be 252; by 1801 it had risen to 374, and it continued to rise to 428, only 75 of whom lived in Worton, in 1831. It fell to 381 in 1841, but rose to 454, including transient railway labourers, in 1851. Thereafter it fell steadily to a low point of 293 in 1921, and then rose to 699 in 1971 as commuters from Oxford moved into the village. By 1981 the population had fallen slightly to 662.
Cassington village is divided by a small stream into two parts, known in the 20th century as the upper and lower village although both are on the same level; they may have been called west and east ends in the 16th century when property in the east end of Cassington was recorded. The main village streets, the Yarnton or Eynsham road and Bell Lane, form a V pointing northwards; a footpath, diverted southwards in the 19th century by the building of the school, links the upper and lower village. The upper village centres on a large, roughly triangular green. The surname ‘at green’ recorded in 1316 suggests that the green was an early feature of the village topography, but its exact form has changed from time to time. In 1797 it was smaller and further north than in 1982, on land later occupied by the 19th-century school and vicarage garden. On the western side of the green is a row of 18th- and 19th-century terraced cottages, including the Red Lion inn, of local rubble with thatched or tiled roofs. There is another terrace of similar date on the west side of the Yarnton road, north of the green, and a short terrace of heavily restored houses, some occupied as alms-houses in 1982, in Church Lane. The church lies on the southern edge of the upper village, north-west of the former manor house, Reynolds Farm, and away from the main streets. The 19th-century village school stands on the north-east side of the green, and south of it is its later 20th-century replacement. The other notable 19th-century addition to the upper village was Manor Farm, formerly Cassington House, a red brick building of two storeys with attics, set back from the road in a large garden.
The lower village centres on a small green. On the east side of it is the former Bell inn, from which a datestone of 1688 has been recovered. On the south is the Old Manor, an L-shaped building of coursed rubble with a stone tiled roof, built c. 1735 by Roger Bouchier, fellow of Worcester College, Oxford. It comprises a large room, called in 1783 a dining room, which rises almost the full height of the house, two smaller rooms on the ground floor and two on the first floor, all with their original panelling. The kitchen and servants’ quarters were in an outbuilding across a small courtyard. The house has no connexion with any manor; its name, first recorded c. 1930, may have been given it by the historian Henry Minn who occupied the house from that date. In Horsemere Lane, leading south from the green, are a number of 18th century cottages, including Bell Cottage dated 1727 and Thames Mead Farm, the former Godstow manor house. In Bell Lane, which runs north from the green to the Yarnton road, is Lime Cottage, a substantial 18th-century house extended in the 19th century, and a terrace of largely 18th-century cottages repaired in 1836. Several terraced cottages and a larger house, Ivydene at the start of the footpath to Worton, were added to the lower village in the 19th century, as was the Primitive Methodist chapel of 1870 on the footpath between the upper and the lower village.
Since the 1920s Cassington, like other villages near Oxford, has grown considerably. Much of the development has been along the Eynsham road, where 12 council houses were built c. 1930. There has been much infilling in the village, notably at the Tennis, west of Bell Lane, and in Elms Road in the upper village, and in Bell Close and St. Peter’s Close in the lower, where estates of council and private houses have been built.
Worton consists of a single street; at its west end is the Old Rectory, a small 17th- or 18th-century building of local rubble which was greatly enlarged c. 1840; it was in the earlier 19th century the farmhouse for the rectory estate. At the east end of the street is Rectory Farm, dated 1808 and surrounded by modern farm buildings. Between the two houses are several 19th- or possibly 18th-century cottages, recently restored.
The earliest recorded alehouse was one on or near the site of Somerford in 1587; the lord of the manor, Henry Allnut, owned an alehouse in 1689. Five or six alehouses, one in Worton, were licensed in the 1750s and 1760s, and in 1774 they were named as the Bell, the Chequers, the Red Lion, the Crown, and the Mason’s Arms. The Mason’s Arms seems to have closed in 1775 and the Crown, in Worton, before 1796. The Barge, at the canal wharf on the Eynsham road, built for ‘the accommodation of the trade’, opened c. 1804 and closed before 1872. The Bell closed in the late 1970s and was converted into a private house; the Chequers and the Red Lion remained open in 1982.
Henry II visited Cassington between 1180 and 1189 when a writ was dated there, and he may have been there earlier in his reign when the manor was held by his chamberlain Geoffrey de Clinton. Charles I and his army marched through the parish, probably along Frogwelldown Lane, in 1644 when they escaped from Oxford, but otherwise Cassington does not seem to have been directly involved in the campaigns of the Civil War. During the interregnum several prominent Royalist clergy took refuge in the village. James II passed through the village in 1686.
The parish wake on the Sunday after St. Peter’s day (30 June) was recorded in the early 18th century; in 1932 it was marked by a procession of the Buffaloes Friendly Society to the church. On the Monday and Tuesday following the wake a small fair was set up on the village green. A provident club was started in 1877 by the trustees of the parish charities, but no further record of it has been found. A village hall of wood and galvanized iron was built on the south side of the village green in the 1920s; in 1954 a playing field and pavilion were opened on the north-west side of the village.