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Quarrendon

The A41 is based on the Roman road known as Akeman Street that connected London with Cirencester. It is thought that a small Roman town built up around the road north of Aylesbury in what are now Quarrendon and Fleet Marston parishes. The A41 diverts from Akeman Street in Billingsfield, which has been surveyed, field-walked and excavated in advance of the construction of a housing estate. Some prehistoric material was found in these investigations, such as Neolithic to Bronze Age flint artefacts and Bronze Age pottery. Some of the pits and ditches may date to the Late Iron Age. Lots of Roman pits, ditches, a few post-holes and metalwork, pottery, tile, tesserae and some wall plaster and nails suggest a small settlement here. The pottery gives a date of 2nd to 4th century AD. The excavations also uncovered evidence of the construction of the road in the 1st century AD and three contemporary cremation burials placed in urns were found along the road.

 

Another Roman road is thought to go north from the A41 towards Whitchurch and a pipeline south of this found a series of pits containing Roman pottery and quern stones. Roman pottery has also been found on the eastern side of the parish near Weedon and recent excavations over the parish boundary at Weedon Hill have also uncovered a small Roman settlement.

 

Historical records suggest that there was a Saxon ‘palace’ in Quarrendon, but it is unclear where that would have been. Quarrendon was part of Bernwood Forest from before the Norman Conquest. Bernwood had been a hunting forest from the time of Edward the Confessor. It grew to its largest extent under Henry II. The whole area was not covered by woods; in the medieval period a forest was a place where deer roamed for hunting and so included open land, villages and fields. All those who lived in the forest were not allowed to hunt or even gather wood without a special licence from the king. Bernwood Forest was finally disafforested in the reign of James I in 1635, although it had been shrinking in size since the time of King John (1199-1216). In 1276 John Fitzjohn created a deer park in Quarrendon within the boundary of the forest with the permission of Henry III.

 

Quarrendon II in the foreground, the Tudor garden in the middle and Quarrendon I in the distanceThere are three deserted medieval villages in Quarrendon parish. At least one of them was recorded as Quarrendon in Domesday. Which one is not known and so are labelled Quarrendon I, II and III. Quarrendon I and II can be reached by footpath from the A41 following the River Thame and a tributary stream. You will come to a more defined track and Quarrendon II can be seen over the fence on the left. Salvage recording of a trench dug illegally on the edge of this village recovered pottery dating from the 10th to the 14th century. This suggests it may have been settled before Domesday and deserted before the Tudor period. Going to the right you come to a fenced off area from which you can see most of the site.

 

Walking past the church and fishponds, you can see a moat at the bottom of the hill that may have surrounded the late sixteenth century manor house belonging to Sir Henry Lee, Queen Elizabeth I’s champion. A farmhouse was built there in the eighteenth century that may have incorporated some of the Elizabethan house. It became dilapidated and was finally knocked down about twenty years ago.

 

Quarrendon IBeyond that you can see the main road through the medieval village known as Quarrendon I running up the field. There are house plots on either side of the road. It ends at a green where there may have been a dovecote. At the top of the field you can see rabbit warrens (originally interpreted as Civil War earthworks) built by Sir Henry Lee over the remains of the village.

 

St Peter's church in ruins in 1996The fishponds between the moat and the church were probably part of the Tudor garden and islands in the centre may have been formally planted. From 1294 St Peter’s in Quarrendon was one of three chapels belonging to St. James’ church in Bierton, although there are records that a church may have been there since the Saxon period.  A flood of 1570 destroyed much of the church and the lord of the manor, Sir Henry Lee, rebuilt it. The new church contained fine monuments to his parents Sir Anthony and Margaret Lee and to his mistress, Anne Vavasour. The church started to decay in the 19th century and although there were plans to restore it, they came to nothing. All that remains of the church now are a few piles of stone.

 

Tudor water gardenOpposite the church are the most impressive earthworks on the site. They have been interpreted as Civil War earthworks or a moat but they were actually a Tudor water garden. There is an L-shaped raised walkway with platforms for arbours and banqueting houses and it is surrounded by canals. A diagonal canal probably had an ornamental watermill halfway along. Over the other side of the garden there was probably an orchard. Sir Henry Lee may have built an almshouse near the church and the only possible site for it is at the end of the short arm of the garden earthworks.

 

Quarrendon III is further to the north of the parish, off the gated road to Quainton. The villages may have been depopulated at different times but it is likely that the last villagers left when Sir Henry Lee decided to turn the land from arable farming to sheep grazing.

 

Also mentioned in the 16th century in the Itinerary of John Leland was a Stone Bridge across the River Thame to the north of the town that acted as the town boundary. This was probably close to the modern bridge over the river and nearby a stony area in the river may be the remains of a ford.

 

There are not many buildings surviving in Quarrendon parish, they are all isolated farmsteads, and only one is listed. Berryfield Farmhouse is a 16th or 17th century timber-framed building that has been cased in brick.

 

One of the latest additions to the parish was a bombing target or orientation point set up in the Second World War for flying practice on the northern border of the parish with Pitchcott, which has been identified from RAF vertical aerial photographs. To the east of the parish near Weedon there are also the remains of a Second World War pumping station that was part of a system named PLUTO (Pipe-Lines Under The Ocean) that was set up after D-Day to supply France with fuel.