Tackley Local History Group

Tackley History Mysteries No. 12

How Old is Nethercote Road? Part 1

The name Nethercote Road for the road down to the station is relatively recent. In late 19th-century censuses, Nethercott Road was the name for the stretch of what is now Medcroft Road between The Green and Rousham Road — it was the road from Tackley to Nethercott. The road to the station was called Nethercott Street, i.e. the street in Nethercott. Its even earlier name, still remembered in the village today, was simply The Street — and that is where things get interesting, especially when you add in that Street Farm was beside this road.

The word ‘street’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon straet which meant a road or highway that was paved or metalled (surfaced with crushed stone) with the strong implication that it was a pre-existing, i.e. Roman, road. The Anglo-Saxons did not engage in road-building on a Roman scale. Roman road-building technology and skills had been lost, and many Roman roads fell into disrepair or out of use in the centuries immediately following the withdrawal of imperial power in 410 AD.

But the Anglo-Saxons did name them – they were a huge presence in the landscape – and the original meaning of ‘street’ still survives in the current names of several Roman roads including Ermine Street (Earninga Straete), Stane Street (Stanstret) and Watling Street (Watlingstrate).

Akeman Street, which runs 700 metres south of Nethercote, is one of those whose Anglo-Saxon name does not seem to have survived. But there are two local Anglo-Saxon references to it. Stratford Bridge on the minor road going west from The Oxford School of Drama is named after the ford where Akeman Street crossed the river Glyme. The 1004 charter of the manorial estate of Whitehill describes its northern boundary as running along the strete. Akeman Street was still shown as the boundary between Whitehill and Tackley in a map of 1605.

A search nationally for places with a Street Farm along or close to a road called The Street has so far revealed 80 examples. Two thirds of these are in East Anglia, where there are many villages where the section of the most important road going through the village is called The Street with a farm beside it. In most cases there is no evidence that the road was Roman in origin or that the village is close to a Roman road or settlement. These examples therefore don’t date from the Anglo-Saxon period but from several hundred years later, in the Middle Ages, when the word ‘street’ had lost its original reference to a Roman road. It had evolved into its current meaning of a road within a town or village that is wider than a lane or alley, usually running between two lines of houses or shops — High Street, Market Street, Church Street, etc.

However, some of the East Anglian instances of a Street Farm alongside The Street are close by Roman roads, and this is generally the case with the rest of the examples from around the country. Thus there were four Street Farms along a ten-mile stretch of the Fosse Way between Exeter and Honiton. Ours is the only known example of the combination Street Farm + The Street in Oxfordshire.

Is its name also Anglo-Saxon rather than medieval in origin? The way in which the houses along Nethercote Road are distributed is the key. Most of the older houses on the south side, including Street Farm and St John’s Farm, face away from the road while those on the north face it. They date from the 18th century when, across the country, labourers’ cottages were rebuilt in stone – replacing earlier structures built mostly of wood, cob, or wattle and daub – and roofed with thatch or turf.

The vast majority of the new buildings retained the same orientation as those they replaced. We can therefore be reasonably certain that the current orientation of the houses on Nethercote Road is many hundreds of years old, and probably well over a thousand years old. They have never faced each other across the road. This suggests that the name The Street was not derived from the medieval meaning of a street between two lines of houses or shops whose entrances would generally have faced the roadway. In addition, there are large gaps between the groups of old buildings on both sides of the road, and they are not opposite each other. They really don’t look like two parallel rows of houses. The derivation must therefore be earlier, in which case the name The Street refers to the roadway itself – that it was old and surfaced – (Anglo-Saxon) rather than referring to the fact that it was lined on both sides by buildings (medieval).

Street Farm derived its Anglo-Saxon name from being ‘the farm beside the old (Roman) road’. The other Roman connection is, and was, the villa just 50 metres from the farmyard, now under the houses in Roman Place. We know that after the villa was demolished around 360 AD the ruins were lived in for many decades before being cleared and occupied by Anglo-Saxons in the sixth century. Street Farm on The Street owes its name to the ruins of a Roman villa and a short stretch of paved Roman road, both of which would have been visible and then remembered for generations, and named as a result. It is unlikely that its name derives from it being near Akeman Street, which is half a mile away. There were other Roman farms closer to the main road, in particular Field Barn Farm which borders it.

We know that there was a significant Anglo-Saxon presence here and that they gave names to local features. Those few that have survived are undoubtedly a small fraction of the places that were named. Tackley means Taecca’s wood or clearing, or possibly ‘the clearing for young sheep’. Snakestail Clump along the road to Sturdy’s is in a field that was known in 1268 as Snokeshull which derives from Snoc’s Hill. Snoc, like Taecca, was an Anglo-Saxon personal name. Weaveley comes from Wīdiglēah, willow wood; and Whitehill from Wihthyll, hill with a curved hollow. Kirtlington was Cyrtla’s Farm and Rousham was Hrōpwulf’s Hām (village). The now-vanished Bigberry Farm south of the pumping station at Angelino’s Corner was originally Bicanbryg, Bica’s farmstead or fortified house. Stratford Bridge has already been mentioned. Finally, there were several Anglo-Saxon settlements here: on the site of St Nicholas’ Church, at Lower Dornford Farm, at Hordley near Sansom’s Platt, and in Whitehill — as well as on the ruins of the villa at Street Farm.

A good case can therefore be made for Nethercote Road being an old, minor Roman road or trackway, probably dressed with crushed stone during an early period of its long life. Street Farm derives its name, ultimately and in a direct line, from the period 400 to 700 AD. The villa was the centre of a large farming estate which was already being extensively farmed in the late Iron Age before the Roman conquest. Street Farm has been the site of a farm for more than 2,000 years.

If Nethercote Road is a Roman road, then there are further questions. Where did it come from and go to? What was its relationship with Akeman Street? Did it follow the line of an earlier, prehistoric trackway? What was its role in the development of the Anglo-Saxon settlement we now know as Tackley? These questions will be discussed in future parts of this Tackley History Mystery.

Research and text: John Perkins

More Mysteries