The village of Fritwell developed from two neighbouring Saxon settlements, both of which had their own manor house.
After the Norman conquest of England in 1066 William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford, held a manor of 10 hides of land at Fritwell. William’s son, Roger de Breteuil, inherited William’s estates when he died in 1071, but in 1075 Roger took part in the Revolt of the Earls, was defeated by William I and imprisoned. The Crown confiscated and redistributed Roger’s lands and gave Fritwell to Roger de Chesney.
The manor then descended in the de Chesney family until 1160, by which time Maud, Daughter of William de Chesney, had become married to Henry II’s chamberlain, Henry FitzGerold. Henry and Maud’s son Warin FitzGerold had inherited the manor by 1198 and died in 1216. The manor then passed to Warin’s daughter, Margaret de Redvers.
The manor remained in the de Redvers family until Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Devon died in 1293. One of the Countess’s heirs was Warin de Lisle, a descendant of Margaret de Chesney. In 1368 Robert de Lisle surrendered all his lands to Edward III. From then onwards the tenants of the de Lisle manor were tenants-in-chief.
The de Lisle manor house was probably built late in the 16th century and rebuilt in 1619. The architect Thomas Garner restored the house in 1893 and made it his home until his death in 1906. Sir John Simon (1873– 1954) bought the house in 1911, had a west wing added in 1921 and lived there until 1933.
Meanwhile, in 1086 there was a second manor recorded at Fritwell. It had six hides of land and its feudal overlord was Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. This manor later became known as Ormondescourt. In 1519 Richard Fermor, a merchant, acquired the Ormond manor. Richard remained at his house in Easton Neston and put the Ormond manor in the charge of his younger brother William Fermor who already owned the manor of nearby Somerton. The Ormond manor remained in the Fermor family until the last member of the family, William Fermor, of Tusmore Park, died in 1828.
The Ormond manor house seems to have been at the southern end of the village. It was still standing when Fritwell was assessed for the hearth tax in 1655 but had been demolished by 1677, when a map of the village was made that showed no trace of it. Dovehouse Farm appears to have been built on its site, incorporating fragments of the old house. But by 1955 the farm had been renamed Lodge Farm.
The church of St. Olave was built between the two settlements sometime before 1103. The building was originally Norman, the north and south doorways and original chancel arch survive from this time.
Early in the 13th century the chancel was rebuilt and the bell- tower and south aisle and were added. The chancel retains two Early English Gothic lancet windows from this rebuilding. The Decorated Gothic north aisle was added in the late 13th or early 14th century and the Perpendicular Gothic clerestory was added to the nave in the 15th century.
In 1865 the church was restored and the bell tower was rebuilt under the direction of the Oxford Diocesan architect G.E. Street. He also had a new, wider chancel arch built and had the original Norman arch relocated against the north wall. In 1868 the square-headed Perpendicular Gothic east window of the chancel was moved to the north aisle and the present east window inserted in its place.
The Fermor family were Roman Catholics and throughout the 18th century they let the Ormond manor to fellow recusants. Fritwell’s Roman Catholic population increased and was served by a priest visiting the village from the Fermor chapel at Tusmore. The Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed in 1791 and a Roman Catholic school had been opened in Fritwell by 1808. However, after 1817 the Catholic population declined and from 1854 no Catholics were recorded until 1897, when Thomas Garner converted to Catholicism and got permission for Mass to be said at the manor house.
The parish had a small number of Methodists by 1823, who had their own meeting house by 1829. No one knows whether this was a private house or a purpose-built chapel, but there was certainly a stone-built chapel by 1853 when the congregation numbered almost 100. The chapel was replaced in 1874 by the present building, which was still in use early in the 20th century but is now a private house.
By 1853 a stone-built chapel for a different branch of Methodism, the Methodist Reform Church, was being completed in Fritwell. In 1857 most Methodist Reform congregations merged with the Wesleyan Association, but the chapel in Fritwell was one of the minority who rejected the merger and together founded the Wesleyan Reform Union instead.
By 1878 non-conformists were said to be a third of the parish’s population. A new Wesleyan Reform chapel was built in 1892 but thereafter both Methodist congregations decreased. The two chapels merged in 1920 and the combined congregation continues today as the Wesleyan Reform Methodist Chapel.