Hampton Gay is a small hamlet in the Cherwell Valley, about 1.5 miles north of Kidlington.
A cast bronze clasp was found near St Giles’ parish church in 1972. It is decorated with stylised acanthus leaves and may be late Saxon, suggesting that there may have been a settlement there in the 10th or 11th centuries, probably larger than the one that is there today.
After the Norman Conquest of England Robert d’Oyly gave an estate of three hides at Hampton Gay to his brother-in-arms, Roger d’Ivry, while a second estate of two hides at Hampton Gay belonged to the Crown. D’Ivry’s holding became part of the honour of St. Valery, which, in the 13th century, was owned by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall. Under his successor Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall, towards the end of the 13th century, the d’Ivry holding was merged with the Duchy of Cornwall. Meanwhile the royal estate at Hampton Gay became part of the honour of Gloucester and thereby followed the same descent as the manor of Finmere.
The Domesday Book of 1086 records that one Rainald was the tenant of both the d’Ivry and the royal estate. The de Gay family were tenants of both estates by about 1137 and remained so until 1222. The village’s toponym combines their surname with the Old English for a village or farm.
In about 1170 Reginald de Gay gave a virgate of land (about 30 acres) to the house of the Knights Templar at Cowley. In about 1311 the Templars were suppressed and their holding at Hampton Gay was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem. In about 1218 Robert de Gay gave the tenancy of half a hide of the St. Valery estate to the Benedictine convent at Godstow. Between 1195 and 1205 the Augustinian Abbey of Osney bought the tenancy of two virgates at Hampton Gay from Robert de Gay who, in stages from 1210 to 1222, gave the remainder of his tenancy to the abbey.
The three religious orders retained their estates at Hampton Gay until 1539 when they were suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and forfeited their lands to the Crown, which in 1542 sold Hampton Gay to Leonard Chamberlayne, of Shirburn. In 1544 Chamberlayne sold the estate to John Barry, of Eynsham, whose family owned Hampton Gay until they got into financial difficulties and sold it in 1682.
The new owner was Sir Richard Wenman MP, who in 1686 became 4th Viscount Wenman. Wenman died in 1690 and his widow sold Hampton Gay in 1691 to William Hindes, of Priors Marston in Warwickshire. The Hindes family owned Hampton Gay until 1798 when Susannah, widow of Thomas Hindes, died without a male heir and left the manor to their daughter Anne and her husband. The manor changed hands again in 1809 and 1849, and in 1862 was bought by Wadham College, Oxford. In 1928 the college sold Hampton Gay to Colonel S.L. Barry of Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire, a descendant of the Barry family who had owned the manor in the 16th and 17th centuries. On his death in 1943 Col. Barry left the estate to his daughter Jeanne and her husband, the Honourable James McDonnell.
The Barry family built the manor house in the 16th century. It had an E-shaped plan with gabled wings and a battlemented central porch. Its Elizabethan form remained unaltered until the 19th century, including original Elizabethan panelling in its principal rooms, but in 1809 it was reported to be in a neglected state. In the 1880s the house was divided into two tenements, and in 1887 it was gutted by fire. It has never been restored and remains an ivy-clad ruin. It is a Grade II listed building and a scheduled monument. Early in the 21st century English Heritage placed the manor house ruins on its register of historic buildings at risk, listing its priority as “A” and its condition as “very bad”.
Tithe records show that Hampton Gay had a parish church by 1074. The Church of England parish church of Saint Giles had included features from at least as early as the 13th century, but in 1767-72 the Rev. Thomas Hindes, a member of the family that then owned the manor, had it completely rebuilt. In 1842 the antiquarian J.H. Parker condemned St. Giles’ Georgian architecture as “a very bad specimen of the meeting- house style”. In 1859 the curate, Rev. F.C. Hingeston, altered the church to his own designs, replacing its round-headed Georgian windows and south door with ones in an Early English Gothic style and having the west doorway re-cut in a Norman revival fashion.
Hampton Gay had a water mill on the River Cherwell by 1219, when it became the property of Osney Abbey. It was a grist mill until 1681, when Vincent Barry leased it to a Mr Hutton, who converted it into a paper mill. In 1684 Hutton took over the corn mill at Adderbury Grounds, 12 miles upstream of Hampton Gay, and converted that into a paper mill. The mills produced pulp, but the paper was made in batches by hand until 1812, when Hampton Gay mill was re-equipped with a modern Fourdrinier machine that made paper mechanically and continuously. In 1863-73 the paper mill was rebuilt with a gasworks, steam engine and other machinery, but in 1875 it was destroyed by fire and then restored to production in 1876. In 1880 it had both a water wheel powered by the river and a steam engine fed by a Cornish boiler, and could produce about a ton of paper per day. The tenants running the mill were J. and B. New, and when the manor house was divided they became tenants of one of its two portions. However, by 1887 the News had gone bankrupt and their stock in trade was sold to settle unpaid rent.
The mediaeval population was larger than the present one. However, it declined and in 1428 the village was exempted from taxation because it had fewer than 10 householders. John Barry, who bought the manor in 1544, had made his money from wool, and he or his heirs enclosed land at Hampton Gay for sheep pasture. In 1596 Hampton Gay villagers joined those from Hampton Poyle who were plotting an agrarian revolt against the enclosures. The rebels planned to murder landowners including Vincent Barry and his daughter and then to march on London. A carpenter at Hampton Gay warned Barry, five ringleaders were arrested and taken to London for trial, and one was sentenced to be hanged and quartered. However, the Government also recognised the cause of the rebels’ grievance and determined that “order should be taken about inclosures...that the poor may be able to live”. Parliament duly passed an Act to restore to arable use all lands that had been converted to pasture since the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558.
The Oxford and Rugby Railway between Oxford and Banbury was built past Hampton Gay in 1848-9. The nearest station provided was Kidlington, more than 1.5 miles to the south. British Railways closed Kidlington station in 1964 but the railway itself remains open as part of the Cherwell Valley Line.
On Christmas Eve 1874 one of the worst ever disasters on the Great Western Railway happened just a few hundred yards from the village. A train with 13 carriages and two engines had left Oxford Station for Birmingham at 11:40am. The train was about half an hour late and going about 40mph when, after six miles, the tyre of the wheel on a third-class carriage broke. The carriage left the track for about 300 yards, including the bridge of the River Cherwell. After the bridge, and before a similar bridge across the Oxford and Birmingham Canal, the carriage went down an embankment taking other carriages with it, breaking up as they crossed the field. Three carriages and a goods wagon carried on over the canal bridge, and another fell into the water. The front section of the train carried on for some distance.
The men from the paper mill tried to assist the injured in the snow and Mr Mallam, an Oxford surgeon who was attending a patient nearby, gave what help he could, assisted by a young London doctor who was travelling on the train. Telegrams were sent to local stations to summon more medical help but it took an hour and a half before a a special train arrived with more doctors and some much needed medical supplies. The special train was used to move the injured back to hospitals in Oxford. At least 26 died at the scene while four others were dead by the time the special train had arrived at Oxford station and at least one other died in hospital. The canal was dragged but no bodies were found.
An inquest was opened on 26th December 1874, using the manor house at Hampton Gay. The 26 bodies found at the scene were laid out in two rows in a large paper store in the paper mill for the court to view and seek formal identification, and the wreckage was also examined. The coronor and jury decided to re- convene in Oxford and permission was given to move the wreckage, but only one carriage would be moved to Oxford for further investigation and examination. The following week the coroner returned to Hampton Gay to further identify bodies there, and also those which had been kept in the third class waiting room at the Oxford Railway Station and one at the Radcliffe Infirmary.