The village of Hardwick lies to the North of Bicester, half way between Bicester and Brackley. It is on the edge of the estate at Tusmore and in 1932 the two parishes were joined to form the modern parish of Hardwick-with-Tusmore.
The village’s toponym comes from the Old English for a farm, or dwelling place for sheep, and indicates that a settlement was made there because the drift gravel of the uplands provided fine pasture. As its church was originally a chapelry of Stoke Lyne it is possible that the area was the ‘herdwick’ of a Saxon estate there.
After the Norman Conquest in 1066 Walter Giffard, Lord of Longueville, held the manor. But the Domesday Book records that by 1086 he had given it to Robert D’Oyly in an exchange of lands. Of the 7.5 hides that Hardwick was then assessed, 2.5 hides later became part of the manor of Tusmore. The estate then descended with D’Oyly’s heirs until Henry D’Oyly died in 1232, when it passed to Thomas de Beaumont, 6th Earl of Warwick. It then followed the same descent as the overlordship of Bucknell.
William Fermor, of Somerton, bought a third of the manor in 1514 from Thomas Colyer and his wife Margery. Then in 1523 William Spencer, son of Robert Spencer and Elizabeth Arden, released his third ofthemanortoFermor.Andby1548 Fermor had acquired the remaining third from Edward Chamberlain. In 1606 William’s grandson, Sir Richard Fermor acquired the neighbouring manor of Tusmore and united the two estates.
The house at Manor Farm was built late in the 16th century. The Fermors usually rented it out to tenant farmers. It is now a Grade II* listed building.
Some of the farmland in the parish seems to have been enclosed in the 16th century for sheep pasture, but there was still an open field system of three fields in 1601. By 1682 parts of Heath Field and Mill Field had been enclosed, and by 1717 the enclosure of Heath Field was complete. Enclosure of the remainder of the parish was complete well before 1784, when Tinker’s Field and the remainder of Mill Field were described as having been enclosed “from time immemorial”.
By the middle of the 12th century the parish was a chapelry of Stoke Lyne, and by 1250 Hardwick had become a separate ecclesiastical parish. The Knights Hospitaller owned the advowson in 1252 after it was granted to them by Osney Abbey, and held it until Henry VIII suppressed the Order in 1540. In 1545 The Crown sold the advowson to an associate of William Fermor and it then remained with the Fermors until the middle of the 19th century, when their direct line died out and their estates at Tusmore and Hardwick were sold.
The earliest parts of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin are the north and south doorways. Dr Mary Lobel says the doorways are from late in the 12th or early in the 13th century, but Sherwood and Pevsner states they are Decorated Gothic, which would give them a slightly later date of 1250–1350. The chancel is Decorated Gothic and certainly from the 14th century. The nave was rebuilt in the 15th century with a large Perpendicular Gothic west window. In 1877 Henry Howard, 2nd Earl of Effingham, commissioned George Gilbert Scott, Jr to restore the church. Scott virtually rebuilt it and added the south aisle, porch and bell-turret.
The Fermors were recusants and supported the continuation of Roman Catholicism in the area from the English Reformation in the 16th century until after the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1791. Late in the 16th century there were few recusants in Hardwick, but after the Fermors moved from Somerton to Tusmore in 1625 their numbers increased. Roman Catholics formed more than half the village by the 1760s and the overwhelming majority by 1802. Roman Catholic villagers went to Mass at the Fermor chapel in Tusmore until 1768, when Tusmore House was being rebuilt and the chapel was closed for refurbishment. A chapel was then established in the attic of Hardwick Manor Farm, which remained in use for worship until the priest died in 1830. The chapel was succeeded in 1832 by a newly built Roman Catholic church at Hethe, just over a mile to the east of Hardwick.
In 1857 Henry Howard, 2nd Earl of Effingham bought the estates of Tusmore and Hardwick. In 1869 he demolished the old cottages of the village and replaced them with new ones of stone with brick quoins. He built a village school, which was finished in 1873, and his heir, Henry Howard, 3rd Earl of Effingham, maintained the school until at least 1895. However, the 3rd Earl died in 1898 and by 1903 the school had closed. It is now a private house.