The village of Hethe lies about 4.5 miles north of Bicester.
Before and after the Norman Conquest Wulfward the White, a thegn of King Edward the Confessor’s Queen Edith, owned the manor of Hethe. However, by 1086 William the Conqueror had granted the manor to Geoffrey de Montbray, who was both Bishop of Coutances and also one of William’s senior military commanders.
By the 12th century the manor belonged to the Earls of Gloucester, with whom it stayed until the 4th Earl of Gloucester died without a successor in 1314. In 1347 the manor passed to the 1st Earl of Stafford, and it remained with the Staffords, who from 1402 were also Dukes of Buckingham, until 1521 when Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, was executed for treason and his properties were attainted to the Crown.
At some time after 1167 St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London was given a hide of land at Hethe. In 1537 the hospital was dissolved under the dissolution of the monasteries and the Crown seized all its lands. But in 1547 the hospital was refounded and retained its holding at Hethe, until at least 1682.
The Church of England parish church of Saint Edmund and Saint George is known to have existed by 1154, when it was given to the Augustinian Priory at Kenilworth. Both the west wall of the nave and the south wall of the chancel survive from this time, each retaining a Norman lancet window and the latter a priest’s doorway from the same period.
The east end of the chancel was rebuilt early in the 13th century when a Decorated Gothic east window was inserted. In the 15th century a Perpendicular Gothic clerestory was added to the nave.
When the Abbey was dissolved in 1538 the advowson of Hethe passed to the Crown, which has retained it ever since. In 1854 Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, complained that the church was “in a most miserable order” and “utterly too small for the population” and in 1859 the Gothic Revival architect G.E. Street restored the building, widened the chancel arch and added the bell-turret and the north aisle. Street also moved the Decorated Style east window from the chancel to the north aisle and inserted a new east window in the chancel in its place.
In the first half of the 16th century William Fermor, of Somerton, bought the manor of Hardwick, 1 mile west of Hethe, in 1606 Sir Richard Fermor bought the neighbouring manor of Tusmore and in 1625 the Fermor family moved to Tusmore from Somerton. The Fermors were a recusant family who had their own Roman Catholic chapel, a family priest and employed Catholic staff whom they allowed to attend Mass in their family chapel. The Fermors supported Catholic communities who farmed their lands at Godington, Hardwick and Somerton.
At some time the Fermors acquired land at Hethe, and in 1676 ten Catholics working for the Fermors were living there. A Roman Catholic population numbering less than ten survived in Hethe throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, some but not all of them working for the Fermors. They attended Mass at the chapel in Tusmore until the Fermors closed it for refurbishment in 1768. Thereafter they attended Mass at a chapel in Hardwick created in the attic of the manor house, but the Fermors sold the manor in 1828 and the new owner closed the chapel in 1830. In 1832 the priest from Hardwick had Holy Trinity church built at Hethe to serve the Roman Catholic population there and in surrounding villages.
By 1794 Hethe had a small Methodist congregation. They built their first chapel in 1854 and replaced this with a second one in 1876. The latter was still being used as a chapel in 1955 but is now a private house.
Hethe has a public house which, until the early 19th century, was called the Maltster’s Arms. It was then renamed the Whitmore Arms, after Thomas Whitmore who lived at Hethe House between 1808 and 1811. It has been a Grade II listed building since 1988 and became The Muddy Duck in 2012.
A National School was built in the village in 1852, and enlarged in 1874. In 1924 it was reorganised as a junior school and in 1948 it was reorganised again as an infant school. In 1954 it was still open as a Church of England school, but it was later closed.
In 1831 land was bought to build a Roman Catholic school. Building work was begun, but problems arose and the construction was not completed until 1870, when it opened as St Philip’s School. By 1920 it was an infant school, and in 1924 it was closed.