Kirtlington village lies about 6 miles west of Bicester and the parish includes the hamlet of Northbrook.
The Portway is a pre-Roman road that runs parallel with the River Cherwell on high ground about 1 mile east of the river. It bisects the parish and part of it runs through the village as a short stretch of the A4095. Longer stretches form minor roads to Bletchingdon and Upper Heyford. The Roman road called Akeman Street also bisects the parish, running east–west just north of the village. A 4 mile minor road linking Kirtlington with Chesterton follows its course.
Kirtlington had two water mills on the River Cherwell. They are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, and in subsequent documents in 1240, 1538 and 1689. All documents after that refer to there being only one mill in the parish. The village also once had a horse mill.
The parish had small enclosures of farmland in the 13th century and 99 acres had been enclosed by 1476, but most of the parish was still farmed under an open field system. By 1750 the enclosed land totalled 900 acres, and the remaining common lands were enclosed in 1815.
The oldest visible parts of the present Church of England parish church of St Mary the Virgin include the early 12th century Norman arches that support the central bell tower and a tympanum, of the same date, that is now over the vestry door.
Beneath the floor of the chancel are the foundations of a former apse that also was built early in the 12th century. About 1250 the nave was rebuilt and north and south aisles were added. The transeptal Chapel of Our Lady, on the south side of the tower, may also be of the same date. The apse was replaced with a rectangular chancel late in the 13th century.
By 1716 the Lady Chapel was in ruins and Sir Robert Dashwood, 1st Baronet, had it converted into a family chapel and burial vault.
In 1770 the tower became unsafe and was demolished, leaving just its arches between the nave and chancel. In about 1853 Sir Henry Dashwood, 5th Baronet, had the bell tower rebuilt by the Gothic Revival architect Benjamin Ferrey, in a Norman Revival style.
In 1877 Sir Henry and Lady Dashwood had the chancel restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott. At the same time the organ was installed in the Dashwood Chapel, obscuring a 1724 memorial to the first three Dashwood baronets and other members of the family.
In 1583 John Phillips, a draper, bequeathed the rental income from a house in Woodstock to employ a schoolmaster in Kirtlington. His bequest did not provide for a schoolhouse, so a tenement called Church House was used. In 1759 the school had to close because the house in Woodstock had decayed to the point that it was unfit to be let. But in 1766 the house was let on a repairing lease to George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, and by 1778 the school had reopened. The vicar and Sir James Dashwood, 2nd Baronet, were the governors, and it seems that from then on the Dashwoods, as well as the Phillips endowment, supported the school.
By 1808 two other schools had been founded in the village, and by 1814 one of them was a National School. In 1833 the three schools were effectively merged and in 1834 a purpose-built schoolhouse was opened. In 1947 it was reorganised as a junior and infants’ school and in 1951 it became a voluntary aided school. It is now Kirtlington Church of England Primary School.
The village’s annual festival is called the Lamb Ale. By 1679 it was an established tradition that would start the day after Trinity Sunday and last for two days. That year Thomas Blount and Josiah Beckwith wrote:
“At Kidlington in Oxford-shire the Custom is, That on Monday after Whitson week, there is a fat live Lamb provided, and the Maids of the Town, having their Thumbs ty’d behind them run after it, and she that with her mouth takes and holds the Lamb, is declared Lady of the Lamb, which being dress’d with the skin hanging on, is carried on a long Pole before the Lady and her Companions to the Green, attended with Musick and a Morisco Dance of Men, and another of Women, where the rest of the day is spent in dancing, mirth and merry glee. The next day the Lamb is part bak’d, boyld and rost, for the Ladies feast, where she sits majestically at the upper end of the Table and her Companions with her, with musick and other attendants, which ends the solemnity.” (It is generally considered that the reference to Kidlington was a mistake, and that Kirtlington was the correct location.)
Later the festival extended to a whole week, and in 1849 three special constables were sworn in “for the better preservation of peace and order at the ensuing Lamb Ale Feast”.
The custom died out early in the 1860s. But in 1979 Kirtlington Morris was formed and revived the tradition, in a modified form. Every year since, the Ale has been held at the end of May or in early June.