In early records it is supposed that Moulsford was originally part of Cholsey and with Cholsey belonged to the Bishop of Winchester. In 891 it passed by exchange to King Alfred and remained for the following years part of the personal estate of the King of England. It is probable that at this time there was a settlement by the river, as water transport was an important feature in commercial and social life. The ford was known as Mul's or Mole's - the name of Saxon origin deriving from the name of a Chief or Saxon clan, and was at the point where the Beetle and Wedge now stands.
William I, although he became King of England by conquest and succeeded to the Crown estates of his predecessors, probably dispossessed of their estates only such of the Saxon Lords as refused to accept his authority, and these estates he distributed among his Norman barons. Wallingford, in the 11th century was a place of great importance, and if, as seems likely, there were a few rebellious Saxons in the neighborhood, Cholsey would have special importance to a King who wished to reward good service.
It was Henry 1st, however who parted with the property, and Moulsford had no separate history until then (1100-1135). He granted the Manor of Moulsford to Gerald FitzWalter, one of his Barons, and an area of two hides adjacent to it to another Baron, Robert D’oilly [sic] the younger, who gave the land to the Abbey of Eynsham in 1140, after the death of Henry I. The Abbot was still owning land in Moulsford about 100 years later, and Nicholas de Southbire is recorded as holding one hide of the Abbot’s freehold at this period. It is thought that this land was in the area of Cow Lane and Sowberry.
It was in consequence, of course, of these separate grants that Moulsford was not included in the grant of Cholsey made by Henry I to his new Abbey of Reading. The Manor itself remained in Gerald FitzWalter’s family, who took the surname of FitzGerald, for 400 years and was not given up until 1497. In the earlier period the Manor was obviously a valuable possession even for this family, from one branch of which the present Earl of Leinster is descended.
The Manor of Moulsford was sold to Bartholomew Reed in 1497, and he became Lord Mayor of London in 1502. At this period other people besides the Lord of the Manor owned properties in Moulsford. It is not known when the Abbey of Eynsham ceased to be an owner, but as we have seen, the priory of Wallingford owned part of the village. It is further on record that in 1497 Thomas Yattys owned a messuage and sixty acres of arable land which was let to Thomas Bennett who held the property in 1517.
In 1581 the Manor was purchased by George Chowne and Christopher Pickering, apparently from John Reed, son of the Lord Mayor, and in 1591 James Morris and Richard Craddock became owners.
In 1596, Henry Sambourne of Bishop’s Lands, Co. Oxon, son of Thomas Sambourne of Sonning, became owner of Moulsford where he had already been settled. He was in the Commission of the Peace for Berkshire in 1601 and dies in 1631. His son Henry “of Moulsford”, who was knighted in 1609, was Sherriff of Berkshire in 1631, and became Lord of the Manor of Streatley where he subsequently lived. He married Dorothy, daughter and heiress of John Stamp of Aston. Either he, or his second son William Sambourne appears to have sold Moulsford to Anthony Libbe, son of Richard Libbe of Hardwicke, Co, Oxon, in 1668. It was William Sambourne, described on the tablet in Moulsford Church as Lord of the Manor of Streatley, who bequeathed Great and Little Runsford in Streatley to the poor of Moulsford on his death in 1697 at the age of 81. He was buried at Aston Tirrold.
In the latter part of the 17th Century (1690 – 1743) the Manor of Moulsford was held by the family of William Gifford, a native of Northampton and a “merchant of note”, recorded on the monument of Moulsford Church as “First President of the African Fort of St. George”, which appears to have been on the Gold Coast. He died in 1694. Another member of this family who died in 1699 [this date is hard to read on my document], and whose monument is now concealed by the font, is Mrs. Mary Speen. William Gifford left the property to a daughter who married William Jones of Ramsbury, Wiltshire. This gentleman was the nephew and heir of Sir William Jones, Attorney General to Charles II, and died in 1682. The younger son of this marriage Richard Jones, who was born in 1701, appears to have been given the Manor of Moulsford, and to have lived here, as he was buried at Moulsford in 1742. Richard Jones’ widow married Sir George Champion, of Lee, Kent, who thereupon sold the Manor to Wilmot Baker.
The modern history of Moulsford may be said to begin with the appearance in the story of the father of Wilmot Baker. Wilmot Baker was baptised in 1787, and is described in the Cholsey register as the son of Robert Baker of Moulsford. How long before 1707 Robert Baker had come to Moulsford is not known, but in 1715, he bought a messuage and free fishery in the village.
From his name, it may be assumed that Wilmot Baker’s mother was a Wilmot of Cholsey. He married Margaretta Maria Deacon of Streatley in 1739 and acquired the Manor of Moulsford in 1743 from Sir George Champion of Lee, Kent. Wilmot Baker was Sherriff of Berks in 1749. At his death, his estate appears to have been divided between his sons. But on the death of George Baker in 1778, the whole estate was owned by the elder brother Robert, who was born in 1740 at Moulsford and died at Streatley in 1812 apparently childless.
In the account of Moulsford in Vol. II of “Views of Reading Abbey 1810”, Robert Baker, who died in 1812 is described as “of Streatley”. He is also, in the same document, said to have purchased the manor and also, from a separate owner, the manor House. The inconsistency of this account with that given above, is no doubt due to the circumstance that the Baker family’s acquisition of the whole village took place gradually. Robert Baker, in late life lived in Streatley, but a signet ring with the initials R.B. was found in the garden of the cottage by the Beetle and Wedge in 1933, and is some evidence that Robert Baker had lived in the Manor House built on this site. He took down most of the Manor House and left only a small cottage standing in the middle of what is still known as the Great House Meadow. This cottage was presumably later the Horse and Groom public house, remembered by Thomas Lowe in 1909 “where coaches changed horses”. Subsequently, an ivy covered wall remained, but this had gone in 1909.
Robert Baker’s sister Ann married James Morrell of Oxford in 1769, and from the memorial to Robert Baker in Moulsford Church which was not put up until 1850, 38 years after his death, it would appear that there were at that date three surviving children of this marriage, Rev. Deacon Morrell, Robert Morrell and Sarah Morrell.
[I believe the reference to “Robert Morrell” here is confused – the Moulsford Church inscription mentions Baker Morrell, not Robert. Here’s the inscription in its entirety: "In memory of Robert Baker Esq. of Streatley who was born at Moulsford and after his Father became possessed of the chief part of the estate which now comprises the whole of this Parish. Obiit August 31st A.D. 1812 AEtat. 72. And was buried in the chancel of Streatley Church. This simple tablet is gratefully inscribed by his nephews. The Revd Deacon Morrell, Clerk and Baker Morrell. And his sole surviving niece Sarah Morrell A.D. 1850. The Incumbency was separated from the Vicarage of Cholsey in 1846. A house built for the incumbent and the extensive repairs and improvements of the Church took place. Praise be to God Through Jesus Christ."]
On Robert Baker’s death in 1812, the property came to his nephew Rev. Deacon Morrell, and at the time of the tithe award in 1840, this gentleman owned the whole village with the exception of some plots at Glebe, about five acres in extent, a farm house (probably Vine Cottage or Mead Corner) and Rod Eyot, the island below the Grange, which were owned by Elizabeth Baker, who may have been an unmarried sister of Robert Baker and Aunt of Deacon Morrell.
The Tithe agreement is dated 24th October, 1840, and was accepted at a Parochial meeting held on 24th February 1840. The map is dated 3rd January 1842. The Rev. Deacon Morrell owned two-thirds of the tithes of Moulsford Farm on the north of the village and the tithes of the undivided shares in Downs and Commons belonging thereto, and as he opened this property, he merged his own tithe on it in the freehold. The tithe rent charge, being one third of the tithe on this property and the whole of the tithe on the rest of the village, was fixed at £225 payable to the Vicar of Cholsey. A tithe of £1 was put on the Glebe and the Woodlands were free of tithe. The village was farmed, at this time on the open field system.
The Horse and Groom is not mentioned in these documents, but there was a Public House at the ferry occupied by Mark and James Morrell, possibly the firm of brewers. [This is very likely – Mark and James Morrell, proprietors of Morrells of Oxford Brewery, were Deacon’s first cousins.]
There has been no enclosure award for the Parish of Moulsford and the award for Cholsey was not arrived at until 1851, by which date Moulsford had been separated. As the whole of Moulsford was held in one ownership no enclosure was required.
The Great Western Railway was opened in June 1840 with a station about a mile form the village on the Wallingford Road. This event and the settlement of the tithe question were followed by great changes in Moulsford. The Rev. Deacon Morrell took steps to have the parochial chapelry of Moulsford disunited form the Vicarage of Cholsey. He, himself, was an absentee, and lived in Sackville Street, Westminster; his heirs were his brother Baker, and after him his eldest nephew J. H. W. Morrell [note – this should be J. W. H. Morrell], both of whom were unlikely to live in the village owing to a lack of suitable accommodation it was therefore convenient to provide a benefice at Moulsford for his second nephew, The Rev. [George] Kidd Morrell, who would, as Vicar, represent the family in the village. The order in Council effecting disunion is dated April 26th 1845. The Bishop of Oxford’s report on the proposal explains that the Vicarage of Cholsey and the ancient parochial Chapelry of Moulsford were formerly two distinct and separate benefices and were still treated as separate parishes for baptisms, marriages and burials, for vestries appointments of Church Wardens and Overseers, and for the making or rates. The population of Moulsford was 144 persons.
His proposals were that a separate benefice be endowed for Moulsford as a perpetual Curacy. That the Vicar of Cholsey surrender the Moulsford Glebe and the tithe upon it and upon the 206 acres of Moulsford Farm, Downs and Common already referred to (the third part nor merged in the freehold, amounting to £23 –13s) also the Moulsford Churchyard, surplice fees, Easter offerings and other emoluments. That the Vicar of Cholsey be responsible for 5/6ths of the charges of repairing and maintaining the chancel of Moulsford Chapel in view of the tithe retained by him, and the remaining 1/6th being transferred to the Chancel of Moulsford. That the patronage of Moulsford be vested in the Rev. Deacon Morrell on his undertaking to pay £1,000 to the Governors of Queen Anne’s Bounty for the augmentation of the benefice and £800 toward the cost of a Parsonage. The liability of the Curate of Moulsford has by recent legislation been transferred to the Parochial Church Council, but the liability of the Vicar of Cholsey still remains.
The Rev. [George] Kidd Morrell became first perpetual Curate of Moulsford in 1846. Immediate steps were taken to build the parsonage house and rebuild the church. The house (now the Old Vicarage) was occupied by Mr Morrell in 1847. The cost was £2,639 and was paid by Mr Baker Morrell, with a grant of £200 from Queen Anne’s Bounty and £60 by the Berks Diocesan Society. The Church was rebuilt in July 1846-7, but it was still surrounded by the farmyard of Moulsford Farm, and it was not until May 1849 that the present Moulsford House was occupied by Mr Hodges and the removal of the farm buildings from the neighborhood of the Church followed. The Farmhouse (now the Manor) then known as the Cottage was let to a Capt. Browell R.N. retired, who lived there until 1860.
The present school building was opened in 1851, and the six cottages on the road to the north of the school were built at the same time.
Rev. Deacon Morrell died in 1854 and his heir, Baker Morrell in the same year, and in 1857, Hopewell Baker Morrell son of J. W. H. Morrell inherited the estate.
For many years life in the village was uneventful, and the Lord of the Manor remained an absentee. [This is generally but not comletely true. Hopewell Morrell and his family spent most of their years at House Cae Mawr, in Clyro, Radnorshire, Wales, but there is evidence and family oral history of their occasional residence at the Manor. Hopewell's widow, Louisa, refers to it as "our dear home" in her copy of the Moulsford Sale Book, page 1.] As late as 1854, there was no Post Office in the village. The turnpike was removed in 1874. There was probably little change in the appearance of the village during the rest of the 19th Century except that Cranford House was built in 1875. Rev. G. K. Morrell died in 1882. [Note that, in Kilvert's Diary, Hopewell offered the Living at Moulsford to Rev. Anthony Mayhew not long after Vicar Morrell's death.]
In 1903, Hopewell Baker Morrell made over Moulsford Estate to his elder son, Hopewell James Shuldham Morrell. The younger son, Noel, had already come to live in Vince Cottage in the previous year. The new Lord of the Manor decided to live in the village and proceeded to make the necessary alterations. What was still a cottage by the church had recently been vacated by a Mr Forrester, whose lease had expired, and though it was possible that it was leased by a Mr Scwint, a trainer, Mr Shwint [sic] was accommodated in Sowberry Court, and the cottage was enlarged on designes prepared by Mr E. Warren, who also designed Sowberry Court. For his temporary accommodation, Hopewell [J. S.] Morrell built the bungalow in the adjoining field of Cholsey which had been purchased from Mr Hewkins of Crenford House. These proceedings seem to have been greatly delayed, as Hopewell [J. S.] Morrell did not get into the rebuilt Manor until 1906, and thereupon suddenly died. His younger brother Noel, also died within a few months. [note - most of Hopewell Baker Morrell’s children seem to have died young. Of the eleven children, to my knowledge only two appear to have reproduced.] To Hopewell [J. S.] Morrell the village owes the Waterworks, and in his time the Beetle and Wedge was converted from a village public house into a riverside hotel.
Hopewell [J. S.] Morrell’s extravagance made it necessary to sell the estate, and in 1907 the widow sold the property to Dr. Arthur Mayo Robsen. Moulsford thus passed out of the hands of the family whose connection with the village had lasted a couple of centuries.
Mr. Mayo Robsen introduced great changes in the village. He greatly enlarged the Manor House itself, laid out the forecourt and walled kitchen garden, and constructed the main drive. Moulsford House was improved and turned into a gentleman’s residence. The present vicarage, then a cottage, was doubled in size and made into a residence for Commander Williams. The Grange, originally the chief farm of the village, had been let off as a residence by Hopewell Morrell who merged this farm into the Moulsford Farm. Mr Mayo Robson restored the house which was in disrepair, closed the entrance from the road with a wall, and made the present entrance through what had been the farmyard gates, and reconstructed the cottage which was in a ruined condition. The old Village Hall (now part of the Barley Brake property) was constructed out of a disused barn and another barn was turned into a miniature rifle range. A cricket ground was laid out in the Greathouse meadow. My Mayo Robson built the three cottages behind Moulsford House in 1912 and probably also Greenland with the three adjoining cottages and farm buildings at the end of Cow Lane.
Mr Mayo Robson disposed of the property to Mr. C.A. Mills in 1914. It is obvious that during the seven years of his connection with the village, Moulsford became a thoroughly well organized and well equipped private domain. Mr Mills owned the property during the War I and in 1921 sold the estate to Mr W.G. Waldron, who found himself compelled to part with it at once. The new owner was Col. W.N. Jones of Ammanford, Carmarthanshire, who bought the estate in 1922 as a speculation, and with no intention of living in the village himself. At this date the property consisted of the whole village with the exception of the Old Vicarage and its paddock, and Vine Cottage.
Col. James dies in 1934. In the intervening eleven years all the land West of the Wantage Road was sold to Mr Mark Morrell of a distant branch of the family of the previous owners of the village. The purchaser restored Wellbarn Farm on the south for his own occupation and renovated the cottages at Starveall for the purposes of the farm work. Before Col. James’ death, Sowberry Court and surrounding land, including the Beetle and Wedge and cottages at the corner, and in Ferry Lane, the Port Office, the Grange, the village Hall enclosure, the school, Moulsford House, the Thatched House, Pye Barn, the two cottages opposite the Grange, and all the land of the village except the fields west and south of the Old Vicarage had been sold. The Manor, which had been empty for over six years was let as a hotel in 1929 to Mr. A.B. Marks.
Col. James died intestate, and it was found necessary for a liquidator to be appointed to realise what could be obtained for the unsold property. A Limited Liability Company has now purchased the Manor Hotel Property. A speculative builder has purchased the three cottages at Pye Corner, and the field south of the Old Vicarage has been sold – a part to Mrs Lockhart and a part as a cricket field to the Parish meeting. The field on the west was bought by Mr H. Hunt of Cholsey. The Waterworks have been sold to the South Oxfordshire Gas and Water Co., the factory buildings to Mr Thurston for stables, and the six cottages in the centre of the village east of the road to various purchasers. The village has accordingly become entirely disintegrated.