Michael Blakstad for Meon Matters October 2017
John Christmas, father and son, make a brief but impressive appearance in the history of East Meon, and of Oxenbourne in particular. They started as yeomen, from outside the parish, but became the largest farmers in the valley and pillars of the community; after two generations, the name disappears abruptly from our records.
A 1790 indenture records the sale by the Bishop of Winchester the rectorial tithings of land in Oxenbourne to John Christmas of Hillhamptonfor which he was to pay £7 twice a year. He had come from Blackmore in the parish of Selborne’,and was then ‘aged about thirty nine years’ and his son was ‘John Christmas… an Infant aged about six years’. The ownership of ‘Hillhampton’ (also spelled in other ways …) was complex. As described in a previous article, the land was owned by Magdalen College, Oxford, and the farmhouse had recently been rebuilt, probably by its ‘primary’ tenant, Dr Edward Bentham of Christchurch College.
John Christmas the older lived there until his death in 1805and he bequeathed the lease of Hill Hampton and Oxenbourne Farms, with £2,300, in trust to his son, John, then aged 21, until he reached the age of 25. A glimpse is given into his private life by another clause‘the Interest and Produce of £300… to be placed out at interest on my natural Child Hannah the Daughter of Hannah Banks …(John did not have as much money to bequeath as he thought, according to a probate note, 17thDecember 1805, ‘that the Goods Chattels and Credits of the said deceased do not amount to the sum of Five Thousand pounds as they verily believe… ’)
John J was also a successful farmer: he is named in the 1851 census as living at Hilhampton, farming 392 acres and employing 9 labourers; the Tithe Apportionments list him a year later as ‘occupier’ of both Hilhampton and Oxenbourne Farms; by 1861 he was living at Oxenbourne while three carters lodged at Hilhampton. He now farmed 726 acres – the largest area of farmland in the parish – and employed 12 men and 4 boys.
The ‘Tithe Apportionments’ were the result of an Act passed in 1836, ‘commuting’ traditional tithes, paid as one tenth of all produce, to payment in cash …. to simplify a complex topic. As well as listing the size of each plot of land, building, coppice and wood, and payments due, the TAs record the ‘owner’ and ‘occupier’, but the most intriguing column is headed ‘Lessees’: those who, like John Christmas, had purchased the rights to the rectorial tithes.
The ‘Lessees’ are mainly aristocrats: The Right Honourable Viscount Gage, lived in Firle, East Sussex, owned Westbury House and ‘leased’ much of the west of our parish; Sir William Hylton Joliffe bart, was Under Secretary of State of the Home Office in Lord Derby’s government; the ‘Devisees of John Cornthwayte Hector Esq’, represented a substantial Petersfield landowner; finally, John Bonham Carter, the heir of the Bonham family whose memorial stands in the graveyard of All Saints, lived in Steep and owned substantial estates in the east of the parish. The vicar, Thomas Cooke Kemp, leased 1,968 acres, much of it woodland, and the last name is that of John Christmas, the only working farmer on the list and a mere yeoman.