top of page


The settlement of Willoughby is an ancient one with five entries in the Domesday Book of 1087 which reported ownership and use of land at the time of the Norman conquest. The name is old Norse for willow farm suggesting it may have been a border settlement between the Danelaw and Anglo-Saxon Mercia. One of the five Domesday holdings had occupiers with Norse names, possibly raiders who settled. 


Early Ownership in Willoughby Parish

Perhaps the most significant event, in terms of the development of the village, was the grant in the 1100s by Henry I to Wigan the Marshal of various tranches of land including a substantial proportion of our parish. Eventually in the 1200s, the last member of Wigan’s family dying childless, this holding was given to the Hospital of St. John the Baptist outside the East Gate, Oxford. This was a kind of ecclesiastical hotel providing accommodation for travellers and sometimes the destitute. 

The Hospital became Lord of the Manor and held courts to deal with local matters such as land transfers and minor misdemeanours. It also secured the right to hold a weekly market and annual Whitsuntide Fair. Magdalen College inherited the role with the endowment.


Ownership by Magdalen College, Oxford

In 1458, William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, founded Magdalen College and persuaded the King, Henry VI, to endow it with the former estates of The Hospital including its land in Willoughby. The College were the largest land owners until they sold the estate, mostly to sitting tenants, in the 1950s.

Pye Court in 1903

Pye Court 1903

HayMaking in the 1950s

Haymaking in the 1950s

The Enclosure Scheme (1760) and Changes in Farming Practice 

Before the Enclosure Scheme, a large proportion of the land was ploughed and, during the Middle Ages, the land was farmed on the Open Field system. After 1760, many fields were no longer ploughed and went to pasture and have remained so. As a result, the profile of the long strips ploughed during the Middle Ages can still be seen in the distinctive ridge and furrow profile of many of the fields across the parish today. 


A further consequence of enclosure was that the new owners were required to plant hedges and dig drainage ditches to enclose their allotted land. Most of these hedges remain today to the benefit of wildlife.

Ridge and Furrow field beside Moor Laane

Ridge and Furrow, Moor Lane

Impact on Employment in the Parish

The change in agricultural practice after 1760, i.e. rearing stock rather than growing crops, resulted in a significant reduction in the number of workers on the land and, as mechanisation took hold, many of the traditional support services gradually disappeared e.g. wheelwright, blacksmith. In the 18th and 19th century the village was a busy place with, at one point, four inns, a school, a wheelwright/carpenter, a smithy, a post office, a baker, a butcher, and a grocer. The farms employed a good number of residents. As the 20th century progressed, employment and services were found elsewhere resulting in fewer people living and working in the village today.

Shearing at Manor Farm in 1915

Shearing at Manor Farm 1915 

A baker in the Bakery, 1972

The Bakery 1972

Church View when it was a shop in 1890

Church View Shop 1890

Navigation Inn with people and motor vehicles outside

Navigation Inn

Transport Routes

Three historic transport routes run through Willoughby Parish. The village itself lies on an important historic road from London to Holyhead. In 1790, the Oxford Canal was opened with a wharf near Willoughby and this remains an important leisure route today. Later, the Great Central Railway station opened in 1899 (closed 1957) providing a regular rail service to London. You can see the Station Master’s House on the left as you drive to Daventry and the walls that supported the railway bridge on either side of the road.

The Braunston and Willoughby Railway Station

Railway Station

Houses and Historic Buildings

The street plan of the village has remained largely unchanged for centuries. The upper part of Main Street, Lower Street, Moor Lane and Woolscott Road were farm tracks until the 1920s. Much of the housing was of traditional cob and thatch until the 1950s when many were condemned as unfit for human habitation and demolished to be replaced by brick and tile houses.


Of the houses that remain, many of the oldest are in the historic core of the village. These include: Lower Street with its terraced cottages and detached properties such as Barrowfield and Church View, which used to have a Methodist chapel at the end of the building, and Vale House, a timber-framed house next door, which was built in the 17th century and Main Street where older properties include The Bakehouse and Post Cottage, together with buildings near the village sign triangle such as The Rose Inn, The Old School House, The White House and The Willows. 


In total, there are six listed buildings in the Parish: Church of St Nicholas (Grade II*), The Smithy (Grade II), The Rose Public House (Grade II), Vale House (Grade II), Manor Farmhouse (Grade II) and Whitehouse Farmhouse (Grade II). There is also a Scheduled Monument to the south of Manor Farmhouse which is known as The Moat and was the site of a moated farmstead dated to the 1400s.

Main Street Street in 1874

Main Street 1874

Lower Street in the early 1900s

Lower Street - Early 1900s

For further information about the history of Willoughby go to


Richard Jackson, Researcher and Archivist, Willoughby Society 

Willoughby Society Archives for the old photographs

bottom of page