1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Woodstock (England)

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WOODSTOCK, a market town and municipal borough in the Woodstock parliamentary division of Oxfordshire, England, 72¾ m. W.N.W. of London, the terminus (Blenheim and Woodstock) of a branch of the Great Western railway. Pop. (1901) 1684. The little river Glyme, in a steep and picturesque valley, divides the town into New and Old Woodstock. The church of St Mary Magdalene, in New Woodstock, is of Norman date, but has additions in the later styles, and a west tower built in 1785. The town-hall was erected in 1766 after the designs of Sir William Chambers. The picturesque almshouses were erected in 1798 by Caroline, duchess of Marlborough. The town is dependent chiefly on agriculture, but a manufacture of leather gloves (dating from the 16th century) is carried on. Woodstock is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors. Area, 156 acres.

After the battle of Blenheim the manor of Woodstock was by Act 3 and 4 of Queen Anne, chap. 4, bestowed in perpetuity on John, duke of Marlborough. In 1723 it was destroyed, being already ruinous, and the site levelled after the erection of Blenheim House, a princely mansion erected by Parliament for the duke of Marlborough in consideration of his military services, and especially his decisive victory at Blenheim. The sum of £500,000 was voted for the purchase of the manor and the erection of the building, a huge pile built by Sir John Vanbrugh (q.v.), in a heavy Italo-Corinthian style. The greater part of the art treasures and curios were sold in 1886, and the great library collected by Charles Spencer, earl of Sunderland, the son-in-law of the first duke of Marlborough, in 1881. The magnificent park contains Fair Rosamund's well, near which stood her bower On the summit of a hill stands a column commemorating the duke. Blenheim Park forms a separate parish.

Domesday describes Woodstock (Wodestock, Wodestok', Wodestok) as a royal forest; it was a royal seat from early times and Æthelred is said to have held a council there, and Henry I. to have kept a menagerie in the park. Woodstock was the scene of Henry II.'s courtship of Rosamund Clifford (“Fair Rosamund”). It was a favourite royal residence until the Civil War, when the manor house was “almost totally destroyed.”

In the Hundred Rolls of 1279 Woodstock is described as a vill, but a burgess is alluded to in the same document, and it returned two members to parliament as a borough in 1302 and 1305. A mayor of Woodstock was witness to a deed in 1398, but the earliest known charter of incorporation was that from Henry VI. in 1453, establishing the vill of New Woodstock a free borough, with a merchant gild and the same liberties and customs as New Windsor, and incorporating the burgesses under the title of the “Mayor and Commonalty of the Vill of New Woodstock.” The mayor and a serjeant-at-mace were to be elected by the commonalty, and an independent borough court was established for the trial of all civil actions and criminal offences. The borough was also exempted from the burden of sending representatives to parliament, but it again returned two members in 1553 and then regularly from 1570 until 1881, when the representation was reduced to one member. In 1885 the borough was disfranchised. The charter of Henry VI. was confirmed by Henry VII., Edward VI. and Elizabeth, but before 1580, when an ordinance was drawn up for the government of the borough, the corporation had considerably developed, including a high steward, recorder, mayor, 6 aldermen, 20 common councillors, a town clerk and a crier of the court, and the new charter granted by Charles II. in 1665 did little more than confirm this corporation. The hamlet of Old Woodstock is said to have been founded by Henry I., and was never included within the borough. The existing Tuesday market is stated in the Hundred Rolls of 1279 to have been granted by Henry II. and the St Matthew's fair by John. The latter was confirmed in 1453, with the addition of a fair at the feast of St Mary Magdalen. Queen Elizabeth in 1565 granted to the mayor and commonalty a market on Friday, and two fairs of four days each at the feast of St Nicholas and Lady Day.

See Rev. E. Marshall, Early History of Woodstock Manor (Oxford, 1873); Adolphus Ballard, Chronicles of Royal Borough of Woodstock; Victoria County History, Oxfordshire.