26 October 2022

There are so ways to spell
a good name: Cumberford
in Bloxham, near Banbury

There are more ways than one to spell a good name … visiting Cumberford in Bloxham, near Banbury in north Oxfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

There is more than one way to spell a good name, as I found in the village of Bloxham, south-west of Banbury, on the road to Chipping Norton.

The bus from Oxford to Banbury yesterday was a winding, rambling one along the banks of the Cherwell and through rural Oxfordshire and pretty villages with memorable names, including Steeple Aston, Deddington, Adderbury and Twyford – and there was still another few miles to journey on from Banbury out to Bloxham.

This is picture postcard England, with thatched houses dating back to the 16th or 17th century, many with pretty gardens that could have featured once on old-fashioned chocolate box lids.

Cumberford House is on the edges of Bloxham, south-west of Banbury in Oxfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Romano-British settlers in the area were followed by Anglo-Saxons, who established the site of the modern village on the valley slopes of the Sor Brook, a tributary of the Cherwell.

The Domesday survey of 1086 recorded the village as having six mills and trading in wool and corn. After the Norman Conquest, Bloxham continued to expand and at this time, the north and south of the village were quite separate.

Bloxham’s architectural heritage includes Saint Mary’s Church, a splendid church with a 14th century tower and 198 ft spire, said to be the tallest in Oxfordshire and a local landmark that can be seen for miles around.

To a large extent, Bloxham retains its irregular, mediaeval street plan, with a network of winding streets, alleys and lanes, and perhaps I shall write about the church and the village in the days to come.

Cumberford Cottage, beside Cumberford House in Bloxham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

But I was in Bloxham yesterday primarily to see Cumberford in Bloxham, including the street called Cumberford as well as Cumberford House and Cumberford Cottage at the top of Cumberford Hill.

I joked during the afternoon that there is more than one way to spell a good name. The family has generally spelt our name as Comerford since the 17th century, although my grandfather’s birth records spell his name as Stephen Edward Commerford, with two Ms.

The family origins have been traced to both Quemerford, on the eastern outskirts of Calne in Wiltshire, and Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire, which was sometimes spelled Cumberford, even at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries.

But I am still not sure about the origins of the name of Cumberford in Bloxham is derived from.

Is it a local topographical name? Or is there some remote connection with Comberford in Staffordshire or the Comberford family, which were often rendered with the alternative spelling of Cumberford, that I have yet to uncover?

Cumberford House (left), at the top of Cumberford Hill, was probably first built in the 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Cumberford was a comparatively late development in Bloxham, so the name may be a late derivation too. The evidence of surviving houses shows that these outskirts of the Bloxham today were at least partly occupied by the 16th century, and, indeed, most of the village street names date from about this period or earlier.

Cumberford is on the south-west fringes of the village and is an identifiable area on its own, with one of the highest hills in Bloxham. Cumberford is also the name of the street that begins on a bank above the local allotments.

Cumberford House, at the top of Cumberford Hill, was probably first built in the 17th century, and neighbouring Cumberford Cottage probably dates from the same time.

Cumberford House has a stone fireplace dated 1619 that was brought from a house in Adderbury. The house was modernised in 1742, and this date and the initials ‘RP’ are cut on a datestone over the lowest window in the south gable.

Cumberford House is built of regular coursed ironstone rubble and has a Welsh slate roof, and is built on an L-plan. There are three brick stacks to the ridge and the end, one on a stone base.

At the south-east elevation, the left part is single-storey with an attic, while the gable fronted bay to the right is of two storeys, also with an attic. The six-panelled door and lattice porch is flanked by casements with wooden lintels. There is a single attic casement on the left side, while the right side has a casement on the first floor with a key-stoned surround and a similar small window above with crown glass.

Some windows in the house have wrought-iron casement fasteners. There are ironstone quoins, and there are stone copings and kneelers at the gable.

The elevation facing onto Cumberford Hill has three tall two-light casements. The windows on the ground floor have key-stoned flat arches. A window to the left has been blocked. There are three similar windows on first floor. Most windows have wrought iron casement fasteners.

Inside the house, apart from the stone fireplace that is dated 1619 and that came from a house in Adderbury, most of the fittings date from the early 19th century.

Cumberford House is a Grade II listing building, and for some years has been the home of Michael Fergus Forbes and his family.

I walked back the short distance back into Bloxham, strolling around the narrow alleyways and streets, and visiting Saint Mary’s Church, before having a late lunch in the Joiners’ Arms and then returning to Banbury for the journey back to Oxford and on to Stony Stratford. I left, however, without uncovering the origins of the name Cumberford in Bloxham.

Cumberford Hill in Bloxham … the name may only date from the 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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