Archaeological sites in the Cassington gravel pit first came to light in autumn 1989, just before ARC Southern began digging. Since then the Oxford Archaeological Unit has been uncovering the remains of over 5,000 years of human settlement and use of the landscape. This work has been undertaken with English Heritage funding, the co-operation of ARC Southern and the kind permission of Worton Farms Ltd.Â The first people known to have lived at Yarnton were the earliest farmers in the British Isles and many pottery fragments from this era have been recovered from the excavations. Burial places and evidence of housing and artefacts from the Bronze Age, through the Iron Age and the Roman Period to the Anglo-Saxon times, have all been uncovered. By the Mediaeval period, the village of Yarnton, or Eardington as it was then known, had moved further away from the flood plains of the Thames to the area round the church and the old manor house. The village is recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book with its 26 tenants, 10 hides of ploughland, pasture, meadow and fishponds. The number of tenants had grown to 48 by 1279.
As in many early settlements, the history is linked with that of the church. A chapel belonging to Eynsham Abbey was mentioned as early as 1009. It is possible that the south door of the present church and the two small rounded windows were part of that early building. The parish church, dedicated to St Bartholomew, has a most interesting history and has gained much from two great benefactors, Sir Thomas Spencer and Alderman William Fletcher. It is famous for its window glass, the Spencer tombs and the 17th century bells. It stands beside the Manor House in Church Lane.
There was a manor at Yarnton before the Norman Conquest, but the only relic earlier than the Reformation is the Guest House, which is still called by that name. Around 1611 Sir Thomas Spencer began building what, for the time, was an enormous structure, forming the north, west and south sides of a courtyard. Scarcely 60 years later, the north and south sides had to be pulled down because the Spencer family were out-of-pocket after supporting the Royalist cause. By 1897 it was restored by its new owner, a builder named Franklin, who added a new south bay. Since 1973, it has housed the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish studies, a non-denominational academic institute attached to the University. This invites scholars from all over the world to research in either biblical and post-biblical studies or Jewish history and thought of the last two centuries. It maintains an important research library and archives.
The fields down by the river are known as Yarnton Meadows. They are the last survivors of the Lot drawing method by which much of the meadow land of the County was allocated under the open-field system of farming. Yarnton Parish owns about 3 acres of the 52 portions of Pixey Mead, which is bounded by the A34 and the River Thames. B.B.O.W.T. owns 19 acres of Pixey and Yarnton/West Meads. Yarnton Meadows have never been ploughed, and are widely known for the endless variety of their flora. Each summer they are ablaze with an unrivalled show of wild flowers. Pixey and West Mead are registered with the description Common Land as being subject to rights of common as pasture.
The interesting customs associated with the meadows and the way of life in Yarnton since the turn of the century are related in two booklets written by the late Joan Roe - Grandmother's Tales' and Bygone Yarnton. For those interested in the more distant past, the Oxford Archaeological Unit, (Janus House, Osney Mead, Oxford) has produced a booklet Yarnton's Unfolding Past.