The first written record of Overthorpe dates to 1330, when it appears in Assize Rolls. Prior to this we have very little evidence of the settlement, and it is only in the 16th and 17th centuries that the village began to grow into what we see today.
Whilst there is not a lot of documentary evidence for the history of the village, we can learn a great deal from its buildings.
Prehistoric and Roman
There is little known evidence in Overthorpe village or the surrounding area of prehistoric or Roman occupation. Even in the adjoining parishes, Middleton Cheney and Warkworth, early archaeological evidence has been sparse. Within Middleton Cheney a scatter of late Neolithic and Bronze Age flints were found in the south east of the parish, as was a small area of Roman pottery. These finds are relatively insignificant, and do not indicate any form of occupation within or around Overthorpe.
There is little early evidence or written accounts of Overthorpe and this extends into the Saxon period. During the Anglo Saxon period it was located within the King’s Sutton Hundred. This was a rural hundred, with no towns. The name Overthorpe possibly derives from the old Danish word thorpe meaning hill or secondary settlement. Both of these descriptions would fit Overthorpe, as in early history it was subsidiary to Warkworth. It is also placed on a high location overlooking the fields in the valley below.
Unlike many other settlements in South Northamptonshire, neither Overthorpe nor Warkworth are mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. This does not however mean that they did not exist, as they may well have been included along with another settlement, not deemed sufficiently large in size to mention in their own right. It is possible that they were held by Hugh de Grandmesnil, as he owned many surrounding settlements, including Middleton Cheney and King’s Sutton. Another possibility is that it was held by the feudal Lordship of Banbury due to its close proximity.
Early evidence of Overthorpe is sparse, which makes it difficult to interpret the history of the settlement. By 1330 we know that Overthorpe existed with its current name, as it is noted in Assize Rolls from 1330. During the medieval period there was a manor in Warkworth, and it is likely that this manor also served Overthorpe. The village would have consisted of a number of tied cottages, linking the agricultural workers to the Lord of Warkworth Manor. The location of St. Mary’s of Warkworth suggests that it was intended for the residents of Overthorpe as well. Built in the 13th century the church now stands in open fields, a short walk from the centre of the village. The church was significantly restored in 1840 which obscured a large part of its historical significance. Towards the end of the medieval period the use of stone in buildings began to extend to the construction of residential buildings. It is at this time that wattle and daub timber framed constructions began to reduce in popularity.
16th, 17th & 18th centuries
Overthorpe took its present form from the end of the 16th to the beginning of the 18th century. No buildings survive prior to this, or at least not in any recognisable form. St Brides is one of the oldest houses in the village. The chimney has a date of 1699 on it, however it is likely that there are the remnants of a much older building located within. It is said that a medieval monastic hospital was located close to St Bride’s, and as St Bride is the patron saint of poets, blacksmiths and healers this would seem logical. It is likely that this monastic hospital was lost after the dissolution of the monasteries, and in 1552 an indenture granted land in Warkworth and Overthorpe to Thomas Reeve and George Cotton, which had been held by the late priory of Chacombe. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries the vast majority of inhabitants of the village would have been farm workers. Some of the larger buildings in the village were probably houses for the main farmers, with smaller cottages for workers. Hill Farm in Overthorpe is a classic example of a traditional 3 bay farmhouse.
During the Civil War soldiers from both sides marched through the village. On the 18th June 1644 the King’s Army marched through Overthorpe to meet the parliamentarians at the bridge at Cropredy for battle. The effects of this on the livelihoods of Overthorpe’s residents would have been significant. In 1608 a wool market was granted to Banbury by James I. This would have encouraged further farming of livestock. Textiles remained at the heart of Banbury and by the beginning of the 18th century a number of industries had developed on this vein including the manufacture of worsted plush and webbing, as well as the dyeing of fabrics. Middleton Cheney is recorded as being a centre for producing stockings, and it is likely that Overthorpe might also have had similar home industries taking place. There are no apparent surviving buildings from these industries. The common fields of Overthorpe and Warkworth were enclosed by an Act of Parliament in 1764. This would have changed the farming practises taking place in the village. Ridge and furrow still survives today around the village.
During the 19th century the village of Overthorpe was claimed as part of both Middleton Cheney Parish and Warkworth Parish. The hamlet of Overthorpe paid poor rate to both Warkworth and Middleton Cheney, paying road tax to one and the school board rate to the other. Various petitions took place to try to have Overthorpe included within Warkworth parish. One of these was signed by a Mr Dumbleton and a Mr Bromley. The fact that historic properties in the village now retain their names suggests they were influential men. A chapel was built for the Catholic population of Overthorpe and Warkworth in the early 19th century, sometime around 1806. It was paid for by the Earl of Newburgh, Francis Eyre, who also donated a house and garden for the priest, probably Chapel House, which still stands in the village today. Bones were found during the construction of Shillington in the 1960s and it is possible that this served as a graveyard for the Roman Catholic Chapel. On the death of Francis Eyre in 1827 the chapel was donated to the Catholic population. A lack of funds resulted in a decrease in upkeep and the priests’ salary.
A dame school was founded in 1859, although it is unknown which building was used. Dame schools were often set up in the home of the teacher, and it is possible that The Cottage, which had been used as a school between 1809 and 1816 was used again for this purpose, although there is no evidence for this. This school has since been lost, with children subsequently attending school in the neighbouring Middleton Cheney.
Overthorpe saw little change in the 20th century in terms of its built form. The use of the village changed from an agricultural settlement to a commuter village. Due to the nature of the fields the majority of manorial land was in pasture at the time, requiring fewer agricultural workers than more labour intensive arable land.
During the First World War a munitions factory was built just to the west of the village. This provided more than 4 million shells to the front line between 1914 and 1918. It was believed that all these buildings were lost, however one has since been found in Banbury, having been transported there for a different use.
Overthorpe and the surrounding area has very little known archaeology. The presence of ridge and furrow in the surrounding fields shows past farming practises. It is possible that archaeology exists in the surrounding area but remains undiscovered. Further archaeological investigation could reveal this. Any development which takes place within or on the outskirts of the conservation area must ensure that care is taken and that no important parts of the history of Overthorpe are lost.