Somerton is a village and civil parish in the Cherwell District of Oxfordshire, England. It is located in the Cherwell valley about 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Bicester. The 2011 UK census recorded the parish's population as 305.
The de Greys and their heirs
In 1230 the manor of Somerton was divided between two heiresses. In 1245 Walter de Grey, Archbishop of York, granted one of the halves to his nephew, also called Walter de Grey. The de Grey manor house seems to have been on low-lying land near the Cherwell. By 1295 it had a court, dovecote and fishponds. By 1300 Somerton had a watermill. Remains of the fishponds survive today.
The manor was passed down through the de Grey family, and then to their descendants the Deincourts and then the Lovells of Minster Lovell. In 1485 Francis Lovell was created 1st Viscount Lovell. Francis is believed to have been killed in 1487 in the Battle of Stoke Field at the end of the Wars of the Roses. The Crown held the manor for the next 25 years.
In 1512 the Crown granted the manor to William Fermor of Witney. William built a new manor house, above the village in contrast with the de Grey manor house that had been close to the Cherwell. It remained the Fermor home until about 1625 when Richard Fermor made Tusmore the family's principal home. In the 18th century most of Somerton manor house was demolished, but part of the hall wall still remains.
In the 16th century the south aisle of St. James' church was converted into the Fermor family chapel. However after the English Reformation (circa 1534) the Fermors were Recusants and had a private Roman Catholic chapel at the manor house.
When Thomas Fermor (grandson of William Fermor above) died in 1580 his will provided for the founding of a "free school" for Somerton boys to be instructed in "virtue and learning". Somerton's present school building dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, but includes a late 16th century window which may be from the original building.
During the English Civil War of 1642–51 Henry Fermor stayed neutral but his kinsman by marriage Henry Arundell, 3rd Baron Arundell of Wardour, another Recusant, was a Royalist who fought for King Charles I. As a result in 1646 the Commonwealth sequestered Arundell's estates, including Somerton. However a relative bought Somerton from the sequestrators and in the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 the manor was restored to the Fermors.
In 1815 William Fermor sold the manor to George Villiers, 6th Earl of Jersey. As the Free School accepted only boys, Julia, Lady Jersey, opened a girls' school in Somerton. Lady Jersey was the daughter of Sir Robert Peel. A century later George's son Victor Villiers, 7th Earl of Jersey died and the Somerton estate was sold.
Even after the Fermors moved to Tusmore, the Roman Catholic Mass continued to be celebrated at the Somerton manor house chapel. In 1738 St. James' Church of England rector reported that 47 Roman Catholics attended Mass at the manor house chapel once a month. Somerton's Roman Catholics were respectful to the Anglican rector, good farmers, and so neighbourly to Anglican fellow-villagers that there were numerous intermarriages between the two denominations. The rector concluded that the two denominations "are so blended and united together" that it would be inadvisable to enforce the laws against Roman Catholicism that made it an offence to celebrate the Mass or for anyone to harbour Roman Catholic clergy.
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Somerton, Oxfordshire.