Otmoor Riot poster.png

Our Lady of Otmoor with the traditional garland that was carried from Charleton-on-Otmoor to Horton cum Studley every year to honour her gift of the land of Otmoor.

artist, Nicholas Mynheer

The Otmoor Riots

The people of remote and lonely Otmoor, that hauntingly beautiful stretch of fenland which from Roman times until to this day has not been crossed by any road, claimed that Our Lady of Otmoor had ridden a circuit round the moor with a burning oatsheaf, and given the area inside it to the people of Otmoor in perpetuity.

These poor inhabitants of the "Seven Otmoor Towns" - Horton cum Studley, Murcott, Fencott, Charleton-on-Otmoor, Oddington, Noke, and Beckley - faced ruin when the moor was enclosed in 1829 under the Enclosures Act, thereby depriving them of their rights to the 4000 acres of common land for grazing cattle, sheep, horses, and enormous flocks of geese and ducks.

The fault is great in Man or Woman

Who steals the Goose from off a Common;

But who can plead that man’s excuse

Who steals the Common from the Goose.

Rioters against the enclosure blackened their faces, wore women's cloaks and tied black scarves over their heads and armed themselves with billhooks, hatchets, pitchforks and staves.  On some nights, up to 150 set out to destroy hedges and stakes with billhooks. The authorities tried to bribe men to inform, leading to the rhyme:

I went to Noke

And nobody spoke.

I went to Brill

They were silent still.

I went to Thame

It was just the same.

I went to Beckley

They spoke directly.

Everything came to a head on September 6, 1830, when about 1,000 people marched the seven-mile circumference of Otmoor in broad daylight, destroying every fence in their way.  The Riot Act was read to them, and the Oxfordshire Yeomanry was summoned. The rioters refused to disperse and 66 were arrested, 41 of whom were loaded aboard waggons to be taken to Oxford Gaol, escorted by 21 yeoman.  On their way through town, the crowds attending the St Giles Fair set upon the soldiers in Beaumont Street with stones and bricks, and set the prisoners free.