History of Kennington

Ancient woodland

Ancient woodland

Early settlement

The village of Kennington lies on a long narrow strip of land between Bagley Wood to the west and the River Thames water meadows to the east. The Anglo – Saxon people who were moving through this part of the country in the fifth and sixth centuries must have regarded the site as ideal for a settlement. The Thames was a convenient water-way, the soil in some parts a rich loam with patches of sand and clay was fertile, an outcrop of limestone provided dry foundations/good building material, Bagley Wood offered timber as fuel and pannage for pigs and was rich in game and the nearby river and the adjacent water meadows were well stocked with fish and water-fowl.

A small hamlet was probably established here at this time but the earliest mentions of the village by name are in a Charter of 821 by Coenwulf, King of the Mercians, granting to the monastery at Abingdon privileges for its various estates including CENIGTUN and then later in a Charter of 956 in which Eadwig, King of Wessex, granted to his faithful priest Brihthelm, CENIGTUN, to go to any heir he chose. In 957 Brihthelm, now a bishop, grants his land at CENIGTON to the church at Abingdon [the Abbey] and Abbot Æthelwold gives him in exchange seventeen hides at Curbridge.

In early documents the settlement’s name was variously spelt CENIGTUN in the 9th Century then CHENITUN in the 10th and 11th Century and KENITUNE or KEINTONE in the 12th Century then developing over the years into the nearest to the modern title KENIGTON. It is thought to mean ‘the place of Cena’s people’. The village therefore derives its name from its Anglo-Saxon founder Cena, the Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘bold, valiant, keen.’

Bagley Wood

Bagley Wood (Anglo-Saxon Bacganleah) was first referred to in an Abbey Charter of 955 – when King Eadred, King of Wessex, gave lands, including the wood to Æthelwold the Abbot of Abingdon Abbey.

Middle Ages

Throughout the Middle Ages Kennington remained a small agricultural hamlet centred on large farm with a cluster of cottages to house the labourers, a chapel probably served by the monks of Abingdon and no doubt a small Inn. It is recorded in the Domesday Book [1086] that `Alwin holds 120 acres in CHENITUN; 18 Cottars 1 hide [120 acres]; there are 110 acres of meadow worth £10 ` It is worth noting that the population then is estimated at 120-130 and in the census taken in 1881 it is recorded as 129,so that the hamlet had not grown appreciably in almost 800 years. Kennington remained in the hands of the Abbey until the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1538 when the Abbeys Estates were secularized, Bagley Wood passing to St Johns College, Oxford in 1557 to which it still belongs and the village to lay landowners.

From the Dissolution in 1538 little is known of Kennington for nearly a century, but in 1629 Oliver Smith and Henry Bosworth rich brewers of Oxford bought land and built the house now known as the Manor House for John, Olivers son, who married Elizabeth, Henrys daughter in that year. This house, which is [Grade II] Listed is virtually unchanged today. On the 9 May 1823 Stephen Mundy took a lease for the farm and its estate of 391 acres at an annual rent of £740 and the Mundy family lived at the Manor Farm and farmed the estate from 1823 until 1913 under successive landlords.


The history of the Church in Kennington is unusual, little is known of the mediaeval chapel which disappeared before 1790 but the Old Church was built in 1828.This small building is something of a curiosity, in shape it is classical with the materials vernacular – rubble stone with a Stonesfield slate roof but the architect attempted to imitate the Norman style with the windows and West door. He was so successful it is sometimes mistaken for Norman work. This building is also listed.

Following a gift of land behind the church in 1913, from Norton Disney the chief landowner in the Village at the time, plans were drawn up to extend the building and when this did not prove possible the Church remained unchanged until it was de-consecrated in the 1950s, after the development of a much larger Church of St SWITHUN’S on the adjoining land to provide for the needs of a growing population. Included with the gift of land from Norton Disney was over an acre of land to be used to form a Church Burial Ground at Sandford Lane. Before this time the Churchyard at Radley, the Mother Parish, catered to Kennington’s needs.

Public house

Another prominent building of historical interest is ‘The Tandem’ Public House. This was basically an old house and has a stone with the date 1770 and the initials T W in the wall of the Public Bar, these were the initials of Timothy West the builder who carried out the work that year. It was re-built and enlarged on the old foundations in 1939. In the eighteenth century it was called ‘The Fish’ but its name was changed to ‘The Tandem’ for a special reason. In the nineteenth century the young bloods at the University enjoyed driving their horses in pairs, which in the City they were not allowed to do. As ‘The Fish’ had large stables [now garages] it became fashionable to keep a second horse in Kennington, harness this up in the Village and drive on!

Modern Kennington

It is possible to regard 13 May 1913 as the birthday of modern Kennington. On that day the Kennington Estate was put up for auction. Many of the plots were bought by Oxford people who then built their own homes. As the village grew it was granted Civil status in 1936 following pressure from a group of villagers, before this Kennington was divided between the parishes of South Hinksey and Radley.The size of the village increased with mostly post war development when it changed from a small rural community to the Kennington we know today.

The current population of the Village is now approaching 4000 and despite its nearness to the City of Oxford has jealously guarded its identity helped in the main by the Green Belt, which surrounds the City. Kennington boasts many recreational amenities, two large playing fields, a modern village centre including provision for both drama and indoor sports together with a small Library. Although the Village is now very large it has retained its reputation of being a responsive and friendly place with a strong community spirit, which supports more than 30 voluntary organisations.

With this caring nature further illustrated by the work of Kennington Overseas Aid a village group that annually raises large amounts for deserving projects in other lands.

Nearer to home, Kennington and District United Choirs, under the leadership of Trevor Cowlett, and the Friends of Kennington Cancer Fund, guided by Pearl Livett, raise thousands of pounds for more local projects and for the Oncology Unit at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

Although now to some extent a suburb of Oxford, housing the overspill from the City, Kennington remains a closely knit village community in sentiment and character, which may be longer and larger than it once was but is still a narrow settlement between Bagley Wood and the Thames riverside.

So the village of Kennington whilst now disturbed by heavy traffic flows along the A34 to the west remains able to look east to the quiet water meadows and to the river beyond as it has done for more than a thousand years.

George Ross
163 Bagley Close Kennington Oxford OX1 5LU

Permanent link to this article: https://kennington-pc.gov.uk/home/history-of-kennington/