The Causeway, nearly a mile long, runs northeast to southwest the length of the village, starting by The Green in the east and finishing at the Church in the west.
There is no record of when the Causeway was built, but it is certainly very old. The middle of the 13th century seems a likely enough estimate.
A Court Roll of 1418-19 declares “By ancient custom the Causeway is repaired by the tenants of the manor” while a table in the church, dated to around 1620, states that “Two sisters by ancient report gave a yard of land, one acre of Meadow, four Swathes, one Taylors yeard, one close, and a Copps to ye Maintenance of ye Cawseway of Steventon”.
In the early period from which the Causeway undoubtedly dates, the raising of such an extensive earthwork necessarily demanded a very large manual effort, estimated as at least 45 man-years of labour. This would have been well beyond the immediate resources of the Prior and one monk who inhabited the Priory and administered the Manor.
On the other hand, it is likely that they initiated the project and then organised the work force and supervised the work.
The pitchings seem to have been added much later, and are thought to have been brought from quarries near Marcham in the early 19th century. It has been calculated that some 370 cartloads would have been needed.
Unlike other roads in Steventon – which were maintained by a ‘Surveyor of Highways’ appointed by the parish under the ‘Highways Act’ introduced by Henry VIII – the Causeway has for centuries been maintained by its own local charity, originally funded by the private benefaction of those two sisters in around 1620.
The Trustees of that charity, a group of parishioners known as ‘The Causewaymen’ were – and indeed still are – appointed by the parish in the same manner as the Highway Surveyor was.
The meticulously kept Causewaymen’s Accounts show that in the 19th century and later they carred out their duties in an exemplary fashion. In earlier times things were less satisfactory; in 1726 the Causeway was said to be “ruinous and decayed for want of repair”.
In the mid-19th century the Causewaymen were formally organised as a Charity under a Scheme of Chancery of 1844. This was replaced in 1892 by a new Causeway Charity “responsible for the maintenance of the Causeway”, which continues to the present day.
The trees that line the Causeway may have grown out of hedges planted at the time of the Enclosure, when elm ‘whips’ were widely available. Many trees, some about 100 years old, were lost from elm disease in the 1960s and 70s, but these have since been replaced with other species, and there are at present around 250 trees in fifteen species. This number has not changed significantly since 1875.
Historically the pitchings were repaired by local labour. However, modern regulations affect the way that such work may be carried out on a listed building and, for a major restoration in 2004, the work was done professionally.
In recent years the banks of the Causeway have been planted with bulbs, which make a glorious show in the spring.
Most of the notable buildings in Steventon, and almost all the medieval ones, are along the Causeway. We can only include brief notes on some of them, but the curious will find more detailed accounts in Arthur Baylis’s The Story of Steventon
One of the few surviving thatched buildings is Green Farm in Milton Lane, once two separate structures joined in 1949. Near it is 16 Milton Lane, Home Farm, whose Georgian facade conceals a much earlier building. 39 The Causeway is a fine example of a 14th Century cruck house. No. 67, Tudor House, is not in fact Tudor, but also dates from the 14th century, and was the scene of a famous dispute in the 1950s and 1960s. No. 77, 79 and 81 are mostly 16th century, an attractive range with a splendid roofed passageway, once part of a much larger hall. No 99 and 101 (16th century) was previously Stevens Farmhouse; it was the village shop until the 1960s and still has a handsome Queen Victoria letter box set in the corner.
No. 103 and 107 (14th-17th century) was the vicarage until 1841. The Priory, the largest timber-framed medieval building in the village, stands on the corner of The Causeway and Mill Street; the oldest part dates from the 14th century and is now divided into three dwellings, two owned by the National Trust. Opposite is Rookery Farm (17th century), once part of the rectoral glebe (hence, perhaps, its name) with a bread oven in the west wall. Facing the church is Manor Farm (18th century), with a distinctive arch-supported barn in the adjacent field.
Origins of the Causeway: some theories
The Causeway itself is rather higher than the ancient houses along it, which strongly suggests that the Causeway was build first, the houses presumably following when the adjacent land became less prone to flooding, perhaps because of better drainage or climate change.
The traditional theory is that it was constructed to provide a dry path to the church, build on higher ground at the west end of the village, but this raised the question as to why such an elaborate and broad structure was thought necessary for such a purpose.
It has also been suggested that it is part of an ancient roadway, being easily wide enough for carts, pack-animals or even flocks of sheep, and designed to cross more easily a particularly marshy part of the route towards the south.
Another theory is that the Causeway was the base for an aqueduct to provide clean water for the cloth-workers operating in Steventon at the cusp of the 14th and 15th centuries.
In spring the banks are covered with daffodils.