Nestling on the slopes of Shotover one mile outside the Oxford City boundary, Horspath is proud to remain a village. The parish boundary, along the Roman road, encloses Bullingdon Green, where gentlemen used to sport and Civil War battles were fought.
Shotover was once one of England's smaller Royal forests, and is now a conservation area and country park. The old bridle-path joining the London Road through Wheatley gave the Anglo-Saxon name Horsepadan, which became Horsepath, but in 1912 the parish council reverted to the unique form, Horspath. Medieval evidence suggests two distinct hamlets, Upper or Old Horspath and Nether, Lower or Church Horspath. It is uncertain exactly where the first Saxon settlement was, but it is probable that it was at Upper Horspath.
Three Oxford Colleges, Corpus Christi, Magdalen and Brasenose have owned land and property in the parish. A connection with Queen's College comes from the 15th century when student John Copcot, walking in Shotover Forest reading his Aristotle, was attacked by a wild boar. He thrust the volume down the animal's throat and 'the boar expired'. The college ceremony of carrying in the Boar's Head at Christmas resulted from this, as did the stained glass window in St Giles' church, presented in 1740 by the President of Magdalen to commemorate the Copcot Legend.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries laundresses stretched their lines across the green and market gardeners tended their vegetables for Pembroke College. Farmers also reared pigs for the college tables. In the census of 1871, showing a population of 373, 93 were employed on the land, 14 were craftsmen and there were 30 other trades, a curate and two publicans. There were 12 farmers in 1841 and only two in 1990, but the village still has its two publicans.
Horspath may not be a pretty village, but it has character. It boasts 15 listed buildings including farm outbuildings and a cowhouse, the manor house, the church, two thatched cottages, of which there were once 17 but fire has destroyed most, and of course, the Bridge. In 1936 the Queen's Head public house caught fire and sparks from the thatch destroyed two cottages opposite. The pub was restored with a tiled roof, as was Shepherd's Cottage, this thatch being burnt in the mid 1970s. The Chequers Inn, although dated 1624, was rebuilt in the 19th century.
The manor house, part dating back to 1513 and with a Tudor staircase, is mainly 17th century with a 19th century addition. Its ghost, 'The Grey Lady', is reputed to wander the landings and garden. Killed by her husband in a quarrel, her body was placed in a priest's hole. Several sightings have been reported and in December 1878 a first-class shot claimed he had fired three times at the figure, and found two bullets embedded in the wall. The present owner has done much to refurbish and restore the manor to its former glory.
The church of St Giles, dating from the 12th century, is dedicated to the patron saint of beggars and cripples, whose ceramic statuette, made by a local potter in 1988, may be found in the south chapel. The church is the proud possessor of an Elizabethan silver chalice, a pre-1740 faceless blacksmith clock, a carved late Jacobean pulpit, six tuneful bells, medieval stained glass windows and interesting memorial plaques. One of these to James Salisbury of Bullingdon Green, who died in 1770, is elaborately decorated. Another is to the five children of Thomas and Esther Herbert, who died from a recurrence of the plague between 1686 and 1688. Esther, whose family founded New College, died also in 1688 aged 33.
In the early 20th century there was much change with tarmac roads, housing developments and mobile homes replacing farmland and manor grounds, the loss of the elms, the village pond and the railway. The population is now approximately 1,500, and includes people from all walks of life including those employed at the BMW car works.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Horspath like this:
"HORSEPATH, a village and a parish in Headington district, Oxford. The village stands under a hill, 2 miles W by S of Wheatley railway station, and 4 miles ESE of Oxford. The parish includes also the hamlet of Littleworth. Post town, Wheatley, under Oxford. Acres, 1,164. Real property, £1,840. Pop., 334. Houses, 71. The manor belongs to the Earl of Macclesfield. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Oxford. Value, £91. Patron, Magdalene College, Oxford. The church is ancient; consists of nave and chancel with a tower; and has, in its tower wall, two rude figures, said to be those of its founders."