A few prehistoric artefacts have been found in Brill. Five Mesolithic flint blades were found in the back garden of a house on The Green and a Mesolithic blade core was found in the allotments, for instance. The name Brill itself is thought to stem from the prehistoric word ‘brae’ meaning hill. When the meaning of this word was forgotten it is thought that hill was added at the end, making Brae Hill (still the name of one of the streets), which was later contracted to Brill.
There is some evidence of Roman activity in Brill. Roman pottery and tile found at Hurcumdean Barn suggests the site of a building there. Similar finds on Muswell Hill also point to the site of a villa or other building. Some metal-working waste was also found here, suggesting some kind of small-scale Roman industry.
Brill is recorded in Domesday and was part of Bernwood Forest from before that date. Bernwood had been a hunting forest from the time of Edward the Confessor. It grew to its largest extent under Henry II. The whole area was not covered by woods; in the medieval period a forest was a place where deer roamed for hunting and so included open land, villages and fields. All those who lived in the forest were not allowed to hunt or even gather wood without a special licence from the king. Bernwood Forest was finally disafforested in the reign of James I in 1635, although it had been shrinking in size since the time of King John (1199-1216). Brill was so central to the forest that sometimes it was known as Brill Forest. Rushbeds Wood was part of this forest system and recent woodland survey has identified the medieval woodland boundary as well as a ditch that apparently marks the boundary of the parish with Wotton Underwood that may date back to the Saxon boundary charter of AD 845.
Brill manor belonged to Edward the Confessor and then the medieval kings after 1066, who were frequent visitors to the forest for hunting purposes. The manor was granted to John de Moleyns in 1337 and ceased to be a royal manor. Behind the church is another piece of public land with earthworks. These may be the remains of an Iron Age hillfort, a Saxon royal hunting lodge, a medieval castle or moated site or Civil War earthworks but further work needs to be done to find out more. A late 16th or early 17th century estate map marks the site of Castell Hill here, which suggests the earthworks are pre-Civil War. There are also references to a royal house in Brill. Recent excavations there uncovered a ditch that contained prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval pottery.
There are the remains of a deserted medieval settlement at Little Addingrove Farm, surviving only as house platforms and hollow-ways surrounded by ridge-and-furrow. Nashway Farm was the site of a small hamlet recorded in the 13th century as Aisses, Nashway or Nashend. Historical documents record a chapel of Addingrove and this may be the site of it. There are also records of Holy Cross Chapel on Muswell Hill, sometimes referred to as Muswell Hermitage and possibly St Werburgh’s Hermitage is the same site, although it is recorded in 1251 as being annexed to Chetwode Priory (and may have actually been the former name of All saints’ church). It must have been built before its first mention in 1151 and is recorded as being granted to Missenden Abbey. Ruins of the chapel were recorded in 1800.
All Saints’ church, Brill, is the oldest standing building in the parish. It was first built around AD 1120 and the tower was built in the 15th century. Until the 16th century the church was actually a chapel of Oakley church. Many changes were made in the 19th century. The Manor House on Oakley Road is of 16th century build, but again with many later alterations. It is now divided into flats. Many of the other listed buildings in Brill date to the 17th century, such as The Old Swan or King’s Ride House.
The dips and hollows on the common, some of them quite large, are the remains of clay and sand-digging for making pottery, tile and brick over hundreds of ears. Some sand-pits found close to the Feather’s pub, where the car-park is today, dated to the sixteenth century. Brill windmill dates to the 1680s and ground flour until 1919. It was one of several mills on the common, but the others have either been moved or demolished. Brill had several mills because the parish was quite wealthy, having made its money through potting, tiling and brick making. A watermill was recorded in Domesday and it is thought to have possibly stood near Nuthook Farm as the field is known as Mill Brook Leys.
A number of medieval and post-medieval kilns have been excavated in Brill. Temple Street and Temple Farm, at the north end of the village, had evidence of 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th century pottery, brick and tile-making. 14th and 15th century pottery kilns are thought to have existed where the allotments are today from all the pot sherds found there. 16th to 17th century pottery on Well Close pinpoint another set of kilns. A 17th century kiln was found on Windmill Street and two 18th century ones in Prosser’s Yard. Land to the rear of the Sun Hotel also seems to have been used in pottery production in the 18th century. A 19th century pottery, tile and brick kiln is known on the Common, one on North Hills and another on Tram Hill. There is a brief record in 1922 of a brickworks north of the village at the crossroads. The brick houses in Brill are also evidence of it’s industrial past. Most of them were made in Brill itself. Brill brick and tile were used in many nearby villages and country houses. The pottery has been found in Oxford, Bedford and even London. Brill was famous for its kilns for hundreds of years.
Later additions to the parish include the Quainton to Brill Tramway that was opened in 1870 for the Duke of Buckingham’s estate to carry freight. Remains of it have been surveyed in Rushbed’s Wood. It was closed in 1935. The terminus of the tramway was at Tramway Farm where part of the tramway, turntable and water tank still survive.
Want to find out more? Read the detailed historic town report for Brill (below).