A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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The earliest evidence of a church at Begbroke is 12th-century work in the building. It was claimed in the 18th century that Begbroke was the 'mother church' of Yarnton, (fn. 58) but no record of such a relationship has been found. The benefices of Begbroke and Yarnton were united in 1984, and in 1986 the joint benefice was united with Shipton-on-Cherwell. (fn. 59)
The first known presentation to the rectory was in 1216. (fn. 60) There was a vicar in 1232 who was permitted to retain his position on payment of a gold piece to the rector, (fn. 61) but no further reference to a vicarage has been discovered. The advowson was held by the Lyons family in the 13th and 14th centuries, passing with their moiety of the manor to the Chetwode and Spencer families. (fn. 62) It was then divided among the four heirs of Sir Thomas Spencer (d. 1685). One quarter, giving one turn in every four, was bought in 1718 by Benjamin Swete, who gave it in 1731 to Brasenose College, Oxford. (fn. 63) The three other quarters were bought with the concomitant part of the manor in 1695 by Sir Robert Dashwood, whose family retained possession until 1868 when Sir Henry Dashwood sold his share of the advowson to John Bellingham who presented himself to the living in the following year. In 1871 Bellingham sold it to Frederick Waldron, who also presented himself. In 1872 Waldron's daughter Margaret presented Henry Sadleir, who in 1873 bought from her the three-quarter share of the advowson. Sadleir, who had begun his career in Ireland, conveyed the share in 1876 to trustees who were to present clergy of the Church of Ireland nominated by the bishop of Cashel. (fn. 64) The trustees had withdrawn by 1984 when patronage of the united benefice was to be shared by Brasenose College and the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust. In 1986 the duke of Marlborough became the third patron. (fn. 65)
The rectory was valued at £2 in 1254, (fn. 66) and at £2 13s. 4d. in 1341. (fn. 67) In 1523 the living was worth £8, and in 1526 only £3, the latter figure the lowest in Woodstock deanery. (fn. 68) By 1615, however, the value had increased greatly to £66 13s. 4d. (fn. 69) Undervaluation on such a scale in the 16th century is unlikely, and the living may have been augmented, although no grant has been traced. Glebe seems to have comprised 1 yardland, carrying with it the right to a yard of meadow in Yarnton meads. When Begbroke was inclosed the rector was allotted several closes, the most important of which were Heath ground, later Parson's copse, on the boundary with Worton, Parson's close, east of the way to Bladon, Parson's clay, at the south-west end of Dalton Lane, and a close in the Marshes; the total was estimated at 251/2 a. in 1685. (fn. 70) In 1765 the glebe was said to be rated at 2 yardlands, and in 1844 the tithe commission found 371/4 a., laid out much as in the 17th century. (fn. 71) In the late 17th century and early 18th tithes were paid in kind or in cash, but by the 1720s money payments seem to have been the rule. (fn. 72) During the 18th century Begbroke's tithes yielded c. £70 a year and the glebe between £20 and £30, (fn. 73) but by 1823 tithes had increased in value to £127 and the glebe to £63. (fn. 74) Tithes were commuted in 1844 for £155, (fn. 75) and in 1874 the living was worth £209 gross, of which £145 derived from tithes and the rest from rent. (fn. 76) In 1926 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners matched a private benefaction of £200 to the rectory. (fn. 77)
The rectory house, described in 1634 as 'a little dwelling house', was taxed on two hearths in 1665. In 1685 it was said to be a four-bayed building with a kitchen built on the back, and there were also a barn and small stable. (fn. 78) The house was rebuilt c. 1743 by Richard Hawkins, rector of Begbroke and vicar of Yarnton, and was modelled on his Yarnton vicarage. It was a small house, with parlour and kitchen on either side of a central entrance, but its size was almost doubled in the later 18th century by additions on the north. (fn. 79) The house was described in 1875 as unfit for a gentleman and his family, and it was extensively rebuilt, acquiring at that date its gabled roof. The outbuildings were replaced by a coach house and stable. (fn. 80) In the 18th century and for much of the 19th the house was either let or used by curates. (fn. 81) It was sold in 1981. (fn. 82)
Many medieval rectors exchanged Begbroke for a richer living within a few years of institution. Of 33 rectors between 1219 and 1535 only 6 are known to have died in office, including one in the plague year of 1349. (fn. 83) On three occasions in the 13th century members of the Lyons family presented relatives to the living. (fn. 84) The only medieval rector known to have studied at Oxford was John Selle, who held Begbroke for a few months in 1404. (fn. 85) The medieval church contained a light, for whose upkeep 1 a. had been given at an unknown date. (fn. 86) Visitations in the earlier 16th century revealed that the rector was absent and the parish served not by a curate but by a visiting monk; the rectory house was in ruins, the font unlocked, and the church windows broken. (fn. 87)
In the 17th and 18th centuries Begbroke was held by a succession of Oxford college fellows, most of them pluralists and many non-resident. One rector, John Martin (d. 1680), was suspected in 1666 of embezzling money collected in the parish for the relief of victims of the Great Fire of London; he was allegedly a 'common drunkard' and 'a great swearer', and apparently assaulted the bishop's mandatory. Martin was suspended for three years but continued to hold the living thereafter, despite complaints about his church services. (fn. 88) The parish's proximity to Oxford made it easy to find curates and there were some notable 18th-century incumbents. Richard Hawkins, rector 1740-65, was constantly resident, held two services on Sundays, and catechized throughout Lent. (fn. 89) Thomas Cooke, rector 1765-76, was similarly conscientious, (fn. 90) and John Cooke, his brother, rector 1778-1823, at first served the living personally from Oxford, but relied on curates after 1783, when he was elected president of Corpus Christi College. His longest serving curate was his son-in-law Vaughan Thomas, vicar of Yarnton, the diversity of whose interests probably adversely affected Begbroke, where Sunday services were reduced from two to one, and communion services from four a year to three. (fn. 91) Ellis Ashton, rector 1823-69, was non-resident, but he doubled the curates' salary to £80 and the quality of the men employed was reflected in the religious life of the parish. By 1831 Sunday services had increased to two, with additional services on feast days. Communicants increased from 12 or 15 earlier in the century to 20, catechizing was reintroduced, and there was a lending library of the curate's own books, said to be 'much used'. (fn. 92) The census of 1851 recorded congregations of 50-60 at morning services and 60-70, including Sunday School children, in the afternoon. Those figures, high for such a small parish, were said to be normal. (fn. 93) In 1854 congregations of only c. 30 were reported, but later in the century there were congregations of c. 45 in the morning and c. 65 in the afternoon. (fn. 94)
The living was sold three times between 1868 and 1872, the rapid turnover of incumbents perhaps accounting for the fact that 'the labouring men come to church irregularly and infrequently'. It was added as worthy of notice that they 'do keep awake, although an agricultural congregation'. (fn. 95) Only with the appointment of George Downes, 1877-1909, did stability return. Despite a declining population and a decreasing congregation, Downes undertook the restoration of the church in 1891 and maintained a full-time ministry in the parish. (fn. 96) The establishment in 1897 of a Roman Catholic priory close by the church seems to have led at first to strained relations, and in 1922 the rector alleged that 'the Romanists . . . are hostile and try to make perverts of the Church people'. (fn. 97) Relations improved during the long incumbency of Herbert McCann (1941-80), to the extent that the church key is kept at the priory. (fn. 98)
From 1947 Begbroke was held in plurality with Shipton-on-Cherwell. By an Order in Council of 1952 the ecclesiastical parish of Begbroke was extended to take in Campsfield, formerly in Kidlington parish. The change brought a much needed increase of population. (fn. 99)
The church of ST. MICHAEL stands at the north-east end of the old village. It is built of limestone rubble with ashlar dressings, and has a chancel, nave, and west tower all substantially of the 12th century. (fn. 1) The elaborately decorated chancel arch and south doorway are 12th-century, and a small gable window in the chancel and windows in the tower, as well as its saddleback roof, may also be original. Until 1828 the church retained narrow, single-light, 12th-century windows at the east end of the chancel and in the south wall of the nave at the east end. (fn. 2) In 1982 a blocked north doorway was discovered directly opposite that on the south. An image of St. Michael above the north doorway remained in the early 18th century. (fn. 3)
In the 13th century a large, plain, single-light window was inserted in the south wall of the chancel. Of later medieval work there remain the font, with octagonal bowl and quatrefoil-decorated stem, an aumbry with its original carved door, in the north wall of the chancel, and the rebates of a rood screen. In the 16th century or the 17th square-headed two-light windows were inserted on either side of the south doorway and in the upper storey of the tower, and the nave was re-roofed. (fn. 4)
There were complaints of neglect in the 16th century, and Thomas Hearne remarked in 1717 that 'everything of antiquity is gone'. (fn. 5) The bishop ordered in 1756 that the tower be repaired and that 'some chosen words' be written on the church walls. (fn. 6) A major restoration took place in 1828-9 at the expense of Thomas Robinson. The chancel windows were replaced in Romanesque style, except for the small south-west window, which kept its deeply recessed internal splays while being given external mouldings in 15th-century style. The Perpendicular style was also used for elaborate new windows on either side of the south doorway. The narrow 12th-century window in the nave was replaced by a window in 14th-century style. A south porch, which had replaced an earlier, taller, porch, was removed. Buttresses were placed at the corners of the chancel and of the nave. A small gallery was erected at the west end of the church, and new pews were provided, probably re-using some old materials. Robinson may also have provided a new font; the old one was removed to the rectory garden. The new work was generally careful and sympathetic, the nave windows, for example, apparently being copied from those in the cloisters at Christ Church, Oxford. (fn. 7)
Between 1830 and 1835 the bell-opening in the south face of the upper storey of the tower was renewed in 14th-century style to match that on the north. (fn. 8) In 1845 the rector, Ellis Ashton, took down the chancel arch and rebuilt it with the same materials; at that time the 12th-century gable window in the chancel was discovered and opened up. (fn. 9) In 1875 H. A. Sadleir removed the flat plaster ceiling, probably 18th-century, in the chancel. (fn. 10) His successor, G. Downes, instigated a major restoration of the church in 1891, under the direction of H. Drinkwater of Oxford. The ground level around the church was lowered, and the roof reslated. A flat plaster ceiling, possibly 18th-century, was removed from the nave. The west gallery was taken down, the nave replastered, and stonework, which had once been coloured, was cleaned and whitewashed. New pews were installed. The font was replaced by the old one, which had been brought back into the church in the 1840s to stand in the tower. The tower was fitted out as a vestry. (fn. 11)
In 1956 the altar rails were replaced, and arcading behind the altar table removed. Two tables of the Commandments, set up in 1816, were also removed. (fn. 12) The church was completely reroofed in 1983. In 1985 the external rendering was stripped off and extensive repairs made to the walls.
The church contains some notable glass of the 15th century and later, given in 1828 by Thomas Robinson. Some, in the south-east window of the chancel, was removed to Stonesfield in 1849 when a memorial window to the Robinson family replaced it. Of the remainder, the 15th-century painted glass in the south-east window of the nave has been described as 'the most important piece of Flemish glass painting ... in the county'. Robinson's gift also includes armorial glass in the nave windows by Thomas Willement. (fn. 13) By contrast, Victorian glass in the east window was described by the diocesan surveyor in 1956 as the worst he had ever seen, and it was replaced by a window depicting St. Michael. (fn. 14)
There are monuments and memorial inscriptions to several rectors, and to members of the Fitzherbert and Robinson families. By the south door are the octagonal base of a cross and an ancient stone tomb. The church plate includes a silver chalice and paten cover of 1680 and a silver almsdish of 1792. (fn. 15) Thomas Robinson gave an organ in 1839. (fn. 16) By 1882 there was a small organ, presumably a replacement, in the west gallery, (fn. 17) and a new organ was installed in 1956. (fn. 18) There were two bells until 1755, when they were replaced by a single bell. (fn. 19)