Wilcote: Church

Pages 303-304

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 church of 'Wivelicota', granted to Oseney abbey in 1151 by Ralph Basset, son of the justiciar, may have been Wilcote, although Ralph is not otherwise recorded as having any connexion with the place. That church was subsequently lost by the abbey. (fn. 95) The earliest incontrovertible evidence of a church at Wilcote lies in the fabric, part of which is of the later 12th century. Wilcote has remained an independent rectory. A proposal of 1860 to unite the living with that of Ramsden was abandoned in favour of the livings being held in plurality. (fn. 96) By a scheme of 1984, put into effect in 1987, a joint benefice was created, known as Ramsden, Finstock and Fawler, Leafield with Wychwood and Wilcote. (fn. 97)

The first known presentation to the living was that made between 1209 and 1219 by Adam Butler, (fn. 98) and the advowson passed with the manor thereafter. After a period of disputed claims to the manor William de Stanes, husband of Joan Arsic, presented in 1242 and Joan herself in 1243. In 1247 Joan granted the advowson to Hugh Butler, who presented in 1248. (fn. 99) In 1469 the bishop of Lincoln presented by lapse. (fn. 1) From the mid 16th century the advowson was, like the manor, leased to the Powers and their successors. Presentation thereafter was by the lords of the manor, except in 1680 and in 1839, when the Crown and the bishop of Oxford respectively presented by lapse. (fn. 2)

In 1103 Manasser Arsic granted two-thirds of the demesne tithes of Wilcote to Cogges priory, which lost possession soon after (fn. 3). Wilcote rectory was exempted from taxation in 1291 and 1341 because of poverty; its value, £2 13s. 4d., remained unchanged in 1536. (fn. 4) In 1599 the rector leased out the tithes and the glebe, whose extent has not been discovered, for £8 a year. (fn. 5) In 1707 and in 1808 the rector was said to receive a stipend of £21 10s. from the lord of the manor, presumably in exchange for tithes and glebe. (fn. 6) Augmentations from Queen Anne's Bounty were received in 1798, 1811, and 1812, raising the income to £62, and there was a further augmentation in 1828. (fn. 7) In 1850 tithes were commuted for a rent charge of £52 10s., (fn. 8) but the total income of the rectory was said in 1860 to be only £75, approximately the level at which it remained at the end of the century. (fn. 9) No record has been found of a rectory house, and John Hody (d. 1558), who seems to have held Wilcote in plurality with Nunley (Warws.), referred in his will to his servant living at the manor house. (fn. 10) From the 18th century it was repeatedly stated that there was no house belonging to the living. (fn. 11)

The earliest known rector was Geoffrey, instituted between 1209 and 1219. (fn. 12) A local man, William of Wilcote, was presented in 1333. The poverty of the living presumably accounted for the rapidity with which most medieval incumbents resigned it. Thomas Raynes, rector 1459-70, and Thomas Cornwell, 1470-82, are the only two medieval rectors known to have been graduates. (fn. 13) From the 16th century and perhaps earlier non-resident pluralist rectors commonly served the parish through curates from neighbouring parishes. (fn. 14) Curates' stipends were small, usually c. £10 in the 18th century, but there seems always to have been a service and a sermon on Sundays, attended by congregations far in excess of the parish's population, their numbers boosted by villagers from nearby Finstock and Ramsden, who attended services at Wilcote until churches of their own were opened in 1842 and 1872 respectively. It was estimated in 1831 that as many as 100 people, ten times Wilcote's population, attended Sunday service there. (fn. 15) In the later 19th century dwindling congregations sometimes comprised only the families from the manor house, Wilcote Grange, and the rector's family; there were never more than ten communicants. (fn. 16) It was said in 1930 that the church was 'almost a private chapel'. (fn. 17) Closure was considered in 1937, but Antony Norman undertook to maintain the church and to hold three or four services annually, an arrangement that continued in 1987. (fn. 18)

The church of ST. PETER comprises a small, low chancel, a nave with west bellcot, and a north porch, and is built of coursed limestone rubble with a stone slate roof. The nave and chancel are of the later 12th century, the date of a window reveal in the chancel and of a blocked south doorway. The chancel arch and the chancel east wall were rebuilt in the 13th century. A south chapel was added to the nave in the early 14th century, and at about the same time the north doorway was rebuilt and new windows were put into the north and west walls. The arrangement at the west end of the nave, where two windows flank a large central buttress, has been described as 'much and justly admired'. Carved on the buttress are two mass dials and a cross. A small 14th-century window of three lights in the east end of the chancel was replaced in 13th-century style in the 19th century. (fn. 19) The chancel contains a 14th-century piscina and credence table on the south wall, and, on the north, an aumbry. There is a squint on the south side of the chancel arch.

There was a rood screen in the church in 1545. (fn. 20) A description of 1846 (fn. 21) noted that the church then had whitewashed coved ceilings, presumably of the 17th or 18th centuries, that there was a 'modern' marble font, and that there was a 'raised place', but no gallery, for singers. The south chapel had been removed by 1844 when the church was surveyed for the Oxford Architectural Society, which recommended a pioneering rebuilding 'in the Decorated style'. (fn. 22) In the event nothing was done until 1853 when there was a restoration by H. Woodyer (fn. 23) presumably on a minor scale, since in 1868 it was said that only the walls were 'fit to be left up'. In that year there was a comprehensive restoration under the supervision of A. W. Blomfield and at the expense of Leonard Pickering. (fn. 24) The chancel was given a new boarded roof, decorated with ribs and bosses, and the nave a crown-post archbraced roof of three bays. Total reflooring included extensive use of decorated tiles. The church's doors were replaced, and the north porch was rebuilt. A new east window was modelled on the old one, though made much larger, and the other windows were reglazed. Stained glass in the east window and armorial glass in the west windows was installed by the London firm of Heaton, Butler, and Hayne, as was the mosaic over the altar. New fittings included wooden pews, altar, altar rails, and pulpit, and a carved stone font. The bellcot was rebuilt and a bell hung. The quality of the new work misled a survey of 1922 into believing that the church was almost entirely original. (fn. 25) The overall effect has since been dismissed as 'bleak', (fn. 26) though it does not appear so when the church is lit by its oil lamps, which remain the only form of artificial lighting.

Some parish records were apparently destroyed by fire in 1848, and surviving registers date only from 1755. (fn. 27) They, and other parish records, are kept in the vestry at St. James's church, Ramsden. The church plate formerly comprised a silver paten of 1772 and a silver chalice, paten, and flagon dated 1772 and inscribed with the initials EW, (fn. 28) for Elizabeth Wellington. The plate was claimed as an heirloom by Francis Pickering when he succeeded to the Wilcote estate in 1931. His right was disputed, but in 1938 the parish agreed to accept in exchange a new silver chalice and paten, which it retained in 1987. (fn. 29) The churchyard is large for such a small parish, but thinly populated. Headstones survive from the 18th century. Drawings of the 19th century show headstones scattered around the churchyard, (fn. 30) but most have since been removed to the east end.


  • 95. Oseney Cart. vi, pp. 129, 131.
  • 96. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 178, f. 557.
  • 97. Ibid. c 1983/2; inf. from Sir Mark Norman.
  • 98. Rot. Welles, i (L.R.S. iii), 95.
  • 99. Rot. Grosse. (L.R.S. xi), 478, 483, 493.
  • 1. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 245, ff. 64, 80, 101, 122, 130, 148, 155, 169.
  • 2. Above, Manor; O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 76, no. 52; Wilcote par. rec., list of rectors.
  • 3. J. Blair, 'Cogges Priory', Oxoniensia, xlvii. 46-50.
  • 4. Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 138; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii. 185.
  • 5. P.R.O., C 104/153, indenture of May 1605.
  • 6. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 155, f. 40v.; c 446, f. 202; Bacon, Liber Regis, 808.
  • 7. Hodgson, Q.A.B. p. cccxxv; Acct. of Benefices, H.C. p. 167 (1818), xviii.
  • 8. O.R.O., tithe award.
  • 9. Ibid. MSS. Oxf. Dioc. d 178, f. 557; c 359, ff. 457-8.
  • 10. Ibid. MS. Wills Oxon. 183, f. 279v.
  • 11. e.g. Secker's Visit. 172; O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. b 38, f. 224.
  • 12. Rot. Welles, i (L.R.S. iii), 95.
  • 13. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 245, list of rectors; Emden, O. U. Reg. to 1500.
  • 14. e.g. Visit. Dioc. Linc. ii. 57; O.A.S. Rep. (1911-13), 100; O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. e 9, f. 184v.
  • 15. Secker's Visit. 172; O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 651, f. 12v.; d 557, f. 156; b 38, f. 224; J. Kibble, Charming Charlbury, 17.
  • 16. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. d 180, ff. 256-7; c 347, ff. 457-8; c 356, ff. 450-1; Matthews, 'Wilcote Grange', 2.
  • 17. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 2072, letter of Apr. 1930.
  • 18. Wilcote par. rec., letter of 30 Dec. 1937; ibid. reg. of services since 1951; inf. from Sir Mark Norman.
  • 19. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. a 69, nos. 595-7: drawings of 1821; J. C. Buckler, St. Peter's Ch., Wilcote (1844): copy with overlays in Bodl. G.A. fol. A. 126; Parker, Guide, 161.
  • 20. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 179, f. 118v.
  • 21. Parker, Guide, 160-1.
  • 22. Buckler, St. Peter's Ch.
  • 23. J. Sherwood, Guide to Oxon. Chs. 201. Pevsner, Oxon. 842 dates the restoration 1858.
  • 24. Oxf. Jnl. 18 Apr. 1868.
  • 25. The Builder, 13 Oct. 1922.
  • 26. Pevsner, Oxon. 842.
  • 27. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 515, f. 130.
  • 28. Evans, Ch. Plate Oxon. 181.
  • 29. Wilcote par. rec., corresp. 1936-8. The ch. plate listed in Pevsner, Oxon. 842 is presumably that no longer in the parish.
  • 30. e.g. Buckler, St. Peter's Ch.