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 reference to a church in Yarnton is a confirmation, made between 1155 and 1161, of Yarnton chapel to Eynsham abbey. (fn. 43) Yarnton was probably a daughter church of the abbey, and it was still occasionally called a chapel in the 14th century, (fn. 44) but no reference has been found to residual obligations such as burial dues owed to Eynsham. (fn. 45) The benefice was united with Begbroke in 1984, and the joint benefice was in 1986 united with Shipton-onCherwell. (fn. 46)
Eynsham appropriated the church, probably in 1235, and held the advowson of the vicarage until the Dissolution. (fn. 47) In 1466 the abbey's nominee was rejected as unfit and presentation was made by the bishop. (fn. 48) After the Dissolution the Crown presented in 1544 and 1547, (fn. 49) and in 1565 the advowson was sold to two London speculators, Richard Bernard and Robert Taylor. (fn. 50) It may have been resold to Simon Corbet, who presented in 1566, but by 1579 the advowson had been bought by John Durant, lord of the manor, (fn. 51) and it descended with the manor thereafter. In 1644 Richard Brainthwaite, grandfather of the then lord, Sir William Spencer, presented. Oxford University presented in 1646 on the grounds that Sir William was a recusant. (fn. 52) In 1731 Benjamin Swete, owner of a quarter of the manor and advowson, gave his share of the advowson, comprising the right to every fourth presentation, to his friend George Clarke (d. 1736), fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Clarke devised it to the college, which failed to exercise its right at the first opportunity in 1761, and the bishop presented by lapse. (fn. 53) The college presented in 1858, (fn. 54) but it sold its share of the advowson c. 1900 to Henry Franklin, lord of the manor. (fn. 55) In 1965 the then lord, C. K. F. Brown, gave the advowson to St. Catherine's College, Oxford. In 1984 St. Catherine's transferred the advowson to the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, which thereafter shared presentation to the united benefice with Brasenose College and, from 1986, with the duke of Marlborough. (fn. 56)
The church was served by chaplains until appropriation, when the living became an endowed vicarage of 5 marks a year, derived from a house formerly the chaplain's and all altar offerings except mortuary payments of a live beast. (fn. 57) The living was assessed at 20s. in 1254. (fn. 58) By 1535 the vicar had the small tithes, and the value of the living had risen to c. £9. (fn. 59) It was poorer than most in Woodstock rural deanery, worth in 1707 only £36 a year, derived from small tithes (£32), payments for morning prayers (£2), and rent from the vicarage house (£2). (fn. 60) In 1808 the income was only c. £40, largely because the vicar was not receiving most of his tithes. (fn. 61) Vaughan Thomas, vicar 1803-58, so vigorously pursued his rights that a proposed augmentation in 1817 was cancelled 'on account of the present improved value of the living', which then amounted to c. £200. (fn. 62) In 1845 vicarial tithes were commuted to a rent charge of £290. (fn. 63)
The vicarage house, which stood north of the church fronting Church Lane, (fn. 64) was taxed on four hearths in 1662. (fn. 65) It was in disrepair in 1685. (fn. 66) and 'very ruinous' in 1730. William Bowdery, then incumbent, intended to replace it with a new, two-storeyed, four-roomed house, with wash house and stable adjoining. (fn. 67) Such a house was built, west of the site of the old one, but apparently not until the incumbency of Richard Hawkins (1733-47). The house was so small that the corpulent Hawkins reputedly once became stuck in the staircase. (fn. 68) Successive vicars reported the house unsuitable, (fn. 69) and in 1847 Vaughan Thomas, at the behest of the bishop, added a two-storeyed extension and attic dormers. A small cottage in the vicarage grounds, built in 1811, was converted to a stable in 1844. (fn. 70) The vicarage, further enlarged in the 20th century, was sold in 1987.
Although Yarnton was a poor living, several medieval vicars were long-serving, notably William Pernel, 1365-1404. Most vicars from the mid 15th century taught and lived in Oxford, and were often pluralists. (fn. 71) Leonard Hutchinson, vicar from 1535 to c. 1540, was master of University College. (fn. 72) George Blunt, 1544-7, and William Milton, or Gibbon, 1547-64, were former monks. (fn. 73) Hugh Evans, 1579-1618, married a member of the Minn family and, unusual among Yarnton's incumbents, was a working farmer. He kept the first known school in the parish and his pupils included the puritan divine, John Ball of Cassington. Evans's estate was valued at only £38 at his death. (fn. 74) Henry Tozer, vicar 1644-6, a puritan royalist deprived of his fellowship at Exeter College by the parliamentary commissioners, (fn. 75) seems to have had little contact with the parish. John Goad, 1646-60, was similarly deprived of his fellowship at St. John's College, retiring to Yarnton where, 'a suffering cavalier', he joined a discreet group of local royalists. (fn. 76)
From 1660 the poverty of the living and the dilapidation of the house ensured that there was no resident incumbent at Yarnton until the 19th century. Most vicars employed curates or travelled out from Oxford to conduct services. Philip Potter, 1661-78, claimed, when accused of neglect, that he kept a bed at Yarnton and paid someone to fetch him in an emergency. That attendance at services sometimes comprised only the clerk and himself was blamed by Potter on his 'parishioners' neglect'. (fn. 77) He was eventually deprived of the living, a fate that escaped his equally absent but more eminent successors, John Venn, master of Balliol College and vice-chancellor, and Thomas Pigott, F.R.S. (fn. 78) By contrast, Richard Hawkins, chaplain of Magdalen College and, from 1740, rector of Begbroke, visited Yarnton two or three times a week, catechized throughout the year, and administered communion eight times a year, a frequency matched almost nowhere else in the diocese and not found again in Yarnton until the later 19th century. (fn. 79) Although Thomas Gregory of Hordley in Wootton parish, vicar 1761-80, gave the entire income of the living to his curate John Cox of St. Mary Hall, who performed services regularly, attendances were poor; Gregory blamed his parishioners' 'thoughtlessness and inattention', deriving, he surmised, from their 'very mean condition'. (fn. 80) The presentation to the living between 1780 and 1803 of three successive fellows of Corpus Christi College may have been due to Sir Henry Dashwood's friendship with John Cooke, president of the college and rector of Begbroke, another Dashwood living. (fn. 81) In the late 18th century and early 19th Yarnton was usually served with Begbroke; on Sundays there was one service at each church, in the morning and in the evening alternately. (fn. 82)
For most of his long incumbency Vaughan Thomas was also rector of Duntisbourne Rouse (Glos.), and vicar of Stoneleigh (Warws.), and for a time he was curate of Begbroke, but his principal cure was Yarnton. (fn. 83) He restored the church extensively and improved the value of the living beyond recognition. He lived at the vicarage from 1811 to 1819, but otherwise lived mostly in Oxford, travelling out two or three times a week. From 1827, when he resigned the curacy of Begbroke, he held two services with sermons on Sundays. (fn. 84) Thomas was initially a supporter of the Oxford Movement, 'high and dry' according to bishop Wilberforce; (fn. 85) he introduced the practice of administering communion to the sick, but made no effort to increase the number of communion services, which remained at four a year throughout his incumbency. The number of communicants, however, increased from c. 10 in 1802 to c. 30 in 1834. (fn. 86) The congregation recorded for the ecclesiastical census of 1851, 63 people in the morning and 44 in the evening, (fn. 87) also represented a significant improvement. Thomas continued to spend part of the week in Yarnton until c. 1855, though relying increasingly on resident curates. In his late years, concerned at the growing strength of nonconformity in Yarnton and elsewhere, he became somewhat disillusioned with 'the spirit of the age and the forlorn aspect of church affairs'. (fn. 88)
Thomas's successor was Peter Maurice, 1858-78, chaplain of All Souls College and a leading Evangelical. He has been accused of demonstrating the 'laxer standards of an earlier generation' (fn. 89) in omitting the Lent prayer services begun by Thomas and in holding only six communion services a year when monthly celebrations were becoming the rule, (fn. 90) but he resided throughout his incumbency, and his attitude to communion services probably stemmed more from Evangelicalism than laxity. (fn. 91)
A revival of conventional church life began belatedly with the presentation in 1878 of James Balleine, who introduced additional services during Lent, fortnightly communion services, and a monthly children's service. Congregations increased at a time when the parish's population was static or falling, and there were regularly 30-40 communicants. Nonconformity remained strong, however, and Balleine, shortly before resigning in 1890 complained of the 'coldness and indifference' shown him by parishioners. (fn. 92)
The church of ST. BARTHOLOMEW comprises chancel, nave, south chapel and aisle, south porch, and south-west tower. (fn. 93) From the 12th-century church there survive a deep, widely splayed window reveal at the north-west end of the chancel, two similar reveals west of the south doorway, the doorway itself, and a font in the south chapel. A claim, based on the appearance of rough stonework in the south wall, that the present south aisle was the nave of the early church (fn. 94) remains unproven, for there is similar masonry at the west end of the present nave. Extensive building work in the 13th century included the nave arcade of four bays, the chancel arch with its triple jamb shafts, the east and north-east windows of the chancel, and, probably, the extension eastwards of the south aisle. The chancel arch leans to the north, apparently because a tie beam in the chancel roof has been removed. (fn. 95) In the 14th century new two-light windows were inserted west of the north and east of the south doorways, but, unusually for the area, there were no other alterations to the church. A large three-light window was inserted east of the north doorway in the 15th century and the church walls may have been raised. A clerestory was perhaps added at that time. There are remnants of 15thcentury wall paintings above the chancel arch and north doorway. The church was in disrepair for much of the 16th century. Rain, first said to be leaking into the church in 1520, (fn. 96) was still doing so in 1581 when it was also noted that 'the church walls begin to sink and the leads and timber are greatly decayed'. (fn. 97)
Major restoration and enlargement of the church was undertaken in 1611 by Sir Thomas Spencer. (fn. 98) A spacious family chapel was built at the east end of the south aisle, and a tower of three stages at the west. The tower seems to have been built slightly west of the church, the west wall of the aisle was then knocked out, and tower and aisle joined together. Nothing is known of an earlier tower, but churchwardens' payments for bell repairs indicate that there may have been one. (fn. 99) The clerestory was probably refenestrated and the west window of the nave inserted about the same time that the chapel and tower were built. Sir Thomas's son Sir William built in 1634 a screen at the tower entrance, and probably provided the elaborately carved chapel screen, pulpit, and reading desk. (fn. 1) A large state pew in similar style was placed at the south-west corner of the chapel; (fn. 2) it was moved, and allegedly broken up, to make room for a memorial to Charlotte (d. 1850), wife of George SpencerChurchill, duke of Marlborough. Some of the wood survived and was used in 1921 to make stalls for the chancel. (fn. 3) The Spencer chapel contains the largest collection of 17th-century armorial glass in the county. (fn. 4) The south porch was added in 1616, and the chapel, south aisle, and tower were battlemented in 1627. (fn. 5) The conservative styling and outstanding quality of the early 17th-century work, particularly the carving of the screen and chapel ceiling, and the smooth and regular coursing of the masonry, invite comparison with contemporary work in Oxford, notably at Wadham College and the Bodleian Library. (fn. 6)
The church interior was painted white in 1707, and the exterior rendered. (fn. 7) In 1793 the church was paved and repainted at Alderman William Fletcher's expense, and in 1802 the nave and south aisle were repewed using 15thcentury bench ends. (fn. 8) Fletcher also gave a 15thcentury font formerly in St. Michael's church, Oxford, (fn. 9) and 'many curious pieces of ancient sculpture'. (fn. 10) The latter included seven alabaster panels of the 15th century which were formed into a reredos in the chancel. Between 1817 and 1823 one panel seems to have been removed, (fn. 11) and two more, perhaps with others from elsewhere in the church, were ejected by Vaughan Thomas in the mid 19th century as being too 'Romish'. They were later rescued from a builder's yard and two were sold in 1914 to the British Museum and to the Victoria and Albert Museum respectively. (fn. 12) Between 1812 and 1816 Fletcher gave a remarkable collection of 15thand early 16th-century stained glass. Of the church's own medieval glass only four pieces remain, in the tracery of the north-east window of the nave, including two early 15th-century representations of Cistercian monks, presumably of Rewley abbey. (fn. 13) Some glass was removed before 1856 by Thomas as not 'proper ...being on subjects legendary'. (fn. 14) The glass was extensively rearranged when removed for cleaning in 1913 by F. C. Eden. A further restoration took place in 1971, by D. King. (fn. 15) When the south-west windows of the south aisle were reglazed in 1812 they were recreated as lancets on the exterior. (fn. 16)
The improvements undertaken by Thomas included the addition to the belfry screen of folding doors dated 1634 and of carved wood 'taken from out-of-sight places in the body of the church', (fn. 17) the adornment of the north door with the arms of Fletcher and Spencer (1817), restoration of the pulpit and reading desk (1817-18), the opening of a new entrance in the north wall of the tower (1840), repainting of the church interior (1844), the repair of the Spencer chapel (1848-9), and the building of cupboards under the Spencer chapel pews to house the parish library (1851). (fn. 18)
The church was reroofed in 1911, roughcast was removed from the walls, and some perished stonework was replaced at the foot of the tower and outside the Spencer chapel. In the chancel a coved plaster ceiling installed c. 1816 was taken down to reveal an open timber roof, which was restored. (fn. 19) Extensive repairs were made to the exterior stonework of the church in the 1950s, and in 1964 the nave and south aisle roofs were re-leaded. (fn. 20) The Spencer chapel was restored in 1971, and in 1972 the tower battlements were renewed. (fn. 21)
There are traces of a rood screen in the chancel arch, and of a doorway to the loft on the south. Pieces of carved wood, reputedly remnants of the screen, were used in 1820 to frame the table of benefactions which hangs on the north wall of the church. (fn. 22) The principal monuments are in the Spencer chapel. The earliest, presumably built c. 1611 and attributed to Jasper Hollemans, is a bedstead monument com memorating Sir William Spencer (d. 1609) and his wife Margaret. To the east an even larger monument, attributed to John Nost, has lifesize figures of Sir Thomas Spencer (d. 1685) and his wife Jane. (fn. 23) The monument was incomplete in 1695, when Sir Robert Dashwood retained part of his purchase money for Yarnton towards its cost. (fn. 24) The chapel also contains memorial tablets and plaques to other members of the Spencer family and the memorial to Charlotte, duchess of Marlborough, buried in the chapel at Blenheim. William Fletcher was buried at the west end of the church in 1827 in a stone coffin from the site of Godstow abbey. (fn. 25) The lid bears a monumental brass by Thomas Knowles of Oxford, copied from the brass of Richard Atkinson (d. 1574) in St. Peter-in-the-East, Oxford. (fn. 26)
Repairs were made in the early 17th century to the 'great bell' and to the saunce. A new bell, made at the parish's expense in 1618, was recast at Thomas's expense in 1853; five more were given in 1620 by Sir Thomas Spencer. (fn. 27) A new frame was installed in 1988. A 16th-century church clock was replaced in 1641. (fn. 28) It remained in working order in 1983, although the face was removed in the 19th century. (fn. 29) The church plate includes a silver chalice and paten of 1629, a silver plate of 1632, and a silver flagon given in 1636 by Richard Brainthwaite. (fn. 30)
South of the church stands the lower half of a highly ornamented stone cross, probably of the 14th century. (fn. 31) It is similar to the cross at Eynsham, and may have been erected by the abbey. It was recalled in the mid 19th century that there had been similar crosses at Cassington and Worton, (fn. 32) also abbey properties. Yarnton's cross had been displaced from its base by 1810. (fn. 33) The churchyard, extended in 1883, (fn. 34) contains tombstones from the mid 17th century.