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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Cassington church was founded before 1123 by the elder Geoffrey de Clinton. It lay within the parish, or area of jurisdiction, of Eynsham abbey, which retained burial rights and took half the offerings made on St. Peter's day, the new church's patronal festival. Cassington church was called a chapel as late as 1406, and an annual payment of 20d. for burial rights was made to Eynsham until the Dissolution. (fn. 17) In 1980 the benefice was united with that of Freeland but in 1985 was transferred to Eynsham. (fn. 18)
At the church's foundation Geoffrey de Clinton agreed that Eynsham should appoint the priest, and the abbey, having appropriated the rectory in the late 12th century, retained the advowson of the vicarage until the Dissolution. Claims by Isabel de Clinton in 1203 and by her son William de Clinton in 1219 were unsuccessful. (fn. 19) The advowson was granted to Christ Church in 1546, but in 1584 the presentation was made by Edward Payne and Robert Townsend. Charles I presented in 1632 on the appointment of the previous incumbent to a bishopric and in 1638 by lapse and deprivation for simony. (fn. 20) Thereafter Christ Church presented regularly, and the dean and chapter remained joint patrons of the united benefice in 1988. The early 12th-century living was a rectory, the priest having been given all the tithes of Cassington and Worton. The appropriation of the church in the late 12th century reserved a vicarage of 5 marks a year which in the early 13th century comprised small tithes, tithe of the mill and fishery, altar offerings, and 2 yardlands. (fn. 21) In 1254 the vicarage was assessed at only 2 marks; it was not separately valued in 1291, but in 1526 it was said to be worth £9 gross, and in 1535 £12 net. (fn. 22) In the earlier 17th century the vicar claimed tithe of all animals, of milk, and of garden produce, as well as an Easter offering of 2d. from each adult parishioner. (fn. 23)
The living was said to be worth £66 13s. 4d. in the 1640s, but less than £50 in 1707. (fn. 24) At inclosure in 1801 the vicar received 60 a. for his 2 yardlands of glebe, c. 68 a. for tithe of formerly open field land, and a rent charge of c. £1 8s. for tithe of old inclosure, bringing the value of the living to c. £97 a year in 1824. (fn. 25) The living was augmented by Queen Anne's Bounty in 1826, 1828, and 1830 to meet benefactions from Christ Church and private individuals, and in 1831 it was worth c. £166 net. (fn. 26) It was not valued in 1851, but was said c. 1870 to be worth £299 net; it was further augmented in 1908. (fn. 27)
The early 13th-century vicarage included a house and garden. (fn. 28) In 1593 the house comprised a hall, parlour, study, kitchen, and buttery. (fn. 29) During the 18th century it was used as a farmhouse, and by 1792 was out of repair. It was rebuilt in 1793 as a square farmhouse of two storeys with attics, having four rooms on each floor. (fn. 30) It continued to be used as a farmhouse until 1888 when it was greatly enlarged by the vicar, Godfrey Faussett, who bought land to extend the site and encased the old house in a new building. (fn. 31)
During the Middle Ages there were some long incumbencies, notably those of Thomas of Woodstock, 1303-27, John Hacche, 1405-33, and William Full, 1508-34, but many vicars exchanged the living after only three or four years. Most were resident, John Hacche, for instance, farming the rectorial tithes in 1415, but Geoffrey of Aulton was given licence for absence c. 1345, and in the later 15th century at least three vicars, graduates and canon lawyers, lived in academic halls in Oxford. (fn. 32) Another canon lawyer, Thomas Fishwick, vicar 1501-8, asked to be buried at Cassington, and his immediate successors seem to have been resident. (fn. 33)
Robert Ford, a former Eynsham monk, was vicar from 1545, until his death in 1557. (fn. 36) In 1558 the parish seems to have been in the charge of a curate, James Wilson, who died in 1559; the conformist William Milton or Gibbon, vicar of Yarnton, may also have served Cassington occasionally. (fn. 37) William Spencer, vicar from 1576 or earlier to 1584, was non resident for at least part of his incumbency, leasing the vicarage to a lay tenant. (fn. 38) His successor John Evans, 1584-93, lived in the vicarage house and farmed his glebe, and the early 17th-century vicars also appear to have been resident. (fn. 39)
From 1622 to 1875 the living was held by a succession of members of Christ Church resident in Oxford, many of whom gave little if any attention to the parish. The first of them, Richard Corbett, vicar 1622-32, was renowned for his 'fine and fancy preaching', but it is unlikely to have been heard much in Cassington as Corbett was dean of Christ Church until 1628 and bishop of Oxford from 1628 to 1632, when he became bishop of Norwich. (fn. 40) His successor George Aglionby in 1633 brought suits against three parishioners for non-payment of tithes. (fn. 41) Jasper Mayne, vicar 1639-73, left £100 to the poor of the parish, but seems to have had little else to do with it. (fn. 42)
During the Civil War and Interregnum Cassington, under Mayne's curates Peter Gunning (1644) and Richard Sherlock (1646-52), both former chaplains of New College, was a royalist centre where other royalist clergy took refuge. (fn. 43) Mayne was deprived in 1648, but Francis Markham, admitted by the Triers in 1654, may have been another royalist sympathizer, the man of that name expelled from a studentship at Christ Church in 1650. (fn. 44)
Most of the vicars between the later 17th century and the mid 19th were chaplains of Christ Church who lived in college, spending at most one or two nights a week in Cassington. Most of them claimed to serve the church themselves, but in practice many services were taken by curates, by other clergy from the university, or by neighbouring incumbents. (fn. 45) The curates, often recent graduates, usually lived in Oxford and were poorly paid; in 1737 the stipend was less than £20 a year. (fn. 46) On many occasions between 1755 and his death in 1771 Gilbert Mabbott, lessee of the rectory estate, acted as unpaid curate. (fn. 47) Services remained the same throughout the period, morning and evening prayer with one sermon on Sundays and Holy Communion three or four times a year.
The number of communicants was at first comparatively high, 30-40 in 1738 and 50-60 in 1768, perhaps a reflection of Mabbott's influence, but by 1778 numbers had fallen to 10-15, and by 1784 to 6, although in the last year the curate reported that ordinary congregations had doubled. (fn. 48) In 1814 an anonymous parishioner complained to the bishop that the vicar 'grossly and shamelessly' neglected his Sunday duty. There was often only one service, and when there were two, one was at noon and the other at 2 p.m., making it impossible for those who lived at a distance from the church to attend both. Moreover, the service was rushed through in under an hour 'like a ploughboy reading a ballad'. (fn. 49) The complaint seems to have had little, if any, effect; in 1825 the vicar lived in Taunton (Som.), his curate in Kiddington. (fn. 50)
Thomas Forster, vicar 1824-67, although non-resident, took a considerable interest in the parish, being responsible for the first restoration of the church in 1841-2 and playing an important part in the establishment of a school in 1852. (fn. 51) In 1831 he claimed that over half the adults in the parish came to church regularly and the remainder occasionally, but in 1834 he was dissatisfied with the number of communicants, which had fallen to 12-14 from 25 in 1831. (fn. 52) On Census Sunday in 1851 there were 73 adults and 40 Sunday school children at the morning service and 49 adults and 40 children at the afternoon, out of a population of 454. In 1854 the number of communicants had fallen to 10-12 and congregations averaged only 60-70 adults and 50-60 children, a decline which Forster attributed to the demoralization of the agricultural labourers by the many 'vicious and irreligious' railway labourers temporarily in the parish. (fn. 53)
By 1866 Cassington was in the charge of a curate who lived in the rectory house, or farmhouse, in Worton. He had introduced a second sermon on Sundays and increased the number of Communion services from four to seven a year; congregations had improved slightly, averaging 80-90. (fn. 54) Godfrey Fausset, vicar 1875-1909, lived in the enlarged vicarage house from 1888; he was responsible for the restorations of the church in 1876 and 1901-2, and during his incumbency both congregations and communicants increased. (fn. 55)
The church of ST. PETER (fn. 56) is built of rubble, now rendered, with ashlar quoins; it comprises chancel, aisless nave with north and south porches, and central tower. A blocked doorway in the north wall of the chancel may have led to a medieval vestry. The church was built in the early 12th century and much of that structure, including the lower stages of the tower, the walls of nave and chancel with four consecration crosses, the stone groined vaulting in the chancel and four windows, three on the north of the nave and chancel and one on the south, survives. The font is also of the early 12th century. Part at least of the tower had to be rebuilt in the mid 12th century. (fn. 57) In the earlier 14th century the church was remodelled, an upper stage and spire being added to the tower, new windows inserted in nave and east wall of the chancel, and the north porch built. The work was probably financed by the Montagu lords of the manor whose arms survived in a chancel window in the 17th century. The same window contained the arms of England, perhaps implying that the benefactor was William Montagu, earl of Salisbury from 1344, who between 1341 and 1349 was married to Joan of Kent, granddaughter of Edward I. (fn. 58) The south porch, timber-framed with an arcade of trefoiled arches on each side, was added in the 15th century, as was the rood screen whose frame survived between the tower and chancel in 1982. (fn. 59) Plain, medieval bench ends in the nave, claimed as late 13th-century and amongst the oldest in the country, may also be 15th-century. (fn. 60) Early in the 15th century a doom was painted or repainted at the east end of the nave, and late in the same century other paintings, probably of St. Barbara and St. Margaret, were added in the splays of the east nave windows. (fn. 61) All the paintings were much decayed in 1982. Also in the early 15th century windows were inserted in the south wall of the tower and chancel, and the nave and south porch were re-roofed.
The chancel was said to be ruinous c. 1520, (fn. 62) but was presumably repaired soon afterwards. The north and south doors were replaced in the 16th century: both survived in 1982, the south one decorated with a 16th- or 17th-century painting of the implements of the Passion. Repairs to the spire, steeple, and tower were ordered in 1757, and repairs, including reroofing the nave and repairing the steeple, were carried out between 1805 and 1810. (fn. 63) Despite that work, it was alleged in 1841 that Cassington church was in a worse condition than any other in the deanery: the pews and reading desk were in a poor state, and the low floor of the ringing chamber cut the chancel off from the nave making services read at the altar inaudible. (fn. 64) Repairs, including the removal of the ringing chamber floor and the restoration of the tower arches, were carried out in 1841 and 1842. Between then and 1846 stained glass from Christ Church was inserted into the windows, and late 17th-century altar rails may have been erected. (fn. 65) The architect was H. J. Underwood. During the work late 15th-century paintings were discovered on the tower walls and on some of the roof timbers. (fn. 66)
In 1876 and 1901 the church was restored, largely on the initiative of the vicar Godfrey Fausset. The work included rebuilding the top of the tower, renewing the floor, repairing the chancel walls and roof, renovating the seats and placing canopied 17th-century stalls from Christ Church under the tower, and removing ceilings in nave and chancel. In 1901 the nave roof and windows were repaired, the north porch was restored, and a vestry was built on the south side of the chancel. The architect of both restorations was G. F. Bodley. (fn. 67) The south porch was restored between 1917 and 1922 when the blocked trefoiled arches were opened up. In 1970 the roof of its northern bay was raised to reveal the chevron mouldings of the 12th-century south doorway. (fn. 68) The pulpit and lectern were made c. 1920 by a local carver. (fn. 69)
The windows contain several roundels of medieval and 16th-century stained glass, all brought from elsewhere during the 19th century: there was no stained glass at all in the church in 1825. (fn. 70) Some, notably the early 16th-century roundel with the arms of the see of York, came from Christ Church. There are also several 16th-century Flemish panels depicting biblical scenes. The medieval glass includes a late 14th-century figure of St. Paul which may be from an Oxford workshop, a 14th-century head of Christ, and two early 14th-century deacon saints, all of high quality. (fn. 71) The glass was restored and two 16th-century panels replaced in 1971. (fn. 72)
There are six bells, the earliest dating from 1640. Until one was recast in 1953 the whole ring was by James Keene or his son Richard. (fn. 73) The clock, which has no face, is early 18th-century. (fn. 74) On the floor at the east end of the nave is a brass, a cross fleury, to Roger Cheyne (d. 1414) and on the east wall of the nave is a late 16th-century shroud brass to Thomas Neal, professor of Hebrew at Oxford, erected in 1590. The monuments include, on the south wall of the nave, a marble plaque surmounted by an urn, to Francis Seale (d. 1720) of St. Clement Danes, London, and, on the north wall of the chancel, a plaque to William Mabbott (d. 1812), lessee of the rectory.
The plate includes a pewter flagon dated 1672 and a 17th-century Dutch or Low German brass almsdish with a representation of Adam and Eve. The two brass candelabra came from Christ Church. (fn. 75)