A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 15, Bampton Hundred (Part Three). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2006.
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Black Bourton had its own church by the mid 12th century, apparently jointly established by the lords of two Black Bourton manors. From the 13th century it was an independent vicarage, though the former minster church at Bampton retained burial rights until the 1580s. The benefice's relative poverty ensured that the church was served usually by obscure resident vicars; many seem to have been conscientious, though there were periods of relative neglect particularly in the 16th and 18th centuries, reversed in the 19th by the dynamic attentions of the long-serving vicar James Lupton. Some of the Hungerford family, resident lords of Bourton Winslow and Bourton Inge manors, were Roman Catholic recusants in the late 16th and 18th centuries, but seem to have had little influence, and Protestant Nonconformity, too, remained minimal until the early 19th century, when a Primitive Methodist chapel was established despite opposition from the vicar. The chapel continued until the later 20th century.
The Parish Church
In the late Anglo-Saxon period Black Bourton formed part of a large area dependent on Bampton minster. A chapel subject to Bampton was built at Black Bourton before the mid 12th century, presumably by lords of Bourton Winslow and Bourton Inge manors, who in the 1170s shared the advowson. (fn. 1) From the early 13th century it was treated usually as an independent church, (fn. 2) though Bampton, which still claimed it as a chapel in 1318, (fn. 3) retained burial rights until around 1581, (fn. 4) and in the mid 16th century both the church and one of the manors were sometimes said to lie within Bampton parish. (fn. 5) The church was baptismal probably from its foundation, since the font is late 12th-century, and from the early 13th century the benefice was a vicarage. (fn. 6) By 1743 the church was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin; its medieval dedication is unknown. (fn. 7)
In 1963 the ecclesiastical parish was divided, the northern part, including Carterton, being united with Brize Norton. The southern part, including Black Bourton village and church, was merged with Alvescot and Shilton to form a new united benefice, to which Holwell and Westwell were added in 1979. In 1995 all those places became part of the large united benefice of Shill Valley and Broadshire. (fn. 8)
Shortly before 1180 Ralph Murdac and Hugh of Bourton, lords of two Black Bourton manors, each gave half the advowson to Osney abbey, undertaking to obtain delivery of the church from the two clerks then holding it. (fn. 9) In the 1190s the bishop of Lincoln appropriated half the church to Osney abbey at Ralph's 'presentation', implying that Ralph had retained some claim, and before 1235 Bishop Hugh of Wells allowed appropriation of the other half and ordained a vicarage. (fn. 10) The advowson remained with the abbey until the Dissolution, passing in 1546, with the rectory estate, to the dean and chapter of Christ Church, Oxford, which retained joint patronage of the united benefice in the 1990s. (fn. 11) The Crown presented in 1597, perhaps following uncertainty over Christ Church's title, (fn. 12) and by agreement in 1660. (fn. 13)
The chapel's original endowment included apparently 1½ yardlands. The vicarage ordained in the early 13th century comprised ½ yardland (later 11 a. of arable with 1½ a. of meadow), tithes of the remaining yardland and of mills, and hay tithes of all the villeins. Later vicars retained those and other small tithes throughout the parish, (fn. 14) which were still collected in kind in the mid 18th century. (fn. 15) The vicarage was valued at its ordination at £3 6s. 8d., but in 1254 at only £2, and the living remained poor, worth not more than £45 in 1707 when it was discharged of tenths and first fruits. (fn. 16) For much of the 16th century the vicarage was let, and the church was served by substitutes. (fn. 17)
At inclosure in 1770 the vicar received 14 a. for his ½ yardland and 107 a. for commuted tithes, which with hay tithes from 45 a. of old inclosure and from uninclosed meadow by the Thames brought the gross value by 1778 to nearly £120, and in 1841 to £160. (fn. 18) The remaining tithes, usually compounded for, were commuted in 1845 for a rent charge of £27 10s., (fn. 19) and in 1864 Christ Church gave £3 a year previously awarded for rectorial tithes. (fn. 20) The balance of funds raised between 1841 and 1844 for a new vicarage house, not all required for that purpose, was invested in Queen Anne's Bounty, and in 1868 total income was c. £293, of which £253 came from land and tithe rents and £40 from the Bounty. (fn. 21) The vicar's land was sold in 1920 with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' permission. (fn. 22)
A chaplain's house included in the vicarage ordination stood probably east of the Burford road, site of the vicarage house certainly by the 17th century. (fn. 23) In 1530, when probably unoccupied, the house was in serious disrepair. (fn. 24) In 1634 it included a possibly free-standing kitchen of 2 bays, and in the mid 17th century there were four principal ground-floor rooms and four first-floor chambers, besides a cellar, two smaller rooms, and a garret; (fn. 25) the house was taxed in the 1660s on 5 hearths. (fn. 26) A fire probably in the mid 17th century seems to have destroyed mostly outbuildings, and in 1686 there remained 13 rooms, considered more than adequate for such a modest living. (fn. 27) The parlour and a hall chamber were 'new boarded' in the 1670s, and in 1732 a double-flued chimney was built in the hall. (fn. 28)
In the late 18th and early 19th century the house was an irregular building aligned east-west, with wings projecting northwards, and with outbuildings to the east. (fn. 29) During the same period it was let first to tenant farmers and later to labourers, and fell into disrepair; (fn. 30) a new house was built on the same site in 1842–3, paid for by the vicar with help from Christ Church, Queen Anne's Bounty, and other trusts. (fn. 31) That house was sold c. 1962, when a vicarage house was built at Carterton, and after 1963 Black Bourton church was served from Shilton. (fn. 32)
In the late 12th century Black Bourton seems, exceptionally, to have been served by two clerks or chaplains, presented or installed by the two lords who claimed patronage. (fn. 33) Medieval vicars presented from the 13th century presumably resided, and, despite some exchanges of benefices in the early 14th century, several stayed for long periods and some for life. (fn. 34) All were obscure, reflecting the poverty of the living, and though an early 14th-century vicar briefly studied at Oxford (fn. 35) only one medieval incumbent was possibly a university graduate. (fn. 36) A vicar was presented in 1454, (fn. 37) but by the early 16th century and probably earlier the vicar's endowment was leased to local laymen, and the church was served by canons from Osney abbey or by stipendiary curates, who were appointed by the lessee of the vicarage and who in 1535 received £6 6s. 8d. a year. (fn. 38) A curate who in 1508 witnessed a local will may have resided, but by 1520 a canon attended only on Sundays, and the church's dilapidation perhaps reflected more general neglect: (fn. 39) in 1530 services were held by a different curate or canon every week. (fn. 40) Possibly such abuses contributed to the spread of heretical views: Andrew Maisey, lessee of Osney abbey's Black Bourton manor, was among several west Oxfordshire people accused of heresy c. 1521, though he apparently remained in the parish some years afterwards. (fn. 41) Later 16th-century curates were evidently more satisfactory, and all subscribed to the Elizabethan religious settlement, though none was a university graduate. In 1593 the curate was 'tolerable'. (fn. 42)
From 1597 vicars were again presented. (fn. 43) James Godman (vicar 1597–1638), like most of his successors a graduate of Christ Church, resided despite having land at Kencot, and apparently ran a school; his non-resident successor appointed a curate, but thereafter until the mid 18th century most vicars resided. (fn. 44) In 1647 the vicar Thomas Hill was deprived following a parish petition, to be replaced by an intruded minister who had served the cure since 1646, and who was himself deprived in 1660. (fn. 45) His successor Christopher Reade (d. 1663), though a Crown presentee, seems to have had connections with the local Presbyterian Henry Cornish. (fn. 46)
In 1738 there were two Sunday services with one sermon, and prayers were read on holidays and most Fridays. Children were catechized at Lent and the sacrament was celebrated four times a year. (fn. 47) Charles Knollys (vicar 1732–71), styled earl of Banbury, lived at Burford from 1747, riding weekly or fortnightly to conduct services at Black Bourton and at Yelford, (fn. 48) and for 70 years after his death the parish was served by mostly non-resident curates, of whom several served other churches as well. For much of the earlier 19th century only one Sunday service was held despite complaints from the bishop, and the number of communicants fell from 30 in 1738 to under 10 by 1802, rising slightly thereafter. (fn. 49)
James Lupton, vicar 1827–73, resided from c. 1843 to 1860, and transformed the parish, building a new vicarage house and school, restoring the church, possibly instituting a choir mentioned in 1866, and by his own account raising the 'moral condition' of the parishioners. By 1859 most reportedly exhibited 'favourable' feelings towards the Church, though during the same period, and despite Lupton's avowed hostility, Primitive Methodism appears to have flourished, particularly among poorer inhabitants. (fn. 50) Lupton's successor William Price (1874–99), though conscientious, did not reside constantly and was latterly old and infirm, and in 1884 the parish was served by a non-resident curate from Oxford. Parochial life seems not to have suffered unduly and, though several inhabitants of outlying farmhouses attended churches in other parishes, church attendance continued to rise, helped reportedly by installation of new lighting in 1883. There were then three Sunday services and a monthly sacrament. (fn. 51) Twentieth-century vicars resided until the parish's division in 1963, and there were some long incumbencies, (fn. 52) though as elsewhere church attendance gradually declined.
The church of St Mary the Virgin (fn. 53) is of coursed limestone rubble with stone-slated and leaded roofs, and comprises chancel, clerestoreyed nave with north aisle, north chapel and south porch, and western tower (Fig. 30). (fn. 54) The chancel south door, with shafted jambs and a semi-circular tympanum, is of the early or mid 12th century. The nave and north aisle, with an arcade of circular piers and pointed arches, are of the late 12th century, built perhaps after Osney abbey obtained the patronage around 1180: (fn. 55) part of a late 12th-century string course survives on the nave's external south wall. The plain tub-shaped font, on a square base, was supplied about the same time. (fn. 56)
In the 13th century the church was greatly altered. (fn. 57) The east bay of the north aisle was extended north to form a small chapel, later called the Hungerford aisle, and the east arcade arch was rebuilt as an entrance. Windows in the north aisle and nave were replaced with cusped lancets, and the south porch was added. The chancel was remodelled with a new chancel arch and lancet windows; the arrangement of two east lancets with a rectangular window above is unusual, but pre-dates 19th-century alterations. (fn. 58) The east wall has a rectangular aumbry and a piscina on an ornate corbel, and there is another piscina in the north chapel. A south lancet has a dropped cill forming a single sedile, encased in oak about 1887. (fn. 59) In the early 14th century a south window with simple cusped three-light tracery was inserted in the nave, and the south and north doorways were rebuilt.
In the 15th century some of the chancel windows were altered, and a stone pulpit with blind tracery (fn. 60) was provided. The square three-stage tower, with embattled parapet, was built into the south-west corner of the nave in the late 15th or early 16th century, partially blocking a tall central lancet in the west wall, and then or later the westernmost arch of the north arcade was reconstructed. A clerestory lit only by three rectangular windows at the nave's east end was added in the early 16th century. A rectangular niche in the nave east wall was presumably for a statue: in 1508 bequests were made for lights before the images or altars of four saints besides the Virgin, as well as for a light before the crucifix. (fn. 61)
Private pews in the Hungerford aisle, treated from the 16th century as a private chapel, (fn. 62) were mentioned in the mid 18th century, and large box pews in the chancel and an 'ugly' gallery across the tower were presumably also of 17th or 18th-century origin. (fn. 63) In 1703 a former Hungerford pew at the nave's east end was converted into a reading desk and pew for the vicar's family. (fn. 64) Occasional repairs, including repewing c. 1799, were noted throughout the 18th century, (fn. 65) but by the 1840s the church was in a dangerous state with bowing and cracked walls, insecure foundations, and roofs threatening collapse: (fn. 66) around 1845 the bishop alleged that it was the worst in his diocese. (fn. 67) The nave was reroofed in 1847 with an open timber structure resting on restored corbels, (fn. 68) but lack of funds prevented further work until 1866, when the architect E. G. Bruton carried out a complete restoration paid for by the chief landowners and parish rates; (fn. 69) unsatisfactory work necessitated further expense in 1870. (fn. 70) The chancel was reroofed and its walls repaired, the north aisle was rebuilt incorporating the 14th-century doorway, and the south door, with its original ironwork, was reportedly moved to the tower entrance, having presumably been recut. The interior was entirely refurbished, heating was installed, and the westernmost bay of the north aisle was partitioned to form a vestry. (fn. 71) Stained glass by Clayton and Bell of London was fitted in the chancel and north aisle. (fn. 72) New furnishings included a lectern, (fn. 73) and a reredos of coloured ornamental tile 'in very bad taste'; the latter was replaced in 1915 by a stone reredos faced with carved oak, which was itself removed about 1966. (fn. 74) In 1931 the Hungerford chapel was fitted up by members of the Akers family for daily services, and electric lighting was introduced to the church in 1934. (fn. 75) An 18th-century chamber organ was given in 1965, and about the same time new heating was installed as part of a more general restoration. (fn. 76)
A remarkable late 13th-century scheme of wall paintings in the nave was uncovered during the 1866 restoration, but against the vicar's wishes was then painted over. (fn. 77) The paintings were partially visible c. 1915, and were fully restored by E. W. Tristram in 1932; further restorations were carried out in 1965 and in the 1980s. (fn. 78) The paintings include, on the north wall, a Tree of Jesse, the baptism of Christ, the stoning of St Stephen, and possibly the vesting and martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, with, in roundels, Saints Peter and Paul and the Coronation of the Virgin. On the south wall is St Richard Wich of Chichester (canonized 1262), with, below, the Adoration of the Magi, the Angel appearing to St Joseph, and the Massacre of the Innocents, all with foliage borders. A St Christopher on the north wall is perhaps the 'image' before which there was a light in 1508, and a St Catherine on the south wall was perhaps associated with her altar mentioned at the same time. (fn. 79) In the north chapel, traces of stars painted on a blue background were uncovered in the 19th century but have since disappeared. (fn. 80)
Memorials (fn. 81) to several of the Hungerford family in the north chapel include a monument to Eleanor Hungerford (d. 1591), with a recumbent effigy, and a marble wall cartouche to Col. Anthony Hungerford (d. 1703). Memorials in the north aisle include a brass to the vicar James Godman (d. 1638), formerly in the chancel, and inscriptions to members of the Dring and Whitton families, lay rectors. A stone slab to Sir Arthur Hopton (d. 1649), related to the Hungerfords by marriage, was moved under the communion table in 1866. (fn. 82)
In 1757 there was a ring of 5 bells including the saunce, three of them, of 1618–19, by Henry Knight I. The present third, of 1743, is by Henry Bagley III. In 1866 the bells were rehung, the second, long cracked, was recast, and a new treble was added; the new bells were by Mears & Stainbank. The tenor, of 1619, was transferred to the church of St John the Evangelist at Carterton in 1963. The late medieval oak frame, restored and extended in 1866, required replacement in 1965. (fn. 83)
The churchyard was extended southwards in 1894–5 and westwards in 1937. The latter extension was consecrated in 1942 and 1989. (fn. 86)
Sir Anthony Hungerford (d. 1627), lord of Black Bourton from 1591, was brought up as a Roman Catholic, but converted to Anglicanism probably before settling in the parish, where he wrote two anti-papist tracts. (fn. 87) One or two Roman Catholic tradesmen noted from the 1730s to 1750s were associated with Edward Hungerford (d. 1748), a convert to Catholicism, and his wife (d. 1766), who both lived at Bourton Place, (fn. 88) but as there were no papists in Black Bourton in 1768 their influence was presumably limited. (fn. 89) Four papists reported in 1823 had no priest or place of worship, and none were mentioned later. (fn. 90)
In the later 17th century two Black Bourton tradesmen and their wives were Quakers and attended the meeting house at Alvescot. (fn. 91) A single parishioner attended an unspecified meeting house outside the parish in 1802, (fn. 92) but otherwise there were no reported Dissenters until the emergence of Primitive Methodism in the early 19th century. (fn. 93) The only other Dissenters were 'a few' Particular Baptists attending Alvescot chapel in the 1830s, and in the 1860s there was one 'respectable' Baptist of independent means. (fn. 94)
Primitive Methodists A meeting house certificate in 1824 related probably to Primitive Methodists attached to the Witney circuit, and in 1826, when there were 22 members at Black Bourton, a barn north of the Alvescot road was fitted up as a chapel. It was licensed the following year, (fn. 95) and from 1836 belonged to the newly formed Faringdon circuit, merged with the Witney circuit about 1964. (fn. 96) Membership rose from 2–4 in 1839 to over 20 in the 1840s, and in 1850–1 average attendance was 80 and increasing; the building was still used for agricultural as well as religious purposes, and the preacher was the farm's tenant, John Maisey. (fn. 97) The chapel faced hostility from the vicar who, while acknowledging its popularity among the poor, considered it a 'scandal to the neighbourhood', and its adherents 'misguided'; in 1859 he claimed that it had closed, (fn. 98) but in 1861–2 there were still 22 members, and a purpose-built chapel of red brick, with 90 sittings, was erected a little to the west of the barn, on a small piece of former waste bought from a local labourer (Fig. 23). (fn. 99) Membership reached 38 in 1864, when Sunday attendance was usually around 100, though several Dissenters also attended church, despite continued animosity from curates. From the 1870s there was some decline, said to have been accelerated by introduction of evening services in the church in the 1880s, and in 1921 there were 9 members and 30 regular attenders. (fn. 100) From 1932 the chapel belonged to the United Methodist Church; nine members were still noted in 1964, but about 1970 the chapel was closed and sold. (fn. 101)