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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Kidlington church was in existence by the early 12th century. (fn. 49) The ecclesiastical parish covered the same area as the ancient parish until 1932 when the detached part of Water Eaton was divided between the parishes of Wolvercote and St. Michael's Summertown, Oxford. In 1952 the area north and west of the Oxford canal was transferred to Shipton-on Cherwell and Begbroke parishes. (fn. 50) There was some doubt in the mid 20th century as to the status of Water Eaton. (fn. 51) From 1958 the living was held in plurality with Hampton Poyle.
Robert d'Oilly granted Kidlington church to Oseney abbey at its foundation. The abbey had appropriated the church by 1226, presenting vicars from then until the early 16th century except in 1474 when the archdeacon of Oxford presented. The vicarage was appropriated to the abbey c. 1513. (fn. 52) The church, including the appropriated vicarage, was granted to the bishopric of Oxford in 1542, surrendered in 1546, and sold to Sir William Petre for Exeter College in 1565. (fn. 53) The vicarage was annexed to the rectorship of the college until 1880 and held without presentation, but from 1887 to 1977 the college presented to the vicarage. In 1977 a team ministry of a rector and a vicar was established, the rector being presented by a patronage board made up of the bishop of Oxford, the team vicar, Exeter College, and a representative of the parochial church council; the vicar is chosen by the bishop and the rector. (fn. 54)
The first vicarage, a standard one for Oseney abbey's appropriated churches, was ordained between 1209 and 1235; it comprised 2 marks a year, mortuaries to the value of 6d., oblations and altar offerings, mass pennies, and a canon's food allowance. The abbey supplied a clerk, a servant, and a horse, and bore all the burdens of the church. The vicarage was valued at 15 marks in 1254. (fn. 55) At the institution of a new vicar in 1260-1 the bishop of Lincoln reserved the right to augment the vicarage, and may have done so, as in 1290-1 Oseney paid the vicar a fixed sum of £12 a year and at least 2 qr. of wheat while taking some of the oblations. (fn. 56) The church was assessed at 40 marks in 1291, presumably the value of the rectory. (fn. 57) A new vicarage ordained in 1445 comprised a house, garden and close, a yardland of glebe, all offerings and inanimate mortuaries, tithe of the mills (except the abbey's mills), 7s. from the hay tithe, tithe of 53 new closes, and an offering of ½ d. from each parishioner at the four major festivals. Oseney was to supply 4 measures each of wheat and malt at Christmas, but that was probably for the parishioners. (fn. 58) It was recorded in the 17th century that the vicar had given the collegiate church of St. George in the Castle, Oxford, 4 lb. wax each year at Candlemas. (fn. 59)
After the annexation of the vicarage Oseney, and later Exeter College, paid a curate to serve the church. His stipend, £6 13s. 4d. in 1526 and 1542 but only £5 6s. 8d. in 1535, had risen to £10 by 1565. (fn. 60) In 1738 it was £20, and it rose to £30 in 1802, £45 in 1811, £75 in 1817 and £100 in 1820 and 1832. (fn. 61) John Tustian the younger, by will dated 1677, left 10s. a year for a sermon on St. Mark's day by the rector of Exeter or his substitute; (fn. 62) Mary Conant, by will dated 1713, left £3 a year for three sermons 'to put the parishioners in mind of their mortality', and Isaac Shard of Kennington (Surr.), by a codicil to his will dated 1739, left 10s. a year for a sermon on Michaelmas day. (fn. 63) Shard's benefaction was discontinued by his heirs in 1819, but Tustian's and Conant's survived. By a Charity Commission Scheme of 1978 they were united to form the Kidlington Ecclesiastical Charity. Part of the income was to be paid to the parish clerk, as long as there was one, and the remainder was to be used for religious and charitable purposes of the Church of England. (fn. 64)
A house west of the rectory gate was assigned to the vicar in 1445. Part apparently survives in the vicarage house, where a room in the northern corner has ceiling beams of 14thcentury character. The house was ruinous c. 1520, (fn. 65) but was presumably partially rebuilt soon afterwards: the room south-west of the medieval one was added in the earlier 16th century and the roof of that date continues across the older block which was probably the cross wing of a hall house. In the 17th and 18th centuries the house was leased to successive farmers of the vicarage, the rectors of Exeter retaining a few rooms, in 1622 a chamber and a study, for themselves or their curates. (fn. 66) In 1809 part of the southern wing, which had been occupied as a separate dwelling, was demolished and the remainder of the house repaired. (fn. 67) In 1853-4 G. E. Street added a new south wing in 16th-century style on the site of the medieval hall. (fn. 68)
The 13th- and 14th-century vicars were, on the whole, undistinguished, and many exchanged the living after only a few years. (fn. 69) Oseney abbey supplied vestments and ornaments, buying two stoles in 1290-1. (fn. 70) A graduate was instituted in 1407; he and his successors may have spent much of their time in Oxford; two Lollards were reported in Kidlington in 1415, and in 1445 the parishioners complained that the vicar, Lewis Neath, had not administered the sacraments regularly. Neath replied that he was not bound to supply an assistant chaplain, nor could he afford to do so. The new vicarage then ordained may have secured the parishioners an assistant priest, but most vicars thereafter were Oxford scholars using the living mainly as a source of income. Neath himself in 1459 obtained a licence to hold a second, incompatible, benefice, although there is no evidence that he actually acquired one; in 1472 he was living in an academic hall in Oxford. (fn. 71) His successors, mostly pluralists, all seem to have lived in Oxford, where two of them were principals of academic halls. (fn. 72)
After the abbey's annexation of the vicarage c. 1513 (fn. 73) the curate was paid, and sometimes appointed, by the farmers of the vicarage. About 1520 the 'vicar', presumably the curate, did not reside, and the clerk was married although he was in holy orders. In 1526 all seems to have been in order, with a curate and a stipendiary. (fn. 74) In 1543 the farmer, Henry Lawrence, himself a priest, hired a poor scholar from Oxford to serve the church for a year. (fn. 75) Lawrence may later have served the church himself; in his will, dated 1545, he described himself as vicar of Kidlington and asked to be buried there. (fn. 76)
A lamp to burn for Henry d'Oilly's soul before the crucifix was endowed c. 1270. (fn. 77) In 1548 land worth 4d. for a light, a payment of 4s. for an obit, and 15 sheep given to the rood light were reported. (fn. 78) Several parishioners in the earlier 16th century left money to a mass in the Jesus chapel whose endowments included a cottage called the Jesus House on the town green, later the Dog public house. (fn. 79)
The Hospitallers had an oratory in their house at Gosford in the 13th century, but agreed in 1235 not to admit parishioners to their services. (fn. 80) There was a chapel of St. Leonard associated with the bridge at Fries by the 12th century. In the later 15th century it seems to have been the centre of a cult of St. Leonard, for substantial offerings were made there on the two feasts of the saint and indulgences given. Oseney abbey maintained the chapel and its fittings. (fn. 81) There is no later record of the chapel, which had completely disappeared by the later 17th century. (fn. 82)
The curate of Kidlington from 1547 to 1552, Andrew Adam, appears to have held protestant views; he may have been a local man, and was rich enough to make several bequests of money, including 4d. to each poor person in the parish. (fn. 83) During Mary's reign several parishioners left money to repair the church ornaments, but John Barre, curate 1557-8, was a volens subscripsi signatory, and in 1559 a parishioner left money 'to buy books for the maintenance of God's service'. (fn. 84) In 1593 the curate, although a nongraduate, was 'sufficient'. (fn. 85) In 1571 a dispute over Gosford's contribution to the church expenses and a churchwarden's failure to restore a chalice and paten in his possession reached the bishop's court. (fn. 86)
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries Kidlington was served mainly by curates, many of them fellows of Exeter College, who spent most of their time in Oxford, but nevertheless the cure was comparatively well served. The rectors of Exeter occasionally served the church themselves: John Conybeare, rector 1730-3, preached at Kidlington at least twice while he was rector, and at least three times after his resignation. (fn. 87) In the 1750s John Sydenham of Hampden manor acted as curate. (fn. 88) In 1738 the vicar, the college rector James Edgecumbe, displayed an intimate knowledge of the parish, and stated that the parishioners had never complained of being ill served. Then, and for most of the 18th century, there were two services with one sermon on Sundays, prayers on the greater festivals, and five or six Communion services a year. The number of communicants fell from 30-40 in 1738 to 12-20 in 1771 but rose to c. 30 in 1793. (fn. 89) In the early 19th century curates complained of non-attendance, blamed partly on the distance of parts of the parish from the church (Thrupp people sometimes attended Shipton-on-Cherwell church, Water Eaton people Islip) and partly on indifference, but communicants increased to 80-100 in 1820. (fn. 90)
Edward Feild, fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, and later bishop of Newfoundland, was curate from 1827 to 1832. He lived in the parish for much of the time, built schools, and seems to have been genuinely concerned for the welfare of his parishioners. (fn. 91) His successors maintained his standards. Matthew Anstis (1843-51), 'sober-minded, hardworking, and valued by his parishioners', conducted full services with sermons on major saints' days as well as twice on Sundays and celebrated Communion once a month. The rectors of Exeter usually took at least one service a month. (fn. 92) Attendance on Census Sunday in 1851 was c. 290 adults and c. 94 Sunday School children in the morning and 254 adults and 86 children in the afternoon. (fn. 93) In 1854 the curate calculated that nearly half the parish came to church but complained of the indifference and 'careless and ungodly lives' of the farmers. (fn. 94) Congregations increased, averaging 450 in 1866, but a decline in the 1870s and early 1880s was variously attributed to the labourers' strike, to a regular alms collection, and to the extreme coldness of the church in winter. It may also have been affected by a rapid turnover of curates, most of whom stayed only two or three years, and when in 1868 a curate appointed to take the service expounded Puseyite views most of the congregation left the church in protest. (fn. 95) By 1872 there was a Communion service once a week and 100-150 communicants at great festivals. (fn. 96) A mission room was opened in Thrupp by 1884; it seems to have closed c. 1900. (fn. 97)
A. C. R. Freeborn, curate 1886-7 and vicar 1887-1925 after the vicarage had been severed from the rectorship of Exeter College, reported increased congregations in the first years of his incumbency. In the early 20th century, however, Kidlington shared the national trend to falling church attendances. The situation may have been slightly aggravated by Freeborn himself, 'a hardworking, kindly man; clumsy ... and often giving offence where none was meant'. (fn. 98) After his retirement he remained in the parish, serving the private chapel at Water Eaton, an arrangement which led to friction with his successor. Iorwerth Lloyd-Jones, vicar 1925-44, was a high churchman, introducing the reservation of the Sacrament before 1928; his erection of a third, nave, altar in the church in 1927 was opposed by a substantial number of parishioners who seem to have objected as much to the churchmanship it symbolized as to the removal of appropriated pews on which they based their complaint. (fn. 99) Nevertheless, his successors continued a tradition of moderate high churchmanship.
The church of ST. MARY (fn. 1) comprises an aisled chancel, central tower with spire, transepts, and clerestoried nave with south aisle and porch. The only surviving piece from the 12th- century church is the plain, tub-shaped font, set on an early 14th-century octagonal base. The 13th-century church had an aisleless nave and chancel, central tower, and transepts. Much of the west and north walls of the nave, the transept walls, and the lower stages of the tower survive; in the west wall of the north transept are two lancet windows, and jambs of others are visible in the west walls of the nave and south transept. The church was extensively remodelled in the earlier 14th century, possibly under the orders of Thomas of Kidlington, abbot of Oseney 1330-73. A south aisle of five bays and a south porch were added to the nave, and chapels of two bays each north and south of the chancel. The workmanship of the south chapel is of a particularly high standard; fragments of the glass from its east window survived in the chancel windows in 1983. In the 15th century the tower was heightened and the spire added and clerestories were built in the nave and north transept. Of the same date are six carved wooden screens placed around the chancel and its chapels. Some of the screens have been moved since 1848 when they enclosed only the eastern bay of each chapel. (fn. 2) In the 16th century a new west window and door were inserted in the west wall. In 1545 a parishioner requested burial in an otherwise unrecorded west porch. (fn. 3)
The church was repaired regularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, notably in 1618 when a special rate was levied for the church and the bells, in 1756-7 when the steeple and a gallery were repaired, and in 1789 when the church was repaved. (fn. 4) There were galleries on the north, east, and west sides of the nave, for Gosford, Water Eaton, and the choir; the choir gallery was built in 1760. (fn. 5)
Despite opposition from some parishioners, extensive repairs and alterations were made in 1829 and 1830, on the initiative of the curate Edward Feild. The eastern gallery was removed and replaced by a smaller one in part of the south aisle, the pews were renewed and rearranged to face the pulpit in the middle of the north wall, and 20 carved 15th-century bench ends were made into desks and placed in the chancel in front of the misericords of the same date. Exeter College restored the chancel, refixing in the east window the medieval glass, which had been 'daily dilapidating' in 1789, and two shields brought from the college. (fn. 6) In 1846 H. J. Underwood repaired the south chancel chapel, which had been used as a private mortuary chapel by Sir William Morton and his successors, and the south transept; the following year G. G. Scott restored the chancel for Exeter College, presumably removing the flat boarded ceiling which still cut off the head of the east window in 1846. (fn. 7) The chancel floor was repaired, re-using some medieval tiles, in 1851.
The bad condition of the north transept was reported in 1869 and again in 1875, and it seems to have been repaired soon afterwards. (fn. 8)
In 1880 the church was 'partially restored', the nave and south aisle were reroofed, and the wall of the south aisle rebuilt. (fn. 9) Work on cleaning the church in 1892 revealed late medieval wallpaintings; an 'indescribably accurate' series of the seven deadly sins was covered up at once, but pictures of the Virgin Mary and St. Margaret were allowed to remain. The paintings, on the east wall of the north transept, survived, together with fragments on the north and east walls, in 1983. (fn. 10) The spire was repaired in 1907-8. (fn. 11) In 1970 a modern statue of the Virgin was placed in the niche over the door in the south porch. (fn. 12) The Victorian pews in the nave and south aisle were replaced c. 1973 by blue chairs, and in 1981 a Sunday school room in wood and glass was built in the north transept. (fn. 13)
The east and south windows of the chancel contain medieval glass from elsewhere in the church, including a late 13th-century panel from a tree of Jesse, showing a king grasping a vine flanked by two prophets, a Crucifixion of c. 1300, and a composite 15th-century panel of the Trinity. A 15th-century panel tentatively identified as a miracle of St. Frideswide seems to have come from Christ Church. There are four 14th- century shields (Fiennes, Elmbridge, Le Strange, and the township of Kidlington) and one early 16th- century shield, that of John de la Pole duke of Suffolk (d. 1491-2); two early 15th- century shields of bishops Stapledon and Stafford of Exeter came from Exeter College. (fn. 14)
The monuments (fn. 15) in the chancel include several floor slabs to members of the Standard family, lessees of the rectory in the 17th century, and wall plaques to their successors the Smiths. In the north chapel or vestry are wall plaques to John Conant (d. 1723) and his wife Mary, of Bayley manor, and to Joseph Smith (d. 1756) of Bayley manor; on the north wall of the nave is a plaque to A. C. R. Freeborn, vicar 1887-1925, and funeral hatchments of Joseph Smith (d. 1776) and his wives Lydia Barney (d. 1745) and Elizabeth Bouchier (d. 1777). Many brasses were destroyed when the church was repaved in 1789. (fn. 16)
The plate includes a silver chalice and paten cover of 1612, a silver tankard flagon of 1702 given by John and Mary Conant of Bayley manor in 1703, another chalice of 1710 given to the church that year, and a 17th-century Dutch or Low German brass almsdish. All but the second chalice were listed among the church goods in 1754. (fn. 17)
There are eight bells, the earliest of 1700; the treble and second were added to the ring in 1897 when the third, fourth, and sixth, originally of 1661, 1621, and 1610, were recast. (fn. 18)
The churchyard was enlarged in 1853, 1900, 1944, and 1965. (fn. 19) In 1956 a curate's house was bought in the Garden City, and the chapel and church hall of St. John the Baptist was consecrated there in 1959. (fn. 20) The plain rectangular structure of red brick was designed by J. M. Surman. A new chapel in the building was dedicated in 1978. (fn. 21)
The private chapel of Water Eaton Manor was used in the early 18th century for public services for the hamlet, but in 1738 it was no longer available. (fn. 22) In 1756 the tenant of the manor farm held the key, and in 1768 the chapel was unused, but in 1778 the inhabitants were paying for prayers and a sermon there on Sundays, and the arrangement continued throughout the 19th century. The curate's stipend was £20 in 1832; from 1847 to 1955 the inhabitants contributed £9 10s. a year, the balance apparently being made up by the Sawyers or their tenants. (fn. 23) On Census Sunday in 1851 attendance was 41 adults and 11 children. (fn. 24) In 1834 the chapel was said to be independent of Kidlington, and in 1851 and later it was described as a private chapel used by permission of the proprietor. When Gen. Charles Sawyer restored the chapel in 1884 the diocesan authorities doubted whether the chapel was his private property, but did not press the matter. (fn. 25) A. C. R. Freeborn, on his retirement from the vicarage in 1925, became curate of Water Eaton, (fn. 26) and from that time the chapel seems to have been treated as independent of Kidlington. In 1982 services were held once a month in summer and at Christmas. (fn. 27)
The chapel, which stands north of the manor house, comprises a simple chancel and nave in early 16th-century style; it was probably built soon after the house. The original screen and pulpit remain, and the modern choir stalls incorporate Jacobean woodwork. The chapel was restored in 1884 by W. Wilkinson and H. W. Moore. (fn. 28)