A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The Norman doorway which survived until 1802 shows that there was a church at Bladon by the 12th century. (fn. 54) It seems to have been the centre of the later Woodstock rural deanery until the mid 13th century. (fn. 55) In 1291, and probably much earlier, the parish included the township of Hensington and the borough of New Woodstock. (fn. 56) Despite attempts, notably in the 17th century, the early 19th, and in the 1930s to separate Woodstock from Bladon, (fn. 57) the borough church remained a chapel of ease. The removal of the centre of the rural deanery to Woodstock in the mid 13th century suggests that by then the borough church was already the ecclesiastical centre of the parish, and from perhaps as early as 1256 the incumbent at Bladon was sometimes called rector of Woodstock. After 1686, when a rectory house was built in Woodstock, the rectors usually lived in the borough. (fn. 58) The ecclesiastical parish was enlarged in 1877 when the rector took over formal responsibility for Old Woodstock, technically a hamlet of Wootton parish but effectively a suburb of Woodstock: the built-up area (c. 51 a.) was transferred from Wootton, together with land (354 a. from Dornford and Hordley farms) yielding a tithe rent-charge of £100. In 1951 more land near Old Woodstock (the area south of Akeman Street, between the Glyme and the wall of Blenheim Park) was transferred from Wootton to Bladon, and in 1953 a small area straddling the Oxford-Woodstock road in Kidlington civil parish was transferred from Shipton-on-Cherwell ecclesiastical parish to Bladon. (fn. 59)
In 1241 the living was a rectory in the king's gift, (fn. 60) and the advowson descended with the manor thereafter. The king or his tenant presented regularly, except in 1621 when John Whitton of Hensington had received a grant of the next presentation from the Prince of Wales, later Charles I. (fn. 61) The advowson passed with the manor to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, in 1705; the dukes presented thereafter, except in 1840 when John Benbow presented after a dispute with the duke, and in 1929 when the turn passed to Oxford University because the duke was a Roman Catholic. (fn. 62)
The living was said to be worth 30 marks in 1241, but was valued at only £7 in 1254 and £10 in 1291; (fn. 63) in 1535 it was valued at £16 11s. (fn. 64) By the early 17th century its value had apparently risen to £80, and in 1753 it was said to be worth £130 a year. (fn. 65) The 2 yardlands of glebe were exchanged at inclosure in 1767 for 53 a., and at the same time the rector received 113a. for the rectorial tithe of Bladon township. (fn. 66) The whole allotment, with the tithe of Hensington, was leased to the duke of Marlborough from 1767 for £190 a year, a rent raised in 1802 to £274 16s. (fn. 67) In 1806 the rector also received tithe from Burleigh wood (24 a.), Burleigh meadow (2 1/2 a.), and Woodstock borough, besides an offering of 6d. a year from every family in the parish. (fn. 68) None of those payments was recorded again, and they were probably already of little value and difficult to collect. In 1831 the living was worth £329 net, but despite the commutation of the tithe of Hensington for a rent charge of £237 in 1847, its value was stated to be only £307 in 1851; in 1862, however, it was estimated at between £400 and £500. (fn. 69) When Old Woodstock was transferred to Bladon in 1877 the value of the living was increased to c. £530. (fn. 70) The glebe farm was sold c. 1920. (fn. 71)
Two thirds of the tithe of the d'Oilly demesne in Hensington was given to the church of St. George in the Castle, Oxford, by Robert d'Oilly or his successors, and passed, with the rest of that church's endowments, to Oseney abbey. (fn. 72) The tithe was valued at 4s. in 1254, but its collection proved difficult, and in 1413 the abbey agreed with the rector for its commutation to a 5s. rent charge. (fn. 73) The 5s. was still paid in 1510, but had been lost by 1535. (fn. 74)
The original rectory house was in Bladon, and in 1665 the rector was taxed on 6 hearths there, (fn. 75) but in 1686 Bishop John Fell gave the mayor and corporation of Woodstock a new house for the rector in the borough, (fn. 76) and thereafter the Bladon house was used as the glebe farmhouse. It was rebuilt c. 1770, as a large stone house 33 ft. by 39 ft. with a slate roof. (fn. 77) The house survived, as a private house, in 1985.
Ralph de Hauvill, rector in 1241, (fn. 78) was presumably a relation of Geoffrey de Hauvill who held the manor. Most other 13th- and early 14th-century rectors were royal clerks, like John of London, who held the living for over 50 years from 1252 to 1306 and was also farmer of the manor, (fn. 79) or John of Hanborough, rector 1324-49, who was keeper of the king's works at Woodstock in. 1334. (fn. 80) Although many 14th- century rectors resigned or exchanged the living after only a few years, there were two long incumbencies: John of Hanborough died as rector after 25 years, having failed twice to carry out an exchange and John Watts served from 1369 to 1409. (fn. 81)
In 1415 there was a Lollard in Bladon and another in Woodstock. (fn. 82) Several 15th- and early 16th-century rectors were members of Oxford university and probably non-resident; some, like William Riley, instituted in 1409, were also pluralists. (fn. 83) Nicholas Newton, rector 1444-59, may have been the man of that name who was rector of Great Haseley and principal of an academic hall. (fn. 84) His successor, Philip Morgan, was certainly a member of the university, citing a Woodstock man to the chancellor's court for debt in 1466 and 1467. (fn. 85) In 1520 the rector, another graduate, was non-resident and had failed to provide a proper curate, leaving the service of the church to a friar; by 1526, however, there was a curate. (fn. 86) Leonard Hutchinson, rector 1534-41, was a non-resident pluralist and master of University College, Oxford, who in 1540 admitted that he had preached only twice and said mass only once since his induction. Like his predecessor he had failed to provide a suitable curate, although he claimed to have sent various preachers to declare the gospel. (fn. 87)
Lands were given during the Middle Ages for an obit, a lamp, and a light in the church. They included the lamp acre in Hensington, held by the churchwardens in 1512, and perhaps also the acre in Hensington held in 1279 by the rector of the gift of Eustace the franklin. (fn. 88)
The rector from 1546 to 1570 was Robert Kirkby, possibly the Oxford graduate of that name who had been a monk at St. Mary's abbey, York. (fn. 89) Bladon and Hensington wills made in 1550, 1557, and 1559 had moderate Catholic declarations of faith, but one of them was witnessed not by Kirkby but by Martin Cave, a curate. (fn. 90) Kirkby was also rector of Stonesfield, where he farmed the glebe, as he did at Bladon; he was buried at Bladon where he seems to have lived, at least at the end of his life. (fn. 91) Richard Harris, rector 1577-1610, held Somerton in plurality from c. 1596; (fn. 92) he employed a curate for Woodstock, Anthony Noble, who wrote or witnessed a Hensington will in 1596 and a Bladon one in 1602. Both those wills and others made in 1607 and 1611 start with long Protestant declarations of faith. (fn. 93) Edward Evans, rector 1610-21, may have been the 'noted preacher' of that name in the university. (fn. 94)
From 1625 to 1641 the living was held by the pluralist John Prideaux, rector of Exeter College and regius professor of divinity, later bishop of Worcester. He apparently preached at Bladon or Woodstock once a quarter, but employed a curate the rest of the time. In 1633 the curate claimed to preach every third week, although he admitted that at harvest time there had been no sermon for six weeks, an omission which suggests that he farmed the glebe. (fn. 95) Until c. 1650 Bladon was served by rectors or curates with royalist and Anglican sympathies; a parishioner's will made in 1648 contains an exceptionally long declaration of faith, largely taken from the Prayer Book. (fn. 96) Francis James, inducted in 1648 on the orders of the House of Lords, was evicted in 1649 and lived 'poor and bare' until 1660 when he petitioned for the restoration of the living. (fn. 97) Robert Ferrers, appointed late in 1649, seems to have served the cure until 1655 or later. (fn. 98)
After the Restoration a succession of rectors who were academic pluralists, visiting the parish occasionally but usually leaving it to the care of curates, (fn. 99) included Henry Savage, 1662-72, and Thomas Good, 1672-8, masters of Balliol College, and Thomas Marshall, 1678-83, rector of Lincoln College. (fn. 1) Matthew Griffiths, rector of a London church, who was buried, at Lewis Napper's expense, in the Hensington aisle at Bladon in 1665, may have acted as curate; he is said to have died of a seizure caused by excitement while urging his congregation to 'study to be quiet and follow your own business'. (fn. 2) In 1673 the churchwardens spent 6d. going to Oxford to get a minister. (fn. 3) Humphrey Prideaux, rector 1683-6, although resident at Christ Church, Oxford, served Bladon and Woodstock himself, with the assistance of a curate who lived in Woodstock. Prideaux supervised the building of the new house for the rector in Woodstock. (fn. 4) Robert Cocks, rector 1715-35, preached fairly frequently at Bladon between 1716 and 1718, repeating the same sermon several times. (fn. 5)
Although most 18th- and 19th-century rectors paid some attention to Bladon, usually taking a few services and signing the churchwardens' accounts, the major part of their time was given to Woodstock, where some, such as Benjamin Holloway the younger, 1739-77, William Mavor, 1810-40, and Joseph Bowles, 1840-7 were much involved in town life and politics. (fn. 6) From 1774 or earlier there was only one Sunday service at Bladon, attended in 1787 by only c. 30 people but by 80-100 in 1831. (fn. 7) Communion services there were reduced from 5 or 6 to only 3 or 4 a year in the course of the later 18th century, but the number of communicants remained fairly steady at c. 20 until the 1830s when it fell to 14-15, despite the presence of a curate by 1831. (fn. 8)
In 1847 Bishop Samuel Wilberforce had to investigate the 'shameful and indecorous performance of Divine Service' by the rector, Joseph Bowles, in Bladon church; his fault was perhaps the same as that of his successor, G. W. St. John, who rushed through the Bladon service in order to get to Woodstock for the service there; St. John also altered the time of the Bladon service from 2 p.m. to one less convenient for the parishioners, and later in his incumbency ceased to take any services at Bladon or Woodstock. (fn. 9) In 1854 he quarrelled with the parishioners over the cleaning of the chancel. (fn. 10) By 1851, however, St. John or his curate had increased the number of Sunday services at Bladon to two, attended by an average of 100 people in the morning and 200 in the afternoon, out of a total population of 484 in Bladon and 236 in Hensington. (fn. 11) The relatively small congregations were later blamed on the prevalence of dissent. In 1862 Bladon was served by a resident curate, and by 1866 there was a monthly Communion service for c. 25 communicants, a number which rose to 36 in 1875. (fn. 12)
Under St. John's successor, Arthur Majendie, 1876-95, Bladon and Woodstock experienced the revival in religious life characteristic of the mid 19th century. Majendie employed two curates, one for Bladon and one for Woodstock; he increased the number of Communion services at Bladon to three a month, and then, by 1893, to one a week; he was responsible for the virtual rebuilding of the church in 1891. He also built a church room or hall, the freehold of which was conveyed to the parochial church council by his daughter Miss D. Majendie in 1938. (fn. 13) Under his successor, J. E. G. Farmer, some ill feeling was caused in the village by the 'sacerdotalism' of the high church curate J. A. Rivington, 1895-8, which particularly annoyed the strong Methodist community. (fn. 14)
Relations between Bladon and Woodstock have occasionally been strained in the 20th century. In 1933 the need for the rector to work at Bladon was described as 'a tremendous handicap to the work of the church', and the burial of Sir Winston Churchill at Bladon in 1965, with the consequent influx of money and visitors to the church there, aggravated the difficulty resulting from the rector's decision to move the curate from Bladon to Woodstock. (fn. 15) A curate's house at Bladon was acquired on lease from the duke of Marlborough in 1958, but was given up in 1962. (fn. 16)
There was a chapel in Hensington by c. 1200, and a fugitive took sanctuary there c. 1240. (fn. 17) By the 16th century there were two chapels in Hensington. One, dedicated to St. John, belonged to the Hospitallers, and, with its garden, was held in 1512 by a hermit, John Glass; in 1546 Glass, no longer described as a hermit, held the chapel and garden by copy of court roll. (fn. 18) The other was a chapel of ease to Bladon in 1530 and 1536. (fn. 19) In 1585 it was called St. Nicholas's; earlier it may have been dedicated to St. Thomas Becket, giving its name to the nearby St. Thomas's Lane recorded in 1512, (fn. 20) but, like St. Thomas's church, Oxford, suffering a change of name at the Reformation. (fn. 21) The chapel was disused by 1585, and thereafter the inhabitants of Hensington were buried, and presumably worshipped, at either Bladon or Woodstock. (fn. 22)
The medieval church of ST. MARTIN, (fn. 23) demolished in 1802, comprised a chancel with north chapel, a clerestoried nave with south aisle and porch, and a west tower; the south aisle was separated from the nave by an arcade of three bays. (fn. 24) A 12th-century outer doorway to the south porch, presumably not in its original position, was the oldest part of the fabric. The 15th-century windows in the south aisle and south wall of the chancel were probably inserted c. 1445 when the 'nave and belfry' were repaired or rebuilt. (fn. 25) The clerestory was presumably added at the same time. Two mid 16th-century wills left money for the repair of Bladon church, one of them for the lead. (fn. 26)
Minor repairs were carried out regularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1680 the rector, Thomas Marshall, 'repaired and beautified' the chancel, and in 1717 the parish made substantial repairs to the north wall of the nave. (fn. 27) By 1802, however, the church was in such a bad state that plans for repair were abandoned in favour of a complete rebuilding, and the medieval church was demolished that year. The new church, completed in 1804, comprised a small chancel with a vestry room on its south side, a wide nave, and a west tower. It was longer than the medieval church. Most of the cost of the building was borne by the duke of Marlborough. (fn. 28) The medieval font, possibly 12th-century, seems to have been lost after 1813. (fn. 29) In 1891 the church was restored under the direction of Sir Arthur Blomfield. The chancel was completely rebuilt, in 14th-century style, at the expense of the rector, A. Majendie; the nave was remodelled in the same style, with two narrow aisles with timber arcades, and a south porch; the tower was refenestrated and given pinnacles. (fn. 30) In 1893 Majendie gave a lych gate in memory of his mother. (fn. 31) In 1937 a statue of St. Martin was placed in a niche over the porch. (fn. 32)
The old church had a ring of three bells, of 1670, c. 1470, and 1629; they were not rehung in the new church, but were recast with extra metal at the Whitechapel foundry in 1883 to make a new ring of six bells. (fn. 33) A silver chalice and cover, recorded in 1664, had been lost by 1819 when the rector, William Mavor, gave a silver communion cup and paten. (fn. 34)
The churchyard was extended northwards in 1902. (fn. 35) Immediately north of the tower are the graves of members of the Spencer-Churchill family, including those of Sir Winston Churchill and his father Lord Randolph Churchill. The wrought-iron gates in the north wall of the churchyard were presented in 1965 by a group of 15 Oxfordshire blacksmiths. (fn. 36)