A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 13, Bampton Hundred (Part One). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1996.
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A dispute over parochial rights in Northmoor between Reading abbey, owner of Stanton Harcourt church, and the abbey of St. Denis in Paris, whose church of Taynton professed an ancient claim, was settled in 1145 × 1148 in favour of the French house. North-moor was created a separate parish, and a church was built shortly after. A pension due to Stanton Harcourt as part of the settlement was still paid in the 18th century. (fn. 1) The benefice was a rectory until appropriated by Sir Thomas White in 1555 on behalf of his college, St. John's, Oxford. A vicarage was then ordained, taking effect in 1558 on the death of the incumbent. (fn. 2) The college appropriated the vicarage in 1711, establishing a perpetual curacy to be served by a senior fellow. (fn. 3) The benefice, styled a vicarage from 1868, (fn. 4) was in 1959 united with that of Stanton Harcourt, which in 1976 joined, with Standlake and Yelford, in the united benefice of Lower Windrush. (fn. 5)
The advowson of the rectory belonged to the abbey of St. Denis whose daughter house, Deerhurst priory (Glos.), exercised the patron-age. (fn. 6) The Crown presented in 1347 and regularly thereafter following Deerhurst's seizure as an alien priory, (fn. 7) until in 1467 Edward IV granted the advowson with Deerhurst to Tewkesbury abbey. (fn. 8) An exceptionally prolonged incumbency was already under way, (fn. 9) and the abbey sold the next turn, in 1502, to Richard Croft, (fn. 10) so it can rarely have exercised its right before the Dissolution. The advowson seems to have been granted to Charles Brandon (d. 1545), duke of Suffolk, but reverted to the Crown, which in 1554 sold it to Sir Thomas White. (fn. 11) Although Sir Thomas gave the advowson of the vicarage to St. John's College he exercised the right of patronage personally until his death in 1567. (fn. 12) The college remained patron of the vicarage, and from 1711 of the perpetual curacy, after 1976 sharing the right to present to the united benefice with the dean and chapter of Exeter cathedral, the bishop of Oxford, and the Oxford Diocesan Board of Patronage. (fn. 13)
The living was valued in 1254 at only £5, (fn. 14) but in 1291 and 1341 at £14, including £10 of glebe, hay tithe, and small tithes, and excluding a pension of 13s. 4d. to Stanton Harcourt. (fn. 15) In 1535 the net value was £18 17s. 6¼d. (fn. 16) Under the terms of appropriation in 1555 the vicar was to receive £12 a year, (fn. 17) which St. John's increased to £30 in 1612. (fn. 18) From the later 18th century the living was several times augmented by Queen Anne's Bounty, meeting benefactions of £800 in total from St. John's, of £200 in 1764 from the Revd. Samuel Dennis, and of £200 in 1821 from the trustees of J. Marshall. (fn. 19) In 1808 the benefice's clear annual value was £68, (fn. 20) rising by 1851 to £123, at which level it remained at the end of the century. (fn. 21)
Although the settlement of 1145×1148 gave the tithes of Northmoor to the church, (fn. 22) Eynsham abbey seems to have received, allegedly 'ab antiquo', the corn tithes of certain tenements, valued at 30s. in 1254. (fn. 23) In 1555 glebe of 40 a. was appropriated with the tithes. (fn. 24) Bounty money was used in 1808 to buy a 'piece' of land for the incumbent. (fn. 25) In 1883 the vicar's glebe comprised 42 a., worth £46; it seems to have been sold in 1920. (fn. 26)
There was a rectory house by 1381, on or near the site of Rectory Farm. (fn. 27) St. John's seems to have provided or built a cottage for the vicar's use after appropriation. (fn. 28) The cottage, with garden, orchard, and small close adjoining, stood north of the church across Church Road. (fn. 29) It was described in 1805 as a thatched, lath-and-plaster building, (fn. 30) and dismissed in 1814 as comprising two 'miserable' rooms. (fn. 31) A drawing of 1873 shows a long single-storeyed row with attics, modest in appearance but evidently comprising more than two rooms. (fn. 32) It is likely that in 1814 the building was divided into two dwellings, used by 1831 as the parish school and teacher's house. Their demolition was urged in 1879 but apparently not carried out until 1891. (fn. 33) Incumbents lodged at Rectory Farm, (fn. 34) then rented the house later known as Ferryman Farm. (fn. 35) In 1892-3 a new vicarage, designed by John Oldrid Scott, was built on land provided by E. W. Harcourt and with financial assistance from the Bounty and St. John's. (fn. 36) It was sold c. 1960 to raise funds for a house at Stanton Harcourt to serve the united benefice. (fn. 37)
John of More, presented in 1229, and Thomas More, ejected in 1418, (fn. 38) were presumably local men. Few of 28 rectors traced before 1555 appear to have held the living for more than a year or two, and three who held it for more than 30 years each were exceptional also in dying in office. (fn. 39) Several were graduates and some had noteworthy careers, usually as non-resident pluralists. Richard of Chaddesley (1312-15) later served as a royal envoy. (fn. 40) William Cogyn (c. 1439), said to be 'of noble race', was chaplain to Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. (fn. 41) John Hale (1530), who was executed in 1535 with the London Carthusians, (fn. 42) employed an allegedly unintelligible Irish curate. (fn. 43)
Simon Walkelin of Northmoor c. 1300 gave a rent of 10d. from ½ a. of land in Moreton to support a light dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. (fn. 44) In 1508 twelve lights were recorded. (fn. 45)
Sir Thomas White's first presentee, Leonard Stopes, was almost immediately deprived of the living and of his fellowship of St. John's at the visitation of the university in 1559. He later died in prison as a Catholic missionary priest. (fn. 46) His successor, William More, presumably that family's third incumbent, was vicar for 53 years until his death in 1612. Although licensed in 1564 to hold an additional living he probably resided at Northmoor, where he rented the rectory estate. (fn. 47) Thereafter St. John's appointed a succession of its own fellows, who usually resigned within a few years. Edmund Tillesley was suspended by Parliamentary Visitors in 1648, though he seems to have been reinstated by 1653. (fn. 48) From 1711 the living was reserved to senior fellows, suggesting that it was seen, in what was then a poor college, more as a financial opportunity than an obligation. (fn. 49)
Although few of the transient college fellows can have established close links with parishioners, they rode out weekly to maintain services. In 1738 the vice-president of St. John's, William Walker, held two services and preached a sermon each Sunday, and catechized children during Lent; there were six communion services a year, with 20-30 communicants. (fn. 50) In 1748 the president, William Holmes, left £10 a year to incumbents who spent three nights a week in the parish; (fn. 51) most remained in college. Though two Sunday services remained the norm, reputedly with only 'four or five of the lowest class' absent, communion services, reduced to four a year, were said in 1802 seldom to attract more than 16 communicants. (fn. 52) The incumbent in 1831 claimed an average congregation of 150-160 and 40 communicants, (fn. 53) but other estimates, and the religious census of 1851, put the totals much lower. (fn. 54) The long and, for Northmoor, unsatisfactory succession of St. John's men ended with the appointment in 1872 of John Coen, who initiated a belated religious revival. Coen took up residence nearby at Appleton (then Berks.), introduced weekly communion services, daily prayers, and a Sunday recitation of the Litany, and established a religious guild. (fn. 55) The quickening of church life did not survive his departure in 1879, and in 1882 its debility in the face of nonconformist vigour prompted newspaper comment. Criticism was levelled unfairly at Lewis Tuckwell, rector of Standlake, serving Northmoor at the bishop's request after a year-long vacancy. (fn. 56) The building of a new vicarage house allowed incumbents to reside constantly after 1893, but revitalization of church life in the late 19th century and earlier 20th was slow. (fn. 57)
The church of ST. DENIS comprises chancel, nave with north and south transepts, south porch, and integral west tower. It is built of limestone rubble which, apart from the chancel and the upper part of the tower, is rendered, and the roofs are covered with natural and artificial stone slate.
Except for the cylindrical font with its carved sprig of stylized leaves nothing survives from the 12th-century church. The almost total rebuilding may have begun with the chancel c. 1300 and finished when the transepts were completed in the mid 14th century. (fn. 58) The long chancel has a piscina and a triple sedilia in the south wall, and above them is a window, presumably re-used, with 13th-century plate tracery. The unusually wide nave is lit by two-light windows with rere-arches supported by crudely carved foliage capitals, and by a large west window. The matching transepts have windows with reticulated tracery in their gable walls. The north transept, which was long known as the More aisle, has twin tomb recesses containing 14th-century effigies of a knight and a lady, probably Sir Thomas de la More (fl. 1330×1357) and his wife Isabel; (fn. 59) the transept was the property of the Mores and later of the lords of Northmoor manor, who remained liable for its repair in the 17th century. (fn. 60) It retains a piscina in the east wall. The south transept has a piscina in its south wall and, on the east wall, a 15th-century canopied niche containing a statue of 1959. (fn. 61) In the 15th century the tower was built into the nave, to which it had open arches on the north, east, and south. The 14th-century nave roof was probably then left in place, but was replaced soon afterwards by a tie-beam roof. The barrel-shaped plaster roofs of the north, and, presumably, of the south, transept were apparently built by Edmund Warcupp soon after he acquired Northmoor manor in 1671; (fn. 62) the rough tie-beams in the transepts are probably of the same period. The chancel roof appears to be 19th-century. The timber-framed porch is of the 16th or 17th century.
Richard Lydall gave a bell loft in 1701. (fn. 63) Its rail, which has turned balusters, was originally across the tower arch. It was reset in an extended gallery erected in front of the arch later in the 18th century. Painting and gilding of the gallery, recorded in 1827 and 1829, has since been removed. (fn. 64) The lavishly carved 17th-century altar rails were until 1843 in St. John's College chapel. (fn. 65)
A heating system installed in 1854 has since been removed. (fn. 66) Bishop Wilberforce in 1855 recommended the church's restoration, to include removal of the 'hideous' gallery and 'little stone altar'; the latter, put up by Dr. Thomas Silver, incumbent 1819-22, was presumably that which still stands against the chancel's east wall. (fn. 67) In 1887 the church was said to be in a 'miserable, dilapidated' state, with a collapsed vault, perhaps in the nave. (fn. 68) A conservative restoration that year under the direction of Clapton Crabb Rolfe included renewing part of the nave plaster ceiling, reflooring with wooden blocks, installing new pews, and fitting a new north door. A pulpit on a stone base was erected north of the chancel arch, and a matching lectern was provided; plans to preserve tracery in the existing pulpit and lectern, thought to be from a rood screen, seem to have been abandoned. (fn. 69) The chancel was apparently excluded from the restoration since it was in disrepair in the 1890s. (fn. 70) In 1948 electric lighting was installed using existing, presumably oil lamp, fittings. A high altar made of oak was installed in 1957, and in 1958 the chancel ceiling was repaired and the chancel and nave limewashed. (fn. 71) The south transept, designated the Lady Chapel in 1959, was restored between 1955 and 1961. (fn. 72) The tower was re-roofed in 1960, and the nave in the 1970s. (fn. 73) In 1993 new north and south doors were fitted. (fn. 74)
Remains of 14th-century wall paintings associated with the More tombs survive on the north and west walls of the north transept. Descriptions of the 17th century and later record More family heraldry, little of which survives, on the walls and on the knight's shield. (fn. 75) Still visible in the north-west corner is a depiction of two angels raising a soul to heaven before Christ in majesty. The paintings were restored in 1932 by E. T. Long, who uncovered in the recesses paintings of the Virgin Mary and of the Virgin and Child flanked by kneeling figures, which by 1990 were no longer visible. (fn. 76) Some medieval floor tiles remain in the chancel. (fn. 77) Fragments of medieval glass survive in the east window of the south transept. The chancel has a notable east window of 1866 given by Sarah Nalder of Rectory Farm; there is a window of 1871 in the south wall of the nave.
The More effigies were moved to the chancel in the earlier 19th century, (fn. 78) but by 1850 had been returned to the north transept. (fn. 79) A photograph of c. 1930 shows them on tall stone bases, the lady in the western recess, the knight by her side. (fn. 80) The bases were removed in 1932 when the knight was placed in the eastern recess. A medieval tomb slab was moved to the chancel in 1932 from the north transept, where another remains. (fn. 81) Later monuments include, in the north transept, the tomb chest of Sir Edmund Warcupp (d. 1712), a floor tablet to Sir John Stone (d. 1719), and a bust of Richard Lydall (d. 1721). Lost monuments include several of the More family recorded in the south transept in the early 18th century. (fn. 82) The war memorial tablet on the south wall of the nave was designed by F. E. Howard in 1919; it was extended in 1948. (fn. 83) In the churchyard, east of the chancel, is the base of a 14th-century stone cross.
There is a 17th-century parish chest in the blocked south doorway of the nave, and a parish chest dated 1721 in the south transept. An organ apparently of the late 19th century stands at the entrance to the north transept. Church plate includes a silver chalice of 1646, a silver paten of 1684 inscribed D. C., probably Dorothy Champneys (d. 1705), lessee of the rectory estate, and a silver paten of 1776 given by William Kent. (fn. 84) A 17th-century Spanish painting of Christ carrying the cross hangs above the chancel south door. In the late Middle Ages the tower apparently carried a ring of four bells, increased to six in the 17th century. Richard Lydall gave a new tenor bell in 1693. The fifth was recast in 1717 at the Gloucester foundry of Abraham Rudhall, and the others, including Lydall's, in 1764 by Thomas Rudhall. The bells, rehung in 1966, are praised as 'one of the best light rings in the country'. Lydall also gave, by will proved 1721, money for a clock in the tower. (fn. 85) The present mechanism is inscribed Hawting of Oxford 1785. The clock face, extensively repaired in 1827, (fn. 86) had only an hour hand until 1863 when a minute hand was added. (fn. 87) The registers begin in 1654. (fn. 88)