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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Masonry of the 12th century or earlier re-used in the church porch may be from the chapel in existence at Yelford by 1221. (fn. 1) In the later 13th century Yelford's incumbents were called rectors (fn. 2) and the living remained a rectory until 1976, when it was absorbed with Northmoor, Standlake, and Stanton Harcourt in the united benefice of Lower Windrush. (fn. 3) Bampton, to whose large pre-Conquest parochia Yelford belonged, evidently surrendered certain parochial rights in return for a pension (fn. 4) but was still claiming Yelford as a dependent chapel in 1318. (fn. 5) That residual dependency probably concerned burial rights, for, although Yelford was not named when the mother church claimed such rights over a wide area in 1405-6, (fn. 6) there were no known medieval burials in Yelford; (fn. 7) in the 16th century the Hastings family, despite rebuilding Yelford church, had its tomb at Bampton and at least one resident rector was also buried there. (fn. 8) In the 18th century Bampton was the usual burial place, (fn. 9) but there were also burials at Shifford, Standlake, and Ducklington, the last becoming the favoured place in the 19th century. (fn. 10) An isolated burial at Yelford, recorded in the Bampton registers in 1700, apparently caused controversy because of fears that the ground might be unconsecrated. (fn. 11) In the 20th century most Yelford burials were at Standlake.
The advowson, held by Philip Hastings in 1221, descended in the Hastings family with Yelford manor until 1651; (fn. 12) John Bablake, who presented in 1368, was an associate and possibly guardian of Bartholomew Hastings, a minor, (fn. 13) and a Crown presentation in 1637 was also during a minority. The Lenthalls held the advowson with the Hastings manor from 1651 until 1949, when it was sold to F. E. Parker. (fn. 14) In 1952 Parker sold it with the manor house to B. Babington Smith, whose family retained it when the house was sold in 1984. (fn. 15)
In 1254 the living was valued at 20s. (corrected to 26s. 8d.), (fn. 16) in 1291 at £2, and in 1341 at only 24s. after allowance for the exempt glebe and hay tithe. (fn. 17) In 1535 the net value was £4 3s. 5d. after deductions which included a pension of 5s. to Bampton; (fn. 18) a 'pension tithe' of 20d., possibly related to the pension, was still paid from Yelford in 1848. (fn. 19) In the early 18th century Yelford was a discharged living valued at £29 10s. net and its stated value changed little until it was augmented from the Bounty in 1793. (fn. 20) In 1808 its value was £103 and in 1831 £108, which rose after commutation of tithes in mid century to nearer £150. (fn. 21) By the late 19th century it had fallen below £100. (fn. 22)
The tithes from ½ a. of demesne corn and from 3 a. and another piece of land in Yelford field were payable to Bampton parish in the Middle Ages. (fn. 23) The rector had the remaining tithes, which in 1818 comprised those from W. J. Lenthall's estate (estimated at 315 a.), from Wadham College's Yelford farm (160 a.), and from another 80 a. in the open fields of Hardwick. (fn. 24) In 1708 part of Combe hill in Lew was said to be tithable to Yelford, but no later reference to that connexion has been found. (fn. 25) In 1848 the rector was awarded a rent charge of £65 for tithes of Lenthall's land, and in 1852 a further £50 rent charge for the tithes of c. 213 a. in Hardwick's fields. (fn. 26)
A house and yardland held from the lord by the rector in 1279 as a freeholder for 10d. a year was probably additional to the glebe. (fn. 27) In 1625 the rectory house stood south of the church on the site of the surviving Rectory Cottage, surrounded by a small piece of glebe. (fn. 28) The house was in disrepair in 1742, (fn. 29) and the rector's intention to rebuild in 1811 was presumably unfulfilled, since it was later declared unfit for clerical residence. (fn. 30) In 1818 it was a cottage with two ground-floor rooms, and the glebe comprised its garden and a 4½ a. close let to a farmer. (fn. 31) In the mid 19th century the glebe was claimed to be c. 7 a., but only the cottage garden remained in the mid 20th. (fn. 32) From the 18th century Rectory Cottage was usually let; the tenant for much of the later 19th century was a farm labourer who also served as parish clerk and in 1869 held an alehouse licence. (fn. 33) One room was used as a vestry until 1958 when the cottage was sold by the Church Commissioners. The building is mostly 18th-century with earlier features, including a fireplace with a 4-centred head. There are foundations, perhaps of the medieval rectory house, immediately to the south. (fn. 34)
After the parish was depopulated in the 14th century the living offered an income and few duties, and many rectors were probably nonresident. No presentations have been found between 1382 and 1455. (fn. 35) Distinguished latemedieval incumbents included Nicholas West (1489-98), later a prominent royal envoy and bishop of Ely. (fn. 36) John Latham (d. 1567) seems to have been resident for some forty years, and his bequests to the poor of many neighbouring parishes suggest that he had been active in a wide area. (fn. 37) His will implies acceptance of Reformation changes, but his successor Gregory Gunnis (resigned 1579) was later arrested at Henley and imprisoned as a suspected Roman Catholic priest. (fn. 38) William Wyatt, rector 1579-1624, described as 'sufficient' in 1593, was a local man, probably resident. (fn. 39) His successor Charles Hastings (d. 1637) was a younger son of the patron. (fn. 40)
The rectors presented by the Lenthalls from the later 17th century were almost all Oxford graduates and few, if any, were resident. Henry Newcome (d. 1750), rector for 42 years, resided elsewhere and seems to have neglected the fabric of both church and rectory house. (fn. 41) In the later 18th century and the 19th there was a sustained connexion with Jesus College, of which several rectors were fellows and two were principals; W. J. Lenthall, patron 1783-1855, had been educated at the college. (fn. 42) Yelford was served by curates, not always local. (fn. 43) One of them, the vicar of Burford, serving as curate at the patron's request, was allowed the whole profits of the living; he argued with the bishop over the need for weekly services in view of Yelford's remoteness, lack of population, and proximity to other churches. (fn. 44)
From the 1760s the principal farming family in Yelford for several generations was nonconformist, reducing the average number of communicants to 6; services for long continued fortnightly, becoming weekly in the early 19th century, by which time curates were paid 30 gns. or more. (fn. 45) In 1834 there were two Sunday services, but later in the century only one, with congregations of fewer than 20, and communion services at the principal festivals. (fn. 46) From 1899 W. D. Macray, rector of Ducklington, was licensed to hold Yelford in plurality, which enabled him to afford an assistant curate to serve both those churches and Cokethorpe. (fn. 47) From 1912 the living was held with Standlake. (fn. 48) Services were still held twice monthly in the 1990s.
The church is dedicated to ST. NICHOLAS AND ST. SWITHUN. (fn. 49) The former dedication was recorded regularly from 1334; (fn. 50) the latter was first appended c. 1740 (fn. 51) on the evidence of the will of Sir John Ardern (d. 1408) which stipulated burial in St. Swithun's church, Elford, in fact Elford (Staffs.) but wrongly identified as Yelford. (fn. 52) The building, only c. 52 ft. long and 16 ft. wide in the interior, comprises a nave and chancel of coursed limestone rubble with ashlar dressings, and a south porch of ashlar; the roofs are stone slated. A carved relief with beaded arcs reset in the east wall of the porch may be 12th-century or earlier. Otherwise the nave, chancel, and porch seem to have been rebuilt in the late 15th century or early 16th, probably after a period of decay caused by depopulation, and probably soon after the Hastings family had returned to residence in the parish. (fn. 53) The uniform thickness of the walls and standardised form of window suggest that nave and chancel were of one build, and the porch was probably added soon afterwards. A pair of blocked pointed apertures in the west wall, wrongly identified as 13th-century lancets, (fn. 54) were bellopenings, probably post-medieval, protected in the 19th century by a weather-boarded structure on the exterior. An open bellcote was built over the west gable in the late 19th century. (fn. 55) The church, in 'sad disrepair within' in 1869, was restored and re-seated by 1873; the roofs were reslated in the 1950s. (fn. 56)
The windows, font, piscina, south door, and carved wooden screen are all of c. 1500. The high-pitched roofs of both nave and chancel retained low-pitched ceilings in 1850; (fn. 57) the nave ceiling is of c. 1500, oak, with moulded purlins and cambered tiebeams, and there is a similar ceiling in the porch; the chancel's higher, barrel-shaped ceiling was presumably inserted during the restoration of c. 1870. The lectern was given in the 1950s and a new pulpit in 1965. Until 1965 the church was lit by candles or oil lamps. (fn. 58) There are two bells, one given by Elizabeth Lenthall in the 1660s, the other, perhaps originally of the same date, recast for E. K. Lenthall in 1891. (fn. 59) In 1759 the curate complained of the lack of communion plate and in 1792 the rector David Hughes presented a chalice, which was stolen in recent times. (fn. 60) There were no burials in the church and the sole memorial is to B. Babington Smith (d. 1993). The register dates from 1813; another, dating from 1745, was lost before 1907. (fn. 61) The churchyard shows no sign of interments, despite the recorded burial there in 1700. A church repair fund of £80, given by will of E. K. Lenthall (d. 1907), was augmented with £500 given by Mrs. E. M. M. Parker (d. 1969). (fn. 62)