A Detailed History at Kirtlington

Over 1,100 years ago the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Kirtlington was built to the greater glory of God and as a witness to future generations.

Pre-dating the Norman conquest ‘the Saxon priest is named in the Doomsday book’; the Anglo Saxon chronicle records a royal counsel under King Edward the Martyr in 977. The Normans rebuilt the church in the 12th Century; additions and alterations continued for the next 400 years. During the latest refurbishments in 1905, 15th Century wall paintings were uncovered.

Charting centuries of history; Views of a blocked doorway to a rood screen, and vestry entrance with a carved stone above depicting a Saxon tympanum of “The Tree of Life”. The arch below the tower is Norman with chevron moulding.
The pulpit is Jacobean; the earliest monument is of a similar date.

The Dashwood family, lords of the manor for over 200 years from the latter part of the 17th Century, created a family chapel in the south aisle, including hatchments, monuments and handsome wrought iron gates.

The family left the village in the early 20th Century.

The Norman tower was blown up at the insistence of an eccentric dowager Lady Dashwood in the 18th century, and was not rebuilt until the mid 19th when the present font, flooring and pews were installed.
A fine restoration of the chancel was carried by Sir George Gilbert Scott. These works were at the Dashwood’s expense.

The earliest stained glass is Victorian, whilst the fine ring of eight bells, much in demand from visiting ringers dates from 1718.

The organ built by Hall and Company of Plymouth was donated to the church ‘as an offering from the people of Kirtlington and their friends and was placed here in AD1878’. It was renovated again by donation in 1978.

The church has always been a central focus for the life and identity of Kirtlington as a community, enhanced by its position in the centre of the village with four much-used paths meeting by the west door.

For most of the last 1000 years the church building was also used for the community – public meetings and social gatherings – activities unconnected with worship. We want to find ways to continue this tradition by reviving the building as a community resource and we need help to make this happen.

30 April 977

Kind Edward, Archbishop Dunstan and other bishops attended ‘a great assembly after Easter’ in Kirtlington’s stone built Saxon church. Beyond the east central arch there are the foundation of an apse below the chancel floor.

10th Century impost stones used in 12th Century at the base of the eastern central arch.
12th sanctuary piscina

12th Century

Normans rebuilt the church designing the chancel as it is now, using the Saxon impost stones. When erecting the lower part of the tower on its present arches, adding chevron (zig zag) moulding to the western arch. The carved heads may be 13th Century work.

East pier of north arcade near vestry
Third pier opposite similar lady with noseband on south pier
Lady with noseband opposite the column noted above
West pier of north arcade
Norman arch with chevron moulding
South side of west tower arch
South side of East tower arch
East pier of south arcade near pulpit
Pier west of Angel, on south arcade

Mid 13thCentury

Three bay aisled nave built and Western Arch decorated with heads and foliage. North doorway pierced (now blocked under painting).

13th century piscina in the lady chapel

14th Century

Three small ram headed Norman windows in east wall above alter were changed into one large curvilinear style window. The main western door was enlarged, the lanced windows above were arched and tracery added to make one window.

15th Century

The nave walls were raised and an eight window clerestory built above. Nave and aisles were re-roofed, after the south aisle had been widened by 30 inches, these windows have been early 15th century square headed type found particularly in nearby Northamptonshire. The stone porch with seating for the first part of service of baptism, was built around the south door. When entering through this door, the 15th Century painting of St George and the Dragon and St Christopher bearing the Christ child holding the world, is still visible straight ahead on the north wall. Originally it was intended as a mortuary chapel, hence the placing of a possibly Saxon tympanum of ‘the tree of life’ over the narrow doorway, a vestry was built at the east end of the north aisle. Saxon tympana were more crudely carved as is this one, and also for narrower doorways than those of the Normans. A rood screen was erected across the chancel arch with an entrance now blocked, above the vestry doorway, to the gallery for the reader of the epistle and gospel on special occasions. 1420 window inserted at south west end of chancel perhaps to allow lepers to watch the elevation of the host during mass.

Above the 13th Century blocked doorway is a 15th Century painting of St George and the Dragon and St Christopher bearing the Christ child holding the world. This was discovered in 1935 when render fell away from the wall. Whilst in poor condition, it is our intention to renovate it when funds are available.

16th Century

About 1549 removal of various abuses in the church included destruction of the figures of saints and angels which adorned the rood screen so it was destroyed.

17th Century

The Jacobean pulpit has a modern base and steps.

18th Century

1723 Sir Robert Dashwood presented the communion plate, a silver gilt service of challis, pattern cover, large pattern, a pair of flagons and an almsplate. 1726 he erected a gallery across the west end of the church – the Dashwood family contributed generously to the upkeep of the church for nearly 200 years.

1787 seven bells were hung, the eighth tenor bell in 1753 but in 1770 the old church tower was declared unsafe and demolished. 1779 Sir James Dashwood left a legacy for its rebuilding and for a clock.

19th Century

1852 – 1854 Sir George Dashwood rebuilt the tower exactly to the Norman design, removed the square box pews and the gallery, to allow seating for 320, and made other repairs and improvements, including a new font, and strengthened the north wall with two buttresses outside and two flying buttresses inside. 1876 – see notes below ‘sanctuary piscina’. In 1877 parishioners gave the organ, first used in 1878. In 1893 the roof timbers were repaired. All stained glass in the windows is 19th century.

Sir George Dashwood carried out a major renovation 1852-1854 which included a new font.

20th Century

In 1905 the nave beams and rafters were replaced, and the 15th Century painting of St George and the Dragon and St Christopher bearing the Christ child holding the world was uncovered and treated again in 1932. In 1906 a new oak screen for the vestry was installed. In 1934 electric lighting was introduced, and in 1963 oil fired central heating. In 1938 the bells were re-hung on a steel frame and re-tuned. In 1978 the Lady Chapel was renovated. The organ was overhauled by the original firm that made it, and placed in its present position to allow the original tower entrance to the chapel to be used, and the church was redecorated. In 1990 repairs were needed to the chancel roof, built in 1876. Until 1984 the incumbent was a vicar. Since the inclusion into one benefice of Kirtlington, Bletchingdon, Weston on the Green and later Hampton Gay, the united benefice now is a rectory as Bletchingdon had been a rectory. The benefice was subsequently expanded to include Middleton Stoney, Chesterton and Wendlebury. In earlier days tithes passed to the incumbent of a rectory, those of a vicarage formerly belonged to a religious house, a chapter or a layman. Patronage is shared by the following Oxford colleges: St John’s, The Queen’s College, New College and Christ Church, and Period and Country Homes.


On chancel walls: Reginald Ward Bennett, Sir Henry and Lady Dashwood.

Tower: Louisa Guillemard,

Outside the Church

On the south side there is an 18th Century sundial above a clerestory window and east of the porch are two memorials to parishioners who became Mayors of Oxford, one being Anthony Hall, Vintner who died in 1975 aged 51. The other was Amos John George JP, Sheriff 1921 and Mayor in 1924 who was born in Kirtlington 28 January 1860 and died 17 September 1928.

In the north side if a memorial to Thomas, Sir Robert Dashwood’s ‘blackamoor’ who dies 23 March 1691 in 23rd year of his age and is buried in the chancel.

Lady in the Chapel

13th Century chapel of St Mary built on the south side of the tower. The altar was against the east wall but was in 1978 moved under the window when the chapel was restored to full use. 1720 the Lady Chapel became the Dashwood Chapel. 1746 18th Century gates bearing the Dashwood Coat of Arms was installed. Hatchments are detailed on the tower walls. There are books of historical interest in the cabinet.

The Dashwoods

1876 Sir Henry Dashwood became lay rector, with Sir Gilbert Scott’s supervision he rebuilt the dilapidated chancel exactly on the same plan as the 12th Century except for the east window. During rebuilding, the 1340 priests door was discovered and also the aumbrey and piscina. There are several memorial tablets to the Dashwoods in the chancel and chapel.

Written with grateful acknowledgement to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Shellard.

Our further thanks go to Libby Russell for supplying the detailed photographs www.gallery63.com