St. Leonard's Church, Eynsham

St. Leonard's Church in Eynsham, built of limestone rubble and ashlar, comprises a chancel with a north organ chamber and vestry, an aisled and clerestoried nave, a north porch and parvise, and a north-west tower. The oldest dateable parts of the fabric, the chancel and part of the south aisle, are of the late 13th century, although in the early 19th century there was said to be earlier masonry in the south wall. The narrowness of the north aisle and evidence of a south aisle of similar width suggest that there was a large aisled church before late 13th-century alterations. It appears that the eastern end of the south aisle was widened in the late 13th century, probably to form a chapel, and the tower may have been begun at the west end of the north aisle in the early 14th century. The north aisle and arcades were rebuilt in the later 15th century and a clerestory added, comprising four two-light windows on the north but only three single-light windows on the south. Soon after the completion of the arcades the tower was largely rebuilt and its northern stair turret added. Early in the 16th century a two-storeyed porch was added to the church's north doorway.

Evidently the wide eastern and narrow western parts of the south aisle were connected by an arch which, at least after the rebuilding of the arcades, had its north end on a voussoir of the fourth arch of the south arcade. Some masonry of the connecting arch survived when, in the early 16th century, the west part of the aisle was widened to align with the late 13th-century work to the east.

A gallery was set up in the church in 1648. There was a gallery in the south aisle until the mid 19th century, and c. 1820 a large raised gallery over the west end of the church. Soon afterwards another was inserted in the north aisle. In the mid 18th century the churchwardens complained repeatedly about the condition of the chancel, the lay rector's responsibility, and Thomas Symonds persuaded the duke of Marlborough to contribute to chancel repairs in the early 19th century. 

In 1856 the roofs of the nave and south aisle were reported to be in danger of collapse, and the vestry agreed to reroof both and rebuild the chancel arch and some of the walls. The south clerestory was built to match that on the north, and the south aisle given a high pointed roof in place of the former lean-to; the architect was William Wilkinson of Oxford. Work began in advance of a faculty and included the removal of the west gallery, but objectors successfully blocked plans to rebuild the north aisle and repew the whole church, mainly because of the expense. The gallery had been removed to make way for an organ, to replace a barrel organ; until at least the 1830s church music had been provided by an orchestra, to which Robert Day in 1831 bequeathed instruments, as well as providing £100 for choir robes. 

The church was restored and reseated under a faculty of 1892 to the designs of H. G. W. Drinkwater; the work included the removal of the north gallery and ancient box pews. Some proposed alterations, notably the reopening of the tower archways, were not carried out. In 1900-1 the chancel was reroofed by the duke of Marlborough, and a new altar and choir stalls were inserted. In 1903 the later 13th-century east window, much mutilated before 1840, was replaced with tracery designed by John Wilkins and glazed by Lavers & Westlake. In 1915 an organ chamber was built on the north side of the chancel. After an appeal launched in 1979 the church was thoroughly restored in the 1980s. 

In the sanctuary is a brass to Sir Edward Stanley (d. 1632), grandson of Edward, earl of Derby. There is a wall memorial to Thomas Symonds, vicar (d. 1845) above a tombstone recording Symonds and his family. In the chancel are wall monuments to James Stanley (d. 1611), a London lawyer, and to the families of John Bartholomew (d. 1724), a London goldsmith, and the farmers Samuel Druce (d. 1860) and George Brown (d. 1782). Floor slabs include those of George Knapp (d. 1711) and Edward Minn (d. 1788). In the nave is a black marble tablet, carved in 1713 by Bartholomew Peisley of Oxford, to the 17th-century Martins, whose later members took the name Knight. In the aisles are plaques to Michael and Richard Martin (d. 1610 and 1617), William Emmot, vicar (d. 1585), Col. Patrick Hay of Eynsham Hall (d. 1822), John Rogers, vicar (d. 1715), and his son John (d. 1729). In the churchyard is a medieval table-tomb with quatrefoil decoration. Lost memorials include that of Samuel Benwell (d. 1777), steward of the duke of Marlborough. A north window formerly contained the picture of a kneeling man, commemorating a late-medieval rector of Hanborough, Hugh Hulle. Nothing remains of heraldic glass noted in 1574, but fragments of medieval glass were gathered together and inserted in a south window in 1965.

The 15th-century font is much repaired; it was raised in 1893 on steps similar to those removed in the mid 19th century. The pulpit, described in 1840 as 'ludicrous', perhaps because of its central position, is of c. 1700 on a later base. There is a much altered 14th-century ogee piscina in the chancel, and a double piscina and aumbry in the south aisle. Near the altar a mutilated 14th-century image niche contains a wooden figure of St. Leonard installed in 1979. Fourteenth-century wall paintings in the sanctuary, discovered in 1936, depict the life of St. Catherine. Before 19th-century restoration the church contained a 15th-century chancel screen, and a few 15th-century bench-ends remain.

In the early 18th century there were five bells, four cast by the Keenes of Woodstock between 1653 and 1673, the treble by the Bagleys in 1708; there was also a saunce of 1683 by Richard Keene. Four new bells cast in 1895 survive with two bells of 1653 and 1673 and a saunce of 1924. A clock acquired in 1640 was replaced in the mid 18th century by the tower clock which, after 1964, was preserved in the south aisle. The plate includes a communion cup of 1575, one of two cups which belonged to the church in the 17th century; pewter salvers and flagons survive from communion plate given by George Devall in 1720. 

The churchyard was enlarged several times, notably in 1825-6, 1866, and 1930. Parish registers survive from 1653 and there are extracts from an earlier register. 

Historical information about St. Leonard's Church is provided by A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn and S C Townley, 'Eynsham: Churches', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, ed. Alan Crossley and C R Elrington (London, 1990), pp. 147-152. British History Online [accessed 7 April 2023].

St. Leonard's Church is a Grade II* listed building. For more information about the listing see CHURCH OF ST LEONARD, Eynsham - 1048964 | Historic England.

For more information about St. Leonard's Church see Eynsham: Churches | British History Online (