St. Mary's Church, Upper Heyford

Newton Purcell church

St. Mary's Church in Upper Heyford is a 19th-century building in the style of the 15th century, comprising a chancel with vestry, nave, north aisle, west tower, and south porch.

Of the medieval building only the tower remains. It is of three stories, with two-light belfry windows, a battlemented parapet, and a projecting staircase. The buttresses at the north-west and south-west angles bear the arms of New College and probably those of Thomas Chaundler, warden from 1455 to 1475. Most of the church may have been rebuilt at that time, as before the 19th-century restoration it was largely of 15th-century date. It then had a chapel, which adjoined part of the south aisle and part of the chancel. The nave windows were squareheaded, and the external south wall was parapeted.

In the 17th century the south aisle caused trouble, and in 1668 a buttress was built to support the roof, 'well ramming the foundations'. 

In 1718 Rawlinson called the church 'good'. In 1757 minor repairs were undertaken. The creed, the Lord's prayer, and 'choice sentences' were to be 'wrote upon the wall and the ten commandments to be in a frame where the king's arms are, and the king's arms put in another place. Boarded ceiling, and communion table, and pavement round same to be neatly repaired, &c.' The state of the fabric became increasingly worse in the second half of the century: in 1764 it was 'very much out of repair' and in 1768 'ready to fall'. Blomfield, who had access to records which have since disappeared, says that drastic repairs were made in 1769 when the south wall was rebuilt, a new nave roof put on, and the open timbers of the chancel roof covered with a coved plaster one in the 'Grecian' style, which concealed the upper part of the east window. 

In the 1850's the condition of the chancel caused concern and by 1865 the whole building was said to be 'very much out of repair', particularly the 18th-century south wall which had been badly built. Restoration plans were made under the rector William Wetherell (1859–64) with Richard Hussey as architect but were apparently not carried out. 

On Wetherell's death the rector, C. B. Mount (1865–78), instructed the architect Talbot Bury, a pupil of Pugin, to rebuild the church. H. Cowley of Oxford was the builder. The cost was about £2,000, of which half was given equally by New College and the rector and £400 raised by a local rate. The church, opened by Bishop Wilberforce in 1867, was built in imitation of the medieval one, but the nave was widened by 3 feet and a north aisle and south porch were added. The window on the north side of the chancel is original, and the east window is an exact reproduction of the original one. The chapel with its monuments on the south side of the chancel was replaced by a vestry. The clock commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of 1897.

The pulpit, dated 1618, with an hour-glass attached to it, was replaced. The medieval piscina remains, as does the fine recumbent effigy of a priest (probably 14th-century) under an arch in the chancel. Memorials include a stone to John Grent (rector, d. 1668/9) with his arms, and various ones to the Merry family. The majority of monumental stones have been removed. 

The present iron screen, formerly in Bicester church, was erected in 1916, and the organ installed in 1904. There are a 20th-century lectern, pulpit, and reredos. Electric light was installed in 1932 and electric heating in 1951. 

At the Reformation the church owned two chalices and several other ornaments. In 1955 the only old plate was a small Elizabethan silver chalice and paten cover. There were three bells, of which two were 17th-century, and a sanctus bell. 

The registers date from 1577.

Historical information about St. Mary's Church is provided by 'Parishes: Upper Heyford', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6, ed. Mary D Lobel (London, 1959), pp. 196-205. British History Online [accessed 22 February 2023].

St. Mary's Church is a Grade II* listed building. For more information about the listing see CHURCH OF ST MARY, Upper Heyford - 1226006 | Historic England.

For more information about St. Mary's Church see Parishes: Upper Heyford | British History Online (