Art & Memorials

The memorial of Sir Thomas Grantham

There are some interesting memorials ranging from the late 15th century to 1978. On the wall between the pulpit and the chancel are most of those to the Coker family who owned Bicester House from 1584 to 1978; one or two others are elsewhere in the church. Several brasses include one of 1498 to William Staveley and his wife; two others commemorate the Hunt family who came from Lancashire in the 16th century; a lady in Tudor costume was probably the wife of one of them; the companion brass of her husband was stolen some years ago. The famous sculptors Delvaux and Scheemakers created the imposing bust of Sir Thomas Grantham (d. 1718) which looks down from the North wall of the nave flanked by weeping cherubs. In the choir vestry is a large mid-18th century monument to Sir Edward Turner and his wife Dame Cassandra; Turner was twice M.P., once (1754) for Oxfordshire. In the chancel is a 17th century marble tablet, showing five small skulls, a memorial to the children of the Reverend Samuel Blackwell; it reminds the careful reader that until 1752 the new year began on March 25th; so that John Blackwell born in April 1681 and dying in February 1681 was a few days short of ten months old and the carver did not make a mistake! A tablet to Robert Jemmett (d. 1736) on a pillar in the South transept describes him as “Sole giver of the Branch in this church”. This refers to the brass chandelier which hung in the nave until the 19th century restoration.

 

The Churchyard

The original churchyard is no longer used for burials and many of the headstones have been taken up and placed round the outside of the church. As the visitor moves on into the cemetery he may notice a gradual increase in the average age of those buried there. Three memorials are unusually interesting. At the back of the old churchyard the sixty-four victims of the cholera epidemic of 1832 are commemorated. Beside the gate that leads into Piggy Lane are buried two of the French nuns who took refuge in Bicester in 1902 after the separation of church from state, when the monasteries had been taken over by the state and their members expelled. These nuns were Benedictines from Olivet, a small town near OrlĂ©ans. Their chapel in Priory Road was used by the local Catholics until the present church was built. They ran a school for little girls, leaving the town when their order became an enclosed one. Those who read French may be interested in a spelling mistake on the later headstone. “Ci-git” (here lies) has been rendered “Ci-jit”.

The Church is home to much fine artwork and sculpture that has been added to the building over the centuries.

Stained Glass

The only surviving piece of good glass is in the South side of the chancel above the priest’s door, a charming figure of an angel blowing a trumpet, which is probably 14th century. A window in the vestry contains two small fragments of late mediaeval glass. Most of the rest is inferior stuff of the 19th century, although the figures of Faith, Hope and Charity in the East window of the South chapel were made from a design by Burne-Jones, and the western-most window in the South aisle, dated 1888, is however of some historic interest because it depicts High Church practices introduced for a short time under the Reverend J. B. Kane. The West window in the baptistery is dated 1920. The mediaeval tracery of the windows was removed between 1765 and 1820.

Sculpture

After the priory was dissolved (1537) the church passed into lay patronage. It was probably then that several fragments of mediaeval sculpture were added to the church. Two panels in the South arcade show small figures of knights in armour with swords and shields; they probably came from a tomb. In the baptistery against a pillar is the effigy of a mediaeval lady; its curious shape suggests that it may once have been used as part of a window-jamb. Above the South doorway outside the church is a small female head of about the 12th century which may represent St Edburg.

Monuments & Parish Registers

The four ancient chests now inside the church held the parish monuments. The registers which date back to 1539 and the library catalogue of 1692- 1716 are now in the Oxfordshire History Centre in Cowley, Oxford.

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