St Mary’s History & Heritage

The church of St Mary consists of a nave, chancel, north and south aisles, south porch, and western tower. A chapel is mentioned in 1157. Aisles and a tower were added in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The tower and part of the south aisle survive in the present building and the foundations of a semicircular apse exist beneath the floor of the chancel. The church was enlarged in the 15th century, when the apse was replaced by a rectangular chancel. In the present building the chancel arch, the north and south walls of the chancel, the windows and the sedilia date from the 15th century, as do the north nave arcade, the east window of the south aisle, the truncated east window of the north aisle, the blocked doorway in the north aisle, and the porch. The clerestory was probably added at the same period.

The church was repaired during the incumbency of Henry Rowlands (1581–1600), afterwards Bishop of Bangor. Rowlands restored the clerestory in the nave, whitewashed the nave walls and filled the nave with open seats, put a pulpit and prayer-desk near the screen, put a new roof with a low lath and plaster roof in the chancel, destroyed the north vestry and inserted a doorway in the south side of the chancel. The clerestory, certain old timbers in the nave roof, the north and west windows of the north aisle, and the masonry of the south windows in the south aisle survive from this period. A stone on the south parapet commemorates a bequest by Rowlands of £9 6s. 8d. to the church. In the course of the 18th century a number of box pews were erected. The largest—belonging to the Ashby family—extended from the east wall of the north aisle to the first column of the nave arcade. A gallery was erected by the family in compensation for this encroachment.

In the early 19th century the medieval screen was covered with lath and plaster and a doorway inserted. James Blomfield (rector 1838–42) removed the box pews from the chancel and the lath and plaster from the screen; subsequently, however, the latter was discarded. Blomfield’s successor, Thomas Allies (1842–50), removed the gallery and the box pews in the nave, inserted oak pews, a prayer-desk, and a new stone altar. Major restorations were undertaken by James Charles Blomfield (1850–95) and William Miller (1895–1915). Blomfield at once restored the chancel, removed the ceiling, reinstated the upper portion of the east window, and presented new choir stalls, altar furniture, and a reredos. He also made a three-light window in the porch and filled it with fragments of medieval glass.

The Flying buttresses were added to the tower in 1891 (architect R. Blomfield).Miller restored the nave and aisle roofs, renewed the floors, built the organ loft, and installed a new chancel screen and pulpit (architect J. O. Scott). The altar stone now in the Lady Chapel was discovered under the chancel floor and put in its present position by Dr. Burton (1915–24). Electric light was installed in the church between 1931 and 1939.

The plain octagonal font is medieval. Most of the many monuments and memorial tablets are of recent date, but there is an early 16th-century brass in the east wall of the nave commemorating Sir Matthew Shaw, priest, 17th-century heraldic ledgers on the nave floor to the Oakley and Deeley families, and tablets on the south wall of the nave to the Jones and Deeley families. In the churchyard is the tomb of Lancelot Jackson, Rector of Bletchingdon (d. 1750/1). There was once a brass to Thomas Cottisford who founded an obit in the church, his two wives, and twenty children, among them Master John Cottisford, rector 1535–40, and a brass inscription to Richard Glasier, priest.

One of St Mary’s “claims to fame” is that the famous Bishop Robert Skinner, who was one of Archbishop Willam Laud’s allies, was the rector of the parish from 1632. He later became Bishop of Bristol in 1636 then was translated to become Bishop of Oxford in 1641. However, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London shortly afterwards when Archbishop Laud fell from power. Released on bail, he returned to Launton where it is known that he continued to ordain recusant priests including the poet Thomas Traherne, In 1663 he became Bishop of Worcester where he remained until his death in 1670.

The church possesses a Laudian chalice with paten cover dated 1633 which was in use during Bishop Skinner’s incumbency and is still in regular use today, and some 18th-century silver and pewter. In 1552 the church possessed two latten crosses, one silver chalice, and three tin cruets. There is a ring of six bells. Four were cast in 1701 and a fifth in 1712 by the Chandler family. In 1552 there were three bells and a sanctus bell. A sanctus bell dated 1325 is still in use. Notes scribbled on a custumal of the manor dated 1416–17, refer to the purchase of two bells weighing between them 12 cwt. 11 Ib., and to the existence of a third bell weighing about 3½ cwt.

The early parish registers were destroyed by fire in 1716, but entries of baptisms from 1648, burials from 1681, and marriages from 1671 were later compiled from other sources by Philip Stubbs (rector 1719–38).
In the churchyard is the base and broken shaft of a medieval cross.

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