The Parish Church — Its Evolution

ONE of the finest and the oldest building of Wardington is the Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene, the earliest parts of which date from the 12th century. It is an excellent example of the work of country masons using local stone, and it provides interesting examples of architecture covering the years from the 12th to the 15th centuries. It also has features of unusual interest.

The churchyard may be entered from the north and south sides, a footpath connecting the two entrances. Entering from the south alongside the old school, one passes through a pair of wrought-iron memorial gates which were presented by Mr. Clement Lovday J.P. , who, at the turn of the century, lived at Manor House – the tall property opposite the old school. The churchyard has many interesting early 17th and 18th century chest tombs and headstones carved with cherubs and curlicues. The War Memorial Cross in the churchyard is dedicated to the memory of the Wardington dead killed in the two world wars.

The church consists of a chancel, nave, south and north aisles, vestry, lady chapel, and an embattled west tower.

Entering the church through the south porch leads one into the late 13th century south aisle where, to the left, stands the font which bears the letters “RM RS” and the date “1666”. On the column nearby, a little above eye-level and facing the font, is the stone mask of a hare and one of a mitred head. The significance of these is not known, but it has been suggested they may signify that the name of the founder of the church was a Bishop Hare of Lincoln.

The window nearest the font is one of the original 13th century triple-light lancets

[i] to be found in the church. The window and stone-work surrounding it have been repaired and on 7th December 1986 it was dedicated to the memory of Sheila M. Griffin, the first wife of Churchwarden John J. Griffin, and who, until her death in 1983, served for many years on the Parochial Church Council and, as Treasurer, worked diligently to raise finds for repairs to the church. The window at the west end of the aisle was rebuilt in the 14th century and is a single light lancet of the “Decorated” period (1300-1350).

Also in the south aisle, towards the lady chapel (known as the Wardington Chapel) there is a recess in the wall containing a most interesting and unusual tomb. No other tomb quite like it has been found elsewhere and, despite much research, its date and origin are unknown. It has been said that it could be the tomb of the founder. A curious feature is the simplicity of the head and joined hands in the slab which points to a period earlier than the l4th century. An outline of the head and hands has been channelled out to a depth of about 2½inches (6.35 cm) leaving the uppermost edge of the nose, forehead and hands at precisely the same level as the upper face of the slab. This is very unusual. Nearby there is a brass plate let into the floor and seldom noticed. The inscription, in Latin, reads as follows:

“Hic iacet Henricus Frebody gentilman qui obiit V° die Januarii A° DM MCCCCXLIIII cuius aie purietur Deus Amen.”

English translation:

“Here lies Henry Frebody gentleman whom died on the 5th day of January in the year of the Lord 1444 whose soul may God purify. Amen”

Is it linked with the tomb? No one knows.

The Wardington Chapel, at the east end of the south aisle, was originally built in the 14th century as an extension to the south aisle. It is divided from the aisle and chancel by original wooden screens of the same period. The chapel contains memorial plaques, inscribed plates and floor slabs to members of the families Chamberlain, Denton (George Denton was Lord of the (Wardington) Manor in the 18th century), Wallace (of Edgecote House), Warble, Lovday and Wardington.

The east window of the chapel is in memory of the first Lord Wardington and portrays the history of the bible – the preaching of Christ, the printing of the Bible by Caxton in 1473, the pre-Reformation reformer, John Wycliffe, sending out his priests with copies of the Bible, and the authorisation by King James I in 1607. In addition to prophets and writers of the Bible, the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and Joon are depicted along with numerous emblems.

Turning to the south wall of the chapel, the first and second windows on the left are dedicated to various members of the Lovely family which, for many generations, was associated with both Wardington and Williamscot. The last member to live in the parish was David Goodwin Lovday, Bishop of Dorchester and one time headmaster of Cranleigh School, who died in 1985, aged 88. He is buried in the churchyard.

Entering the central aisle (the nave), the chancel is at the east end, while looking west one sees the splendid arch of the “Perpendicular” period (1350-1500) leading into the tower which was added to the nave in the late 14th/early 15th century. In the bell chamber of the tower there are six bells dating from 1669 to 1841. The numbers one (treble), five and six (tenor) bells were cast at the Bagel foundry in nearby Chacombe. The treble, is inscribed “Feare God and Honour The King 1685”, the fifth “Bagley of Chacomb Made Mee 1669”, and the tenor bell “John Webb and John Langley Churchwardens H.B. l682”. The other three, Nos 2, 3, and 4, dated, 1791, 1795, and 1841 respectively, are replacements of the originals which were also cast in Chacombe. All six bells were rehung in 1998. The high window of the tower is a “Perpendicular” triple-light of stained glass.

The nave is 13th century having five low Early English arches on each side on circular columns opening on to the south and north aisles. The clerestory above, with six clear glass windows, is 15th century having been added to heighten the nave and to provide the interior with more light. The main transept which crosses the church separates the nave from the chancel.

Before entering the chancel, there is, high above the chancel arch, an unusual 13th century sanctus bellcote built outwards. This can be seen from outside the church. They are by no means common. The delightful, stained glass, circular window set below the bellcote in the last century depicts the head of the church’s patron saint, St. Mary of Magdala. Immediately inside the chancel, on the left (north) side, there is a two light “Perpendicular” window where St. Mary of Magdala is again portrayed, along with St. Mary the Virgin. Beneath the window is what was known as a leper’s squint which was always shuttered and unglazed. Today it is still shuttered, but glazed on the outside.

The chancel is particularly interesting because here there is evidence that a church existed in Wardington by the year 1150. In the south wall there is a deep, splayed, round-headed, 12th century window (formally an outside window) overlooking the Wardington Chapel. The stonework of this arch matches one on the north wall of the chancel. The main structure of the chancel, as we see it today, is 14th century which is when it was rebuilt on what would have been the site of, in all probability, an earlier chapel.

The large, impressive, east window is, like the other two windows in the chancel, dedicated to members of the Hughes-Chamberlain family who lived in the parish during the 17th and 18th centuries. It portrays Mary and Martha, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the raising of Jairus’s daughter.

The upper portion of the double lancet window in the south wall of the chancel bears a complex shield of the Hughes-Chamberlains. The arms of the first and fourth quarters of the shield (bottom left and right respectively) are those of the name Chamberlain and were granted to Thomas Chamberlain Hughes in 1793, then living in Wardington, when he obtained the King’s licence to take the name Chamberlain (his mother’s maiden name before she married the Revʼd Hughes of Shennington) in addition to that of Hughes, thereby becoming Thomas Chamberlain Hughes-Chamberlain.

The arms in the second and third quarters are those of Hughes and were granted in 1892 to a Robert Edward Hughes. He was also given the name Chamberlain in addition to Hughes in order to comply with the terms of the will of a relative, Edward Hughes-Chamberlain, who had no issue. The only difference between the two arms appears to be the addition of a spur to the Hughes arms. The Hughes-Chamberlain family – not to be confused with the Chamberlains of Wardington Manor (see page 4) – farmed land between Lower Wardington and Presecote and also between Upper Wardington and Fernhill.

Under this window there is a sedilia, or seat, for the use of officiating clergy and alongside it a piscina, or stone bowl connected to a water drain, in which the priest washed his hands and rinsed the chalice. There is also a piscina set into the south wall of the chapel.

The panels fronting the altar in the chancel were the work of Miss Olive Barrows who at one time lived at “The Aubrey’s” (now “Aubrey Hall”) in Lower Wardington. Miss Barrows spent five years carving the panelling from solid oak and, although having moved away from the area, she was present when the completed altar was dedicated in 1932.

The reredos behind the altar was thought to have been carved also by Miss Barrows. It portrays the figure of St. Joseph in the left-hand panel, the Virgin Mother and Child (centre panel) and a haloed woman in a garden (perhaps Mary Magdalene) on the right. Above, left to right, are brass emblems of three saints, Mark (winged lion), John the Baptist (lamb with flag) and Eustace (winged bull). A faculty (diocesan authorisation) of 1932 refers to the setting up of a reredos to commemorate James Eagle Sabin who was Vicar’s Warden from 1880 to 1930 and died in 1937 aged 79.

There are several interesting memorial plaques on the south wall of the chancel. One to Edmund French, who died in 1776 aged 66, reads “Last of the name of an ancient family of this Parish”, and there are four floor slabs to earlier members of this family. A plaque to Harold James Sabin, son of James Eagle Sabin, records that he, too, like his father, was a church warden from 1934 to 1950. Another well known local name, Henry Herbert Wadland, was churchwarden from 1918 to 1969.

The vestry is off the north wall of the chancel, the door to which is most likely 14th century, but its backing of another door is of a much earlier period. Originally, the vestry had an upper room which was reached by a ladder.

Leaving the chancel via the nave we enter the north aisle which, it will be noticed, is much wider than the south aisle and is slightly later in date. The greater width of the north aisle was probably due, at the time of building, to the presence and length of the transept at its east end. On the north wall of the aisle, close to the north door, hangs the Royal Arms of George III, restored a few years ago through the generosity of the late Bishop Loveday in memory of the Reverend Dale John Welburn, Vicar of Wardington 1877-1913. Royal Arms were introduced into churches after the Reformation, the Sovereign having become the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Many parishes no longer possess them. The Arms are dated 1797, the 37th year of the King’s reign, and signed “Lovell” who, it is thought, was a local painter of carts. In the 4th quarter of the shield are the Arms of Hanover, Brunswick, Luneburg and Westphalia (depicting the German origins of the King) together with the crown of Charlemagne, founder of the Roman Empire.

The window at the west end of the aisle is an original 13th century single clear pane lancet and adjacent to it on the north wall is a similar lancet in memory of Evelyn Campbell, wife of a Dr. Campbell who is said to have lived in Wardington. East of the door, beyond the Royal Arms, there are two good examples of 13th century double lancet windows with hood moulds, the first being in memory of Anne Maria Sabin, wife of the James Eagle Sabin referred to earlier. The east window of the aisle, behind the communion table, has been restored and is an example of a three-light window with flowing and reticulated (i.e. mesh) tracery of the “Decorated’ period.

The furnishings of the church are of interest: the eagle lectern and pulpit were made by the local carpenter and, at one time, parish clerk, William Bonham, after whom a house in Lower Wardington, “Old Bonhams”, is named. The pulpit, made in 1887, replaced an earlier one made in 1836. Between 1887 and 1889 new seating in the body of the church was installed to replace the former large square pews. The choir seats and desks were renewed in 1890. The screens between chancel and Wardington Chapel and at the entrance to the chapel are of interest for their medieval tracery. The origin of the screen between the nave and the chancel is not clear but it was obviously made and installed before the unsightly steel bar above it was implanted in the chancel arch. The making of the wooden cross above the screen is also credited to Mr. Bonham. Other items of furniture of interest are a wooden chair in the chancel, behind the communion rail, and two small tables which were the gift of a Mr. Brisk who was, presumably, the Rev. F. W. G. Brisk, Vicar of Wardington 1929-1935.

The date of the organ, positioned on the transept, to the left of the chancel screen, is not known; it does not carry a date. It was built by Allen of Bristol for another church. Allen was in operation between 1840 and 1883 and the firm of organ builders most recently responsible for its maintenance before its decommissioning considers that it might be of the 1870s. It was first restored during the curacy of the Reverend John Wilbur (1877-1913) who raised £2000 for that purpose. It was again overhauled in 1988 at a cost of about £4000. It was decommissioned in 2011 but left in place, with the speakers for a new electric organ made by Wyvern Organs placed in the middle of the pipes.

The parish has very interesting records and registers dating from 1566 which are complete but for a few gaps during the period of the Civil War. With the exception of the registers currently in use, the records are lodged with the Oxfordshire Archivist at County Hall in Oxford and the Bodlean Library,  also in Oxford. In one of the old registers there is an entry which reads:

“Anno Domini 1644 30th June, buried in the parish church of Wardington in ye county of Oxon., John Burrell, Cornet to Colonel Richard Neville, which Mr. Burrell was slain the day before, in a smart battaile against ye rebels . . . testor Henr: Deane, Capt: Regim.”

A line has been drawn through “in a smart battaile against ye rebels” and in another hand is substituted “against the Parliament” so making the entry run thus: “which Mr. Burrell was slain the day before against the Parliament”. The battle referred to was that of Cropredy Bridge fought on the Wardington side of the River Cherwell.

The registers presently held by the church are as follows (opening date in brackets):

Burials (1858)  Banns of Marriage (1972)          Confirmation (1972)            Baptism (1889) Marriage (1993)

Inspection of these registers is possible by approach to one of the Churchwardens.

The church plate includes a silver chalice with paten cover, both hallmarked, and inscribed “Sabin and Coules I.W. Churchwardens 1612”; a silver flagon bearing the Chamberlain arms and engraved “The gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Chamberlain 1750”; a large silver paten bearing the same coat of arms and inscription as the flagon; a modern-medieval chalice hallmarked 1859; a small silver paten of 1857; a silver communion bread-box presented by Mr. Gerard F. T. Leather in memory of two uncles, sons of Rev. Charles Walters M.A., vicar of Wardington 1851-1874; three pewter plates and a ciborium dated 1985.

The present church clock, with east and west dials, was made by Smith & Sons of Derby at a cost of about £100 and was started by the then Vicar, the Rev. Wilbur, at six o’clock in the evening of 4th July, 1900. The west dial was given by Mr. I. W. Barrows of “The Aubreys” in memory of his son, N. W. Barrows. The hands, minute marks and numerals of the clock were regaled and the face re-coated with durable enamel in July 1978.

It is thought the weather vane was made about 1880 by jim Davis who worked the old forge in Upper Wardington. It was damaged by a severe gale in 1974. The cock was repaired, re-gilded and mounted on ball-bearings and the cardinal points replanted. It was restored in 1975, the cost having been borne by Mr. Aubrey Fenemore of Stud Farm in Wardington in memory of his son, Martin Thomas Fenemore.

The flagpole was renewed in 1990. It is customary to fly the Union Flag on Royal occasions and whenever the Sovereign commands. On major saints days and festivals the Cross of St. George is flown. The church has two Union flags, of which the larger has an interesting history. It belonged to a Mr. R. J. Hidden who was a merchant in Batavia in Java (now Djakata). The flag was flown in the grounds of his house in Batavia on all special occasions from before the First World War until the occupation of Java by the Japanese in the second world war and from whom it was kept hidden. Mr. Hadden died in 1958 and the flag passed into the possession of his brother, who lived in the Bodicote area, and thence to his widow who, on moving to Edinburgh in 1984, ensured its continuing use and safe keeping in Wardington Church through Mr. Ken Taylor, then a resident of Wardington and Standard Bearer and Secretary of the local branch of the Royal British Legion.

Through the ages minor and major renovations to the fabric of the church have been necessary. There are references in the records to repairs carried out in the 17th century and of a gallery being removed by 1855. Serious restoration work was considered in the late 1870s and a London architect was called in to report on the situation. He indicated the condition of the church as being “seriously bad”. Following this report, the nave was restored in 1887 and the chancel in 1889. The lead of the roof required renewing: it was removed, melted down on the spot, re-run into sheets, and replaced. Further work was carried out in 1915 followed later by renovations to the tower, the clerestory windows, porch and chancel arch.

Since 1982 to the present time large areas of the walls in the south and north aisles and the chancel have been damp-proofed, re-plastered and redecorated; the drainage surrounding the church has been re-laid and improved; wood worm and death watch beetle activity has been treated and, hopefully, eradicated; exterior electric lighting installed to illuminate paths, etc.; and pathways and perimeter walls of the churchyard repaired and, where necessary, rebuilt. There is still much to be done to ensure the continuance well into the next millennium of this historic church.

From as far back in history as one can trace, Wardington Church was linked to the church of Cropredy until 1851 when it was created a Perpetual Curacy by the Bishop of Oxford and continued as such until the 1970s when the United Benefice of Cropredy, Wardington and Great Bourbon was created. Thereupon, the Curacy of Wardington ceased to exist. In 1996 the parishes of Mollington and Clayton were added to the Benefice and as a cluster of parishes it is now known as “Shires Edge” of which the officiating clergyman resides at Cropredy.

Priests known to have served the Wardington Parish are as follows:

Pre-Reformation: only two are known:

Robert late 12th century
John Pratte c. 1526



Robert Chamberlain c. 1606
John Clarson c. 1615
John Parry dates not known
Richard Claridge dates not known
Jonathan Hilton dates not known
S. J. Goodenough 1797-1802
S. Evans 1802-1811
J. Ballard 1811-1827
P. Alpe 1827-1829
E. P. Blunt 1830-1831
C. A. Heurtley 1831-1840 Curate
G. M. Barrow 1840-1842 Curate
T. Pearse 1843-1845 Curate
J. A. Ormerod 1845-1848 Curate
R. Hoet 1849-1851 Curate
C. Walters 1851-1874 Curate
M. C. Barron 1875-1876 Curate
D. J Welburn 1877-1913 Vicar
Marsh-Kirkby 1915-1929 Vicar
F. W. G. Briscoe 1929-1935 Vicar
J. D. Fox 1936-1951 Vicar
G. Mellar 1952-1972 Vicar
P. Foot 1972-1976 Curate
J. D. M. Turner 1976-1983 Vicar of Cropredy with Wardington
E. E. S. Jones 1984-1990 Vicar United Benefice
P. G. Atkinson 1991-2003 Vicar United Benefice
P. Freeth 2003-2012 Vicar United Benefice
H. Campbell


2013 – 2022 Vicar United Benefice




As a form of postscript to this account of the evolution of our parish church the following note, made by the Rev. W. Wood D.D., about an “Exchequer Receipt” found in the church, may appeal:

“An interesting discovery was made in the course of the restoration in 1887 of the venerable old church of Wardington, Oxon. In a chink between two loose stones in one of the piers on the north side of the nave was found a small strip of parchment measuring 6 by 1½ inches, containing five lines of manuscript, which was sent by the Vicar to the British Museum and there deciphered. It was a receipt from the King’s collectors of a fifteenth and tenth granted to Edward III, involved at that time in the ruinous expenses of the French war. The date is 1350. The document runs as follows, the writing, now much faded, being the clear but cramped style of the period:

“Hundredum de Banebury. Nos. Philippus de Englefield et socii mei collectores XVme et Xme de tertio anno triennali in com: Oxon: anno XXVto ultimo domino regi concessi recepimus de villatis de Wateryngton et Cotes quatuor libras tresdecim solidos et duos denarius in plenum solutionem. In cujus rei testimonium presentibus sigillum officii nostri est appensum”.

English translation:

Hundred of Banbury. We Philip de Englefield and my fellow collectors of the 15ths and 10ths of the third year triennially granted to our Lord the King in the last year, the twenty-fifth of his reign, have received from the villagers of Wateryngton and Cotes £4. 13s. 2d. In testimony whereof the seal of our office has been affixed to these presents.

This parchment, which is now held in the Oxfordshire Archives in Oxford, lay, unsuspected, for 537 years lodged between stones. How it came to be placed in so strange a lodging it is impossible to say. It was important for it represented a sum of money the purchasing power of which today would run to hundreds of pounds. In 1351 the fixed rates of payment for workmen were, per day, carpenters 2d, masons 3d, labourers 1½ d, haymakers (without food and drink) 1d, mowers 5d. Maybe the document was placed where it was found as a temporary place of security and then forgotten; or perhaps the vicar or curate of the day, or whoever was in receipt of the document and placed it there, was overcome by the Black Death or other pestilence of those times and could not retrieve it. There it remained, in its niche, throughout the history of this church and of the nation over five centuries. When it was written the Battle of Crecy had been fought four years earlier, Edward III had just defeated the Spanish fleet, the printing press had not yet been invented. When it was found in 1887 as many as 26 Kings and Queens had occupied the throne of England (some very briefly) since the reign of Edward III. Queen Victoria was in the fiftieth year of her reign, the industrial revolution was changing the lives of people in ways previously unthought-of, the steam-engine provided the quickest means of transportation, and the invention of the combustion engine, of aircraft, motor vehicles, radio, etc., was but a matter of only a few years ahead. This piece of parchment is a remarkable link between ourselves and the remote times of our local ancestors.

(i)            at various stages throughout history Wardington was referred to as Wateryngton, Wardyngtone; Williamscot as Walmescote, Wilscot, Williamscott; Coton as Cootes, and Cotty .

(ii)          the levying of 10ths and 15ths was a form of tax on (a) rent and (b) the value of property removables.

(iii)         the terms “Early English”, “Romanesque”, “Decorated”, and “Perpendicular” indicate the periods of medieval architecture (mainly Gothic) from the 12th to the 16th century.


[i] Lancet = a tall narrow window with a sharply pointed arch, a common feature of the 12th and 13th centuries.