Church History

The church was erected about 1180. The original church was a large cruciform building without aisles. The mouldingsFeb 2014 and Confirmation 496 on the tower arch and the west door, as well as the door itself, are fine examples of this late Norman work. The font is also Norman, but rather plainer. Remnants of the original Norman buttresses and clerestory can be seen high up in the north and south aisles, and also on the exterior. The door on the tower staircase dates from the foundation of the church, and might possibly indicate the presence of a monastic quire and explain the length of the chancel – the church may have been intended as a small priory of Abingdon Abbey.

The door is probably too early for a rood screen. Soon after the establishment of the vicarage the aisles were built, probably by punching through the original walls as at nearby Dorchester Abbey. The porches, as well as the lancets in the south and west walls, probably date from this period. In about 1350 the low aisles roofs were raised, evidence for which is still clearly visible on the exterior west wall. Traces of medieval painting can be seen in the blocked Norman doorway of the north transept (behind the organ). The chancel was repaired in the late fourteenth century, and there were elaborate plans for rebuilding the chancel following the Lincoln diocesan visitation of 1520. It is likely that aisles were planned on each side to be entered through the Norman blank arches in the transepts.

The Reformation halted work and the chancel was left without windows on both north and south walls. Windows were added first in the early seventeenth century and more substantial windows in the first Victorian restoration. After the dissolution of the monasteries the church quickly decayed, but was restored in the early 1600s, shortly before the construction of the palace. Many of the pews date from 1630 – they were constructed only after a long dispute between the vicar and the parishioners from Wheatley. A simple wooden screen was erected against the tower arch which was removed in the Victorian restoration. Bishop Bancroft also had a new straight-headed window put in the south transept, which was later replaced. He was buried under the south wall in 1640. A small room was added next to the tower staircase in the late 1820s which explains the small window at the east end of the north aisle. The room was soon dismantled. In 1849 the chancel was extensively restored by Benjamin Ferrey. He removed the memorial tablets to the south transept, dismantled the lathe and plaster ceiling and added memorial windows to the bishops of Oxford, together with the rather oversized woodwork. The chancel gained the appearance (which it still has) of the bishop’s private chapel. Brasses and enamels were given in memory of the bishops of Oxford from Stubbs to Strong (d. 1944).

G. E. Street, the diocesan architect, who shortly afterwards built the college, carried out a second wave of restoration from 1851-3, replacing the wooden ringing chamber with the groined vault in the crossing. Street also added a hideous stone pulpit, which was soon removed. The present pulpit was carved by Bishop Stubbs’ daughter, Katherine, in 1895 to a design by C. E. Kempe. A new gothic altar was built by Street which has since been modified twice in accordance with the latest ecclesiastical fashion. The riddle posts were added by F. G. Howard in 1921, and it was lengthened in 1933 to designs by H. S. Rogers.

In 1931 the south transept was partially converted into a Lady Chapel in memory of Principal Ducat. Later in the 1930s Eric Graham, a particularly high-church vicar, sought an ambitious re-ordering of the church. Plans were made by Stephen Dykes-Bower to build wrought iron screens and gates around the crossing and to erect an altar in memory of John Russell, a vice-principal of the College. Fortunately only the gates to the chancel were constructed by 1941 when work stopped because of the war. An aumbry for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was also constructed at the same time. Plans for an elaborate organ gallery at the west end were also made by Dykes-Bower, but never carried out. After a succession of electric organs the current pipe instrument made by Henry Willis was bought from Christ Church cathedral in 1982. It was originally construccuddesdon glassted for St Margaret’s Convent at East Grinstead.

The Glass

There is no medieval glass in the church. The magnificent west window was designed by Street and executed by John Hardman. The less successful east window was also made by Hardman. Most of the rest of the nave glass was designed by Kempe: the lancets of Bede (the Anglo-Saxon historian) and Birinus (apostle of this part of England) in the west walls commemorate Bishop Stubbs, a great historian, and the large south-west window of Peter and Paul commemorates Bishop Mackarness. The modern lancet of the ascension of Elijah replaces an earlier window and was made by Joseph Nuttgens in 1986.  

The Bishop Legge Hatchment

A hatchment that has hung neglected in the ringing chamber of the tower of All Saints has recently been restored and now hangs resplendently in the nave over the north door, a particularly appropriate position because this was the door through which Bishops of Oxford, resident in the Palace just to the north of the church from the seventeenth century through to the 1970s, would have entered All Saints. You cannot help but see the hatchment ahead of you as you come into the church from the south porch.

Hatchments are huge diamond-shaped paintings of coats of arms (this one is nearly seven feet high when hung) and it was the custom for them to be produced on the death of someone entitled to a coat of arms. They date from the end of the seventeenth century and it is not at all certain how hatchments (the word is a corruption of ‘achievement’) were used. Some heraldry experts think they were carried in procession during a funeral and then hung in the church until the tomb of the deceased had been constructed. But, by the time our hatchment was painted in 1827, it would have simply hung on the outside of the house of the deceased, above the front door, during the mourning period and would then be deposited in the local church.

The Hon. and Rt. Rev. Edward Legge became Bishop of Oxford in 1816 and Warden of All Souls College, Oxford a year later and occupied both these posts until his death in 1827. He was the seventh son of the Earl of Dartmouth and therefore entitled in his own right to a coat of arms. When he died two identical hatchments were painted, one to hang outside the Warden’s Lodgings of All Souls in The High in Oxford and the other to hang outside the Bishop’s Palace in Cuddesdon.   Our hatchment first came to notice as a result of the visit to the church in 2001 of Mr John Hawkins, a specialist in heraldry, who came to see the heraldic windows of the bishops in the chancel. John Paxton, as churchwarden, also showed him the hatchment, then in poor condition, torn in two places, on a sagging canvas and covered with the dust and bird droppings of nearly 200 years of neglect. Nevertheless, John Hawkins subsequently wrote a very interesting interpretation of the picture which concludes with the statement: ‘Cuddesdon Church has a very interesting and unusual hatchment by any standards, the more so as it is one of a pair produced for the same person.’

17.2.15 149We can interpret this painting by noticing first how the central shield is split into three parts, each with a different coat of arms. On the right is the Legge family arms, a silver stag’s head on a blue background; in the centre is the arms of All Souls College, three rosettes and a chevron on a gilded background; and on the left is the arms of the see of Oxford, with the ox crossing a ford below and three female saints above, on a dark blue background. The heraldic shield of a bishop is normally shown with a mitre over it but here we have the very unusual arrangement of a nobleman’s helmet over the shield with a bishop’s mitre over that. Below the shield is a swirling ribbon bearing the Legge family motto: gaudet tentamine virtus (virtue exults in the trial). Finally, notice how the background is painted so that Edward Legge’s arms are on a black background, because it is he who has died, but the arms of the college and the diocese are on a white background.

Our hatchment has been very beautifully restored and for that we must thank Richard Knight, who used to live next to the church in Wall House. An expert in art history and in charge of Old Masters for Christie’s, he steered the restoration process, arranging for the painting to be taken from its frame in the tower and carefully wrapped around a cardboard cylinder by the specialist who then re-backed the canvas prior to restoration of the oil paintwork and of the frame. Thanks too to Joe Gleed and Paul Sellar, who together managed the difficult task of hanging the hatchment; also to John Paxton for a very generous donation and to All Souls College, who also kindly contributed to the cost of restoration. The PCC has underwritten the remaining cost but if you would care to make a donation and be mentioned in the permanent information notice that will go on the wall below the hatchment, please contact me or any other member of the PCC.

by Robert Wilson

The Parish of Cuddesdon

Since the foundation of the theological college by Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in 1854 (now Ripon College Cuddesdon), All Saints’ Church has been known throughout the Anglican Communion. It is still used for evening worship during term time throughout the year. The village of Cuddesdon has always had a close association with the Church. Soon after the granting of the charter in 956 AD, the estate, which also included Wheatley, became an important source of revenue for the monks of Abingdon Abbey, who retained the land until the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s time. The Abbey, which was one of the richest in the country, was responsible for building the first church on this site, which was mentioned in the will of Abbot Faritius in 1117. After a long legal dispute, the Abbey gained the rectory (i.e. the bulk of the ecclesiastical revenues) of Cuddesdon in 1237 and appointed vicars to minister in the parish.

After the Reformation the advowson (the right to present vicars) was held by a number of private individuals, but in 1589 it was transferred to the bishops of Oxford, who were also granted the rectory as part of their endowment. Since the bishops had no house, Archbishop Laud suggested that Cuddesdon might be a suitable site, given that the bishops already owned the land, and it was on a hill away from the somewhat unsanitary conditions of Oxford. In 1632, partly to increase his revenues, Bishop John Bancroft appointed himself vicar of Cuddesdon, and shortly afterwards built the first palace to the north of the churchyard. In 1637 the vicarage was permanently appropriated by the bishops of Oxford. Ministry was exercised by a number of chaplains and curates.

From the eighteenth century there was a separate curate for Wheatley and a new chapel of ease was built in 1793. Wheatley became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1855. The bishop’s palace was burnt down in 1644 to prevent its use as a parliamentary garrison. It was not until the time of Bishop John Fell that a new palace was completed in 1679, and from that time until fairly recently most of the bishops of Oxford have lived in Cuddesdon. Samuel Wilberforce considerably expanded the palace in 1846, and his chapel still survives. After a period of neglect the palace was burnt down again in 1958 and a new more modest house completed in 1962. It passed into private hands in 1977.

After the ecclesiastical reforms of the mid-nineteenth century bishops were banned from holding ecclesiastical livings and a separate vicarage was endowed for Cuddesdon from 1852. The first incumbent was Alfred Pott, who was charged with setting up the theological college to train for the Church of England ministry. The vicars remained principals of the college until 1996. Most of the vicars of Cuddesdon have been preferred to high office in the church, most notably Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was vicar from 1960 to 1970. From 1996 the college has had a separate principal and the church has been part of the Wheatley Team Ministry, served by a Team Vicar who also ministers in the neighbouring villages of Garsington and Horspath.  In 2014 this team was dissolved and the parishes formed into a benefice with the Vicar once more the Incumbent.  A full account of the history of the parish and church of Cuddesdon can be found in Mark D. Chapman, God’s Holy Hill, The Wychwood Press, 2004, available from bookshops or from the College office, price £12.99. by Mark Chapman

Building and Heritage

(1) SOUTH PORCH, CHANCEL, TOILET: 2016 was dominated by a restoration project financed largely Heritage Lottery logothrough a grant of about £200,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund under their Grants for Places of Worship Scheme. In December of 2014, we had been admitted to the Development Phase, some £25,000 out of the total grant being made available for developing the exact details of the restoration programme. Much of 2015 was occupied in inviting tenders and then appointing Robert Montgomery as architect for the project and then a range of specialised reports and investigations were carried out. The architect’s plans and detailed specifications were considered and approved by Historic England. Members of the Diocesan Advisory Committee visited the church in October 2015 and Robert Montgomery outlined the proposals to the visiting group. A positive Notification of Advice was issued by the DAC and the Faculty for Structural repairs to and stabilising of the south porch; restoration of the chancel; installation of ambulant disabled WC in north transept was issued on 6th January 2016. After a careful tendering process, Rayners of Abingdon were identified as our preferred contractors and towards the end of February 2016 we submitted a second-round application which successfully admitted us to the Delivery Phase. The actual work of restoration and installation began after Permission to Start had been obtained in August 2016.

A condition of all Heritage Lottery grants is that the recipients make the heritage more available to visitors and wider communities and our plans for this were superbly masterminded by Keith Hawley, who wrote a detailed paper as part of our application for admission to the Delivery Phase, and the Fabric Sub-Committee. Robert Wilson wrote a full account of the works for the September 2016 issue of the Cuddesdon and Denton Newsletter and a most enjoyable evening reception for all interested from the village and beyond, expertly organised by Susan Palmer, who also provided excellent refreshments, was held on 26th October 2016. The evening was titled What’s Going on in Our Church? Keith Hawley and Robert Wilson spoke of the current restorations and of plans for future works to bells and windows.

In September 2016, the contractors moved in. Work began on the porch which has been structurally strengthened by flexible steel rods bound into the mortar of the outside walls and by rigid steel rods through the centres of the walls. Some stonework has been replaced, the roof reconstructed and the whole exterior of the porch repointed. Its interior has been redecorated and new and restored noticeboards will be fitted to the interior walls. An interesting discovery was of the niche above the entrance arch, previously barely discernible and now with its upper portion partially uncovered.

The chancel has been thoroughly restored and redecorated, the windows removed for re-leading and cleaning, apart from the central light of the east window, which was restored a few years ago, and external stonework around and within the traceries of the windows replaced as necessary. The interior walls have been cleared of redundant electrical fittings and wires, re-plastered as necessary and then lime-washed. The vault has been cleaned and refreshed and its bosses secured and new bosses, to replace those that had fallen, carved in oak by a local craftsman, John Bye. A new, concealed lighting system now enables us, for the first time, to see this fine vault. New foundations of lime concrete and boarding have been laid beneath the oak stalls, which have been reinstated and will be polished. The floor was found to need extensive work to the foundations of its tiled surface, work which is in process at the time of writing this report.

In the north transept, the wooden cupboards were removed, the windows professionally cleaned and made secure, the walls lime-washed and the toilet pod created with a storage cupboard beyond.

Recurrent dust and draughts from temporary glazing of the chancel windows created difficult conditions in which to continue to hold services. The college transferred its regular services to the college chapel in early October and the PCC accepted the kind invitation of the Sisters and of Bishop Humphrey to transfer parish services to the Edward King Chapel later that month.

(2) BELLS: Much progress was made in the project managed by Waveney Luke and Keith Hawley to arrange restoration of the bells and bell frame and to raise the necessary funds. Keith was particularly astute in his management of an application to SODC which resulted in a grant of £30,400 with the consequent expectation that we shall now be able to cover the costs of the whole project. A faculty application was begun in October and an on-site meeting on December 8th, involving Alan Hughes of the Whitechapel Foundry and our architect Robert Montgomery, resulted in the detection and precise definition of the historic route for removal and return of bells through the floors of the tower and then through a recess from the ringing chamber into the north transept. It was agreed that the route was viable: scaffolding would be erected over the organ, the floors in the tower opened up and the recess in the transept wall unblocked. A revised proposal was then submitted to the DAC. The PCC agreed that the newly cast treble bell would bear the dedication, ‘To the Gory of God and in loving memory of Dr Christopher Ware 1955 – 2006’ and commissioned the bell, one of the last to be cast at the Whitechapel Foundry before its closure later this year. Additional paperwork was submitted to the DAC, a Notification of Advice issued and it is expected that the faculty process will shortly yield a positive outcome. Contact will then be made with Whites of Appleton who will carry out the work according to the specifications of Whitechapel. The ringing team continues to practise regularly and is keenly anticipating ringing the restored bells.


(3) WEST WINDOW: The PCC is aware of the deterioration in the painting and leading of this fine window and the process of preparing for restoration has begun. Grants from the Headley Trust and the Idlewild Foundation have been received and a further small grant is promised from the Glaziers’ Trust, who have also offered very helpful advice about the restoration process. Kathy Hawley and Robert Wilson spent a fascinating day in the Birmingham Central Library and unearthed the letters from 1852 between the diocesan architect G. E. Street and the Hardman firm, which defined the window as ‘reflecting the dedication of the church’ and noted that there was room for ranks of only three-quarter height saints, their legs and feet lost in the clouds beneath them! However, pressure of other restoration works and the need for defining additional work on the stonework around the window has necessitated a temporary pause in the application for funding and faculty for this project.


(4) CHURCHYARD and FLOWERS: Messrs Gordon and Colin Dimmock continue to maintain the churchyard to a very high standard and we are grateful to the Parish Council for their grant of £500 towards the overall cost of around £1,800 for keeping the churchyard in good order. Jean Mackintosh and other ladies continue to decorate the church most beautifully for our usual services and especially for festivals (though, of course, this has lapsed during the time when we have been unable to hold services in the church) and we are very grateful to them.