The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Aston Rowant

Ambrosden church

The church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Aston Rowant is a comparatively large building of flint with stone dressings. It comprises a nave with chapels on the north and south sides, a chancel, a south porch, and west tower. The north and south walls of the nave date from the late 11th or early 12th century. One deeply splayed Romanesque window, nearly above the south doorway, is in its original position. A similar one, now in the north wall of the north aisle, together with a plain Romanesque doorway, were moved from their original position in a part of the north wall of the nave that was demolished in 1874. They are now exactly opposite their former position.

In the early 13th century a new doorway, with plain chamfered jambs and pointed arch, was made in the south wall of the nave. The chancel was rebuilt towards the end of the century and retains the two simple two-light windows of the period. To this period also belongs the font, supported on eight detached shafts of Purbeck marble; the basin is decorated with an arcade of recessed lancets. 

Considerable changes were made in the 14th century, the main ones being the erection of a three storied tower at the west end, and the construction of the north and south chapels or aisles. Both were of two bays, the third bay of the north arcade being added in the 19th century. A south porch with a marble stoup was added, a window was inserted in the south wall of the nave at the west end, and two Decorated tomb recesses were made in the north chapel. A part of the stairs of the medieval rood loft remains.

During the 15th century the nave was made lighter by the insertion of a window in the north wall, and the clerestory was built. This entailed a new roof of lower pitch than the original one.

Beyond the fact that the chancel was reported out of repair in about 1520, almost nothing is known of the state of the fabric until the early 18th century, when some repairs to the church may be indicated by a churchwardens' inscription, dated 1702, which Rawlinson found on the partition between the church and the chancel. Perhaps the west gallery which was certainly in existence by 1732 was erected then. It was doubtless for the singers and their accompanists; a bass-viol is mentioned in the 18th-century churchwardens' accounts. The churchwardens also spent £3 7s. 6d. on painting the king's arms in 1732 and £12 2s. in the same year for mending the church leads. Richard Belson had a private pew put up for his family near the pulpit in 1739. But it is evident from the archdeacon's report of 1759 that the church, like others at this time, was somewhat neglected. Weeds and rubbish were to be cleared from the foot of the walls, the walls were to be pointed where necessary, parts of the pavement and of the woodwork were to be repaired, a new door into the church was to be made on the south side and the steps up to the pulpit were to be made 'more convenient and decent'. Later in the century, in 1784, the chancel was being repaired and Mr. Chapman's bill of £2 6s. for 'new painting' three verses, paid in 1790, may mark the completion of the work. The tower already had its clock, for £2 was paid in 1792 for winding it and in 1812 it was repaired by J. Tomlinson for £7 10s.

The collapse of part of the medieval parapet of the tower and consequent damage to the roof led to the decision by a vestry meeting in 1811 to commission Isaac Stone of Thame to do the necessary repairs. His estimate and the itemized bill for the repairs done have survived.  He undertook to 'take down the spire, stone work forming the base of a spire on the top of the tower, the parapet walls and the walls of the tower as far down as the bottom of the tower windows', and to rebuild the upper stage of the tower, using the best of the old material. The old weathercock was to be refixed. Stone's bill amounted to £415 5s. 4d. He made a new oak roof covered with lead, and a new parapet and pinnacles of stone. The reconstructed tower is shown in Buckler's drawing of 1822. Bills, now in the church chest, show that various other restoration work was done at the same time. Croxford received over £16, for example, for work on the bells and other repairs to the ironwork; Thomas Simons, glazier, received £3 2s. 9d. for new leading quarries of glass, and Waklen, the carpenter, £38 12s. 11d. The last made window shutters for the tower windows, repaired the bell frame, and rehung two of the bells. Some years later, in 1819–20, Cooper's bill for 'writing on the church' came to £4 15s. This was presumably for more texts or for the Lord's Prayer and Commandments. In 1829 John Brown was granted licence to appropriate the private gallery that he had built; it was at the east end of the church and adjoined the chancel. 

Further repairs were carried out in 1831, when the medieval roof was replaced by a flat ceiled one.  The carved corbels which supported the principals of the earlier roof remain between the windows of the clerestory.

A bequest of £300, free of legacy duty, bequeathed in 1843 by John Holland, Vicar of Aston, for 'the alteration and improvements required in the interior of the church . . . or in extending the north aisle', was used in 'new pewing' the nave, south and north transepts, restoring all the windows, and in other alterations and improvements. At the same time the chancel underwent 'a complete renovation' at the expense of the lay impropriators. A robing room was built at the vicar's expense. The church was reopened on 6 January 1850 by the bishop. Six years later, in 1856, a new east window was inserted. It is said to have been copied from a design in Bloxham's Architecture. When Parker described the church in 1846 he noted that although the church was 'Decorated' in character the tracery had been removed from nearly all the windows. 

In 1874 an organ was erected in the north aisle, which was extended at the west end for the purpose. The Decorated west window of the north chapel and the Romanesque window and door in the north wall of the nave were moved to their present position in the north wall of the aisle.

A more thorough restoration was carried out by E. G. Bruton in 1884. The builders were Silver Sons & Filewood. Their total bill came to £779 odd, but details of only about £210 worth of work have survived. This included the rebuilding of the south wall of the south aisle and repairing its roof; the repairing of the exterior stonework (i.e. the window labels, the plinths and strings of the north and south side of the church); building a new buttress to the north aisle; refacing parts of the walls with flint; and repairing the roof. The tracery was restored to the windows; the west gallery was demolished and the seats were rearranged. The old altar slab with its original consecration crosses was discovered at this time and replaced in its original position. In 1931 it was placed on stone pillars, when the chancel (rededicated in 1932) was refurnished by the Revd. T. D. Hickes as a memorial to Frances and Mary Hickes. New oak altar rails were made and curtains were hung on the east wall. In 1952 a wooden screen between the tower and the nave was erected to the memory of Aileen Stammers; a prayer desk was presented as a memorial to Dr. Guy Spencer Grist (d. 1953); and a faculty was obtained to install electric light in 1954.

The matrix of a 14th-century brass to Sir Hugh le Blount (d. 1314) commemorates his burial at the foot of the chancel step. Monumental brasses of the 14th and 15th centuries commemorate the burial in the nave of Isabel (d. 1367), wife of Richard Crawford; of Ralph (d. 1437/8) and Isabella (d. 1445) Coppyn; of a man (d. 1470) and his wife and five daughters, whose names are lost, but who can be identified from their coat of arms as members of the Alyson family; and of Eleanor Eggerley (d. 1508). These brasses have either disappeared or are entirely concealed by pews, or are to be found, without inscriptions, on the south wall of the nave or in the north aisle.

The only medieval tomb, a 13th-century one carved with a floriated cross, is in the chancel. Lady Cecile Hobbee's monument is in the north chapel. She was the wife of Sir Edward Hobbee (Hoby) of Bisham and widow of John Wentworth, and her monument displays the arms of Wentworth and of Unton, for she was a daughter of Sir Edward Unton. She died in 1618. There are memorials in the south chapel to the Thornehill family and two brasses to Frances Thornehill (d. 1640), wife of Richard Thornehill, and to her mother Jane (d. 1643), wife of Gregory Cole, Esq. There is also a ledger stone to Henry Lee (d. 1632), and two in the nave and chancel, one to Andrew Crooke, citizen and stationer of London (d. 1675), and the other to Matthew Hawes, vicar for 38 years (d. 1761). Rawlinson noted a ledger stone to William Stevens (d. 1714), the son-in-law of Robert Hester, and a tablet recording that John Cowper gave 40s. to the poor of Aston in 1614. These have disappeared.

Nineteenth- and 20th-century memorials include tablets to members of the Caillaud, Clerke, and Lambert families, who were successively lords of the manor, and to their relatives. There are marble inscriptions in the old vestry to Mary (d. 1808) and her husband Brig.-Gen. John Caillaud (d. 1812); in the nave to Richard Clerke, Esq., of Kingston (d. 1820), to his wife, the Hon. Mary Clerke (d. 1844), and to his grandson John Clerke Brown (d. 1833); to Susan Henrietta (d. 1826), daughter of Capt. Reuben Caillaud Mangin, by H. Hopper; to Elizabeth Catherine (d. 1835), daughter of Capt. Mangin, by Hopper; to Magdalene Mangin (d. 1840) also by Hopper; to Rear-Admiral Reuben Caillaud Mangin (d. 1846) by Bedford of Oxford St., London; to Cranley Lancelot Kerby (d. 1857), Rector of Stoke Talmage, and to his wife Mary; and in the south aisle to Sir Henry John Lambert, Bt. (d. 1858), of Aston House, by T. Gaffin of Regent St., London. There is a marble monument in the chancel to John Holland (d. 1844), Vicar of Aston, and to his wife Catherine Mary (d. 1848) by Denman of Regent St., and a tablet in the old vestry to their daughter Catherine Anne (d. 1843) also by Denman. A tablet erected in about 1908 commemorates the births and deaths of the eleven children of Sir Henry J. Lambert, Bt. They died between 1856 and 1924. There is a bronze tablet to Cmd. Charles F. Ballard, R.N., torpedoed in H.M.S. Formidable in 1915; a tablet in the chancel to Thomas Hickes, vicar 1919–48; a tablet to Edward Hayes Dashwood (d. 1950), lord of Aston Rowant manor; and a war memorial tablet erected in 1956 to the dead of both World Wars.

Some of the painted glass with which the windows of the medieval church were filled has also survived. In the east window of the north aisle are three 14thcentury quatrefoils with a figure of Christ, and foliage and architectural fragments in grisaille. In the Perpendicular window of the nave are 15thcentury fragments including the figure of an angel playing a harp and of Christ seated at a table. 

The coats of arms in the windows of the north chapel recorded by Rawlinson have disappeared. 

A faculty was granted in 1908 permitting Mrs. William Lambert to have the east window of the chancel filled with painted glass as a memorial to her family and also the centre window of the north aisle, the children of the parish collecting the money in this case. Clayton & Bell designed both windows.

The inventory of church goods made in 1553 is surprisingly meagre. There were four great bells, a sanctus bell, and a hand bell; a tablecloth and two towels and one chalice without a cover. 

The church now (1958) possesses no early silver: it has a silver chalice of 1841, a paten with foot of 1844, and a plate of 1843. 

There is a ring of five bells and a sanctus bell. The third is a medieval bell, inscribed 'Sancte Johannes Ora pro nobis' and cast by Roger Landen in about 1450; the second, treble, and tenor were cast by Ellis Knight (I) in 1625; the fourth was recast by John Warner & Sons in 1873. Records of other bells have survived. A small bell was cast in the 18th century and inscribed 'Simon Gupper, C.W. 1730', and another was cast in the same year by Edward Hemins of Bicester. 

The registers date from 1554, with a gap between 1573 and 1580, and the 'bishop's transcripts', which contain some information not in the original registers, from 1639. There are churchwardens' accounts from 1731 onwards.

Historical information about the Church of St. Michael and St. Paul is provided by 'Parishes: Aston Rowant', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 8, Lewknor and Pyrton Hundreds, ed. Mary D Lobel (London, 1964), pp. 16-43. British History Online [accessed 13 March 2023].

The Church of St. Michael and St. Paul is a Grade II* listed building. For more information about the listing see CHURCH OF ST PETER AND ST PAUL, Aston Rowant - 1368878 | Historic England.

For more information about the Church of St. Michael and St. Paul see Parishes: Aston Rowant | British History Online (