St. Lawrence's Church, South Weston

Ambrosden church

St. Lawrence's Church in South Westoncomprises a chancel, nave, and south porch, and an open central turret with spirelet above. It was rebuilt of flint in 1860 in the Gothic style. Before its reconstruction it was a very simple building with no tower and little external distinction between nave and chancel; there was a Decorated east window of three lights with a statue of St. Lawrence above it in a niche on the outside wall, and there was a Romanesque doorway on the north side. The statue of St. Lawrence with his gridiron, still in its original position, a tomb recess, now in the sanctuary, and a medieval tub font were preserved from this old church. Buckler's drawing of 1822 shows that the chancel was entirely of 14th-century date. 

The chancel walls were said to be ruinous in 1530, and complaints about the state of the fabric were frequent in the 18th century. The church was said, for instance, to be much out of repair in 1744: the rector stated after a summons to the archdeacon's court that this was owing to the refusal of Thomas Cooper and Robert Stone to pay a rate. The main fabric had apparently been put in order by 1759 when, apart from the roof and the steps into the church from the porch, the only repairs ordered were to the interior fittings. The seats, floor, readingdesk, and pulpit were all to be 'new boarded' and a new cover was to be provided for the font. The roof was to be repaired 'in good time', but the part round the belfry was to be done at once. In 1770–1 a payment of over £20 was made for 'rebuilding' the seats and repairing the church. The state of the walls was giving concern in the early 19th century, when the west and south walls were reported as needing repair. Some work was done in 1803 and in 1808 a bill of over £49 was paid. In 1860 the rector wrote that the church was most ruinous, damp, and in a disgraceful state; that it had had no repairs done for more than a hundred years, and that it was proposed to erect on the same site an entirely new, larger, and more seemly church. In this year £600 was contributed by the neighbouring gentry, especially by the patron and lord of the manor, J. W. Newell Birch of Henley Park, by the Oxford Diocesan Church Building Society, and the Incorporated Church Building Society. The architect was R. C. Hussey. The diocesan architect G. E. Street approved his plans, on the whole. Street objected to the position of the pulpit, which would obstruct the view of the chancel from the nave, and to the position of the readingdesks, which were facing west and south-west. He noted that there was no credence table and the rector agreed to have this provided and to alter the position of the desks. The latter does not appear to have been done. Street's proposal to retain the 'characteristic west front' led to the reply that it had 'nothing so characteristic as to be desirable to retain it. It being a plain blank wall . . ., a buttress not quite in the middle reaching 3 parts of the height of the gable (manifestly added to sustain the outward pressure . . . of the bells)' . . . and that it had been replaced in the architect's plan 'by a Decorated window in keeping with the other windows as it was wished to make the West front rather more ornamental— as it faces the village road'. 

The chief addition since the restoration is the wooden gates to the churchyard given in 1919 by the Fanshawe family as a war memorial.

In the medieval period the church had an altar to St. Nicholas besides lights to the Trinity, St. Katherine, and the Holy Rood. It once possessed a missal, but it was sold at an unknown date to Lewknor. No record of its vestments or ornaments in Edward VI's time has survived, but in 1739 Mrs. Thomasina Carter, widow of Francis Carter, wine merchant of London, gave a handsome green carpet for the communion table. The present wooden reredos with mosaic panels probably dates from the 1860 restoration. A small organ, made by John Fincham of London, was also installed at that time.

From the parish register it appears that the following were buried in the chancel, two of them under the communion table: Thomas Greene (d. 1634), rector; John Gwyllym (d. 1671/2), rector; Thomas Tomlinson (d. 1689), rector; Allen Fisher (d. 1691); Mr. John Jackson (d. 1727), rector, and John Hunter,rector (d. 1751).

The following memorials are now in the vestry or the church: a tablet commemorating the gift of Richard Carter (d. 1774), citizen of London, of £10 for the poor; tablets to John Hunter, rector (d. 1751), Robert Stone (d. 1778), gent.; Thomas Lowthian (d. 1779), Rector of South Weston; and to R. T. Espinasse (d. 1926), rector for 26 years.

The original register dates from 1558 for burials, 1559 for marriages and 1586 for baptisms. The churchwardens' account book covers the years 1770 to 1908, and 1873 to 1891 for Adwell. 

There is a chalice with paten cover of 1576 and 1577 and a small silver paten of 1860 presented by the rector. In 1552 there had been a chalice, but this was presumably confiscated. 

The bellcot contains one bell, inscribed G.C. 1724, i.e. George Chandler, the founder, but the Edwardian inventory recorded two bells. This second bell may have been the 'old cracked bell' which the vestry agreed to sell in 1864 and devote the proceeds to the church rate. 

The churchyard walls often gave trouble. They were broken in 1530 and were long out of repair in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Historical information about St. Lawrence's Church is provided by 'Parishes: South Weston', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 8, Lewknor and Pyrton Hundreds, ed. Mary D Lobel (London, 1964), pp. 253-262. British History Online [accessed 28 March 2023].

For more information about St. Lawrence's Church see Parishes: South Weston | British History Online (