St. Michael's Church, Stanton Harcourt

Ambrosden church

St. Michael's Church in Stanton Harcourt comprises chancel, south chapel, central tower with transepts, and nave with north porch. The spacious nave, including the north and south doorways, both south windows, and the two westernmost windows on the north, is of the 12th century; windows incorporated in the second stage of the tower are of similar date. In the 13th century the transepts and stair turret were added, and the chancel, chancel arch, and tower arches were rebuilt. The chancel, rebuilt c. 1260, is almost as long as the nave, and is of high quality; it includes tall lancet windows set in groups of three above a string course, their rear arches flanked by shafts. In the south-west corner of the chancel, an elaborately framed recess, largely destroyed when the Harcourt chapel was built, may have been a low side-window; it was uncovered in 1970. The open timber nave roof is of c. 1400.

In the 15th century the west window of the nave and the north and south windows of the transepts were inserted, the transept roofs were lowered in pitch, and the embattled upper stage of the tower was added; in the nave a small, low window was inserted into the north wall under a 13th-century recessed arch, which may formerly have contained an altar. The Harcourt chapel was built on the south side of the chancel in the 1470s, probably by the mason William Orchard; two arches were cut through the south wall of the chancel and one through the east wall of the south transept. A low window in the south face of the tower was added soon after.

In the late 17th century the churchwardens inserted a new doorway, presumably that on the south side of the Harcourt chapel. A lancet window in the north side of the chancel was blocked c. 1693 to receive a monument. A fourtier gallery in the south transept, said to be for the Harcourts, was erected probably in the late 16th or early 17th century and removed c. 1843. The arches between the south chapel and chancel were blocked by c. 1720. In 1743 a raised vault was built under the chancel; the top was removed and the floor levelled in 1972. 

In 1711 the church was in disrepair, and in 1726 part of a wall was in danger of collapse; Lord Harcourt spent c. £3,000 on repairs c.1724. The bells were overhauled in 1841, when the crossing was possibly receiled; by 1846 there was a low plaster ceiling which cut off the tops of the tower arches, possibly replacing earlier stone vaulting. Edward Vernon Harcourt, archbishop of York, gave £1,000 towards repairs in 1843. A stone porch was built soon after 1846, replacing a windowless one of wood and plaster. About the same time the door of the north transept, used by women only, was blocked; it was reopened in 1965 when the transept became a vestry. The external walls were partially roughcast by 1855. Heating was installed c. 1876. 

In 1905-6 there was a major restoration of the tower. In 1951 the transept roofs were restored, in 1964 the wooden flooring of the nave was replaced and the pews reset, and between 1969 and 1972 the chancel and crossing were receiled in softboard, the chancel was reroofed with Stonesfield slate, the south transept and chapel were restored, and the cement rendering on the chancel, south transept, and nave was refurbished. The tower clock was installed in 1958; electric lighting was installed in 1948.

The 15th-century font formerly incorporated heraldic arms, probably of Sir Robert Harcourt (d. 1470); it was restored in 1833, when fragments of damaged carving were transferred to a tablet on the west wall of the nave. On the north side of the chancel an early 14th-century shrine, identified as that of St. Edburg from Bicester Priory, was probably acquired at the Dissolution by Sir Simon Harcourt, and was later used as an Easter Sepulchre. The base is 16th-century, parts of the original base having been incorporated into a 15th-century tomb in the Harcourt chapel. The oak screen is 13thcentury: two panels retain a medieval painting, possibly of St. Etheldreda. Squints in the lower half were made probably in the 15th century. In 1841 there was a baroque reredos, apparently late 17th-century; it was removed before 1846. The organ, probably installed in the late 19th or early 20th century, was moved in 1958 from the south side of the chancel to the north transept. Oak choir stalls were fitted in its place to match those opposite, installed in 1910; all the stalls were removed c. 1970. In 1965 a small medieval statue, thought to represent St. John, was discovered in a wall cavity and placed in the nave, but had been removed by 1987. A stone figure of St. Michael was presented by All Souls College, Oxford, in 1957, and the oak altar at the crossing was made by pupils of the Bartholomew School, Eynsham, in 1966. There are three chests, one apparently medieval.

Medieval wall paintings were discovered in the nave c. 1845, but were destroyed soon after. In the chancel traces of 13th-century colouring were uncovered in 1970. Thirteenth-century glass survives in the south window of the chancel. In the south-east window of the Harcourt chapel are two inserted 13thcentury ovals depicting a king and bishop or abbot, and a late 15th-century armorial shield set in a garter, contemporary with the chapel; fragments of 15th-century glass also survive in other chapel windows. 

In the Harcourt chapel are the altar tombs, with recumbent effigies, of Sir Robert Harcourt (d. 1470) and his wife, of his grandson Sir Robert (d. c. 1509), of George Simon Harcourt, Earl Harcourt (d. 1809), and of Edward Vernon Harcourt, archbishop of York (d. 1847); the effigies of the elder Sir Robert and his wife were removed to the manor house and returned c. 1724. Over the younger Sir Robert's tomb hangs a standard, reputedly carried by him at the battle of Bosworth. Other memorials in the chapel include a floor brass to Thomas Harcourt (d. 1460) and Nicholas Atherton (d. 1454), formerly in the chancel, an inscribed marble slab to John Lee (d. 1682), and a mural monument to Simon Harcourt (d. 1720), with an inscription by Pope. The uninscribed altar tomb of Sir Simon Harcourt (d. 1547) stands in the south transept, and a mural monument to Sir Philip Harcourt (d. 1688) and his wife was moved from the chapel to the south transept before 1876. Also in the south transept are plaster models for statues at Westminster and Windsor of Sir William Vernon Harcourt (d. 1904) by Waldo Story, and of Field Marshal William Harcourt (d. 1830) by R. W. Sievier. In the chancel are memorials to lay rectors including Christopher Hovenden (d. 1610), Robert Huntington (d. 1685), and William Gibbons (d. 1728); that to Huntington and his son (d. 1693) has verses by Congreve. Floor brasses commemorate Ellen Camby (d. 1516), wife of John Camby, and Henry Dodschone (d. 1519), the first vicar. Against the north wall is the altar tomb of Maud (d. 1394), wife of Sir Thomas Harcourt. Lost monuments include a brass to William Seacole (d. 1527), and a brass engraved with the arms of Harcourt and Beke, c. 1293. On the outside of the south transept is a memorial to two villagers killed by lightning in 1718, with lines by Pope.

The plate includes a silver chalice of 1634, a silver flagon marked 1639, and a silver almsdish marked 1717; two 18th-century pewter almsdishes were stolen in 1966. A 12th- or 13thcentury leaden chalice and patten, found in a stone coffin under the nave in 1845, were deposited in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. A collection of 16th- and 17th-century prayer books and theological treatises has been deposited in the Oxfordshire County Record Office.

There are six bells, dated 1656 except for the tenor and treble, dated 1686 and 1722; they hang in an early 17th-century oak frame. 

The churchyard was extended c. 1900 and 1952; a new cemetery was opened south of Stanton Harcourt Village in 1982.

Historical information about St. Michael's Church is provided by British History Online. A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn and S C Townley, 'Stanton Harcourt: Church', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, ed. Alan Crossley and C R Elrington (London, 1990), pp. 289-293. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2023].

St. Michael's Church is a Grade II* listed building. For more information about the listing see CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL, Stanton Harcourt - 1053164 | Historic England.

For more information about St. Michael's Church see Stanton Harcourt: Church | British History Online (