Benefice office 572 Brice Road, Heyford Park
The Chapel was first built by the US Air Force as a fire station for the RAF Upper Heyford airbase that has now become Heyford Park. It is next door to the Community Centre, in the heart of the original residential area.
The large auditorium is used for church services, community events and group meetings. There is a smaller chapel / café room, and a range of rooms and offices including the Cherwell Valley Benefice Office and the Head Office of the Clean Slate charity.
This text is taken from the Upper Heyford Village website, https://upperheyford.com/st-marys-church/
St Mary’s plays a major part in the history, traditions and heritage of our community, an ancient heart which entitles us to consider ourselves a village and not just a collection of dwellings. Many families have their ancestors buried in the churchyard or, latterly, in the graves across the lane. The church continues to be so much at the centre of our village life with weddings, christenings & funerals, all very well attended.
There are suggestions that there has been a church on the current site since at least the eleventh century, but the oldest part of the existing church is the tower which was built in 1425 and described as ‘plain Perpendicular work, lofty and well-proportioned, containing three storeys and a battlement parapet’. It is well worth making a visit to the churchyard to stand at the base of this tower, look up and get a feeling for the sheer size and mass of it. Before the tower was built, there had been earlier structures. At the time of the Norman Conquest there was a wooden church, and a subsequent stone building was consecrated in the 13th century. Later, New College was granted the manor and was able to put up a much enlarged and improved building during the century after the tower was completed. However, three hundred or so years later, the church had been allowed to fall into a ruinous condition and the then Rector, the Reverend C. B. Mount, instigated the rebuilding of the main body of the church. Work commenced in 1866. The new work was in imitation of the previous Perpendicular style and is what we have today. The porch on the south side was added at this time and in 1884 the stained-glass window at the east end was put in (by the Rev. Fox, as a memorial for his mother). Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was commemorated by the installation of the clock (a gift to the parish by the Reverend C. B. Mount) and a memorial plaque. In keeping with tradition, a memorial plaque to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee was unveiled at a packed Diamond Jubilee service in the church in June 2012.
Inside the church you will find an intriguing history & guide to the church placed there by The Friends of St Mary’s – read it and gain an insight into all the treasures in the church and then go outside and track down the grave of James Allen who was murdered in 1863. It is widely believed that this is one of only two tombstones in England to include the dreadful word ‘murder’.
We are sure that any visitor making the effort to visit will be amply rewarded and surely agree with the villagers of Upper Heyford that St Mary’s is one of our small community’s most valuable assets.
It is important to add that the Upper Heyford Cemetery nearby is the resting place of airmen stationed at the former Upper Heyford Air Force base. See more here.
During the early part of the 1939-1945 War ground on Upper Heyford Cemetery was set aside for service war burials and was used by the R.A.F. Station at Upper Heyford. This is now the War Graves Plot, with 40 Commonwealth war graves. Within the plot stands an oak seat, placed there by the relatives of one of the airmen buried in the plot.
Lower Heyford is a pretty village rising up a hillside over the River Cherwell. The canal and the river run alongside each other and canal boats are moored at the wharf near the railway station. Following the road down the hill past thatched cottages, through the village square with its old stone pub, we reach St Mary’s at the bottom of the village, an attractive little church of golden-coloured stone.
It has been here a long time. St Mary’s Church was consecrated in 1065 by the Saxon Bishop Wufwig of Dorchester. However, the current building dates from its rebuilding in a Decorated Gothic style around 1350, when the north and south aisles were joined to the nave by two-bay arcades. The east end of the south aisle is a chapel with niches for statues or figurative reliefs. In the 15th century the Perpendicular Gothic clerestory and south porch were added, as well as a rood screen with a rood loft, for which a stair turret was inserted in the south aisle for access.
High in the west wall of the south arcade, an opening suggests that the nave once had a west gallery. This is no more, together with the rood and rood loft, while the fine 15th century wooden screen to the chancel survives.
Two 19th century renovations were undertaken, firstly in 1848 by Henry Jones Underwood, and later in 1867-68 by Charles Buckeridge. There is a ring of six bells in the west tower.
The church’s full designation is The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes shortened to ABVM. It stands in a beautiful setting, nestled at the foot of sloping fields where sheep and horses graze. In springtime the churchyard is full of primroses and blossom. The first recorded mention of the church was in 1161; the oldest parts to survive are the Norman tower, with arch, and the north wall of the nave. In the late 12th century, the south aisle was added, to be later rebuilt in the 14th century using the Romanesque round piers, but with new Gothic arches added. By the 18th century the medieval chancel had fallen into ruins and was replaced with a low-roofed, much smaller one.
A writer in 1848 describes the church as ‘a curious ancient structure…alterations and repairs have defaced the original character of the edifice.’ (See A Topographical Dictionary of England 1848) Faint praise for what we would now appreciate as an interesting and well-maintained mélange of architectural styles. However, other views are available: in 1820 an appreciative William Wordsworth was inspired by the beauty of the setting when staying with his old university friend, the incumbent at the old rectory, formerly to the south of the church and now demolished.
Where holy ground begins, unhallowed ends,
Is marked by no distinguishable line;
The turf unites, the pathways intertwine;
And, wheresoe’er the stealing footstep tends,
Garden, and that domain where kindred, friends,
And neighbours rest together, here confound
Their several features, mingled like the sound
Of many waters, or as evening blends
With shady night. Soft airs, from shrub and flower,
Waft fragrant greetings to each silent grave;
And while those lofty poplars gently wave
Their tops, between them comes and goes a sky
Bright as the glimpses of eternity,
To saints accorded in their mortal hour.
Wordsworth looks down, perhaps from the tower, and muses on the blending of the two sites, garden and churchyard, and proceeds to reflect on the blending of those buried in the churchyard, former friends and neighbours, now ‘mingled’ as inseparably as the ‘sounds of many waters’ or the subtle change of the sky from dusk to night. The air is heady with the scents of vegetation, the poplar trees wave and reveal bright sky beyond, and the atmosphere is charged with a sense of the ‘glimpses of eternity’ available to us all in life if we are alert to them.
The Gothic Revival architect, Sir Ninian Comper, devoted his life to building and restoring sacred spaces in a way that lifts the gaze to such ‘glimpses of eternity.’ Happily for Souldern, the chancel we see now is the fruit of a second rebuilding, finished in 1897, by Comper, possibly working with his partner William Bucknall. One of Comper’s early works, it is a satisfyingly simple and uplifting achievement. The Chancel has renewed Decorated and Perpendicular style windows in ironstone. The effect is one of light and height, with the white curtains around the altar giving it quiet dignity.
Other interesting things to see in the church include the St Christopher on the north wall, dark and obscure but impressive in size, and the small brasses set in the floor.
St James’ church is architecturally striking, with its pinnacled tower and castellated roofline, and is well set above the village street. It is approached along a path that leads past old apple trees and a medieval preaching cross, with glimpses of gently rolling, sheep-filled fields and more fruit trees. The church dates from the 11th century and represents waves of time through to the 16th century.
The original church entrance in the south nave wall is now filled in, but dates from just after the Norman Conquest. The nave is 12th century, with later 14th century arches. The north aisle was built in around 1200 and the chancel a century later. The 14th century tower has an arresting Crucifixion scene carved in its north face, clearly visible in white limestone. The south aisle was turned into a chantry chapel for the Fermor family in the reign of Henry VIII, a short time before chantries were abolished. Three richly decorated marble Fermor tombs and brasses commemorate the family who bought Somerton Manor in 1512 and lived there till 1642. After moving to Tusmore Park the family continued to be buried at Somerton.
Perhaps the greatest treasure of this church is the early 14th century stone reredos on the east wall. A rare survival, it depicts the Last Supper in animated detail, and has only lasted thanks to the quick thinking of whoever took it down and hid it from the hammers of the iconoclasts in the 17th century. It was revealed in 1822 and restored to its position behind the altar. Every figure seems to be captured in motion: pouring wine, raising a bowl, holding up a hand to turn down a drink. John the Beloved Disciple is shown with his head in the lap of his Lord. Hints of pigment show the reredos must once have been painted. Lit beautifully, it is full of life and moving to behold.
Since an extended closure owing to a falling ceiling, netting and a plastic liner have been installed to keep visitors and the congregation safe. Meanwhile, a plan needs to be put in place to restore both roof and ceiling. The good news is that the Church is open!
The church is first mentioned in writing in 1103, and original Norman architecture survives in both north and south doorways and the chancel arch. The large south porch is particularly interesting as it shelters a Norman doorway with typical chevron ornament and above it, a striking carved tympanum showing two beasts devouring a tree. Come and decide what kind of beasts you think they are! While the church was closed, we used the porch for services for up to eight of us, often joined by a friendly cat.
The chancel dates from the early 13th century when the belltower and south aisle were also added. Two Early English lancet windows in the chancel are typical of the simple Gothic style of this period. In the later 13th or early 14th century, the north aisle was added representing the Decorated Gothic style. Looking up from the nave, you can see a 15th century Perpendicular Gothic clerestory.
By the 19th century, St Olave’s needed serious care and in 1865 the celebrated Gothic Revival architect, G.E. Street, was responsible for a thorough restoration. He rebuilt the bell tower – with its distinctive pyramid roof – housing a ring of four bells. The chancel arch was widened and the original Norman arch moved to the north wall. The fine east window dates from 1868 and replaces one which is now in the north aisle.
Not to be missed to the south of the church is the restored Medieval Churchyard stone cross. Standing around 1.5 metres high, it comprises a tapering octagonal shaft, based on a square stepped plinth and topped with a striking Crucifixion.
The church’s dedication to St Olave, or St Olaf, is distinctive: there are only eleven such churches in the country, from Cumbria to Cornwall. He was known as the fierce warrior King of Norway from 1015 to 1028, and as the Viking who in 1009 attacked London by boat, destroying London Bridge, as commemorated in the nursery rhyme, ‘London Bridge is falling down.’ He the patron saint of Norway, the Faroe Islands, carvers and difficult marriages. Olaf pushed hard for the acceptance of Christianity in his homeland, using missionaries from England; the Church of Norway thus dates from 1024, six years before his martyr’s death on July 29th 1030 at the Battle of Stiklestad. The sainthood of ‘Olaf the Holy’ was recognised by the wider Catholic Church from 1164, after reports of miracles at his tomb..
A church building has been on this site since Norman times, with the church first mentioned in 1074. In the tradition of a small, rural church, we claim no adornments but we do boast a very bright and airy nave, built in 1793, with a beautiful Millennium window depicting St Mary. A west gallery was added in 1834, reportedly to seat the Fewcott congregants after their church closed. The maternal grandfather of Flora Thompson, the author of ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, used to play the violin in the choir band. The altar was donated by the USAF Base, formerly at Upper Heyford.
The original church was demolished and rebuilt, although the chancel and the bell tower contain re-used Norman stonework. The present Early English Gothic chancel was built in the late 12 th or early 13 th century. The tower has a distinctive saddleback roof and may date from the 13 th or 14 th century.