The early History of Aston, which seems to have been a Royal Estate, and the position of Aston as Head of a Deanery make it likely that there was a very early Church. There can be little doubt that it was in existence at the time of the Domesday Book, at the latest. It may have been given to Wallingford Priory in the early 12thC by Maud, the daughter of Robert d’Oilly, who had founded the Priory. She is known to have given Chalford Manor in Aston to Wallingford, and although no Grant of the Church has survived it was certainly in the possession of the Priory by the early 13thC. The Priory had appropriated the Church and ordained a Vicarage before 1219. By this time, too, the dependent Chapelry at Stokenchurch was in existence.
The Priory normally Presented to the Vicarage. When in 1360 it leased the Rectory with Chalford Manor to Lady Eleanor Rohant the Advowson was excepted. In 1369 the Pope provided, as he may have done again in 1371, on the Vicar’s Resignation while at the Papal Court. Although the Advowson was Leased in 1473 with Chalford Manor for 30-yrs, Wallingford is recorded as Presenting until 1510. In that year the Presentation was granted to Isabel Pigott and her son Richard, members of a local Family, and in 1520 to William Young, Esq. After the dissolution of Wallingford, the Priory and its possessions, including the Advowson of Aston, were Granted in 1528 to Cardinal Wolsey for his Oxford College (Christ Church). On Wolsey’s Fall they reverted to the Crown, which in 1531 Granted the Advowson, but not the Rectory, to St Albans Abbey, of which Wallingford had been a Cell. On the dissolution of St. Albans in 1539 the Crown kept the Advowson. Presentations were made by the Lord Chancellor until 1855 when Aston was one of several Livings exchanged with the Bishop of Oxford. In 1948 the Livings of Aston & Crowell were united. The Bishop and Mr W H Wykeham-Musgrave Present alternately to the new Joint Rectory.
In the Middle Ages, the Rectory consisted of the Tithes of Aston, Kingston, and part of Chalford, and probably of some Land. It had been Leased by Wallingford Priory to the Hester Family, and the descent of the Rectory after the dissolution of Wallingford probably followed that of Chalford Manor until the death of Bartholomew Belson in 1575, and perhaps until the mid-17thC. From 1684 to 1741 the Rectory was in the possession of the Pryce family of Worminghall (Bucks). By the early 18thC the Tithes of Kingston & Aston were held separately. In 1786 Aston Rectory belonged to Thomas Blackall and followed the descent of Great Milton Manor until at least 1829. In 1835 Sir Henry Lambert, Lord of Aston Manor, held the Tithes of Aston, and Samuel Turner those of Kingston, while those of Chalford belonged to the various Owners of the Land. In 1954 no lay Rector was known.
The Rectory was one of the richer ones in Aston Deanery, being valued at £20 in 1254 and at £21-6s-8d. in 1291, plus the Pension to Bec Abbey. In 1523, its value, with the Manor of Chalford, was £33-0s-9d. By the early 18thC the Rectory was said to be worth over £500 a year. At the Inclosure Award of 1835, the Rectorial Tithes of Aston were commuted for 90 acres and those of Kingston for 108 acres. The Tithes of Chalford were commuted in 1840: Sir Henry Lambert received a Rent Charge of £90-7s for the Tithes of 256 acres; William Stone, who owned Manor Farm, received £72; and there were 2 small charges.
When the Vicarage was ordained after the appropriation of the Church the Priory apparently received the Glebe since no Church Lands were specifically assigned to the Vicar. An early-13thC Grant to Wallingford of 6½ acres of Arable and a Rood of Meadow in ‘Winterdole,’ once held by John the Vicar, is recorded and the Rectorial Glebe is mentioned in 1341, but no further record has been found.
Probably before 1087 Miles Crispin made a Grant of Tithes to Bec, which included the small Tithes of his Demesne in Aston & Kingston and also of the Mill in Aston. In the 13thC, these Tithes were collected by the Custodian of Bec’s Manor of Bledlow (Bucks). In 1291 they were valued at £3-13s-4d and were still received by Bec in the 15thC. When the Abbey lost its English Property some, including the Tithes of Aston, were Granted to the Duke of Bedford.
Before the Vicarage was Ordained the Vicar seems to have received the Income from the Church and paid the Priory a Pension of £3 & 1 Besant. According to the Ordination, made between 1216 & 1219, the Vicar was to receive the Oblations & small Tithes of Aston & Stokenchurch, and all the Tithes of 8-Virgates in Copcourt in Aston Parish. In return, he was to be responsible for Services in both the Church & Chapel. In 1254 the Vicarage was valued at £1-6s-8d, in 1291 at £4-6s-8d, and in 1535 at £16-18s-11d. At that time it was a well-endowed Vicarage, but since the Vicar had a few years previously been paying £6 a year each to Curates at Aston & Stokenchurch, his profit was not great. By the 16thC, the Vicar also paid a Pension of 5s to Wallingford, the origin of which has not been found.
The earliest Terriers of the Vicarage, dating from the 1680‘s, show that the Vicar still received his Income from the same sources. He had all the Church Fees & small Tithes in Aston, Kingston, Chalford, & Stokenchurch; all the Tithes from 8-Yardlands in Copcourt; and some Meadow Tithes. For some of his Tithes, he received payment in Cash, but most were still paid in kind. He claimed that before the Civil War he used to receive 6-Loads of the largest Billets from the Woods known as Fastwoods, but that since the War the Owner, John Clerke, had refused to pay. By the early 19thC more money payments had been introduced, especially in Stokenchurch, where 3½d per acre in place of all Vicarial Tithes was paid. The rise in prices is shown by the Tithe on a Cow, which had risen from 3d in 1685 to 5s-3d in 1802. In 1808 the value of the Living was about £148.
By the Inclosure Award of 1835 the Vicar’s Tithes in Aston & Kingston were commuted for 63 acres; in 1840 the Tithes on Copcourt Farm were commuted for a Rent Charge of £72-10s and his share of the Chalford Tithes for £12-12s. This last amount would have been larger had it not been for a modus of £2-4s, which he received from Manor Farm in Chalford. In 1855 the value of the Vicarage was about £190. It was augmented in 1909 by a Grant of £44 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
Before the Inclosure Award the Vicar’s only Glebe, apart from his Garden, was an acre in Kingston Upper Field called Vicar’s Acre. This, together with a ‘very ruinous & decayed Cottage’ at Stokenchurch, was sold in 1800. The Glebe which the Vicar Owned in the 19thC dated from the Inclosure, when he was given 48 acres, known as Glebe Farm, in Kingston Stert (for the Tithes of Kingston) and 15 acres in the Lower Field of Aston (for the Tithes of Aston). This Land, which formed more than half the value of the Living, was sold in 1920.
According to the terms of the Ordination of the Vicarage, the Vicar was supposed to Reside & Serve the Church in Person. He was also responsible for Services at Stokenchurch, and probably also for those in the Chapel at Linley, which is mentioned in 1279. Medieval Vicars were not Outstanding: there was one 13thC Graduate, Richard de Belvero, presented in 1260-61; another may have been involved in the Scandal of 1294 when certain persons who had fled to the Church for Sanctuary were Chained up. Sir Alan son of Roland, who had been Excommunicated for this Crime was absolved and those who had done the Chaining were Cited to appear before the Bishop. Some Vicars served as feoffees in Local Land Transactions; and in 1459 Thomas Pigott, a member of a prominent Local Family, was given the Cure. There is evidence that there was some neglect: in the 1520‘s the Parish was served by a Curate; no distributions were made to the Poor, the Churchyard was not well fenced, and the Churchwardens were behind in their Accounts. In addition, the Chancel, Wallingford‘s responsibility, was ruinous. However, soon afterwards Nicholas Astley (1520-55), who acted as Steward to Sir Adrian Fortescue, was living in Aston, for he frequently served as a Witness to Local Wills and was accused by some of his Parishioners of Usury & Illegal Trade in Grain.
Post-Reformation Vicars were usually Resident until the mid-18thC. John Salter (1555-73), who had probably been a Monk of St Albans and never seems to have married, lived in the Parish and was buried in the Chancel. He was followed by Richard Larke (1573–81), a Fellow of Magdalen College, who was appointed on the recommendation of the zealous Protestant Laurence Humphrey. Ralph Skinner (1629–48), Vicar under Charles I, evidently lived in one of the best houses in the Village: it had 6 Rooms – Parlour, Hall, Kitchen, 3 Bedrooms, and a Buttery. During the Commonwealth Period, there was probably a Minister with Presbyterian views, for at the Restoration he gave up the Living. In the 18thC Matthew Hawes (1723-61) reported that he resided constantly in the Vicarage; he held 2-Sunday Services at Aston in the Summer and one in Winter, as the short afternoons made it impossible to get back in time from Stokenchurch where he had also to perform the Duty; the children were Catechised in Lent, and the Sacrament was administered 5 times a year to about 50 Communicants. But in 1761 the new Vicar John Newborough (1761-95), who lived at Thame where he also held the Living, appointed a Curate to take charge of the Parish, and during the following decades there was only one Sunday Service and the number of Communion Services was reduced to 3 a year. The Churchwardens considered the Parish neglected, and presented the Vicar for his non-Residence and for the lack of Prayers on Sunday afternoons and on Saints’ days, especially Good Friday.
During the long incumbency of John Holland (1795-1844), who came to live in the Parish after rebuilding at great expense the Vicarage, by then ‘very ancient’ and in a bad state, more frequent Services were held. When there was a Sermon the Congregation was said to reach 300. In the last year of his life, he had as Curate Alexander Penrose Forbes, a noted High Church Theologian, later Bishop of Brechin. But by the 1850‘s the number of Communicants had fallen to some 35, and the Congregation was also said to be falling owing to the influence of dissent.
By the 1870‘s there was a renewal of Church life. Weekly Communion was given and the number of Communicants had increased to about 100; the Congregations were also growing larger; the Vicar held evening Schools and Bible Classes. In 1877 he was helped by the building of the Anglican Chapel at Kingston Blount, where dissent was strongest. It was then still a Chapel of Aston Rowant.
From at least the early 13thC until the 19thC Stokenchurch was a Chapelry of Aston Rowant and named after the same Saints, Peter & Paul. Although administratively annexed to Aston, Stokenchurch had an Independent Ecclesiastical life, for by the early 13thC it had its own Churchyard. The Rectorial Tithes of Stokenchurch, like those of Aston, belonged in the Middle Ages to Wallingford Priory, and these, with a Tenement called Prior’s Grove, are said to have been considered a Manor. After the dissolution of Wallingford, the Rectory came into the possession of Sir William Spencer (d.1609), who in his Will left instructions for its Sale. After this, there was no single Lay Rector, but the Tithes were split up among many Owners, each Landowner usually having the Tithes on his own Land. This was still the unusual situation in 1844 when the Tithes were commuted. The Vicarial Tithes, until the 19thC, belonged to the Vicar of Aston.
Since Stokenchurch was a Chapelry, arrangements for the repair of the Church fabric were unusual. The Owners of the Rectorial Tithes were responsible, with the Lay Rectors of Aston, for the repair of Aston Chancel, but not for the repair of Aston Nave. On the other hand, the Chancel of Stokenchurch was repaired by the Parishioners and not the Lay Rectors of Stokenchurch, although some of the Parishioners objected to contributing. Aston had some Church Lands, and for the repair & decoration of Stokenchurch Church, there were also 2 Houses called Church Houses, one of which was ruinous in the 16thC, and several acres of Land. According to Thomas Delafield, in the 18thC, this Land was ‘perverted & shamefully abused‘, the income being used for Communion bread & wine, for Ale for the Bell-ringers, and for the upkeep of the Roads.
By the early-13thC Ordination of Aston Vicarage, the Vicar of Aston was responsible for Services at Stokenchurch, and the Curate of Stokenchurch was chosen & paid by him. By the 16thC, and probably before, Stokenchurch had been provided with its own Curate and had its own Churchwardens, and thus matters continued. In 1680 or 1681 the Parishioners petitioned the Bishop, saying that for at least 60-yrs the Parish had had its own Curate, but that now the Vicar of Aston, Thomas Reynolds, refused to provide one unless the Parishioners paid him £10 a year, a condition they considered ‘new & unusual, hard & unreasonable’. For the last 4 Sundays, although he had promised to send someone to read the Service, there had been no Service. If he tried to serve both Parishes himself, they foresaw that he would ‘starve both his flock at home and us also‘. Soon after they were given their own Curate, John Day, who was said to have Excluded the Vicar. In 1702 he became Vicar of Aston and was visited there by Rawlinson, who described him as ‘very communicative‘. In the 18thC, Stokenchurch ceased having its own Curate and was served by either the Vicar or the Curate of Aston. Thus only Sunday afternoon Services were held until the 19thC, when it again had its own Curate, in 1834 a member of the Fane Family of Wormsley.
In the 18thC, there was some confusion about the Status of Stokenchurch. Delafield wrote of it as separated from Aston, and sometimes it is called a Parish Church, sometimes a Chapel, and its Wardens sometimes Churchwardens & sometimes Chapel Wardens. Its Registers date from 1707 but were evidently kept before then. Although Registered for Marriages in 1837, this merely confirmed a longstanding arrangement. The Vicar of Aston wanted Stokenchurch ‘regularly separated‘ from Aston, and in 1844 it was made into a separate Benefice.