The Oldest parts of the Church of England Parish Church of Saint Peter & Saint Paul Aston are the North & South Walls of the Nave, which are Norman and from around 1100.
The Chancel was rebuilt late in the 13thC in the Decorated Gothic style. The Decorated Gothic Bell Tower and North & South Aisles were added in the 14thC. In the 15thC, natural light in the Church was increased by the addition of a Window in the North Wall and a Clerestory above the Nave, both of which are Perpendicular Gothic. The Church has undergone substantial renovation since the Original Build in 1100. The Norman Nave and round-headed window remain in their original position in the South Wall, but the Norman Doorway & Window were moved when the Chapel was extended in 1874 and are now opposite of their original position. The Church Tower had a Spire until 1811 when some of the Stonework of the Tower Parapet fell off and the Spire was removed during the Tower repairs. In 1831 the Perpendicular Gothic Roof of the Nave was replaced with a new Flat one. The Chancel was renovated in 1850 and its present East window was inserted in 1856. In 1874 the North Aisle was extended Westwards by One Bay to provide a Chamber in which an Organ was installed. The Architect E G Bruton restored the Building in 1884.
The Church of St Peter & St Paul is a comparatively large building of Flint with Stone dressings. It comprises a Nave with Chapels on the North & South sides, a Chancel, a South Porch & West Tower. The North & South walls of the Nave date from the late 11th or early 12thC. 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 13thC 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 2 simple 2-light windows of the Period. To this Period also belongs the Font, supported on 8 detached Shafts of Purbeck Marble; the Basin is decorated with an Arcade of recessed Lancets.
Considerable changes were made in the 14thC, the main ones being the erection of a 3-Storeyed Tower at the Westend, and the construction of the North & South Chapels or Aisles. Both were of 2-Bays, the 3rd Bay of the North Arcade being added in the 19thC. 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 2 Decorated Tomb Recesses were made in the North Chapel. A part of the Stairs of the Medieval Rood Loft remains. During the 15thC 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 18thC, 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 18thC Churchwardens’ Accounts. The Churchwardens also spent £3-7s-6d on painting the King’s Arms in 1732 & £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. It is evident from the Archdeacon’s Report of 1759 that the Church, like others at this time, was somewhat neglected. Weeds & 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 Southside and the Steps up to the Pulpit were to be made ‘more convenient & decent‘. Later in the Century, in 1784, the Chancel was being repaired and Mr Chapman’s Bill of £2-6s for ‘new painting‘ 3 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 Itemised Bill for the repairs done have survived. He undertook to ‘take down the Spire, Stonework forming the Base of a Spire on the Top of the Tower, the Parapet Walls & 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 refined. Stone’s Bill amounted to £415-5s-4d. He made a new Oak Roof covered with Lead and a new Parapet & 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, the 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 2 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 & Commandments. In 1829 John Brown was Granted Licence to appropriate the Private Gallery that he had built; it was at the Eastend of the Church & 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 & improvements required in the Interior of the Church . . . or in extending the North Aisle’, was used in ‘New Pewing’ in the Nave, South & 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 6th 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 Westend for the purpose. The Decorated West window of the North Chapel and the Romanesque Window & 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 & strings of the North & Southside 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 refurbished by the Rev T D Hickes as a Memorial to Frances & Mary Hickes. New Oak Altar Rails were made and Curtains were hung on the East wall. In 1952 a Wooden Screen between the Tower & 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 14thC Brass to Sir Hugh le Blount (d.1314) commemorates his Burial at the foot of the Chancel Step. Monumental Brasses of the 14th & 15thCs 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 & 5 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 13thC 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 & 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 2 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 2 in the Nave & Chancel, one to Andrew Crooke, Citizen & Stationer of London (d.1675), and the other to Matthew Hawes, Vicar for 38-yrs (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.
19th & 20thC Memorials include Tablets to Members of the Caillaud, Clerke & 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 & deaths of the 11 children of Sir Henry J Lambert, Bt. They died between 1856 & 1924. There is a Bronze Tablet to Cmd Charles F Ballard, RN, Torpedoed in HMS 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.
Following the outbreak of WW1 in August 1914, the Squadron conducted Operations in the English Channel, and was Based at Sheerness to Guard against a possible German Invasion. In the 1st days of the War, the 5th Battle Squadron covered the Crossing of the British Expeditionary Force to France. On 31st December, the Squadron was conducting Training Exercises in the English Channel, and despite the risk of German Submarines, was without anti-Submarine Protection; the German U-24 stalked the Ships during the day and in the early hours of 1st January 1915, torpedoed Formidable twice, sinking her with very heavy loss of life.
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 3 No. 14thC Quatrefoils with a Figure of Christ, and Foliage & Architectural fragments in Grisaille. In the Perpendicular window of the Nave are 15thC fragments including the Figure of an Angel playing the Harp & 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 4 great Bells, a Sanctus Bell, and a Hand Bell; a Tablecloth and 2 Towels and one Chalice without a Cover.
The Church (c.1958) possesses no early Silver: it has a Silver Chalice of 1841, a Paten with Foot of 1844, and a Plate of 1843.
There was originally a Ring of 5 Bells and a Sanctus Bell (or Sacring Bell). The 3rd is a Medieval Bell, inscribed ‘Sancte Johannes Ora pro nobis‘ and was cast by Roger Landen of Wokingham in about 1450; the 2nd, 3rd & Tenor were Cast by Ellis Knight (I) of Reading in 1625; the 4th was recast by John Warner & Sons of Cripplegate, London in 1873. Records of other Bells have survived. A small Bell was Cast in the 18thC and inscribed ‘Simon Gupper, CW 1730‘, and another was Cast in the same year by Edward Hemins of Bicester. The English Tradition of Change Ringing has been flourishing for over 4-Centuries. Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the present Treble Bell in 1975, completing the current Ring of 6-Bells and since 1978 the improved Bells have been rung regularly following a long prior silence.
12 members of the Knight Family Cast Bells in Reading between 1518 & 1739 when the Foundry moved to London. Henry & Ellis alone were Founding for over 70-yrs (1587-1658) and an amazing 257 Bells of theirs still exist. There was another separate Foundry in Reading which is known to have Cast Bells from 1494 to 1616. It originated from the Wokingham Foundry (probably in Broad Street) and also moved to London. Both Foundries survived the very real difficulties of the Reformation when 2nd-hand Bells flooded the Market with the Dissolution of the Monastries and one of the Reading Founders is known to have been tortured for his views as illustrated by the Inscriptions on his Bells.
The Registers date from 1554, with a gap between 1573 & 1580, and the ‘Bishop’s Transcripts’, which contain some information not in the original Registers, from 1639. There are Churchwardens’ Accounts from 1731 onwards.