As only a part of the Tithes of Britwell were Granted to Christ Church in the mid-11th century it is possible that the Church of Britwell Salome was already in being. The earliest evidence, however, for its existence is the 12th-century Norman Work in the Church Building.
At one time there was a Castle in Britwell which was held for King Steven against the son of the Empress Matilda, Henry Plantagenet in 1153. After Steven’s death in 1154 Henry Plantagenet, (by then Henry II), had the multitude of Castles which had been built in the time of Steven, including that at Britwell, razed to the ground. The only signs of it now are the names “Castle Hill“, “Castle Church” (for the Britwell Prior Chapel) and a Tree covered mound “2½ chains from the Road leading to the present Church.”
From the 1st recorded Presentation in 1234 or 1235 by Aumary de Sulham the Descent of the Advowson followed that of the Manor, passing from the De Sulhams to the De la Hydes (and perhaps the St Philiberts), to the Malyns Family, and then to the Cottesmores. Manor and Advowson were still United in 1610, when John Adeane sold the Presentation to John Facer, Rector of Grove (Bucks), who Presented his son Clement to the Church.
When in the mid-17th century the Manor was Divided, part of it apparently went to the Stopes Family, who acquired the Advowson. Several members of the Family became Rectors. James Stopes, a son of a Rector of Crowell, resigned the Britwell Rectory in 1675 after a few years, in order to Present his son, another James Stopes. On the latter’s death without children in 1734 the Advowson, which he had inherited, passed to his younger brother Christopher Stopes of Doncaster, who in 1745 Presented his son to Britwell. The Advowson Descended to this son, James Stopes, and after his death in 1777 his Widow Mary twice Presented to the Church, the last time being in 1782.
The next Presentation was that of 1851, when William Johnson of Dunmow (Essex) Presented James T Johnson, probably a relative. By 1869 the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (d.1927) had acquired the Advowson and the present Patron is the 8th Marquess.
Since the Parish was small, the Living was a poor one, valued at either £1 or £1 6s 8d in 1254 and at £3 6s 8d in 1291. By 1535 its value had risen to £6 19s 2d, and this was followed by a sharper rise, for by the beginning of the 17th century it was said to be worth £40.
The Rector’s income came partly from the Glebe and partly from Tithes. In the 17th century, the Glebe consisted of a little grass Close at the Upper end of the Town and about 22 acres in the Common Fields, and in the 19th century after Inclosure of about 19 acres. Since Britwell Salome and Britwell Prior shared a Field System, some Strips being Tithable to the one Church and some to the other, ‘great quarrels and disputes‘ arose about the Tithes. In 1685 the Rector had a Terrier made, with ‘a great deal of pains, vexation and difficulty‘, of how all the land was Tithed. The confusion is further illustrated by the fact that a little land in Britwell Prior paid Tithes to Britwell Salome and that part of the Glebe of Britwell Prior was in the Tithing of Britwell Salome. Disagreements evidently continued, for in 1805 the Tithes of a few acres were still in dispute between the Rector and the Rector of Newington, to whom the Tithes of Britwell Prior belonged. There was also other intermingling of Tithes: the Rector of Britwell Salome had a few Tithes in Shirburn and the Tithes of about 3 acres and some catch Tithes in Watlington, while until 1813 9½ acres in Britwell were Tithable to Watlington.
Early in the 19th century the Rectory was valued at £146 12s, made up of Tithe on the Common Field land (792a) at 3s an acre, of Tithe on Inclosure (84a) at 4s. an acre, and 22 acres of Glebe let at 10s an acre. In 1833 it was let for £180, the Tenant still collecting the Tithes in kind. The Rector had long had to pay a part of his income in Rates. In about 1780 the Rector’s Widow, Mrs Stopes, complained that she was rated at £81, or nearly a Quarter of the total rate of £341 3s 4d for the Parish, and in 1838, when the question of commuting the Tithes was under consideration, it was pointed out that the Rector had been paying an average of £65 a year in Rates and that this had included Church Rates, which he was under no obligation to pay. Negotiations continued for several years and eventually, in 1846 the Tithes were commuted for a Rent-charge of £240.
When in 1867 Britwell Prior was added to the Parish, only £25 of its Revenue was Granted the Rector, although its Tithes had been commuted for £129 and there were 8 acres of Glebe there. In 1892 on the death of Septimus Cotes, Rector of Newington, a campaign began to get the rest of the Tithe Rent-charge, which the Rector of Newington continued to receive, transferred to the Rector of Britwell. This campaign was supported by the Agent of Lord Lansdowne, the Patron, who found the Living difficult to fill; and by many of the Parishioners of Britwell Prior, who were said to consider the arrangement of 1867 ‘a piece of sharp practice, perhaps legally allowable but morally wrong‘. They petitioned the Bishop against paying their money to a ‘total stranger‘. The Bishop, however, did not wish to decrease the income of Newington Rectory, of which he was Patron, and refused to do anything in spite of the possibility that Lord Lansdowne might transfer the Patronage of Britwell to him. He regretted that so much hard feeling had been caused and pointed out that when Tithe was appropriated outside a Parish, as was frequently the case, ‘the thing has to be borne‘.
In the Middle Ages, the Living changed hands fairly frequently, especially in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, when it was several times exchanged. Some Rectors were clearly Resident: they are found acting as Feoffees for local Families. One, Richard de Cuxham, was a local man, who is known to have borrowed £5 from the Lord of the Manor. Before the 15th century no University Graduate was Rector and Graduates did not become common until the 2nd half of the Century. A Graduate with a long association with the parish was Master Maurice John (1453–92), whose Brass is in the Church; but his successor, Master Edmund Alyard (1492–1508), a prominent Fellow of Oriel College and a Pluralist, was probably non-Resident.
From the 16th century onwards many of the Rectors held the Living for long periods; from 1518 to 1671, for instance, Britwell had only 4 Rectors. The 1st, John Booth (1518–54), was probably the Rector who in about 1520 was said to be neglecting the upkeep of the Chancel and living not in his Rectory but in the House of Maud Cottesmore, a member of the Brightwell Baldwin Family, who were also Patrons of Britwell. No record remains of the many changes which Booth saw the Reformation bring to Britwell Church. Among these was the disappearance of the Lights in the Church, for in the 16th century there were Lights to the Blessed Virgin, the Trinity, St Margaret, and St Nicholas.
Booth’s successors, who were apparently Resident, were John Browne (1554–75), an educated man, whose effigy is in the Church; Robert Warcopp (1575–1610), a Charitable man, but said to be of only ‘tolerable ability‘ and Clement Facer (1610–71), who apparently continued at Britwell undisturbed by the Religious changes of the 17th century. He lived in his comfortable Rectory and farmed his own Glebe.
After the Stopes Family, who were also Landowners, had obtained the Advowson, Britwell became a kind of Family Living, and the Rectors, who were almost always Resident, were the Parish’s leading Inhabitants. In the 17th and 18th centuries, there were 4 Rectors named James Stopes. The 1st (1671–5), ‘a constant Preacher‘, only held the Living for a few years; the 2nd (1675–1706), who built a new and larger Rectory, was a strong supporter of the Church of England and deplored all forms of nonconformity. In 1685 he wrote to the Bishop that he had no one in his Parish who merited the ‘dangerous appellation of Schismatic whether Papist or Fanatic‘, but he feared for the future as some of his Parishioners did not come to Prayers and the Sacraments ‘as frequently as obliged‘. In 1706 he became Vicar of South Stoke, resigning Britwell in favour of his son James Stopes (1706–32); and from 1745 to 1777 the latter’s nephew, the 4th James Stopes, was Rector. He resided constantly at Britwell, except when visiting friends or called away on Business to his other Living, where he kept a Curate; held 2 Services and Preached one Sermon on Sundays; had Prayers on the important Holidays; catechised the children in summer, using his own exposition; and administered the Sacrament 4 times a year (at Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, and Michaelmas) to between 10 and 20 Communicants. No one, he said, was entirely absent from Church, but some did not attend as frequently as they should in spite of frequent admonitions. Parishioners, moreover, were negligent about sending Servants and children. The proximity of the Roman Catholic Family of Simeon at Britwell Prior must have been a constant cause for alarm.
Instead of the 2 Churchwardens habitual in the 16th and 17th centuries, from at least 1730 until the mid-19th century there was usually only one Warden, chosen by the Rector. Some of them held the Office for many years. One of the Warden’s responsibilities was the spending of the income from the Church Land. A ½-acre of this land was left to the Church in 1534 by Richard Mortimer, a Britwell Yeoman, and in 1618 it was said that the Church had ‘time out of mind‘ owned 3 acres, the Rent from which was used for repairs. In 1771 this land was let to the Churchwarden for 15s a year; in the 1820s it produced £1 11s 6d a year, the same amount as in 1939. In 1939 the Church also owned the Church Acre, worth 10s a year, which had originally been given for the upkeep of the Chapel of Britwell Prior. In the early 17th century there was also a small house called the Church House near the Chapel in Britwell Prior, the Rent from which was used for the Upkeep of both Churches. By the early 19th century the only house answering the description had fallen down and the income had therefore ceased.
During the earlier 19th century the Rector was Andrew Price, son of Roger Price, a Rector of King’s Chapel, Boston, New England, and a son-in-law of the last James Stopes. He became Rector in 1782 and died in 1851 at the age of 96. He carried out much the same programme as his father-in-law, except that in his old age he hired a Curate to take the Services. In the 1820s he paid £2 12s a year to his Parish Clerk, who also received about 15s in Fees.
The 2nd half of the century was notable for the Incorporation in the Parish in 1867 of Britwell Prior, formerly a Chapelry of Newington. The intermingling of the 2 Parishes had long formed an anomaly. In the late 17th century the Rector thought it ridiculous that one little Village should have 2 Churches. The fact that they were not only in different Parishes and Hundreds, but in different Dioceses, for Britwell Prior, as a Chapelry of Newington, was in Canterbury Diocese, he considered ‘a matchless instance of confusion‘, and he strongly urged their amalgamation. Moreover, regular Services were not held in the Chapel and sometimes for long periods none at all was held, perhaps partly because the Lords of the Manor, the Simeons, were Roman Catholics. Therefore Britwell Prior Parishioners often came to Services in Britwell Salome Church and the Rector, who received no income from them, Ministered ‘merely out of Charity and Honour to the Government‘. This situation continued until the mid-19th century, Services were held at Britwell Prior for its 50 Parishioners usually once or twice a month. By the 1860s they had ceased altogether and the Inhabitants attended Britwell Salome Church, where they had Customary Seats and where, in the 19th century, they made up about a 3rd of the Congregation. The situation was thought to be especially unsatisfactory because Britwell Salome had an almost exclusively labouring Population while the Principal Employers lived in Britwell Prior, and it seemed desirable for the Minister to be able to visit both Classes. Accordingly, in 1865 both Churches were pulled down and that of Britwell Salome was rebuilt on a larger scale. The Parishes were United in 1867 and a new Benefice called Britwell Salome with Britwell Prior was formed.
It was a difficult time, for during the rebuilding no Services were held for 2½ years. The Rector James T Johnson (1851–92) was in poor health, and although he usually held regular Services he could do little for the young people. After the Union of the Parishes, however, the congregation grew larger – about 2/3rds of the Population were said to attend Services, and the Rector started the Sunday School again.
Since 1953 the Living has been held with Ewelme, where the Rector lives.
The Medieval Chapel at Britwell Prior (demolished in 1865) was a simple Nave-&-Chancel structure, built of Limestone rubble with Ashlar dressings and a Tiled Roof. A Tiled South Porch of unknown date was fashioned from Wooden boards. The Nave was apparently 12th-century, incorporating a Norman moulded South Doorway and at least one round-headed window, while the Chancel Arch (described as semi-circular in 1812) had ‘good Norman Jambs’. The North door was apparently a later insertion. The Chancel was remodelled c.1200, with lancet windows and a Plain Piscina. Later additions included 2 Perpendicular square-headed windows in the Nave (probably 15th-century), a cup-shaped Octagonal Font, and a single Bell under the West Gable. Work by the Rector James Edwards in 1841 included the rebuilding of the Chancel Arch and replacement of the East window and some Nave windows, which were ‘modern’ in 1848. Materials from the chapel’s demolition were to be re-used in the new Britwell Salome Church, but most if not all of its Monuments were lost, amongst them Brasses to Richard Crook (d.1569) and his son Richard (d.1580), commissioned by one Robert Halley, a Memorial to John Richardson (d.1765) in the Nave Floor, and another to John Stopes (d.1798) on the Chancel’s South Wall. Some Gravestones survived around the Chapel Site in the 1960s.
The Church of St Nicholas, most of which dates from 1867, is a building of Flint and Stone consisting of Chancel, Nave, Vestry, South Porch, and Western Bell Gable. The old Church was smaller and had a small wooden Bellcot and no Vestry. It dated from the 12th century at least, for it had a Romanesque Chancel Arch and South Doorway to the Nave. Parker writing in 1850 described the Chancel as Decorated with a ‘modern’ east window. Drawings of 1812 and 1822 show that there was an early Perpendicular West window of 2 lights and square-headed windows of a later date in the South walls of the Nave and Chancel. There was also a Dormer window in the Nave Roof. No drawing has been found showing the Northside, or the East window, but Parker said the North windows were ‘modern’ and described the Roof as plain with Queen Posts, and partly spoiled by the ceiling. He also recorded that there was an old Oak Door ‘with good Norman hinges‘ and some old tiles.
Few records remain of repairs to the Ancient Church. In 1759 the Archdeacon made a number of Orders: the Porch was to be repaired, its Roof was to be plastered and its Floor made even, and the Lumber was to be moved out of it; the West window was to be repaired; a new Door to the Church and a new floor to the Pulpit were to be provided; and the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments were to be written on small Tables and hung up under the King’s Arms and between the 2 Beams. That there was general neglect is shown by the Order to provide a new cushion & cloth for the Reading Desk, and clear away from the walls trees, bushes, weeds and banks of rubbish. Accordingly, in 1760 a new cushion & cloths for the Pulpit, the Reading-Desk, and the Communion Table were provided, and the Church was whitewashed. In 1766 the Rector, James Stopes, put a Railing and a Bannister around the Altar at a cost of £3 4s. Ten years later the Parish paid for a Gallery, which in 1844 was used by the Singers, and the Rector inserted a new window, probably the Dormer window on the South which would have lighted the Gallery. At some time before 1812 the old circular Font had been replaced by a small wooden Pedestal with ‘an iron frame affixed to it to receive a bason‘; this may have been done in order to make room for the children’s seats. Minor repairs were carried out in 1815, 1825, and at other times.
In 1865 plans were drawn up by the Architect Charles Buckeridge for Rebuilding the Church. The cost of rebuilding the Nave without the Porch was estimated at £548. The Rector was to pay for the Chancel. It was planned to keep only the Doorway and ‘the Front‘ (presumably the West Front) of the original Church, and to pull down Britwell Prior Chapel and reuse the materials for rebuilding Britwell Salome Church.
G E Street, the Diocesan Architect, was critical of Buckeridge’s Plans and disapproved of ‘needlessly pulling down an old Church‘ without even preserving such old features as the windows and the Chancel Arch. He also thought it of doubtful advantage to move the ‘Norman‘ doorway from the South wall of the Nave to that of the Chancel, ‘for which place its scale and character appear to be unsuited‘.
In spite of these objections, the Plan was carried out largely in its original form, although the Chancel Arch, the South Doorway, and the Norman Font were saved. The new Church was completed early in 1867. It was considerably larger than the old one. As the Chancel had been extended to the West, the ‘Holy Table‘ still stood in the same place, and therefore Reconsecration was thought unnecessary.
Monuments preserved from the old Church are the small Brass of Master Mores (i.e. Maurice) John, Rector (d.1492), with the Figure of a Priest in Mass Vestments; and a verse in Latin and English said by Rawlinson to be in Memory of John Brome. Rawlinson says that above it there was a bust of ‘a judge in his robes‘. The bust has disappeared, but it is possible that it was of John Browne, Rector 1554–75, who was buried in the Church. The Brass Inscription to William White (d.1530) and his wife Anne has gone; so also has the Gravestone in the Nave to James Stopes (d.1734), Rector of Britwell and later of Brightwell Baldwin. There remains the Monument, with Arms, to Mary Gregory (d.1675), Widow of Edmund Gregory of Britwell, Marble Tablets to James Stopes, Rector (d.1777) and Mary his wife (d.1799), and to Richard Newton (d. 1859) and Elizabeth his wife (d.1870). More recent brass inscriptions are to members of the Smith Family of Britwell House: John Apsley Smith (d.1894), Admiral George Walter Smith (d.1919), Reginald John Smith, KC (d.1916), and Col William Apsley Smith (d.1927).
There are stained glass windows in Memory of a former Rector J T Johnson (d.1892), of John Smith (d.1888) and of Emily Jane Smith (d.1914), and of the Rev Andrew Price (d. 1851), Rector of Britwell.
The Church has never been richly Furnished. In 1553 it had only a Chalice without a Paten and a Surplice. The oldest plate now is a Pewter plate of the 17th century. There is also a Silver Chalice of 1839 and a Paten of 1843, possibly given by the Rector Andrew Price.
There have probably never been more than the 2 bells of 1553. Of the 2 Bells there now, one may be Medieval; the other, dated 1761, probably replaced the cracked Bell of 1759, which the Archdeacon ordered to be recast.
In 1927 a 17th-century Spanish Painting of Christ carrying the Cross was given to the Church by Major G C Whitaker of Britwell House.
The Registers date from 1574.
The Churchyard, which was extended in 1902, has a fine Yew Tree which appears in Buckler’s drawing of 1822.
Roman Catholicism in the Village centred upon the Chapel maintained until the early 19th century by the Simeon and then by the Weld Family of Britwell House. This Chapel’s History is reserved for treatment under Britwell Prior.
The Visitation Returns of the 18th century generally reported a few Protestant nonconformists: one Presbyterian and one Independent in 1738, 3 Presbyterians in 1759, and 3 Independents in 1774. By the early 19th century Methodism had appeared. In 1823 there were about a dozen Wesleyans, some of whom trimmed ‘betwixt Church and Chapel‘. They used a small room in Britwell for meetings, but the Chapel at Watlington was the ‘centre of attraction‘. In 1832 a small Wesleyan Chapel was built; the Huttons, a Britwell family of Farmers, are said to have been the Founders, and it was attended by 4 or 5 families who were taught by a visiting Preacher. Twenty years later the Rector estimated the nonconformists to be about a 3rd of the Parish. The Chapel survived until about 1935 but by 1951 was derelict. In 1956 it was sold.
Britwell Salome and Britwell Prior have always shared the same Schools. There is no record of a School earlier than 1784. There was then one School supported by Contributions where reading and writing and the catechism were taught, and another for Roman Catholics. In 1808 a Miss Stopes, a kinswoman of the 18th-century Rectors, kept a Day School for 23 children, some of whom paid about 9d a week, others nothing. The Roman Catholic Day School had lapsed by 1790, but in 1808 it was said that a Catholic Layman, a labourer called Campbell, opened an Evening School in the Winter where about 13 children were taught writing and accounts; the children were obviously not all of their Teacher’s Faith since the Rector reported that Campbell never interfered with the Religious Principles of his Pupils. There was no further record of this Evening School, but there were 23 girls and 7 boys in the Day School in 1815, taught by an ‘excellent orthodox Schoolmistress‘. A Sunday School set up in this year was attended by 38 children, 23 boys and 15 girls, mainly from the poorer classes. A few Parishioners supported it voluntarily and the Rector, Andrew Price, provided testaments, spelling books, and expositions of the Church Catechism. Both Schools were still there in 1819, but with fewer children: 20 in the Day School, each paying 17s a Quarter, and only 4 or 5 in the Sunday School. The Rector also Patronised another School for 4 or 5 children. There were no Endowments for Education in the Parish, but the Rector said that the poorer inhabitants would have liked some kind of Instruction and he thought £15 a year would be enough to Educate all the children. There is no indication that the suggestion was acted on. In 1833 there were 3 Day Schools, but they took only 33 pupils between them; the cost was met partly by the children and partly by Charity. There were 2 Sunday Schools, one for 30 children managed by the Anglicans, another for 33 children managed by the Wesleyans. In 1854 the Rector stated that there was only one Day School and one Sunday School. The Day School supported by Contributions continued into the 1870‘s and in 1871 was described as a Church of England School which took 20 children from both Parishes; it was said to be in Britwell Prior. In 1878, however, a School Board was set up under the 1870 Act for the United District of Brightwell Baldwin, Britwell Salome, and Britwell Prior. A Board School was built at Brightwell Baldwin in 1879 and the Britwell children attended it. It became a County Primary School in 1929 and Seniors went to Watlington.
Joan Chibnall, by Will proved 1649, gave a Rent charged on land in Princes Risborough (Bucks) to provide each of 4 Poor Widows or ‘ancient maids‘ of Britwell Salome and Britwell Prior with a cloth Gown and an Ell of linen cloth yearly on St Matthew’s Day (21st Sept). The Charity was still being regularly distributed in 1820, and the Gowns in 1902. Before 1925, when the Rent-charge was redeemed by the Purchase of Stock yielding £4, the gifts in kind had been transformed into cash payments. In that year there were 5 payments of 12s and one of £1 2s 6d. Charity Money was not being distributed in 1950.
By the Inclosure award of 1845 1½ acre, partly in Britwell Salome and partly in Britwell Prior, was awarded to the Parish Officers as a place of Recreation. Rent received from the Grass and Herbage was to go towards the Rates of both Parishes. This was the origin of the ‘herbage money‘ which was being paid in 1903 for the Benefit of the Parish by Mrs Smith of Britwell House. In 1923–5 its value was £1 18s. and it was being paid by Capt Carran into the Churchwardens’ Account. Nothing further is known of this Charity, if Charity it be.