Norman work in Crowell Church shows that it was in existence at the latest by the mid-12thC. The 1st known documentary evidence about it dates from 1231, when Margaret de Riviers, Lady of the Manor & mother of the Earl of Devon, Presented to the Living. The Advowson had probably long been held, like the Manor, by the Earls of Devon. When in 1293, on the death of Isabel de Forz, Countess of Aumale & Devon, the Earldom escheated to the King, the King also claimed the Advowson, and in 1294 Edward I Presented to the Church. However, his Right to do so was successfully opposed in the Royal Court by Sir John de St Helen, who had been enfeoffed with the Manor in 1293, and at his death in 1295 was said to hold it in Chief, and his Candidate was admitted. On a Vacancy following the death of Giles de Braose in 1305, the King again tried to Present to the Church, but his Right to do so was again questioned, perhaps by Walter de Aylesbury, who had custody of the Manor. This time the Case was heard in the Bishop’s Court, and although the King’s Suit was successful, his Candidate was not admitted until 1309.
From this time until 1609 the Descent of the Advowson followed that of the Manor, being held by the Mautravers in the 14thC and the Staffords in the 15thC. In 1361 there was a Royal Presentation, probably because of the Minority of John Mautravers, and in 1469, in the confusion following the Execution of Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon, the Bishop Collated by Lapse. In the 16thC 2 Presentations, those of 1528 & 1575, were Sold.
With the Division of the Manor in the late 16thC between the Wenmans and the Norreys’ the Advowson also was Divided. In 1602 Francis Norreys, Lord Rycote, Presented Walter Grey to the Living, and in 1609 & 1610 the Rector bought both halves of the Advowson. He himself never Presented, for on his own Resignation in 1621 he sold the Presentation to James Stopes, Clerk. On Grey’s death in 1641 the Advowson was inherited by Walter Ellwood, the son of Thomas Ellwood & Walter Grey’s daughter Elizabeth and the father of Thomas Ellwood the Quaker. In 1664 Walter Ellwood sold his Crowell Property, and Joshua Draynor bought the Advowson. Draynor, Crowell’s leading Inhabitant, Presented in 1669, but in 1695 the Presentation was by Catherine, Viscountess Wenman. From then the Advowson descended in the Wenman Family, except for a Royal Presentation in 1722 because of the Lunacy of Viscount Wenman, and then passed to the Wykehams and later to the Wykeham-Musgraves, who were also Lords of the Manor. After the Manor was sold the Wykeham Musgraves kept the Advowson. In 1948 Crowell was joined to Aston Rowant, and the Bishop and W H Wykeham-Musgrave began to Present in turn.
In 1254 the Rectory was valued at £2, plus a Pension to an Abbey worth 13s-4d and in 1291 at £6-13s-4d. Between then and 1535, when it was worth £7 9s 9½d, its value hardly increased. No other Valuations have been found before the 19thC. In 1842 the Tithes were commuted for £243-10s.
The Glebe, valued at 6s-8d in 1341, was small. It consisted of about 8 acres in the Open-fields and a Pasture of 2 acres, called Church Piece, next to the Churchyard. The Rector still owned the Glebe in 1939.
Apart from the Visitation of about 1520, when there were few complaints except for the one that the Chancel Walls needed repair, little is known of the Church History before the 18thC. Some Rectors stayed in the Parish for many years, notably Robert de Sutton (Rector 1361–1416), who served as a feoffee in local Land Transactions, and Master Geoffrey Gayn (Rector 1484–1528). John Payne (1453–69) had a Brass placed over his grave in the Church. University Graduates before the 16thC were unusual, but some later Rectors have been Highly Educated men, such as Richard Larke (1572–1602) and Walter Bayley (1669–95), both Fellows of Magdalen College. During the troubled years of the mid-17thC the Rector was John Stopes (rector 1621–68), who lived in Crowell, was buried in the Church, and whose daughter is remembered by her gift of Plate.
During the next 50-yrs the Rectors were likewise closely associated with the Parish, one of them, Edward Hind of a Waterstock Family (1722–30), rebuilding the Rectory. But non-Residence may have started by 1738, when the Rector was Chaplain to his Patron Lord Wenman, at Thame, which prevented him holding more than one Service on Sundays at Crowell. Services were seldom held on Saints’ Days and he only Catechised in Lent. In the 1770s the Church was served by a Resident Curate, but by the end of the Century the Parish was served by the Curate of Chinnor, who received £20 & later £25 a year. The increase followed the Institution in 1784 of Willoughby Bertie as Rector, who resided at his Wytham (Berks) Rectory. He also ordered that 2 Services should be held on Sundays. One Service on Sundays had been the usual custom, although at times 2 were held, and 3 or 4 Sacraments a year were given to 10 or 12 Communicants, an increase over the 5 to 10 of 1738. The Curate thought it not worthwhile to Catechise and described the Parishioners as ‘harmless inoffensive people‘ who regularly attended Church. By this time, instead of the 2 Churchwardens of the 16thC, there was only one.
In 1811 the Parishioners insisted on having the 2 Sunday Services reduced to one.
After the Rectory had been rebuilt in 1822, the Parish had a Resident Rector. There continued to be only one Sunday Service, although in the 1850s Bishop Wilberforce was trying to get the Rector James Beauchamp (1830–74), also Vicar of Shirburn, to have more frequent Services in both Parishes, and to impress on him that ‘the Duty comes before the Property‘. The Congregations, a great part of which came from Kingston Blount, were good.
Later Rectors who left a mark on the Parish were John Churchill (1874–9), who increased the number of Services and had the Church restored, and F N Davis (1902–19), who edited many of the Records of the Diocese.
The Church of St Mary the Virgin is a small flint Building comprising a Chancel, Nave, South Porch, Vestry, and Stone Bellcot. The original 12thC Church has been largely rebuilt. A Romanesque North doorway with a plain round Arch, now boarded up on the inside, is its chief surviving feature. In the 13thC, the Chancel Arch was rebuilt, a South doorway was added, and perhaps the holy-water stoup which is now in the South Porch. A new Font was installed. As the Village Feast is kept on the Sunday before the Holyrood (14th September), it is likely that these alterations mark the date of the rededication of the Church to the Virgin Mary, whose cult was then at its height. The Chancel itself was rebuilt in the 14thC: it had a 3-light East window & 2 windows of 2-lights in the North wall and similar ones in the South wall. Parker wrote in 1850 that the Chancel appeared to have been shortened at an early period. There were then 2 Sedilia close to the East end and a ‘locker‘ in the North-east angle. A few of the Medieval Inlaid Tiles, common in South Oxfordshire, have survived under the Communion Table. Drawings of the building as it was in 1813 & 1822 show that the Chancel was loftier than the Nave and had Decorated windows and that the Nave windows were square-headed and without Tracery. There was a small weather-boarded Bellcot at the West end.
No more major alterations appear to have been made before the 19thC. Minor repairs were carried out from time to time. In 1638 the men’s Pews were ‘made new‘, the cost being borne partly by the occupants of the houses to which Pews were attached and partly by a general rate. In 1745 the Chancel was repaired, and in 1759 a number of minor repairs to the Church were ordered. Weeds and rubbish were to be removed from the Walls of the building, and the Buttresses were to be repointed; several steps were to be made into the Porch instead of one; the steps into the Church were to be new laid; the door was to be repaired, the Pavement of the church was to be relaid and made even, the Communion Table was to be thoroughly repaired, and a new Carpet, new Pulpit Cushion, and Cloth provided. Soon after it appears that repairs to the Chancel were carried out, for Buckler’s drawing of the Church shows the date 1768 in the Chancel Gable.
A continuing interest in the decent appearance of the Church led to the repair of the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer by Mr Chapman in 1785. In 1793 a new Gate was made to the Churchyard, which had been walled with Brick in 1731 & in 1802 the Churchwardens’ Accounts show that more serious work was in hand. The Chancel had been reported out of repair in 1783 & 1801, and now in 1802 ‘complete‘ repairs were said to have been undertaken. A total of £46 odd was spent. In 1803 expenditure amounted to £53-4s. Between 1811 & 1817 a further £11 was expended.
The state of the Fabric was still causing anxiety in the 1830s and in 1835 Richard Clark of Wallingford was Commissioned to carry out various repairs. He repaired the outside Walls of the Chancel, made 2 new Buttresses, retiled the Roof, and made 2 new Pews with floorboards & seats. This work cost the Rector £20. Repairs to the Body of the Church costing £100 included re-Roofing the Bellcot with Zinc, renewing the Weather-boarding, and making ‘a cornice of Battlements according to the Plan‘; making 2 new Buttresses, 2 new ‘Gothic’ windows, and a Door & Entrance Gate to the Porch. Clark also retiled the Roof, raised the Floor & pointed the Walls. He removed the old Pews and made 12 new ones, as well as a new Pulpit, Reading-desk & Boards for the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Belief’ & Ten Commandments. The work was finished before the end of the year. In 1839 Mr Slatter’s Bill for repairing the Church and ‘leading the Tower‘ was £18. Three years later the Tower was pointed and new window frames made. A photograph of the Church before restoration shows these boards at the East end of the Church. There was also a Communion Table and low wooden Altar Rails. There were high box Pews and a 3-decker Pulpit. The Roof was an open-Timber one.
By the 1870s a major restoration had become necessary and the Architects H J Tollit of Oxford & Edwin Dolby of London practically rebuilt the Church in 1878, using the original materials. The South Porch dates from this Period, the Wooden Tower was replaced by the present Stone Bellcot, and the Vestry was added. All the Interior fittings were renewed. The East window of the Chancel was filled with stained glass by Kempe. The raised Tomb in the Chancel to Mrs Ann Michaels (d.1724) was removed. The Chancel Floor was relaid with new tiles.
In 1879 the Lychgate was made; in 1891 a Faculty was obtained to alter the Sittings in the Chancel and the Altar Rails; and in 1895 the West window was filled with stained glass by C E Kempe in Memory of the Rector, Cadwallader Coker Beck (d.1893). The Oak Prayer Desk in the Chancel was installed in Memory of E J Howman (Rector 1893–1902).
There is a Brass (now on the Chancel Wall) to John Payne, Rector (d.1469), and a Gravestone to John Stopes (Rector 1621–68), now under the Communion Table. The Memorial noted by Rawlinson to Zachary White, Churchwarden, 1695, was probably destroyed at the Restoration. There is a War Memorial (1914–18).
No inventory is known of Crowell’s Possessions in Edward VI’s Reign. The present Plate consists of a Silver Elizabethan Chalice & Paten Cover, dated 1601, and a Silver Tazza bearing the inscription ‘given in 1637 by Rebecca Stopes‘, the Rector’s daughter. It is considered to be of earlier date.
The Church once had 2 Bells. There is a record of their being rehung in 1749 by William Holt. One was recast in 1759. In 1958 there was only one Bell, which had been recast before 1928; the former Bell was dated 1642.
The Registers date from 1594, and the Churchwardens’ Accounts from 1746 to 1877.
No Roman Catholicism has been traced at Crowell after the Reformation. The Village, however, has an important place in the History of Protestant Nonconformity, as it was the home for some years of Thomas Ellwood, the Quaker. He became a Friend in 1659 after several visits to Isaac Pennington at Chalfont St Giles (Bucks), whose children he Tutored, and through the influence of Edward Burrough.
In the following year he invited an Oxford Quaker, Thomas Loe, to hold a Meeting at Crowell, but this did not take place as Loe had just been imprisoned in Oxford Castle. Ellwood himself was imprisoned there for a short time for refusing to take the Oaths of Allegiance & Supremacy. He returned to Crowell where he remained until about 1665, but his work as a kind of Estate Agent to the Pennington Family took him mostly into Buckinghamshire, and there is no evidence that he had much influence in his own Village, though he is known to have been in touch with Watlington Nonconformists. From 1669 to 1713 he acted as Clerk of the Monthly & Quarterly Meetings of the Buckinghamshire Friends.
After Ellwood’s departure from the Parish, there are no further records of Quakerism, although 4 Nonconformists were returned in the Compton Census of 1676. There are no Dissenters mentioned in the 18thC Visitation Returns, but in the 19thC, there were a few. In 1828 a House in the Crowell part of Sprigg’s Alley was Licensed for Worship, which was no doubt also attended by Chinnor Parishioners. In 1834 there were 2 ‘Calvinists‘ in Crowell who attended Chapel at Kingston or Chinnor, but in that year another House was Licensed. Twenty years later there were 9 or 10 Dissenters among the poorest inhabitants, but there no longer seems to have been any Meeting-House. In 1866 the regular Dissenters, some 16 in number, went to the Chapel at Kingston Blount.
Bucks Herald 14th January 1888
Crowell – Sunday School Tea
On Tuesday, 10th January, the Rev C C Beck, Rector of this Parish, gave a substantial Tea to the children belonging to the Sunday School, who returned to their homes at 8pm, having spent a very happy evening.
Bucks Herald 7th April 1888
Crowell – Church Decorations
The Easter decorations were somewhat marred this year owing to the lack of Spring Flowers. The Pulpit, Lectern & Window Bases were trimmed with Ivy and other Green Foliage, and there were also a few Pots containing Flowers in Bloom placed in suitable positions.
Bucks Herald 22 September 1888
Crowell – Sunday School Festival
On Friday the 14th inst., through the kindness of the Rev C C Beck, the Sunday School Scholars, with their Parents & Friends, were invited to Tea, which was provided on the Lawn at the Rectory. Splendid weather prevailed, and the Juveniles were greatly pleased with the Racing Contests which took place during the Evening.
Jacksons Oxford Journal 22nd September1888
Crowell – Sunday School Festival
On Friday the 14th inst through the kindness of the Rev C C Beck, the Sunday School Scholars, parents and friends were invited to Tea, which was provided on the Lawn at the Rectory. Splendid weather prevailed, and the Juveniles were pleased with the racing contests which took place during the Evening.
Bucks Herald 6th October 1888
Crowell – Snow in Harvest
The adage “As welcome as Snow in Harvest” was literally verified on Tuesday morning, for 9.30 Snow commenced to fall and continued for about 45 minutes, some of the flakes being very large.
Harvest Festival – On Sunday last, Harvest thanksgiving Services were held in the Parish Church, which had been tastefully decorated for the occasion with wheat, barley, oats, fruit & vegetables; virginia creeper, ferns & bright flowers being also liberally employed. Two appropriate Sermons were preached by the Rector, the Rev C C Beck, morning & afternoon. Several of the Harvest Hymns were sung, with the assistance of Mrs Beck Jr, at the Harmonium. At the close of the Services collections were made in Aid of the Cottage Hospital at Watlington.
The Church Times 14th July 1944
Other Clerical Changes
The Rev L W Day has Resigned the Living of Crowell to which he was instituted last year, and has been appointed by the Bishop to the Rectory of Newington with charge of Berrick Salome & Chalgrove. Before coming into the Diocese, Mr Day was Priest–in-Charge of St Andrew’s Leighton Buzzard. [continues]
The Church Times 29th December 1944
Preferments & Appointments
Rev T D Hickes, BA, Vicar of Aston Rowant, Lewknor, Oxford; also Rector of
Crowell, Oxford (in Plurality). Patron Mr H W Wykeham-Musgrave [continues]