From the Middle Ages to the 19thC Cuxham’s Rectors were, for the most part, dominant local figures, closely connected with Merton College, and often representing its Secular interests within the Parish. In its religious life, however, Cuxham seems to have experienced no great controversies or enthusiasms. A general attitude of conservatism was often complemented by relative apathy and, in the 18th & 19thC, by low Church attendance among a poorly educated Farming population. The religious conservatism of some mid-16thC incumbents prompted no lasting Catholic sympathies, and Protestant Nonconformity, too, found little footing. After 1918 the progressive merging of local Benefices contributed to a further decline in Church attendance.
Church Origins & Parochial Organisation
In the Anglo-Saxon period, Cuxham may have been dependent on a Mother Church at Benson or (later) at Pyrton, but there is no evidence of a link with either after the Conquest. A local Church may have been built at Cuxham in the late Anglo-Saxon period when it first became an Independent Estate: the present building (which dates apparently from the 12th century) stands next to the Manor House, an arrangement typical of many small proprietary Churches of the 10thC and later. By the 13thC, the Church was fully Independent, and its small Parish survived until 1853 when it was United for Ecclesiastical purposes with neighbouring Easington, included (like Cuxham) in Aston Deanery. From 1918 the combined Parish (comprising 727a.) was held in plurality with Brightwell Baldwin, and in 1985 the 2 Benefices were United with Ewelme. The dedication to the Holy Rood is Medieval.
Advowson, Glebe & Tithes
In the early 13thC the Advowson belonged to the Lord of the Manor, with which it passed to Merton College in 1271. The College Presented Cuxham’s Rectors thereafter, becoming sole Patron of the United Benefice of Cuxham & Easington in 1853, and (after 20thC reorganisations) sharing the Advowson with the Patrons of the Churches with which Cuxham was held in Plurality & Union.
The Church was poor, though from the late Middle Ages the Rector’s Income was supplemented by Tenure of additional Farmland belonging to the College. In 1254 its annual value was estimated at £4 13s 4d and in 1291 at £5 6s 8d; both figures may have been underestimated, however, since in the early 14thC the Tithes (excluding profits from the Glebe) were worth £8–10, and in 1535 the value was said to be £9 10s 5½d. Thereafter the Tithes were usually Leased, though in 1715 the Living was still worth less than £70 a year. From 1718 to 1852 Incumbents bolstered their low income by holding the Merton Living of Ibstone in Plurality, though in 1754 the net value of the 2 was only £120, including £70 from Cuxham. Fortunately, Cuxham’s Rectors in this period were men of independent means. In 1848 Cuxham’s Tithes were commuted for an annual Rent-charge of £192, though this sum was apparently not collected in full: in 1895 the combined Rent-charge of Cuxham & Easington was £265, but the average income only £190. Fifteen years later the gross value of the rent charge was just £165, and the net value of the Living (including Glebe Land) £172. In 1934 the net value was £295. The Glebe in the 17thC and probably in the Middle Ages included Closes around the House, 30 customary acres of Arable (probably 1¼-Yardlands), and an acre of Meadow. It remained much the same size (26a) in 1910.
The Rectory House has occupied its present Site from the Middle Ages. The Homestead included Fishponds in the 13thC and by 1504 a Dovecot; in 1614 the house itself comprised a Hall, Parlour, Bakehouse, Buttery, & Milkhouse, plus Upper Chambers and a detached Kitchen. Two Ranges of Outbuildings included a Barley Barn with Hay House & Stable, & a Cowhouse, Wheat Barn, Corn Loft, & Cool House. By 1662 the house had 7 hearths, and the long-serving Rector Leonard Yate had added Wainscot to the Parlour & Hall. A Gatehouse was mentioned in 1685, when the House & Barley Barn were both said to have 5-Bays, and the Wheat Barn 7.
John Edwards (d.1718) subsequently ‘Repaired‘ the Parsonage, which had been considerably enlarged before 1756 when it had 12-Bays. In 1823 Francis Rowden the younger rebuilt the House in Regency Style, with a Slate roof and Doric-style Porch. The building is double-depth and of 5-Bays, with a Flagstone Floor, 4-panelled doors, Marble Fireplace, and moulded Cornices. A Timber-framed Barn (dated 1750) was rebuilt as a Coach House & Stable in 1824, reconstructed in rubble & brick and attached to a high perimeter wall. After the Rector moved to Brightwell Baldwin in 1918 the house was Leased and eventually Sold.
The Old Rectory, now a Private House. c.1824. Limestone Ashlar; hipped Welsh slate Roof; brick end Stacks. Double-depth plan. Regency style. 2-Storeys; 5-window Range. 1:3:1 fenestration with hipped outer Wings. Stone Porch with Doric Columns to the left of centre: 4-panelled door with decorative Fanlight. Stone lintels over sashes; bracketed eaves. Round-arched Stair-light in the left side wall, lunette with wrought iron grill in right side wall. Sashes to rear, which has semi-circular Bay to left.
Interior: 4-panelled doors. Stone-flag Floor, marble Fireplace, moulded cornices. Dog-leg stairs with winders. Lead Pump dated 1824 in Room to right.
Barn, NNW of The Old Rectory, converted into Stables & Coach House. Barn dated 1750 on tie beam, remodelled c.1824. Originally Timber-framed. Coursed limestone rubble with early 19thC vertical brick dressings; Weatherboarded right Gable wall; half-hipped old tile Roof. Old plank double doors set in a heavy frame to central through-entry: segmental brick Arch over a blocked doorway to left. Rear wall has a segmental-arched heavy frame to central entry and segmental brick Arch over plank Coach House doors to left.
Interior: cobbled floors: segmental brick Arches over plank doors to Coach House on left, and Stables on right with 4 Stalls. Collar-truss Roof with curved under-principals, Subsidiary features: tall wall to right of limestone rubble with tile saddleback coping. Included for group value.
Pastoral Care & Religious Life – The Middle Ages
The 1st recorded Rector is Walter Foliot (a namesake & relative of the Lord of the Manor), who held the Living in the 1220s-30s. Nothing is known of his successors until Merton College acquired the Manor in 1271. Adam of Watlington (Rector 1298–1322), a former College Fellow, was probably Resident, but later Rectors until 1351 must have been largely absent. Two (John Wantage & Robert Tring) were College Wardens, and the 3rd (Walter Burton) was a Pluralist Clerk to the Bishop of Bath & Wells. Chaplains serving the Cure in their absence included Adam & Richard, both of whom were called ‘of Cuxham‘; Richard (and probably Adam too) was a non-Graduate. William Elham (d. 1387), Fellow & 2nd Bursar of Merton, became Rector in 1351 and seems to have resided, acting probably as a representative for the College in a period of labour difficulties. Ten years later he became Lessee of the Manor, and towards the end of his life was assisted by a Curate, William Laurence, who lived apparently in the Rectory House.
Subsequent Medieval Rectors, most of them former College Fellows, seem to have lived mainly in Cuxham, and William Motherby (1401–1409 or later) and Richard Colyns (1438–74) were also Lessees of the Manor. William Colyns, a ‘Husbandman’ who was Lessee in the 1460s-70s, was probably Richard’s relative, and acted as his Executor. The Pluralist Thomas Lee (1474-1502) may, unusually, have lived elsewhere, though his Pluralist successor William Ireland (1502–37) mostly resided, and in 1530 witnessed Thomas Gregory’s Will. Ireland was, however, a quarrelsome man who may have been given the Living as a way of removing him from College. At Cuxham he was accused of numerous transgressions, including (in 1511) ravishing his servant Joan Baker, in 1512 putting his own Mark on College Land, and (in 1520) keeping a Mistress, failing to maintain the Rectory House, and cutting down trees around the Churchyard.
Religious life before the 1270s may have been dominated by resident Lords, though from the later 13thC there was probably greater scope for involvement by Parishioners. An inhabitant of relatively high status was presumably buried in the Stone Coffin dug up in the Churchyard in 1817, and 14thC work on the Nave may have been at least partly paid for by local people. By the late Middle Ages the Church was dedicated to the Holy Cross (or Holy Rood), and in 1427 William Walden made a bequest to repair the lights around the Crucifix, located presumably on the High Altar mentioned in 1530. Lights associated with the Blessed Mary & St Nicholas were probably on side Altars. The level of Spiritual & Financial Investment made by individual Parishioners no doubt varied, and the Church itself may have suffered periods of relative neglect. In 1520 one Parishioner withheld 2 lamps from the Church, several others owed Tithes, and thanks to the Rector’s negligence the Chancel was in poor repair. Ten years later the incumbent William Ireland had still failed to repair the Chancel Paving.
The Reformation to 1823
Most Rectors continued to be presented by Merton College or its Representatives, the great majority being College Fellows or Graduates. The period 1537–64 was characterised by mainly short incumbencies, mostly of resident Rectors who died in Post. Many seem to have had little appetite for religious change. The Will of Robert Turner (d.1549), Curate to Richard Bower (1540–53), was conservatively worded and included Bequests for Masses, while Humphrey Burneford (1553–8), a former Chaplain of the University & Principal of St Alban Hall, was instituted in Edward VI’s final weeks, but remained in Post throughout Mary’s Reign. His Will of 1557 specified prayers and generous bequests to the Poor at the commemoration of his death. Burneford’s successor William Smith resigned in 1559 because he could not accept the Elizabethan Settlement, and his replacement Ralph Johnson (1559–63) was a former Augustinian Canon, although his Will followed Protestant formulae. Parishioners’ views are largely unknown, although in 1552–3 the Churchwardens witnessed the removal of Church Goods and presumably the Rood Screen, apparently without resistance, and none of the few surviving Laypeople’s Wills of the late 1550s or 1580s contain Catholic preambles.
Johnson’s successors John Pratt (1563–77) and Bartholomew Bushel (1577–82) were apparently non-Resident and hired Curates who included the Welshman Howell Roberts, a future Rector of Easington. Pratt was a successful Pluralist who claimed in 1578 to have been dispossessed of the Living, which he was still trying to recover 10 years later. Bushel’s successor Robert Wirrall, Presented in 1583, was apparently a non-Graduate but was judged sufficient’ in learning. 17th & 18thC Incumbents were both long-serving and generally resident. Leonard Yate (1608–62), Cuxham’s longest-serving Rector, was a Bibliophile whose varied collection included the works of Thomas More and the popular anti-Catholic Satire The Beehive of the Romish Church, and he continued to sign the Register until his death aged about 92. By then, however, the Church Fabric was probably badly neglected. The Great Bell‘ was recast during Robert Cripps’ incumbency (1663–93), and c.1685 Cripps and the Churchwardens were forced to rebuild the Church which had ‘fallen into such decay that the Parishioners durst not come into it‘. Several subsequent Rectors had Assistant Curates in their later years, amongst them William Marten (Rector 1718–43), who gave a Silver Almsplate in 1737, and John D’Oyly (Rector 1743–73), who in 1759 became 4th Baronet of Chiselhampton.
There is little indication of any marked religious enthusiasm among Villagers in this period, and Nonconformity found few adherents. In 1676 no Papists were reported, and there were only 3 Protestant Dissenters; of those, one was probably Richard Hollyman, who was evicted that year from Cuxham Mill for his Quaker beliefs. Later there were usually said to be no Nonconformists of any kind. D’Oyly was described as ‘very well’ qualified in 1745, but by 1759 there were some signs of neglect, and orders were issued to remove rubbish from the corners of the Church, to whitewash the Porch, and to provide a new Surplice.
In 1774 the living was taken by 50-year-old Francis Rowden, a former Postmaster at Merton College (through D’Oyly’s Patronage), and from 1785 a Prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral. Rowden was a man of some means who Leased the Tithes at a lower than commercial rate and occupied the Rectory for 48 years until his death aged 98 in 1822. In his later years, he was assisted by Curates including his younger son Francis, who received a small Stipend of £50 and shared the Rectory House with his father. The double Sunday Service established by 1738 was continued, but Rowden’s increasing age and infirmity may have led to some neglect. By 1799 the number of Absenters’ of meaner condition had increased, and in 1801–2 the Archdeacon ordered provision of a Bible & Prayer Book and repairs to the Church, including display of the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, & Commandments.
Francis Rowden the younger (Rector 1823–52) seems to have initiated a modest revival of Church life. Bishop Wilberforce thought him a ‘very respectable clerk, very attentive in [the] Parish‘, and during his long Incumbency he provided 2 Sunday Sermons, distributed Religious tracts to the Poor, and started a Sunday School, as well as persuading Merton College to set up a Day School. Even so, there was no increase in the number of Communicants (which had long stood at c.15), and in 1854 Rowden’s successor John Piggott (1853–91) reported an average Congregation of 50–70, which he felt did not bear a fair proportion to the Population of c.160.n He ascribed non-attendance to ‘habits of neglect and indifference long indulged on the part of several heads of families‘. The number of Dissenters had also increased since the 1830s (when none were reported), reaching a peak of 12 in 1866, and though this fell to 4 or 5 by 1878 absenteeism remained a greater problem. By 1875 over half the adult population failed to attend thanks to what Piggott described as ‘a spirit of insubordination and disaffection towards Employers & Clergy‘, allegedly stirred up by inflammatory speeches and publications of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, which had been formed 3 years earlier. In 1890 Piggott blamed a further fall in attendance on the decrease in population and ‘the intrusion of Salvationists at Service time‘, while no Churchwardens could be found because of an unwillingness to take responsibility for Fire Insurance.
Later Rectors such as Edward Fletcher (1893–1902) were evidently High Church Anglicans, but it is unclear whether this approach was popular among Parishioners. Certainly, Church attendance remained at modest levels, Thomas Hainsworth (1917–34) having only 5–10 regular Communicants. By then Cuxham lacked a permanent Anglican presence: Hainsworth and his successors lived at Brightwell Baldwin and subsequently at Ewelme, and by the 1980s Services were rotated amongst the 4 churches of Cuxham, Easington, Brightwell Baldwin, & Ewelme. In 2012 regular Church Services were attended by only 6 people, but there was a larger Congregation of c.40 (including some outsiders) at United Benefice Services & Major Festivals.
The church was largely rebuilt c.1685, though part of the Roof may have been recycled. Drawings of 1806–22 show a small plain Church with a low Chancel, a Nave, and a West Tower. Restoration work was apparently carried out in 1850 and in 1895 the Rector Edward Fletcher commissioned the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Architect Clapton Rolfe to rebuild the Chancel in Gothic style, complete with Piscina & Sedilia. The work, which cost c.£400, was paid for by donations, including £100 from Merton College. Oak panelling fitted on the Southside of the Nave in 1925 was recycled from a screen by Sir Christopher Wren removed from Merton College Chapel in 1851. The Pews are partly Victorian but may include some 17thC woodwork. The Church contains a Memorial to the Gregory Family and Brass Plaques in Memory of 4 Village men killed in WW1 and 4 in WW2. Electric lighting was installed in 1947 and Heating in 1968, and the Roof was repaired in 1992.
Cuxham’s Church – is the Church of the Holy Rood, the origins of which are pre-Norman. The Bell Tower is Norman and the Chancel & Sanctuary were added in the 19thC. The Gothic windows on the Northside of the Nave were inserted in the 14thC and some of the windows in the Tower were added in the 15thC. The windows on the South side of the Nave were probably inserted in the 17thC and the Church was heavily restored in the 18thC. The Gothic Revival Architect C C Rolfe rebuilt the Chancel in 1895.
Holy Rood Church. Early 12thC, early 14thC and mid 18thC alterations; Chancel rebuilt 1895 by C C Rolfe. Coursed chalk rubble, limestone ashlar dressings; Chancel of coursed and dressed Limestone; gabled late 19thC Tile Roof, except old tiles on part of Nave Roof and pyramidal old tile Tower Roof. Chancel, Nave & West Tower. Hood moulds over 3 ogee-headed East lights; North Vestry has chamfered light and pointed chamfered Doorway; 3-light South window. Nave has early 14thC 2-light ogee-headed windows and 2 18thC Memorial Tablets to North, and 2 mid 18thC 2-light round-arched brick-mullioned windows to South. West Tower has string-course, round-headed Lancets and rebuilt early 12thC doorway, with rebuilt Arch, interlace Capitals set on spiral-fluted jamb Shafts and Stones at the Base of jambs with scrolled carvings: 18thC studded door. Rebuilt round-arched West doorway has some early 12thC billet-carved Voussoirs: late 19thC double-leaf doors.
Interior: Chancel of 1895 has Sedilia, Piscina and pointed Chancel Arch. Nave has 17thC panelled Pulpit reset on late 19thC base and 13 rows of early 18thC Pews, with bolection panelled rear of South wall. Floor Tablet inscribed MB/1688, and Brass to John Gregory, d.1501, with 2 wives & children; late 19thC Font; early 19thC wall Monument in Memory of Mary Gregory, d.1688, and 2 19thC wall Tablets. 18thC 2-tier 4-bay Queen-Post Roof with curved Arch Braces.
Next to the Church is the Village Hall which was built in 1848 and was originally the National School. The original build of 1848 was of 3-Bays, entered by means of a Central doorway (without a Porch) and probably divided by a Partition into 2 separate spaces. The Roof Structure of the original building consisting of members made of ‘flat iron bars sandwiched by terracotta blocks’ was remarkable and it would be interesting to know where the idea came from and if any other buildings were made using the technique. Was it patented? Do the Merton records show who built it? Have any parts of the ‘clay rafters’ been saved for study when they were removed some 10 years ago? The Northern extension of 1911 was remarkably sympathetic to the original of 63 years earlier, apart from the use of plain red Tile for the Roof, and as this material was also used on the Porch, so perhaps that, too, is early 20thC. This extension, with a further Fireplace, allowed separation of the space into 2 reasonably sized Classrooms. The Kitchen extension of 1965 and the toilets of 1974 are products of their time before the building was listed. It is disappointing that the Spade Tiles were taken from the Roof so soon after the listing, but if a sample was kept it might be possible to reinstate them at some future date if funds were available.
Since 1983 Holy Rood has been part of a United Benefice with Easington, Brightwell Baldwin & Ewelme.
Easington (St Peter), a Parish, in the Union of Thame, Hundred of Ewelme, County of Oxford, 4 miles (SW by S) from Tetsworth; containing 24 inhabitants. It comprises 200 acres; the soil is a kind of Chalky Loam, and the surface is elevated. The Living is a discharged Rectory, valued in the King’s Books at £4 12s 6d, and in the Gift of the Bishop of Lincoln: the Tithes have been commuted for £73 14s, and the Glebe contains nearly 6 acres.
The Easington Parish Church of Saint Peter was built in the 14thC. It consists of a continuous Nave & Chancel with no Chancel Arch between them. The Chancel masonry is Ashlar, noticeably better-dressed and more evenly coursed than that of the Nave. The Church Building includes a 12thC Norman Doorway re-used from an earlier Church on the same site. The Font is tub-shaped, suggesting that it too is Norman. The Chancel windows are Perpendicular Gothic. The East window has ogee Tracery and includes 14th century stained glass. The Piscina also is ogeed. Beside the East window on the East wall are the remains of a Mediaeval wall painting. The woodwork of the Pulpit and Reading Desk are Jacobean items carved in the 17thC. The Pulpit bears the date 1633 but Sherwood & Pevsner suggest that it was assembled in the 19thC from Jacobean materials.