A Priest at Emmington is mentioned in about 1190, and from the 1st recorded Presentation in 1224, when Sir Geoffrey de Sackville was Patron, the Advowson in the Middle Ages Descended with the Manor. In 1317 and 1319, during the Minority of Andrew de Sackville, the King Presented. In the 1470s the Advowson was the subject of Litigation between Humphrey Sackville, Lord of the Manor, and Thomas Rookes of Fawley (Bucks), who had long been claiming Emmington Manor. Rookes Presented to Emmington Church in 1474, and when in 1476 he was sued by Humphrey Sackville for the Advowson, he apparently claimed that after the death of Andrew de Sackville in 1369 without Legitimate heirs, it should have been inherited by Thomas de Sackville of Fawley. He seems to have won his case, for he Presented again in 1480. In 1482 he gave up his claim to Emmington Manor, and the Advowson then returned to the Sackvilles. On the death of Sir Richard Sackville in 1524, the Manor was inherited by his eldest son John; the Richard Sackville who sold the Presentation of 1537 may have been either John’s younger brother or John’s son and heir, Sir Richard Sackville.
On the latter’s death in 1566 he left the Advowson with the Manor for life to his wife, who married as her 2nd husband the Marquess of Winchester. Although the Queen Presented by Lapse in 1584, Lady Winchester sold the Presentation of 1585 to Thomas Whitfield, a Sussex Gentleman, who Presented William Whitfield, no doubt a relative. In 1577, when Sir Thomas Sackville sold the Reversion of the Manor, the Advowson was excluded from the Sale; but by a separate Transaction he sold the next 3 Presentations to Sir George Peckham, who had also bought the Manor and gave them with the Manor to his younger son George. George Peckham sold them to William Hampden, who also became Lord of the Manor. Hampden Presented in 1605 and Richard Hampden did so in 1638, when Barton Holiday became Rector, and he probably also Presented again later on.
The Advowson, however, belonged to the Sackville Family until Richard, the 3rd Marquess, sold it. It was the subject of several Legal Transactions, and in 1639 it was bought by John Coulding of Hill Court in Longdon (Worcs). In 1676 his son Edward sold it for £100, and later the same year it was bought for £110 by Henry Ashhurst, and thus became reunited with the Manor, the descent of which it followed until Magdalen College in 1948 sold it to the Diocesan Board of Patronage.
Emmington, being such a small Parish, has never been rich. In 1254 it was valued at £2, in 1291 at £4 6s 8d, and in 1535 at £11 os 2¼d. By the early 18th century its value was said to be not more than £80. The income of the Rector came from the Tithes, which were commuted in 1848 for £196 10s.
The Parish was unusual in having hardly any Glebe. None is mentioned in a Terrier of 1676, and in the 19th century, only an acre of Pasture was recorded.
In the Middle Ages, the poverty of the Living probably made it a difficult one to fill. In the 13th century 2 sub-Deacons were Instituted and although Hugh de Chausey (1317–19) was a University Graduate, he was a Pluralist. Another 14th-century Parson, Simon John, left his Parish in 1371 to go overseas. Two Graduates held the Living in the 15th century, but as both died soon after being Instituted they were probably old men when they came to Emmington. In about 1520 the Rectory was Let, and the Rector was non-Resident. This was not the case in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when William Whitfield (1585–1605) had 9 children and Richard Rastell (1605–38) had 13 baptised in the Church. The next Rector, however, was non-Resident, for he was Barton Holiday (1638–c. 1646), Archdeacon of Oxford and a Royalist, who was Chaplain to Charles I and was sequestered from Emmington. A later 17th-century Rector, John Hammatt (1685–95), earned Anthony Wood’s scorn, being described as a ‘sniveling non-conforming, conforming Vicar,’ and the Writer of a ‘pitiful, canting and silly discourse‘ for a Sermon.
In the 18th century Sir Henry Ashhurst, a low Churchman, instructed his Trustees to appoint separate Rectors for Emmington and Waterstock, who should Preach ‘Calvinistical‘ Doctrines. Emmington, however, probably on account of the smallness of the Parish, was held with Waterstock from 1726. Nevertheless, it was not neglected. Although Edward Lewis (Rector 1725–85) lived at Waterstock he always conducted the 2 Sunday Services at Emmington and preached the Sermon; the Catechism was taught at Easter according to the 18th-century custom, but it was said in 1781 that the Classes were ill-attended, the children being unwilling to come because they were so poorly clothed; from 10 to 22 Communicants were recorded at the Quarterly Administrations of the Sacrament. If anything happened on a weekday which required the Parson’s attention, someone had orders to let Lewis know at once. Towards the end of the Century, when he was very old, and in the early 19th century, when one Curate served Emmington, Chinnor, & Crowell, the number of Communicants dropped and Services were less frequent, but a Sunday School was started in 1820.
During much of the 19th century the Rector was Sir William Augustus Musgrave (Rector 1827–72), also Rector of Chinnor and a landowner there. Few attended the one Service: according to Bishop Wilberforce sometimes only the Rector and his Clerk were present. The Churchwardens’ Accounts for 1837 contain the entry: ‘No service Sunday after Christmas. Snow blown into the Church. Sacrament not administered and wine reserved for Sunday after Easter.‘ With the return of a Resident Rector, Greville Henry Lambert (1872–1908), the son of Sir Henry Lambert, Bt, of Aston House, there was a revival of Church Life. He restored the Church and rebuilt the Rectory, which had long been unsuitable for a Rector’s Residence and had been Let first to the Parish Clerk and then to a Labourer. In the 20th century the Living has usually been held with Chinnor, where the Rector lives, and the Rectory has again been Let.
The Church of St Nicholas is a small Stone Building dating mainly from the 19th century. It comprises a Chancel, Nave, and 14th-century Tower. Before they were rebuilt in 1873–4 the Nave and Chancel appear also to have been substantially of the 14th century, but in the course of demolition the Architect found what he believed to be ‘relics of Norman masonry worked in the walls‘, thus suggesting ‘that an earlier church stood on the same spot‘. Buckler’s drawing of 1822 from the South-east shows that the East window of 3 lights had early Decorated Tracery and that there were 2 windows of the same date in the South wall of the Chancel. The Tower of 2 Stages had a steeply pitched Saddle-back Roof. The Nave Roof was of a slightly lower level than that of the Chancel. The round Font on a moulded Circular Base appears to date from the 13th century.
The windows were once filled with stained glass. At the Herald’s Visitation of 1574 Lee recorded 16 Shields in 5 windows, bearing the Arms of Malyns, Sackville, De la Beche, Hampden, and others. Neither Wood nor Rawlinson has left any description, and the Archdeacon’s Orders of 1759 are the only surviving record of the Church in the 18th century. A new Reading-desk and Pulpit were to be made partly out of the old material, the King’s Arms were to be painted over the door into the Belfry and of a smaller compass, and the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Commandments, and Texts were also to be painted.
Repairs to the Church and Chancel were carried out in 1802–3 and 1841, but their state in 1852 was nevertheless described as ‘very dilapidated‘.
In 1873–4 the Church was rebuilt on the old Foundation except for the North wall of the Nave and the exterior of the Tower. It has an open Timber Roof and Tiled Floor. The Architect of the Chancel was Charles Buckeridge of Oxford and London and the Builder was Giles Holland of Thame. The cost, including that of the interior fittings, was £952. Herbert Wykeham of Tythrop House bore the cost of rebuilding the Nave and the Rector mainly paid for the Chancel. The new Woodwork to the Interior of the Tower and the rehanging of the Bells was paid for by the 3 Farmers of the Parish, all of the North Family. When completed the Church seated 120, as it had done before its restoration. It was still (c.1958) lit by Lamps and Candles.
The Armorial glass had evidently been removed before Parker’s visit in about 1850, and no other Ancient Monuments or Church fittings remain. A carved Reredos of the Ascension in memory of the Rev Greville H Lambert was dedicated in 1908. There are Memorial Tablets to Thomas D Crowdy, who died in WW1, and to the Rev Leonard Baldwyn (d.1935). An Oak Reading-desk was installed as a Memorial to 4 Parishioners who died in WW1.
In 1553 the only Church Plate was a Chalice without a Cover. In 1958 there were a Silver Chalice, without a Paten cover, of 1575, and a Silver Paten of 1873. In 1553 there were 3 Bells and in 1958 there were still 3 Bells: the 2nd of about 1550 by one of the Appowells of Buckingham, the Tenor of 1584, and the Treble of 1664. There was also a Sanctus Bell of 1723.
The Registers date from 1539, but there is a gap between about 1640 and 1715. There are Churchwardens’ Accounts for 1818–70 and 1874.
The only Roman Catholic ever recorded in the Parish was Isabel Franklin, the wife of Henry Franklin, in 1641.
As Sir Henry Ashhurst in the 18th century wished to have a ‘Calvinistical‘ Rector it is possible that the Presentation of low-church Rectors prevented the growth of Nonconformity in the Parish. There is no Record of any Protestant Nonconformist until 1759, when one Servant was returned as an Anabaptist. In 1781 the Rector reported that a Family of Anabaptists was newly come into the Parish; in 1801 the numbers of Anabaptists were given as 2 or 3 and in 1808 there were 4 but no Teacher. In 1834 there was one Dissenting Family. In 1840 the house of William Wade was Licensed as a Meeting-house, but it did not long survive, although Dissent became stronger. In 1854 the Rector believed Dissent to be the cause of his small Congregations, and in 1866 he estimated that there were 80 Dissenters, who went to the Chapels at Sydenham or Chinnor.
In 1778 the Rector reported that the people were ‘very ignorant‘, and in 1781 that few children in the Parish could read and that they were so ill clothed that they were unwilling to come to be Catechised. No kind of Education existed for the Village children until 1820 when a Sunday School was started. In 1833 the Rector and P T H Wykeham, the Lord of the Manor, supported it and there were 26 boys and girls. This was still flourishing in 1834 and in 1854, when there were 28 children. There is no record of any Day-School. The children went to Chinnor School in 1871 and to Sydenham in 1878. They still attended Sydenham school in 1920, but were later transferred to Chinnor where they attended in 1956.
By 1676 the Church owned 3 ‘Lands’, known as Church Lands, in Chinnor Common Field. These had been given at a time and by a person unknown for the repair of the Church and during the 18th century they were let for £1 a year. This is the Charity which was reported upon in about 1822 by the Charity Commissioners, who found that a Rent of the same value, arising from 2 ‘Lands’ in ‘the Open-field’, was being applied to the relief of the Poor. This Land, the Commissioners were told, had been given by an old woman to buy Communion Wine, but as the cost of the wine exceeded the Income from the Land the Rent was paid into the General Parish Account, and the cost of the wine like other Church expenses was met out of the Poor Rate. In 1931 Emmington Church Land was let for £3. No later information about the Charity has been discovered.