Tetsworth Church

Since 1841 Tetsworth has been a Vicarage in Aston Deanery, but like Sydenham & Towersey (Bucks) it was formerly a Chapelry of the Prebendal Church of Thame, and was, therefore, in the Peculiar Jurisdiction of Thame.   Architectural evidence shows that the Church was in existence by the 11th or early 12thC, but its early History is not known.  It may not have always been a Chapel of Thame, but may once have had an Independent Ecclesiastical position, for in the late 12thC its Priest was called ‘Presbyter’ or ‘Persona’.  Its relationship to the Church of Thame is 1st defined in the mid-13thC (see below). In 1841 Richard Slater, who had bought the Advowson of Thame, made its Chapelries into separate Vicarages and Vested their Advowsons in Trustees known as the Peache Trustees.

The Revenue of the 3 Chapelries of Thame was divided according to the Ordination of Thame Vicarage, made in the time of Bishop Grosseteste (1235–53), between the Prebendary of Thame, the Vicar of Thame & the Chaplains of the 3 Churches or Chapels.

The Holder of the Prebend, who was also a Landowner in Tetsworth, collected the Great Tithes and the Tithes of Wool and Hay; the Vicar of Thame was entitled to the rest of the Tithes; and the 3 Chaplains each received what was the smallest part of the Church Income and Property, the Revenue from his Altar and from the House & Land belonging to his Church.  The Prebendary was responsible for the upkeep of the Chancel; the Vicar had the Duty of nominating the Chaplain and could remove him with the consent of the Prebendary; he also had to provide all the Books and Ornaments needed in the Chapel; the Chaplain was expected to meet Ordinary and Extraordinary payments, except for certain contributions ‘decreed of old in the Chapter of Lincoln‘ or to be decreed in the future, which were to be paid by the Prebendary.

After the Dissolution of the Prebend in 1547, the Great Tithes belonged to the Lay Rector, and in 1842 his Tetsworth Tithes were commuted for a Rent-charge of £210, and in 1848 his Attington Tithes were commuted for £18-10s.  The Vicar of Thame continued to collect the small Tithes, which were commuted in 1842 for a Rent-charge of £115, but he became responsible for either serving Tetsworth Church himself or for paying a Curate as the Chaplain’s Endowment had practically disappeared: the Altar offerings virtually ceased after the Reformation and there is no mention of Glebe in Tetsworth except for 20 Tithe-free acres which belonged to the Rector of Wheatfield.

When, in 1841, the Living was separated from that of Thame, it was Endowed with the Vicarial Rent-charge of £115, which was increased in 1848 by a similar charge of £6 10s from the small Tithes of Attington.  Between 1842 & 1844 the Living was also augmented by £600 from Queen Anne’s Bounty, £650 from the Vicar, J W Peers & £260 from other Benefactors.

The History of the Peculiar of Thame is not well documented and little is known of Medieval Church life.  The names of some Priests who lived in Tetsworth in the late 12thC are recorded.  From about 1180 for some 20-yrs there was William the Priest, who had a house in the Village; in about 1200 the Parson of Tetsworth was named Roger.  One of these may have been married, for a few years later the ‘son of the Priest‘ was holding a Virgate.  Also living in the Parish in the late 12thC was another Clerk named Alan, whose wife Clarissa was the niece of Robert Chevauchesul, Lord of the Manor. They were wealthy enough to give 2-Virgates of Land to Thame Abbey.

The Ordination of Thame Vicarage makes it clear that in the Middle Ages Tetsworth had its own Chaplain, who was supposed to have a Clerk to live with him in his House and help him Serve the Church.  The names of a few of these Chaplains are known, but nothing more.

In the mid-15thC, a Hermitage & a Chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist were built in Tetsworth, but they were Independent of the Parish Priest.  When the Guild of St Christopher in Thame was founded in 1447, the Wardens were allowed to Found this Hermitage and build a Chapel for the Hermit.  The latter was permitted to acquire Lands to the value of £2 a year; he was to pray for the King & Queen and for the Members of the Guild, and to keep the High Road in repair.

By the 16thC, and probably before, Tetsworth had its own Churchwardens. They are recorded in the Accounts of the Wardens of Thame in 1532 as paying 1s-6d for Peter’s Pence.  Judging from the 17thC Churchwardens’ Presentments in the Peculiar Court, the Parish was well conducted at this Period.  They usually reported that there were no Recusants or any who refused Communion and that the Fabric was in good order.  On one occasion they said there was no Service Book and asked for a month’s grace in which to get the Book.

After the Reformation, Tetsworth continued to have its own Curate, but as the Living was so Poor he probably also held another Living.  The list of Curates, however, is incomplete and little is known of the history of the Church at this Period.  The Churchwardens’ Presentments from the 1670’s state that the Minister, wearing his ‘Priestly Habit‘, performed the full Church Service on Sundays and Holy Days.  After 1686, when the last 17thC Curate of Tetsworth died,  the Church was usually Served either by the Vicar of Thame or his Curate, and in the 2nd half of the 18thC the Vicar complained that he had to serve both Thame and its Chapels either by himself or with the help of one other Minister.   Little record of 18thC Services has been found, but in the middle of the Century, Tetsworth was known as the only Church in the District which had no more than one Service on Sundays.  Earlier when Samuel Thornbury (1722– 51), who was also Rector of Stoke Talmage, lived in Tetsworth, things may have been better.  His letter to the Bishop in 1745 asking for a Gift of Tracts to be distributed among his Parishioners is evidence of his interest.

A revival of Church life took place at the beginning of the 19thC when Henry Campbell, a man with an ‘independent fortune‘, became Curate.  He said that when he came to the Parish in 1804 he found the people very ‘discordant among themselves, very profligate, and very ignorant‘.  Sundays were spent mostly in ‘low profligacy‘ and Sport, especially Cricket, which he had succeeded in stopping, at least during Church Services. Among the few who went to Church he found ‘an old grudge‘ about Seats in the Gallery, which the Churchwarden had settled.  To rid himself of the Choir, as he disapproved of its 4 members, he introduced singing throughout the Congregation.  The Parishioners had then asked for a selection of Psalms & Hymns, and he had obtained the one in use in Leicester Church.  One of his special aims was to start a Sunday school so as to draw the children, who spent Sundays ‘in all kinds of idleness & vice‘, into the Church. The Churchwardens and several others approved of this Plan, but it was opposed by others who declared that they would never give a shilling for ‘the instruction of the poor‘.

Partly by these measures, Campbell aroused resentment in the Parish, and a complaint made to the Bishop stated specifically that he was not using the proper form in the Church Services and more generally that his Services were drawing Dissenters away from their own Meeting and that there must be some reason for this.  Campbell admitted to having 2 or 3 times inadvertently omitted a minor part of the Service; and he later admitted that he had broken the Act of Uniformity by omitting ‘the Church Service‘ (no doubt Evensong) and had instead gathered the children in the Chancel on Sunday Evening, catechising them, explaining parts of the Bible to them, and concluding with 2 or 3 Collects from the Communion Service.  To justify his conduct, which he agreed was wrong, he wrote that he was trying to draw Dissenters back to the Church, that some who had gone to the Chapel ‘from not having something to do‘ now went to Church. Far from being Calvinistic, he said he tried to follow the writings of William Jones of Nayland and Charles Daubeny, 2 Theological Writers of repute with High-Church leanings.

The whole story is not known nor is the end of it.  At one point the Bishop demanded Campbell’s immediate dismissal by the Vicar of Thame; he may have later relented, but Campbell did not remain long in Tetsworth (his name does not appear in the Parish Register) and the Parish was returned to the care of Timothy Lee, the Vicar of Thame.

In 1841, when Tetsworth became a separate Living, it again had its own Vicar. The 1st was J W Peers (1841–76), a member of the Chislehampton Family, who took the place in the Village of a Lord of the Manor.  He took an active part in Parochial Administration, taking the Chair at Vestry Meetings, and either beginning or following the practice of naming one Churchwarden while the Parish named the other. In 1846 he built a ‘handsome & commodiousVicarage, rebuilt the Church (see below) & built the School.  He held frequent Services, with 2 Sermons on Sundays and more than 12 Communions a year, but the number of Communicants, 16 or 17, remained small.  Towards the end of the Century, however, numbers both of Communicants and of the Congregation increased.

By 1911 the Ecclesiastical Parish had been enlarged by the addition of Attington, whose inhabitants had long been accustomed to attend Tetsworth church,  and the Living became formally known as Tetsworth with Attington.  The status of Attington, which was a part of the Parish of Thame in the Middle Ages, was somewhat uncertain in the post-Reformation Period.  It’s few inhabitants probably attended Tetsworth Church and so 18thC documents sometimes refer to the Parish ‘called Tetsworth & Attington‘, and even to the ‘Parish of Attington‘.  In the 19thC, Attington was considered extra-Parochial.  No evidence has been found that it ever had any Churchwardens and it does not appear to have paid either Tithes or Church Rates.  It may have been exempted in the Middle Ages as it mostly belonged to Thame Abbey.


The present church of St Giles, which was entirely rebuilt in 1855, is a Stone Building consisting of Chancel, Nave, South Aisle with Tower & Spire rising over the South Porch, & North Vestry.  The smaller Medieval Church which it replaced is stated to have contained some long-and-short work of Anglo-Saxon date in the North-west Corner, but the Main Structure dated from the early 12thC.  It consisted of a single Nave & Chancel, separated by a Romanesque Arch, plain & very narrow.  The round Arch of the South doorway had an elaborate inner moulding.  Its Tympanum was carved with the figures of a Bishop, in Pontificals with a Crozier in his left hand and giving a Benediction with his right hand, and of a Priest holding in his left hand an open Book and pointing with his right hand to the Pascal Lamb & Banner within a Nimbus.  The North Doorway, destroyed in 1855, was of the same age & character, but simpler in design.  There was also a window of the same Period in the North wall of the Chancel,  and a Romanesque Piscina which were destroyed at the same time.  The Chancel was rebuilt in the 13thC. The 3-light East window and the 3 single Lancets in the South wall shown in early 19thC drawings were of the Period.  The steeply Pitched Roof of the Chancel was raised to a higher level than that of the Nave.

In the 15thC, windows were inserted in the Nave, 2 in the South wall, and perhaps the same number in the North wall. G E Street described their Architecture in 1851 as more elaborate than those proposed for the new Church.  The South Porch made of Oak was also of this Period;  the square Wooden Belfry of the Dove-cot type, which was in existence in the 19thC was of uncertain date.  Almost no record has survived of work done to the Fabric after the Reformation until the 19thC rebuilding.  It is recorded that the Chancel windows were out of repair in 1681.  Between 1708 & 1713 Church Rates of more than normal amount were raised and repairs were presumably carried out.  The Church appears to have been in good condition when Rawlinson visited it in 1718: his only comment on the Building was that it was ‘very ordinary‘.  During the incumbency of John W Peers plans for a new Church were considered.  The Diocesan Architect, G E Street, reported in 1851 that portions of the Fabric of the old Church were ‘of very considerable merit, and in good preservation‘ and that the Chancel was ‘very perfect‘. He thought it ‘very inadvisable‘ to allow their destruction.


In spite of attempts by the Bishop to save the Church, it was decided to rebuild on the same Site. The Architect was John Billing of Reading; the cost was £2,250.  The building was consecrated by Bishop Wilberforce in 1855.  The design of the new Church was in the Early English Style; it has been little altered since and remains a characteristic example of Victorian Church building. It figures in the background of a contemporary oil painting of the Rev J W Peers and his Family.  All the interior fittings were replaced at the restoration, including the Pulpit installed in 1626, and the old Pews with Doors.   The Commandments, the Creed, & Lord’s Prayer were painted on the East wall of the Chancel.  An Organ was installed in 1877 and a new heating system in 1922; Choir Desks were presented by S A Fane in 1924; Electric Light was installed in 1936.


During the restoration, many Medieval & later Memorial Inscriptions and all the Heraldic glass were destroyed. The glass included the Arms of Adrian de Bardis, Prebendary of Thame, in the Chancel, and the Arms of Peppard of Lachford (Great Haseley) and of Doyley in other windows.  Drawings of these were made by F G Lee and also of a fragment of an early Medieval Monumental Slab with a Floriated Cross.  The early 16thC Brass Effigies of John Gryning, his wife Alys, and their 3 children were once in the Nave.  Another Ancient Brass in the Chancel had gone by the early 19thC.  There were also Memorials to Francis Fosset Sr (d.1705), and to his wife Mary (d.1702); to 2 infants (d.1708) of Christopher Newell, Clerk, and his wife Ann; and to Ann (d.1773), daughter of Richard Hobday.
In 1958 there were several Memorials to the Cozens Family:
(1) Thomas (d.1789) and his wife Esther (d.1806) and Thomas (d.1834)
(2) Robert (d.1797)
(3) John (d.1879) and his wife Charlotte (d.1860) and their daughter (d.1903);
(4) Ellen (d.1915), Widow of John Cozens, and Mary Cozens (d.1920).
There were also tablets to J W Peers (Vicar 1841–76) erected by the Parishioners; to W J R Latham, killed in France in 1918; and a stained glass window at the east end to A E Hutt (d.1923), who was People’s Warden for 33-yrs.  It was designed by Lawrence Willis of London.

In 1552 the Church was poorly furnished with only a Chalice & a Surplice.  In 1958 it had a pewter paten, flagon & alms-plate, dating from the 18thC, and a Silver Chalice of 1842.

In 1552 there were only 3 Bells, but in 1718 there were 5 small Bells all ‘not above 160lb. weight‘ according to Rawlinson.  Later in the Century, there were said to be 6-Bells, as there were in 1853.  In 1958 there was still a Ring of 6, which had been recast in 1936 by Mears & Stainbank in their Whitechapel Foundry.  Three of these had been cast in 1695 by Richard Keene, a 4th in 1702 and the Tenor, though ‘broken‘ in 1683, does not appear to have been recast until 1787 and then largely through the generosity of William Hobday.  The Treble was provided in 1853.

The Registers date from 1604 for Baptisms, 1625 for marriages & 1653 for burials. The Churchwardens’ Accounts begin in 1833.

The Churchwardens’ Presentments throughout the 17thC state that there were no Popish Recusants in the Parish and no evidence for any Roman Catholicism has been found later.

The Compton Census of 1676 recorded 3 Nonconformists, but otherwise, there is no record of Protestant Dissent before the 19thC. By 1804 it was apparently flourishing. In that year the house of Robert Caterer was Licensed as a Dissenting Meeting-house.  This may be the ‘Methodist Chapel‘ referred to in correspondence of 1804 between the Bishop and Henry Campbell, who was serving as Curate and who claimed to have drawn many Dissenters back from the Chapel to the Church.  He considered the Chapel to be at a very low ebb and likely soon to be lower. The Methodist Preacher is said to have found Campbell’s attention to children and young people ‘the most formidable opposition‘.  Campbell, however, did not long remain in Tetsworth, and on his departure Dissent may have again increased.

In 1818 the Private School kept by Isaac Caterer was Licensed as a Meeting-house,  in 1823 a Chapel was Built, and in 1824 a Sunday School started.  A Deed of Sale of the newly erected Chapel shows that the Caterer Family had played a leading part: Mrs Mary Caterer and Mr Robert Caterer and others sold it in 1825 to William Wiffen, the Minister at Thame, and others. In 1828 Robert Caterer left Tetsworth with his Family to become Minister of Rotherfield Peppard.

In 1842 Tetsworth came under the care of the Oxfordshire & West Berkshire Congregational Association, but 5-yrs later, when a Baptist Pastor was appointed, the Association withdrew its annual Grant.  In 1851 the chapel, described as Independent, had about 30 in its Congregation.   The Wesleyans, who in 1835 had registered a Private House as a Meeting-place and still had a separate Meeting in 1842, may by now have joined the Chapel, for in 1854 the Vicar described it as ‘mongrel‘, since it had a Baptist Pastor and a Wesleyan and Independent Congregation.  Two more Wesleyan Ministers were appointed and in consequence, Tetsworth was not readmitted until 1864 to the local Congregational Association. This Association became in 1868 the Berks, South Oxon, and South Bucks Congregational Association (later Union).  Between 1877 & 1886 the Church was without a Minister, but the appointment of Thomas Scott in 1886 led to the Building of the present Chapel, next to the old one, in 1890 at a cost of £850.  The old Chapel continued to be used as a Sunday School.  In 1892 the average Sunday Congregation was 97, and there were 90 children in the Sunday School.  The Chapel organised a Young Peoples’ Guild, a Band of Hope, a Temperance Society, a Mothers’ Meeting and a Coat & Clothing Club. In the early years of the 20th century the Chapel was again without a Pastor and became a Preaching Station of Mansfield College, Oxford. Later it was served 1st by the Minister of Benson and then by that of Thame.  In 1958 it had only 4 members.

Mrs Harriette Tawse, of Child’s Hill, London, by Will proved 1905, left 2 Cottages for the maintenance of the Chapel Fabric or the general purposes of the Congregation. The Cottages were sold and the proceeds invested in £100 Stock.  The income, c.£4, does not seem to have been paid after 1925Thomas Deverill, by Will proved 1922, left, subject to his wife’s life interest, £200 Stock, the income on which was to be applied to the maintenance of the Chapel Services.  The money became payable in 1939.

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