Pishill Church


Church. Norman and late 13thC rebuilt 1854 for Rev C E Rucke-Keene.  Coursed flint rubble with limestone Ashlar quoins and Dressings; gabled old tile Roof.  Chancel, Nave and North Transept.  Gothic Revival style.  East window of 3 stepped Lancets: South wall of Chancel has one- and 2-light Lancets. South wall of Nave has Gabled Porch with Lancets and pointed Doorway to double-leaf plank Doors: pointed South doorway to South Door.  Porch flanked by Lancet and 3-light ogee-headed window.  Lean-to North Vestry has 2-light Lancet and shoulder-headed doorway to ribbed Door.  North Transept has 1- and 2-light trefoil-headed windows and 13thC trefoil-headed North-West window. Louvred Bellcote over 2 Lancets in West Gable.
Interior: fine Tile Reredos, 1873 by Powell & Sons. Mid 19thC Chancel Roof, Pulpit, Lectern, Benches and Organ.  14thC Octagonal Font with mid-19thC Cover.  Nave has wall Brass to Rev C E Rucke-Keene, d.1880, and North Transept (Stonor Aisle) has floor Tablets to Simon Doe, d.1659, and one dated 1760s. North Transept Roof retains 16thC Arch-braced Collar-truss. Stained glass: fine Chancel windows of 1871, South-West window of 1967 by John Piper, window East of Porch by Cox and Son.

, a Vicarage in Aston Deanery, was in Dorchester Peculiar until the peculiar Jurisdiction came to an end in the 1840s.  In 1854 the Ecclesiastical Parish was considerably enlarged by the addition of the detached portion of Pyrton called Assendon Liberty, containing Stonor Park and the Hamlet of Upper Assendon; of 3 parts of Watlington, 2 of which (Warmscombe liberty, and Patemore Field and the Poor Allotment) were detached; and of a detached Portion of Britwell Prior.

Pishill church was 1st mentioned in a Papal Confirmation of a Grant to Dorchester Abbey, made between 1146 & 1163, by Stephen of Pishill, the Lord of Pishill Napper Manor.  If, as seems likely, Pishill Napper was once in the Parish of Watlington the creation of the Parish of Pishill and the building of its Church must surely have taken place before 1129 when Oseney was Founded.  After that date, the permission of the Abbey, the Rector of Watlington, would have been required and there is no record of this in the Cartulary.  Since the land and Tithes belonging to the Church were Granted with it, as well as a Carucate of Stephen’s Demesne, appropriation probably followed immediately. A Vicarage was never endowed, and Dorchester kept the Rectory until its Dissolution in 1536.

Immediately after the Reformation the Descent of the Rectory is obscure: in 1545, when it was in the Tenure of Roger Hatchman, the Crown Granted it to Roger & Robert Taverner.  By 1615 the Rectory, including the right of Presentation, was in the possession of the Stonor Family.  Pishill was their nearest Church, and the acquisition of the Rectory and Advowson would, therefore, be desirable. Sir Francis Stonor settled the Rectories of Pishill and Nettlebed on his eldest son Henry in 1620.

The Stonors held the Property until the early 19th century, a curious anomaly as the Family was a Roman Catholic one.

From the 13th century Nettlebed, also a Chapel of Dorchester, and Pishill, although separate Parishes, were usually considered as one Benefice: in 1537 Pishill Hamlet and the Rectory of Nettlebed were Rated together; in 1540 Pishill was even called a Chapel of Nettlebed; and in 1718 Rawlinson described it as annexed to Nettlebed.  Nevertheless in 1811 Nettlebed and Pishill were certified as distinct Benefices.  The Benefice was a Curacy, either Perpetual or a Donative: in 1718 Rawlinson was told that it was a Donative at, £15 a year,  but on other occasions, it was thought to be a Perpetual Curacy.  Since the Bishop did not Institute to the Living, there are few records of Presentations, but it seems probable that before the 19th century the Stonors, in spite of being Roman Catholics, usually acted as Patrons. Thomas Stonor certainly did in 1681 and another Thomas Stonor was planning to do so in 1789 when he asked Lord Macclesfield if he knew of a suitable Curate.  In 1738, however, the Patronage was granted for 20 years to Benjamin Bathurst and in the early 19th century Thomas Stonor considered himself legally unable to appoint, and in 1811 he leased the Right to a Protestant friend.  Apart from the position under English law, the Roman Catholics decided at an Episcopal Assembly in 1810 that it was unlawful for a Catholic to nominate a Protestant to a Benefice.

In 1811, owing to the difficulty of finding a Minister to serve so poor a Living, the Legal position of the Benefice came under review.  The Rectory had belonged to the Stonors for about 200 years, but a thorough search of the Family Papers and the Public Records failed to reveal how or from whom it had been acquired.  It was noted that it had long been the custom to pay the Curate £35 a year, but the origin of this arrangement could not be found and therefore its Legal validity was uncertain.  Nor was it certain whether Pishill & Nettlebed, once separate, were then one or 2 Livings; and legal opinion was divided about the Laws affecting Donatives.

Stonor was faced with a complex situation. If he left the Churches without a Curate for more than 6 months, either the Official of the Peculiar of Dorchester might appoint someone ‘who will give me trouble‘, or the Bishop might Excommunicate him for his failure to Appoint.  If he increased the Stipend to £50, which he was not anxious to do, he feared that he might commit himself to the future; and if he had the Living augmented by Queen Anne’s Bounty, it would bring it within the Bishop’s Jurisdiction and that might result in Interference, ‘Expense or Inconvenience’.  To Stonor, it was ‘perfectly indifferent‘ who served the Churches, but he wanted to protect his Right to the Tithes.

The problem was partly solved in 1814 when Thomas L Bennett, who held a rich Lincolnshire Benefice, accepted the Living on condition that he could buy the Right of Presentation and 20 acres on which to build a House.  Soon, however, Stonor and Bennett were hotly quarrelling: the Plan of building the House fell through and Bennett complained about the smallness of the Stipend and Stonor’s bad faith concerning it. Stonor replied that however small the Stipend might be, any claim to have it increased would be ‘resisted‘.  Nor could the 2 parties agree over the Sale of the Advowson and negotiations dragged on for years.  In 1820, when Bennett suggested that Stonor give a £300 bonus when he sold it, Stonor answered that the repugnance he felt at parting with the Patronage had become ‘unsurmountable‘ now that a Bonus was asked of him.  Bennett still had not got it in 1828, when he was threatening Legal action against Stonor if the Sale was not completed.  He had offered £50 for it, ‘far more than it is worth‘.  Soon after this Bennett became Patron, and in 1853 the Advowson was bought from his heir by the Rev C E Ruck-Keene of Swyncombe.  Capt C E Ruck-Keene vested it in Trustees in 1919, and in 1955 it was transferred to the Diocesan Board of Patronage.

The Benefices of Nettlebed & Pishill were formally separated in 1853.  By 1854, when Institutions by the Bishop began, Pishill was considered a Perpetual Curacy rather than a Donative, and in 1868 it became a Vicarage.

In the Middle Ages the Rectories of Nettlebed & Pishill were valued together at 6s 8d. in 1254, and at £6 13s 4d. in 1535.  The Lay Rectory was not sold with the Patronage in the 19th century, and in 1849, when the Tithes of Pishill were commuted, Lord Camoys received a Rent Charge of £47 10s. The 275 acres belonging to the Parish were Tithe free.

Lands belonging to the Church, and Granted with it to Dorchester, consisted in 1279 of a 3rd of a Carucate, and Pishill Church House, mentioned in a 1596 Deed, may also have belonged to the Rectory.  When the Stonors got possession of the Rectory, it lost its separate identity and became part of their own Estate.

In 1526 the Curate was receiving £5 6s 8d. and a few years later £6 for both Pishill & Nettlebed.

In 1681 Thomas Stonor allowed the Curate the Tithes of Pishill, but this was not the usual arrangement.  Throughout the 18th century, and until about 1820, the Stonors paid the Curate £35: £15 for Pishill and £20 for Nettlebed.  In 1824 Pishill was augmented £1,000 by Queen Anne’s Bounty, and in 1831 by £400, half from Queen Anne’s Bounty and half from the Rev T L Bennett.  However, when Pishill & Nettlebed were separated in 1853, these augmentations were given to Nettlebed, leaving Pishill with £20 a year from the Lord of the Manor, and a Rent Charge of £28 from the Vicarial Tithes of Assendon, which were transferred from Pyrton to Pishill when Pishill was enlarged.

In the later 19th century the Patron, the Rev C E Ruck-Keene, who rebuilt the Church, augmented the Living by £300, giving also land for a Parsonage and Glebe Farm (26a).  The Ecclesiastical Commissioners gave matching Grants and further augmented the Living in the 20th century so that by 1954 it was worth £438.

The names of the Medieval Clergy are not known: Dorchester Abbey may at times have served the Church with its own Canons, as it did some of its other Churches, but it more probably hired Secular Chaplains.  In 1301 the Abbey was given permission to serve 3 of its Churches, including Pishill & Nettlebed, because of their Poverty, with Chaplains instead of Vicars, but this was a confirmation of a long-established custom.  The shortage of Priests resulting from the Black Death is likely to have been responsible for the Suit of 1356, when Richard d’Oilly, Lord of one Pishill Manor, and the Parishioners, were trying to force the Abbey to supply a Resident Priest.  In the later Middle Ages, there was probably one Curate for both Pishill & Nettlebed as there was in the post-Reformation Period when complaints were made about the lack of Services.  In 1587, for example, the Curate read Services at Nettlebed on 2 Sundays and on the 3rd he read Evening Prayers at Pishill.  Around 1620 the Churchwardens several times presented that there were no Prayers every other Sunday.  The Parishioners then went to Bix or Swyncombe, 1½ mile distant.  When the Curate admitted that he said Prayers on alternate Sundays at Pishill & Nettlebed ‘the Cures being small and the Curate’s wages as slender‘, he was told that, if he could not serve both Cures properly he must resign one.  Reform followed, for in 1626 it was certified that Pishill was sufficiently served.

In the 1680’s Pishill had its own Curate, but he was suspended for performing illegal marriages, evidently with the consent of the Churchwardens and the Parish Clerk. He was compelled, he said, to do this to provide necessaries for himself and his family.  In 1799 there was an equally unsatisfactory Curate, who was said to spend many of his Sundays in London, and the State of the Parish can hardly have been good earlier in the century, for in 1726 there was no Pulpit and in 1749 there was no Register as Thieves had burnt all the Parish Records after robbing the Church.

The Church history of the early 19th century was unusual. In 1801 Thomas Stonor appointed to the Joint living William Marsh (1775–1864), later to become well-known as ‘Millenial Marsh‘ and an ‘impressive‘ Preacher of Evangelical Doctrines.  Although Marsh also had a Curacy in Reading, he served his Oxfordshire churches once every 3 weeks, spending the Saturday night at Stonor Park, where he discussed Theology with Thomas Stonor and his Roman Catholic Chaplain, and borrowed Sermons from the Library.  When Marsh could no longer take the Services himself, he hired Substitutes at such an obvious financial loss that it was alleged that he was being subsidised by a Dissenting Society.  In 1805 his Curate was a Mr Flockton, described as a ‘ranting, methodistical extempore Preacher‘, who called himself a Gospel Preacher. By omitting parts of the Church Service and inserting changes, Flockton was said to have made the Church seem like a Dissenting Meeting-House and caused more harm than good, ‘especially to servants‘, while the more ‘reputable and steady people‘ were very dissatisfied.  He was followed by Henry Gauntlett (1762–1833), another important supporter of the Evangelical Revival.

In 1811, owing to a quarrel between Marsh and his Curate George Scobell, Services in both Churches seem virtually to have stopped.  Scobell alleged that he had been abruptly dismissed without thanks or pay.  Marsh, who was considered to have ‘shamefully‘ neglected the Parishes, resigned in consequence and the Churchwardens were blamed by the Official of the Peculiar for allowing the Churches to be left for so many Sundays without complaining.  As the Living was so poor it was difficult to find a successor: in 1813 it had been vacant for several months, and in 1814 the Wardens were at a loss even to get anyone to say Sunday Services.


Thomas L Bennett, who accepted the Living in 1814, was of a different type, and Stonor wrote of him that he was of the ‘true sort‘ and hated ‘Methodists as he does Moduses‘.  Bennett lived and died (1844) at Highmoor Hall in Nettlebed,  from whence he used to ride over to Pishill every Sunday to take the Service. By 1820, however, he was anxious to give up these wet and ‘dangerous’ winter rides, and although he broke his collar-bone in 1822 it was not until 1830 that he hired a separate Curate for Pishill.

In 1854, after the separation of Pishill & Nettlebed and the addition of Assendon to Pishill, it was decided that a Resident Clergyman was desirable, partly in order to counteract the growth of Roman Catholicism.  At 1st part of a Farmhouse was converted for the Vicar’s use, but it was so exposed and so damp in winter that he found it barely habitable, and accordingly in about 1871 the Vicarage was built.  Services were regularly held twice on Sundays and Communion was given monthly; between 1866 and 1878 the number of communicants increased from 35 to 65 and in both years the Congregation, estimated at 100 in 1866, was said to be decidedly increasing.  Hindrances to Church attendance, apart from ‘Romanism‘ and ‘the influence of property‘, were Beershops (as distinguished from Public Houses) and the System of selling Beer on the Common.

From the end of the 19th century, the Parish was served by the Rev G M J Hall, who died at the age of 97 and is described on his Memorial Tablet as Vicar and Friend of the Parish for 58 years.  For most of the time he was assisted by his wife, who was a devoted Church Worker and Organist, and by William Rockall, Chorister and Church Worker.  Not the least of the Vicar’s merits was the friendly relations he established with the Stonors. Soon after his death Julia (née Stonor), Marquise d’Hautpoul (d.1950), the friend of George V & Queen Mary, was buried in Pishill Churchyard.

In 1954 a reduced Population and the amalgamation of the livings of Pishill and Bix led to the sale of the Vicarage and the Vicar’s removal to Bix.

Pishill Church which is of unknown dedication lies at the top of a Hill overlooking the Hamlet.  It is a flint-and-stone building of Norman origin but was largely rebuilt in the 19th century.  It now comprises a Chancel, North Transept or Chapel, and a South Porch.

It was called in 1819a decent rural building with whitewashed walls‘, and in 1850 Parker described it as a small plain Church with Norman walls and a small round-headed Norman Chancel Arch.  The East window of the Chancel had a 2-light window of ‘Transition‘ style and a low side window; the ‘Stonor‘ North Aisle was originally Norman Transition work, but had been much modernised. There was a Stone Bench-Table along the walls of the Nave.  The Stonors, although Roman Catholics, were the Patrons and Roman Catholics were occasionally buried in this Aisle. Rawlinson noted that the Pavement of it was all dug up.


All members of the Stonor Family, except heads of the Family, are still buried in the Churchyard.

In 1854 the Rev C E Ruck-Keene rebuilt the Church at his own cost. It was enlarged to seat 150 instead of 100.  It is in the Early English and Decorated styles and parts of the outer walls are all that remain of the Medieval Church.

A Faculty to install Electric light in memory of the Vicar G M J Hall was obtained in 1948.  Memorial inscriptions include those on the floor of the Stonor Aisle to Simon Doe (d. 1659), Mathew Haskey (d.1752) and his wife Mary (d.1760), & Matthias Haskey (d. 1797). On the Chancel Floor are Stone Slabs to John Jerningham, son of Sir George Jerningham, Bt, who died at Stonor in 1757; Dom Mathias Molineux (d.1759/60); Frances Cary (d.1808), daughter of Thomas Stonor and Widow of George Cary, Esq, of Torr Abbey, Devon; and Father J B Mortoire (d.1830). The last was Roman Catholic Chaplain of Stonor for 30 years and his Gravestone was moved from the Churchyard to the Chancel.  Most of the other Memorials mentioned are also to Roman Catholics.

There are Brass Tablets to 2 Vicars, C E Ruck-Keene (1792–1880), and G M J Hall (d.1946), and another to William Rockall (d.1948). The Memorial windows in the Chancel are to the Memory of Mary Bell (d.1871), Harry Davidson (d.1871), and the one in the Stonor Aisle is to Anne Hall (d.1925), wife of the Vicar, in Remembrance of 37 years of devoted work for the Church.

There is a War Memorial to the dead of the 2 World Wars, and the Organ by Willis of London was restored by Lieut Philip J Hall in 1919 as a thanksgiving for his Preservation.

In 1552 there were 2 small Bells; there is now one Bell cast by Messrs J Warner of London and erected in 1911.

The Silver Chalice owned by the Church in 1552 has gone, and the present 19th-century Chalice and large Paten were given to the Church in 1815 by the Vicar Thomas Leigh Bennett.

There are fragmentary remains of an old Register (1763–83).  Thereafter the Registers for Baptisms and Burials date from 1783 and for Marriages from 1784.  There are Transcripts from 1666, but they have many gaps.

Roman Catholicism
For this subject see the appropriate section in Pyrton Parish.

Protestant Nonconformity
After the Restoration, there were 3 Families, probably Protestant despite the influence of the Roman Catholic Family of Stonor, which persistently refused to attend the Parish Church.  Six Nonconformists are recorded in 1676: it is not known to which sect they belonged.  Nonconformity continued to thrive in the Village and this was no doubt owing to the incumbents’ neglect.  In 1799, a Licence was Granted for a Meeting-House in ‘Maiden’s Grove‘, and in 1823 another Licence was conceded for a Wesleyan Meeting in the same Hamlet.  A Wesleyan-Methodist Chapel was built at Russell’s Water in 1836.  It could seat 54 members; 27 were recorded in 1851 as attending both in the afternoon and evening.  In 1958 the Chapel had a membership of 5, and was served by a Minister on the Thame-Watlington Circuit.

At the beginning of the 19th century, there was no School of any kind at Pishill.  Some children went to Assendon where there was a School kept by a member of the Established Church and a Roman Catholic Charity School, where Protestant children were also admitted.

In 1818 the poorer classes were said to be in want of sufficient means of education and to be anxious to possess them. A Sunday School had been established in the Village in which 21 children were taught, the number rising to 24 in 1833, but there was no day School at Pishill until a National School was opened in 1854.  It was held in a Cottage on to which an extra Schoolroom was built in 1855.  The Rev C E Ruck-Keene, Patron of the Living of Pishill, observed in 1853 that he had not been able to get a Schoolroom through fear of offending the Roman Catholic Lord Camoys; that the whole of the Protestant population was being trained as Romanists at the Roman Catholic school, there being no other School within 3 miles; and that more than half the 64 Papists in the Parish had become so in the last 12 years.  Ruck-Keene had obtained a 10-year Lease of part of the only ½-acre of Land in the Village which did not belong to Lord Camoys and said that he was hoping that Christ Church would help in the building of a Schoolroom and that he was then looking for a School-mistress.

Besides the Day School, the Vicar reported in 1878 that a Night School was held twice a week during the 5 winter months and that he himself gave ‘Cottage Lectures’ in outlying parts of the Parish.  The numbers at the National school, where there was accommodation for 60, had increased from 30 in 1867 to 45 in 1887.  After this date, the attendance figures dropped from 25 in 1902 to 7 in 1938 and the School was closed in 1939.  Since then the children of Pishill have gone to school at Stonor (i.e. the former Assendon).

By 1718 Henry Kebble, of South End in Turvill, had settled in Trust £5 for the Poor.  It appears that by the late 18th or early 19th century the Capital was represented by £25 Stock, but that distribution of the income had been suspended.  T L Bennett, on becoming Vicar in 1814, recovered the arrears and added them to the Capital which thus mounted to £33 6s. 8d.  Distribution was resumed at Christmas 1821, in the form of Doles to the Poor, whether relieved or not.  The Capital had increased to £58 12s 7d by 1870 and so remains.  In 1883 vouchers of 2s to 4s value, amounting to £3 were distributed.  The Charity was regulated by a Scheme of 1951 which provided for gifts to the poor of the ‘Ancient’ Parish of Clothes, Blankets, Fuel, or Food, or temporary assistance in cases of emergency.  It was not distributed in 1956.
Mrs Catherine Phillips, by Will proved 1850, left £100 for the purchase of Stock, the proceeds to be distributed at Christmas to poor persons chosen by the Rector.  In 1951 the Charity was regulated by the same Scheme as Kebble’s Charity.  In 1956 £9 of the accumulated balance was distributed in Coal to the aged.

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