Rycote Chapel

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Rycote, a Chapelry, in the Parish of Great Haseley, Union of Thame, Hundred of Ewelme, County of Oxford, 2½-miles (West by South) from the Town of Thame; containing 28 Inhabitants.  The Chapel is dedicated to St Michael & All Angels.  Built in the Perpendicular style it has retained many of its original 15th-century features. It is also notable for its elaborate 17thC fittings which include 2 enclosed Pews, one erected for the Norris Family and another said to have been installed for the visit of Charles I in 1625.

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Rycote Chapel & Yew Tree

Rycote Chapel
The Chapel of St Michael was built by the Quatremains of Rycote and remains structurally unaltered.  Rycote Chapel was Founded by Richard & Sibyl Quatremains and is said to have been consecrated in 1449.  It is, however, clear that an earlier Chapel existed at Rycote.  On 16th November 1295 Fulk de Rycote is recorded as Baptising his Son & Namesake in a Chapel at Rycote.  The Nave, Chancel, & West Tower are of coursed & squared Limestone rubble, with Ashlar Dressings from the Taynton Quarries (nr Burford).  The Nave & Chancel form a continuous Structure of 5-Bays each separated by Pinnacled Buttresses, which rise above the Tiled Roof; in the side Walls are 5 windows of 2 arched cusped lights under sharply pointed Heads.  The 5-light East window has panel Tracery, and is flanked by Buttresses surmounted by chained Beasts.  The South & West Doorways are relatively plain, while the 4-centred North Door (facing Rycote House) is more elaborate, with Quatrefoils in the Spandrels, and a Hood with blank Shields – an indication, perhaps, that the Building was conceived primarily as a Private Chapel.  The Battlemented West Tower is of 3-Stages and has a 3-light triangular-headed window above the Doorway, surmounted by a canopied Niche.  The 2-light Belfry openings also have Triangular Heads.

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Rycote Chapel c.1928 (looking East), show its elaborate early 17thC Fittings & in the Chancel, part of the Reredos of 1682. The low Pews \in the foreground are 15thC

The sumptuous Interior dates mostly from the 17thC when the Chapel was owned by the Norris’s & Bertie’s; the only 15thC survivals are the Wooden Seating in the Nave & Chancel, the Base & Cover of the Font, and the Base of the Rood Screen.  The West Gallery was erected c.1610, its Balustraded Front carved on Ionic Columns, while 2 elaborate Canopied Pews flanking the entrance to the Chancel are of broadly similar date.  That on the North, traditionally said to have been used by the Norris Family, has round-arched Arcading with Tuscan Balusters, and an Upper Musicians’ Gallery screened with 2-Tiers of delicately pierced filigree panels; access to the Gallery is by the former Rood-loft Stair.  The South Pew, reportedly set up for a visit by Charles I in 1625, is equally exotic, and has an Ogee Dome with Crocketed Ribs. The Canopied Pulpit is also early 17thC, while a reset fragment of Flemish Painted Glass may date from the 1580s-90s. Depicting the theme of ‘marriage for gain‘, it may originally have belonged in the House rather than the Chapel.

The Chancel was refurbished for the Bertie Earls of Abingdon in the 1680s, when the Marble Floor was laid. The Baroque Reredos (dated 1682) has a large segmental Pediment enclosing carvings of fruit & flowers in the style of Grinling Gibbons, and the Altar Rails have twisted Balusters.  The Waggon Roof was painted with Stars, a fragment of which has been restored.  Surviving Monuments commemorate Members of the Bertie Family and later Owners of Rycote Manor.

The demolition of the 16thC House in 1807 left the Chapel largely unused, necessitating periodic remedial repairs.  From 1911 it belonged to Owners of the remodelled Rycote House, its maintenance from 1952 falling to the Ministry of Works (later English Heritage).  In 2005 responsibility was restored to Bernard Taylor, who undertook extensive Restorations and replaced the Organ.

Rycote Chapel

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Rycote Chapel was built in the perpendicular style and retains many of its original 15thC features. It is also notable for its remarkable 17thC fittings which include 2 elaborate enclosed Pews. The Pew on the north side of the Chancel, covered by a Musicians’ Gallery and known as the Norris Pew, is thought to date from c.1610.  The Domed Pew on the Southside of the Chancel is believed to have been installed for the Visit of Charles I in 1625.

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Following the Demolition of the Tudor Mansion at Rycote in 1807, the Chapel fell into a state of disrepair.  Writing in 1883, Frederick George Lee described it as being in “a great state of dilapidation, the internal fittings having become rotten and destroyed, and the roof scarcely water-tight. Many copies of an old and rare edition of the Book of Common Prayer, viz. that published in the first year of King James I, remained there within my remembrance, lying tattered upon moth-eaten and inodorous cushions”.  Despite this, the Chapel Vault continued to be used as the Final Resting Place of the Earls of Abingdon & the Bertie Family throughout the 19th century.

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It was not until the 1st Quarter of the 20thC that the Chapel began to be restored to its former Glory.  The process of Restoration began under Alfred St George Hamersley (b. Gt Haseley) following his purchase of Rycote Park in 1911.  The Chapel was scheduled as an Ancient Monument in 1933. Further renovation works were undertaken by the Ministry of Public Works in the 1950s & 1960s before the Chapel was officially opened to the Public in c.1967.

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This 1826 engraving was produced by Joseph Skelton & H Winkler, from a drawing by Frederick Mackenzie & J Willis, and was published a year later in Skelton’s Engraved Illustrations of the Principal Antiquities of Oxfordshire. The Building shown on the left is the Tudor Stable Block which was converted to form what is now part of the current Rycote House.  Artistic Licence has resulted in the disappearance of the Yew Tree which must have then stood before the South side of the Chapel Tower.