Weston Church, a Rectory in Aston deanery, may have been in existence by the early 12th century, if not much earlier, when a Grant was made from the Tithes. The first recorded presentation was about 1215, when Ralph son of Robert, the Tenant of the Manor, presented Gilbert, probably his brother. The Advowson followed the Descent of the Manor, and presentations were made by members of the Fitzwyth and Beauchamp Families from the 13th to the 15th century. Hugh de Plescy presented during a minority in 1318 and the King in 1364 and 1365. In 1435 John Wysham, the husband of Margaret Beauchamp, presented. On Margaret’s death some time after 1452 the Advowson may have been divided like the Manor into 3rds and then into halves, for in 1460 the Abbot of Oseney presented by Grant of Lady Alice Beauchamp of Bloxham, and the next 3 presentations (2 in 1475 and one in 1476) were by Thomas & Elizabeth Croft, Lords of a Moiety of the Manor, and the 4th in 1511 by John Guise, Lord of the other Moiety.
The Advowson was Purchased with the Manor by Sir John Williams and followed the Manor’s Descent until 1593, when Edmund Cottisford of Wargrave (Berks) sold it for £184 to John Neighbour of Watlington, who resold in 1596 to the Queen’s College, Oxford. In 1858 the College sold it for £2,000 to J W Newell Birch, the Lord of Adwell Manor, who also bought South Weston Manor. In 1866 the Rectories of South Weston and Adwell were united, and in 1959 Lt-Col H T Birch Reynardson was Patron.
For a Rectory, Weston was, in the Middle Ages, a poor Living: in 1254 it was valued at £2 13s 4d, in 1291 at £4 6s 8d in addition to a payment to Oseney Abbey, and in 1535 at £9 2. 4½d. By the late 17th century the Living was said to be worth £100 and by 1831 it was double that. In 1849 the Tithes were commuted for £195 19s 9d. In 1954 the United Benefice was worth £336 and it was held with Lewknor. In addition to the Tithes, the Rector had a medium sized Glebe. Terriers of 1635 and 1741 show that it consisted of 1½ yardlands or 25 statute acres divided among the 3 fields. By the Inclosure Award the Rector received 21½ acres. Before the 18th century one or more unknown Donors had given about 5½ acres of Land, partly in Wheatfield, for the upkeep of the Church Fabric. No record remained of the Gift, and by the mid-18th century the Land had been divided among the Principal Farmers, who paid 15s Rent, about a 3rd of its value. Successive Rectors complained about the misuse of the Lands, which should have brought in enough to make the Church ‘a very beautiful little Parish Church‘, but at the end of the century, when the Rectors became non-Resident, the matter was allowed to drop, and by 1849 only a rood of Land was left.
Two-thirds of the Demesne Tithes of Weston, like those of other D’Oilly Manors, were given early in the 12th century to the Church of St George in Oxford castle, which in 1149 with all its Possessions was Granted to Oseney Abbey. In 1254 Oseney’s share of the Weston Tithes was valued at 10s. and in 1291 at 13s. 4d., the same amount as in the early 16th century. ) A Medieval Terrier, inserted in a missal, belonging to Weston Church, listed the strips which owed Tithes to Oseney.
Medieval Rectors were undistinguished, and before the 17th century few were University Graduates: Gilbert, presented before 1219, had not yet been Ordained an Acolyte, and other 13th-century Rectors were in Deacons’ or sub-Deacons’ Orders. Several came from Villages owned by the Fitzwyth Patrons, such as Wigginton, Shotteswell (Warks.), and Milcombe. There is no evidence for non-Residence and the likelihood that these men in Minor Orders lived in the Parish is confirmed by various instances. One rector, for example, in the late 12th or early 13th century, found his Glebe inadequate and rented a Virgate in Stoke Talmage. Another, William Ardys (1511–?), who held the Living for over 20 years, must also have resided, for it was noted at an Episcopal Visitation that a woman visited his house daily.
In the late 16th century the Rectory was held with Wheatfield, but Thomas Greene (Rector 1593–1634) lived constantly in Weston, where his children were born and he was buried. The Inventory of his goods, worth the substantial sum of £264, showed that he farmed his own Glebe – his most valuable possessions, apart from his books, being his grain, and his animals – 5 horses, 8 cattle, and some pigs. His son Francis (d.1675) also lived in Weston, where he was one of the leading inhabitants. Another Rector, John Gwyllym (c.1665–1672), who came to the Parish in the Commonwealth Period, evidently also farmed his Glebe: like Greene he had grain and cattle, but in his case, there were very few books.
After the Queen’s College bought the Advowson, the Rectors were Fellows or Graduates of Queen’s. The 1st, Gawin Eglesfield (Rector 1634–47), was considered by the Provost of Queen’s a ‘dull, idle, negligent fellow‘, proficient only in ‘good fellowship‘ and the College denied his claim to be Founder’s Kin, and refused him a Fellowship, but when the Visitor, the Archbishop of York, pleaded for him they gave him South Weston Living. As a Rector, he gained praise and was described in the Register as vigilantissimus Rector. Another Rector, John Fisher, was Chaplain of the Queen’s College and ‘lost’ the Living for ‘being in Arms for His Majesty‘. Fisher declared that Barlow, later Bishop of Lincoln, had informed against him and that ‘that rascal Guillum for Oliverian compliance‘ had been given it. Earlier John Gwyllym had obtained his BA at the Chancellor’s request because he had served with the Earl of Dover’s Regiment.
Late-17th and 18th-century Rectors were Fellows of Queen’s who resigned their Fellowships on being given the Living. They lived and were buried in Weston, although from 1727, for over a 100 years, the Living was usually held with Hampton Poyle, also a Queen’s College Living. The best-known 18th-century Rector was the Poet William Thompson (1753–66). Another Rector, John Hunter (1728–52), published in 1744 a small treatise on Worship as a New Year’s Gift to his Parishioners of Hampton and Weston.
At this period Services were held regularly, with 2 on Sundays, prayers on many holy days, and Communion 4 times a year. There were no unbelievers or Dissenters, although some were absent from Church, the most important being the Lord of the Manor, Thomas Cooper, who in the late 1760‘s ceased attending. Cooper had several times caused trouble, having refused to pay his Rate towards the repair of the Church, and to follow the ancient customs about ‘mounds‘ and Tithes of corn. As soon as he bought the Manor about 1740 ‘he gave out that he would be troublesome as long as he lived‘, although later he did serve several years as Churchwarden. In the early 16th century there had been 2 Wardens, but by the 18th there was only one, who sometimes held the position for many years. The Parish Clerk, who had no fixed Stipend but collected about 30 shillings a year from the Parishioners at Easter, sometimes also held his Office for many years. Samuel White, who died in 1730, was the son of a Parish Clerk and was himself Clerk for about 50 years. His social position in the 18th century is indicated by the fact that the Rector sometimes invited him to eat with his Servants.
In about 1790 the Rectors began to be non-Resident, and the Parish was served by a non-Resident Curate. William Benson (1801–40), the last Rector to hold both Weston and Hampton Poyle, lived mostly in the latter. By the early 19th century, although the people were said in general to be ‘very attentive to their religious duties‘, the number of Sunday Services had been cut to one and the number of Communicants, which had been 15 or 20 in 1738, was about half that number. Not until the 1840s, with the building of the new Rectory, did the Parish again have a Resident Rector. Two of the few Parish Records to survive, Account books of the Choir and the Clothing Club, indicate the benefits this brought to the Parish. In the 19th century, Methodism took root and Congregations remained small, although they increased slightly in the 2nd half of the century. After 1866, when the Benefices of Adwell and South Weston were united, the Rector continued to live at Weston but gave part of his time to the small Parish of Adwell. He was Henry Fanshawe, a Fellow of New College for some years and Rector of Weston from 1862 to 1900. He came from a Family which had distinguished itself in both the Navy and Army and was himself the father of a number of distinguished sons. Of the 3 who became Generals Sir Hew and Sir Robert lived in the neighbourhood for many years.
The Church of St Lawrence comprises a Chancel, Nave, and South Porch, and an open central Turret with spirelet above. It was rebuilt of flint in 1860 in the Gothic style. Before its reconstruction it was a very simple building with no Tower and little external distinction between Nave and Chancel; there was a Decorated East window of 3lights with a statue of St Lawrence above it in a niche on the Outside wall, and there was a Romanesque doorway on the Northside. The statue of St. Lawrence with his gridiron, still in its original position, a Tomb Recess, now in the Sanctuary, and a Medieval Tub Font were preserved from this old Church. Buckler’s drawing of 1822 shows that the Chancel was entirely of 14th-century date.
The Chancel Walls were said to be ruinous in 1530, (fn. 235) and complaints about the state of the fabric were frequent in the 18th century. The church was said, for instance, to be much out of repair in 1744: the Rector stated after a summons to the Archdeacon’s Court that this was owing to the refusal of Thomas Cooper and Robert Stone to pay a rate. The main fabric had apparently been put in order by 1759 when, apart from the roof and the steps into the Church from the Porch, the only repairs ordered were to the interior fittings. The seats, floor, reading desk, and pulpit were all to be ‘new boarded’ and a new cover was to be provided for the Font. The roof was to be repaired ‘in good time‘, but the part around the Belfry was to be done at once. In 1770–71 a payment of over £20 was made for ‘rebuilding‘ the seats and repairing the Church. The state of the walls was giving concern in the early 19th century, when the West and South walls were reported as needing repair. Some work was done in 1803 and in 1808 a Bill of over £49 was paid. In 1860 the Rector wrote that the Church was most ruinous, damp, and in a disgraceful state; that it had had no repairs done for more than a 100 years, and that it was proposed to erect on the same site an entirely new, larger, and more seemly Church. In this year £600 was contributed by the neighbouring Gentry, especially by the Patron and Lord of the Manor, J W Newell Birch of Henley Park, by the Oxford Diocesan Church Building Society, and the Incorporated Church Building Society. The Architect was R C Hussey. The Diocesan Architect G E Street approved his plans, on the whole. Street objected to the position of the Pulpit, which would obstruct the view of the Chancel from the Nave, and to the position of the reading desks, which were facing West and South-west. He noted that there was no Credence Table and the Rector agreed to have this provided and to alter the position of the desks. The latter does not appear to have been done. Street’s proposal to retain the ‘characteristic West front‘ led to the reply that it had ‘nothing so characteristic as to be desirable to retain it. It being a plain blank wall . . ., a buttress not quite in the middle reaching 3 parts of the height of the gable (manifestly added to sustain the outward pressure . . . of the bells)‘ . . . and that it had been replaced in the Architect’s Plan ‘by a Decorated window in keeping with the other windows as it was wished to make the West front rather more Ornamental— as it faces the Village Road’.
The Chief addition since the restoration is the wooden gates to the Churchyard given in 1919 by the Fanshawe Family as a War Memorial.
In the Medieval Period, the Church had an Altar to St Nicholas besides lights to the Trinity, St Katherine, and the Holy Rood. It once possessed a Missal, but it was sold at an unknown date to Lewknor. No record of its Vestments or Ornaments in Edward VI’s time has survived, but in 1739 Mrs Thomasina Carter, Widow of Francis Carter, Wine Merchant of London, gave a handsome green carpet for the Communion Table. The present wooden reredos with mosaic panels probably dates from the 1860 restoration. A small Organ, made by John Fincham of London, was also installed at that time.
From the Parish Register it appears that the following were buried in the Chancel, 2 of them under the Communion Table: Thomas Greene (d.1634), Rector; John Gwyllym (d. 1671/2), Rector; Thomas Tomlinson (d.1689), Rector; Allen Fisher (d.1691); Mr John Jackson (d.1727), Rector, and John Hunter, Rector (d.1751). The following Memorials are now in the Vestry or the Church: a Tablet commemorating the gift of Richard Carter (d.1774), Citizen of London, of £10 for the Poor; Tablets to John Hunter, Rector (d.1751), Robert Stone (d.1778), Gentleman; Thomas Lowthian (d.1779), Rector of South Weston; and to R T Espinasse (d.1926), Rector for 26 years.
The Original Register dates from 1558 for Burials, 1559 for Marriages and 1586 for Baptisms. The Churchwardens’ Account Book covers the years 1770 to 1908, and 1873 to 1891 for Adwell.
There is a Chalice with Paten Cover of 1576 and 1577 and a small silver paten of 1860 presented by the Rector. In 1552 there had been a Chalice, but this was presumably confiscated.
The Bellcot contains one Bell, inscribed GC 1724, i.e. George Chandler, the Founder, but the Edwardian Inventory recorded 2 Bells. This 2nd Bell may have been the ‘old cracked Bell’ which the Vestry agreed to sell in 1864 and devote the proceeds to the Church Rate.
The Churchyard Walls often gave trouble. They were broken in 1530 and were long out of repair in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
No Recusants were listed in the various returns of the 17th century, or in the 18th-century visitation returns, until 1771, when a Farmer’s wife was reported as a Papist; and there seems to have been no Protestant nonconformity in the Parish until the early 19th century. A Wesleyan Chapel was built about 1830: it seated 58 and in 1851 had an average congregation of 23 in the afternoon and 30 in the evening. The Wesleyans owned 2 Cottages with Gardens as well as the Chapel and it may be that the Certificate for a Dissenting Meetinghouse, obtained in 1834, was for the use of a new Group. By 1854 the number of Dissenters in the Parish was probably decreasing; by 1866 the Wesleyan Methodist Congregation was extinct: their Chapel was being used by Primitive Methodists, and it was closed by 1960.
In 1738 the Rector described his Parishioners as ‘generally illiterate people and of the meaner sort‘, though ‘good Christians‘. He enclosed in his return to the Bishop a small Tract drawn up by himself with a view to ‘promoting‘ piety and devotion as his Parishioners could neither ‘purchase, nor spare time to peruse larger treatises‘. This indicates that some at least were able to read. There was still no School of any kind in 1768, and the Rector catechised the children only between Easter and Whitsun.
In 1808 there was a school for 8 or 10 girls, kept by a woman who lived in the Parsonage House, but it was not endowed nor supported by voluntary contributions. A similar kind of school for boys and girls, kept by ‘a very decent woman‘, was mentioned in 1815, and again in 1818, when a Sunday School attended by about 10 children was being held. The Sunday School evidently did not go on for it had to be ‘restarted’ in 1832. It was supported by the Rector and the Curate: its 27 children used to come at the age of 3 or 4 years and leave when they were 15 or 16 years old. This School did not apparently survive long, for both in 1854 and 1871 it was said that there had been no Schools in the Parish. By 1871 the children were going to Lewknor School, which they have continued to attend.
It was believed in 1738 that 5½ acres of land, lying mostly in Red Veal in Wheatfield, and then divided into 4 Estates, had been devised in Trust, at an unknown date, for ‘beautifying‘ the Church. The 4 Occupiers were then paying to a Churchwarden 15s. 4d. yearly in Rent, though the true value was said to be thrice that amount. The Churchwardens were thought to appropriate most of the Rent, though they met the cost of the Communion Wine from it. By 1759 even this pious form of expenditure had been discontinued, and though the payment of the Rent is traceable until 1771, the reputed Charity must be deemed lost well before that time.
In 1774 Richard Carter, of South Weston, left in Trust to the Minister and Churchwardens £100 Stock, the Interest to be used to buy bread and meat for an annual distribution to the Poor on 7 June. Carter’s Charity was 1st distributed in 1775, but payment of the Interest was withheld about 1815 through an alleged failure of Trustees. Payment had been resumed about 1822 and the income of £3 was then used for bread for the Poor at Christmas. In 1957 bread to the value of £2 10s. was distributed to 6 families.