The earliest evidence for the existence of Waterstock Church, a Rectory in Cuddesdon Deanery, dates from about 1190, when the Parish had its own Priest Elias. The 1st recorded Presentation was made in 1235 or 1236 by Bartholomew Foliot, the Lord of the Manor. Since then the descent of the Advowson has followed that of the Manor. In 1372, during the minority of John Bruley, Robert Woubourne of Milton was Patron, and in 1380 John Salveyn for an unexplained reason. In the 15th century the Danvers Family succeeded the Bruleys as Patrons; in 1467 and 1469 Joan, the widow of John Danvers, and her 2nd husband Sir Walter Mauntell Presented; in 1517, during the minority of John Danvers, William Boughton Presented, and in 1528 Danvers’s 3 sisters and their husbands did so. The Advowson passed with the Manor to one of these, Elizabeth and her husband Thomas Cave, and remained with the Family until George Croke bought it in 1610. The Presentation of 1551 was sold, however, to a group which included John Smith, Provost of Oriel College, and in 1576 the Queen Presented by lapse. In 1691 Manor and Advowson were bought by Sir Henry Ashhurst, who came from a Family with Puritan sympathies. In 1709, in order to preserve ‘serious godliness‘ in the Parishes of which he was Patron (Waterstock & Emmington), he made arrangements, if his son should die without sons, for Trustees to choose 2 Ministers ‘that believe and preach the old doctrinal articles commonly called Calvinistical‘. The Trustees included several well-known Presbyterian Divines and Edmund Calamy, the Historian of Nonconformity. The Lord of the Manor was to present one of the 2 selected Ministers to the Living. At each Vacancy each Trustee was to receive 20s with which to buy a ‘Book of Divinity‘. Although Sir Henry’s son died without sons, it is not clear if this method of choosing a Rector was ever used. The Advowson remained with the Ashhursts until the death of Miss Ashhurst in 1949. The Patrons in 1957 were her Executors.
There have twice been attempts in the 20th century to unite the livings of Waterstock & Waterperry, but though Held together, they remain separate Benefices.
In the Middle Ages the Rectory was a rather poor one, worth £4 in 1254 and £5 6s 8d in 1291. By 1535 its value had risen to £10 16s ½d. In the early 17th century it was said to be worth £100, but soon after this, it was impoverished by an arrangement made sometime before 1659 between the Rector and the Lord of the Manor. The Lord, who owned the whole Parish except the Glebe, agreed to pay the Rector a modus of £40 a year instead of Tithes. Accordingly, the value of the Rectory, derived from this £40 and the Glebe, rose little between the mid 17th and the mid-19th centuries. In 1716 it was worth £55, in 1806 only £64 10s, and in 1847, when the question of commuting the Tithes was raised, J H Ashhurst claimed that on the basis of this composition the Parish was Tithe free. The Tithe Commissioners, on the other hand, considered the modus ‘absolutely void‘ and in 1848 the Tithes were commuted for £250.
The small Glebe was 1st mentioned in 1341 and its earliest Terriers date from 1601 and 1609. In 1806 it consisted of 12 acres, the greater part of which lay next to the Rectory. In 1790 the Rector had given Sir William Henry Ashhurst, who was rebuilding the Church, ¾-acre of Glebe in return for a promise that in the future the Lord of the Manor would be responsible for the upkeep of the Chancel.
Medieval Rectors, in spite of the comparative Poverty of the Living, held it as a rule for many years. They never exchanged it for a better one and most of them died at their posts. Examples are Master John de Hadenham (c.1235–68); Thomas Bruley (1326–61), probably a younger brother of the Lord of the Manor, who acted as feoffee for Waterperry Manor; John Kent (1423–67), who acted as feoffee for the Danvers Family; and Master John Brown (1469–99), who is portrayed in one of the Church windows. It seems likely that these Clerks were Resident. Proof of Residence in 1405 comes from an account of a Robbery. The Rector’s Church and House were then broken into and Coverlets, Sheets, Jewels, and household Utensils worth 20 marks belonging to him and the Churchwardens were stolen.
In the early 16th century the Wills of Sir Thomas Danvers (d.1502), who was a generous Benefactor to the Church Building, and of his Widow Sibyl (d.1511) show the close connection between the Church and the Family living at the Manor-House. They were both buried in the Church and both left instructions for Services to be said for them there. Two Oxford Scholars were to say daily Mass for Sir Thomas, and on the 8 principal Feasts these Masses were to be said in Waterstock; 2 Oxford Scholars were likewise to say Services for Dame Sibyl, but only once a year in Waterstock on the day of her Anniversary. The Rector at the time of their death, Robert Wright (1501–16), to whom Sir Thomas left a Bequest of 13s 4d, was a witness of Sibyl’s Will. He was probably dead by the time of the Episcopal Visitation of about 1520, when the Church was found to be comparatively well cared for: the only faults noted were that the Font was kept unlocked and some windows were broken.
Later in the Century the Parish had some highly educated Rectors, but they only held the Living for short periods. Richard Bruern (1551–9), who may have had to Resign it as he did his Oxford Professorship because of Immorality, was succeeded by Thomas Bruern (d.1561), once a Fellow of Brasenose College. John Tatham, Rector in 1576, was Rector of Lincoln College; and John Rider, who was perhaps Rector in 1580, was a well-known Lexicographer who became a Bishop.
In the early 17th century, when George Croke was Patron, he gave the living to 2 of his nephews: Charles Croke (Rector in 1616), who was later Chaplain to Charles I; and Henry Croke (1618–42), also Canon of Lincoln and Wells, who may, like other members of the Croke Family, have been more sympathetic to Puritanism. The Inventory of his goods at his death indicates that he was of a Scholarly Character: his Waterstock House had a ‘Study Chamber‘, and there were books there to the value of £40.
After the Restoration, the Living was held for nearly 50 years by Charles Hinde (1677–1725), described by Hearne as ‘the pettifogger (underhand dealer) of Waterstock‘. He was presented by Sir George Croke and was clearly on excellent terms with Croke’s successor, Sir Henry Ashhurst. He shared the interest of his most dearly beloved patron in the History of the Church Building. Hearne also relates that he was regretful that the old Village Custom of holding ‘prones (homilies) and wakes‘ had ceased. Hinde was succeeded by Edward Lewis (1726–84), an Author and a strong opponent of Roman Catholicism, who also held the other Ashhurst Living of Emmington. He lived at Waterstock, but on Sundays, he went to Emmington while a Curate from Oxford, who received £20 or £25 a year, took the Services at Waterstock. Throughout the century 2 Services and one Sermon were given on Sundays, and the Sacrament was administered 4 times a year. In the 2nd half of the Century, the Rector said Prayers, which anyone could attend, on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saints’ Days at the Ashhursts’ House.
On Lewis’s death, a characteristic 18th-century arrangement was made. The Antiquary John Gutch served the Church with a Curate from 1785 to 1789 and kept the Living warm for the son of the Rector of Albury, who was at that time a Student at Oxford. The young R B B Robinson (Rector 1790–1826) duly succeeded, and lived at Waterstock in the Rectory which the Ashhursts had rebuilt for him. They also Presented him to Emmington. From this time the Parish almost always had a Resident Rector. To this fact and to the Piety of the Ashhursts may perhaps be attributed the fact that no Papists and no Protestant Nonconformists were recorded in the 18th or 19th centuries.
During the Century the number of Communicants increased steadily. In 1738 there had been less than 20; in the early 19th century there were between 30 and 40; in 1854 over 50 and over 60 in 1878. James H Ashhurst (1856–96), a younger son of W H Ashhurst and Rural Dean of Cuddesdon, brought a new fervour into the Religious life of the Parish. He increased the number of Communion Services from the 4 of 1854 to over 12 a year; continued the Sunday School, gave Religious Instruction in the Day Schools; and held a well-attended Night School in Winter. In his time nearly everyone in Waterstock went to Church.
The Church of St Leonard is a Stone Building of various dates comprising a Chancel, Nave, North Aisle, Western Tower, and North and South Porches. The early Medieval Church was rebuilt at the end of the 15th century by Thomas Danvers and his 1st wife, a daughter of James Fiennes, Lord Saye & Sele. An Inscription below the Arms of Danvers which was in a window in the North Aisle and which was recorded by Anthony Wood indicates that they began the work by rebuilding the Nave. The inscription ran: ‘Orate pro animabus … filiae Jacobi Finys, qui istam ecclesiam fecerunt anno gratiae MCCCCLXXX.‘ A North Aisle dedicated to St Ann was being built in 1501, for Thomas Danvers directed in his Will, dated November 1501, that the ‘Aisle‘ be finished ‘in as goodly hast as it may be and covered with lead‘. A new Chancel, which he had begun, was also to be finished under the supervision of his 2nd wife Sybyl Brecknoke (neé Fowler). He directed that he should be buried in the Chancel ‘before St. Leonard‘. His Monument, described by Wood, no longer exists.
The windows of the new Building were filled with painted glass mostly of 15th and early 16th-century date. Nothing further is known of the history of the Fabric until 1692, when Sir Henry Ashhurst was given permission to take over part of the North Aisle (28 ft by 12 ft) as a ‘Dormitory’ or Burial Place for his Family on condition that he kept it in repair and beautified it. The Fabric was apparently neglected in the 1st half of the 18th century, for in 1758 the Archdeacon ordered that elder bushes and banks of rubbish should be moved from ‘the foundation of the walls of the church‘; that part of the Walls and Tower should be repointed, the Pavement of Church and Chancel should be laid and made even, and a new door should be made on the North side. In 1789 the Church was again reported out of repair and in 1790 Nave and Chancel were rebuilt by Sir W H Ashhurst. Early 19th-century drawings of the Church and an account of the same Period record that the Chancel had an East window of 3 lights without Tracery and no side windows; that there were 2 windows in the South wall of the Nave, each of 3 round-headed lights under a Square Label and that the Nave had a flat ceiling with a Cornice; that the North Aisle with its perpendicular windows and the West Tower of 3-Storeys with a Parapet and small Bellcote had been left in their original state except for the addition of the Clock on the East face of the Tower.
In 1845 Chancel, Nave, & Tower all needed repair. The estimated cost was about £30. No major repairs were executed until a thorough restoration was carried out during 1857–8 under the direction of the Architect G E Street. The Builder was George Wyatt of Oxford. The Church was underpinned, a brick Gutter put round it and the earth removed from the Foundation; the South wall of the Nave was repaired, 2 new windows and a door being inserted in place of the old ones; the plaster ceiling was removed so as to open up the Nave Roof, and a Battlemented Cornice was added. The Gallery erected at the West end at some unknown date was abolished. A new Chancel Arch was built; a new East window, copied from one at Great Milton Church, was inserted and the Chancel ceiling was raised so as to show the point of the window. The Chancel and North Aisle were re-Roofed, the North wall of the Aisle having been made 3ft higher. A new Vestry and a South and a North Porch were built. The Church was repaved, Minton Tiles being used for the Chancel, and it was reseated and refurnished. Parishioners gave a new Pulpit, Lectern, Prayer Desk, Altar Rails, and Font. The Medieval Font, ‘plain and round’, had to be replaced as it no longer held Water. Thomas Willement did 3 painted windows (i.e. the East and West windows and a small one in the Chancel); Castell of London painted the Belief, the Lord’s Prayer and the Commandments, and 3 Texts for the back of the Altar for use on Festivals. The total cost, including the gifts of Furniture, Windows, and the 2 new Porches, was about £1,500.
Further alterations were made later in the Century. In 1861 the East Window in the North Aisle was given by Mrs Ashhurst and in 1872 the painted Reredos of the Last Supper and Altar Dado, consisting of Panels with painted figures of Saints and Prophets, was given by the Rev J H Ashhurst. In 1888 a new Belfry Floor was made and a Clock was placed in the Tower.
There was another restoration in 1930. The Roof was stripped and covered with Slates; the Church was refloored and put in ‘complete order‘. Electric Light has since been installed.
The Chief Glory of the Medieval Church was its painted glass. Only that in the 3 top lights of the Ashhurst window in the North Aisle has survived the various restorations, but Anthony Wood visited Waterstock in May 1668 and has left a detailed record. In the Chancel window were the Arms of France and England quartered, and the Arms of the Bruley, Quartermain, and Danvers families. In the North window of the Nave were the figures of 2 men ‘all in blew‘, each kneeling before a desk, one a Clergyman the other a Layman, and the pictures of 3 Saints above them. This window was Commissioned, according to the inscription underneath, by Master John Brown, once Rector of the Church, in memory of himself, his father Thomas Brown, and his mother. Master John Brown (Rector 1469–99) and his father may be identified with the figures in 2 of the surviving fragments. The other surviving fragment is 13th-century glass. The rest of the glass described by Wood was probably commissioned by Thomas Danvers or his 2 wives, either for the windows of the Nave after it was rebuilt in 1480 or for the North Aisle after 1501. The Armorial Glass included the Arms of many Families with which the Danvers were allied by marriage, those for instance of Brancastre, Pury, Verney, Fowler, and Brecknoke. There were also painted figures of Thomas Danvers and his 2 wives, and over them the pictures of 3 female Saints, identified by Wood as Barbara, ‘Trinitas’, and Anna; a figure of Thomas Danvers, esquire (presumably one commissioned before his investiture as a knight in 1501); and of John Danvers, esquire.
There was formerly an Inscription which ran: ‘Orate pro animabus Johannis Danvers et domine Johanne et heredis Johannis Bruly et Matildae Quatermayne uxoris sue quondam patronorum istius ecclesie.‘ There were also Inscriptions to the following: Henry Danvers and his wife Beatrice, the daughter of Sir Ralph Verney; Richard Danvers of Prestcote; Sir John Fray and his wife Agnes; William Fowler and his wife Cicely; and William Danvers and his wife Anne. Anne died in 1531 and seems to have been the last of the Danvers Family to be commemorated. Wood also describes a figure of a Bishop with his Crozier resting on his shoulder, wearing his Mitre and ‘praying‘. The last figure had an Inscription beneath with the names of George Neville, Archbishop of York (1464–76), William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, a friend of Thomas Danvers, and Thomas Danvers himself. Another figure of a Bishop surmounted the Archiepiscopal Arms of York quartering Montague, Monthermer, and Neville. In the east window of the North Aisle were the Arms of Croke and Bennett. As this is the only glass commemorating the Croke Family recorded by Wood, all the rest being in the windows of the Manor-House, it is possible that the available window space was filled by 1610, when George Croke became Lord of the Manor. The Ashhurst window in the North Aisle seems to have been mostly inserted just before 1852. It is mentioned in Gardner’s Directory for that year, but not in the Architectural Guide of 1846. Some 43 Shields fill 3 lights and illustrate the Genealogy of the Ashhurst Family from Adam de Ashhurst, ‘sans date‘, to John Henry Ashhurst, 1848. Most of the Shields in the East Light have Ashhurst in the Dexter and the Sinister half is left blank for the use of Posterity. Later in the Century, an oval panel painted with an Achievement of Arms and the Inscription ‘John Warner and Elizabeth Ashhurst married 29th April 1755‘, was inserted in the middle of the East light. It is signed W Peckitt 1769 and is contemporary with some of his glass in New College Chapel. The last marriage commemorated was in 1881: the work was inferior and the enamel has already faded. The Church also has some Wallpaintings: these were noted in 1887, but are no longer visible. Between the North and South doors are the Matrices of 2 Brasses, one an early 15th century half-effigy of a man, the other possibly of a Priest. In the Centre Aisle is a marble Gravestone with the remains of an inscription in Lombardic letters: + William: De: La: Ba …… Merci. It was probably to William de la Beche.
The Principal Monument, with Arms, in the Church is to Sir George Croke, Justice of the King’s Bench and Lord of the Manor (d.1641/2). The inscription has been ascribed to Matthew Hale. It was moved from the Chancel in 1858 to the North Aisle. A black marble Gravestone to Dame Mary, his Widow (d.1657), and another to Charles Hinde, Rector (d.1725), were also moved from the Chancel and are also in the North Aisle. There are Memorial Tablets to the following: the Rector’s son Francis Hinde of London (d.1720) and his wife; Dame Frances Allin (d.1743), daughter of Sir Henry Ashhurst; Edward Lewis, Rector (d.1784) and his wife; Sir William Henry Ashhurst (d.1807); Robert Robinson, Rector of Waterstock and Emmington (d.1826) and his wife; and William Henry Ashhurst, Esq, MP (d.1846).
The Edwardian Inventory records one Chalice. The Church now possesses 2 Elizabethan Silver Chalices, one hall-marked 1569 and the other 1570 with the Maker’s mark Ak; both have lost their Paten covers. There is a large Silver Paten with Foot dated 1715 and bearing the initials CJ for Joseph Clare, and a Silver Flagon of 1863. There is a 16th-century Pewter Paten, and a Pewter Tankard Flagon.
A Medieval Bell inscribed Sante Nicholae si was recast by Gillett of Croydon in 1888, and so were 2 Bells dated 1616 and 1664 and originally made by Henry Knight and Richard Keene respectively.
In 1697 the South side of the Churchyard was said to be too narrow so that the graves lay exposed ‘to the scandal of the Christian Church‘. Since part of the Ashhursts’ House stood within the North side of the Churchyard, Sir Henry Ashhurst gave some land on the South in exchange. He also promised to build a ‘handsome‘ Churchyard wall of Stone coped with brick and a ‘handsome‘ pair of Gates with iron bars.
In 1858 the Boundary wall on the north side of the Churchyard was replaced by an iron railing set in stone and a new South Gate was made at a cost of £38.
The Registers date from 1580.
No information about Schooling in the Village has been found before the 19th century. There was a Day School by 1805 and in 1808 10 children were being taught to read there. A Sunday School with 13 children, supported by Mrs Ashhurst, was set up in 1808. Between 1815 and 1818 another Day-School was opened and in 1818 there were 18 children attending the two day-schools and 16 attending the Sunday school. The situation was much the same in 1833 when the Schools were described as a Day School for 7 girls, supported by the Squire, an Infant School with about 10 boys and girls, who were paid for by their Parents, and the Sunday School with 16 boys and 7 girls. It is difficult to follow the fortunes of these Schools, but it is probable that there was some continuity between them and the school of 1854, described as ‘complete for week and Sunday‘, and the Church of England School that existed in 1871. The Church School was a mixed School run on National Society Lines; it had an average attendance of 25 at the end of the 19th century. The School was apparently reorganised in 1903–4, for Waterstock Church of England School, was said to have been opened in 1904. Lack of numbers led to its being closed in 1916 and the children later went to Tiddington School.
By Will Proved in 1631 Ambrose Bennett, of London, no doubt a relative of Lady Mary Croke, charged certain lands in Rotherhithe with a Rent of £8 a year for the Benefit of the Poor of Waterstock at Lady Day and Michaelmas. At the end of the Century the money was not paid for several years and the Churchwardens and Overseers of Waterstock, and of 2 other Parishes which had received similar Bequests, exhibited a Bill against John Bennett in Chancery. In 1704 he promised to make regular payments. These were regularly made throughout the 18th century and accounts were kept from 1707 of the distribution of the money. In 1823 20 Poor people benefited, the sums granted varying between 5s and 12s according to the size of individual Families. In 1877 the Rent-charge was redeemed for £267 Stock. The income in 1923 and again in 1937 was £6 13s 4d but the method of its distribution at that time cannot be ascertained. The Parishioners of Waterstock have the Right to send Alms People to Croke’s Almshouses in Studley.