The flourishing market town of Chipping Norton in north Oxfordshire is close to the boundaries of Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. St Mary the Virgin is a large church, sited halfway up the north-facing slope on top of which much of the town now stands. There are now only fragments of possible Romanesque origin. The chancel and aisles were rebuilt in the 13thc. and 14thc. The new nave is known to have been under construction by the mid-15thc. The W tower was rebuilt in 1825, but its E wall retains parts of the head and jambs of a possible Romanesque arch. The 13thc. N chancel arcade retains a spandrel displaying a grotesque head, possibly from the Romanesque church, above a round pillar.
William the Conqueror gave Ernulf de Hesdin, a Flemish knight and one of his high-ranking followers, eleven manors in various parts of England, including Norton in Oxfordshire. Ernulf made Norton (later Chipping Norton) his main residence. In 1086 his holding there is recorded as 15 hides. He soon built the motte-and-bailey castle, probably in wood initially, further down the slope from the church. By 1130 the castle belonged to William Fitzalan, who had supported Matilda against Stephen, thereby saving his property from destruction when Henry II became king. Both Ernulf and his son had met untimely deaths by 1138. The son's sister, Avelina, had married Alan FitzFleald, and the manor of Norton passed to them and eventually to their son, William Fitzalan, lord of Clun in Shropshire. In 1181 he sub-divided it through the foundation of the priory of Cold Norton with a community of Augustinian canons. The manor remained with the Fitzalans until 1399 (Eddershaw, 2006).
The benefice of Chipping Norton includes Over Norton, the villages of Chastleton, Cornwell, Little Compton, Little Rollright, Salford, and the parishes of Churchill and Sarsden, Kingham and Daylesford.
W nave wall, now E face of tower, remains of an arch. High up, dressed stones in the centre of the wall are set in the form of a segmental arch, interrupted by the stem of a modern crucifix. Below and to the sides of these, rougher stones form steep arcs that do not seem compatible with the segmental one above. They end approximately 2.0 m from the ground on the S side, with a longer stone at right-angles, possibly an impost.
Sited on the spandrel above the round pier of the N arcade, on the S side facing into the chancel, at the intersection of the plain chamfered hoods of the two pointed arches. A grotesque human head on a triangular base, with a mouth, nose, oval eyes, heavy brow ridges and pricked animal ears. Re-used, since it is not integral with the arcade.
F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England's Patron Saints, vol. III, 86.
D. Eddershaw, Chipping Norton: the Story of a Market Town, Chipping Norton 2006, 15-19, 35.
J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, Harmondsworth 1974, 536-7.