St James the Great, Radley, Berkshire

Download as PDF

Feature Sets (3)


The village of Radley stands in a loop of the Thames that forms the boundary between the traditional counties of Berkshire (to the W) and Oxford (to the E). The village is now on the NE outskirts of Abingdon, and at the northern edge of the village stands the church and Radley College. St James's church consists of a nave with a W gallery, a S aisle and S transept (housing the organ), a chancel and a W tower. The S aisle is separated from the nave by five bays of tall wooden piers that carry longitudinal arched braces instead of arches. It was restored and reseated by J. O. Scott in 1900-03. The font is 12thc., as is a corbel discovered during the 1900-03 restoration on the NE of the chancel arch.


Radley is not noted by name in the Domesday Survey, but VCH argues convincingly that it was included in Abingdon Abbey's large demesne manor in Abingdon itself, called Bertune in Domesday. This was assessed at 40 hides in 1086. It remained a possession of the abbey until that foundation was dissolved in 1538. The church was described as a chapel to St Helen's, Abingdon in 1284, and as such it was in the gift of the abbot. It now belongs to the United Benefice of Radley and Sunningwell.


Interior Features

Interior Decoration



Uncovered in the W chancel wall, N of the chancel arch. The corbel has a pyramidal lower terminal and is in the shape of an inverted, stepped pyramid with five chamfered steps. At the top is an integral chamfered abacus with a groove between face and chamfer. Dimensions could not be taken.



At the W end of the nave towards the N stands a font with a drum-shaped bowl carried on four modern shafts with elaborate neo-Romanesque decoration. The 12thc bowl is lead lined and there is rim damage at N and S. It is divided by round-headed arcading into 13 bays. The fictive shafts, bases, capitals and arches of the arcading are of richly varied forms, described below. The arches have a limited range of profiles, described below after the shafts, and the spandrels between the arches carry triangular leaf forms carved in relief. In the following descriptions the bays are numbered from L to R (counter-clockwise) beginning at the E. Shaft 1 is at the L of bay 1.


ext. diameter at rim 0.71 m
h. of bowl 0.46 m
int. diameter at rim 0.52 m
overall h. without plinth 0.92 m

(ii) Arches

Archbay 1: hollow arch face with scalloped inner edge.

Archbay 2: as 1.

Arch, bay 3: as 1

Arch, bay 4: hollow arch face with a single scallop at the inner apex.

Arch, bay 5: as 4. Arch, bay 6: multilobed with drill holes between the lobes.

Arch, bay 7: as 1.

Arch, bay 8: as 6.

Arch, bay 9: multilobed with fleshy foliage.

Arch, bay 10: concentric triple reeding.

Arch, bay 11: a row of drilled beading.

Arch, bay 12: concentric double reeding with a scalloped inner edge.

Arch, bay 13: as 1.

(i) Shafts

Shaft 1: half-round shaft on roll/hollow base with square plinth. The capital has angle palmettes.

Shaft 2: base and plinth as shaft 1. The shaft has a central arris flanked by fluted forms with scalloped inner edges overlapping the arris. The capital has 5 flat leaves rising from the necking

Shaft 3: base, plinth and shaft as shaft 1. The capital has large balls in the angles.

Shaft 4; the shaft is cable moulded, and the base has a hollow moulding and below it a pair of inverted volutes with no plinth. The capital has a necking of jagged leaves from which rise a series of overlapping flat leaves.

Shaft 5: a plain, half-round shaft on a roll/hollow base that stands on an inverted double-volute form. The capital is carved with vertical zigzag.

Shaft 6: cable-moulded capital on a base carved with two layers of double-volutes. The capital is a deeply carved volute type.

Shaft 7: chevron shaft on a roll base with a Corinthianesque capital with two rows of leaves.

Shaft 8: cable-moulded shaft on a double-palmette base and a capital made of vertical acanthus leaves.

Shaft 9: chevron moulded shaft on a roll/hollow base with a drum-shaped plinth; the capital with palmettes on the angles and a double-vee on the main face.

Shaft 10: half-round shaft on a roll/hollow base with a plain plinth. Capital as on shaft 3.

Shaft 11: spiral moulded shaft; the spirals in the form of overlapping bands with irregularly scalloped lower edges and fluted faces. The base is an inverted form of the capital on shaft 3. The capital has flat leaves on the angles and a W-shape on the face.

Shaft 12: plain, half-round shaft with a roll/hollow base on a square plinth, and a capital with a W-shape of the face.

Shaft 13: shaft waisted at the centre, with the upper and lower parts filled by rows of connected overlapping leaves. The base is of roll/hollow form supported by an inverted volute capital. The capital is similar to that on shaft 3.


The font is one of the most elaborate in the county, and while other elaborate arcaded fonts survive at Avington, Enborne, Clewer and St Agnes Spital, Windsor, none of them is very close to this. What impresses most about it is the varied forms of its fictive capitals and bases; micro-architectural forms rarely found at this early period. These, and the high degree of elaboration, point to a date in the 1170s.


  • Victoria County History: Berkshire IV (1924), 410-16.

  • P. Drysdale et. al., The History of Radley, Radley History Club, 2002.

  • Anon., Radley Church and Parish — A Brief History, Radley History Club, 2007.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. Harmondsworth, 1966, 196-97.

  • G. Tyack, S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire.  New Haven and London 2010, 433-34.

Exterior from SE.
Interior to E.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SU 522 994 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Berkshire
now: Oxfordshire
medieval: Salisbury
now: Oxford
now: St James the Great
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
10 March 2010