St Michael, Barford St Michael, Oxfordshire

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Feature Sets (4)


The church stands on a steeply-sloping hill which, although basically natural, may have been scarped artificially. It consists of a chancel, nave, S aisle, and tower of three stages, unusually situated in the angle between the chancel and S aisle. The tower, which has extremely thick walls (1.50 m), seems to be earlier than anything else standing, and in view of its strange position it seems possible that the church has been built around it. The tower contains two Romanesque windows: one in the E wall, at ground level, which is narrow, single-splayed and round-headed. It has a monolithic head, continuous chamfer on head and jambs, with a slightly projecting chamfered sill. The internal splay is set within a wider round-headed arch with dressed quoins, presumably built in this way because of the exceptional thickness of the walls. The other is in the S wall, at the second stage. This is single-splayed, round-headed lancet, chamfered jambs, but with no sill. A battered plinth below a thick roll-moulding survives on the E, S and (now internal) W walls of the tower.

The nave was built in the 3rd quarter of the 12thc; its highly decorated N door and chancel arch are of this phase, as is the S door now re-set in the wall of the S aisle. The arcade as it stands is 13thc, but a fragment of Romanesque label surviving at its S end shows that there was an earlier arcade, extending further W than the present W end of the church. This deduction is confirmed by the roof-crease of an earlier and narrow S aisle which is visible inside the existing aisle, on the W wall of the tower.


The manor to which the church belonged descended from Wadard (1086) to Walkelin Wadard (c.1130), whose (probable) son-in-law Hugh de Chacombe gave the church to Chacombe Priory between 1163 and 1176 (VCH Oxon. vol. 9, 46-7).


Exterior Features


N doorway

With lintel and tympanum, two orders. The doorway is apparently re-set in a 14thc wall, at which time it was raised by 22 cm on new plinths. It retains its original door, with three C-strap hinges across six planks, to which an extra piece was added at the bottom when the doorway was heightened.

Height 2.16 m
Height, capital, first order 0.20 m
Height, capital, second order 0.185 m
Height incl necking, capital, first order 0.22 m
Height incl necking, capital, second order 0.21 m
Width 1.14 m
Width, capital front face, first order 0.17 m
Width, capital front face, second order 0.22 m
Width, capital side face, first order 0.09 m
Width, capital side face, second order 0.20 m
Height 0.62 m
Width 1.15 m
1st order

Engaged nook-shafts, with beakheads (ten each side) gripping the shafts. Simplified Attic-type bases (like Rigold's type 140 but without the fillets). Cushion capitals, different on L and R, with plain roll neckings.

L capital: Below the shields, fleshy upright foliage with grooved foliage; front shield blank, palmette (as on frieze under tympanum but inverted) on side face.

R capital: Foliage below shields as on L capital; Byzantine blossom on front shield, also spreading over onto side shield. Impost, continuous as frieze along bottom edge of tympanum, decorated with palmettes inside curved-over stems (cf.chancel arch).

In the arch, roll-moulding with fourteen gripping beakheads below band of small-scale lateral chevrons.

2nd order

Attached nook-shafts, as in 1st order but thicker, again with ten beakheads per shaft. Cushion capitals (similar on both sides) covered with two- and three-strand writhing interlace, the shields containing Byzantine blossoms; roll neckings with beaded bands spiralling around them. Imposts continuous with 1st order. In the arch is roll-moulding with fourteen gripping beakheads. The label has a hollow-chamfer on lower arris, and a face decorated with alternating triangularised foliage.


Fully covered with fairly regular beaded interlace knots, looser and larger on the upper third.

S doorway of nave

The nave S doorway has a lintel and tympanum, one order. Large monolithic lintel, elaborately chip-carved with 6-pointed stars within hexagons. Above the lintel is a separate tympanum made in two pieces, plain except for the remains of an incised sundial. Around jambs and arch, continuous lateral chevrons (hollow-ridge) on face forming cogwheel edge with plain soffit. Re-set, with 13thc rear-arch, presumably when the S aisle was built.

Height 1.89 m
Height of lintel 0.35 m
Height of tympanum 0.54 m
Width 1.06 m
Width of tympanum 1.07 m

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Of two orders, the arch itself a 13thc replacement. The label of the later arch incorporates six re-set blocks carved on the exposed surface with plait decoration, perhaps the remains of voussoirs from the original arch.

Width 3.64 m
L capital, second order
Height 0.16 m
Height incl necking 0.19 m
R capital, second order
Height 0.17 m
Height incl necking 0.19 m
Width of faces 0.23 m
1st order

Plain square jambs and imposts with deep, slightly hollow chamfer on lower arris, the uprights carved on some blocks with palmettes inside curved-over stems (cf. N doorway lintel) and on others with stars-within-hexagons (cf. S doorway tympanum). These imposts were probably rearranged when the arch was rebuilt, and show heavy modern restoration.

2nd order

Detached nook-shafts, Attic-type bases (similar to Rigold's type 95); capitals different on L and R (see below), square with plain roll neckings. The R shaft is in situ, but the L shaft has apparently been repositioned northwards. The jambs stand on a chamfered plinth.L capital. Triple-scallop with wedges between the scallops; the trefoil-shaped shield is recessed, and a band of small nailhead runs along the top edge; the W face has been hacked away, making the overall shape hard to define. R capital. Triple-scallop with recessed shields; wedges between scallops; corner cone with enlarged head. Imposts continuous from first order, similarly decorated. The label of the later arch incorporates 6 re-set blocks carved on the exposed surface with plait decoration, perhaps the remains of voussoirs from the original arch.



S arcade

On the N face of the westernmost pier of the 13thc arcade, where the label runs into the W wall, the masonry of the W wall has been cut back to expose a fragment of label from an earlier arch: big roll-moulding, terminating in a beasthead with broad snout and tongue.

Interior Decoration


Doorway from chancel to tower

Plain chamfered jambs. The existing triangular head has probably been cut into an earlier monolithic lintel with plain segmental tympanum. It is not impossible that this doorway is a late insertion re-using the lintel.

Height 1.60 m approx.
Height of tympanum-block 0.41 m approx.
Width 0.62 m
Width of tympanum-block 0.97 m

Doorway from S aisle to tower

In W wall of tower, and perhaps originally external. It has plain chamfered jambs. The head has been replaced by a pointed arch, but the original round-headed relieving-arch survives. There is a round-headed rear-arch.

Height 2.14 m approx.
Width 0.79 m




In S aisle, against S side of 2nd arcade pier, made of oolitic limestone. Plain, tub-shaped bowl. Plinth of indeterminate, probably later date.

Circumference at base 2.17 m
Circumference at top 2.28 m
Diameter of exterior at top 0.73 m
Height of bowl 0.46 m


Common motifs link the two nave doorways and the chancel arch. The rich 12th-century work is probably by the same Reading-influenced workshop as Iffley and St Frideswide's (Oxford Cathedral), St Peter-in-the-East and St Ebbes, Oxford.


  • R.Halsey, "The 12th-Century Church of St. Frideswide's Priory", Oxoniensia, 53 (1988), 160-7.

  • A History of the County of Oxford: Vol. 11, Wootton Hundred (Northern Part), Victoria County History,┬áLondon 1983, 54-6.

Church from W
Church and churchyard from S


Site Location
Barford St Michael
National Grid Reference
SP 432 326 
now: Oxfordshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Oxfordshire
now: St Michael
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
John Blair, Sarah Blair 
Visit Date
11 Sept 1990