St Mary the Virgin, Bampton, Oxfordshire

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Feature Sets (4)


St Mary's is a large church, now consisting of chancel, N vestry, S chancel chapel, N transept with E chapel, S transept with W chapel, crossing with tower and spire, and aisled nave. Remains of the primary nave, rubble-built with herringbone courses, are 11thc. or earlier. The chancel arch is late 11thc. or early 12thc.; there is documentary evidence, and some archaeological evidence, for a big W tower existing by the 1140s. The church was grandly remodelled during the second half of the 12thc. The tower on crossing-arches was raised over the E part of the former nave, large new transepts and chancel were built, and there was probably a S aisle. A plain round-headed single-splayed window remains in the W wall of each transept. The belfry openings, one in each face of the tower, were remodelled in the 13thc. but retain the plain square jambs and under-chamfered abaci of the 12thc. openings. It was stated in 1871 that `the rough traces of three or four Norman windows in the N wall [of the chancel] were brought to light, when the plaster was stripped. All the masonry of these windows had been apparently removed' (Notes of an Excursion..., 34-5).

The spire was added in the 13thc., and the nave was largely rebuilt in the early 14thc. A harsh restoration in 1870 involved renewal of some of the Romanesque detail.

Romanesque features recorded here are the south transept south doorway, and internal doorways to the chancel vestry and the north transept stair turret (these internal doorways are described in section III.1.(ii) to (iv), a string course and a corbel table (largely renewed) on the exterior of the chancel, the chancel arch and crossing arches, interior string courses in the chancel and tower, blind arcading in the tower, and various rest fragments, inside and out.


This was an Anglo-Saxon minster church, given by Bishop Leofric to the new cathedral of Exeter in the l050s. Bishops from the late 11thc. to mid 12thc. used Bampton as a residence, but from the 1150s onwards the church was controlled by the cathedral canons. A late 12thc. arrangement by which a `prebend-farmer', usually a high-ranking ecclesiastic, controlled the appointment of two lesser `prebend-portioners', was transformed in 1220 into three portionary vicarages, which survived until the 1840s. Throughout the later Middle Ages Bampton remained the mother church of an exceptionally large parish, controlling many daughter churches and chapels.


Exterior Features


Doorway in N wall of chancel

Giving access to vestry and evidently contemporary with it. Continuous chamfer around jambs and head. Retains original door.


Doorway opening from N transept to stair-turret

Chamfered jambs and head. Blank segmental tympanum in three pieces, above monolithic lintel and surrounded by ten radial voussoirs. The tympanum is recessed in relation to the lintel and voussoirs, the bordering edges of which are chamfered.

h. of lintel 0.23 m
h. of opening 1.76 m
h. of tympanum in centre 0.26 m
w. of lintel 0.76 m
w. of opening 0.67 m
w. of tympanum at base 0.71 m

S doorway, S transept

Round-headed, of two orders. The original door with decorative ironwork, now lost, is shown in the Buckler drawing.

h. of opening 2.75 m
w. of opening 1.34 m
First order, L capital
h. (excl. necking) 0.115 m
h. (incl. necking) 0.13 m
max w. E face 0.14 m
max. w. S face 0.15 m
First order

Engaged nook-shafts, with capitals different on L and R with plain roll neckings. The shafts are now Victorian and plain, but a drawing by J.C.Buckler in 1821 (Bodleian Library, MS Top.Oxon.a.65 No.59) shows that each shaft had seven rings alternating with seven foliate clasps. Bases now represented by plain square blocks, shown missing in the Buckler drawing.

L capital: Block-shaped. A large fluted leaf on the angle between two smaller fluted leaves, one on each face.

R capital: round. On the corner is a stem with a small blossom, sprouting a pair of fluted leaves which spread downwards, one onto each face. Around the top of the capital is a band of miniature pellets between fillets.

Imposts are chamfered and decorated with a cable moulding below a quirk. In the arch, single chevron point-to-point with flanking rolls on face and soffit. The lozenge-shaped pyramids formed on the arris between the chevrons are covered with cross-hatched fruit.

Second order

Detached nook-shafts, with capitals different on L and R with plain roll neckings. The shafts are plain, and are shown so in the Buckler drawing. Bases now represented by plain square blocks, shown partly surviving in the Buckler drawing.

L capital: round. On the corner is a male head, out of whose mouth issues a pair of ribbed leaves (their stems decorated with miniature beading), which curl up and back, one onto each face. Around the top of the capital runs a band of miniature pellets between fillets, passing behind the head.

R capital: round. Weathered head, out of whose mouth issue two weathered stems of foliage, one spreading back onto each face. Band of pellets as on L capital.

Imposts: decorated with a band of large pierced pellets below a quirk. In the arch, two rows of chevrons, roll-hollow-roll, flanking arris on face, point-to-point with same on soffit.

Label: double-chamfered with keeled billet on both arrises. Three weathered human heads, two as label-stops and the third at the apex.

The inside of the doorway has a high semicircular rere-arch.

Tower doorway

Plain round-headed doorway leading from stair-turret into belfry stage of tower.


Re-set window frame

Re-set monolithic, Saxon window-frame reused in stair-turret

Exterior Decoration

String courses

string course around chancel

Chamfer on both arrises, quirk on face. Fragments survive at W end of original N wall (now inside vestry) and at NE corner, and trimmed-back scar along E wall.

h. from ground (at NE corner) 3.1 m

Corbel tables, corbels

Corbel-table, N and S walls of chancel

Comprising 23 corbels on N and 14 on S under a row of keeled billet. The corbels, mainly animal-heads, are entirely Victorian except possible the two easternmost on each side. It seems, however, that they replace a genuine feature, for it was noted in 1871 that `the visible remains of late Norman work in the chancel are the corbel table under the eaves, on the N side' (Notes of an Excursion..., 34).


Re-set fragment, S transept, E wall.

Small fragment of impost moulding, hollow-chamfer below double quirk.

Re-set fragments, W end wall

A cluster of fragments approx. 3 m from the ground and approx. 1.5 m N of S aisle window. There are mainly ashlar blocks but including one section of round shaft, one sectioned of keel-shaped shaft and one fragment of large round moulding.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round-headed, one square order. Impost mouldings are pieced-in and later.

W face: voussoirs decorated with a continuous band of chip-carved, star-shaped motifs. E face: plain, but traces of probably original painted lines outlining the arch.

h. of opening 4.7 m
w. of opening 2.85 m

Tower/Transept arches

Crossing arches.

All four arches are pointed, jambs and arch of two square orders; the E arch has no E face, since it is built up against the pre-existing chancel-arch wall.

Imposts: with hollow-chamfered lower arris below quirk, continuous from first to second order.

Label: hollow-chamfered on both arrises with quirk above lower chamfer, above all arches on all faces.

Inner faces: of the E, W and N arches the lower arris is decorated with a row of keeled billets, and on the outer face of the W arch with nailheads (now entirely Victorian).

Transept arches

Arch from S transept into former E chapel

Now blocked. Round-headed, of one square order. Plain jambs. Imposts largely destroyed, but fragment of S impost suggests that they had a chamfered lower arris below a quirk. Label (W face only) chamfered on both arrisses.

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades


Arcade of paired round-headed recesses with central shafts. Placed around the interior of the middle stage of the crossing-tower, comprising two paired recesses on each side. The E recess on the N side runs through the full thickness of the wall to a ninth paired opening overlooking the N transept, and was originally entered by a passage in the thickness of the N wall of the tower, opening off the stair-turret. The nine, paired, openings are identical. Outer jambs and arches are square and continuous. Central shaft of square section, with broad chamfers on the two visible arrisses. Bases mainly masked by the inserted floor; the only one fully visible is a simplified attic (Rigold's type 139 but without the quirk). Square capital, triple-scallop, impost with chamfered lower arris below quirk, plain necking (its corners chamfered off to match the shaft). The only variations are that one capital on the S side has its corner scallops chamfered, and the shaft facing towards the N transept has an inverted base for a capital.

h. of capital (incl. impost and necking) 0.22 m
h. of capital (excl. impost and necking) 0.11 m
max. w. of capital 0.24 m

String courses

Chancel roll

Roll around interior of chancel, surviving on N wall and partially on S wall.

diam 0.13 m
h. from floor 2.26 m

Frieze of keeled billets

Around the inside of the crossing-tower, about 0.3 m above the points of the arches and forming the base of the blind arcading.


Re-set fragment of rectangular block

Projecting from one face of which is a sculptural feature consisting of a domed ribbed area bordered by a band of pellets between fillets. Identity uncertain. Possibly an attached corbel, or a human head with a beaded head-band. [It may have been something like the king's-head stop to the hoodmoulding above pier 2 of the arcade at Shilton.] W wall of nave, towards S corner, third course down from sill of W window.

Re-set voussoir.

Carved with beakhead, the beak and the roll-moulding which it grips largely effaced. S transept, W wall, high up above arch into SW chapel, just below N jamb of N clerestorey window.

Re-set voussoirs

Group of re-set voussoirs, perhaps representing two orders of a 12thc. S arcade (of which the chamfered respond-plinth remains at the W end), now re-set in both faces of the wall above the existing (14thc.) S arcade. Three voussoir types are represented. Type A: One row of chevron (ridge flanked on outer side by double quirk) on face, cogwheel edge; one chevron per voussoir-block. Type B: Same, but two chevrons per voussoir-block. Type C: Nook-roll, diam. c.0.09 m, on arris; one example bears a largely concealed beakhead.

On S side: 1 B, above pier I; 2 as above pier II; 1 A, above pier III; 1 C, above W respond. On N side: 1 C (soffit face exposed, showing just the tip of a beakhead's beak), above E respond; 1 C and 1 A, above pier II; 1 C, above pier III; 1 B, above W respond.

This wall contains many other ashlar blocks, which could be voussoirs set face-inwards.

Reused block

Reused block (as sill of late medieval image-niche). Bearing profile of dressed-back respond capital: thick impost with hollow-chamfered lower arris above thick roll, roll necking. Date uncertain, but perhaps Transitional.

h. (excl. necking) 0.22 m
h. (incl. necking) 0.27 m
h. of block 0.27 m
max. w. 0.41 m
w. of block 1.02 m



Now lost, but known from a drawing by J. C.Buckler in 1821 (Bodleian Library, MS Top. Oxon.a 65, No.56). It stood on an early 14thc. base, shown inverted in the drawing, which survives supporting the present Victorian font. Square, but with the interior of the bowl round. On each face, plain round-headed blind arcading in five bays. Although there is no evidence for the material, this looks like one of the earlier types of standard Purbeck marble font. The dimensions are calculated from the Buckler drawing in conjunction with the surviving late medieval plinth, and are very approximate.

h. of bowl approx 0.30 m
w. of bowl approx. 0.80 m



Chancel, centre of E wall at floor level. Pair of round-headed openings, each with a continuous edge rebate and chamfer, opening onto a single rectangular cavity. The head of the two openings is made in three pieces, the two outer of which are Victorian replacements. There are remains of iron fixings for doors.

h. of each opening 0.53 m
overall h. 0.74 m
overall w. 1.05 m
w. of each opening 0.28 m


The great size of the late 12thc. church, closer in plan and scale to a small monastic church than to a parish church of the time, reflects its unusual status. The pointed crossing arches, with their simple square orders, may reflect the patronage of the canons of Exeter: it has recently been argued that the nave of Exeter Cathedral had pointed arches (Thurlby, 29), and late 12thc. pointed arches with plain square orders also occur in their Devonshire churches of Crediton, Branscombe and Colyton. In turn, it may be thanks to the influence of Bampton that chancel arches in a similar style occur locally at Clanfield and Standlake, and a tower arch at Broughton Poggs. On the other hand, the elaborate S doorway is probably a product of the Gloucs./Wilts. workshop responsible for Quenington etc. and ultimately reliant on a Reading Abbey workshop (cf. the clasps, the heads and the pierced pellets.)


  • Notes of an Excursion to Ducklington, Cokethorpe, Stanlake, Yelford and Bampton, North Oxfordshire Archaeological Society, 1871, 33-9.
  • The Victoria County History: Oxfordshire, xiii, 1996.
  • J. Blair, The Ecclesiastical Topography of Bampton, Bampton Research Paper 3, privately produced, 1990.
  • J. Blair, The Medieval Clergy of Bampton, Bampton Research Paper 4, privately produced, 1991.
  • C. E. Keyser, `An architectural description of Bampton church', Journal of British Archaeological Association, n.s. XXII, 1916, 1-12, 113-22, 43 pls.
  • N. Pevsner and J.Sherwood, The Buildings of England, Oxfordshire, London, 1974, 429f.
  • M. Thurlby, 'The Romanesque Cathedral of St Mary and St Peter at Exeter', ed. F. Kelly, Medieval Art and Architecture at Exeter Cathedral, British Archaeological Association, London 1991, 19-34.
  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Top. Oxon.a 65 Nos. 56, 59: Drawings by J.C.Buckler of font and S doorway.
Church Plan
View from S.
View from S.
W front.
Nave from W.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SP 313 034 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Oxfordshire
now: Oxfordshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Oxford
medieval: St John the Baptist (1292)
now: St Mary the Virgin
Type of building/monument
Parish church, formerly quasi-collegiate church  
Report authors
John Blair, Sarah Blair