St Mary, Haddenham, Buckinghamshire

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Feature Sets (3)


Haddenham is 5 miles to the SW of Aylesbury and a mile from the Oxfordshire border, on the old A418 trunk road to Thame. For a short time at the end of the 13thc. it had a market, but its charter was revoked after complaints from nearby Thame. Many of its inhabitants therefore consider it a village, the largest in the country, even though it has 5,000 villagers and its own station, library, museum, industrial area and commercial district. The village itself has Townsend to the N and Church End to the S, suggesting that it was originally in a clearing in the woodland. Church End certainly has a village character, with a large green with a duckpond surrounded by the church (to the S), and a picturesque jumble of timber-framed and thatched cottages. St Mary's is a very large church, with an aisled nave, a chancel with N and S chapels and a W tower. The nave has no clerestory, but the combination of tall aisle arcades and big aisle windows makes it very bright. The arcades are of four bays and date from the 13thc. with cylindrical piers and moulded capitals. The aisle windows are a mixture of 14thc. flowing and 15thc. Perpendicular styles. The chancel arch is slightly earlier than the arcades; pointed but with late-12thc. capitals. The chancel is 13thc., as are its side chapels. Of these, the S is shorter and narrower and now serves as a vestry, while the N has a 13thc. piscina with dogtooth ornament, but was enlarged in the 15thc. when it was given two large Perpendicular windows. The tower is 13thc., with a W doorway and triple-lancet W window, an arcaded bell-storey and slender angle buttresses. There is no S doorway, and the N, facing the village green, is 13thc. with a 13thc. porch. The church is of coursed rubble in small pieces. Romanesque features recorded here are the chancel arch and two fonts; one in normal use in the church and the other in use as a planter outside.


In 1086 Haddenham was held by Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, and was assessed at 40 hides, of which 18 were in demesne. The population consisted of 40 villans, 16 bordars and 15 slaves, and there were two mills. There was meadow sufficient to feed 6 plough-teams and enough pasture for the livestock. Gilbert the preist held 3 hides of this land from the archbishop, along with a church and its tithes. Before the Conquest this land was held by Earl Tosti. The manor was granted to bishop Gundulf of Rochester by William II, in exchange for Gundulf's building of a royal castle at Rochester, and he and archbishop Lanfranc immediately granted it to the monks of Rochester priory. It was still in their possession in 1295, when charters for a weekly market and an annual fair were granted by Edward I to the prior and chapter of Rochester Cathedral, both to be held at the manor. The charter for the market was withdrawn in 1302 at the request of the bishop of Lincoln, presumably because his own market at nearby Thame was losing revenue. Haddenham is now in the benefice of Haddenham with Cuddington, Kingsey and Aston Sandford


Interior Features


Chancel arch

Pointed, of two orders in arch and one in the jambs, The responds are engaged half-columns without visible bases. The capitals are half-round in plan: the N has a concave bell decorated with a band of vertical spatulate leaves rising from the plain roll necking; the S similarly decorated with trumpet scallops with tiny, recessed shields that face upwards rather than forwards. Each has a fat roll impost. The arch has two chamfered orders.




In the N nave aisle, W of the N doorway

The font consists of a tub-shaped sandstone bowl on an octagonal stem with a square step. The bowl has a vertical top band with dragon decoration in relief, and below this it tapers to a lower rim consisting of a thin necking above a fat, projecting roll. The tapered sides are multi-scalloped with no shields and flattened conical wedges between the cones. An alternative description is that it is decorated with half-cones, pointing alternately up and down. The description of the upper band begins at the S, where a pair of affronted dragons face one another at either side of a vertical palmette. Their heads are doglike with elongated snouts, mouths open to show two rows of pointed teeth, almond eyes and long ears laid back. They have front legs with curved feet and wings folded against their bodies. The body and wings of the L dragon are badly worn, but the R is better preserved and has shallow pitting to denote the upper feathers and long grooves for the flights. The scales on the body are shown by wavy vertical reeding. The tips of their tails are spiral with a terminal leaf in the centre, and this design continues as a running scroll with furled-leaf sideshoots. At the NW of the rim, where the two scrolls/tails should meet, is a large area of loss, crudely repaired with dark mortar. The upper surface of the rim is of mortar, rendered flat, and the bowl is lined with lead.

ext. diameter at rim 0.745 m
h. of bowl 0.64 m
h. of bowl and stem 0.94 m
int. diameter at rim 0.545 m


Old font reused as a planter. To the W of the N porch, a cup-shaped bowl mounted on a modern square stem made of rough-cut ashlar blocks. Integral with the bowl is a projecting roll moulding at the bottom of the curved cup, which survives from most of the circumference. The lower rim is cut vertically. The surface is generally eroded, with an old, deep crack around the lower part of the bowl at the W. The rim is also generally worn, with larger losses at the NW and SE. The interior could not be examined.

ext. diameter at rim 0.74 m
h. of bowl 0.50 m
int. diameter at rim 0.56 m


Pevsner describes the font (V.1.(i)) as one of the Aylesbury type, and the decoration of the bowl as 'rough fluting', which it certainly is not. To the present author the links with the Aylesbury group seem very tenuous: the bowl is the wrong shape, there is no fluting, the dragon motifs of the upper border appear nowhere in the Aylesbury group, and there is nothing resembling the typical inverted scallop base. In fact an analysis of the motifs used at Haddenham point to a date earlier than the 1170-90 range normally accepted for the Aylesbury fonts; perhaps c.1140-50.


  • Victoria County History: Kent. II (1926), 121-26 (on Rochester)
  • Victoria County History: Buckinghamshire. II (1908), 281-86.
  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Buckingham. Volume 1 (south). London 1912.
  • N. Pevsner and E. Williamson, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire. London 1960, 2nd ed. 1994, 357-58.
Exterior from SW.
Interior to E.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SP 742 080 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Buckinghamshire
now: Buckinghamshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Oxford
now: St Mary
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter