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St Peter and St Paul, Church Hanborough, Oxfordshire

(51°48′44″N, 1°23′5″W)
Church Hanborough
SP 425 128
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
  • Janet Newson
09 June 2011

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Feature Sets

Although Church Hanborough is only 7 miles N of Oxford, it remains a small village off the beaten track. It represents the original Hanborough and now carries the prefix ‘Church’ to distinguish it from its larger neighbour, Long Hanborough, which has developed into a dormitory village for Oxford.

The 12thc church probably comprised a chancel flanked by short chapels and a long aisled nave. Evidence for it being all one build comes from the steep pitch of the original nave roof, still visible on the W wall, which was high enough to enable the building of contemporary side aisles. Apart from alterations to windows in subsequent centuries, most of the Romanesque shell remains. The earliest change was to the chancel, rebuilt and extended in the early 13thc. Subsequently aisles were heightened and the W tower built. The interior is now mainly Perpendicular, as is the present tower with a tall spire. The clerestory was built in the 16thc., together with a lower pitched roof to the nave. Romanesque features all relate to its outer shell: the N doorway with a combined lintel-tympanum depicting St Peter, the S doorway with a simple tympanum that was cut into when a Tudor door was inserted, a plain chancel doorway and two round-headed lancet windows.


In 1066 Hanborough was held by Tonni, who also had substantial estates in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. He was succeeded by Gilbert of Ghent. On Gilbert's death, c.1095, Hanborough seems to have passed, with other estates, to Walter, his son. But the manor was acquired by Henry I before c.1130, and probably before 1105 when three of the king's charters were dated there. It was later claimed that Henry I had taken the manor from Walter and given it to Walter's sister who was Henry's mistress. The manor was in the king's hands in 1156 and 1194 and remained part of the royal demesne until granted, with Woodstock manor, to John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, in 1705.

The church must have been in existence well before 1130 when Henry I granted it to Reading Abbey, and it may have been founded as early as 1108. Reading Abbey retained the advowson until the Dissolution.


Exterior Features




Most churches built in the early 12thc. were of simple plan without aisles, like that at Cassington, nearby. The large size of this one suggests its importance, and c.1220-21 the Rector was styled Dean (VCH).

The structure of the monolithic lintel-tympanum over the N doorway is unusual. Its imagery is difficult to read in parts and it looks as if it has been limewashed at some stage. An early photograph (Keyser, 1904) shows more clearly details of St Peter’s garments, with sleeves and skirt falling in vertical pleats and his right foot emerging below. His head is more crisply delineated, as are the haloes of the lion and lamb. Keyser refers to the lion with a hand resting on its back, whereas Sherwood and Pevsner see a winged lion (1974). Interpretation depends on whether the striations delineate digits or feathers, and whether the object beside them represents the arm of God or a tasselled tail.

The tympanum over the S doorway provides a contrast with its simple incised lines, now incomplete and also a mismatch to the arch supporting it. It is described as showing three arms of a cross (Sherwood and Pevsner, 1974). However, three complete upper arms are visible together with half of a lower arm on the R side, radiating from an inscribed circle that would have had six arms when complete.


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England's Patron Saints, vol. III, 140.

C. E. Keyser, A List of Norman Tympana and Lintels in the Churches of Great Britain, London 1904, 18 and Fig. 133.

J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire. Harmondsworth 1974, 543-4.

J. Sherwood and J. Piper, A Guide to the Churches of Oxfordshire, Oxford 1989, 55.

D. Thomas, The Parish of St Peter and St Paul, Hanborough, Oxfordshire, Hanborough P.C.C. 1985.

Victoria County History: Oxfordshire, 12, 1990, 173-7.