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St Mary the Virgin, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

(51°56′39″N, 1°32′51″W)
Chipping Norton
SP 312 274
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
  • Janet Newson
10 June 2011

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Feature Sets

The flourishing market town of Chipping Norton in north Oxfordshire is close to the boundaries of Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. St Mary the Virgin is a large church, sited halfway up the north-facing slope on top of which much of the town now stands. There are now only fragments of possible Romanesque origin. The chancel and aisles were rebuilt in the 13thc. and 14thc. The new nave is known to have been under construction by the mid-15thc. The W tower was rebuilt in 1825, but its E wall retains parts of the head and jambs of a possible Romanesque arch. The 13thc. N chancel arcade retains a spandrel displaying a grotesque head, possibly from the Romanesque church, above a round pillar.


William the Conqueror gave Ernulf de Hesdin, a Flemish knight and one of his high-ranking followers, eleven manors in various parts of England, including Norton in Oxfordshire. Ernulf made Norton (later Chipping Norton) his main residence. In 1086 his holding there is recorded as 15 hides. He soon built the motte-and-bailey castle, probably in wood initially, further down the slope from the church. By 1130 the castle belonged to William Fitzalan, who had supported Matilda against Stephen, thereby saving his property from destruction when Henry II became king. Both Ernulf and his son had met untimely deaths by 1138. The son's sister, Avelina, had married Alan FitzFleald, and the manor of Norton passed to them and eventually to their son, William Fitzalan, lord of Clun in Shropshire. In 1181 he sub-divided it through the foundation of the priory of Cold Norton with a community of Augustinian canons. The manor remained with the Fitzalans until 1399 (Eddershaw, 2006).

The benefice of Chipping Norton includes Over Norton, the villages of Chastleton, Cornwell, Little Compton, Little Rollright, Salford, and the parishes of Churchill and Sarsden, Kingham and Daylesford.


Interior Features


Nave arches

Interior Decoration


The evidence for a rounded arch in the W wall of the nave is confused by the presence of a shallower arc above it and raises several questions. Its outline is large enough to represent a great W doorway. However, it is not known when the original tower was built, and whether the arch was left in situ in the nave wall or was reinstated. This question arises again for John Hudson’s rebuild of 1825. If there was a rounded arch in that position, then the Romanesque church would have been as long as the present one because there are features remaining at both ends.

The evidence for the re-set head in the chancel being Romanesque rests mainly on the presence of the pointed ears, which were a feature of mid-12thc. beakheads and other grotesque heads.


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England's Patron Saints, vol. III, 86.

D. Eddershaw, Chipping Norton: the Story of a Market Town, Chipping Norton 2006, 15-19, 35.

J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, Harmondsworth 1974, 536-7.