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St Edburg, Bicester, Oxfordshire

(51°53′49″N, 1°9′9″W)
SP 584 224
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
medieval St Edburg
now St Edburg
  • Jane Cunningham
  • Janet Newson
23 May 2013

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St Edburg’s is the town church for Bicester in E Oxfordshire. The large 12thc. church had been cruciform, with a chancel, nave, transepts and a central tower. In the 13thc. the chancel was enlarged and the S aisle was added. A N aisle was added in the 14thc., with octagonal piers inserted in the N wall of the nave. The central tower was taken down in the 15thc. and rebuilt at the W end. The removal of the W crossing arch at the same time allowed for a longer nave. The church now comprises a chancel, clerestoried nave, transepts with N and S aisles, a vestry (former N chapel), a W tower and a N porch. Of the Romanesque church, three arches of the original crossing remain. Traces of a chevron stringcourse remain on the transept walls, and on the now interiorised N nave wall between the arcades.


Before the Conquest Bicester was part of the possessions of Wigod of Wallingford, but after its lands were assessed at 15 ½ hides it was held by Robert d’Oilly of Oxford as two manors. Like the other d’Oilly estates, Bicester seems to have passed to Miles Crispin when he married d’Oilly’s daughter, Maud. It subsequently formed part of the honor of Wallingford, later merging with the new honor of Ewelme (VCH).

There was definitely a church here before the Conquest, probably also belonging to Wigod and then to Robert d’Oilly. It is traditionally believed that the church dated from the 7thc. Although the architectural evidence for this is questionable, it was undoubtedly of early importance. Its status is indicated by its relations with its dependent chapels of Stratton and Launton. Parishioners of Launton were obliged to take their dead to Bicester for burial until 1435. The mother church would have been unlikely to have this privilege but for its status, after the grant of Launton to Westminster Abbey by Edward the Confessor. Further, by the end of the 12thc., Bicester had given its name to a deanery comprising 33 churches. Soon after 1180, Gilbert Basset, a tenant of Bicester, founded the Priory of Austin canons and endowed it with part of his demesnes. The priory appropriated Bicester church before 1226 and retained it until the Dissolution.

It is not known whether the patron saint of Bicester, St Edburg or Edburga, is the Esburga of Kent, or whether she is a local saint, commemorated also in the name of nearby Adderbury, originally Edburg-bury.

The present benefice of Bicester includes Bucknell, Caversfield and Launton.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Interior Decoration

String courses

There is a low opening with a triangular stone arch at the E end of the N arcade that may be Saxon, irregular in shape and orientation. However, its Saxon origin cannot be established and it may be later (VCH). A number of small dressed stones make up the two sides of the triangle, rather than two massive ones, so it might simulate the original.

The tapered octagonal font seems more likely to be 13thc., as suggested by VCH.


J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire. Harmondsworth 1974, 452-454.

Victoria County History: Oxfordshire, 6, 1959, 14-56.