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St Mary Magdalene, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

(51°50′49″N, 1°21′24″W)
SP 444 167
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
now Lincoln and Oxford
  • Janet Newson
09 June 2011

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Feature Sets

In the mid-C12th the Borough of Woodstock was founded by the king, and it is presumed that the present church was established at this time. It was created within the parish of Bladon as a chapel of ease. It is known that a S aisle was added in the C13th, and a bell tower, mentioned in 1279, stood on the N side of the church. This was rebuilt or raised in the C15th, but taken down as unsafe in the C18th. A new tower and N aisle were built in the classical style by John Yenn in 1784-6. The medieval church was almost completely rebuilt by A.W. Blomfield in 1878. Today the S doorway, richly decorated with two continuous orders of chevron, is the only Romanesque survival.


The royal manor of Woodstock, part of the Forest of Wychwood, existed before the Norman Conquest. Under King Henry I it became emparked in order to conserve the game within its boundaries and it contained accommodation that probably amounted to a hunting lodge. It was situated within the parish of Bladon, the village at its SE border. Under Henry II, more palatial living quarters were built within the park and the king’s retinue lived in ‘Old’ Woodstock to the NE. The hunting lodge or Palace of Woodstock had its own private chapel, or possibly several by the C13th. Although the town church remained a chapel of ease until the C17th, it acquired a measure of independence under the town corporation, and had acquired its own burial ground by the C13th.


Exterior Features



The structure of the S doorway, with two continuous orders of lateral chevron, is typical of the mid-C12th. Continuous orders are a specialty of churches in Berkshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, but rare in this country as a whole (Newson, 2013).

The reddening of the stone of the outer order of the S doorway is noticeable. A similar reddish colour is visible in the decorative stonework of the chapter-house doorway of St Frideswide’s Priory (now part of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford). It is attributed in the latter to having been in a fire, and one was known to have occurred late in the C12th. This was quite a common occurrence, particularly if a wooden porch surrounded the doorway. At Woodstock the reddest stone appears over the arch, where the inner order, from its pristine appearance, has been replaced. Two large jamb stones of the inner order, near ground level, have also been replaced due to erosion.


J. Newson, 'Beakhead Decoration on Romanesque Arches in the Upper Thames Valley', Oxoniensia 78 (2013), 71-86.

J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (Harmondsworth, 1974), 856.

Victoria County History: Oxfordshire, 12 (London, 1990), 406, 411.