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St Mary, Bloxham, Oxfordshire

(52°1′5″N, 1°22′29″W)
SP 430 357
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • Janet Newson
  • John Blair
  • Sarah Blair
17 July 1994 and 11 September 2014

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Bloxham is a large village 3 miles SW of Banbury with a grand church built of the local Hornton ironstone. The earliest evidence of the existence of a church is a charter of 1067 by which William I granted it to Westminster Abbey. St Mary's church is now predominantly 14thc., consisting of a chancel with a N vestry, a nave, N and S aisles, a S chapel, N and S porches and a W tower. There was rebuilding in the mid-12thc., and parts of this were re-used in the 13thc. for a second rebuilding. Romanesque decoration survives in the carved tymanum over the small doorway in the N wall of the chancel, and in the voussoirs of the nave S doorway, reset in a pointed doorway in the 14thc. The later chancel arch rests on 12thc. responds that must have been reset further apart than the originals. Within the chancel, unusual use has been made of a variety of Romanesque mouldings as rear-arches for the tracery of the 13thc. windows, with cable, chevron and beakhead motifs.


The manor was first known to belong to Tostig, Earl of Northumbria who was deposed by his thegns in 1065 and replaced by Morcar, younger brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia. From Morca it passed to Edwin himself (VCH). Since Bloxham was an important royal manor in the late Anglo-Saxon period, the church was probably founded before the Conquest as a minster (Blair, 1994). Circa 1180 Henry II granted it to Godstow Abbey, and it was held by the abbess and convent until the Dissolution when it passed to the Crown, and later Eton College.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Interior Decoration


The Romanesque fragments presumably date from the time when the church was still in royal hands. They represent an exceptionally lavish church, presumably a reflection of Bloxham's status as the local mother church in earlier centuries.

The presence of a chevron capping (^) on the extrados of each beakhead voussoir echoes the cusps found in a similar position on beakhead voussoirs at Iffley, Oxon, and from Reading Abbey, both prestigious churches. It seems likely that the Bloxham beakheads around the rear-arches of the chancel windows may have originated around a previous chancel arch. They provide an exceptionally large variety of subject matter. Their large size and profile, curling around the soffit, is characteristic of voussoirs edging chancel arches. A total of forty voussoirs is not unlikely for a large chancel arch in an important church.

Two of the chip-carved motifs resemble similarly executed ones on the font at Hook Norton, Oxon. A chip-carved flower occurs on the 1st order L respond of the chancel arch, on the soffit between the two angle volutes. Several simple chip-carved motifs also occur on the re-used moulding over the E window of the chancel.


J. Blair, Anglo-Saxon Oxfordshire, Stroud 1994, 65-6, 119-21.

J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, Harmondsworth 1974, 477-8.

Victoria County History: Oxfordshire, 9 (1969), 53-85.