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St Thomas of Canterbury, Elsfield, Oxfordshire

(51°47′9″N, 1°13′6″W)
SP 540 100
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
medieval Lincoln
now Oxford
  • Jane Cunningham
  • Janet Newson
18 May 2013

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The village of Elsfield is located on a rural escarpment 3 miles NE of Oxford, outside the ring road. A church existed here by 1122, or perhaps earlier. The present church of St Thomas of Canterbury now comprises a chancel, nave with S porch, and a 19thc bellcote on the W gable. It was largely rebuilt in the 13thc. There was once a N aisle, whose blocked arches were visible in the N wall until restorations of 1849 and 1859. The earliest surviving Romanesque feature is the chancel arch of c. 1170-80, with high quality decorated responds. There is also a plain Romanesque font.


In 1086 Elsfield was part of the great fee of Robert d'Oilly, castellan of Oxford, of whom it was held by Turstin son of Rolf, a Norman who had much property in Buckinghamshire. The overlordship followed the descent of Waterperry. The Domesday tenant was succeeded here and in Bucks by the Stratford family. 2/3 of the tithes of the manorial demesne was granted by Robert d'Oilly in the 11thc to the church of St George in Oxford Castle, and passed with the church to Oseney abbey.

A church was in existence here by 1122, or perhaps earlier, when it was granted by Henry I to St Frideswide’s Priory. The original dedication is unknown, but it was rededicated to St Thomas of Canterbury after a remodelling in 1273. After the Dissolution it passed to Cardinal College and then to Christ Church, Oxford.

It is in the benefice of Marston with Elsfield.


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches




The proportions of the respond capitals resemble those of Oxford Cathedral, with large square imposts pressing down on the sloping faces of the capitals. These would have been executed at much the same time.

Sherwood and Pevsner (1974) mention the presence of late Romanesque capitals in the vicarage garden. The authors searched for these but found nothing.


Rev. T. Price, St Thomas of Canterbury, Elsfield. A History of the Church, n.p., 2005.

J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire. Harmondsworth 1974, 591-2.

Victoria County History: Oxfordshire, 5, London 1957, 116-22.