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St Mary, Glympton, Oxfordshire

(51°53′32″N, 1°23′12″W)
SP 423 217
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
medieval St Laurence
now St Mary
  • Janet Newson
30 September 2010

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The small village of Glympton lies in the valley of the river Glyme, 10 miles NW of Oxford. The church is hidden within the Glympton estate, accessible by public footpath from the village or by road via the N Lodge. A church was in existence on this site by the early 12thc, presumably consisting of a nave and chancel. The nave was rebuilt during the later Middle Ages. The W tower was largely rebuilt in the 16thc or 17thc, but the original internal Transitional tower arches were retained and its external walls include fragments of decorated Romanesque stone. The chancel arch was replaced and widened in 1849, re-using the original responds and probably simulating the Romanesque arch. In 1872 there was a thorough restoration by George Edmund Street, who rebuilt the chancel and its roof, and also added a S doorway, porch, vestry and new nave windows. The Romanesque features are fragments of zigzag and a possible corbel re-used in the tower, the chancel arch responds and capitals, part of the nave walls with internal corbels, and the decorated font. An inscription mounted in the chancel may also be Romanesque.


Glympton is presumed to have been held by Edward, whose boundary touched the neighbouring parish of Wootton in 958, and later by Aegelric of Glympton who witnessed a charter c.1050. In 1066 Glympton, together with estates in Wootton, Finmere and Hethe, was held freely of Edward the Confessor by Wulfward the White, who survived the Conquest, but by 1086 it was part of the fee of Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances. It presumably passed with Geoffrey's other lands to his nephew Robert de Mowbray, earl of Northumberland, and was forfeited to the Crown on his rebellion in 1095. The Bishop's tenant in 1086 was William, perhaps the ancestor of the next recorded lord, Sir Geoffrey de Clinton (Henry I's chamberlain), who first appears c.1110, and certainly held Glympton by 1122. He gave Glympton to his brother William, who was succeeded by his son Ralph. From Ralph it went to his brother Jordan de Clinton (d.1189), who had exchanged it with Geoffrey's grandson, Henry de Clinton.

The church was in existence by the early 12thc when Manasser Arsic gave it 1.5 hides in Ludwell (Ledwell, nearby). Geoffrey de Clinton gave Glympton church to his new foundation, Kenilworth priory, in 1122. The Priory’s right to it was challenged twice, unsuccessfully (VCH).

The original dedication was to St Laurence, but it was changed to St Mary by the early 18thc, although the parish wake was still kept on or near St Laurence’s day (VCH). However, Frances Arnold-Forster (1899) does not recognise the early dedication to St Laurence. The church is now in the United Benefice of Wootton, Glympton and Kiddington.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches

Interior Decoration





Chancel arch

Besides being responsible for Glympton, Geoffrey de Clinton built St Peter’s church at Cassington, where he resided, and it was consecrated in 1122; eight miles S of Glympton, this early Romanesque church is still relatively intact (see separate site report). Cassington’s chancel arch is comparable, decorated with a series of heavy roll mouldings of different widths, but it has zigzag on the outer order, in contrast to Glympton’s star-in-rectangle. Both villages were close to the royal hunting forest at Woodstock, then much favoured by King Henry I.


The lettering on the N respond of the chancel arch is of Romanesque character, and could have a 12thc origin. It is suggested that only part of the inscription is present as the year is missing (VCH). Bertram (1993, 37-39) believes that it is 13thc, and interprets the message as meaning that the church’s dedication feast is to be kept on March 15th. The date does not accord with St Laurence’s feast day, which is August 8th. The stone plaque is not mentioned in 17thc to 19thc accounts of the church, so it is presumed that it was removed from its original position in the medieval building, and was discovered and remounted during the mid-19thc rebuilding. It looks undamaged and the inscription now completely fills the block.

W tower re-set fragments

The reused decorative stonework on the tower is mostly simple zigzag, with three zigzags predominating on each slightly curved stone. The shallowness of the stones (only 0.11 m), and their slight curvature, suggests a wide arch, or, more likely, the hoodmould to one. It is likely that the early church would have had an embellished doorway. The square stone on the W face, with a straight sill above, might be part of a corbel.


F. E. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications: Or, England's Patron Saints, London, 1899, 3 vols.

J. Bertram, Medieval Inscriptions in Oxfordshire, Oxoniensia, 68, 2003, 37-39.

J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, Harmondsworth, 1974, 612-3.

Victoria County History: Oxfordshire, 11 (1983), 128-130.