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St Peter, Hook Norton, Oxfordshire

(51°59′42″N, 1°29′3″W)
Hook Norton
SP 355 331
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
medieval St Peter
now St Peter
  • Janet Newson
09 September 2010, 25 June 2014

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This large church may have had Anglo-Saxon origins, but the main build was early Norman. It was cruciform, with an impressive chancel that still remains. The S nave arcades, with tall octagonal piers, and the S aisle, were built later in the Decorated style. The S transept was rebuilt at the same time, and the chancel acquired a Decorated E window. The N transept was not rebuilt, but a N nave arcade of four bays, with short octagonal piers, was built c.1300, with a later fifth bay (Sherwood and Pevsner 1974). In the 15thc. the church acquired a Perpendicular clerestory, with a five-light window over a new chancel arch, and also a Perpendicular W tower. Romanesque features are concentrated in the chancel and N transept. Outside, the chancel has truncated pilaster buttresses, a string course and round-headed windows. There is an exterior blocked doorway in the N aisle, and interior blocked archways in the chancel and the N transept. The chancel has two decorated impost blocks from the original chancel arch, as well as a relic niche and a combined piscina-sedilia. The impost blocks are echoed in the plinth blocks at the entrance to the N transept. There is a highly original figurative font.


Speculation about the church’s Anglo-Saxon origins, and whether it might have been a minster, led to Blair’s excavations in 1982. He found no evidence of a minster on the church site (Blair 1994).

Soon after the Norman Conquest the manor of Hook Norton was given to a Saxon ruler, Wigod, whose daughter married Robert d’Oilly (Wheatley, Terry and Rider 2004). Robert d’Oilly was an important Norman knight in the Oxford area, building Oxford Castle in the 1070s and acquiring large estates. He was probably responsible for the Norman build at Hook Norton (Johnson, Smith and Wigg 1990). In 1129 Robert d'Oilly's son founded Oseney Abbey and endowed it with all the churches of his demesne manors, including Hook Norton church and land accompanying it.

It now belongs to the benefice of Great Rollright, Hook Norton and Swerford.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches

Interior Decoration





It would seem that the size of the church may be accounted for solely by the influence of Robert d’Oilly. Later, several of the chancel features (the double piscina and sedilia, and the reliquary niche) may have been added for the benefit of the visiting canons from Oseney Abbey. Interestingly, the width of all three openings in the chancel is similar (68-70 cm), suggesting that they were carved at the same time. The sedilia, claimed to be a two-seater, may represent one of the earliest remaining (Johnson, Smith and Wigg 1990). They suggest that the arch in the chancel N wall was originally a door into a chapel or recluse’s cell at the NE corner. It would have been a narrow doorway, but this is usual in chancels. It is not known when it was partly filled in, ostensibly to serve as an aumbry. Possibly the blocked doorway in the E wall of the N transept would have led to the same cell.

Sherwood and Pevsner believe the impost blocks in the chancel are from the Romanesque chancel arch. Their design is echoed more simply in the blocks acting as plinths at the entrance to the N transept. These are probably reused as the band of scallops is now inverted, and that at the W corner of the transept has been cut down and is misaligned with the later column above it. Presumably this would have been done when the Romanesque arch of that transept was replaced, or when the N aisle was added.

Hook Norton’s font has a sculptural link with Wallingford Castle (Zarnecki, in London 1984). A small relief of Aquarius was found in the castle grounds that may have formed part of a Zodiac cycle decorating the hall. The Wallingford version is a mirror image of Hook Norton’s, except that it has a dog-like head, looking backwards. Both reliefs must have been carved by the same sculptor. On the Hook Norton font, there is an orb in the sky between Aquarius and his axe, possibly a sun or moon. In the church guides, the quadruped on the NW side has been variously named as the Lamb of God or Aries. Knowledge of the sculptor’s other work makes Leo a more likely proposition, particularly as the animal has tell-tale curls of mane on its neck and a long tail curling under the body and above, with a tassel-like end. It is reasonable to conclude that this sculptor would have carved all the figurative relief. Zarnecki dates his work to c.1120-30.

The groundplan of the church is possibly by H.J. Underwood, 1844-49. It is an image from Church Plans Online (Published by the NOF Digitise Architecture England Consortium). Reproduced with kind permission.


J. Blair, Anglo-Saxon Oxfordshire, Stroud, 1994, 66.

V. Johnson, P. Smith and C. Wigg, A Guide to the Churches of Swerford, Great Rollright and Hook Norton, n.p., revised 1990.

J. Sherwood and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, Harmondsworth 1974, 651-652.

J. Wheatley, S. Terry and S. Rider, A Guide to St Peter’s Church, Hook Norton, n.p., 2004.

G. Zarnecki, J. Holt and T. Holland (eds.), English Romanesque Art 1066-1200, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London 5 April-8 July 1984. London: Arts Council of Great Britain/Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984, 159.