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St Michael, Newton Purcell, Oxfordshire

(51°58′19″N, 1°5′29″W)
Newton Purcell
SP 625 308
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Oxfordshire
now Oxfordshire
medieval Lincoln
now Oxford
  • Janet Newson
22 Aug 2011

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Feature Sets

The hamlet of Newton Purcell is 5 miles NE of Bicester, near the Buckinghamshire border. From the architectural evidence, a church existed here by the mid-C12th. It is now a small stone structure covered with pebble-dash rendering, comprising a continuous nave and chancel with a bell gable at the W end. The original church was largely destroyed by the ‘repairs’ of 1813, and the restoration by C.N. Beazley in 1875-6 amounted to a rebuilding using the original foundations. The nave doorway, with a chip-carved lintel and a tympanum carved with a dove and serpents, was moved from the N to the S side and is now the only remaining Romanesque feature.


The first documentary evidence of St Michael’s is from a charter of c. 1200, by which Robert Purcel granted Newton church to Bicester Priory. It was always a very poor parish as the parish and township were not co-terminous, and the tithes went to Shelswell. It was John Harrison of Shelswell Manor who paid for the disastrous repairs of 1813, with the intention of beautifying it.


Exterior Features



The style of the carving on the lintel and tympanum is consistent with a date around mid-C12th or before. The small bosses in the chevrons on the face are similar to those at All Saints, Mixbury, nearby, where one bears a human face incised on the stone. These are smaller with no faces, but the style of execution suggests that both doorways could have been carved by the same mason. The symbolism of the dove and snakes could simply be that of good and evil, or possibly a reference to the Great Flood or Garden of Eden.


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

Victoria County History: Oxfordshire, Vol. 6 (London, 1959), pp. 262-7.