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A History of St Peters Church


From notes and drawings by the late E.W.Clifford

Updated by Dorothy Waters(formerly Clifford)

During the reign of Henry I a Norman by the name of Geoffrey was in great favour with the King. According to some historians Geoffrey was “one of those elevated from humble life to a highly important position”. The first English abode of this Geoffrey was the manor at Glympton not far from Cassington. The old English name for Glympton was Clinton and it seems Geoffrey took the name as his own and became known as Geoffrey de Clinton. He owned lands at Cassington and built a house adjoining a chapel. This was the beginning of the church. That he was founder of this church is evidenced by a charter in the Cartulary of the Abbey of Eynsham which is dated before 1123.

We are told that the church was built in A.D. 1150-1155 by his son, Geoffrey de Clinton, “on his own fee” at the request of Robert de Chesney, Bishop of Lincoln, and the Abbot of Eynsham. It was consecrated by the Bishop and dedicated to St. Peter. Cassington was in the parish of St. Mary, Eynsham, before this and the new church was given to Eynsham Abbey. Eventually Cassington appears in the possessions of St. Frideswide’s Priory, but being seized by Henry VIII it was settled on Christ Church, his newly erected college in Oxford.

The parish of Cassington is in the Deanery of Woodstock. The church of St. Peter is stone built in mixed styles, principally Norman. The lower part of the tower is Norman and the north door, also Norman, leads to circular stone stairs to the belfry.

Extensive alterations appear to have been made to the in the 14th century. The tower was raised two storeys and the present octagonal spire was added by Lady Elizabeth Montacute, a benefactress of the village, whose fine tomb is in Christ Cathedral. The tower contains a ring of six bells which were cast at the Woodstock foundry, the second and fourth by James Keene and the remainder by his son Richard. The second bell cracked accidentally before Christmas 1951 and was recast and rung again for the Coronation bearing the royal crown and sign ERII. The bells are out of action at the moment due to the fact that urgent repairs are required to the belfry.

The tower houses an interesting clock with no face. It strikes the hour and is still in working order, being regulated as required by a local parishioner. It was claimed that Wm. Cartwright, clock and watch maker from London, did work for Thomas Reynolds and was reputed to have made the clock. Another source suggests it was made by a local blacksmith. Reynolds Farm is to the south of the church and occupies the site of the great house of the Clintons and Montacutes. The sides of a stone moat and dovecote can still be seen.

The south porch in St. Peter’s is of interesting construction of wood and stone. The original Norman door is here, together with the Norman arch and pillars and old stone seats. It was probably used at one time as the vestry. The north porch is used as the entrance to the church and is 14th century. The modern inner door and surround protects the Norman door still swinging on its original hinges. This porch also contains the old stone seats and on the walls are the church notices and a list of Vicars of Cassington since 1150 and a Charities Board.

Henry Allnutt, a barrister at Middle Temple, lived in Cassington for part of his life. On his death in 1724 he left funds in his will to endow the school in Cassington and also build almshouses in Goring Heath. The 12 places for elderly gentlemen were allocated as follows:- 6 to men from Goring, 2 to men from Cassington and other places for Checkenden, Ipsden, South Stoke and Woodcote. It is believed that the last person to go from Cassington was Mr. Jesse Fox who died in 1956 when over 40 men had benefited. The Charity also provided fuel money for the poor and an annual apprenticeship for village boys, but this is no longer taken up. The school still receives an annual sum and the Parochial Trustees attend to the wellbeing of the occupants of the almshouses near the church in Cassington. Three almshouses have now been converted into four maisonettes.

The old vicarage and school buildings are now private residences and a new C. of E Primary School was built in 1973.

On entering the church it is found to be pleasantly light and evidence of the handiwork of the Norman craftsmen is everywhere about us. The chancel has Norman walls and stone groined vaulting with bold round ribs springing from straight shafts with plain cushion caps. The window on the north side of the chancel is small and of original Norman work. The east window was inserted into the Norman wall, probably during the 14th century. There are stained glass panels in the east and north windows of the chancel and in the west window of the nave. According to the late Henry Minn, a local historian, all the glass appears to be 15th and 16th century, but none of it is original to the church. Some of it, if not all the glass, had been brought from Christ Church Cathedral about 1841- 1846. The east window has one old panel inserted in the quatrefoil at the top. It is the cross keys with a crown at the top, the arms used by Cardinal Wolsey as a badge. It is reasonable to assume this glass came from Christ Church as the arms of Bishop Corbet is in the north window. Bishop Corbet was once vicar of Cassington, Dean of Christ Church and Bishop of Oxford 1628-39 and Norwich.

The west window of the nave has 13 finely executed stained glass panels.

South light
Visit of Queen of Sheba
Scourging of Christ

Central light
The Magi
David and Goliath
Presentation in Temple
Christ Teaching in Temple

North light
Descent from Cross
Stoning of the Elders
Burial of Christ
Shepherds at Bethlehem

To the right of the altar and inserted in the wall is a double piscina with one basin and a shelf. This piscina was probably inserted in the Norman wall about the same time as the east window as the style of the piscina is almost identical to the window. The piscina was used to run off the water which the priest poured over his hands at the altar after censing and the rinsing of the chalice at Mass. To the left of the altar there is a decorated bracket. This may have been used for a statue of the Saint to whom the church is dedicated. In the chancel wall on the north side there is a small recess and this may have been used for an aumbry. The altar rails are Caroline.

The plain round stone font is the original Norman one and it is large enough to immerse completely the infant child as was once the custom. The font contains a wooden cover with a brass cross. The cross is engraved.

The rood screen is of early 15th century work and was probably inserted by Lady Montacute. Traces of colour can be seen on this screen and four small panels are missing. They were probably filled with portraits of Saints and removed at the Reformation or in Puritan times. Many rood screens were surmounted by a gallery or loft, often spoken of in mediaeval documents as the solar. The main purpose was to accommodate an organ and perhaps choristers. Traces can be seen in St. Peter’s and the doorway leading to the loft is still visible in the belfry staircase. Outside on the south wall the position of the small window which gave light to the loft is clearly visible.

In 1870 the pews under the tower were replaced by stalls brought from Christ Church Cathedral. The stalls are of Jacobean period and one on the south side bears a brass plate inscribed in memory of its user “Between the years 1828-1870 this seat was used in the Cathedral of Christ Church by Edward Bouverie Pusey.”

At one time the pulpit was of stone and of plain design. It carried an iron ring and an hour glass still fixed to it and was standing against the south east wall. In the early 20th century the vicar C.J. Paget helped Mr. Martin of Reynolds Farm in making a new wooden pulpit and lectern. The pulpit was fitted to the north wall. A small altar now stands against the south east wall.

Some monumental brasses ornament the floor, especially a cross to the memory of Roger Cheney and another affixed to the wall above the small altar to Thomas Neale who was sometime Professor Hebrew at Oxford. He died at Cassington in 1590. There is a blue marble stone in the middle of the chancel which is engraved “William Reynolde died Nov.2, 1662”.

The fine chandeliers came from Christ Church in 1879 and were purchased for £17, but until this date the parishioners brought their own candles to the church and stuck them in little holes in the pews. About this time a heating system was installed.

The wooden benches in St. Peter’s are reputed to be some of the oldest in England. The vestry was erected by Revd. Godfrey Faussett in 1901-2 in memory of his wife. It has a panelled ceiling which replaced the earlier plaster one. He also ordered the small oak altar and the fitting of wooden panelling to the chancel and nave.

During the restoration of the church in the early 19th century the removal of the whitewash revealed a number of mediaeval paintings, traces of which are still visible. Traces of the painting of the Passion still remain inside the South door although there are marks of burning which suggest that at some time someone had tried to destroy it.

Death watch beetle was discovered in the 1940s and extensive treatment proved successful in eradicating the problem.

A range of services is held to suit traditionalists and the younger generation alike. The Sunday Club for the 3-11 year olds and Soul Living Group for 11-14 start every Sunday with the rest of the family at the 10 a.m. service, going out to their own activities in the school after the first fifteen minutes. The church is well cared for and flowers are skilfully arranged by some of the parishioners. A new organ was installed a few years ago, the heating and lighting has been updated and St. Peter’s Church offers a warm welcome to anyone wishing to visit.

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