St. Lawrence Church Oxhill

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Historical Notes

The Church of Oxhill is dedicated to St. Lawrence, a deacon of the early church who was martyred in 258. It is said that when he was ordered to produce the treasures of his church, he displayed the beggars in his care, and in retribution he was roasted slowly on a gridiron, apparently giving off a sweet smell of holiness during his ordeal. Although now rather an obscure saint, he seems to have enjoyed a degree of popularity in Warwickshire. Nikolaus Pevsner's book on 'Warwickshire' mentions over a dozen other Warwickshire churches with a similar dedication. St. Lawrence's Feast Day is on August 10th, and until the early 1930s Oxhill Wake (a small fair) was held in the week following the Feast.

Both nave and chancel date from the mid-twelfth century, but there has been considerable repair over the centuries, as well as the insertion of additional windows. At the end of the nineteenth century, extensive restoration was undertaken by the Rector, the Rev. V. H. Macy in two stages - to the chancel in 1865, and to the nave in 1876 - 78. A report in the Banbury Guardian (20. 1. 1876) said that the Church “had suffered much from the ravages of time and from injudicious alterations before much thought had been given to ecelesiology by anyone”. The architects were to be Messrs. Bodley and Garner of London, and "we may therefore hope that every portion of the original work will be most carefully preserved. Bodley and Garner were very accomplished architects of the period, Bodley being a pupil and relative of Gilbert Scott, and the work carried out appears to have been of a high quality.

A Faculty (permission from the Church authorities) was granted in August, 1876, giving permission to remove the frames containing the Creed, Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer - (referred to in the Vestry Minutes of March that year as “the unsightly frames over the Chancel Arch”); also to remove the pews in the body of the Church and to restore the floor: to remove the clerestory windows on the south side, and insert others of a similar character to those on the north side: to replace the roof with one of a more suitable character, and to take down the gallery and dispose of the organ. The organ set up in the gallery, looks rather handsome in an early photograph, but it had been giving trouble for some years, and as early as 1865 the Vestry Meeting had voted to replace it. However later in the year it had been given a reprieve, when it was decided to repair it instead. Obviously the repairs were not entirely satisfactory, and in 1876, together with the gallery itself, it was finally removed. The list of alterations to be done at this time was extensive, and there was difficulty in finding the necessary funding, estimated at £1,000. The Banbury Guardian report of January, 1876, stated that to date only £400 had been raised, commenting with regret that “a very small amount of it has been given by parishioners”. The Rector, Mr. Macy, attributed this to the fact that the more affluent of his parishioners, the local farmers, were Methodist, and therefore supported their own Church. This was undoubtedly a strong factor, but the records give the impression too that Mr. Macy himself was not a popular leading figure. In 1881 for instance, he records briefly in the Vestry Minute Book a meeting at which he was the only person present

Even when fund-raising events were organised, they were not always very successful. A talk on Russia, with musical interludes of Russian airs, sacred and secular, was given in the Board School Room (now the Village Hall), but “severe weather kept many at home who wished to attend”, and only £1. 16s. 3d. was realised.

By all accounts the money was raised largely through outside subscription, but apart from gifts of £50 apiece from two Church societies, and an appeal in the local press by the Rector, few details are known. Even the donation of £10 from the Bishop of Worcester cannot have altogether solved the problem!

Indeed perhaps some of the alterations were a little “high church” for local tastes, and they did not all survive. In particular, Mr. Macy had followed current Victorian convention in raising the altar up on several steps, and by introducing a screen across the chancel arch to separate the sanctuary from the nave. In 1908 a later Rector, the Rev. James Carter, reversed some of these changes. He returned the altar to its former level: moved the screen to the west end of the Church: and took out an additional and elaborate piscina (a basin for holy water) that had been built into the south window of the chancel. (The blocks of stone that formed this piscina now do duty as a flower pedestal in the nave.)

The removal of the screen brought the Rector into conflict with the Bishop of Worcester, who wrote to him sternly because he had acted without obtaining permission. Mr. Carter was unrepentant however, saying that the screen had been installed in the first place without permission, (which he may have believed but which was not in fact true). In any case he said that in its original position across the chancel arch “it was (as I have been informed by every expert who saw it) architecturally a disfigurement, and certainly it was practically very inconvenient”. He resisted the Bishop's request to reinstate it, saying that it had been badly damaged by dry rot, and much of it was beyond repair. He further resisted a request-to replace it with a beam across the chancel arch, surmounted by a crucifix, saying that this would be quite out out of place. The correspondence (now in the County Record Office) lasted over two years. A Faculty sanctioning the work that had been carried out was eventually granted in November, 1910, and the matter laid to rest at last.

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Last modified: January 31, 2004