The history of St Andrew's Church, South Stoke

The present church dates from as early as 1200s, although there was an earlier church dating as far back as circa 1080. By the early 1200s the original church was in need of renovation and was entirely rebuilt. The current building thus falls outside the Romanesque Anglo-Saxon/Norman period of architecture and into the Gothic, the divisions of which are Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular. St Andrew's stands, therefore, as a far more elegant church than it might have been.

Built of local flint rubble covered with roughcast, it occupies a prominent position in the village. It has stone dressings and contains a chancel, nave, north and south aisles, south porch, vestry and western tower.

The church is dedicated to St Andrew, one of the twelve apostles. One reason for this choice is that it was at the instigation of St Birinus, a Benedictine monk, who had come to England by order of Pope Honorius I in the 7th century. St Birinus came from the Abbey of St Andrew in Rome and was recorded as having "built and dedicated several churches and brought many people to God." He became the first Bishop of Dorchester in the year 643. Another suggestion is that, as St Andrew was a fisherman, this could have led to his being chosen as patron saint of South Stoke. Fishing, particularly of eels, was part of everyday life of the village at that time.

The two lancet windows in the north wall of the chancel are from the earliest period. Narrow aisles were probably added onto the original nave at the same time, for there is a restored lancet window at both ends of the north aisle. Though partially rebuilt in the 19th century, the south aisle retains an original weather stained 13th century lancet window at the east end. It contains a medieval potmetal stained glass representing the Virgin and Child. The lancet at the west end is 19th century and is a memorial to Hubert Nind (1809-1874), brother to former vicar, Rev P H Nind. The roof includes both aisles under its span.

The font is octagonal and medieval, probably 13th century, although its base may be from a later period. The north aisle is separated from the nave by three Early English arches of two chamferred orders set on heavy round chalk pillars with octagonal abaci. The pillars separating the south aisle from the nave are later. With one exception they were octagonal and made of wood and the arches over them were also wooden. They were replaced with octagonal stone columns and arches in 1857.

Much work was done during the 14th century. The chancel arch and all the doorways date from this period. A Decorated east window of three lights was inserted and in the south wall of the chancel two windows were inserted with a priest's door between them. The easternmost window was inserted in the wall of the south aisle; the south door was rebuilt and the porch added. The porch has a pointed roof and attractive trefoil windows in its east and west walls. Two Decorated windows and a doorway were inserted in the north wall.

Probably in the late fourteenth century a canopied niche was placed in the wall of the south aisle. It was originally painted and traces of colour remained until recently. The canopied niche on the north wall is of a slightly later date. The small piscina next to it, show that there was once an altar here. There is a 13th century piscina in the chancel and another by the south door, containing a medieval Holy Water stoup. The stoup was returned to the church by a parishioner in 1947.

Two windows in the south aisle are Perpendicular work. Two dormer windows, once in the roof over the south aisle, were later additions but were removed in 1857. The battlemented tower, with its six gargoyles, was probably built early in the fifteenth century.

Extensive repair works were carried out in 1711, 1712 and 1759, when the north and chancel doors were renovated. Other unspecified repairs were carried out in 1803 and 1822. Another major restoration took place in 1857 when, among many other alterations, the chancel was paved with Maws tiles, the pulpit of circa 1630 was replaced, pews were installed to enable the congregation to be seated during sermons, and external buttressing built to support the nave and chancel walls.

The church contains three interesting oak chairs. Two are Glastonbury Chairs dating from 1857. One is known as the Bishop's Chair and the other the Priest's Chair. The third chair is believed to be 14th century, probably used by the clergy up to 1857.

Oil lamps were first installed in 1900, which were replaced with electric lighting in 1933 at a cost of 40. In 1920 a war memorial was erected in the churchyard and the clock installed in the church tower. The clock was a gift from the four surviving sons of the Rev P H Nind (vicar 1844-1886) in memory of their father.

The organ was installed in 1927 and the church was fitted for the first time with a solid fuel heating system. Repairs were made to the tower roof in 1952 because of infestation by the death-watch beetle. In 1959 the building was officially listed as a Building of Special Architectural Interest.

In 1962-3, a fragment of the late 16th century Elizabethan wall painting was uncovered on the north wall, setting out the Ten Commandments. It is likely that before the Reformation there had been pictures of saints here. A barrel ceiling was also installed in the chancel.

The church contains some interesting memorials. Notably, on the north wall of the chancel there is a fine 17th century memorial in Latin to Dr Griffith Higgs who was Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia (eldest daughter of James 1), 1659.

The decorated mahogany lectern was constructed to match the mahogany pulpit, both dating from 1963. Thirty new kneelers were made by parishioners in late 1999 for the millennium.





The church bells

The church tower was probably built in the early fifteenth century, with a single sanctus bell. But a 1552 inventory, ordered by Edward VI shows "4 belles in the steeple" with some doubt being expressed as to what had happened to the sanctus bell. These bells were replaced or recast in the 17th century, all at Reading. The tenor was made in 1609 by Henry Knight. The second bell was made in 1622 also by Henry Knight. The third in 1633, the fourth in 1716 by William Higgs and William Claxson. The fifth was made in 1616 by Henry Knight. In 1881 the fourth bell was replaced by Mears and Stainbeck. In 1920 and 1965 the bells and fittings were overhauled.

Originally the bellringing chamber was on the ground floor which resulted in a delay between pulling the ropes and sounding the bells. In 1962 this was corrected by moving the ringing chamber to the first floor.

The Ringers Rules of 1875


"The Lord is in his holy temple"

  1. The Ringers shall be appointed by the Clergyman and Churchwardens, to whose approval all Regulations made by the Ringers for their own direction shall be subject.
  2. Out of this number a Head Ringer shall be chosen by the Ringers themselves, whose duty it shall be to keep good order in the Belfry, and to enforce the rules.
  3. The Ringers shall provide for the chiming of the bells on Sundays and other holy days, in such order as they may arrange among themselves, and are expected to attend regularly at Church. Any Ringer failing to attend his appointed turn, to forfeit the sum of twopence.
  4. No one shall be admitted into the Belfry, but those who are appointed to ring, or who are officially connected with the Church,or who have leave from the proper authorities.
  5. No beer or other liquor shall be brought by any one into the Belfry, and no person shall be allowed to smoke in the Belfry.
  6. If any one in the Belfry shall swear or use bad words, he shall forfeit three-pence for every such offence, and shall be liable to dismissal upon its frequent repetition.
  7. If any difference or dispute arise, the decision of the Head Ringer shall be final, and any person refusing to abide by such decision, or otherwise quarrelling or disturbing good order, shall be immediately turned out of the Belfry.
  8. A Treasurer shall be appointed by the Ringers, to whose charge all the money given for ringing or paid as forfeits, shall be entrusted, and by whom any expenses necessarily incurred, shall be paid. This money shall be divided equally once per year.
  9. Any Ringer, refusing to abide by the forgoing rules, or to pay any forfeit that may have been incurred, shall be reported to the Clergyman and Churchwarden, and be liable to be by them dismissed.

One wonders at the reason for producing such a detailed notice and going to the expense of having it printed. A theory is that, up to this period, bellringers were an unruly lot and were often in dispute with the church authorities. The notice remained in the bellchamber for many years.


The Churchyard

The churchyard contains 250 marked graves. The graves in the eastern extension towards the railway embankment are now on a computer database from which a printed Burials Index has been produced.

The lych-gate was erected by parishioners and friends in memory of Rev H G Nind in 1937.

The stone cross war memorial was erected in 1920. It contains the names of 17 men of South Stoke who fell in both world wars; 15 of them in the First World War, which must have been the most traumatic event to strike the village since the Black Death of 1348. The names and regimental badges of all the men of South Stoke who gave their lives in the two World Wars are entered in the Book of Remembrance within the church.

Thanks go to Brian G Bucknall for permission to include parts of his book on this website. Entitled "A History and Guide to St Andrew's Church, South Stoke, Oxfordshire", it was published in 2001. A full version may be obtained for a nominal fee from the author via the Benefice email address.


As with all English churches, the maintenance of these beautiful ancient buildings is costly. No Government funding is provided. If you have enjoyed reading the history of this church, you have visited the church itself or you have some other enjoyable association with St Andrew's and you are minded to make a donation, please click on How can I give a donation to one of the churches? Thank you.

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