St Mary's Church including detail on its origins and 1988 photos

  • St Mary's Church
  • St Mary's Church porch
  • 1988 the congregation as shown in the Centenary booklet
  • 1988. St Mary's Church Guild as shown in the Centenary booklet
  • 1988 the Church choir as shown in the Centenary booklet
  • 1988. Bellringers as shown in the Centenary booklet
  • 1977. Congregation at St Mary the Virgin as shown in the 1977 Jubilee booklet
  • 1977. Sunday School at St Mary the Virgin as shown in the 1977 Jubilee booklet
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2 Black and white photos of the church. Also two photos from 1977 from the Jubilee booklet pf the congregation and Sunday School, and four photos from 1988, as shown in the Centenary booklet, of the congregation, the Church Guild, the Church choir and the Church bellringers.

The site for the church was acquired by Rev. Elton in 1849. In 1855, the chapelry of Wheatley was separated from the parish of Cuddesdon and the conveyance of glebe land for the burial ground, and the land for the church and burial ground was sold by Elton to the parish.

On 24 August 1854, Elton walked to Cuddesdon and met with the Bishop, who told him that the existing Simms church was ‘of a hopeless conventicle [a small unofficial meeting place] pattern…with diminutive chancel, great round-headed windows and hipped roof of slate…in fact, nothing but a tower to distinguish itself in its outward appearance from a meeting house’. There was no evidence that the existing church, endowed by the Simms family, was too small, easily accommodating 250 persons: rather its replacement was an ecclesiastical fashion statement. George Street, the diocesan architect appointed in 1851, had just completed Cuddesdon College for Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. It was the latter who pushed for the new Wheatley St Mary’s church, over-riding all the local opposition and even Elton’s reluctance at times. There was a certain amount of ‘PR’ intended to placate the village parishioners convincing them that the old church was in a much more dilapidated state and much potential danger had been avoided! The building contract was awarded to John Castle of Oxford, and the final bill was some £2,500. This was raised by Elton, apparently sending out 5,000 begging letters. Despite George Street having apparently advised Rev. Elton that it was unsuitable, Bill Hassall concluded that the Church was built from Wheatley stone, but this author doubts this. The external stonework, which is very soft, may well have come from any local quarry, but the internal pillars, which are much harder, almost certainly came from elsewhere. The Church was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and was consecrated on 10 June 1857. Prest was enigmatic about the source of stone, but averred that the roof tiles came from Cooper’s local brick works. However, while there were no relevant references in Elton’s journal to the source of stone for the 1856 building works, there is reference in 1867 of him going to inspect the stone for the spire at the [local implied] quarry. Built by Holland of Thame, it was completed in 1868, and has been described as ‘unusual but very effective’. The bell tower has a Russian bell, gifted by Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 1920. The Church is now listed, Grade 2*.

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