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A Brief History of The Church by Mark Chapman

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The Parish of Cuddesdon

Since the foundation of the theological college by Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in 1854 (now Ripon College Cuddesdon), All Saints’ Church has been known throughout the Anglican Communion.

  It is still used for evening worship during term time throughout the year. The village of Cuddesdon has always had a close association with the Church. Soon after the granting of the charter in 956 AD, the estate, which also included Wheatley, became an important source of revenue for the monks of Abingdon Abbey, who retained the land until the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s time. The Abbey, which was one of the richest in the country, was responsible for building the first church on this site, which was mentioned in the will of Abbot Faritius in 1117. After a long legal dispute, the Abbey gained the rectory (i.e. the bulk of the ecclesiastical revenues) of Cuddesdon in 1237 and appointed vicars to minister in the parish.

After the Reformation the advowson (the right to present vicars) was held by a number of private individuals, but in 1589 it was transferred to the bishops of Oxford, who were also granted the rectory as part of their endowment. Since the bishops had no house, Archbishop Laud suggested that Cuddesdon might be a suitable site, given that the bishops already owned the land, and it was on a hill away from the somewhat unsanitary conditions of Oxford. In 1632, partly to increase his revenues, Bishop John Bancroft appointed himself vicar of Cuddesdon, and shortly afterwards built the first palace to the north of the churchyard. In 1637 the vicarage was permanently appropriated by the bishops of Oxford. Ministry was exercised by a number of chaplains and curates. From the eighteenth century there was a separate curate for Wheatley and a new chapel of ease was built in 1793. Wheatley became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1855.

The bishop’s palace was burnt down in 1644 to prevent its use as a parliamentary garrison. It was not until the time of Bishop John Fell that a new palace was completed in 1679, and from that time until fairly recently most of the bishops of Oxford have lived in Cuddesdon. Samuel Wilberforce considerably expanded the palace in 1846, and his chapel still survives. After a period of neglect the palace was burnt down again in 1958 and a new more modest house completed in 1962. It passed into private hands in 1977.
After the ecclesiastical reforms of the mid-nineteenth century bishops were banned from holding ecclesiastical livings and a separate vicarage was endowed for Cuddesdon from 1852. The first incumbent was Alfred Pott, who was charged with setting up the theological college to train for the Church of England ministry. The vicars remained principals of the college until 1996. Most of the vicars of Cuddesdon have gone on to high office in the church, most notably Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was vicar from 1960 to 1970. From 1996 the college has had a separate principal and the church has been part of the Wheatley Team Ministry, served by a Team Vicar who also ministers in the neighbouring villages of Garsington and Horspath.


The Fabric

The church was erected about 1180. The original church was a large cruciform building without aisles. The mouldings on the tower arch and the west door, as well as the door itself, are fine examples of this late Norman work. The font is also Norman, but rather plainer. Remnants of the original Norman buttresses and clerestory can be seen high up in the north and south aisles, and also on the exterior. The door on the tower staircase dates from the foundation of the church, and might possibly indicate the presence of a monastic quire and explain the length of the chancel – the church may have been intended as a small priory of Abingdon Abbey. The door is probably too early for a rood screen.
Soon after the establishment of the vicarage the aisles were built, probably by punching through the original walls as at nearby Dorchester Abbey. The porches, as well as the lancets in the south and west walls, probably date from this period. In about 1350 the low aisles roofs were raised, evidence for which is still clearly visible on the exterior west wall. Traces of medieval painting can be seen in the blocked Norman doorway of the north transept (behind the organ). The chancel was repaired in the late fourteenth century, and there were elaborate plans for rebuilding the chancel following the Lincoln diocesan visitation of 1520. It is likely that aisles were planned on each side to be entered through the Norman blank arches in the transepts. The Reformation halted work and the chancel was left without windows on both north and south walls. Windows were added first in the early seventeenth century and more substantial windows in the first Victorian restoration.

After the dissolution of the monasteries the church quickly decayed, but was restored in the early 1600s, shortly before the construction of the palace. Many of the pews date from 1630 – they were constructed only after a long dispute between the vicar and the parishioners from Wheatley. A simple wooden screen was erected against the tower arch which was removed in the Victorian restoration. Bishop Bancroft also had a new straight-headed window put in the south transept, which was later replaced. He was buried under the south wall in 1640. A small room was added next to the tower staircase in the late 1820s which explains the small window at the east end of the north aisle. The room was soon dismantled. In 1849 the chancel was extensively restored by Benjamin Ferrey. He removed the memorial tablets to the south transept, dismantled the lathe and plaster ceiling and added memorial windows to the bishops of Oxford, together with the rather oversized woodwork. The chancel gained the appearance (which it still has) of the bishop’s private chapel. Brasses and enamels were given in memory of the bishops of Oxford from Stubbs to Strong (d. 1944).

G. E. Street, the diocesan architect, who shortly afterwards built the college, carried out a second wave of restoration from 1851-3, replacing the wooden ringing chamber with the groined vault in the crossing. Street also added a hideous stone pulpit, which was soon removed. The present pulpit was carved by Bishop Stubbs’ daughter, Katherine, in 1895 to a design by C. E. Kempe. A new gothic altar was built by Street which has since been modified twice in accordance with the latest ecclesiastical fashion. The riddle posts were added by F. G. Howard in 1921, and it was lengthened in 1933 to designs by H. S. Rogers.

In 1931 the south transept was partially converted into a Lady Chapel in memory of Principal Ducat. Later in the 1930s Eric Graham, a particularly high-church vicar, sought an ambitious re-ordering of the church. Plans were made by Stephen Dykes-Bower to build wrought iron screens and gates around the crossing and to erect an altar in memory of John Russell, a vice-principal of the College. Fortunately only the gates to the chancel were constructed by 1941 when work stopped because of the war. An aumbry for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was also constructed at the same time. Plans for an elaborate organ gallery at the west end were also made by Dykes-Bower, but never carried out. After a succession of electric organs the current pipe instrument made by Henry Willis was bought from Christ Church cathedral in 1982. It was originally constructed for St Margaret’s Convent at East Grinstead.


The Glass

There is no medieval glass in the church. The magnificent west window was designed by Street and executed by John Hardman. The less successful east window was also made by Hardman. Most of the rest of the nave glass was designed by Kempe: the lancets of Bede (the Anglo-Saxon historian) and Birinus (apostle of this part of England) in the west walls commemorate Bishop Stubbs, a great historian, and the large south-west window of Peter and Paul commemorates Bishop Mackarness. The modern lancet of the ascension of Elijah replaces an earlier window and was made by Joseph Nuttgens in 1986.