CLAYDON – ‘Clayey hill’ – is the most northerly parish in Oxfordshire, and in a field beyond Claydon Hay are the three Shire Stones where the counties of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire meet. Claydon is not mentioned by name in the Domesday Book (1086), but Richard who held three hides within the Bishop of Lincoln’s huge manor of Cropredy in 1086 is almost certainly the Richard of Newark, who had given two-thirds of his tithe at Cleindon to Eynesham Abbey before 1109, and this is the earliest mention of the name.
Like Mollington, Wardington and Great Bourton, the church was a chapelry of the Mother Church of Cropredy. In 1851 Claydon with Mollington, became a separate benefice, and in 1852 the Parsonage was built in Mollington.
The Church of St. James the Great stands on the highest ground in the parish. It was much restored in 1861. The whole of the church was re roofed – except the tower – and re-floored, and the south wall, the porch, the wall of the north aisle and portions of the walls of the Chantry Chapel were taken down and re-built. Yet the reconstruction seems to have been carefully done and the old pattern kept. The large square 18th century window on the south wall was replaced by one more in keeping with the style of the church.
The south door bears the date 1640, the year of the summoning of the Long Parliament and two years before the outbreak of the Great Civil War, and the Battle of Edgehill. It appears to have its original wrought iron hinges. The doorway – much restored – is Norman. The font dates from 1861 and replaces a wooden one. It is in the style of a Norman font, but the basin is much smaller. The pillars and arcading of the North aisle are Transitional Norman – Early English and date from about 1100. The central part of the church was probably older, and the aisle added to give more room, especially for the processions so loved in medieval times. On the capitals can be seen a design in the early stiff leaf foliage sculpture, while on the pillar nearest the tower is a doodle which might be a bee, similar to early stopped ends of label moulds.
The aisle opens out into a beautiful Early English Chapel, dating from about 1200. It is surprising that a tiny village church should have such a chapel, and it is presumed that it was a chantry chapel where some lord or knight or rich lady was buried, and where a priest was paid to say masses for his soul – and probably also to teach the boys of the village. The chapel is called ‘The Lady Aisle’ in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The arch under which you enter the chapel is pointed, i.e. the Early English, though much restored, and not round like the Norman arches. There is a carved head on the left hand side, done in the Early English style. The windows of the chapel are slit windows of single lights, the top being pointed and not round. The east window is made up of three larger slit windows with thick masonry between them, but it dates from the restoration of 1861, previous to which there was a Perpendicular window, possibly replacing an earlier lancet window.
There is a door leading from the chapel to the chancel of the church, and the stones on the chancel side seem to have been weathered. It is surmised, therefore, that this was the outer door of the chapel and was there before the present chapel was built. In the south wall of the chapel is a huge squint, and it seems as if it was made when the chapel was built so that people in the chapel could see the Norman main altar which would be some six feet from the choir step. Later on, about 1400, the chancel was lengthened to extend beyond the end of the chapel, and the outer door of the chapel became a door leading from the chapel to the chancel.
On the left of the sanctuary is a piscina – a drain where the sacred vessels in use at the Communion are rinsed, and above is a shelf on which the bread and wine are placed before a Communion Service. On the right of the sanctuary are sedilia, dating from the Restoration of 1861. The three seats are for the priest, deacon and sub-deacon at a Communion Service. Above the sedilia is a Perpendicular window of three lights, dating from about 1450. This window is the latest of the medieval work in the church, but appears, from a drawing made before the restoration, to have been shortened to make room for the sedilia. It has still, as it had before 1861, quite a domestic touch – the people who built the church were no doubt the same men who built the village houses.
The tower dates from about 1450 and has a saddle-back roof. Before 1861 the door was on the outside, but in that year the doorway into the church was opened up, or, more probably, re-opened, and the outside doorway blocked up. There are three bells: the treble bears the inscription:- “Be yt known to all that doth me see that Necombe of Leicester made me 1611.” The second was made at the same foundry in 1609. The Tenor was cast in 1756 by Roger Baglat Chacambe, and re-cast in 1910. The weights are: Treble 4cwts., 2nd 5cwts., Tenor 6 cwts. 31bs.
It seems that originally there were four bells – a sanctus or sacring bell or saunce hung in the aperture now walled up at the top of the eastern side of the tower.
The tower also contains an ancient clock. According to Dr. Beeson’s ‘Clockmaking in Oxfordshire’ it may be the clock which is mentioned by the Vicar of Cropredy, Roger Lupton in 1512, as a new clock was obtained for Cropredy at the end of the 17th or early 18th century. Or it may date from 1609, the date of the oldest bell. It has no dial, and never had one. It keeps excellent time and is wound daily.
The stained glass is modern. The window over the sedilia has three lights: The centre depicts St. Peter crucified – according to the legend upside down at his own request, as he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as his Lord. The left-hand light depicts James the son of Alphaeus, called St. James the Less – commemorated with St. Philip on 1st May. He has been confused with ‘James, the Lord’s brother,’ who was head of the church in Jerusalem in Acts. He is depicted holding a club as James, the Lord’s brother, was said to be clubbed to death by a priest at the Temple of Jerusalem.
In the right-hand window is depicted St. John, young and beardless. He is holding a cup from which a tiny dragon peeps. St John was said to have been given a cup of poison to drink, and to have suffered no ill effects.
The next window shows the Patron Saint of the Church St. James the Great- James the brother of John, the son of Zebedee. He was the first of the twelve apostles to be killed, and was executed by King Herod Agrippa I about 44 A.D. He was beheaded with a sword, but is depicted here as the Patron of Pilgrims who visited the shrine of Santiago de Compostela (St. James of Compostela) in Spain. According to legend, his body was translated there.
A medieval tomb slab in the form of a cross is built into the outside of the wall of the aisle.
The registers of the church date from 1569. As they were suffering from damp, they have been repaired and have been deposited on revocable loan in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The churchwardens’ account books 1746-1861 have also been deposited, together with the constables’ and overseers’ accounts and a bundle of receipts from 1700-1850.
In addition to the silver chalice a paten, dating from 1856, the church ‘possesses a handsome solid silver flagon, which an inscription on its base tells us was presented in 1839 by a friend of John Ballard, the Vicar of Cropredy, in place of an ugly pewter vessel. The Church also has two pewter plates, one bearing the mark of John Home and dating from about 1749. One is used as an alms dish. The plates have a very attractive dark patina and must on no account be polished, in case the tin oxide corrodes.
The church possesses a Baskerville Bible of 1769 – 71 which was in use until 1902.
In the present churchyard is the Church Room which was formerly the thatched Sunday School, and before that the day School as well.
In 1996 the parishes of Claydon and Mollington were joined with those of Cropredy, Great Bourton and Wardington and became known as Shires Edge Benefice. The present Vicar became the first Vicar of the United Benefice in October 2003.
CLATTERCOT consists of a farm and cottages in the Cropredy Road, and is extra-parochial, i.e. outside the jurisdiction of any parish.
Anyone marrying from Clattercot has banns published in an adjoining parish – usually Claydon, with which Clattercot forms a civil parish – and is described as living in ‘the place called Clattercot’.
The Farm was originally a Gilbertine Priory founded in 1209. (original information courtesy of R.R. LEWIS)