St Mary the Virgin
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The west end and the half-timbered tower containing two bells
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The east end, as viewed from the Nursery gardens. It is almost impossible to see anything further of the exterior because of the proximity of the Nursery and the private gardens of the House


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3                                                 4

3 - The Nave, with its three-decker pulpit, and   4 - a closer view of the pulpit

History of the village and early church

The earliest reference to the village is in Domesday in 1086, when the name given is Pereiun.  Later this becomes Pure and Pyrye.  The word 'pirie' meant a collection of pear-trees, and this is thought to be the origin of the name.

The church is not actually mentioned in Domesday Book, but the architecture of the church suggests that one had been there since Saxon times.  There was revealed in 1944 by the then Rector, a Mr Todd, an additional higher chancel arch, which had remained hidden for years behind plaster, over which there had been set Boards containing the Royal Arms (now in the aisle) and the Ten Commandments. This is typical Saxon construction, and further excavations in the corner of the present chancel revealed the outline of a small apse, and short nave, all lying within the present two cell church. At approximately 9 ft in length, this was by no means spacious, and it was demolished in the early 13th century to make way for the present chancel, which would have been constructed to provide for the increased amount of ritual and ceremony which services then called for.

The lower chancel arch dates from the late 13th century, whilst the chancel itself is about 1200.  

Before the Reformation there was a Rood across this chancel arch, the end of the beam which supported it is still embedded in the wall behind the pulpit.  The chancel arch was also cut away to provide for wooden supports for this beam. The stairway to the Rood is contained within an almost perfect rood-turret. 

The nave is in a mixture of styles. The round pillar supporting the the east bay of the nave arcade dates from about 1170, and with a square abacus and scalloped capital exhibits typical work of the Transitional-Norman period.  The next pier is typical Norman, with regular masonry and square impost.

The west window is Perpendicular, and in 1527 the open roof of the nave was constructed.  The south aisle or Lord's aisle was reconstructed in the 16th century. 

(The words below are taken  from the Guide to Waterperry Gardens, Jan. 1998 edition.)

Waterperry Church

The little parish church of St Mary the Virgin is just beside the big house as though to ensure that squires of Waterperry would not arrive late at the large family pew.  Its exterior is plain, thoiugh the wooden tower supported internally on oak beams is unusual; the interior is a delight.

Few small churches can boast such an array of ancient glass, extending over four centuries, the thirteenth-century lancets, recently and lovingly restored, being the most precious possession.

Students of church architecture can trace its development here, beginning with the unusual sight of two chancel arches, Saxon above Norman.   The families of FitzElys, Curson and Henley dominate the building in effigy and memorial in glass and stone, and in a rare palimsest brass, an example of mediaeval thrift.

The FitzElys effigy underneath its beautiful canopy, is one of the finest examples of English mid-fourteenth-century sculpture in the country, which is far superior to an example from the same London workshop prominently disp[layed in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Other treasures include a Jacobean three-decker pulpit and box-pew.

(Guide to Waterperry Gardens, Jan. 1998)

Waterperry House

A manor house has almost certainly existed at Waterperry on the same site since before 1086, and was occupied by the FitzElys family as lords of this prosperous mediaeval manor.  The present house dates back to the ate twelfth-century – thick rubble walls in an L-shape which now constitute the kitchen at the back.  Since then the house has been extended and altered, probably in the late fifteenth-century by the Cursons.

Walter Curson was the third son of the Curson family at Kedleston, an entrepreneur who bought Waterperry and introduced the practice of enclosure.  The village became very poor, though the Curson fortune appears to have prospered.

After the reformation the Curson family remained Catholics, and Waterperry became the missionary center for Oxfordshire for 200 years. During the recusancy period they harboured a Jesuit priest, Sir Edward Walpole, and would have had a house complete with chapel and priest holes in the fifteenth-century.

In about 1689 the Cursons extended the house, the wing adjacent to the churchyard, and in 1713 Sir John Curson began the building of a ‘modern house’ at the front, around the existing building.

In 1790 the Cursons enclosed the churchyard with a high wall, rehousing the vicar further down the village and converting all remaining buildings to stables, barns and garden features.  In the regency period they let land to tenant farmers, and  Henry Roper Curson was forced to lease and later to sell the estate to cover his gambling losses.  The Henleys became the new owners and renovated the house in 1813, replacing much wood with ships masts and other timber, available through their shipping business.

The exterior remained unaltered, and until 1900 the estate was prosperous and ffficiently organised on the basis of tenant farming.  A dairy was built, a ram pump for drawing water installed, and amenities such as the earth close introduced.

The Henleys were the last family to own the house.  In 1925 the whole estate was sold to Magdalen College, and the House was let to Mrs O’Connor, and her son – a general of renown in World War II – and later in 1932 to Miss Havergal, who finally bought the estate in 1948. She established the famous Waterperry School of Horticulture, and laid the foundation of the gardens as we see today.

When she retired in 1971, and the Horticultural School was closed, the property was acquired by the School of Economic Science who run residential courses for its students of philosophy and economics.


(Guide to Waterperry Gardens, Jan. 1998)


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The nave from the rood loft opening.

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6  -  The pew opposite the pulpit, containing a four-sided rest for books from which to sing and play.
      7  -  Pulpit and box-pews as seen from the south aisle near the west door.
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The pew used as a Singing Seat, but also thought to have been used as the Manor pew.

The fittings and furniture.

The pulpit dates from the 17th century.  The three-decker is typical Jacobean work, with its clerk's seat, reading-desk and preaching pulpit.  The reading-desk bears the date 1632 and the pulpit 1677.

The old high-backed pews remain, and some still retain their beautiful Jacobean hinges.  Up until the 1960s they were all illuminated by candles; the holders still remain, but they have been carefully converted to electric light.


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The tablet in the south wall of the chancel, in memory of Sir Francis Curson, Kt. who died October 131st, 1610.  His four daughters and two sons are depicted kneeling at the base of the tablet, and his wife, Anne Southcote, is shown kneeling opposite him.

The Curson family owned Weterperry House from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

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The Royal Arms of George II, dated 1757, three years before the accession of George III
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The bells

There are two bells, one recast in 1783 bears the old 13th century inscription in black letters, 'Ave Maria Gracia Plena Dominus Tecum', and the second is inscribed E. Hemings fecit. Thomas Rippington, Churchwarden. 1732.


Map reference : 

Photographs: © Edwin Macadam

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This site has been constructed by, and remains the copyright of, its authors,
Edwin and Sheila Macadam,

Shelwin, 30, Eynsham Road, Botley,
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