27 October 2022

Bloxham: a more welcoming
village than the story of
the ‘Pest House’ suggests

Bloxham near Banbury is a nestled in the north Oxfordshire countryside … thatched cottages on the corner of Cumberford and Queen’s Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Bloxham, about three or four miles south-west of Banbury, is a village nestled in the north Oxfordshire countryside with considerable heritage and fine architecture, including a beautiful 14th century church with one of the tallest spires in England.

I was in Bloxham earlier this week to visit Cumberford and to photograph Cumberford House, Cumberford Cottage and Cumberford Hill. But I had time too to walk around the village, which dates back centuries.

The Romano-British people were among the early settlers in the area and they were followed by Anglo Saxons, who established the site of the modern village on the slopes of the valley of the Sor Brook, a tributary of the Cherwell River.

The Domesday survey in 1086 records the village of Bloxham as having six mills and trading in wool and corn. Bloxham continued to expand after the Norman Conquest, and, the north and south of the village developed quite separately.

The village name derives from the Old English Blocc’s Ham (‘the Home of Blocc’) in the sixth century, and the village became Bloxham in 1316.

The principal road through the parish was once a route of importance, running from Banbury to Chipping Norton and the wealthy wool-producing area of the Cotswolds.

From mediaeval times on, money was left for the upkeep of the main bridges. These included the Great Bridge, later Old Bridge, on the old High Street, and the Little Bridge to the west of the old High Street. Other bridges included Cumberford Bridge, Wickham Bridge, and Bridle Road Bridge near Grove Mill.

To a large extent, Bloxham retains its mediaeval street plan, which was extremely irregular and consisted of a network of winding streets or alleys.

Bloxham has many well-built yeomen’s houses dating from this period. Many of these have been comparatively little altered, retaining their a mediaeval core with original details and plans.

The Joiners Arms is a 14th century pub set back from the old green alongside the main road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Joiners Arms, where I stopped at lunchtime, is a 14th century pub set back from the old green alongside the main road. The Elephant and Castle is an old village pub that was originally a coaching inn, built in the 15th century.

In my search for the origins and history of Cumberford, Cumberford House and Cumberford Hill, I learned that Cumberford was a comparatively late development in Bloxham, and Cumberford House, at the top of Cumberford Hill, was probably first built in the 17th century.

The evidence of surviving houses shows that the outskirts of Bloxham as we see them today were at least partly occupied by the 16th century, and most of the village street names dated from about this period or earlier.

The row of eight cottages in King’s Road, including one with a thatched roof, are among the earliest and the least altered. They are two-storied, built of coursed ironstone rubble, and have a number of original stone-mullioned windows in moulded frames with square moulded labels over them.

Tank Lane, now King Street, occurs in 1513 and was named after the family who had the chief farm there. Humber Lane and the Humber family occur in 1536, and other lanes were called after the families of Doughty, Job, and Budd families. These too may have been of mediaeval origin, but the earliest documentary evidence for them dates from around 1700.

The thatched cottages on King’s Road are among the earliest and the least altered in Bloxham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Church Lane, now Church Street, Great Bridge Street and Little Bridge Street are mediaeval names that have survived. Chapel Street takes its name from the Methodist Chapel, but contains many cottages dating from the 16th to the 17th century and a farmhouse of still older date. Similarly, Queen’s Street, formerly Grub Street, has many houses dating from the 17th century and earlier.

Campbell Cottage in Workhouse Lane and the cottage opposite are good examples of the period. So too is the end cottage in Sycamore Terrace. This last house and the rest of the terrace were used as weavers’ cottages in the 19th century. They were completely modernised in 1956.

All roads into Bloxham were gated until 1802, and travellers had to pay a toll to enter the village. Several roads connect Bloxham with the neighbouring villages of Barford, South Newington, Wigginton, Milton, Adderbury and Tadmarton, and also with the road from Banbury to Shipston-on-Stour that skirts the western boundary of the parish.

The main road was straightened in 1815, when the trustees of the Banbury and Chipping Norton turnpike bought two cottages on the brook in order to alter the tortuous line of the old road. This old road, shortly after the junction with Cumberford, originally turned left at Saint Mary’s Church, passed along Unicorn Street, and came out by the Green. It then ran down Old Bridge Street to the Great Bridge and on to the Elephant and Castle, where it again turned left to join the present stretch of the main road.

The 19th century saw the demolition of institutions for the poor such as the Almshouses next to the parish church, the Workhouse, the so-called ‘pest house’ and the poor houses on the green.

Bloxham School, formally All Saints’ School in the north of the village, was founded in 1853 by the Revd Philip Reginald Egerton, a local curate. The main school building was designed in the neo-gothic style by George Edmund Street, and the school was largely funded by Egerton’s wealthy wife, Harriet. Bloxham School is a public school and became fully co-educational in 1998. The school grounds extend to about 60 acres beside the village.

The former Court House, beside Saint Mary’s Church, is now Bloxham Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The site of Bloxham Gasworks is by the bridge at Cumberford Hill. Bloxham Gasworks dated from 1869, and had its own gasometer. In 1870, 14 standard lamps and nine bracket lamps lit the village. No light was allowed four nights before and four nights after a full moon.

The manager of the gasworks blew himself up accidentally in December 1905 while he was inspecting a faulty meter. The Bucks and Oxon Gas Company owned the site by 1908 and began promoting the use of gas for cooking with a display of gas cookers and cookery demonstrations. The original lamps were converted to electricity in 1937.

Saint Mary’s Church, the Church of England parish church, is one of the grandest in England. Parts of the church date from the 12th century, but most of the current building dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The church is an excellent example of the Decorated Gothic style of architecture. The 198 ft spire is a local landmark and is said to be the tallest in Oxfordshire, pinpointing the village for miles around – but more about this church some time next week, perhaps.

The Court House, beside Saint Mary’s Church, was rebuilt in the 1680s, but has retained some 14th century details. Over the years, the property has had many uses, including an infants’ school and a soup house and in 1879 the downstairs area became a fire station. It is now Bloxham Museum and the displays include an old fire engine dating from 1749.

The village ‘Pest House,’ where residents or ‘inmates’ with highly infectious diseases were isolated, once stood by the Slade Nature Reserve. Public contact was not allowed and a pedestal stone with a hollow top was filled with vinegar. Inmates left money in the vinegar – thought to be a disinfectant – in exchange for food left nearby by friends and relatives.

The ‘Pest House’ was in use from 1765, but was eventually abandoned in 1890. I was grateful for the welcome I received in Saint Mary’s Church and the Joiners Arms.

A thatched cottage, probably dating from the 16th century, on Cumberford in Bloxham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Thursday 27 October 2022

The Guild Church of Saint Katharine Cree at 86 Leadenhall Street, London, is one of the few City churches to survive the Great Fire of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

For the rest of this week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, A reflection based on six churches or church sites I visited in London last week;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Inside Saint Katharine Cree Church, Leadenhall Street, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 13: 31-35 (NRSVA):

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32 He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”.’

Inside Saint Katharine Cree Church, Leadenhall Street, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Guild Church of Saint Katharine Cree, Leadenhall Street:

The Guild Church of Saint Katharine Cree at 86 Leadenhall Street, London, is just a few minutes’ walk from Bank station. This was one of the few City churches to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666, and also survived the Blitz. Today, it is one of many City churches almost lost amid the modern architecture of finance and commerce.

Saint Katharine Cree is in the Aldgate ward, on the north side of Leadenhall Street. A parish served by the church existed by 1108, when it was served by the Augustinian Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate, also called Christ Church, which was founded by Queen Maud in the reign of Henry I.

The parishioners used the priory church but was unsatisfactory and disrupted the life of the priory. The prior partly resolved the problem in 1280 by founding Saint Katharine Cree as a separate church for the parishioners.

The site of the present church was originally in the priory churchyard and the church may have first been a cemetery chapel. It took its name from the priory, the word ‘Cree’ being derived ‘Crichurch,’ an abbreviation of ‘Christ Church.’

The church was initially served by a canon appointed by the prior, but this was not satisfactory either. So, the church became a parish church in its own right in 1414. The present tower was added ca 1504.

The present church was built in 1628-1630, retaining the older Tudor tower. The imposing Jacobean architecture is unique in London. It is larger than the previous church, incorporating a piece of ground previously occupied by a cloister on the north side, and the floor level is considerably higher.

The rebuilt church was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London, on 31 January 1631. His vestments and the form of service he used for the consecration were later held against him in his trial and conviction for heresy, when Puritans accused him of displaying Catholic sympathies through his ‘bowings and cringing.’ He is commemorated by a chapel in the church.

This is the only Jacobean church to have survived in London. The identity of its architect is unknown. It has a high nave, linked with the narrow aisles by arcades supported on Corinthian columns. The church is 28 metres long and 16 metres wide; the height from the nave to the ceiling is 11 metres.

The 17th century rose window, reputedly modelled on the much larger one in Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The rose window in the chancel is reputedly modelled on the much larger one in Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral, destroyed in the Great Fire. The window and its stained glass are original, dating from 1630. The baptismal font dates from ca 1640. The vaulted ceiling bears bosses of the arms of 16 of the City’s livery companies and of the City of London itself. Tradition says these companies used Saint Katharine Cree for a time after the Great Fire while their Guild Churches were being rebuilt.

Handel and Purcell both played the organ in the church, which retains some of its 17th-century pipework.

There is a monument to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, after whose family Throgmorton Street is named. By the south wall is a memorial to RMS Lancastria, a troopship sunk with a huge loss of life in 1940.

Saint Katharine’s has a ring of six bells. Lester and Pack of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast five of them including the treble bell in 1754. Thomas II Mears of Whitechapel cast the tenor bell in 1842. The clock has a bell, also cast by Lester and Pack in 1754. It is the only tower in the City where the bells are rung from a ground-floor ringing chamber.

The church suffered only minor damage in the London Blitz in World War II. However, structural problems required extensive restoration in 1962.

Saint Katharine Cree Church is a Grade I listed building and one of the City’s Guild churches. The church was designated a Guild Church – it does not have a parish – in 1952 and was asked by the Bishop of London to focus its ministry on workers, especially industrial workers and workers in the worlds of finance, commerce and industry.

Saint Katharine of Alexandria depicted in a panel in the Transfiguration Window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The church welcomes all who are looking to deepen their connection with their community and with Jesus Christ. The ministry is rooted in a rhythm of prayer and worship, focusing on those who work in the City in precarious, low paid or ‘hidden’ occupations.

As a City church, the church continues to celebrate its historic connections and partnerships, including links with the Baltic Exchange and the shipping industry, the Aldgate Ward Club, and Lloyd’s Choir.

Alongside prayer and worship, the activities include English classes, employment advice opportunities, health and well-being activities, community meals, and connections between migrant and diaspora community groups, churches and service providers.

Father Josh Harris is the Priest-in-Charge of Saint Katharine Cree, and is responsible for worship and ministry in the church.

Father Angus Ritchie, the Assistant Priest, is the Executive Director of the Centre for Theology and Community (CTC). He leads the CTC Eastminster Chaplaincy Team, which is developing ministry among local workers, especially cleaners, construction workers and security staff, ‘so that Saint Katharine Cree can be a place for them to worship God, build community and challenge injustice.’

The Eucharist is celebrated at 9:30 am on Tuesday and Friday, there are Prayers at 1 pm on Tuesday, and a Bible Study and ‘bring-and-share’ lunch at 1 pm on Friday. The church is open for prayer and reflection during the week at lunchtimes on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

The Transfiguration on the north wall in Saint Katharine Cree (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Thursday 27 October 2022):

The Collect:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life
and the word of his kingdom:
renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Theology in Korea.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the growth of open and inclusive environments for theological discussion.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The three patrons, Saint Andrew (left) of Scotland, Saint George (centre) of England, and Saint Patrick (right) of Ireland, in a window in the south wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saint Katharine Cree offers a place for marginal workers ‘to worship God, build community and challenge injustice’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)