Wroxton - St Thomas of Canterbury

Silver Street, Stratford Road, Wroxton, Oxfordshire OX15

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The only thatched church in the diocese. Its current appearance largely the result of a 1948 remodelling, this is a small building of considerable charm and character, which makes a positive contribution to the local conservation area. It houses a notable collection of nineteenth century stained glass salvaged from other buildings.

At the dissolution of the monasteries, the Augustinian priory at Wroxton was given by Henry VIII to Sir Thomas Pope, a devout Catholic and founder of Trinity College, Oxford. The Pope family, and then the North family, held the estate until the twentieth century. In 1841 Baroness Susan North married J. S. Doyle, a Catholic, who changed his name to North and was granted the title Lord North by act of Parliament. Under Lord North, Catholic services were held in the chapel at the house until a room became available in the North Arms public house in Mills Lane. The present chapel was built by Lord North in 1887, on land leased from Trinity College. It was originally a simple corrugated iron structure (figure 1). It was renovated and picturesquely remodelled in 1948 by Canon Arthur Wall (whose likeness is said to be perpetuated in the statue of St Thomas over the entrance). At the same time a large amount of nineteenth century stained glass said to have been removed from City of London or Birmingham churches in wartime was installed here. The church is served from St Joseph the Worker, Banbury (qv).  

The church is small and rectangular in plan, with a roughcast finish to the walls and a thatched roof with raised eyebrow dormers (for ventilation). A louvred belfry is placed over the gable at the west end.  The church is entered via a porch in front of a vestibule with flanking sacristies, under three gables and a stone slate roof. The central gable has a shield bearing the papal arms, and over this a statue of St Thomas of Canterbury, under a gabled timber canopy with shaped bargeboards and finial. The windows are all square or rectangular, with simple cement hoodmoulds.

The internal main space is a single volume with a kingpost roof structure of 1948, with struts and (over the sanctuary) timber traceried spandrels. The church is simply furnished, with plastered walls and wooden benches. The most notable feature is the stained glass. This includes two windows in the small rooms (sacristy and store room) on either side of the main entrance, representations of Christ’s parables with agricultural workers in modern dress. They are both by the same hand, and that in the sacristy is signed by Charles Alexander Gibbs, who established a stained glass works at 148 Marylebone Road, London in 1858. Gibbs died in 1877, and so this glass predates the chapel, and was probably designed for a secular setting. It may have been brought here in 1948 along with the rest of the stained glass windows in the church. These are said to have been removed from Birmingham or City of London churches for safety during wartime; more research is needed on their precise provenance. They include three representations of the Transfiguration, the largest in the east window, dating from c.1840 and loosely based on Raphael’s painting of the same subject, and four square panels depicting scenes from Christ’s Passion (mid-nineteenth century Gothic work).

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Not known

Original Date: 1887

Conservation Area: Yes

Modifications: 1948

Listed Grade: Not listed