Building » Banbury – St John the Evangelist

Banbury – St John the Evangelist

South Bar Street, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16

An ambitious Gothic Revival design of the late 1830s, still somewhat pre-Ecclesiological in character, with additions by A. W. Pugin. The church and adjoining presbytery and school make a prominent contribution to the local townscape.  The interior is spacious and light, and recent redecoration has restored some of its richness. 

The nearest Catholic centre to Banbury was Warkworth Castle, a seat of the Holman and then the Eyre family. When the castle was demolished in 1806, a small chapel was built in the nearby village of Overthorpe (Northants), which continued in use until 1838.

In 1828, the French émigré priest Abbé Pierre Hersent, based at Overthorpe, determined to establish a mission at Banbury. A site in South Bar Street, the old Calthorpe Manor House, was acquired. Abbé Hersent died in 1833 (he was buried at Overthorpe, but is commemorated at Banbury in a monumental brass). The church was built in 1835-8 by Abbé Hersent’s successors, the Rev. Joseph Fox and Dr William Tandy. Building stone from the Heythrop Park quarries was provided by John Talbot, Sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury, who also gave the organ, which was placed in a gallery at the west end, and the tower clock, made by W. Allam of London in 1762. The architects for the church were Hickman & Derick of Oxford. Little is known of Hickman, who was in partnership with Derick only briefly. Derick was Irish-born and trained under Sir John Soane. He designed the Catholic church of the Holy Trinity at Chipping Norton (qv), slightly earlier and in Grecian style; by the time of the Banbury design, Derick had embraced Gothic. He was a friend of A. W. Pugin, but his Banbury design displays the rather thin character associated with Commissioners’ Gothic more than the full-blooded and archaeological approach of Pugin and his followers. The ambitious design and prominent location of the church gave rise to some local Protestant fury.

The tower originally had larger pinnacles, but these were removed at an early stage when they were thought to be rocking in the wind. Smaller and thinner pinnacles replaced them.

In 1839 A. W. Pugin designed the presbytery (to the south of the church) for Dr Tandy. Pugin is also credited with the design of the sanctuary (added by 1841), with stained glass, polychromy and rood beam and figures, and (less certainly), the school building attached to the north side of the church (1846).

In 1847 Dr Tandy established a community of the Sisters of Charity of St Paul to help in the work of the mission. The old Priory of St John was purchased, and was the mother house of the community until it moved to Selly Park, Birmingham, in 1864 (some sisters remaining at Banbury).

In 1881 the stone carving of the parapet string course was carried out by George Altree, who had also carved the capitals inside the church.

The Stations of the Cross were introduced in 1893 by Fr Bowen.

The VCH attributes the three statues in canopied niches outside the church at the west end (St Birinus and St Hugh of Lincoln in the recessed sides and the larger figure of St John the Evangelist over the main entrance) to George Atree, 1881. This is presumably the George Altree named in Brinkworth as responsible for the parapet carving at that time. However, these figures are later; St John was added as a First World War memorial, while the Hornton stone figures of St Birinus and St Hugh were installed to commemorate the centenary of the opening of the church and its consecration, in June 1938. The later figures were carved by Messrs Boulton & Sons of Cheltenham from designs suggested by the parish priest, Canon A. G. Wall (source: Catholic Herald).

In the 1920s, under Fr Brabazon, the sanctuary had been enlarged by extension of the dais forward of the chancel arch and relocation of the organ to the south side of the enlarged space. Contemporary photographs indicate that the rood beam and rood figures had been removed by this time (they are now at St George, Adderbury, qv). The sanctuary was also painted with murals by Horace Gillett, but these were overpainted only four years later, in a refurbishment carried out under J. Arnold Crush FRIBA in 1938. Also at about this time, the crypt was converted to serve as a men’s social club room, and in 1933 the tower clock given by the Earl of Shrewsbury was replaced.

After the Second World War, the organ was moved to the north side of an enlarged sanctuary, with an oak pulpit replacing the stone one. Since the Second Vatican Council, the sanctuary has been reordered at least twice. Earlier reordering involved the removal of the altar rails and pulpit, new seating for the congregation and the return of the organ to the gallery at the west end. More recently the church has been renovated and redecorated, with some rich polychromy reintroduced (including the introduction of a lampadarium by A. W. Pugin, from St Mary’s College, Oscott), under the direction of PCA Architects, Oxford.


The interior is wide and spacious, a single volume with an altered gallery (containing the organ given by the Earl of Shrewsbury, much rebuilt) at the west end and a short sanctuary added slightly later, probably to designs by A. W. Pugin. The rood and rood figures have been removed (the figures now at St George, West Adderbury, qv). The decorative scheme in the sanctuary is of recent date, but is appropriately rich in colour (in contrast to the pastel shades in which the elaborately carved capitals of the nave have been repainted). The sanctuary furnishings include a white marble forward altar incorporating a carved panel of the Crucifixion, circa 1400 and said to be from the medieval parish church, and glass including Our Lady flanked by St John the Evangelist and St John the Baptist in the central lights, with a kneeling monk/donor, possibly by Pugin. The ambo and presidential chair, of bleached oak, are of early twenty-first century date and were designed by Harry Harper (information from Fr Brian Doolan). Formerly in the sanctuary but now at the west end, under the gallery, is a monumental brass to Abbé Hersent, in medieval Mass vestments and holding a chalice. Also under the gallery is the stone font, octagonal, with quatrefoils carved on the faces of the bowl; its design is similar to that at Holy Trinity, Hethe, which O’Donnell (p. 95) attributes to A. W. Pugin. Giving off the northern side at the west end is a confessional (behind a UPVC door). Fixed to the gallery front (in 2010) is a restored and gilded lampadarium by A. W. Pugin, donated by St Mary’s College, Oscott. The Stations of the Cross are of 1893, the nave seating circa 1970.

List descriptions



Church. 1838 by Hickman and Derick of Oxford. Chancel and painted decoration attributed to Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (Prof. Phoebe Stanton). Gothic-revival style. Limestone ashlar, ironstone plinth, lead roof. Chancel, nave, west tower. Embattled chancel has east window of 3 lights with traceried pointed arched head which is flanked by 2 similar 2-light windows. Hipped roof. Nave: 5 bays divided by buttresses. Five 2-light pointed arched windows with traceried heads and hood moulds. West tower: 4 stages. West doorway has wooden door, moulded and chamfered jambs and spandrels with quatrefoil decoration. Niche above door has traceried canopy and figure with eagle on pedestal. Clock at third stage. Bell stage above has 2-light louvred windows with hood moulds. West end of nave has flanking niches with traceried heads and figures standing on pilasters.

Interior: chancel has painted vaulted roof supported on 4 slender columns. Painted aumbry. Vaulted nave roof. Slender columns with foliated capitals. Balcony. Stone relief below the altar of the Crucifixion c.1400 from the old parish church. (Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, 1974, p.437; V.C.H.: Oxfordshire, Vol.X, p.107).

Listing NGR: SP4536740157



Presbytery. 1839-42. Attributed to Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Brick, fronted with limestone ashlar. Steeply pitched slate roof. Brick and stone ridge stack. 3-unit plan. 2 storeys plus attic; 3-window range. 2 storey extension to left joins presbytery with Church (q.v.). Gabled 2-storey entrance bay to left has pointed arched entrance to porch. First floor has a 2-light square-headed window. Right part: two 3-light windows to first floor have square heads. 2 similar windows to first floor. Gabled bay to right with finial. Stone copings. Crypt turned into men’s club 1926. (Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, 1974, p.437: V.C.H.: Oxfordshire, Vol.X, p.107).

Listing NGR: SP4538340144



School, now Church Rooms. c.1839-42 by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (Prof. Phoebe Stanton). Coursed squared blocks of limestone. Steeply pitched slate roof. Stone end stacks. Stone copings and quoins. L-plan. 2 storeys and basement. Entrance to right via stone steps into gabled porch at first floor. Porch has pointed arched doorway with moulded chamfered jambs and hood mould with foliated stops. Plank door. Ground floor has 3-light stone-mullioned windows with square heads. First floor has 3-light stone-mullioned windows with traceried heads and glazing bars, and two single-light windows. Front to Dashwood Road: 3-window range with gable fronted bay to left. Ground floor has long C20 window to left, single-light window and a 3-light square headed stone-mullioned window. First floor has three 2-light stone-mullioned windows, 2 with traceried heads. Ornamental ridge tiles. Interior not inspected. Included for group value. (Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, 1974, p.437: V.C.H.: Oxfordshire, Vol.X, p.107).

Listing NGR: SP4538240174

Heritage Details

Architect: Hickman & Derick; A. W. Pugin

Original Date: 1838

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II