London Road, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7
A notable neoclassical design of the 1830s by J. M. Derick, in marked contrast to the architect’s slightly later Gothic design for St Mary, Banbury. The building was sympathetically enlarged and adapted in the 1880s. The original design showed some Soanian influence, but this was sadly compromised in the 1960s by the loss of the bell tower and vaulted ceilings. A more recent reordering has sought to reinstate some of the historic character of the interior. Amongst the furnishings, the church contains a Gothic altar from the former chapel at Heythrop House. With its large burial ground, handsome Georgian presbytery and late nineteenth-century former convent-school building, the church forms part of an important ensemble of historic buildings on the London Road.
In 1824, the Rev. Patrick Heffernan was appointed chaplain to the Shrewsbury family at Heythrop House. There he oversaw the completion of a Gothic church on the estate, which opened in 1826. Anticipating that the Catholic line of the family would soon cease at Heythrop, he looked to build another church elsewhere, and was able to acquire a site at Rock Hill, Chipping Norton. The labour and much of the building materials were provided by the Heythrop estate, and donors included Miss Bowdon of Radford. The church was opened by Dr Wiseman, Vicar Apostolic, on 25 October 1836. A contemporary account described the church as ‘a neat and handsome edifice, surmounted by a lofty cupola, and ornamented over the principal entrance by a cross placed on a globe. Internally it is capable of accommodating 300 persons and contains a spacious gallery to which access is obtained by an ornamental corkscrew staircase. The decorations of the altar are of the neatest description; the seats in the body of the church are open stalls resembling those in St Mary’s church, in Oxford’ (Jackson’s Journal, quoted in 2008 parish history, p. 4).
The distinctive, somewhat quirky classical style and shallow vaulted internal spaces show the influence of the architect J. M. Derick’s mentor Sir John Soane, and is in marked contrast to Derick’s Gothic design at Banbury (qv). Unusually, the design included two entrance porticoes; one at the west end serving as the main entrance, the other leading to a vault under the sanctuary. The new church adjoined an existing late Georgian house, which became (and remains) the rectory.
In 1882 the church at Heythrop was demolished; a Gothic altar was brought from there to Chipping Campden and set up under the western gallery as a Lady altar. The bodies of Fr Heffernan and the Fifteenth Earl of Shrewsbury were also brought from Heythrop and reinterred at Holy Trinity in the crypt under the sanctuary. This was during the ministry of the Rev. Samuel Sole, who was in charge of the mission from 1879 until his death in 1921. In 1888 he oversaw major alterations and improvements, including: the addition of a vaulted side chapel with Sacred Heart altar and baptistery; the enlargement of one sacristy and addition of another, linking the church and presbytery, with an organ chamber over (opening onto the sanctuary); the lowering of the gallery (with a new barrel-vaulted underside and staircase); and redecoration of the interior (under the direction of W. J. Wainwright). The account in The Tablet gives a Mr Cox of Temple Street, Birmingham as architect (probably the G. H. Cox who was working at Our Lady and All Saints, Stourbridge at this time, qv); the builders were Messrs H. and C. Burden of Chipping Norton.
Fr Sole also built the convent and schoolroom on the London Road frontage in 1882-3. (New school buildings were built to the east of the church in 1958 and 1974, much rebuilt in 1993 after fire damage; the convent-schoolroom is now an independent nursery school).
In 1924 the parish’s connection with Heythrop Hall was revived, when that estate was acquired by the Society of Jesus. From that time until 2008 the parish was served by Jesuit priests, even after the Heythrop estate was sold in 1969.
The church was listed as a building of special architectural and historic interest in 1952. At about this time the interior was redecorated and simplified, although some of Fr Sole’s polychromy was allowed to remain on the south side of the nave. The organ loft overlooking the sanctuary was blocked up, and that space made into an office.
In 1966 the church was extensively remodelled and reordered during the time of the Rev. Denis O’Shea, under the direction of Desmond Williams Associates. This work was necessitated in part by the poor structural condition of the building, and also by the desire to bring the interior into line with the new liturgical arrangements being advanced in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Sadly, the original bell tower was taken down (the bell, dated 1816, now hangs on a timber scaffold outside the church) and the tiled hipped roof structure replaced with a flat roof. On the south wall of the nave, the previously blind (apart from glazed lunettes in the arches) windows were opened and new arched windows formed, matching those on the north side. Inside, a flat coffered ceiling replaced the original segmental arched ceiling and the walls were replastered (with the loss of any remaining earlier painted schemes of decoration). The sanctuary floor was relaid and new sanctuary furnishings introduced, some of them paid for by Fr O’Shea. New pews were provided, at the expense of the future Sixth Marquess of Bute.
The church was again redecorated (a pale shade of green) in 1977, and new Stations of the Cross introduced. In 1980 a timber and glass screen and new gallery front were introduced at the west end.
In 1999 a further major renovation took place, funded in large part by a legacy from Fr O’Shea (possibly in atonement for the work carried out in the 1960s) – this included a newly paved sanctuary with curved stepped approach, new nave floor with underfloor heating, and a new gallery front at the west end of the church. The Heythrop altar was moved to a more worthy position in the south chapel (albeit on the west rather than the east wall), forming a new Lady Chapel accessed from a re-formed arch in the centre of the nave (a previous opening, further to the west, was blocked). The font, previously in the south chapel, was moved to the west end under the gallery. A new historically-based colour scheme was introduced, along with new light fittings.
The list description, below, is fairly brief, makes no mention of the architect, and gives little clue as to the degree to which the building has been altered over the years.
The church was built in 1836 from designs by J. M. Derick, a pupil of Sir John Soane. It was his first church in the future Archdiocese of Birmingham, and in contrast to his slightly later Gothic church at Banbury, is in classical style. It consists of a nave and raised sanctuary, with a south aisle addition of 1881 (architect G. H. Cox). The most visible elevation is that to the north, facing the road. This, and the east and west elevations are faced in ashlar, while the less visible south elevation is of squared and coursed rubble stone. The five-bay symmetrical roadside facade has slightly projecting end bays with round headed niches. Between these are three round headed windows and above, a coved cornice and rebuilt parapet with openwork sections. There are two projecting porches; that at the west end being the main entrance to the church and that to the east serving as the entrance to a crypt below the sanctuary. The porches are identically detailed, with antae at the corners, cornices and above, sunburst shell niches, containing a globe surmounted by a cross, and each flanked by ammonite scrolls. Each porch has four-panel paired doors. The east elevation has a recessed central bay flanked by broad pilasters, with a round headed window, while the west elevation is more enriched, with a niche topped by ornamental brackets supporting a dentil cornice. The less visible south elevation is plainer in character; in addition to being rubble rather than ashlar faced, it lacks a parapet. The three arched nave windows on this elevation date from 1966, replacing openings which were blind apart from lunettes in the arches. The later (1888) south aisle is of matching stone and classical design.
The interior is plain in character, and has lost its original finishes and furnishings. The flat coffered ceilings date from 1966, replacing the original segmentally curved ceilings, but memories of the original forms survive in the curved ceilings under the gallery and in the south chapel, respectful adaptations of the 1880s. The furnishings are generally of 1966 or later, the two most notable exceptions being the Lady altar in the south chapel, a Gothic piece brought here in the 1880s from the chapel at Heythrop House, and the pictorial stained glass in the east window, dating from 1973 and depicting the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (artist not identified). The Gothic font, now under the gallery but originally in the south aisle, is probably of 1882.
Church. 1836 in the Classical style of squared and coursed rubble stone to the rear and ashlar to the N, E and W sides. Five bay symmetrical roadside facade with the end bays having slight projection and round headed niches. Between these are 3 round headed windows and above, a coved cornice and rebuilt parapet with openwork sections. Projecting porches to each end with antae at the corners, cornices and above, sunburst shell niches flanked by ammonite scrolls. Each porch has 4-panel paired doors. The W end has a round headed niche topped by ornamental brackets supporting a dentil cornice. Plain interior with a W gallery and stained glass E window dated 1873.
Listing NGR: SP3182827329
Architect: J. M. Derick
Original Date: 1836
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II