Building » Hethe – Holy Trinity

Hethe – Holy Trinity

Hardwick Road, Hethe OX27

An attractive stone-built group of church, presbytery and former school building in a pastoral edge-of-village setting. The design is unassertive, almost vernacular in character. The Gothic church has an interior of domestic character, with good furnishings and decoration, including a stencil decorative scheme of the 1930s and stained glass by John Barnett. Most unusually, the sanctuary retains its pre-Vatican II arrangement. 

During the penal years the recusant Fermor family maintained a chapel and mission at Tusmore, which drew Catholics from the surrounding area. They also established an upstairs chapel at Hardwick Manor Farm. This closed in 1830, and in 1831 the Tusmore estate went into Protestant ownership, leaving local Catholics without a place of worship. A new mission was established and an appeal launched by the Rev. A. Maguire, enabling the building of a small (internal measurements 49 ft by 26 ft) stone-built chapel in the Gothic style, on the edge of the village of Hethe. This cost £800, and was opened by Bishop Walsh, Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District, on 22 May 1832. A presbytery was built at the same time. The identity of the architect is not known. An early (1838) visitor was the Dowager Lady Arundell of Wardour, who considered the church to be ‘tolerable Gothic’ but the altar ‘horrible’; she asked Ambrose Phillips to persuade A. W. Pugin to design an oak replacement. O’Donnell attributes the present altar (and the font) to Pugin on stylistic grounds but, as he acknowledges, there is no documentary evidence for this.    

One of the principal furnishings of the church is a large, probably mid-late eighteenth-century painted altarpiece of the Descent from the Cross, a copy of Jean Jouvenet’s painting for the Capuchin church in Paris (now in the Louvre); the figures are reversed, so it is presumably based on an engraving. It probably came from a Fermor chapel.

As well as building the church and presbytery, Fr Maguire acquired adjoining land for a burial ground at the side of the church (the first burial was in 1836) and a school (on which work began in 1831) to the rear. However Fr Maguire had to leave the mission in some haste in 1847 (there were strong suggestions of financial impropriety), and went to minister to the spiritual needs of transported convicts in Tasmania. According to the VCH, the school was not completed and opened until 1870, and is therefore not late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, as stated in the list description. It closed in 1924 and was more recently used as a workshop.

In 1881 a large crucifix under a gabled canopy was erected in the burial ground, the gift of Lord North. 

The late-nineteenth century appearance of the interior of the church is shown in the photograph at figure 1. This scheme of stencil decoration was replaced in 1932, under the Rev. Ignatius McHugh, by a more elaborate and rich scheme, shown at figure 2. The artist for this scheme is not known; it may have been Elphege or Oswald Pippett who, working as subcontractors to the Hardman firm, had prepared an even more elaborate (and expensive) scheme for Fr McHugh. According to Grant, this decorative scheme extended around the lower walls of the nave, but was here overpainted in the 1980s. 

In the post-Vatican II years the church has, in Grant’s words, offered ‘comfort for lovers of tradition’. It has been something of a centre for the celebration of the old Latin Mass, and retains its original high altar, with no forward altar, and communion rails.

The interior is a single space, with an enclosed sanctuary at one end and a gallery at the other. The sanctuary ceiling is demarcated with a painted border, and has at its centre a painted representation of the Trinity. With its flat plaster ceiling and modest size, the interior has the feel of a domestic chapel, perhaps not dissimilar to that it replaced at Tusmore. At the east end, an eighteenth-century copy of Jean Jouvenet’s Descent from the Cross hangs over the Gothic high altar. On either side, carved angels under canopies bear shields (these figures were relocated from the side walls of the sanctuary, probably in 1932). O’Donnell considers the high altar to be ‘obviously to Pugin’s design’. The gradine is decorated with blind quatrefoil panels and has a central open brass tabernacle throne; below the mensa, recessed niches now contain diminutive statues. In front hangs a sanctuary lamp, of precious metals. In the corners, on Gothic pedestals, are polychrome statues of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart, installed in 1932. The sanctuary remains enclosed by its original Gothic altar rails, and there is no forward altar. A timber pulpit is placed on the south side, possibly c.1932. The sanctuary is decorated with a rich scheme of stencil decoration, with armorial bearings, symbols of the Evangelists in roundels, vine and tendril decoration and texts. This also dates from 1932 (not nineteenth century, as stated in the list entry) and is part of a decorative scheme which extended around the lower walls of the nave (overpainted in 1980).

The paired lancet windows of the nave are filled with stained glass windows, mainly to members of the Collingridge family. One of these (by marriage) was the stained glass artist Francis Barnett, of the Edinburgh and Leith Stained Glass Works, who was responsible for the five windows nearest the sanctuary (various dates up to 1870, none as early as 1832, as stated in the list entry). They include one to his father, John Barnett, stained glass designer of York, and his wife. The windows in the western bay are later (c.1876 and 1886), also to Collingridge family members, and are probably by Francis’ son William Collingridge Barnett.

The pews in the nave, of unusual (indeed ‘purgatorial’, according to Grant) design, with ovals and quatrefoils cut into the sides and folding bookrests, appear to be mid-nineteenth century in date. They are in three banks, on raised boarded platforms.

At the west end, the gallery is placed within the tower area. Its front has blind Gothic arcading, and below it are two doors with Gothic lower and glazed upper panels. Between these hangs a framed nineteenth-century copy of Correggio’s Madonna Adoring the Child Jesus (Uffizi, Florence).  In the southwest corner is a small early nineteenth-century chamber organ, originally in domestic use, acquired from Pershore in 1986 by the then parish priest, the Rev. Terence McDonnell (it is included in the National Pipe Organ Register, ref. C.00044). In the southeast corner is the stone octagonal font with oak cover, the sides of the bowl carved with quatrefoils. The font is attributed by O’Donnell to A. W. Pugin; it is similar in design to that at St John, Banbury (qv), where Pugin also worked.      




Roman Catholic Church. 1832. Squared coursed limestone. Slate roof. Combined nave and chancel. 4 bays. Entrance has pointed arched doorway with hood mould and headstops. Plank and rail door. 4-light intersecting window above. Single light lancets to left and right. Diagonal buttresses. Sides have four 2-light windows with Y tracery and hood moulds with headstops. Finials and stone coped gables. Interior. Eight stained glass windows by Barnett of Leith, 1832. Gallery at south end. C19 pews and font. C19 painted north wall. Said to have been built by the Fermor family of Tusmore House. (Buildings of England: Oxfordshire: 1974, p646)


Listing NGR: SP5883229597


School House



List entry Number: 1046451

Grade: II

Date first listed: 03-Oct-1988


HETHE HARDWICK ROAD SP5829-5929 (North side) 17/40 School House approx. 15m N of Church of Holy Trinity




School house. Late C18/early C19. Squared coursed limestone with a hipped slate roof. Copper/lead rectangular cupola with louvred openings with round arched heads. Single storey. 2-window range. Entrance has a pointed arched doorway with brick surrounds and plank door. Entrance to left with a single-storey extension with hipped slate roof and brick stack. Ground floor of main building has two 2-light painted arched windows with brick dressings. Similar single-storey extension with hipped slate roof on right. Included for group value.


Listing NGR: SP5884029618

Heritage Details

Architect: Not known

Original Date: 1832

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II