St Swithun's parish church
|Area||7.07 km2 (2.73 sq mi)|
|Population||424 (2011 Census)|
|• Density||60/km2 (160/sq mi)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
|Website||Merton Village Website|
Just before the Norman conquest of England Hacun, a Dane, held the manor of Meretone and also the nearby manor of Piddington. The toponym is derived from the Old English for a tun, hamlet or settlement by the mere.
The Domesday Book records that by 1086 Countess Judith of Lens, a niece of William I of England held the manor. Countess Judith was betrothed to Simon I de Senlis but refused to marry him and fled England. William I confiscated her estates and allowed Simon to marry Judith's eldest daughter Maud. Simon received estates including Merton as the honour of Huntingdon.
In 1152 or 1153 Simon's son Simon II de Senlis, Earl of Huntingdon-Northampton gave Merton to the Knights Templar. In 1185 the manor covered seven hides, making it their largest estate in Oxfordshire. In 1312 Pope Clement V ordered the Templars' dissolution and their English estates were confiscated by Edward II, who granted Merton to the Knights Hospitaller in 1313. In 1540 the Hospitallers were suppressed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries and surrendered Merton to the Crown, which left it in the possession of the Templars' tenant, William Mablyston of Ludgershall, Buckinghamshire.
In 1554 the Mablystons' lease expired and Robert Doyley of Chiselhampton and his son John acquired the manor. John died in 1593 and his widow Anne married Sir James Harington, 1st Baronet in 1613. In 1640 Sir James Harington, 3rd Baronet married Katherine, daughter of Sir Edmund Wright, Lord Mayor of London. Sir James was a Member of Parliament from 1646 until 1655 and during the English Civil War he served as a major-general in the Parliamentarian army. After the English Restoration his baronetcy was forfeited for life in 1661 under the Indemnity and Oblivion Act. Sir James fled to the European mainland and died in exile.
Sir James' father-in-law had remained a Royalist throughout the Civil War and Commonwealth, which helped Lady Katherine to claim she did not share her husband's politics. In 1662 the Crown granted letters patent placing the estate in trust, and upon Lady Katherine's death in 1675 it passed to her and Sir James' eldest son Sir Edmund Harington, 4th Baronet. The Harington baronets owned Merton until Sir James Harington, 6th Baronet ran up large sporting debts and in 1740 mortgaged Merton to Sir Edward Turner, 2nd Baronet of the neighbouring parish of Ambrosden. Sir James was a Jacobite who supported the Stuart claim to the United Kingdom. In 1747 he joined Charles Edward Stuart in exile and in 1749 Sir Edward Turner (later Page-Turner) obtained Merton by foreclosing the mortgage. The Page-Turner baronets (later Dryden baronets) retained Merton until 1930.
The Doyleys built the manor house in the latter part of the 16th century. It is thought to have been L-shaped, but after Sir Edward Page-Turner bought the manor in 1749 he had the south wing demolished and the surviving wing turned into a farmhouse. In 1838 the house's oak panelling was sold. In 1860 the house was modernised and its Elizabethan porch, gables, stone roof and mullioned windows were all removed. The house now has sash windows. The original kitchen and stone-arched cellar survive, and the cellar includes a well. A dairy wing was added late in the 19th century. The house's 17th century square, two-storeyed dovecote also survives. The house is now a nursing home.
Church and chapel
The Church of England parish church of Saint Swithun is Decorated Gothic, built early in the 14th century. It has a south aisle, linked with the nave by an arcade of four bays. Late in the 15th century the Perpendicular Gothic clerestory was added to the nave. The chancel windows and one window in the south aisle are also Perpendicular Gothic. The font is much older than the church, dating from late in the 12th century.
St Swithun's had a north aisle but it was demolished in the 15th or 16th century. Its arcade of three bays was blocked up and remains in the north wall of the nave. The tower had a spire but it became unsafe and in 1796 it was removed.
St Swithun's most notable monuments are wall-mounted ones in the chancel commemorating John Doyley (died 1593) and his wife, Elizabeth Poole (died 1621) and Richard Harrington (died 1712). The Poole monument has strapwork and Tuscan columns but is significantly mutilated and in want of restoration.
A turret clock for St Swithun's was made late in the 17th century. Its original dial had only an hour hand. In 1867 this was replaced with a new dial that has both hour and minute hands. Some time after 1989 a new turret clock was installed; the 17th century original is now displayed in the nave.
The Gothic Revival architect Charles Buckeridge restored St Swithun's from 1865 until 1872. St Swithun's had been decorated with mediaeval wall paintings, once brightly coloured but by 1823 described as "dim with age". During the restoration work it was found impossible to remove the layers of whitewash covering them. St Swithun's is a Grade I listed building.
In the Edwardine Inventory of 1552 St Swithun's had three bells and a Sanctus bell. In 1795 the bell tower had a ring of seven bells but the churchwardens obtained permission to sell five of them to pay for a new lead roof for the church. By the 1950s there were only two bells: one cast by Richard Keene of Woodstock in 1694 and the other cast in 1887.
In 1565 the Crown sold the advowson and rectory to William Petre, who in 1572 gave both to Exeter College, Oxford. The ecclesiastical parish of Merton is now part of the Benefice of the Ray Valley.
West of St Swithun's is a rubblestone tithe barn that may have been built in the 15th century or early 16th century. It has a queen post roof and is thatched. In the late 20th century it was converted into four homes.
There were small enclosures of land in the parish in the 14th and 16th centuries but an open field system of farming prevailed until 1763. In the 1761 Parliamentary election Sir Edward Turner entered the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Penryn in Cornwall. In 1762 Sir Edward got Parliament to pass an Inclosure Act for the parish of Merton. This extinguished all common land rights in Merton and assigned most of the land to Sir Edward.
In 1814 one of the earliest National Schools to be established under the auspices of the National Society for Promoting Religious Education was opened in Merton. A new stone-built school building, complete with lodging for the matron, was completed in 1829. Ownership and management of the school were transferred to the vicar and churchwardens in 1870. The school was enlarged in 1872 and 1893. The number of pupils then declined and in 1913 the school was closed and 12 pupils were transferred to Ambrosden. In 1930 the house and school were sold and became a private home.
Merton used to have a public house, the Plough Inn, whose building is partly Tudor. In the 2000s the owners closed the pub and applied to Cherwell District Council for planning permission to redevelop the site for housing. The council refused the application but the pub remains closed.
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- Arkell 1942, p. 2.
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- Historic England. "Church of St Swithun (Grade I) (1369750)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
- Archbishops' Council. "Benefice of the Ray Valley". A Church Near You. Church of England. Archived from the original on 16 January 2016.
- Sherwood & Pevsner 1974, p. 701.
- Historic England. "Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 the Tithe Barn (Grade II) (1369749)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- Merton Village Website
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- Lobel, Mary D, ed. (1957). A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5: Bullingdon Hundred. Victoria County History. pp. 221–234.
- Sherwood, Jennifer; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1974). Oxfordshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 700–701. ISBN 0-14-071045-0.
Media related to Merton, Oxfordshire at Wikimedia Commons