St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon

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St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon
Checkendon SSPeter&Paul southeast.jpg
view from the southeast
St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon is located in Oxfordshire
St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon
St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon
Location in Oxfordshire
Coordinates: 51°32′35″N 1°02′46″W / 51.543°N 1.046°W / 51.543; -1.046
OS grid reference SU 6683
Location Checkendon, Oxfordshire
Country England
Denomination Church of England
Founded c. 634 (reputed)
Founder(s) Birinus (reputed)
Dedication Saint Peter and Saint Paul
Status Parish church
Functional status Active
Heritage designation Grade I
Designated 9 February 1959
Architectural type Norman
Deanery Henley-on-Thames
Archdeaconry Oxford
Diocese Oxford
Province Canterbury
Rector Rev. Kevin Davies

St Peter and St Paul is the Church of England parish church of Checkendon, a village in Oxfordshire, England. Its parish is part of the Diocese of Oxford. Its earliest parts are 12th-century and it is a Grade I listed building.[1]

The church is a Norman building. All but one of the windows were replaced later in the Middle Ages with Decorated Gothic and Perpendicular Gothic ones, and the Perpendicular Gothic west tower is also a later addition.[2]


An active church in the Church of England, the Church of St Peter and St Paul is part of the diocese of Oxford, which is in the Province of Canterbury. It is in the archdeaconry of Oxford and the deanery of Henley-on-Thames. It forms a benefice with the churches at Ipsden, North Stoke, Stoke Row, Whitchurch and Woodcote.[3]


The foundation of the church at Checkendon has been strongly associated with Saint Birinus who landed on the south coast in 634 and made his way to Dorchester-on-Thames where he converted Cynegils, the Saxon King of Wessex. There was probably a wattle and daub church on the same site soon after.

In 636 Birinus sent for masons from Italy who started work on the Abbey at Dorchester. Bede wrote: “Many churches were built and endowed by Birinus.” These were often built of wattle and daub, and the windows glazed with horn. Birinus established a small chapel for himself on Berin’s Hill, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Checkendon. He was an ardent missionary and it seems probable that he also converted Caeca, after whom Checkendon is named. Birinus' favourite saints were Peter and Paul.[4]

The present church was built in the late 11th- or early 12th-century, except for the tower and porch which were added in the 15th century. It is generally accepted that the present church is Norman. The flint and mortar work, however, suggests the possibility of an earlier date. Alternatively, it is possible that the Normans built onto an existing and partially ruined church. The method of construction, placing flint in herringbone fashion, separated by broad bands of mortar, is distinctly Saxon. It is possible that the Normans employed Saxon workmen who were expert in such flintwork.

The church could have been built by Alured the Saxon, or possibly by Sir Robert Marmyon[disambiguation needed] his successor, or by Milo de Crispin, Lord of Wallingford. The date, plan, material and construction of the church are the same as those of Swyncombe which lies about five miles away - both churches have a half round apse, a square choir and a nave comprising two squares. Both are without buttresses. The church at Swyncombe was the work of the monks from Bec Abbey in Normandy.[4]

The Nave[edit]

Arches and roof[edit]

The great arches were built at the same time as the church walls and originally their bases were level with the floor. The eight carved capitals are preserved undamaged. They are close to the Byzantine tradition but it is not known if they were carved in situ by the monks of Bec or were imported completely finished. The two on the northern pillars of the choir-nave are particularly fine.

The Tudor roof is supported by ten corbels and was restored in 1956. The size of the corbels shows that they would once have supported the beams of the first Norman roof. Two corbels are carved into heads in a style that is much earlier than Tudor. When the church was redecorated in 1976, the bosses, the work of local craftsmen, were gilded. About the centre of the nave’s north wall is an exquisitely carved small angel with a book, dating from 1300.

Kennington sculpture and memorial window[edit]

Filling the old north door of the nave is an unfinished sculpture by noted artist and sculptor Eric Kennington. Kennington, who was a friend of Lawrence of Arabia and illustrator of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, was a former churchwarden of the parish.[4]

The fine diamond-point engraved window in the south wall is a memorial to him. Commissioned by his wife it was designed by Lawrence Whistler and completed in 1962. Symbolic in character, it shows the Holy Grail at the centre, seen as if a vision, floating in mid-air and ringed by light. Below is the Wheat of the Sacrament, rising as if from a bare hill crowned by a Celtic Cross, representing the history of Christianity in the British Isles.

The sunflowers turned towards the Cup were used in Kennington’s own work, and had great reverence for the earliest Celtic Christianity. The armed figures guarding the Grail on each side are partly derived from figures in the 1943 drawing Resurgence by Kennington. Lancing rays of light strike down on all from the Eye of God at the apex. The landscapes below represent night and day over England. The right-hand scene, with a glimpse of the sea, recalls the county of Dorset, for which Kennington had a particular fondness.

Font, iron-work and wall tablets[edit]

The 15th-century font is at the west end of the church. There is also an iron-bound oak chest of the 18th-century or earlier.

The iron-work of the church lighting is the work of local craftsmen of living memory and the kneelers throughout the church were embroidered by ladies of the village. The wall tablets commemorate members of local families; one on the north wall is in memory of Admiral Isaac George Manley, of nearby Braziers Park who, as a midshipman, sailed with Captain Cook on his first voyage round the world in HMS Endeavour.[4]

The canopied pulpit and box pews from the nave, were removed by Victorian renovation work.

Chancel and Apse[edit]

Brasses and tiles[edit]

The 15th-century brasses include three memorials to the Reade family who still own land in and around Checkendon.

The small brass on the north side shows a soul with clasped hands being borne to heaven in a winding sheet. The translation of the inscription is: "Here lies Walter Beauchamp son of William Beauchamp, Knight: on whose soul may the Lord have mercy. Amen."

The inscription on the brass of the woman with the folded skirt translates as: "Here lies Anna Bowett wife of Richard Bowett, Knight: one of the daughters of John Gaynesford, Knight and of Katherine his wife of Crowhurst in the County of Surrey. Anne died on the 6th day of January in the year of our Lord 1480. May God deal mercifully with her soul."

On the south side of the chancel one brass to John Rede "servant of the king" bears the date 1404. This very impressive brass shows a figure is dressed in a fur-lined gown, cassock and hood of the great man’s office, that of Sergeant-at-law.

Alongside the brasses on the north wall is a series of mediaeval encaustic tiles, presumably collected and re-laid here during the 19th century, probably came from Chiltern factories.

13th-century fresco in the chancel apse of Christ in Majesty flanked by his apostles

Wall paintings[edit]

The church has an early 13th-century wall painting of Christ in Majesty above a procession of Apostles. When restoration work was carried out in 1868 the red ochre fresco paintings were discovered under the plaster which the covered the apse wall. The paiting of Christ is above the east window and below this are two groups of six apostles. The left group is headed by St. Peter and the right by St. Paul, the patron saints of the church.[4]

Two and a half of the twelve apostles were in fact ‘lost’ when a window was pierced in the south side of the apse in the 15th century. It is not known why the figures on the left are higher than those on the right. The former are by a more masterly artist. In 1950 the frescoes were painstakingly and artistically restored by the noted authority on wall paintings, Eve Baker, but more recently this has been considered over-restoration.[5]

The polished yew altar and communion rails, the wood for which was locally grown, were made by local craftsmen in 1960. The finest wall monuments are in the choir and perhaps the most notable is to Christian Braybrooke, 1629, a relief carving in alabaster with additional black marble.[4]

Detail of one of the apostles on the left (north) side of the chancel ceiling


The bell tower, added to the church in the 15th century, has a ring of eight bells. Four were cast by Lester and Pack in 1765, two were cast in 1879 by Mears and Stainbank. The bell inscriptions are:


Two more bells, cast by Mears and Stainbank, were added in 1967.[6] The bell ropes were replaced in 1978. The turret clock is by Tucker of London and is dated 1853.[4]


The porch was added in about 1500. The Holy Water stoup on the east wall is of the same date. The semi-circular Norman archway decorated with triple moulding leads into the church. There are traces of scarlet paint on the archway and capitals. There appear to be parts of an old Norman slab at the porch entrance.


The lychgate is a memorial to those who died in the two World Wars. There is also an illuminated Book of Remembrance at the west end of the church. In the churchyard there is a plot set aside for the Polish Catholic community who live in the area. There was a Polish re-settlement camp at Scot’s Common, near Checkendon, after the Second World War. For many years a Polish Mass was celebrated yearly in the church on the Sunday nearest to All Souls' Day.[4]

Rectors and Patrons[edit]


Date Rector Patron
1222 Geoffrey de Rudeham Abbot of Coventry
1271 Thomas de Stratton William Marmion
1274 John de Wydehall Adam de Stratton
1291 Nicholas de Bluntson "
1312 John de Thormaton John Marmion
1330 John Pachat "
1335 John Gaunt de Brachle "
1350 Nicholas de Liechfeld John de Stratton
1351 Henry de Stratton
1372 Laurence de Morgan
1381 William Fery G. Wace
1383 John Balynggon
1399 John Grant
1400 Peter Rowe Sir G. Waas
1430 John Ormysby
1457 Stephen Tyler Sir Edmund Rede
1458 John Emylby "
1475 Robert Knightly "
1488 Robert Tiechfield (alias Harte) "
1517 A. Justice Sir W. Rede
1527 Thomas Justyce
1530 Thomas Tusball (Curate)
1543 Henry Goodwyne (Curate)
1544 Robert Hyde Francis Samwell
1545 Roger Ponsonby Richard Bartlett
1554 Ralph Birdie Thomas Dynham
1558 Ralph Hyde "
1563 John Batliss
1579 William Chadwick
1592 Owen Thomas
1606 James Penny John Lybbe
1661 Robert Henderson
1670 Antony Lybbe Antony Lybbe
1703 Francis Sayer Richard Lybbe
1711 William Tuder "
1746 William Bowdry Harwood Aubrey
1761 Samuel Hamersley Hugh Hamersly
1776 Joseph Wood University College, Oxford
1779 John Coulson "
1789 William Corture "
1820 William Crabtree "
1820 Charles John Abbey "
1908 John Turner Munn "
1922 Hugh R. Bonsey "
1927 R. D. St. George Edwards "
1945 Percy Cyril Underhill "
1950 Mundeford Allen "
1964 Norman Williams "
1973 David Salt "


  1. ^ Historic England (9 February 1959). "Church of St Peter and St Paul (1180822)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Sherwood & Pevsner 1974, pp. 533–534.
  3. ^ The Langtree Team Ministry
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i “Saint Peter & Saint Paul – Checkendon”, pamphlet available at the church, dated July 1978, no author credited
  5. ^ Long 1972, p. 90.
  6. ^ Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, Reading Branch


External links[edit]