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IntroductionSt Mary the Virgin, Iffley, is a virtually undisturbed Romanesque church. There is evidence that it was built under the auspices of one of England’s wealthiest magnates, Geoffrey de Clinton, Treasurer to Henry I and builder of Kenilworth Castle. What is less clear is how it was cared for through the centuries leading up to, and following, the English Reformation of the 16th century. When the diocese of Oxford was formed from part of the pre-Reformation diocese of Lincoln in 1542, Iffley’s patronage moved from Osney Abbey to Christ Church Cathedral. At this time a new wing was added to the rectory, and not long afterwards extensive work was undertaken on the boundary walls of the churchyard, walls that define and protect the sacred space within which the church stands. This trail explores the archaeological and historical evidence for this work.Our sleuthing will highlight a key player: Archdeacon Barten Holyday (1593-1661). He lived in the rectory as both a family man and an influential representative of Iffley’s patron: Christ Church. We can trace his mark on some of the walls of the churchyard.
Medieval IffleyThe earliest known buildings of Iffley hug the contour of Rose Hill at 200 feet above sea level, high enough to command access to and a view of the river and meadows beyond, also to protect the village from flooding.From south to north, the core buildings included a hall (manor house) at Court Place (presumably where the manorial courts were held), the church of St Mary, a 13th-century hall on the site of the rectory and probably also a farm, now called Manor House. Below was a riverside mill, destroyed by fire in 1908. The de St Remy family from Normandy were lords of the manor of Iffley in the mid-later 12th century, related by marriage to the de Clinton family. It was they who most likely built the church and Court Place. They also owned the mill.Iffley was located close enough to the River Thames to use its waters for powering the mill, for protected fishing and for wider access to the Thames Valley.Access to Iffley by land was via Church Way, the modern successor of a medieval route following the 220-foot contour of Rose Hill. This route once continued south to Littlemore and Sandford, with access for pig grazing and woodcutting at Hog Common to the south of Court Place. Church Way is crossed by lanes, walls and hedges marking the boundaries of fields once worked by tenant farmers of the manor. Tree Lane and Eastchurch were footpaths to Temple Cowley and Littlemore, both once forming parts of Iffley parish.Work is ongoing to explore the links of the church to the river. Was this branch of the Thames navigable up to the mill before the lock was built in the 17th century? Was there a landing-stage below Court Place, aligning with the church? Did boats go to and from Oxford from the site of the old ferry north of the mill?
The walls around St Mary’s, and Archdeacon Barten HolydayThe boundary walls around the churchyard were probably built by masons from Oxford when the Archdeacon of Christ Church lived in the rectory at Iffley with its spacious 16th-century wing.A likely time for their first construction is after 1626, when Barten Holyday, playwright, translator of the Roman poets Horace, Perseus and Juvenal and former chaplain to King Charles I, was appointed Archdeacon of Oxford. The son of an Oxford tailor, Thomas Holyday, Barten married Elizabeth Wickham, daughter of the leaseholder of Iffley rectory, William Wickham of Abingdon. Uniquely among the archdeacons of Oxford, Barten Holyday appears to have lived with his family in the Rectory at Iffley. His son George was baptised in St Mary’s in 1634. The walls of the churchyard appear to be structurally linked with the building of a new kitchen wing on the east side of the rectory. During the Civil Wars of the 1640s, having espoused (reportedly under some duress) the Parliamentarian cause, Barten Holyday was granted a living in Berkshire. He returned to Iffley at the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660. Here he died on October 2nd, 1661, aged 68, “of the new epidemicall disease that rageth now abroad” and was buried in Christ Church cathedral.Archdeacon Holyday was a writer of notable aphorisms, of which the most famous is “A man may as well open an oyster without a knife, as a lawyer’s mouth without a fee.” Perhaps the nearby Thames inspired another enduring thought: “River is time in water; as it came, still so it flows, yet never is the same.”
START the trail at the WEST DOOR of St Mary’s church.
Start by looking at the West Door of the church.
Engraving of the 1830s showing the use of the south door as the main entrance to St Mary’s church. (Note that the west front had been restored to its original height but the nave roof had not.)
This is now the main entrance to the church. Despite its beautiful sculptured decoration, this door was probably only used for major festivals in medieval times. The main entrance to the church was on the s
The south door of St Mary’s seen from the path leading to Court Place.
The south door (now closed) is also decorated with sculpture. From here a path ran to the nearby manor house of Court Place. Imagine yourself as Lord or Lady of the Manor. How easy it would have been to slip into church, it’s almost a private chapel!
Now follow the path towards Court Place. Stop near the little doorway in the wa
TRAIL Stand 1. Entrance to the churchyard from Court Place
The door through the churchyard wall to the back of Court Place manor house. The plaque commemorating the building is boxed in black.
Look high up on the wall of Court Place to see a stone recording John Lewis’s rebuilding of the house in 1580. For the last 50 years England had been riven by religious arguments. The Reformation, begun by Hen
TRAIL Stand 2. The wall beside the lodge to Court Place
Buttress added to the south stretch of the churchyard wall. In the background is the lodge at the entrance to Court Place.
TRAIL Stand 3 The wall beside the lodge to Court Place
Circled is a butt join with a stretch of wall to the left built on higher ground. As the stones used to build the two stretches of wall are so similar,
the butt join may represent a change in ground level, rather than a lapse in time of construction of the wall- though walls are often repaired and rebuilt out of the same material!
Carry on and ta