The Village name
In Saxon-English, Est-cota means East Homestead, the mother settlement being Shipton, or Sheep-tun in Saxon, to the southwest. The area was a royal estate, and Wychwood (Hwicca wuda) refers to a sizeable pre-Norman forest, home of the Hwicca people.
The Founding of the Church
Holy Trinity Church is built on a long river terrace of gravel. It is midway between the sites of two Norman and bailey castles at the southwest and northeast ends of the village. Some resources for building likely came from the mother church at Shipton. The Abbey at Bruern was built between 1135 and 1154, and the same masons may have worked in Ascott. The rounded arches of the windows in the first two stages of the Tower and the elegant interior arcading are evidence of this Norman heritage.
At that time, the interior arches and wall would have probably been brightly coloured and patterned as can be seen in nearby Shorthampton Church. For much of the history of the building, there would not have been any pews. Instead, the ample floor space in the Nave and North Aisle were open-plan and used for village celebrations and seasonal activities as well as for worship.
The Church building today
As you enter the Porch of Holy Trinity Church, you are passing into a space that has been a holy site for at least 800 years.
For many centuries the central part of the marriage ceremony took place in the porch. When Barbara Chaundy married William Johnson on 2 February 1642, this is where they would have made their vows.
The Chaundy family continued to reside in Ascott until the middle of the 20th century.
The upkeep of the Nave has always fallen to the parishioners. Before the Reformation, in around 1540, local people like Richard Tayler and John Poole left a sheep or money to keep the torches glowing and the bells in good repair. Another villager, John Celye, asked in his will of 1557 that a ‘tapere of halfe a pound of waxe to be sett Afore the Roode in the onere of allmightie gode.’
Probably in the Middle Ages and later, a securely locked chest would have been kept in the Nave for official documents such as the book (Parish Register) described by Thomas Smith, scriptor, in 1602.
’ This book was bought in ye year of Our Lord god one thousand five hundred and ninetye nine – and now newly written and amended by me – TS and whereas the Booke before did begine at 1566 conferring ye part of an old church book that I found with this and so have amended the faults which before were in this booke and also have made it more legable to the good and helpe of those there after that have ye cause to use it.’
Sometime in the 18th century, a gallery was built in front of Tower wall at the west end of the Church. It was from this gallery that musicians would have accompanied worship. In the early 19th century, it is recorded that a few girls, accompanied by a bassoon and flute, sang hymns in this elevated position. The gallery has long gone, and today a tapestry hangs. Villagers created this tapestry, dedicated at Harvest Festival 1995, to celebrate ‘… our landscape and our livelihood, our story and our scene. We bind our present into the past and future, and with this work of our skill, we present ourselves, so that in life and love, we may adorn the doctrine of our Saviour Christ.’ [For more information on the tapestry see here.]
Above the lectern in the Nave, there is a touching memorial to Elizabeth Harris erected by her daughter. The family lived in the Grange and Elizabeth, her husband, another daughter, son in law and two grandchildren are buried amongst the yew trees near the south wall of the Churchyard.
The North Aisle seems the most likely position for the Chapel of St. Thomas (probably Thomas a Becket whose martyrdom occurred just before the building of this Church). It is here where John Bonde in his will of 1570 asked to be buried in the ‘Chappell of the saide churche Called Saynt Thomas chansell’.
Today, the North Transept is home to a textile created in 2018 to commemorate the Ascott Martyrs. The Ascott Martyrs were sixteen women, some with babies in arms, who were imprisoned in 1873 for supporting their striking farm worker husbands. In front of the Textile is a bench from the Chipping Norton Magistrates Court, where the trial took place.
The traumatic event led to riots and a reprieve from Queen Victoria. Their legacy today is that picketing was made legal in 1874 and local religious leaders were no longer appointed Magistrates. [For more information on the textile and Ascott Martyrs, click on the image of the textile.]
The Font, standing opposite the door of the Church, dates from the 15 century and is of octagonal chalice style. The first recorded baptism was that of Gilbard Hickes on 10 September 1569. There are records of every child that has been baptised in since that date, including the five children of William and Barbara (nee Chaundy) Johnson, mentioned above.
Presumably, the Lady Chapel, which was added later to the original Church, was where William Haylewood in 1532 left ‘to our ladye of Ascotte one sheep’.
The well-worn steps up into the Chancel, mark the passage of centuries of footsteps of worshippers, both rich and poor alike.
In the late 15th century, once a year, masses were said for the souls of Thomas and Agnes Robins, their ancestors and ‘all Christian men for evermore’. Thomas and Agnes were the founders of the Ascott’s Poors Charity which still exists today, now incorporated in the Ascott Village Charity. They requested the masses in return for their bequest of property, but unfortunately, Henry VIII’s Reformation brought an end to their side of the agreement, a mere 60 years later.
Beneath your feet, as you stand in the Chancel are probably the remains of past, well-endowed parishioners. Leonard Box, a one-time occupier of Coldstone Farm, and his wife Marie were buried there in the early 17th century. A few decades later John Draper of Bruern Grange and Anne his wife were also interred. In her will of 1686, Anne left £14 to purchase a marble slab to be placed over her grave. In the vestry today, her memorial and that of her husband still survive. So we know her request was carried out, but probably a new position was found for the memorials in later renovations.
On the wall of the Chancel is a memorial to the Reverend Charles Walford, the vicar of Ascott 1893 – 1918. He was injured and subsequently died while helping to cut down a beech tree in the Churchyard at the time of the Great War.
Despite past efforts, as in 1723 when Mr Lovell was paid £6 for painting the Church, by the 1850s, apart from the Chancel, the Church was in a very sorry state. Much needed repairs and renovations were carried out under the directions of one of the greatest architects of the 19th-century architect, George Edmund Street. The work undertaken by Street included: the restoration of the Nave roof; Nave re-floored and the Sanctuary tiled; the removal of the gallery, loosing 75 seats ‘of the worst description’; the building of the vestry to the north of the Chancel; and, the introduction of pews faithfully copying the style of older pews, some of which can be seen in the southwest corner. Of the seats created by these pews, 55 adult and 35 children were ‘free for the poor.‘ The remaining 124 seats were ‘not free’.
A wall, erected in 1830 encloses the Churchyard. An entry in the Church Accounts Book reads:
‘A good and substantial fence erected around the Churchyard, to rise two feet above the level of the Churchyard, coped with a round top, set in strong mortar.’
In the previous 15 years two curiosities were entered in the Accounts Book – 7s for ‘moving a hill in the churchyard’ and 1s 6d for ‘cleansing the Bone Place.’
There are several old tombstones in the Churchyard, many illegible but one to Rebecca Smith, one of the Ascott Martyrs, is to be found near to the west wall.
Finally, the gates to the east of the Church stand as a memorial to Ascott men who died in the First World War. These gates are a fitting tribute since at least six of those men lived around the Churchyard. One of those commemorated, Harry Honeybone, was brought up in the house against which the plaque is placed.
We hope that this guide has given you an insight into our beautiful church, which has given comfort to so many over the centuries. We hope also that it might have inspired you to come and visit it for yourself and perhaps to enjoy a service or one or more of the many concerts and social events which take place here. Details of services can be found at the top of the righthand side of our website and concerts are listed on our forthcoming events page here.
The cost of maintenance of the church is considerable and we hope that you will feel able to give generously so that this fine building can remain a witness to the presence of Jesus Christ to future generations. Donations may be left in the wall safe by the door.
This guide was compiled from research made by Wendy Pearse and Joan Lilly.