Spelsbury: All Saints



Brief History of the Church

No traces of what is believed to have been a Saxon church on this site under the Bishops of Worcester before the Norman Conquest remain today.  All Saints Church itself is a Norman foundation, dating from the late 11th and early 12th centuries, of which the most prominent parts to survive, though much restored, are the west tower and its pillars.  It appears that the original building was much larger than the present one, with the west tower probably at the centre of a cruciform church with narrower arms.  The Early English Gothic nave and the north and south aisles date from the late 13th century, the transepts and the main arch and west doorway leading into the church from the 14th century, while several of the windows in the aisles, transepts, and clerestory are probably re-used 15th-century work. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe church was largely rebuilt in the 18th century by the Earls of Litchfield (Lee family) of Ditchley Park a few miles to the east in Spelsbury parish.  The bell tower was restored in 1706 by the 1st Earl (1663-1716), but the large ringing chamber on the first floor is much more modern (1885).  The chancel was rebuilt in 1740 by the 2nd Earl (1691-1742), and in 1774 the nave, aisles, and transepts were substantially remodelled by the 4th and last Earl (1706-76). Later changes were effected under the Viscounts Dillon, who had married into the Lee family and succeeded them as resident benefactors at Ditchley in 1776.  These included another rebuilding of the chancel (now in Victorian Gothic style) in 1851, when arches were specially designed on both the north and south walls to house the four Lee monuments erected there. The installation of the present east window, dedicated to the memory of the 12th, 13th, and 14th Viscounts Dillon and their wives, followed in 1886. 

In more recent times, the most important work has been the rehanging of the church bells (with a recast tenor) in the original frame by Whites of Appleton in 1983, and the much-admired restoration of the Lee and Dillon family tombs in the chancel and north transept by Sue and Lawrence Kelland in 2010-11 (on which more details are given in the numbered guide).  The latter restoration had been preceded by major works in 2009 to create proper drainage in parts of the church badly affected by damp, and a new lighting system in the chancel now allows much better viewing of all the monuments. 

roofrepair_logoIn 2017 the roof to the North Aisle of the Church was re-covered thanks to a grant from the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund.

All Saints Church is now part of the Chase Benefice  formed in 2001 by the merger of two former benefices incorporating the parishes of Chadlington, Spelsbury, and Ascott-under-Wychwood on the one hand, and Enstone on the other.

Floor Plan of Church and Numbered Guide

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 17.23.351. Front of west tower:  Norman in origin, but much restored since.

2. Main arch and west doorway into the church:  14th century.

3. Pillars or arches of the west tower dating from the Norman period.

4. Early English Gothic nave:  late 13th century. *      

5. North and south aisles:  also late 13th century. *

6. North and south transepts:  14th century. *         

*The nave, aisles and transepts were all substantially remodelled in 1774 by  the 4th Earl of Litchfield

7. Windows in the aisles, transepts, and clerestory:  probably 15th century.

spel-10118. Monument (north chancel wall) to Sir Henry Lee (1571-1631), 1st Baronet of Quarenden, and his wife Eleanor Wortley, whose two effigies are surrounded by the kneeling figures of their four surviving children and of three others who died in infancy lying on the table.  The tomb is the work of Samuel Baldwin of Gloucester (flor. 1603-45) and is a Jacobean masterpiece of alabaster, inset with grey limestone epitaphs, and black marble with rich heraldic decoration.  The Lee family arms above are crowned by a flute-playing angel and bordered by sculpted figures of Time and Death.

spel-10179. Monument (south chancel wall) to Edward Henry Lee (1663-1716), 1st Earl of Litchfield, and his wife Charlotte Fitzroy (1665-1718), illegitimate daughter of Charles II by Barbara Villiers.  The tomb, by an unknown sculptor, is of Carrara marble in elegant Baroque design, and has a stepped limestone base.  There is a large white inscription tablet in solid marble, and in the heavy cornice above the Lee and Stuart arms are impaled, with draped cherubs on either side.

spel-103310. Monument (south chancel wall nearest the altar) to George Henry Lee (1718-72), 3rd Earl of Litchfield, and his wife Diana Frankland (d. 1779).  This outstanding work in neoclassical style was designed by the architect, Henry Keene, and carved by the sculptor, William Tyler.  Set on a limestone base, it is made in marble of various colours, with an oval recess containing two urns encircled by a snake (symbolising immortality), a frame surmounted by scrolls and palm fronds, and tapering side columns with skulls.  The grey pyramid above and the white cherub on an oak tree draping an inscribed scroll are also in marble.

spel-102011. Monument (north chancel wall nearest the altar) to Robert Lee (1706-76), 4th Earl of Litchfield.  Both designed and carved by the sculptor William Tyler, it is made mostly of marble in several colours.  It consists of a central casket with the Earl’s arms and a coronet, supported by lions’ paws, and surmounted by a heavy garlanded urn of Sicilian jasper and two white marble cherubs.  Rising above the sarcophagus is a black marble pyramid, while the base is of limestone, on which is a stepped pedestal in grey Carrara marble, bearing an inscription tablet with a long and laudatory epitaph.

12. Panelled stone reredos behind the altar:  probably 19th century.

13. 3-light east window of stained glass installed in 1886, set into a wider 18th-century opening, and dedicated to the memory of the 12th, 13th, and 14th Viscounts Dillon and their wives.

spel-100514. Wall-mounted brass (north side of the chancel just behind the pulpit) commemorating George Henry Lee, 2nd Earl of Litchfield (1691-1742), whose arms are here impaled with those of his wife, Frances Hales (d. 1769).

15. Monument (alcove in north transept) to Charles, 14th Viscount Dillon (1810-65).  This fine example of the Victorian Gothic Revival was designed by G.F. Fuller.  Its centrepiece, lying on a table above the inscription, is the white marble effigy wearing a Peer’s robes and holding a cross under a pinnacled stone canopy.  Within the arch is a carved relief of Christ flanked by angels.  The heavy foliated tympanum above bears shields of the Dillon and Litchfield arms.

16. Monument (north aisle wall) to Henry Augustus, 13th Viscount Dillon (1777-1832), and his wife Henrietta (1789-1862).  This neoclassical wall plaque in white marble, with a mourning woman and an urn, is typical of many others by Thomas Gaffin, a prolific sculptor of the early 19th century.

17. Memorial brass (at foot of chancel steps) inscribed: ‘George Pickering, gentleman, having been for XXX yeares a servant to the Hon. familie of the Lees of Ditchley about the LXXI yeare of his age and the XIII day of March Ao.Dni. 1645 departed this life and lyeth here buried’ – with a touching verse beneath which should be read.

18. Wooden panels on the walls under the windows in the aisles were originally high box pews in the nave, cleared away in the 18th-century restorations.

19. ‘Lady with Unicorn’: reproduction of a tapestry, of which the original is in the Cluny museum in Paris.  Probably made in Paris, c. 1900-1905.

20. Steps to bell tower (itself restored in 1706), with a large and more modern ringing chamber (1885) on the first floor.  There is a ring of 6 bells.

21. 17th- and 18th-century brass plates from the coffins buried in the vault under the church now hang on the north wall of the tower inside the church.  They include that of John Wilmot (1647-80), 2nd Earl of Rochester, famous libertine and wit of the Restoration court.  The entrance to the vault is outside the church, below the north transept, and most of those buried there are Lee and Dillon ancestors.

22. Two 19th-century hatchments (restored in 1979) for the 12th and 13th Viscounts Dillon, facing each other on the tower walls in the baptistery.

23. 3-light west window, of 20th-century glass set into an older opening, is admired for its simplicity and translucency.

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 are trying to put the building back to the use which its original builders intended – as a place of worship on Sundays, and for meeting people, leisure activity, relaxations and of course prayer throughout the week.  We hope also that it might have inspired you to come and visit it for yourself, perhaps to enjoy a service or one of the many concerts or social events which so often 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 by Dr Geoffrey Ellis:  April 2012


Serving the villages of Chadlington, Ascott-under-Wychwood, Spelsbury and Enstone