Tucked away on the north-east edge of the village, the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Kidlington is a magnificent architectural gem. The mellow limestone church we see today dates from 1220, when a new church was built on the site of a smaller Saxon church. There are many fascinating features inside, including a superb collection of ancient woodwork.
Medieval St Mary’s
In medieval times, much of Kidlington was under the control of Osney Abbey in Oxford, and it was masons from Osney who built St Mary’s. The church was designed in the shape of a cross, with a nave for parishioners, a chancel for monks, two transepts and a low tower. Many of the features date from the 14th century, when Thomas of Kidlington, who became Abbot of Osney in 1330, remodelled the church. The spire was added in the 15th century.
The carved oak bench ends in the chancel are among the finest in Oxfordshire. Dating from about 1430, they include two rebuses, in which the syllables of the word ‘Kidlington’ are represented in the carvings. The misericords (hinged seats originally used by monks) date from the early 13th century and are thought to be among the oldest in the country.
St Mary’s was originally built in the ‘Early English’ style, characterised by pointed arches and narrow ‘lancet’ windows. Two 13th-century lancet windows can still be seen intact in the north transept. The magnificent east window in the chancel contains medieval stained glass. The window in the north wall of the nave was inserted in 1898 in memory of Dr Henry Parry, a well-loved local doctor. It is a copy of a window designed by Sir Joshua Reynolds for New College Oxford.
The organ was rebuilt and moved to its present position in 1975, and the nave altar, designed by Kidlington-born artist Nicholas Mynheer, dates from 2012. The sculpture above the entrance door is by Walter Ritchie, and a niche inside, supported by a ‘Green Man’, contains a figure by former churchwarden Stanley Meyer. The marble relief in the Lady Chapel was carved by local sculptor Doug Nicholson.
Our Lady’s Needle
The spire of St Mary’s is one of the most distinctive and well-loved landmarks in Kidlington. Visible from afar across the Cherwell Valley, the octagonal spire rises 164 feet (50 metres) above ground level. The weathercock or ‘cockerel’ at the top dates from 1812.
St Mary’s is well known for its fine peal of eight bells, but for many years, the church had six bells like Osney Abbey (hence the name of the Six Bells pub on Mill Street). Two new bells were added in 1895, and two years later the eight bells gained a national reputation when the ringers rang a record peal of 17,024 changes in 11 hours 15 minutes without a break. Many memorable peals have been rung since then.