Our History

March 24, 2013 No Comments by Sally Robinson


St. Mary’s church is the Parish Church of Pyrton with Shirburn. In the early 13th century Pyrton parish consisted of 5 tithings – Pyrton, Clare, Goldor, Standhill and Assendon but by the mid 20th century Standhill and Assendon had transferred to other parishes and Shirburn had been united with Pyrton. In 1981, Pyrton with Shirburn formed a united benefice with Watlington, which was joined with Britwell Salome and Swyncombe in 1994 to from the Icknield Benefice.

A church has existed on this site since at least 987AD but in 1115, William Fitznigel, Lord of Pyrton, granted the church to his foundation of Augustine canons at Runcorn in Cheshire. When the Norton monastery was dissolved in 1546, the living of Pyrton Parish was given to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church College, Oxford. The Rector is selected by the Bishop of Oxford, the Earl of Macclesfield or Christ Church College on a rotational basis.



insideThe present building was constructed in flint and brick with stone dressings between 1854 and 1856 by J.C. Buckler (architect) and G. Wyatt (builder) following the assessment of major structural defects – the north wall was leaning one foot from the perpendicular, cracks in the north and east walls were widening rapidly, the ends of the wooden beams were rotten. The nave was lengthened by 6 ft but all ‘features of interest’ were preserved.

The Chancel arch is Norman (Romanesque) and a Norman window was re-sited in to the North wall of the chancel (the South window opposite is a Victorian copy).

The original South doorway hood has unusual decorations of grapes, leaves and fruit.


floorThe oldest surviving memorial in the church, under the altar, is a very rare incised

Purbeck marble slab of a priest, previously dated c. 1340, but now believed to be 1285.

To the south of this slab is a brass, depicting Thomas Symeon (died 1522), ‘sumtyme fermar of Purrton Courte’ and his wife, Margaret. The figures are full length, in civilian dress, and below are the matrices of their children. (Their descendant, Elizabeth Symeon, of Pyrton Manor, married John Hampden in St. Mary’s on 24th June 1619. John Hampden was mortally wounded in the Battle of Chalgrove in 1643 during the Civil War and died 6 days later.)


The stained glass window (made by Clayton and Bell in 1893) on the south side of the nave is dedicated to Hugh Hamersley (d. 1884) and his wife Mary (d. 1887).

Under the mat in the South porch, there is a black marble gravestone commemorating Thomas Eustace (d.1713) and his wife, Martha (d. 1701).


Some of the original fittings include the mediaeval tub font, lead lined, standing on a modern base, 6 different designs of mediaeval tiles in the South Porch, and the polygonal oak pupilt, decorated with carved panels in relief, dates from 1636. In the vestry there is a plain wooden chest, bound with iron bars, which was acquired in 1638. The pews, lectern and stained glass are Victorian. Small additional seats provided for children in 1856 are still in position at the rear of the church.

The modern beautiful hassocks were designed by the artist Ruth Matthews Heppel in 1993 and made by parishioners and friends. The Pear tree design reminds us of the derivation of the name Pyrton, the lily represents St. Mary and the cross as the symbol of the Christian faith. In May 1994, the hassocks were dedicated by the Bishop of Dorchester. After additional hassocks for the Chancel had been made, in March 2003, the stunning Altar Rail kneeler was completed.



The church possesses a silver chalice and flagon, dated 1573, and a paten of 1637.

The church had 3 bells in 1552 but these have since been replaced. The inscription on the present treble bell reads ‘Henri Knight made this bell 1606’ and on the tenor bell ‘Henri Knight made me 1605’.  The saunce bell made in 1593 by Henri Knight was replaced by a small bell given by Mr Ives in 1953. The bells are hung from a bell tower ……….

Just inside the South doorway is a bell stand, suspending the old cracked bell, which was presented to the church by the Eustace Families association in 1979.



The original boiler based heating system was installed in 1929, followed by electric lighting in 1939, but by the 1980s had been replaced by ineffective electrical heating. By the beginning of the 1990s, the roof and walls leaked and major structural repairs were needed. Following an appeal launched in 1991, considerable funds were raised, enabling restoration work to be carried out. Over the last 15 years, walls have been treated for damp, re-plastered and repainted; the floor, invested with Death Watch beetle has been replaced; the ground gutters have been re-pointed; the bells have been repaired and re-hung, new heating, external floodlights, oak kitchen cupboards and a mains water pipe have been installed.

In 2005 the PCC and village began a program to manage the churchyard as a ‘Living Sanctuary’.

[from JL, 4 Mar 07]


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