History of the Church Main Menu

Sketch view from the west The Church of St Mary, Cogges, Oxfordshire.
The church of St Mary's has stood in its parish for at least 900 years. It has seen the settlement of the Normans, been the base for the monks of a French abbey in England, been intimately associated with the lives of the various Lords of the Manor, while all the time continuing to serve the small community surrounding it through all its changes.

The History
The earliest record of a church in Cogges dates from 1103 in a charter of Manasses Arsic, Lord of the Manor of Cogges, who granted the church and a number of other endowments to the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy. It is likely though that there was an earlier church on the site, which was part of a prosperous estate granted at the Conquest to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, brother of William the Conqueror.

The Abbey established a small priory on the site of what is now the vicarage (across the lawn from the church but not open to the public) with a resident community of three or four monks who worshipped in the church, and acted as agents for all the Abbey's properties in England. Cogges Priory was an "alien priory", and hence had a chequered career; seized by the Crown in 1294 and on several other occasions, it was finally suppressed in 1441. King Henry VI then gave the patronage to the newly founded Eton College, which retained it until the end of the 19th Century, when it passed into the hands of the then vicar, and subsequently to his family Trust.

The church had close ties with the Lords of the Manor who lived in what is now the Cogges Manor Farm Museum. Amongst these were the de Grey family, who probably had the north chapel built in about 1340, possibly as a chantry for Isabella de Grey whose tomb is still to be seen in the chapel.

There were connections with the Blake family in the mid 17th Century, whose memorial is also in the north chapel. William Blake was a clothier with substantial business interests in Witney and London. He endowed charitable trusts in Cogges and Witney, started schools in High Cogges and Newland and rebuilt the Buttercross in the centre of Witney. He was a Dissenter who held a "conventicle" at the Manor House for Congregationalists and Presbyterians, which was drawn to the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1669.

While Lords of the Manor came and went, the community served by the church at Cogges changed dramatically. The original medieval village was abandoned in the late 14th Century, perhaps because of the combined impact of the Black Death and of developments across the Windrush in Witney and further north in the parish of Newland. For some centuries the parish consisted of what was essentially an agricultural community clustered around Church Lane and Newland and in High Cogges, with some 800 people by the mid 1970's. Since then extensive housing developments have boosted the parish population to some 3,500 people. A further large housing estate is being built in the parish .

The Church Building
The present building dating from the late 11th Century was originally a small two-celled building (nave and chancel). During the 12th Century new aisles were added to the north and south. The chancel was extensively enlarged and rebuilt in the 13th Century over a crypt (perhaps for the use of the monks) which has since been destroyed.

Blake Chapel. In about 1340 the north chapel (originally a chantry) was added, which now contains the tomb memorial to Isabella de Grey, and the wall memorial to the Blake family, William and Sara, and their son Francis.
Fine carved features in this chapel include a stone cornice to the north and south walls.
On the north wall are four corbels carved to represent various animals playing musical instruments. The space between corbels filled with a carved stone frieze depicting animal and human figures illustrating a range of medieval characters and occupations.
On South side of Blake Chapel, the corbels are not decorated, but a similar frieze occupies the space between them.

Shortly after the addition of the north chapel, the north aisle was completely rebuilt and the tower added.
North Aisle. The north aisle had a door leading directly to the Priory and this can only be seen now from the outside.
The north aisle shows signs of having once been screened off so that the monks could use it for their own worship.
On the north wall can be seen three corbels carved to represent animals playing instruments. On the south wall the easternmost corbel only is carved, depicting a man playing a cornet or shawm.
Tower. The tower has an unusual design with clear French associations. It is set diagonally at the north-west angle, square below and octagonal above and with a tiled conical cap.

Few substantial changes have been made since the late 14th Century, although windows have been altered, the church partially re-roofed, and there have been several interior restorations.

Apart from those in the north chapel, the only ancient fitting of note is the font, the bowl of which dates from the 12th Century, although the stem and base are from a later date.

The Chancel floor in the Church was re-laid in the mid 1960's.
It is understood that the chancel floor was completely re-laid in 1965/6. At that time the then existing floor of red and black tiles was removed, and old stone flooring from nearby derelict cottages was used to replace it. Also incorporated were a number of broken tombstones from the churchyard. It should therefore be noted that all the stone slabs quoted in this record as part of the chancel floor were, until 1965, tombstones outside the church.
It is possible that some floor slabs in the Blake Chapel may, at an earlier date, have been wall tablets, perhaps moved when the organ was installed.

Further Reading
For more information about the history of Cogges and the Church, visit the British History Online website. This website is a digital library of text and information about people, places and businesses from the medieval and early modern period, built by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust.

The Present
Today the church is a thriving Christian community with extensive links into the parish and the wider Witney area. There are close connections with the local Church of England Primary School. Heir to the foundations of William Blake, for many years this occupied the old tithe barn outside the lychgate, but has expanded into purpose built premises in the centre of the new estates. The former Old School, now Cogges Church Centre, serves as a base for St Mary's Junior Church, a community Playgroup and as a church hall.

Now as before, the life of the Church at St Mary's revolves around worship of God and celebration of His love for us. A range of modern and traditional services, together with a thriving Junior Church and young people's group, offer opportunities for celebration and for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ "the same, yesterday, today and forever".

The Parish Church of St. Mary, Cogges, Oxfordshire. Copyright © St. Mary's Church Cogges Parochial Church Council, 2005
Updated 22nd February 2005 Feedback