Curiouser & Curiouser

What is Curiouser & Curiouser?

It’s a collection of churches with quirky features chosen by Oxfordshire-based, Clive Fewins, author of Be a Church Detective, a children’s guide to interesting churches for you to enjoy exploring.

Whether an unusually carved doorway, a giant wall painting or a stairway to nowhere, there is plenty to explore and discover in Oxfordshire’s historic churches.

Step 1 – Explore and visit some of our quirky churches.

Bampton, St Mary’s: A Right Royal Battle in the Churchyard

The date is 1142 and the battle is raging all around Oxfordshire. Somehow – we know not how or why – the fighting spread as far as Bampton. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in Bampton

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Berrick Salome, St Helen’s: The Strange Tale of the Bee Window

Inside this little church – it is only about 65 feet long including the tower – you will find one of the oldest and loveliest stone fonts in Oxfordshire, some curious carving in the stone brackets supporting the gallery, and some very old floor tiles at the far end of the building in the chancel. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Helen in Berrick Salome

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Broughton Poggs, St Peter’s: Can you Find the Church?

Once you have found the church you will find it fascinating. It is obviously very old – early 1100s – and so, having been built quite soon after the Norman Conquest, very Norman in style. Norman churches are known for having massive walls, small windows, usually with rounded heads, and rather fat, often squat, square towers. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Peter in Broughton Poggs

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Burford, St John the Baptist: Red Indians in a Famous Oxfordshire Church?

Find the memorial inside, believed to be the first representation in Britain of inhabitants of America – it was known in this country at the time (1569) ‘The New World.” This magnificent church – one of the finest in England – is a treasure house of memorials and architectural gems. So if you go to Burford there are many more questions you will want to ask yourself. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St John Baptist in Burford.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Cassington, St Peter’s: Look for the Funny Faces!

The stone faces can be seen on either side on the outside of the church and form what is known as a corbel table – really it is a row of stone supports for the rafters where they form the edge of the roof. The Cassington corbel table is one of the finest in Oxfordshire. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around the Church of St Peter in Cassington.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Chalgrove, St Mary’s: Cast your Imagination back 700 years

There was usually a dark and sombre atmosphere, punctuated by the murmur of priests praying at altars, some chanting, and also quite a lot of coming and going as people entered and left before and after the many services. Everywhere there was the smell of candle wax. The constant flicker of the candles that lit both the building and the many altars and niches that existed in churches in those days added to the gloomy atmosphere – and also added to the air of mystery. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in Chalgrove.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Charlton-on-Otmoor, St Mary’s: A Highly Unusual Big Green Cross

You will not see anything like this in any other church in Oxfordshire. Why not? Because this is the only Oxfordshire church where they still observe the ancient custom of dressing the rood-loft with garlands and branches during church festivals. Rood loft? What’s that? This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in Charlton-on-Otmoor.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Childrey, St Mary’s: Spot the Font!

This church is well worth a visit because it has a very ancient and highly unusual lead font. It is believed to date from the late 1100s, so is extremely old. It is thought to be the oldest of its type in Oxfordshire. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in Childrey.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Chipping Norton, St Mary the Virgin: Funny Faces and a Stairway to Nowhere

The parish church at Chipping Norton is very fine, with lots of memorable features. But young church explorers will probably find the porch the most fascinating part. Most people find the green man up there the most interesting of the carved figures. Chipping Norton is just one of a number of churches in Oxfordshire where this mythical figure appears. He is not always easy to find, so be on your mettle while riding or striding. You will find him concealed in all sorts of odd places! This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary the Virgin in Chipping Norton.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Chiselhampton, St Katherine’s: Plain and Simple – and Pretty

The small church of St Katharine at Chiselhampton is probably one of the most unusual you have visited on Ride and Strides. This is because it is built not in the medieval style and is very plain and unadorned. It is built very simply in the style of the day and is very attractive to passers-by, set between two gateposts across a lawn from the road. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Katherine in Chiselhampton.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Combe, St Laurence’s: The Church that Moved

The village of Combe near Woodstock is about as near as the Cotswolds get to Oxford. It is a delightful place and has a beautiful church on a sloping site that looks out over a cricket field on one side and open countryside and woodland to the other. But the church was not always there. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Laurence in Combe.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Compton Beauchamp, St Swithun’s: Spot the Birds

If you ride or stride anywhere near this pretty little chalkstone church, hidden beneath the Berkshire Downs, be sure to take a look at the curious interior, in particular the chancel. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Swithun in Compton Beauchamp.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Ewelme, St Mary: A Gruesome Memorial to a Great Lady

Alice de La Pole, Duchess of Suffolk in the 15th century, founded, with her husband, one of the oldest grammar schools in England. Alice was such an important lady that when she died in 1475 it was decided to erect not one but two memorials to her. They come in the form of exquisitely carved effigies, but the lower one is a surprise. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in Ewelme.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Hampton Poyle, St Mary the Virgin: A Rare ‘Heart Stone’

Have you any idea what a heart burial is? You will gain a better idea if, on your Ride or Stride, you manage to get to the small and rather tucked-away church of St. Mary at Hampton Poyle near Kidlington. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary the Virgin in Hampton Poyle.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Horley, St Etheldreda’s: Find the Giant Wallpainting

In this ancient church close to the Warwickshire border you won’t have any difficulty finding the huge wallpainting of St Christopher fording a river with the Christ Child on his back. But have you any idea of what it is all about and why it is on the north side of the church? This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Etheldreda in Horley.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Kelmscott, St George’s: A Famous Man’s Grave

Funnily enough, one of the main items of interest that draws many people to this famous little country church is outside the building in the churchyard. It is the grave of William Morris, designer, writer, poet, pamphleteer and craftsman. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St George in Kelmscott.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Kencot, St George’s: A Most Unusual Carved Doorway

While riding or striding around Oxfordshire churches you will quite often come across the word ‘Norman’, or, to give the architectural style its correct name, ‘English Romanesque’. Churches built in this style are old. They were built in the style of the Normans. And every schoolchild knows that it was King William the Conqueror, who led the Norman conquest of England in 1066. So some of these churches are approaching 950 years old! This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St George in Kencot.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Kidlington, St Mary’s: Misericords are not Miserable!

A misericord. That’s a funny name, isn’t it? Know what it means? Misericords are a source of endless fascination to lovers of old churches and they are found in churches in many parts of England. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in Kidlington.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Langford, St Matthew’s: See a Very Rare Early Carving

If often pays to look up when you approach an old church, and never more so than in the case of St Matthews Langford. If you make it on foot or by bike across the flatlands of south-west Oxfordshire for Ride + Stride you will be following in the footsteps of the many thousands who have visited this celebrated church over the years. So look up and view what is probably the greatest treasure in this great storehouse of stone, much of which dates from the Saxon period. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Matthew in Langford.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

North Leigh, St Mary’s: Some Fascinating Telltale Rooflines

The church of St Mary, North Leigh is highly recommended to Ride and Striders. The reason will soon become apparent. If you go be sure to walk round the outside first. Stop on the path as you approach from the road and look carefully at the tower…. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in North Leigh.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Shorthampton, All Saints: Did you know there is a Patron Saint of Housework?

Look out for the exciting wall paintings, especially the one dedicated to the Patron Saint of Housework! This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around All Saints in Shorthampton.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

South Newington, St Peter ad Vincula: A Comic Strip in a Church?

Unlikely? Maybe, but try the church of St Peter ad Vincula at South Newington near Banbury. This little church contains some of the finest wall paintings of any church in Britain, and amongst the finest is the comic horror strip depicting the murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 of Archbishop Thomas a Becket. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Peter Ad Vincula in South Newington.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Sparsholt, Church of the Holy Rood: Run for your Life!

Just imagine it. The date is 1350 and you are on the run. You have been accused of the theft of food from your neighbor’s house and there is a hue and cry. The villagers are after you. You might be killed, or at least badly injured. What do you do? You run to the nearest church that offers the right of sanctuary and if you make it in advance of your pursuers you stay in there for up to 40 days unharmed… This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around the Church of the Holy Rood in Sparsholt.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Standlake, St Giles’: Can You Work Out These Mysteries?

This church has an extraordinary number of former gaps in the stonework that have been filled in. Can you find out why? As you are leaving the building stop inside the porch and take a hard look at the walls. Any idea why there are so many scratchings lower down on both side walls? This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Giles in Standlake.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Stanton Harcourt, St Michael’s: A Rare ‘Wars of the Roses’ Standard

Are you fascinated by the Wars of the Roses, the conflict that raged all over England between the years 1455 and 1485 and divided many families in their loyalties because some decided to follow the White Rose – the Yorkist party – and others the Red Rose – the House of Lancaster? This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around the Church of St Michael in Stanton Harcourt.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Stanton St John, St John the Baptist: The Story of a Stone

Now here’s a remarkable story for you. It will involve riding or walking to the very beautiful church of St John the Baptist at Stanton St John, to the north-east of Oxford. The story concerns the altar, a huge, and incredibly heavy, solid slab of stone that is believed to date from the 1300s. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St John the Baptist in Stanton St John.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Swinbrook, St Mary’s: Some Very Famous Tombs

If you go to the small (but famous) church of St.Mary at Swinbrook, in the Windrush Valley near Burford and take a walk around the outside you might notice a rather odd flat stone projection on the north side and occupying most of the length of the chancel. All along the chancel north wall and lying in tiers one above the other, and bathed in light from the large east window are the most sumptuous monuments to six reclining gentlemen in armour. They represent six generations of the same family – the Fettiplaces. This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in Swinbrook.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Uffington, St Mary’s: An Almost Complete Set of External Consecration Crosses

It has a famous interior, but if you pay a visit on Ride and Stride Day take a walk around the exterior and count the round ‘holes’ in the walls. When you get to 11 you will have spotted them all. But what are they? And why are they here at Uffington? This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary in Uffington.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Waterperry, St Mary the Virgin: A Truly Amazing Interior

The small church of St Mary the Virgin is hidden away in the grounds of Waterperry House, and for that reason alone is a delightful place to visit on Ride and Stride Day. You don’t have to pay to go into the gardens and you don’t have to buy anything at the shop. In addition, there is a cafe where you can get refreshments. Altogether a delightful place to visit! The exterior of this church is not hugely appealing. The wooden tower looks slightly dull compared to the rest of the building, and when you go inside you will see that this is indeed the case, because St Mary’s Waterperry has one of the most exciting church interiors in Oxfordshire… This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St Mary the Virgin in Waterperry.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Wheatfield, St Andrew’s: A Church All Alone in a Field

The church of St Andrew is a charming little building, set on a parkland slope dotted with beautiful trees and in the lee of the Chilterns. So why is it all on its own? You will have to walk across a field to get to the church. As you walk take a look at the humps and bumps in the unploughed ground and think. Do they suggest anything to you?

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

West Hanney, St James’: Some Very Fine Church Brasses

The church of St James, West Hanney, near Wantage is fascinating for a number of reasons, so do try to call in there if you are in that area on Ride and Stride Day. Can you find the monument to a lady who died in 1718 at the age of ‘124 years’? What was her name? This is a Chapter from our Curiouser and Curiouser Series based around St James in West Hanney.

This is a free resource for anyone, but you do need to register with us first.

Step 2 – Go and have some fun at the churches