History and Bells
The precise date of the founding of, Grade 2 listed, St Catherine’s Church is unknown but a Saxon chapel undoubtedly occupied the present site. The chapel was enlarged around 1150 and was joined with nearby Thame to form a new parish in the 13th Century by Bishop Robert Grosseteste. The current church dates from the 13th and 14th centuries with significant alterations in the 19th Century including the addition of the tower which were paid for by Edward Griffin, Lord of the Manor.
The registers begin in 1589 at which time Towersey was a chapelry appended to the church of Thame. In 1841 Towersey was separated from Thame and became a separate benefice.
12th century piscina in the right hand corner
In 1939 Towersey church was united with Aston Sandford in Buckinghamshire but in 1973 it was transferred again to the benefice of Thame and thereafter shared a vicar with Thame. In 1998 the benefice of Thame with Towersey was united, by a Pastoral Measure, with the benefice of Tetsworth, Adwell with South Weston, Lewknor and Stoke Talmage with Wheatfield into a Team Ministry to create a new benefice called “The Benefice of Thame”. The area of the new benefice comprises the parishes of Thame (the name of which was altered to ‘The Parish of Thame with Barley Hill’), Towersey, and the other villages, all of which continued to be distinct. Barley Hill Church meets in the Primary School of that name, in Thame. It was founded in 1994, to serve the population of Lea Park Estate. In 2006 Barley Hill Church was made a separate parish from St Mary’s, Thame.
Description of the Church
The church was built chiefly in the 14th Century decorated style with traces of earlier work. Before it was extensively restored in the 19th Century by James Cranston it had a 15th Century bell turret and a porch of two storeys, the upper being the parvise.
The tower was built by Giles Holland of Thame between 1850 and 1854 at the sole expense of Edward Griffin. During the renovation work on the tower in 2018, a roof board was lifted and on the underside was written in blue ‘J Barton done this in 1854’. The board was reinstated in its original location. In addition two bottles were found lodged against the support beams of the tower roof boards with one containing a plug of newspaper upon which was written an account of Prince Peter of Montenegro, Captain of Artillery (pictured), third and youngest son of King Nicholas, firing the first shot at Podgoritza in the First Balkan War 1912 – 1913.
The tower incorporates a 14th Century arch at the south door entrance. The door still has its original 14th Century hinges and lock.
The font stands on a single step but formerly it was probably raised on two steps. It probably dates from Saxon times. It is perfectly plain and cylindrical and has no lead lining. It is made from Shelley Oolite close-grained free-stone (a stone that can be cut in any direction). A Jacobean-style carved oak cover relieves the unadorned stonework and corresponds in character with the pulpit and the fleur-de-lys pew ends. It was given by J. Whitehouse Griffin, the son of Edward Griffin in the name of Emily, his wife, who died in childbirth in 1874 at the age of 24, and was carved by J. E. Humphries.
Hexagonal Jacobean pulpit, dated between 1603-1620
Items of particular note
the windows on either side of the chancel dating back to 1220
the “Easter Sepulchre” (a small recess) on the left hand wall by the choir stalls
Behind this choir stall is a stone slab taken from a tomb probably dating from the 16th century. Engraved on this stone is the coat of arms thought to come from the Towers or Tours family (from where the name “Towersey” is derived). This coat of arms includes the motto used in the Millennium window “In the LORD is all our trust.”
Other interesting features
Stone section of the font (dating from Saxon times).
Millennium Window, depicting the life of Towersey at the end of the 20th century, and given by the village.
Font cover carved in the Jacobean style, which incorporates features from the pulpit and poppy heads, given in 1874
16th Century clock in the tower. Originally in Rycote Chapel but was transferred to Thame Market House (now the Town Hall) in the 18th Century. It was presented to St Catherine’s in 1887.
Solid Brass lectern given in 1892
St Catherine’s has a peal of four bells cast in 1627 and 1695, and a chimed Sanctus bell cast in 1800. We are one of only a handful of 4 bell towers in the UK. The bells are of conventional design, but retain the original bearing system of cast iron gudgeon pins into brass sleeve bearings, the bearings being adjusted by opposing dovetails within the original cast iron pillow blocks. The clappers are suspended from the crown staples on an iron to leather bearing surface, in the original manner. This causes some problems in ringing up and maintaining an even striking rate.
Sanctus: No inscription. Date 1800; possibly from the foundry of Henry Penn about 1700, but certain features of its construction suggest a more likely date of 1800. Weight 1cwt.
St. Catherine's is a member of the Oxfordshire Diocesan Guild of Bellringers, South Oxon Branch. Read more on the Bell Ringing Website and enjoy the view from the church tower with this photo-sphere image.
A more extensive history and description of the church is contained in Towersey - The village and St Catherine's Church which can be viewed or downloaded here. It is also available in printed form, costing £2, from the church or by mail from firstname.lastname@example.org.