St James
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The church in the farmyard . . .
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The exterior of the church before and after the 1884 restoration.

The chapel of Sottewell is first named in 1158 as a dependency of the church of St Lucian in Wallingford which belonged to the Priory of St Frideswide in Oxford. The chapelry continued to be annexed to St Leonard's in Wallingford after the disappearance of St Lucien's following the plague of 1348 which decimated the town. In 1868 it was further separated from St Leonard's and on May 14th, by order of Council was united to Brightwell. - VCH Berkshire, Vol 3, 1923

The present building differs greatly from the structure which for many centuries stood on the site previously. On 11th June 1883, what was then described as "a miserable old structure" was pulled down. "The walls had bulged in many places, being largely composed of wattle and mud (see picture below). - Diary of Francis Cunningham

Gone was the dark interior with its eighteenth century high boxed pews and central two-decker pulpit taking precedence over the simple communion table. The slightly curved plaster ceiling was un-ornamented but provided a good acoustic for the trio accompanying the services, sitting in the gallery at the west end of the nave. A personal reminiscence of a parishioner who worshipped in the previous building remembered 'a fiddle, a flute and an accordian, hot summer days and long sermons. In winter the doors were shut tight to keep out the draughts and feet were warmed by hot bricks wrapped in flannel'. - Mrs Mercy Brooker, formerly verger and keeper of the communion plate until her death in 1953 in her 90th year.

"Even though we may lament the destruction of such an ancient building, the old edifice was in advanced stages of decay. According to a contemporary witness, it was beyond repair and during demolition was, in fact, found to be unsafe. Had not rebuilding been undertaken, it is certain that the fine features which were retained from the original church would have been irrevocably lost." - Extracts from the Church Guide.

The most notable inheritance from the old church are the 14th century roof timbers, which the Victorians preserved intact, "being simply raised six feet from its original height by leverage" - Abingdon Herald 27.9.1884 - What a shame the same Victorian ingenuity and engineering could not see the merit in preserving more of the interior - EMLM


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The interior before and after the 1884 restoration.

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Photographs: Edwin Macadam

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This site has been constructed by, and remains the copyright of, its authors,
Edwin and Sheila Macadam,

Shelwin, 30, Eynsham Road, Botley,
Oxford OX2 9BP
July 2001 -