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Click here for a magnified image The Church of St James the Great, South Leigh, Oxfordshire.
There has been a Church here since Norman times.
A chapel was probably built soon after the Norman conquest, possibly by Richard de Camville, one of Stephen's barons. We know that Richard gave the patronage of the chapel to Reading Abbey in 1147. At the dissolution of Reading Abbey in 1536 the patronage went to the crown, but at the end of the 16th century it was given to the bishopric of Oxford. Meanwhile, through Richard's daughter Isabella, the chapel had become part of the Stanton Harcourt estate, and South Leigh remained a chapelry of Stanton Harcourt until 1869.

The History
The first vicar of the separate parish was Gerard Moultrie (from 1869 to 1885), who in his restoration of the church discovered the wall paintings under several coats of whitewash. Moultrie also built the early Victorian Italianate vicarage, now Glebe House, to the north east of the church; and to the south, Holyrood House, which was to be a choir school (St James' College). He is known too for his translation of the 5th century 'Liturgy of St James' into the English hymn 'Let all mortal flesh keep silence'.
Arthur East, vicar from 1885 to 1912, improved the fabric and furnishings of the church, and completed the restoration.

The Church Building
The beautiful old building is full of variety and interest. The church comprises chancel with north chapel, nave with north aisle, south porch, and west tower.

The nave has an arcade of arches, possibly Tudor, separating it from the north aisle. Corbels on the north wall are decorated with stone heads. The fine south doorway is 13th century. The wall paintings in the nave, like those elsewhere in the church, are 14th and 15th century. They have been restored many times, most recently in 1992. They are a dramatic and unique representation of an early church's teaching to village people who were unable to read or write.

Over the Chancel arch is a wonderfully vigorous Doom painting, or Last Judgement. Two angels blow the last trump. The dead rise from their graves, among them a king, a queen, a mitred bishop and a merchant.

The Chancel is the earliest part of the church. The doorway in the south wall is Norman; in the north wall there is a Norman window, and the pillar piscina and ambry south of the altar are Early English.

The pulpit is Jacobean. John Wesley preached his first sermon here in 1725 at the invitation of the rector of Stanton Harcourt; he preached again at South Leigh in 1771, but was not allowed in the church.

The font itself is 15th century; in the 19th century it was coverless; the cover was designed by Sebastian Comper in 1948.

The tower clock was installed in 1905; Arthur East, the vicar, is reported to have made the face.
A small door leads to the tower staircase from the north aisle of the church. It is probably very old; it is mended with clenched nails, a technique used in Saxon times. The tower has a fine ring of eight bells dating from 1907 which incorporate metal from three ancient bells from the 16th and 17th century. There is a ninth consecration bell which is 14th century.
The bells are regularly rung for the Sunday morning service.

Further Reading
For more information about the history of South Leigh 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
The Parishes of Cogges and South Leigh form a joint benefice within the Diocese of Oxford. All administration for St. James the Great is done by Cogges Church Office.
St. James is a small, friendly and supportive Christian community made up of families and individuals from the village and from Witney.
Now as before, the life of the Church at St James The Great South Leigh revolves around worship of God and celebration of His love for us. Traditional services, together with a 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. James the Great, South Leigh, Oxfordshire. Copyright © St. James the Great South Leigh Parochial Church Council, 2006
Updated 22nd November 2005 Feedback