North Aston, St Mary's Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 15th century Anne monument
The Anne family leased the North Aston estate from Bradenstoke Priory in the late 15th century. However, things did not pass smoothly between the Annes and the Priory; the Prior complained that they were mismanaging the estate and denying him access.
And that raises the obvious question; why build the church and Hall so close together, so close, in fact, that they almost infringe on each other's foundations. The likely answer is that the Hall was built atop monastic buildings erected by the monks of Bradenstoke, who would naturally have built adjoining the church, if not actually connected to it. The priory would have had some form of monastic presence at North Aston from the 12th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. So when the monastic buildings passed into private hands and the new Hall was built, it was placed on the site of the medieval buildings, practically jostling for space with the church itself.
There can be no question about the most fascinating historic feature of St Mary's; it is the late 15th century alabaster table tomb of John and Alicia Anne, found between the south chapel and the chancel. Sir John is shown wearing a full suit of armour, with a livery collar bearing the double 'S' symbol of a Lancastrian supporter in the Wars of the Roses.
What is truly striking about the Anne monument is not the effigies themselves, those these are very nicely carved, but the series of 14 figures around the base of the tomb chest. These are 'bedesmen', but to modern eyes they look like nothing so much as a fanciful dwarf from the Lord of the Rings films. The bedesmen wear long beards, and carry a staff and string of rosary beads. One also carries a book in a large bag. The bedesmen figures represented those who prayed for the soul of the deceased.
The monument was almost certainly commissioned while the couple was still alive, at a time when they rebuilt the south aisle as a chantry chapel, and replaced all the stained glass with armorial symbols.
THE ANNE MEMORIAL
One other interior feature is a beautifully carved head, low on a pillar to the north of the chancel arch.
Outside, set into the south face of the tower, is a worn carving of a bearded figure within a niche, flanked by angels. The figure bears a shield which must originally have born the Anne family coat of arms.
I walked down to the church from the main road, following the drive to North Aston Hall, which you can just make out through trees beside the church. The location is just idyllic, and the amazing Anne tomb makes this one of my favourite churches in the area. A real treat.
About North Aston
Address: St Mary's Walk, North Aston, Oxfordshire, England, OX25 6JA
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: At the end of St Mary's Walk, beside the Hall. Parking outside the churchyard, or on the main road. The church was open when we visited.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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Nearest Accommodation to North Aston: