Saturday 2 December 2023

St Mary the Virgin Black Bourton


 This week the Church Explorer visits St Mary the Virgin Black Bourton which is one of the churches listed in Oxfordshire Best Churches. Some one told me there was a large Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery there. I was surprised how many were there for a village but found out after RAF Brize Norton is next door

"The Church of England parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin was originally built about 1190. The five-bay arcade between the nave and north aisle survives from this time. In the 13th century the chancel, nave and north aisle were remodelled, and the easternmost bay of the aisle was projected northward to form a north transept. Early English Gothic lancet windows in chancel, nave and north chapel date from this time. The north doorway of the north aisle dates from the 14th century. In the 15th century the bell tower was built into the nave and the stone pulpit was built. By the end of the 16th century the north transept had become the memorial chapel of the Hungerford family. Built into the north wall is a substantial stone monument to Eleanor Hungerford (died 1592): a recumbent effigy framed by Corinthian columns. The chapel also includes an English Baroque cartouche to Anthony Hungerford (died 1703) on the west wall. Black stone plaques on the floor record other members of the family.

The building was restored under the direction of the architect E.G. Bruton in 1866. During the restoration a number of late 13th century wall paintings were discovered inside the church. At the time these were whitewashed over again, but in 1932 they were uncovered again and restored. On the south wall is St Richard of Chichester with, below, the Adoration of the Magi, the Massacre of the Innocents, and the Angel appearing to St Joseph, all with foliage borders. On the north side of the nave over the arcade are paintings of the Tree of Jesse, St Christopher, the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, the Coronation of the Virgin, the Baptism of Jesus, Saints Peter and Paul and the stoning of Saint Stephen. The church is now a Grade I listed building.

By 1757 the tower had a ring of five bells including the sanctus bell. Henry I Knight of Reading cast three of them including the tenor bell in 1618–19. Henry III Bagley, who had bell-foundries at Chacombe and Witney, cast the third bell in 1743. In 1866 Mears and Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry re-cast the second bell, which had long been cracked, and added a new treble bell. The frame is oak, was made in the late Middle Ages and by 1965 required replacement. In 1966 the tenor bell of 1619 was transferred to the parish church of St John the Evangelist in Carterton. Due to the condition of the frame the bells remaining at St Mary's were unringable until 2017, when John Taylor & Co of Loughborough restored them and added a new treble bell, increasing the ring of bells to six. St Mary's churchyard includes 32 Commonwealth War Graves Commission burials. There are 30 Second World War burials, one from the First World War and one other. Most of the Second World War graves are of members of the RAF and allied air forces from RAF Brize Norton. The parish is now part of the Benefice of Shill Valley and Broadshire."

Looking south east from inside the churchyard

The North east end

North side of the church from the east, devoid of graves apart a headstone and chest tomb

The south side from the churchyard

North side

West end with blocked door with window. No doubt at one time the tower entrance now with steps removed

South side again taken with phone

Looking from the south east

You can see some interesting old carved stone heads on the church

There is a Norman priest door in the chancel

Complete with Tympanum

The churchyard is vast in size

Older headstones south of the church

This headstone reminds me of  a bottle opener

Chest tomb on the north side

Rows of Commonwealth war grave headstones, these are ex servicemen who passed away and wished to be buried with or near their comrades with headstone

 Odd one out is this cast iron cross

 Collage of some of the headstones and a cremation memorial

Commonwealth War from WWII

Top left is the headstone of Czech Sergeant Vaclav Kriz

Looking across the churchyard, the Commonwealth war grave you see on the left is from WWI

Looking west along the churchyard

Just past the tower at the west end is an opening leading to the new cemetery

With a lot of recent burials

also lots of headstones and memorials to former servicemen

I had to like the headstone of Travis Luke Pryor "AXO"

The Lancaster hints Ronald Keith Brown was in the RAF

Older part of the churchyard

The porch with doors closed

Which was open

Walking in you are greeted by the view of the wall paintings in the church

Looking down the nave

The original small chancel arch

Inside the chancel which opens up

Altar and three east windows

The three lancet windows

With some beautiful stained glass

Simple altar covering and cross

Looking back through the chancel arch

Stone pulpit

Looking down from the pulpit

The organ is quite small

Lancet window

The 13th century wall art is what is worth visiting the church for

I feel it is amazing to still see what some one painted hundreds of years ago

The original must have been something to gaze at in wonder

These are only part of the wall art you can see in the church and it best viewed from the opposite side of the aisle.

Memorials the Akers family

Couple more memorials to the Akers family members

Brass to James Godman who died in 1638

The rolls of Honour are both hand written

Decoration around the roof

Outside you see headstops but inside you see heads and carvings on the corbels

Carved head between the arches

This is the memorial chapel to the Hungerford Family

Elizabethan monument in St Mary's parish church for Eleanor Hungerford, who died in 1592

Inscription on the monument

Eleanor with here head on a pillow

The bar is there no doubt placed there for support at sometime

Rather magnificent memorial to one of the Hungerford family in the chapel

The carving on the base

Tombs in the floor around the church, the two top right are in the Hungerford Chapel

The old font in the church

Beautiful floral display

I will finish with the Commonwealth War Grave of Rifleman Martin John Wood who died in 1982 aged 17 RIP

Till Next Time I wish you all a wonderful weekend


  1. I'm so glad I can still see your photos and leave a comment even though I'm no longer blogging. The wall paintings, the stained glass windows, the floral decoration, the stone carvings in this ancient place of worship are uplifting. Thank you Bill for the look around. I hope you and your loved ones have a good week. Here we had heavy snow overnight.

  2. Fascinating! I could spend hours - or even days - exploring that church and its graveyard.
    Thank you for sharing at

    1. Yes it is one of those churches you could spend a long time looking around

  3. It reminds me of a castle. Thanks for the tour.

    1. It's the tower that does it, a lot of churches are like that

    2. Hi, great photos! How can I ask for your permission to use them?

    3. I would like to know what they are going to be used for

  4. Wonderful tour, photos and narrative. So beautifully restored and maintained.

  5. Sorry to be so brief. Unfortunately, rheumatism in my hand prevents me from writing more.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post on

    ...and I wish you a pleasant time with best wishes, Heidrun

    1. I hope it gets better and you get some relief from it

  6. Wow, Billy! I really enjoyed going on this historical tour with you today. I loved the old artwork and the stone pulpit - that's a new one on me!

  7. Those war graves are heartbreaking. So many dying so young. I like the creativity of some of the inscriptions on the graves. A lot of thought has gone into them.

  8. I love the image of the tree on the headstone - so beautiful. Thanks so much for linking up and for sharing your images with #MySundaySnapshot.


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