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St Martin’s Church

City Church of Oxford c.1122–1896


The first St Martin’s Church

The first St Martin’s (or Carfax) Church was built in the early eleventh century. It became the town church in medieval times, and by the reign of Henry II was probably used for council meetings. It was centrally situated centrally at Carfax, just a stone’s throw from the early Guildhall and the later Town Hall in St Aldate’s.

The print below, drawn & engraved by J. & H. Storer and reproduced by kind permission of Roger Gilboy, shows the original church. The print is dated 1822, but the drawing must have been made by 1820.

St Martin's Church in 1822

Carfax Church in 2004

The above church had become unsafe by 1820, and was demolished except for its thirteenth-century west tower (right), which remains a well-known landmark today.

The following Mayors of Oxford were buried at this church:

  • Richard Carey (1349)
  • Edward Woodward (1497)
  • William Fleming (c.1550)
  • Richard Whittington (1578)
  • William Noble (1578)
  • Henry Dodwell (1578)
  • Thomas Rowe (1599)
  • John Davenant (1622)
  • William Wright (1635)
  • John Dewe (1639/40)
  • Thomas Cooper (1640)
  • William Chillingworth (1645)
  • Martin Wright (1664)
  • William Cornish (1679)
  • William Morrill (1679)
  • William Bayly (1683)
  • Roger Griffen (1690)
  • William Wright (1693)
  • John Austin (1775)
  • John Treacher (1780).

The second St Martin’s Church

St Martin’s Church at Carfax

The replacement St Martin’s Church was opened in June 1822, and was just fourteen years old when the above engraving was published in 1836. The medieval tower that still exists at Carfax today was incorporated into the new church.

This second church survived for only 74 years.The photograph below by Henry Taunt must have been taken shortly before the church (except for the tower) was demolished in 1896 as part of a road-widening scheme.

St Martin’s Church

W. E. Sherwood described the 1822 church as it was in the later nineteenth century:

It was the City Church, and so contained the Corporation pew on the south side, but opposite this was, strangely enough, a Ladies’ Corporation pew. Not, mind, that Oxford City was then so ahead of the times as to dream of having ladies as aldermen or councillors, but because, I fancy, it was the fashion in those days for husband and wife to worship together. Of course, the cynical said it was because the City Fathers liked to have their wives under their own eyes, but this no doubt was a libel.

However, there they were; the Corporation pew and the ladies’ pew facing each other, and between them, close up to the altar rails, and quite blotting out the east end, was a fine old ‘three decker’; the clerk below, the reader on the main deck, and the preacher up aloft…. In front of the clerk’s seat sat on benches round a stove four old City Almsmen, clad in handsome gowns and wearing brightly-polished sliver badges, two of which are now in the Committee Room of the Town Hall…. The sermons were preached by the four City lecturers in turn, of whom the Rector was as a rule one….

The Mayor and Corporation not only appointed the Rector of this church, but also four City Lecturers.

In 1896 the second 1822 church was sold to the city corporation and demolished, but once again the thirteenth-century west tower survived: it was restored by T. G. Jackson who added a stair-turret and buttresses to allow the structure to stand alone.

This upset the last City Rector, Carteret Fletcher, who started his history of the church with the words: “The Street Improver’s besom of destruction having just swept from the face of Oxford its oldest parish church, in which the Mayor and Corporation for more than three centuries regularly attended public worship…”.

The stone from St Martin's Church was bought by Windlesham House School and used to build their chapel.

The Mayor’s seat (now in the Town Hall) and the fourteenth-century font (now in St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church) were moved from St Martin’s to All Saints, the new city church. The font (below) is carved with eight figures of bishops and saints.

Font from St Martin's Church

 


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©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 25 September, 2018

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