A Tale of Three Churches










Our three churches of North Stoke, Mongewell, and Ipsden are all ancient, beautiful, and of human size. They were built for the community by the community and using local materials. All of the present buildings go back around 800 years – but are probably, in the case of North Stoke and Mongewell, on the site of what were probably pagan spiritual centres taken over by Christianity who would have created very simple, possibly wooden, buildings. Ipsden is a bit more problematical – as it was originally a chapel linked to the Mother Church of North Stoke. Legend has it that an earlier church stood in the field opposite the Old Vicarage – I think that is probably not right but only archaeological exploration can uncover that mystery. What is more certain is that St Birinus in AD626 came to this part of the country from Rome to convert the native Saxons – setting up initially a small chapel and then establishing a monastery and Abbey Church at Dorchester. That initial small chapel was probably sited at ‘Berins Hill’ – the narrow road from Ipsden to Stoke Row, above Well Place.

North Stoke church is noted for its medieval wall-paintings and for such things as the 17th century pulpit (still used by the Vicar!) and the delightful stained glass. The churchyard boasts an ancient mulberry tree, the grave of Dame Clara Butt the famous opera singer of the very early twentieth century and a magnificent Lych-gate (body gate) given by Dame Clara and her husband in memory of one of their sons. (see the free leaflet on the history of the church).

Mongewell Church is now ‘redundant’ and in the care of a Conservation body. Until the early 20th century it was an active church serving the local community and being part of North Stoke parish. Earlier it had been ‘twinned’ with nearby Nuneham Murren. The present building is partly ruinous but with a preserved section (the Chancel) with some very interesting monuments. The Mongewell Estate was the family home for generations of the Barrington family – and Bishop Barrington in the early 19th century set about adding some neo-gothic additions whilst also redesigning the parkland and gardens along ‘Picturesque’ lines. We can still use it for Church Services on half a dozen occasions per year – it has a regular Christmas Carol Concert and we had a wedding there last year.

Ipsden church is a fascinating, and surprisingly spacious, building – full of unanswered questions. It retains a few examples of medieval wall-decoration, ancient oak beams, and some charming small and humorous carved heads.  Quite what the original shape of the building was is very much open to question – for instance there is an indication in the exterior walls of a now lost aisle. The Reade family of Ipsden House continue to be part of the village as they have been for many generations and the memorials, including stained glass, reflect that involvement. . (see the free leaflet on the history of the church).

IPSDEN CHURCH : Carved Capitals







David Addison. November 2012.

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