Chearsley probably developed from a collection of small scattered farmsteads which by the 9th century was known as “Cheored’s-leah”. By the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086 there may have been about fifty inhabitants. Later, the village developed on the north and east side of the church, while to the south, the remains of a medieval moat can be seen in the field above the River Thame.
The Parish Church is dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of children and sailors and many others. The building reflects the history of the village which, until recently, has always been small, and never wealthy. Having had no resident Lord of the Manor there are no grand monuments, and it remains a simple church, used by countless generations of tenant farmers, yeomen and labourers, their hard-working wives and many children.
11th century: The lower walls of the chancel may be those of an original single-celled chapel, which could be of pre-conquest date.
It is approached by a path from the north-west – a paved remnant of which can be seen in the churchyard, leading off towards the nearby field.
12th century: As a chapel it formed part of the original endowment of the then new Augustinian Abbey at Notley, in the neighbouring parish of Long Crendon. The nave was built and, outside, the lower portion of the north wall (herringbone” stonework) shows evidence of that early structure.
The nave is offset from the chancel, this suggests different building dates. The chancel floor is lower than that of the nave. That was not normal custom suggesting that the builders of the nave were faced with the difficulty of adding on to an existing chancel on the uphill site. The Font is that of the Norman period.
13th century: Major changes were made in the later years. The nave was rebuilt – the south wall appears to be of that period.
Lancet windows were installed, each having a single narrow light, and two of these remain, one on each side of the nave.
Both the south and north doors of the nave were added, the former having two head stops: the image of the Bishop of Lincoln on one side (Chearsley was in the Diocese of Lincoln at that time, and the King (reputed to be Henry 111).
The north door has since been blocked. A third door was inserted on the south side of the chancel – the Priest’s door.
The chancel arch is also of that period, although it is possible that it came from elsewhere and was mounted here at a much later date.
Outside, there was a churchyard cross the stump of which can be seen near the porch.
By the south door is a holy water stoup. Two fragments remain of the extensive wall paintings of that period. One, over the north door, shows St Christopher carrying the baby Jesus. It was important to see it when entering or passing the main door:
“If thou the face of Christopher on any morn shall see
Throughout the day from sudden death thou shalt preserved be.”
15th century: The brass of 1462 in the chancel floor records John Frankeleyn and family.
Outside to the lower left of the west window are the faint marks of a scratch dial: a sundial used for showing times of the daily masses. In 1458 the church was granted full parish status, this event was marked by a major renovation: a new roof (of tie beam and collar construction, using some 14th century timbers) with a covering of tiles; also the height of the walls increased by three feet, and it all gave a lower pitch to the roof.
Outside buttresses were added, mainly to support the thin walls of the chancel weakened by the new windows. The tower was also added during this century.
16th century: The English Reformation left its mark: at this time the wall paintings were probably covered over, to be later replaced by the ten Commandments and Creed painted on the walls above the pulpit and chancel arch only the borders now remain.
The 17th century was a turbulent period for the country. Parliamentary soldiers during the Civil War may have defaced the stone heads at the main door, and possibly broke the churchyard cross. In 1662 Francis Treble, curate at Chearsley, giving evidence to his bishop complains that the bailiff (the village representative of the Lord of the Manor) had not paid him, locked the churchyard gate, cut down trees, and had taken away church land. In 1685 the inhabitants of the village were indicted for: “not having and providing a settled minister”, many went to services at Long Crendon around that period.
18th century; Confidence and respectability returned: evidence of this is the huge painting (discovered in 1935) of the royal arms of George 11 on the north wall of the nave; and memorials on the walls for the Egeltons (yeomen), Kiplings (curates) and William Barton, Gent.
At the east end of the nave was built a musicians gallery, lit by two typical cottage windows of the period, high up on either side.
A brick porch was added to the main door and the north door blocked.
19TH century: The royal arms of George iii were framed and placed on the gallery.
20th century: In 1905 the bells were finished. There are four bells: one small pre-reformation Sanctus bell and three hung for ringing the treble circa 1500; the second of 1741; and the tenor of 1616.
The present organ was built in 1976.
Between 1934-70, various alterations have been made to the furnishings, and these have been dedicated to past members of the congregation:
Sanctuary Rails, 1938 for Lt Col, F.T.H Bernard of Nether Winchendon
Box pews, 1968 in memory of Stanley Parker, a farmer of Grove Farm and Sir Henry Floyd.
Open pews, 1969 for members of various families: Ross, Stoddart, Robinson, Church and Kind.
Tower Screen, 1970 dedicated to the wives of two former Vicars: Elizabeth Jones & Violet Isaacson.Pulpit window restored by Kathleen Floyd in memory of her husband Henry
The tower was restored in 1953 and the roof in 1989.
21st century: In 2003 work was completed in transforming the redundant space at the base of the bell tower into a kitchen and adding toilet facilities.
During 2004 the bells were removed from the tower, the first time in 100 years. The bells were tuned to the treble bell and work was completed to make them easier to ring. Both activities are thanks to the generosity of local people; grants from Heritage Lottery Fund and many local charities.
In 2012 a new stone cross was erected on the roof to replace one lost many years ago. We are grateful to the family of Patience Howes for funding this project.
Grateful thanks to the late Ted Hooton who compiled this short history of the church building.