St. Michael’s church, Great Oakley, is an ancient and beautiful building of various dates. The original church was built in the early thirteenth century (1200-1250) and includes the three eastern bays of the nave and two-thirds of the chancel. This building was extended to the west in the late thirteenth century, when the three western bays of the nave were added. There is a curious pillar in the centre of the arcade that marks the join.
Until 1405 it is unknown what happened in St Michaels – there is no record of incumbents / services since everything else happened at Great Newton. It is believed that as a field chapel it would have acted more in the capacity of a chapel for the then two Lords of the Manor (pre- Brooke). The church had no font or churchyard. Baptisms and funerals were conducted for Oakley at Great Newton church of St Lawrence (now demolished)
A processing route between the two villages ‘Bier Baulk’ is the present ‘footpath’ through Oakley bushes. In 1405 the pope was petitioned for a cemetery, font and Priest (from Pipewell) for mass and divine office. This request was granted.
It is certain that from c1406 monks from Pipewell came over to be priests at St Michaels and then walked back after carrying out their Sunday and special occasion duties. Hence there are no named resident priests on record.
At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries (early sixteenth century) much of the woodwork from the abbey church at Pipewell was removed to Great Oakley (there are notable floor tiles in the chancel, and the pews are based on those from the Abbey church). The tip up seats of the misereres are fascinating Victorian copies of the original stalls from the Abbey. Father time, a green man, a crusader with the Brooke coat of arms and a pelican feeding her brood are all depicted on the undersides.
After the reformation the first named resident priest was Sir Andrew Ricson (1546). Note that the ‘Sir’ was not an aristocratic title but an honorary one.
Also note that as St Michaels had officially been part of the revenues of Pipewell Abbey then after the dissolution it became crown land – not under the Archbishop. It was acquired by Christopher Hatton and from then on it was a Donative curacy (i.e. the clergy is chosen by the Lord of the Manor ) and not the usual perpetual curacy (i.e. chosen by the archbishop of the Church of England)
The chancel was rebuilt in the fifteenth century. The chancel arch was rebuilt in Tudor times, early sixteenth century. It has a flattened shape (four-centred, typical of the period). In Jacobean times (1618) the tower was added, followed later in the seventeenth century by the extension eastwards of the chancel.
The treble was cast in 1626 and the tenor in 1634 by the firm of Newcombe in Leicester. The second is pre-reformation and undated but was probably cast by the same firm. The small Sanctus bell was cast in 1550.Potted history
Early 13th century Chancel and Nave built
Late 13th century Nave extended (widened and lengthened). Tomb Niche in North Wall
15th century Cancel rebuilt and font installed*1
16th century the bell tower added*2
16th century Brooke family pews added (not the ones opposite the organ)
16th century Flemish glass inserted in north wall of chancel(some fragments – angel heads – remain)
1544 Floor tiles from pipewell abbey brough tover by cart by Thomas Brooke and son (laid in front of chancel / side of alter). Some wall tiles were used on window ledges in chancel. Misericords / stalls installed but later replaced by Bishop Trollope, father of Lord of the Manors wife, Mary, c 1887)
late 16th century east wall added to church
early 17th century Jacobean communion rail / screen installed
1638/9 hatchment of Thomas Brooke installed in the wall of the nave
1626 a third bell added to celebrate Charles 1st coronation
1830 hatchment of Sir Richard (first of the De Capell Brookes) attached to the ceiling of the chancel. It fell down, shattered and was removed to the Hall. Since then 5 others have been added the last being Lord Brooke who died in 1944.
1894 A two manual organ was presented to the church by the new lord of the manor Sir Arthur (Lord Brooke) and erected over memorial of Wheeler Brooke (d1762). It was dedicated to Julia Harris and to Louisa and Helen Trollope the grand children of his predecessor Sir Richard.Of Interest
Hatchments were fashionable from the second half of the 17th century, reached the height of popularity during the18th century and began to wane during the 19th century. (That of Lord Brooke is a curiosity being so late but he was very much into ancient and medieval history and beyond). They were placed above the entrance of the manor house for 12 months as a sign of respect / mourning and thereafter transferred to the Church in perpetuity. They are believed to have originated in the 16th century custom of funerary processions to the church with the shield / helmet of the deceased and deposited there (eg Barnwell all Saints – partly demolished). The anchors on the hatchments are part of the de Capell (supple) family coat of arms the scallops of the Brooke family.
The Brooke hatchment near the empty tomb niche and wooden platform shows the demi sea horse crest of the family and the 3 scallops of the coat of arms. The other motifs on the coat of arms show the intermarriage of the Brookes with other families (from out of the county - the lower left portion is that of the Moore family of Bourton). Thomas Brooke was a strict puritan and a magistrate at the famous 1612 witch trials at Northampton.
The pipewell abbey tiles along side the alter are inscribed with strange heraldic beasts, lettering and unknown coats of arms.
The wall tiles on the window ledge have some of the original lead glazing and again have unknown engravings
The alter was taken from Little Oakley church when it was made redundant in easte 1977 as the original Great Oakley church was so badly riddled with wood worm that it had to be taken into the churchyard and burnt. However what is intriguing is that since the church is near water – a sacred element in pre-Christian times – within the altars confines may be a relic from that era. This practice is more common in Northamptonshire churches than is commonly thought.
Also of note are the tomb recess for an effigy behind the pulpit, the clock, sundial, seventeenth century alter and the alter rails.