Brief History of St Mary's Shenley


The oldest parts of the church are parts of the Nave and Transept walls dating back to c1150. In c1180 the original Chancel was rebuilt in its present shape. At this time a narrow South Aisle was also added to the Nave, however this was widened when the North Aisle was built in c1340.

The Central Tower was enlarged from its original Norman dimensions in the late 15th century. The Tower contains a ring of six bells. The treble is modern (1908), while the second and third are by Newcome, 1615 and 1616 respectively, and the fourth and fifth by Bartholomew Atton, 1593 and 1610. The tenor, which bears the inscription 'Missi De Celis Abeo Nomen Amen Gabrelis,' was probably cast by Robert Burford in the early 15th century.

The Tower has an octagonal stair turret, originally external, but made internal with the addition of the northeast Vestry in the 19th century. The Chancel and Nave were given new flattened roofs in the late 16th century. The South Porch was added in the 17th century.

In the late 1880s, when the Rev’d T. Garde was Rector, much of the building was restored, including the stencilled decoration in the Chancel and South Transept. The re-glazed stained glass in the 15th century east window was dedicated to the memory of his wife Isabella.

In 1909, the interior of the church saw the addition of most of the present woodwork, under the supervision of the Rev’d J.R. Vincent.

The Nave

On entering the church using the South Door, opposite is the memorial to Thomas Stafford “of Tattenho”, who died in 1607. The Alms Houses in the village were constructed under the terms of his will. The monument graphically recalls that of his four sons and three daughters, only one son and two daughters were alive at his death. Above each son and daughter are their shields. The inscription, which is still legible, bears witness to the state of English spelling at this period (in contrast to the monument to his grandson in the Lady Chapel which has a Latin inscription). In the restoration of 1909, Thomas was moved from the east wall of the family mausoleum, now the Lady Chapel, to his present position in front of the old North Door.

Standing at the crossing of the aisles, facing the Altar two unusual features can be seen. First look at the columns on your right (south) these are Norman c1180, round, with dog tooth arches. Now look at the columns to your left (north), these are classical Early English c1340, octagonal, with plain arches, created when the North Aisle was added. The second feature is that the Chancel is not “in line” with the Nave. The Chancel is angled away from the Nave by a few degrees. This is an ancient feature, said to be a reminder of the fallen head of Christ on the cross.

Also, worth noticing are the 15th century octagonal Font, the octagonal Pulpit, reconstructed in 1912, with some 17th century carved panels and the Royal Coat of Arms of 1772 over the South Door.

The Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel was arranged in its present form under the restoration of 1909. It is believed that the Lady Chapel Altar was originally in the Sanctuary, and rebuilt at that time, with only the four Jacobean legs being original.

On the east wall there is a very fine 14th century Romanesque style Corbel built in the wall.

In the window next to the Lady Chapel is St. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln in 1186 holding a model of Lincoln Cathedral. The Lincoln fleur-de-lis emblem is featured within St Mary’s. The other half of the window depicts St. Frideswide, who is the Patron Saint of Oxford.

The Chancel and Sanctuary

Climbing the step, we are in the Chancel and this is where the choir sits. The Organ, was built by the London firm of Walker in 1870, can be seen from here, above the choir stalls. Incidentally we are now directly under the Tower.

The two South, and one North, windows of the Sanctuary, together with the doorway to the vestry, date back to 1180. The south doorway is 15th century.

An interesting addition is the 13th century Sedilia. Two seats separated by a stone arm. The seats have one wide segmental arch in common. Adjacent is a curious double Piscina from the same period.

In the centre of each side wall there is a multiple Corbel, in Romanesque style, intended to carry vaulting, a rare occurrence in a parish church.

The fine Early Elizabethan monument on the north side of the Chancel is in memory of Sir Edmund Ashfyld, who died in 1577, and his wife Eleanor (Stafford). It is a marble sarcophagus underneath a canopy supported by three Corinthian columns. Sir Edmund was granted the Manors of Shenley in 1563 by Queen Elizabeth I.

The walls of the Chancel have IHC and IHS stencils, which are Victorian. IHC is derived from the Greek spelling of Jesus (IHCOYC). IHS is the Latin form of IHC but can also be translated as Iesus Hominum Salvator.


It is worth looking at the Tower from the east and west to see the outline of an earlier steeper roof. In the east wall of the South Transept (Lady Chapel) there is a small Norman window blocked up.

On the south wall of the South Transept is a Mass Dial and a Sun Dial carved into the stone.


In the east part is a conspicuous broken grey marble column which is the memorial of Rev’d Matthew Knapp, Deputy Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire.

In the south west part is a monument to Elisabeth Edwards, daughter of William 3rd Baron Kensington, adjacent is a memorial to Rev’d J.R. Vincent and his wife Caroline, youngest daughter of William 3rd Baron Kensington.

Recent works

In 2008 an accessible toilet was installed in the North Transept, and kitchen facilities were created in the northwest corner of the Nave. The worktops and facings were recycled from redundant pews.