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Church of St Mary and St John, Oxford

Description: Church of St Mary and St John

Grade: II
Date Listed: 28 June 1972
English Heritage Building ID: 245420

OS Grid Reference: SP5317705460
OS Grid Coordinates: 453177, 205460
Latitude/Longitude: 51.7453, -1.2312

Location: B480, Oxford OX4 2AJ

Locality: Oxford
Local Authority: Oxford City Council
County: Oxfordshire
Country: England
Postcode: OX4 2AJ

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Listing Text

612/20/708 COWLEY ROAD
29-JAN-68 (Southwest side)

1875-83 by A. Mardon Mowbray. Tower added in 1892-3 (spire not built). Later E vestry and church rooms, wider than the chancel.

MATERIALS: Rock-faced, coursed limestone with some ashlar and freestone dressings. Red clay-tiled roofs.

PLAN: Nave, N and S aisles, non-projecting transepts, chancel, church rooms and vestry at E end, W tower with attached S porch. Red tile roofs (but flat roofs to the E vestries etc).

EXTERIOR: This is an imposing Gothic Revival town church whose details are mostly taken from the Geometrical and early Decorated styles prevalent in the late C13-c.1300. The clerestoried nave is flanked by low, lean-to aisles. All the various components of the building are separately articulated. None of them have parapets apart from the tower which has battlements and the E vestry and rooms which have a plain parapet. At the W end is the bulky tower consisting of four stages and with a gabled porch attached on its S face and a corresponding door on the N side. The tower has a small two-light W window and belfry windows with cusped Y-tracery. At the corners of the three upper stages are polygonal turrets, that on the NW corner containing the stair and rising above the level of the body of the tower. The aisles are of four bays, demarcated by buttresses and have three closely-spaced lancet windows per bay. The nave is tall with a clerestory which has a two-light window in each bay with windows of alternating Y and cusped circles in their heads. The transepts, under transverse gabled roofs do not project beyond the aisles and each has a three-light Geometrical window with a cinquefoiled circle in the head. At the E end the chancel is slightly lower than the nave and has an impressive six-light E window with a series of cusped circles in the tracery. High on the E gable is a carved, canopied depiction of Christ the King, a favourite subject of the founder of the church, Father Benson.

INTERIOR: The large volumes of this church create an impressive, spacious interior which gains a dignified solemnity from the bare ashlar stone with which it is faced. The nave is tall and has a wooden vaulted roof and tall moulded arcades on quatrefoil piers separating it from the aisles. Across the aisles there are stone half-arches which create a dramatic effect. The original design called for a fairly elaborate provision of carved capitals and corbels, and where executed, the carving is indeed rich: most of these items, however, are still uncarved.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The focal point of the church is the ornate gilded and painted, figured reredos across the E wall of the chancel. The stone pulpit is approached by a curving stair, is supported on marble columns, and has open arches to its sides. There is a good collection of stained glass in the main windows and many others have uncoloured or plain, lightly-tinted glass. The church was never provided with fixed seating.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURE: To the SW of the church is a cross on steps, erected as a memorial to Father Benson.

HISTORY: In 1868 Father Richard Meux Benson (1824-1915), vicar of St James, Cowley, moved into eastern Oxford to serve the spiritual, educational and social needs of the growing working-class population. Using Meux family money he purchased the site in 1870; St. John's Hospital for Incurables, opened in 1873, formed another element of this project. The church was built in stages as funds became available but the spire was never built; the tower was clearly designed with one in mind. The result is a large and impressive building which plays an important part in the townscape of Cowley Road. Its unfinished nature shows how Victorian church-building was so often a struggle between intent and available resources. The architect, Alfred William Mardon Mowbray (1849-1915), was articled to Charles Buckeridge of Oxford from 1865 to 1870, was then assistant to the London-based Joseph Clarke, to JW Hugall and others in 1870-2. He set up his own practice in Oxford in 1872, moved to Eastbourne in 1877 but was resident again in Oxford in 1890.

Information in church
Jennifer Sherwood and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, 1974, p 341
Victoria County History of Oxfordshire, vol 4, 1979, pp 410-11
Antonia Brodie et al., Directory of British Architects 1834-1914, vol 1, 2001, pp 224-5

The church of St Mary and St John, Oxford, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* It is a large and imposing Victorian church which is a good example of Gothic Revival church-building in the 1870s and 1880s.
* It has several fixtures of interest and a good collection of stained glass
* It is part of a notable programme of church building and philanthropy, including the establishment of the adjoining cemetery and neighbouring St. John's Hospital.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.