Church of St Mary, Everdon

The splendid South doorway.

Many people who visit Everdon Church for the first time are surprised by its large size, this leads them to believe that it was built to serve a village much larger than the Everdon of today, this is an erroneous notion!  The Church was built to demonstrate the power and influence of its commissioners.  In 1086, William I’s Domesday survey found 4 families living in the parish, there were 2 villagers and 2 smallholders, 6 acres of meadow and 1 ploughland (about 120 acres).  These folk probably visited the Saxon Church at Church Stowe to celebrate feast days.  Everdon Parish at that time was handed to William I’s half brother, Bishop Odo (not a man of kindness and charity, as he is shown on the Bayeux tapestry wielding a huge mace, ready to crush Saxon skulls).  Odo died in 1097 and is buried in Palermo Cathedral.  It may be that on his death he bequeathed his holding at Everdon to the monks of Bernay Abbey in Normandy.  It was these monks who came to Everdon to build a small priory and establish their order in England.  They may have had their own chapel of worship within the precincts of the priory or built a small Church nearby.  In the 200 years following the conquest, England had a large population expansion due to a stable and benign climatic period.  By 1300 rents from lands were booming and the Abbot of Bernay sanctioned the building of a splendid new Church to demonstrate the importance of his Cistercian Order.  We know of an earlier Church in Everdon because the list of vicars begins in the early 1200’s.  The existing font in Everdon Church can be dated to circa 1190 with its blind arcading.  It was hewn from a Sussex marble and an identical font can be found in the Saxon Church at Bosham, Sussex.

The building of the Church in Everdon began sometime in the 1330’s, with the tower constructed first, walling stone was quarried from the pits just north of Snorscomb.  The limestone used for the south doorway and all the nave windows was drawn from pits in Helmdon.  The master mason who managed the quarries at Helmdon was celebrated by a stained glass portrait in one of Helmdon Church windows, he is shown full length with long hair and carrying his masons axe.  He is named at William Campiun – dated 1313, an extremely rare dedication to a medieval craftsman.

With the tower built and the nave finished to the chancel arch, a disastrous pandemic overtook the whole of the old world,  the Black Death of 1348.  Work on the Church stopped, the monks of Everdon along with the peasants of the village suffered a mortality rate of up to 50%.  The world changed overnight.  In the following years there were not enough people to pay taxes and land rents were hugely reduced.  Suddenly the Everdon Prior did not have enough cash to finish his new Church in the splendour he had envisaged.   A  local ironstone was used for the chancel window tracery probably quarried in Farthingstone Parish.  A very simple “Y” tracery was used to save money. 

The elaborate east window was inserted in the 1890’s in a restoration by the architects Bodley & Garner. This Victorian window replaced a ‘Y’ tracery window with three intermediate mullions.  We know this because a Northamptonshire artist named William Litchfield of Daventry  painted a watercolour of the Church from a North East perspective in 1820, this picture forms part of the archive of Lambeth Place. It can be seen at:

Typical decorated window in the Nave
Superior decorated window to the former side altar in the Nave

A chancel window on the South wall showing the Y tracery installed after the Black Death

The Victorian Restoration as previously referred to was benign so that the building we see today is very much like the building the Priors knew, with the exception of a clearstorey added in the mid 1400’s and a vestry built in the 1890’s.

The interior of the Church is without any major monuments due to the history of ownership of Everdon Parish. The French Priors were deposed in 1420 when Henry V suppressed Alien Priories and took the Parish Lands into Royal Ownership.  His only son, Henry VI inherited these and in 1440 gifted them to his new college of learning at Eton,  thus the Provost and Fellows of Eton College collected rents from Parish Lands and nominated the Rector to the living until recent times.  The Parish Lands were always administered by remote landowners until the enclosure Acts.  Thus there are no monuments and effigies to local wealthy people who resided in the Parish like there are in many other local Churches.

Michael Megeary – April, 2021