Monday, 6 February 2017
We have been to Banbury many times before and have always admired St Mary’s church but we have never been inside . So this time we made a point of visiting and we were certainly not disappointed.
St Mary’s predecessor was a splendid mediaeval church which had fallen into disrepair and had become dangerous. Part of the old church collapsed one Sunday morning in April 1790 with the tower adding itself to the rubble the following day. Financial constraints delayed the completion of the new church and the “pepper pot” tower was not completed until 1822.
On our way in to the church we noticed this plaque named "Gulliver's Travels" - Jonathan Swift hints in the preface to the 1726 edition of Gulliver's Travels that he had taken the name of Gulliver from tombstones in the Churchyard at Banbury. Unfortunatley none of the original tombstones from that time exist anymore.
As designed by the architect, Samuel Pepys Cockerill, the building was a perfect square with sides 90 feet long. It is thought to have been modelled on Sir Christopher Wren’s St. Stephen’s Church, Walbrook, which, like this building, has a dome supported by twelve classical columns. Originally the gallery ran round the four sides and the church was able to accommodate 3,000.
Extensive alterations were made in the mid-19th century under the influence of the Tractarian movement. In 1858 the eastern gallery was removed and in 1873 the whole east end was reconstructed to the design of Sir Arthur Blomfield, and richly coloured. Blomfield’s decorative scheme has now gone, apart from the figures in the chancel which are painted in imitation mosaic and a small detail by the door into the south stairwell. The view towards the alter from high up in the gallery.
The domed ceiling which is supported by the twelve columns.
We spent 10 minutes sitting in the pews up in the gallery just soaking up the atmosphere of the church.
The stained glass is also of Blomfield’s time, the most striking windows being those at the eastern end of the nave above the galleries – by an unknown artist. The upper windows in the gaIlery represent scenes from the life of Jesus – 30 illustrations in all, while the lower windows illustrate 10 of his parables. The detailed background in all the windows well repays attention. In the second upper window on the north side is the well-known Arctic window in memory of the explorer Admiral Sir George Back, which contains sketches from his notebook – H.M.S. Terror caught in the ice, Eskimos, polar bears, seals, reindeer, walrus and a surround of snow flakes.
The Church is open Monday to Friday from 12.00 to 14.00, Saturday 10.00 to 14.00 and then on Sundays where all are invited to the services. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.
As with every town we pass through on our journey around the country we always end up looking in estate agents to gauge the local property prices. We are still not sure where we will live once we retire from boating , but Banbury is certainly a possibility as we both love the town and the area.