Downloadable history sheets are now available. These explain about the history, the stained glass, the grounds and the people of the church in an easily printable format.
The parish of St Clement’s lay outside the city of Oxford until 1835, at the point where the roads into Oxford converge to cross Magdalen Bridge. The manor was granted to St. Frideswide’s Church (now the Cathedral) in 1004 AD, and the royal chapel of St Clement was also given to the Priory by Henry I in 1122. The old church stood on the Plain until 1829, with the village grouped round it. Little is known of the building apart from its external appearance in old views, showing it standing next to the toll-house on the turnpike road. The church was often served by fellows of Oxford colleges, and the parish, after recovering from much damage in the siege of Oxford in the Civil Wars, was a small suburb until its sudden expansion in the 1820’s.
A vivid picture of the parish in the early 19th century is provided in Geoffrey Faber’s account of the Oxford Movement, Oxford Apostles (1933), where he describes how John Newman (later to become a Roman Catholic Cardinal) became a Curate of St Clement’s:
The rector of the parish, John Gutch, antiquary and octogenarian, was no longer equal to the task of serving St Clement’s without assistance…. The parish was poor and populous. In 1800 it contained 400 inhabitants; now in 1824 it numbered 2000 and was rapidly increasing. This was partly due to the ‘new’ canals which, before the railway, brought commerce to Oxford. It was also due to the clearance of densely packed houses from the centre of the city. Tuckwell wrote in the 1830’s …. St Clement’s, sordid by day, by night oil-lighted, stretched from Magdalen Bridge to Harpsichord Row at the foot of Headington Hill, where has risen the hideous church known from its shape as the ‘Boiled Rabbit’.
Faber continues to describe how Newman (aged just 23) had the task of recovering the parish in the early 1820’s from the major population expansion:
He undertook house to house visitation ‘asking the names, numbers, trades, where they went to church’ etc., ‘taking care always to speak kindly of Mr. Hinton, the dissenting minister’…. His parishioners called him ‘a proper minister’ and ‘a nice young gentleman’. They flocked to hear him preach and had to be turned away at the doors since St Clement’s (the old church) could only hold 200 people… By 1825 Newman had collected £2000, without college subscriptions, for the new church… Newman established a new Sunday school- held in St Clement’s. since he could not find a large enough room anywhere. The church being blocked with pews, Newman built a gallery for 94 children by public subscription.
The present church of St Clement’s was built in 1827-8, and was the first church in Oxford to be built on an entirely new site since the Reformation. The new church was built by John Hudson of Oxford at a total cost of £6,032 19s. 5d. The land in Nacklingcroft Meadow had been given by Sir Joseph Lock, the architect was Daniel Robertson, whose economical neo-Norman design was possibly inspired by the church at Iffley and is a very early example in this style. Most of the money was raised by public subscription, although a small amount was raised through door-to-door collections in the parish. Several notable divines subscribed to the fund, including Keble and Pusey, but one of the main benefactors was the Morrell family of Headington Hill Hall.
Newman did not remain as curate at St Clement’s, since he became vicar of the University Church in 1828. It was not until 1846 that he finally left the Anglican Communion for the Roman Catholic Church.
The three bells in the church were taken from the old church pulled down in 1829 that stood on the St Clement’s side of the Magdalen Bridge. One of these bells was cast in the 13th century, and is the oldest bell in Oxford. Also taken was the church plate, which included interesting chalices of 1685 and 1720 (these are all now kept in the Christ Church Cathedral treasury, and they are periodically on display there). The woodwork, also in the Norman style, dates from 1871. In 1865 the church of St Martin, which then stood at Carfax in the centre of Oxford, was presented with new stained glass windows in memory of the late James Morrell. When this church was demolished in 1896, these windows were in turn presented to St Clement’s Church, where they now occupy the north side of the church. They are very beautiful and illustrate the four aspects of Faith, i.e. Obey, Pray, Love and Endure.
To us now, what goes on inside the church seems more important than the buildings or the bells and windows, but these things serve to remind us of the faithfulness of God’s servants in the past centuries and how much we owe to their desire to glorify God.
Our most famous Curate: John Henry Newman
More details on the life and work of Newman can be found at the sites below. We would be very grateful for further information on the history of St Clement’s, and Newman’s involvement in it.
An excellent account of the history of St Clement’s parish can be found in: Shatford, S. and Williams, T. (1997) The Changing Faces of St. Clement’s and East Oxford. Book One. Robert Boyd Publications, Witney, Oxfordshire. ISBN 1 899536 15 9.
Some of the people pictured in this book still come to St Clement’s!!!