History of St Mary’s Building
Thame’s story is the story of England. It began in Saxon times with a settlement down by the ‘dark flowing’ river from which the town takes its name. It was probably founded in 635 AD as the administrative centre of the endowed lands of the Bishop of Dorchester. After the Norman Conquest, the diocese moved to Lincoln and a Royal Charter was granted in 1215 for the market which is still held every Tuesday.
‘Old Thame’ was the area now known as Priestend where the road to Long Crendon crossed the river and the Aylesbury to Oxford road used to pass between the Church and Vicarage. Aerial photographs reveal a possible Saxon settlement by the River Thame and there have been stray finds of jewellery and pottery in the area.
St Mary’s Church was begun in the 13th century at the instigation of the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grossteste. Vestiges of the original building can still be seen, such as the pillars and arches in the nave and the aisle windows which date from the early 14th century. The building was substantially restored in the years between 1889 and 1897 by the architect J.O. Scott.
According to the churchwarden’s accounts, the north transept was built in 1442 and since the windows in the south transept are of similar style, it was probably built at the same time. The south transept was known as St Christopher’s Chapel and houses two table tombs belonging to the Quartermain family. One of these, the tomb of Richard Quartermain, his wife Sybil and their godson Richard Fowler, dates from 1477 and is notable for the armour depicted on its brasses. The stalls with linenfold panelling in the chancel were bought from Thame Abbey in 1540.
There are several interesting tombs within the chancel. The most prominent tomb is that of Lord Williams and his wife Elizabeth. Lord Williams served under both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth 1, becoming a man of great influence and wealth. He founded the town’s secondary school which still bears his name. Also in the chancel is the tomb of Sir John Clerke, who was knighted by Henry VIII.
St Mary’s has a ring of eight bells in F# tenor of approximately 580kg, cast at Whitechapel in 1876 from the metal of the former ring of six, and hung in a nineteenth century oak frame. The bells are all inscribed ‘Mears and Stainbank’ Founders, London 1876 with a dedication on the tenor to Revd. E B Corbett, Vicar, and William Edden and Richard Berry. Churchwardens. In 1997 White of Appleton fitted a steel support grille under the oak frame and the bells were fine-tuned at the Whitechapel Foundry. There are numerous records in the Churchwarden’s accounts for repairs to bells over the centuries from the 1400s, and the first mention of a bell being rung was whilst the Church was still under construction in the 1240s and Bishop Grosseteste lay dying. It is said that the bell rang without mortal assistance! The present bells were named in 1997, from the Fruits of the Spirit as in Galatians 5:22-25. They are, from treble to tenor; Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Humility and Forbearance. There is also a Sanctus bell dedicated to Mary which probably dates back to the late 1500s.