New book lifts lid on St Edburg’s Church

FOR many centuries, St Edburg’s Church was at the heart of everyday life while Bicester remained a small rural market town.

Children were christened, couples were married, and the churchyard steadily filled with memorials to generations of families.

Now, as the 900-year-old building undergoes a £1million renewal to restore it as a central focus for the whole community, a new book has been released telling the story of St Edburg’s Church and some of the colourful characters in its long history.

Co-author David Buxton, who has written the new book St Edburg’s Church Bicester – A History with fellow parishioners Gill King and Matthew Hathaway, said: “One of the things that really surprised me was that in the vestry there’s a window, paid for by the vicar at that time and a member of the congregation, which could be the first memorial erected to General Gordon of Khartoum.

“There was an article in the national press at the time saying Bicester had erected this memorial before London ever erected anything. The London memorial was put in St Paul’s, but Bicester’s I think was first.

“Other things that surprised me were some of the stories about the vicars of St Edburg’s – how their lives were so different from now.

“Some were what I would call table-thumping sermon-giving vicars, and others were very laid-back. But all of them seemed to stay for a long time.”

Mr Buxton said the town’s First World War memorial, which bears the names of a surprising number of high-ranking officers, was a sobering reminder of tragic times.

“What struck me was the sheer number of names on the memorial to people of Bicester who died in the First World War, and the number of names that are from the same families.

“It brings home the reality of war and how some families were devastated,” said Mr Buxton.

Questions uncovered by the authors include the fate of a stained glass window, which has mysteriously disappeared from the church at some point in its history.

Another interesting point was the discovery of a grave belonging to a great-great-uncle of the famous US musical family the Osmonds.

“We managed to locate it through old records,” said Mr Buxton. “Donny Osmond did come to the church to identify the grave.”

Memorials inside the church include one dedicated to a naval surgeon who served with Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, and a man who had served under both King Charles II and James II.

“Most of the memorials were for local doctors and people from Bicester Manor, and were mostly from the same families,” said Mr Buxton.

The book’s authors have given their time for free, and all proceeds will go to the St Edburg’s renewal fund.

Copies of the book are available from the church or from Cole’s Bookstore in Crown Walk, Bicester, priced £7.50.

A second book on St Edburg’s history could be released this November.