Ackhampstead – The chapel that vanished

Ackhampstead no longer exists, though for eight hundred years its 465 acres nestled quietly just off the road between Lane End and Frieth. All that is left today are a large earth platform, a ditch running across the next field, a clump of trees with the remains of some flint walls and the word “Ruin” on the OS map.

The Earthworks in Ackhampstead chapel

Earthworks in Ackhampstead chapel

Ackhampstead is not mentioned in the Doomsday book but a pre-conquest account implies it existed as it was given to Abingdon Abbey by Edward the Confessor and his queen, Eadditha, “from sorrow at the under-nourishment of the younger monks.” The earliest known explicit mention of the chapel is in 1242 when it was referred to as Ackhampstead or Chyssobock in the registers of the Bishop of Lincoln.

Interestingly, in 1429 Thomas Chaucer, son of the famed poet, was the “Esquire for life” of the “manor of Ackhampsted,” indeed he was buried only a few miles away in Wallingford.

The last curate, the Rev. Fredrick Menzies and arguably the villain of our piece, considered it of “No architectural value with no graves inside or out”. He also claimed that there was no road whatever, which was palpably untrue! Perhaps he disliked the area as he also referred to the district as “almost heathen, many of the people being un-Baptised” – though he admitted the congregation “usually consisted of 80 or 90 individuals” – which must have been a very tight fit in such a tiny chapel!

On 12th August 1847, the residents of the Cadmore End part of the parish met and resolved to move the chapel nearer to their own houses as it was “more convenient”, though presumably not for the 56 residents of Ackhampstead! Two years later at a Consistorial Court of the Diocese on 28 April 1848, the decision was made to build a new church at Cadmore End. A plan to move the responsibilities for the Chapel over to the curate at Hambledon seems to have fallen by the wayside – not least by the dismantling of the building to provide stone for the new church!

Ackhampstead

The site of Ackhampstead chapel

Oxford’s County and City Herald reported that the court was presided over by Dr Phillimore, chancellor of the Diocese; promoters were the Rev. Edward Brietzake Dean, vicar of Lewknor “and others”; the opposers were Sir William Robert Clayton, Bart., Joseph Townsend “and others”. There was a discussion as to whether Dr Phillimore could hear the case and it was thought the Bishop should preside over it. However Dr Phillimore “corrected” this view by announcing that “nothing can be more complete than the surrender of all his powers to me”. He also reported that the bishop had considered that the move would “promote the spiritual advantage of the district”.

Dr Phillimore’s power to pull down the chapel was also contested, but again his view held sway, despite the fact there was no written authority for him to do this.

If you visit the chapel on a quiet sunny day you can almost hear the echos of thoughts on sharp practices!

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2 Responses to Ackhampstead – The chapel that vanished

  1. Roger Coates says:

    Glad to have at last found something written about this intriguing story. I first came across the name from a reprinted old map my brother had on his bedroom wall, printed in a such a large font as to suggest somewhere far more significant then any physical evidence would. I have visited the chapel site on a number of occasions, and it’s a nice touch to have the name plate, however put it there.

  2. Carole Dibley says:

    Found the site again recently having been before. It’s hard to tell from the overgrown area the size of the chapel (maybe at sometime in the future a survey could be done?) In view of the above article who owns the land and site? Is it still the church? I had heard about the stones being used for Cadmore End Church but cannot believe they went very far in the building process.

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