A History of the Village of Milton (written in 1927 by Lucy Davenport)

Milton Church is dedicated to Saint Blaise, and a small modern window in the church depicts him in Bishop's Mitre holding an iron comb in his hand. St Blaise was Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and was cruelly martyred in 316 AD by the tearing of his flesh from his body with iron combs. He was adopted as the patron Saint by the wool combers, and as Milton was the centre of a great wool-growing tract of country, we find a very probable explanation of the choice of a saint, unusual in England.

 

The Benedictine monks were the promoters of agriculture and the Cistercians the great wool-growers; both these orders had religious house in our neighbourhood, and from earliest times we imagine sheep grazing in the large open fields by which we are still surrounded.

 

In 1546 it was said that the country from Faringdon to Oxford was one long sheep walk, and about the time of the Reformation wool was a staple product of the country. The Civil War (1642-51) ruined the wool trade, and to help its revival a law was passed enforcing burial in a woolen shroud. In Milton Church Register we find the price of a 'Certificate for burying in woolen: 6d and in 1678 the first of many similar entries: (eg) "John Huggins was buryed in woolen according to the late Act of Parliament, affidavit made by Anne Scarlet and Joan King". The body of Bishop Challenor lies buried in the vault under the church (reburied in Westminster Cathedral 1946) He had been forced to seek safety in hiding at the time of the anti-papal riots, and died in Highgate in 1781.

 

Squire Barrett, of Milton House, was his personal friend and he brought the Bishops body to Milton for burial. The Rector, the Rev J. G. Warner, wrote the following inscription in the church register: - 'January 22nd 1781. Buried Rev Dr. Richard Challenor, a popish priest and titular Bishop of London and Salisbury., a very pious and good man of great learning and extensive abilities'.

 

With The exception of the (lower part) Tower (plus Porch & part of Nave) which are Early Decorated (14c) the church has been rebuilt. The North Aisle (furthest from the main entrance) was built in 1817 and an entry in the churchwarden's book says 'Thomas Bowles Esq of Milton Hill gave between 10 and 12 thousand bricks and £40 towards it, the whole cost being £79.

 

In 1849 the Rector, Archdeacon Clerke, rebuilt the Nave and Chancel at his own expense, and in 1850 John S Bowles Esq pulled down and rebuilt the (brick) work of his father in stone. The old Church clock, an indispensible feature in village life, was made by a blacksmith at Culham, a 30 hour clock with one hand acting as a pointer and striking the hours. This clock was bought with money paid in heavy fines by pheasant poachers, and some people remember hearing in their youth that older people would say, 'Hark to the old pheasant crowing' when the clock struck. After about 180 years the clock ceased to work, and in 1923 Sir Mortimer and Lady Singer (of the Singer sewing machine family) gave a fine clock with two faces and which chimes the hours and quarters.

 

The Tithe Barn still stands on its original foundation, half way up Milton Hill, and a man who went to plough with one who did the carting, heard from this carter of the time when every eighth sheaf harvested was taken for the Rector and stored in this barn.

 

A few people remember the Church Pond, it being eventually filled in and included in the Churchyard, and we have heard of newly dug graves rapidly filling with water. The Churchyard was closed in 1920, and a cemetery opened next to the California Allotments in the North Field.

 

There are 6 fine bells (11) The treble bell was hung and paid for by public subscription in 1906. Peals are run at festivals and at New Year, and the Passing bell is tolled when a death occurs. The tombstones in the Churchyard were nearly all carved in a stonemason's shop in Milton, which has been here for close on 200 years, and members of the same family are still carrying on the work (12). One of the finest tombstones is dated 1764 and is made of Haseley Stone with Angels' heads and flowers springing from a wreath of leaves carved in relief upon it There is a small headstone to the memory of John Stephens who died in 1774 aged 96, having been 65 years Clerk to this Parish; the lettering was quite illegible, but fortunately the stone is now being repaired so that this long record of service to our Church may not be forgotten. Over 300 head-stones for our war graves in France were sent out from this workshop.

 

An entry in the Churchwarden's book is quoted which shows that the rector and the Churchwarden of that day parted with a great treasure: 'Be it remembered that in the year 1766 a small chalice belonging to the Parish for use of the communion, which by the date upon the cover was made in the year 1570, and which was worn much and decayed by long use, was by order of Vestry exchanged for another' Recd silver (meaning the old chalice) at 5/6; weight 6oz 7 drams -£1.15.0d

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