St Swithun's Church
Kennington Oxford

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St Swithun's Church, Kennington
A History

St Swithun

St Swithun's is dedicated to St Swithun. Swithun was Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century, however he is now best known for the popular British weather proverb that if it rains on Saint Swithun's day, 15 July, it will rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Swithun was buried outside at his request so the "sweet rain of heaven" could fall on his grave. In 971 it was decided to move him into a new indoor tomb, but it was said that the move was delayed by 40 days as a result of torrential rain, supposedly indicating Swithun's displeasure at the move. More information about him can be found on Wikipedia.

 

Up to 1958

We do not know when a chapel was first built in Kennington but there was certainly one here in the 17th century. Its date of construction is unknown but it could possibly have been a 15th or 16th century building administered by monks of Abingdon Abbey. By the 17th century it had become a chapel-of-ease to Sunningwell Church, the curate of which normally conducted the services in Kennington, and it was dedicated to St. Swithun.

The building stood on the site of the present church hall and the diarist, Thomas Hearne, described it in 1724 as a 'very small, mean building' which 'cannot, by the make of the building, be very ancient'. Whatever its age its condition must, by then, have been deteriorating, through lack of maintenance. By the middle of the 18th century it was probably nearing its end and in 1783 the Rector of Sunningwell reported to the Bishop that no trace of it remained. In 1828 a new church was built on the old site by Henry Bowyer, rector of Sunningwell and brother of the Lord of the Manor, Sir George Bowyer. The curate of Sunningwell was placed in charge and its arrangement remained in being until 1866 when Kennington became an ecclesiastical parish in its own right.

The 1828 building with seats for 80 people was large enough to cater for a purely farming community but as Kennington began to grow in size after the first war, the need for a larger church became obvious, but it was not until after the second world war that it became possible to start building it. Land next to the existing church had been donated for the purpose in 1936 and 20 years later the foundation stone of the present church was laid.

 

Building of the New Church 1958

In 1952 a new vicar The Rev Stuart Davies was appointed to Kennington, who saw it as his mission to build a new church. By now the church electoral role had risen to 238 and most people expected to be able to be married, have their children baptised and be buried in the parish church. Clearly there was an urgent need. Lawrence Dale a local architect was appointed and produced draft plan in 1953.

Stuart Davies and the Parochial Church Council set about raising money for the new building, which was estimated to cost about £12,000. To put that into context, that was about 5 times the cost of a typical new semi-detached house of the time. Stuart was innovative, in his fund raising, and collected newspapers each Saturday morning from around the village. He persuaded some of the youngsters to help him collect the papers from doorsteps, loading them into his car, and then storing them up until he had a lorry load, which then fetched good money. He was collecting around £5 a week from Newspapers. The average wage was about £15 a week, so a worthwhile project.

Another church fund raising initiative to build new churches was set up by the bishop, where he invited people to send a shilling (5 pence) to a special fund which raised over £500 for St Swithun's. Another very successful fundraiser was the weekly collection from supportive people in the village, where they were visited each week and a collection made for the new building appeal. Several people who both collected and gave are still involved with St Swithun's today. After much deliberation, a design was selected, the necessary permissions obtained and a contractor, Messrs Hutchins and Green of Oxford were employed to build the new church. Their estimate was £13,000. There were also furnishing costs to be added.

Digging first turf of the new churchThe Rt Rev Eric Knell Bishop of Reading consecrated the ground and dug the first turf at a service in late July 1956. He wrote in the diocesan magazine, "I ceremonially cut the first piece of turf  in the course of a service of  thanksgiving and prayer for God's blessing upon the undertaking which has now begun. Incidentally, the spade turned up a potato which first fruits may be taken as a happy augury of what lies before the parish once it's fine new church is in being."

The Rt Rev Harry Carpenter Bishop of Oxford laid the foundation stone on 15th September 1956, which was the thousandth anniversary of the village.
Lawrence Dale, the architect, describing the new church wrote:

"As architecture the new church at Kennington picks up the tradition at Regency, when tradition was broken up by the Gothic revival, its nearest affinity in both character and locality being in the village of Chiselhampton, 1763. But this only applies to its rarified classical architectural treatment characteristic of the period. By the Regency, the emphasis in planning had gone from the altar to the pulpit and the lectern, these often large, and on occasion obscuring the altar. At Kennington the altar is central, in the midst of them".

The Rt Rev Harry Carpenter came back to the church on 5th February 1958 to consecrate the building. I as a small boy recall his banging on the door to be let in, rather like Black Rod at the Houses of Parliament, before the service could begin. The church was packed full, with the seats squashed together to get as many people in as possible.

John Betjeman considered the church important enough to give a full article in a national newspaper in July 1958 in which he said: There are currently three types of church being built, one with a conventional chancel where the priest and congregation are separated by the choir, secondly, a dual purpose building which can be used as a hall during the week and a church when required. The third type has an altar in the middle of the congregation, so that as many people as possible can see and hear what is going on there. In a new community where so many people do not know about the sacraments of the church and how they are administered, the parish priest needs to rivet attention by his actions.

Our greatest living architect, Sir Ninian Comper, once said that a church should be planned from the altar outwards. His plan has been taken a step further by Lawrence Dale at St Swithun’s Kennington. The altar stands in the middle of the new church under a canopy. The candlesticks are low, so as to not obscure the actions of the priest from any side.

 

1952 - Present

Stuart Davies1952 -1965    Stuart Simeon Davies came to Kennington because he believed that God wanted him to build a new church. The Rev Davies was also a keen scout, devoting considerable amounts of his time to the scouting movement. He was also an advanced motorist and enjoyed the thrill of driving fast. His family were undertakers, and he was once stopped by the police at 90 mph in a hearse. History doesn't relate whether it was on a job, or just being used by the family.

 

 

 

1965 - 1979    Harold Archibald Timson Bennett.   HAT as Rev Bennett was affectionately known, started his ministry by visiting every house in the village, and continued to visit new residents when ever he was aware of someone moving in, and regularly visited the sick, whether they were from his ‘flock’ or not. HAT was blessed with four daughters and came here as a real family man, his youngest daughter attending the village school. He was a keen walker, and so met lots of people as he walked around the village promoting the village and St Swithun's in particular.

 



Rev John Loveland1979 - 1984    John Michael Loveland and his wife were musical, and made music a major theme of their ministry. They instigated concerts in Church and held events in the vicarage, both inside and in the garden, opening up the vicarage to the village.  There was always a cup of tea and a shoulder to share a problem. It was during John’s ministry that the new organ was installed replacing an early and rather unreliable electronic organ, which had been given when the organ from the old church had failed to be satisfactory, following it's move from the old church.

 

 

Rev harry Bloomfield1984 - 1998    Harry Bloomfield was a priest with definite views, who expected everything to be done in the time honoured and traditional way. It was Harry's initiative which started the Kennington Chronicle as a free magazine delivered to each home in the parish. His personal interest was in antiques of which he was very knowledgeable, and collected avidly, amassing a fine collection of porcelain. He gave talks about antiques to the various village organisations until poor health caused his early retirement. He was also a good friend of John Betjeman, from his previous position in Wantage.

 

 

Rev Terry Smith1999 - 2008 Terrence Smith followed a long interregnum, during which the vicarage became unsuitable for use as a vicarage. For about three years Terry lived in rented accommodation, until a new vicarage was built. Terry had a vision for the parish, devoting considerable effort to a strategy for growth. New forms of children's services are well attended, and his ministry included a chaplaincy with Dalton Barracks besides work with the fire service. Recent improvements have included new service and hymn books, a sound system and church redecoration. He has also completed several marathons, including the famed week long Marathon Des Sables, in the African Desert. Terry raised nearly £30,000 for cancer patients and has now retired to the South Coast.

 

2009 - 2016 After another lengthy interregnum Rev Pam McKellen was licensed as Priest in Charge of the Joint Benefice of Kennington, Radley and Sunningwell.
During her time Messy Church was introduced with considerable success, also Summer Childrens activities for 3 days in August, with a religious theme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2009 - 2012 Pam McKellen was assisted by Rev Em Coley, who lived in the new vicarage in Kennington with her husband and young family until July 2012, when she moved on to a parish near St Albans.
Whilst Em was at Kennington the links with the school were strengthened significantly, and the children's participation in church was enhanced tremendously.
A music group was also set up which played at some services and a community cafe called the 'APPLE CAFE' was started.

 

 

 

 

In September 2014, The Rev Alison Mathew joined the team, living in the Kennington vicarage, but working in all three churches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For photos and contact details see the Church Officials page

 

 

 

 

 

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piano cover: Our God Reigns

Contact St Swithun's Church
by e-mailing:
enquiries.St.Swithuns.Church@gmail.com

Church's Altar