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Updated: 20 March, 2013
The Parish Church of
St Matthew Oxhey
Fr David Shepherd
Although no longer in the parish of St Matthew's, the chapel is the oldest religious
building in Oxhey and there were probably some earlier monastic churches on the site.
The first vicar of Oxhey, the Rev'd Newton Price, was once chaplain of the chapel,
as was his main opponent in deciding whether Oxhey should be a separate parish, the
Rev'd Richard Lee James, Vicar of St James, Watford.
Early History 1612-1852 In 1612, Sir James Altham built Oxhey Chapel, probably on
the site of a monastic church, for use by his family and servants at Oxhey Place.
Cromwell's troops desecrated the chapel in 1649, after the Battle of Uxbridge. They
used it as a store and barracks, pulled off the roof lead to make musket balls and
made a door in the east wall. When Sir John Bucknall became new owner of the house
in 1688 he bricked up the east door and installed the reredos at the east end, reusing
woodwork from the great house, which he rebuilt. A bell-cote and a hipped and tiled
roof were added in 1704. In 1712, the interior was restored and the reredos was whitewashed
to make the interior brighter. In 1852, Thomas Grimston Bucknall restored the chapel
for use by worshippers from the nearby small hamlet. He arranged for the removal
of the old pews and pulpit and had the reredos cleaned of its whitewash coating.
The Exterior The outside walls are made of alternate squares of brick and knapped
flint. There is no churchyard, because the chapel has never been a parish church,
but at the west end is a paved enclosure in which are two graves: Thomas Anthony
Blackwell (1942) and a double grave for Samuel Judd (1944) with his wife Frances
(1946) - two well-respected estate workers.
The Interior Inside, the main architectural feature is the roof with its moulded
tie beams. The most important furnishing is a late seventeenth century reredos, with
twisted columns supporting a broken pediment. The original Jacobean communion rails
are now back in place. Along with the communion table, these were removed in 1898,
with permission, to St Matthew's for use in the Lady Chapel. St Matthew's still has
the table. The most important monument is to Sir James Altham (1616) and his wife
Helen (1638). Their two kneeling effigies are facing each other in prayer, dressed
in clothing of the period.
The Blackwell's Changes & The 1960s Restoration The building reached its present
form in 1897, when the vestries were built and the pews were arranged in collegiate
fashion; work paid for by Thomas Blackwell, of Cross & Blackwell the food manufacturers,
who then lived at Oxhey Place. By 1962 the chapel was in bad repair and in the severe
winter of 1962/3 part of the roof fell in. An appeal raised £6,000 and extensive
work was carried out including the complete replacement of the roof tiles. The original
tiles were sold to the late violinist, Yehudi Menuhin and were reused at his house
in Hampstead. The replacement bell-cote also dates from this restoration.
The Churches Conservation Trust. Although the chapel came back into use, the parish
decided that it was no longer essential and in 1977 it was put in the care of the
Trust. Formerly known as the Redundant Churches Fund, the Trust cares for more than
300 churches, maintaining them for present and future generations. The chapel remains
consecrated and is sometimes used for weddings.