Most ancient churches show the marks of successive builders and restorers, according to the use and ideas of their times. This is as it should be, as the Parish Church is the focus of the parish throughout the ages and, like any old house, ought to show signs of being “lived in” by past generations, as well as being the home of the present one.
The present building, apart from the Tower, was almost entirely rebuilt in 1866, using much of the materials of the earlier church, which dates from the 14th century. The earliest record is found in the Register of Simon of Gaunt, Bishop of Salisbury 1296-1315, ordering the Rector of this and some neighbouring parishes to have their churches ready for consecration during the week following St James Day (July 25th) 1302. It is possible that the loser part of the Tower may have been built by that time. It is of unusual design, with the recessed window and internal supporting pillars.
The original church probably consisted of Chancel, Nave and Tower, the aisles being added in Tudor times. The rebuilt church of 1866 was intended to copy this Tudor building as closely as possible, so we probably have a faithful reproduction of a late mediaeval church. But some of its rich furnishing, such as choir and chantry screens. All that remains of the former are a couple of odd panels saved from a bonfire of what remained of the screen at the time of the last restoration.
From Hutchins ‘History of Dorset’ it appears that in the 18th century there was a fine rood-loft surmounting a richly carved screen. Also the present children’s corner in the North aisle was formerly a Chantry Chapel, enclosed by a “handsome screen”. The carved niches on either side of the East window of this aisle are all that remain of this little chapel. In the window of the North wall here, are fragments of early glass bearing traces of various initials and devices. These, together with the fragments of earlier work, such as the devices, possibly of the Percy family, Earls of Northumberland, carved on the book rest near the lectern and the carved figure-heads on the outside of the East wall of the Chancel and the South wall of the church, may provide some connection with the families who owned the manor of Okeford in early days; such as;
ROBERT FITZPAINE, the Lord of the Manor in the time of King Edward I, and in whose time the church was probably built, and whose name the village now bears, Hutchins says that “the ancient and knightly family of the Fitzpaines’ were descended from Paine, brother of Eustace Fitzjohn, in the time of King Stephen; and that their descendents married into the Percy family, who owned large estates in these parts.
HENRY PERCY, 4th Earl of Northumberland, grandson of Hotspur, said the manor to Sir Thomas Kitson, Alderman and Sheriff of London in 1533. It passed via the Darcy family and the Countess of Shrewsbury to Sir Thomas Freke of Shroton (ie Iwerne Courtney, whose church was consecrated at the same time as this one by Bishop Simon of Gaunt). From the Frekes, possession went to Julines Beckford of Jamaica, whose son Peter married a daughter of George itt, first Lord Rivers. William Henry Pitt, third Baron Rivers, who succeeded, assumed the name Pitt Rivers, the family which still owns much land here and who are the present Patrons of the living.
If the great landowning families have left traces of their connection with the church and parish, successive Rectors have made their mark, one way or another.
DUKE BUTLER, rebuilt the Chancel on a smaller scale in 1772, possibly in order to adapt the building to the liturgical needs of the time, with the Altar and people brought closer together, as the Prayer Book requires. The Communion Table, at present in the North Aisle, was probably the Holy Table in use at this time. This incumbent also converted the 15th century pulpit into a Font and placed in its stead a carved oak pulpit. There is no trace of the latter now and the original stone pulpit was put back to its proper use, and much restored with the addition of figures in the niches and the stairway, in the 1866 restoration.
JOHN RIVERS HUNTER, commemorated by the East Window of the Chancel, rebuilt the whole church in 1866, apart from the Tower, and this included restoring the chancel to what is supposed to be its original dimensions. During this restoration, the date of which is recorded on the entrance to the Porch, the musicians’ gallery under the Tower was removed; the organ replaced the village orchestra for church music – a great loss sin many ways to the life of both church and village.
ROBERT FRAMPTON, instituted in 1679, and resigned in 1683, after becoming Bishop of Gloucester. He was one of the “Non Jurors”, ie one of the 10 Bishops who refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to ‘William III and Mary, and for which he was deprived of his See. He is mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his Diary, in an entry dated 20th January 1667;
“and coming home, I to church and there, beyond expectation, find our seat and all the church crammed by twice as many people as used to be; and to my great joy find Mr Frampton in the pulpit; so to my great joy I hear him preach and I think the best sermon for goodness and oratory, without affectation or study that ever I heard in my life. The truth is he preaches the most like an apostle that ever I heard man; and it was much the best time that ever I spent in my life in church”.
The church referred to is probably St Olave’s Hart Street. In his short incumbency here Robert Frampton began to build the Parsonage House in 1683 leaving ï¿½200 towards its completion, which was done by his successor.
JOHN FREKE, instituted 1685 (Sir Thomas Freke was the Patron at this time). His wife, Jane, gave some Communion plate; the paten now in use is inscribed,
“The gift of Jane, wife of John Freke, Rector of this parish of Ockford Fitzpaine, to be used only in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. December 25th anno. Dom. 1703.”
Incidentally his son, John achieved distinction in the medical profession, being elected chief surgeon of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London in 1729. He was also author of a treatise on electricity, of another on the art of healing, and yet another on the nature and properties of fire.
Science also called another incumbent of this benefice about this time;
THOMAS BUTLER, instituted in 1780, is said to have had a comprehensive knowledge, being well informed on almost any subject. His taste however, ran especially in music and mechanics. One practical outcome of this fusion of interests was the inventing and making of what a contemporary called a “rythmometer”, for measuring musical time. This instrument, “finished in the most perfect manner, with pendulum, wheel-work, dial, stand and case, all of his own work” must have been one of the very first, if not the original metronome.
A parishioner in more recent years has achieved distinction in the mechanical field and risen to national fame;
ERNEST JOHN HUTCHINGS LEMON, 1884-1954, born in Okeford Fitzpaine, son of the village carpenter, was knighted for his work in aircraft production in the 1939-1945 war. Sir Ernest, who started life as a “back-door boy” at the Rectory ,rose to be Chief Mechanical Engineer and Vice-President of the L.M.S. Railway and in 1938 was appointed Director General of Aircraft Production, with a seat on the Air Council. The parish may well be proud of one of its sons to have contributed so much to the nation.
BENEFACTORS to the church throughout the ages must be legion and most of them unknown. In recent times sums of money have been bequeathed in legacies for the upkeep of the church and churchyard, as well as gifts in kind. Windows, furnishings, electric lighting etc., testify to the latter, while the parochial balance-sheet gives welcome evidence of the former. Particular mention should be made of the PHILLIPS family, connected with the local dairy factory, founded by Joseph Phillips in 1843. The East windows of the North and South Aisles commemorate members of this family, as do also the installation of the elect5ric lighting and a trust fund for the upkeep of Church and Churchyard.
Another recent benefactor as Miss TODD, who also left a large sum of money for the upkeep of church and churchyard. This family was also connected with a former local industry – brickmaking. The Brickyard is now the site of a newer occupation, mobile home building.
The Lychgate is a memorial to the Hallet Family, who were former parishioners.
A feature of interest is the memorial stone in the main aisle, with the fine lettering of the period bearing the date 1651, to THOMAS PHILLIPS, who died
‘IN YE 99TH YEARE OF HIS AGE’
and of Susanna his wife, aged 85, in 1677; and
‘JOSEPH THEIRE SON WHO DYED IVNE THE 2 IN THE 49TH YEARE OF HIS AGE. BATCHELER. ANNO. DOM. 1681.’
COMMUNION PLATE. The oldest plate is an Elizabethan chalice and paten dated 1574, of similar design to those in some other Dorset churches probably the product of a Dorchester silversmith of that period. There is also a large flagon dated 1684, the gift of Mrs Joan Baker, of Trull in Somerset. Also the paten mentioned above, given by Jane Freke.
THE BELLS. Of the six bells, five were recast in 1821 and one added 1906. The inscriptions on the original bells were as follows:
1. 1664, R.S. W.B. C.W.
2. AVE MARIA GRACIA
4. I OFTEN HAVE BEEN BEATE AND BANGED MY FRIENDS REJOICE TO SEE ME HANGED AND WHEN MY FRIENDS DO CHANCE TO DIE THEN I FOR THEM WILL LOUDLY CRIE
5. B. PHILLIPS, JOHN TROWBRIDGE, CHURCHWARDENS JOHN HALLET, OVERSEER.
The new bell, the Treble, added in 1906 was given by the Rector, The Revd. J.H. Phillips.
Tragedy overtook another Rector of recent times, W.R. MORTIMER, when he was showing some children the bells on a Sunday, when the bells were raised. The 5th bell overturned and killed him. This was in 1957.
There has been a long tradition of ringing here, maintained largely by the RIDOUT family.