The evidence of Roman settlement in the village in the 3rd and 4th centuries and subsequent Romano-British occupation gives some support to the apocryphal local legend that there was a church in the village in Saxon times, but Robert d’Oilly is usually credited with responsibility for initially building the “current” church in the late 11th century. This was originally dedicated to St. Mary and only much later re-dedicated to All Saints.
The oldest standing fabric of the church is the West end of the nave (the “Tower” end) which probably dates from the early 12th century at which time Ralph Basset, a ‘justiciar’ who held the Turkdean manor, gave the church (together with the church at Little Rissington) to his son, another Ralph Basset, at the time of his death c.1127.
Signs of the original 11th century building and most of the remnants of Norman work were built back in to the walls of the church at the time that the nave was rebuilt in the late 15th century when a new South aisle was also constructed and the tower was added.
Famously invisible wall-paintings
Significant refurbishment programmes were also carried out in the 19th century and again in 1967 and 2018, but sadly All Saints’ 14th century wall-paintings were “renovated” out of existence in 1967 by some over-enthusiastic builders left with some extra whitewash in a scene described by John Edwards in his 1995 paper “Turkdean Church Wall-Paintings: A Cautionary Tale” for the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (the B&GAS archives are hosted on a non-secure “http” server, your browser may ask for further permission to connect to it.)
The B&GAS archive also reveals Will Croome’s sense of anguish on discovering the builders’ helpful whitewashing in his short report “Recent Discoveries of Wall-Paintings” from 1967. The scene would not have seemed out of place in a Black & White Ealing comedy and reinforces the importance of never leaving builders unattended onsite for very long. Particularly with buckets of whitewash.
A debate continues about the appropriateness of restoration work that could only partially and ephemerally restore limited portions of the original paintwork. However, the need to avoid further damage to the now over-painted walls means that the previously polychromatic internal wall surfaces now appear to be just “unfinished.”
Dissolution and the Christ Church years
After the Dissolution the Crown granted the parish of Turkdean to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford in 1542, re-confirming this and the college’s right to present to the living in 1546. This link remained intact through the next four centuries, with the Rectory land let to successive tenants until the late 19th century. Christ Church finally sold the Rectory estate in 1911 and the Rectory itself in 1948, but retained the right of presentation until exchanging it (for the right of presentation to the parish of Upper Swell) with the Bishop in 1964 – which therefore marked the endpoint of Turkdean’s Christ Church era.
Merging for survival in the 20th century
After 650 years of a resident priest in the village and in order to prepare for the sale of the Rectory, in 1947 Turkdean’s Vicar was simultaneously appointed to the adjacent parish of Farmington, where he also lived between 1947 and 1967. Then in 1967 Turkdean’s link with Farmington was severed when the parish was united instead with Cold Aston and Notgrove, an arrangement that lasted until all three parishes were then merged with Northleach and four further parishes (including Farmington) which were then served by one consequently rather overworked Priest-in-Charge for the whole Northleach Benefice.
That organisation, under which Turkdean is served as part of the Northleach Benefice subsists to this day. The other parishes forming the Benefice comprise: Northleach, Hampnett, Haselton, Farmington, Cold Aston, Compton Abdale and Notgrove. Thus, by chance, the local ecclesiastical administration has re-formed about half of the ancient lay administrative unit of the Bradley Hundred that existed 1,000 years ago.
Revd John Tudor & Charles Tudor: A Brief Account of Turkdean Church, Northleach
(from Gloucestershire Notes and Queries, Vol X – No 89, October, 1913)
This report by Turkdean’s Vicar (1881-1902) and his architect cousin, sets out the details of the refurbishment programme that they undertook in 1897/8 and summarises their conclusions about the churches’ prior construction and alteration.