Newbottle church has been here since well before the year 1200. When it was first built, probably by the Lord of the Manor, close to his Manor House, Newbottle Village was the largest settlement in its area. Charlton, to the south was little more than a hamlet, and Purston, to the north though part of Newbottle Parish, was, and still is, a detatched and self-sufficient manor. Through the middle ages both Charlton an Purston had chapels-of-ease, served from Newbottle, but both of these disappeared without trace.
Over the centuries the owners of Newbottle Manor, either for profit or for privacy, gradually divested the manor of villagers. Charlton corresondingly grew in population and independence. Purston stayed little changed.
Newbottle itself now has no more than seven dwellings, Charlton has two hundred or so, enough to give the church an active congregation. St. James' Church had its own vicars until 1959, though throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there were frequently absentees and employed assistant curates to serve the church. Two vicars were also incumbents of the much larger village of King's Sutton.
There is a tradtion that one indigent curate of Newbottle, sometime around 1750, was the Reverend John Moore who in 1783 became Archbishop of Canterbury, while here he was befriended by Mr Watts of Brackley; later, when Mr Watts had fallen into want, and Moore had prospered, he paid Mr Watts, and then his widow, a pension until the end of thier lives.... For five years from 1959, the church was served from Croughton: for twenty-four more the benefice was united with Aynho: now, since 1988 it has been united with King's Sutton. There is a service every Sunday at 9.30 am
The tower, and probably the font, is all that remain from the pre-1200 building. From its size and rubble stone construction, it was obviously part of a not-very-grand church. Sometime between 1147 and 1167 William de Pinu, Lord of the Manor, and probably builder of the first church, assigned it to the Priory of Dunstable in Bedfordshire which, from then on, as corporate rectory of the church, appointed vicars to serve on their behalf.
Within about one hundred years all except the tower was demolished and rebuilt on a larger scale, to, as far as can be seen, the same dimensions that we see now. Notice that the southern arcade in the naive is plainly older and less skilfully built than the northern. What probably happened was that the northern arcade became unsafe or collapsed and had to be rebuilt in the fourteenth century, in a very much more elegant style, while the southern one remains as it was first built. The naive windows are all much later than the main structure. The originals may have been more like early English lancet windows in the chancel, which would have resulted in a rather dark building.
About the year 1500 Newbottle Manor was rebuilt, and the older windows in the naive are very similar to those in the manor house, and so may have been inserted at the same time. Others are later, and the big stained glass window in the south aisle is twentieth century work. The stonework of the chancel lancet windows has mostly been renewed, but otherwise they seem to be original. The small square headed window behind the priest's desk (c16?) seems to have been needed to lighten a dark area.
The church has a little in the way of mediaeval memorials or furnishings, though the low blind arch in the wall of the south aisle (now containing only a radiator) is probably all that remains of an early burial memorial.
Most of the families who owned the manor -de Greys, Wubrahams, and the Earls of Thanet, were large landowners with other estates and other churches for thier memorials. The Thanet memorials are all in Raynham in Kent.
There is a good sixteenth century brass in the north wall of the sanctuary to Peter Dormer, successor to Sir Michael Dormer of Purston, who bought the advowson of the church and the rectorial tithes when Dunstable Priory was dissolved in the time of Henry VIII.
The Dormers were followed at Purston in the seventeenth century by the Creswells, in whose time Purston Manor was rebuilt. The large memorial to John Creswell and his wife in the south aisle were once larger. It stood where the organ is now, and had a grand architectural surround with marble pillars and pediment. John Creswell was a man of fiery temper who, having produced a series of daugthers, was so disgusted when yet another was born, that he threw the child down
the stairs, killing her. This is said to be the reason for the baby angel in the monument. Creswell fought as a cavalier in the Civil War and eventually died fighting a duel. Other wall tablets and large slate tables in the floor are also Creswell memorials.
The space around the big memorial was the Purston Manor family pew. An aumbry in the wall beside it is evidence that a second alter may have originally stood there.
There was a large scale restoration of the church in 1856, when the present pews and the choir stalls were put in.
Before then there was no choir stalls or priest's desk in the chancel. The front of the church was filled with two large pews. Two, in the chancel, went with the manor. No less than four belonged to Purston, one to Charlton Lodge, one to Astrop, (between Newbottle and King's Sutton), one to the vicarage, and two more at the back to Charlton farmers.
The rest were open benches, some reserved for the servants of the big house, the rest free.
The new pews have been badly infested by woodworm. That is now under control, but the same could not be said of the roof timbers which were in soft wood and by the 1970s were in a perilous condition. They may have dated from the 1956 restoration. In 1974 the parish had raised enough money to re-roof the chancel with new oak timbers, and in 1984, with the help of a 50% grant from the Department of the Environment, the whole of the rest of church was similarly re-roofed.
The architect, Mr John Morris, was awarded the King of Prussia's Medal for this work, which is very fine. The naive roof is unusual in that one single slope covers both naive and side aisle. Whether this was the original design, or whether there was once a low clerestory, removed in one of the many restorations which have taken place over the centuries, is now impossible to say.
Most mediaeval English churches had a stairway leading to the top of the roodscreen, from which it was customary to read the gospel at Mass. While the majority have now been blocked or removed, that at Newbottle is still complete. The present screen, however, which does contain some mediaeval tracery, has been remade too low to serve this purpose.
The oak pulpit is dated 1584, with initials F.B.V. Before the reordering of the church the priest's reading desk stood below it, with the Clerk's desk in front of that, in the traditional three deck manner.
A new War Memorial was dedicated on 20th July 2003 by the Archdeacon of Northampton, The venerable Michael Chapman.
The churchyard has been closed for burials throughout this century, and a new burial ground at Charlton was given in 1903 by T.L.M. Catrwright of Newbottle Manor. It is connected to the church by a tarmac path, so that a bier can be wheeled directly from the church to the graveside. It is also the direct route to church for foot passengers from Charlton. The churchyard grass, which in early spring is a mass of first, snowdrops and then daffodils, is kept short by grazing sheep, and the part behind the church is mowed once a year as a nature reserve.
On the porch there is a sundial dated 1764. It was restored and accurately aligned in 1975 as a memorial to Mary Harper of Charlton.
Newbottle churchyard has been cared for as a nature reserve for the past 10 years. It is particularly well suited to this purpose as the last burials took place in the churhyard over 90 years ago, which means that there is no cnflict between the interests of conservation and those people tending recent graves.
Management of the churchyard follows a regular pattern. The are is divided into front and rear sections. The Back part has, up to now, been left completelt wild until July when the grass is cut. This means that in the early part of the year there is rough undergrowth, nettles and long grass, encouraging the breeding of butterflies and small birds.
We are now experimenting with cutting certain areas of the churchyard at different times of the year. The front area, which is divided naturally by the church path, is left until May when the primroses and daffodils have finished flowering. It is then grazed throughout the summer by sheep, which are moved from one side to the other as the grass grows.
This means that one side of the front area has shorter grass than the other, allowing for a variety of plants.
Since this scheme of management started, the number of plants recorded has increased, for instance, cowslips have returned to the churchyard for the first time for many years.
Largely owing to the closeness of Nursery Wood, many bird species are seen in the churchyard during the year and nesting boxes have been placed there. One of the interesting features of the churchyard is the wide variety of lichen found on the walls and grave stones. 91 different species have been recorded; a high total.
These include some great rarities including one first recorded for the British mainland, the only other example in the British Isles being on Connemera.
No survey of insects and butterflies in the churchyard has been made. It is hoped to do this in the future.