There was a church here at the date of the Domesday book (1086), but the oldest part of the present building is the western tower, which dates from the twelfth century. The main features of its upper storey are the Norman semi-circular belfry windows. The pointed windows lower down date from about a hundred years later. The present western door (now permanently closed) dates from 1856; before that time there was a large door with a porch.
For many years the church comprised the surviving transitional Norman tower, together with a nave of about the same date, and almost certainly a Norman chancel. During the restoration work in 1849, the foundations of an arch were discovered and the present chancel arch built upon them.
The tower is built of compressed chalk (clunch) and was formerly coated with plaster which concealed the mouldings of the belfry windows. In 1905 the plaster was stripped and the tower repaired. The parapet and battlements were added in the fifteenth century, as well as the brick quoins, which probably replaced the chalk owing to inevitable weathering. The brickwork is almost identical with that used at Bisham Abbey.
More extensive repairs to the tower were carried out in 1962 when special efforts were made to preserve its ancient architectural character - among other parts, the dog-tooth ornament in the belfry windows where it had deteriorated. These repairs were supervised by Robert Hobday, a senior architect with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Inside the church
In the 1870s the north walls of the nave and chancel were removed and a (third) north aisle built, at the expense of Marlow MP Gen. Owen Williams of Temple House (a large mansion built by Thomas Williams 1 mile south of the Abbey, which was destroyed by fire c.1922). This new aisle and its chapel at the eastern end (known as the Williams chapel) were erected in memory of his father, mother and first wife, Fanny, who lie buried in the vault beneath. The General was an intimate friend of the Prince of Wales, who attended Bisham Church when staying at Temple House.
'An ancient round stone font' (presumably Norman) 'fixed on a round pedestal', was recorded in the church in 1718.
A new barrel organ was placed in the church and played for the first time on 15 December. Earlier, music had been provided by instrumentalists.
A new font was presented by George Vansittart and the Revd. Francis Thornton.
During the great flood, the water reached to the pulpit and lectern. The services were held in the Great Hall at the Abbey.
The handsome oak chest near the pulpit was completed. It was carved by the Revd. William Farrer, assisted by Arthur Ellis (who was to be a Churchwarden for 41 years), Alfred Jones and Charles Read, members of a carving class held at Bisham.
The Processional Cross, given by the Revd. John Eddis was carried for the first time on Easter Day.
A large 1913 copy of the Book of Comon Prayer was given to the church by Roger Powell and later beautifully bound in memory of his grandfather, who was vicar there for fifty years in the nineteenth century. The book has since been borrowed for two exhibitions of Mr Powell's work in London.
The oak pews in the Hoby chapel were placed in the nave of the church, and the boarded floor was taken out because of dry rot. This was replaced by contemporary tiles to match those already there. It was at this time that the external door leading to the Hoby Chapel was filled in.
During the incumbency of the Revd. Sidney Hickox, an elaborately carved chair was stolen from the church, but it also acquired two chairs - one given in memory of the Revd. W.B. Farrer, and the other in memory of Mr Basil Bone, who died in 1977. In 2009 a similar chair was presented by the relatives of Valerie Bone, his wife, in her memory; she was a long-time parishioner who had died that year.
The Victorian vicarage by the river was sold and the priest moved into a new house in the village. A few years later, the church was combined with All Saints' Marlow, for administrative purposes, and the Bisham vicar was replaced by the curate from over the river. The church, however, now absorbed into the Archdeaconry of Buckingahmshire, has retained its status as a full parish church. The advowson (the right to appoint the vicar) thus passed out of the hands of the last member of the Vansittart family (Margaret Dickinson).
Bisham church became part of a Team Ministry comprising Marlow (with Marlow Bottom), Little Marlow and Bisham churches, amalgamated into a single parish.
A long deferred plan was realised when cloakroom facilities and a small food preparation area were constructed in the space under the north-west gallery, where an old obsolete boiler had remained in place over a number of decades. This development was financed by parishioners, aided by charitable and other grants.
Text originally compiled by H.A Jones. Revised and supplemented by H. Douglas Sim, Patricia Burstall & John Harper. Image: Robert Frost