Iffley is a village in Oxfordshire, England, within the boundaries of the city of Oxford, between Cowley and the estates of Rose Hill and Donnington, and in proximity to the River Thames (Isis). Its most notable feature is its original and largely unchanged Norman church, St Mary the Virgin, which has a modern stained glass Nativity window designed by John Piper. The church is listed Grade I.
"In the chronicles of Abingdon Abbey (AD 941 – 946) the place is called Gifteleia. The Domesday Book of 1086 it is Givetelei. Merton College records in the 1290s call it Iftele and Yiftele; it is Yeftley to the civil servants writing up the Domesday of Inclosures, in Latin, in 1517 – 18; Lincoln College accounts, written less formally and in English, have Ifley by 1543, and it is Iffley or Iflie during the Civil War 1642 – 46. Clearly, the sound of the name — at a time when spoken forms were dominant — was fixed by then. Afterwards the Y survived in occasional use, but only lawyers bothered with the T..."
The ending of the name of this village near Oxford, means "cleared ground": the Old English term for that was "ley" — just up the road from modern Iffley, the town of Cowley also preserves the Old English ending and meaning in its name.
No records of the foundation of Iffley have been found: an estimate of the date is about AD 1000–1050. The reason for the founding is clear from the location: Iffley has a little hill, and so is the first place downriver from Oxford from which traffic on the Thames might be surveyed, and controlled — and where people might be safe from floods:
"It is likely that the hill, running to 295 ft, now known as Rose Hill and Iffley, was a desirable place to live, safe from any floods. Many other villages, above and below, are set back from the river to cater for floods."
During the 12th century Oxford townsmen built a watermill at Iffley, which was bought by Lincoln College, Oxford in 1445: the mill burned in 1908, having survived for nearly 800 years. Products ground at the Iffley mill included malt, barley, corn, and other cereals — for a brief time during the 15th century it was a fulling mill. The mill,
"…was notorious for its arguments between bargees and millers, who being in possession of the lock, whether it was a flash or pound lock, could preserve their head of water, and not let it flow down river, by opening the gates, as long as they wished."
In 1156 Iffley was among the holdings of the Norman family of St. Remy, until about 1200. They established Iffley as a parish, and built the parish church, "in size and decorative splendour out of all proportion to the place". The manor was owned by many, thereafter. The Archdeacons of Oxford were given the right to appoint the parish priest in 1279: they held this until 1965, when the power was given to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford.