Thomas Combe, Printer to the University, in 1869, paid for St Barnabas Church to be built, to serve the spiritual needs of the growing population in the area brought in to work at Oxford University Press, the Eagle Ironworks (Lucys), the railway and canal. An Anglo-Catholic, Thomas and his wife Martha, were early patrons of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and supporters of the Oxford Movement formed in reaction to perceived laxity and liberalism in the Church of England. St Barnabas is still high Anglican today.
The architect of the church was Sir Arthur Blomfield, who had previously designed St Luke’s Chapel at the Radcliffe Infirmary for Thomas Combe. Blomfield and Combe were both of the view that an Italianate early basilica plan should be the model for St. Barnabas. The church bell tower, or campanile, is an impressive feature in the Oxford skyline. Constructed in two stages, the lowest storey was built in1869 at the same time as the rest of the church and is used as a vestry. The campanile was completed in 1872 and originally had a steeply-pitched pyramidal roof which was removed in 1965 and a new roof of copper, with a much lower pitch, constructed. This alteration reduced the height of the tower from its original 130 feet to about 115 feet (some 35 metres). A set of tubular bells and the clock were installed in 1890. Extensive restoration of the whole structure of the campanile was carried out in 1996 after a very successful appeal to raise the necessary funds. A Blue Plaque commemorating Thomas and Martha Combe was fixed to the tower in 2007.