THE undiscovered body of a 15th-century nobleman could secure the future of a historic village church.

The final resting place of Francis Lovell, a key ally of Richard III during the War of the Roses, has never been proven, but some believe his remains lie within the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, near Witney.

Community stalwart, Graham Kew, is now urging Historic England to survey the site, which is next to St Kenelm's Church in Minster Lovell.

The church is under threat of closure and recently received £156,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to finance vital roof repairs.

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This grant was provided on the understanding that a visitor centre would be installed inside the building and Mr Kew believes the discovery of the nobleman's remains would boost the church's popularity.

He said: "Finding Francis Lovell could be the salvation of St Kenelm’s Church. A visitor centre at his final resting place would be of international interest.

"We feel he could be very well hidden away in an underground chamber in the ruins, but nobody has ever done a proper dig or excavation."

Minster Lovell Hall was built by Francis's grandfather, William Lovell, in the mid-15th century, with the church rebuilt at the same time.

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The family gave the village its name, while Francis was also named chief butler and constable of Wallingford Castle in the 1480s.

Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and his ally continued the Yorkist resistance, but disappeared during the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487.

Author Steve David, who launched his book on Francis Lovell at the village's Old Swan hotel in May, believes the nobleman returned to his ancestral home in the village and hid from Henry VII.

In the early 1700s, the skeleton of a man thought to be Mr Lovell was found in a secret chamber in the manor house, but its identity was never proven.

Mr Kew remains convinced the remains are in a 'secret chamber' and pointed to the belated discovery of Richard III's remains underneath a Leicester car park in 2012.

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He claims this could transform the fortunes of the Grade I listed church, which has recently struggled to fund its parish share - the amount each parish is required to contribute to the Diocese of Oxford.

A fundraising appeal, called the Friends of St Kenelm's, has been launched, while the visitor centre would be installed in the north transept.

Mr Kew, who lived in Minster Lovell from the age of five but recently moved to Carterton, said: "Like most churches, they're trying to find a way of using it in more ways.

"If they can't raise the money the church would only open for funerals, christenings and baptisms."

A Historic England spokesperson said a survey of Minster Lovell Hall was 'not something the organisation was aware of'.