25 May 2022

An evening walk to Saint Andrew’s
Church, Great Linford, a church
with Saxon foundations

Saint Andrew’s Church in Great Linford, one of the ancient churches in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Late one evening, as darkness was beginning to close in around Milton Keynes, two of us had a late lunch in the Black Horse in Great Linford and then walked along a stretch of the Grand Union Canal to Saint Andrew’s Church, Great Linford, one of the ancient churches in Milton Keynes.

Saint Andrew’s Church is the only place in Milton Keynes where definitive in situ evidence of late Saxon occupation has been discovered. Nestling in the north-west corner of the grounds of Great Linford Manor Park, in the grounds of a 17th century manor house built by the Pritchard family, Saint Andrew’s has seen many changes and modifications over the centuries.

The name Linforde, which appears in the Domesday Book in 1086, refers to an area with two settlements on each bank of the River Ouse. The name Linford probably refers to the point of the river crossing where there were lime or linden trees. By the 13th century, these two settlements were in separate parishes, known as Little Linford to the north of the river and Great Linford to the south.

Excavations beneath the nave suggest a late Saxon or very early Norman church stood on this site, with a simple nave and small chancel. At some time in the 12th century, the present church tower was abutted to the earlier nave and chancel and the westernmost wall of the old nave was demolished. However, the roofline survives within the east face of the tower, within the present nave roof.

Over the following centuries, many other demolitions, extensions and alterations to the fabric of the building can be traced, while the internal fixtures and fittings have also been much repaired and altered to accommodate changing tastes and uses. The church today consists of the tower, nave, chancel, south aisle and porch, north chapel and north porch, along with a recently added vestry.

A section of late mediaeval tile pavement has survived too, and at one point, the church may have had a steeple, and an effigy of a Green Man dates from the mediaeval period.

Saint Andrew’s Church is the only place in Milton Keynes where definitive in situ evidence of late Saxon occupation has been found (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The earliest reference to a chapel at Great Linford appears in a charter dated 1151-1154. The first recorded rector of Saint Andrew’s was Geoffrey (or Galfridus) de Gibbewin in 1215. At the time of his death in 1235 he was insane, although he died not at Great Linford, but at Osney Abbey in Oxfordshire.

The barest hints remain of mediaeval paintings in Saint Andrew’s include a fragment of 13th century red scroll on the exposed parts of the tower arch. When the 18th century wooden panelling on the north wall of the nave was removed, at least three periods of painted decoration were discernible, of which the earliest was a fragment of inscribed scroll that points to the prior existence of a large image.

A fragment found on the west wall of the chancel depicted a series of red and yellow skeletal legs. It is speculated that this would have been an image of the three living and the three dead, intended as an allegorical warning against the emptiness of earthly ranks and riches. Another fragment of a ‘doom painting’ was found on the chancel arch.

The Manor of Great Linford was held by the Butler family of Kilkenny until 1560 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Pipard family held the manor from the 1180s until 1310, and seemed to be engaged in something of a tussle for ownership with the Butler of Ormond after the marriage of John Pipard’s daughter to an Edmund Butler. King Edward II briefly took control of the on the death of Edmund Butler in 1321, and restored the manor to John Pipard in 1323. But by 1328 the Butlers had regained the manor.

James Butler (1420-1461), 5th Earl of Ormond, was a staunch supporter of the House of Lancaster and after the Yorkist victory at Towton, he was beheaded at Newcastle on 1 May 1461. The manor then passed through a number of hands, first to a Richard Middleton and his heirs, then in 1467 to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV and future wife of Henry VII.

She was followed by Gherardo di Bernardo Canigiani, a representative in London of the Medici bank of Florence, which was lending vast sums of money to Edward IV to shore up the crown. When Henry VII became king in 1485, ending the War of the Roses, he annulled the act of attainment against the Butlers, who remained Lords of the Manor until 1560. Between 1322 and 1535, members of the Butler family of Ormond presented no less than 18 rectors of Great Linford.

The Lords of the Manor of Great Linford held the advowson of the parish or the right to nominate the rector until 1560, when Queen Elizabeth I granted it to a William Button and Thomas Escourt from Wiltshire. By 1590, the advowson had been acquired by Edward Kimpton, a London merchant, who appointed the Revd Richard Napier, who was Rector of Great Linford for over 40 years until he died in 1634.

The coat of arms of King Charles II in the church, damaged when the coved ceiling was added in 1707, may date from the 1660s.

Sir William Prichard replaced the mediaeval manor and built the almshouses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The wealthy London merchant Sir William Prichard (or Pritchard) became the new Lord of the Manor in 1678. He knocked down and replaced the mediaeval manor and built the almshouses in the manor grounds. He died in 1705 and was buried in a family vault beneath the church.

His widow Sarah contributed to refurbishing the church in 1707. The mediaeval chancel was demolished and the original material was used to rebuild on the same foundations, while the nave was completely refurbished. The south aisle was also demolished and a new simple narrow replacement built, and the south porch was remodelled. The steeple may have been removed at this time.

The village of Great Linford grew in importance following the construction in 1800 of the Grand Junction Canal and associated wharf to serve Newport Pagnell.

The Revd Christopher Smyth was curate in 1836-1838. Other curates who lived at the Rectory included the Revd Lawson Shan, the Revd Edmund Smyth and his son the Revd William Smyth. The Revd Sidney Herbert Williams played a significant role in the management of Saint Andrew’s School on the High Street.

The Revd William Andrewes Uthwatt (1793-1877) was the titular Lord of Great Linford Manor from 1855, but rarely visited the area, and appointed the Revd Francis Litchfield as rector in 1838. Litchfield was Rector of Great Linford in 1838-1876, but he was an absentee pluralist who lived at Farthinghoe in Northamptonshire. Instead, curates lived in the Rectory in Great Linford.

After the weight of the tower had unsettled the foundations and distorted the tower arch, the church was refurbished in 1884. A new baptismal font was presented to the church by the Clode Family, Mrs Uthwatt gave a new lectern, and a new organ was installed in 1887 by Mr Atterton, of Leighton Buzzard, with an organ recital by Mr B Wilford, of Newport Pagnell.

By 1911, the Uthwatts were no longer living at the Manor House, which was rented to the Mead family. But in 1922, Thomas Andrewes-Uthwatt appointed his son, the Revd Henry Andrewes-Uthwatt, as Rector, and the Uthwatt family continued to present until 1932.

Saint Andrew’s Church has been changed, altered and refurbished over the centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The 12th century tower is the oldest part of the present church. Saint Andrew’s has three good examples of 15th to 17th century brasses commemorating Sir Roger Hunt and his wife Joan, Thomas and Elizabeth Malyn and Anne and John Uvedall. A large white marble monument on the west wall of the north chapel commemorates Sir William Pritchard and a similar one on the east wall recalls Thomas and Catherine Uthwatt, later owners of the manor.

Considerable refurbishment works took place in the early 18th century including rebuilding the chancel, south aisle and porch. The pulpit also dates from 1707. Saint Andrew’s has a full set of six bells made by Joseph Eyre and installed in 1756.

A late medieval timber roof of the King Post type and carved bosses were revealed during the work in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the mediaeval wall paintings were plastered over at the time, the mediaeval stained glass was removed, a small 13th century holy water stoup inside the north door was damaged.

The late 19th century saw the addition of new stained glass, oil lights, furniture, remodelled pews and heating. The large limestone font probably dates from the late 19th century. The most valuable items of church plate are on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Linford Manor is now owned by Pete Winkelman, wchairman of Milton Keynes Dons FC. The former stables and associated gate houses are now an Arts Centre. The former almshouses are not in use, but they are scheduled to be restored.

In response to the changes introduced by the new city of Milton Keynes, Saint Andrew’s was redecorated in 1980, with the addition of a vestry, kitchen and toilet, and the pews were removed and replaced by individual seating. The work was assisted by the Archaeology Unit of Milton Keynes Development Corporation.

Saint Andrew’s Church serves the Great Linford, Giffard Park, Blakelands and Redhouse Park areas. It is one of the six churches in the Stantonbury Ecumenical Partnership in north-east Milton Keynes, which serves the areas of and near Bradwell, New Bradwell, Stantonbury, Great Linford, Downs Barn and Willen.

Ministry at Saint Andrew’s is shared between several lay and ordained ministers, and three licensed ministers look after Saint Andrew’s, sharing pastoral leadership: Canon Chuks Iwuagwu, the Rev David Lewis, a Baptist minister, and Colin Taylor.

Saint Andrew’s is a member of the Quiet Garden Movement that nurtures low cost, accessible, outdoor space for prayer, contemplation, rest and inspiration in a variety of settings. The garden beside the church is always open and on Sundays in August the church is open for afternoon teas from 2 to 5 pm.

Saint Andrew’s Church, Great Linford, is one of six churches in the Stantonbury Ecumenical Partnership in north-east Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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