Thursday, 5 May 2022

Saint Peter and Saint Paul
in Newport Pagnell is like
a cathedral in its dimensions

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Newport Pagnell stands above the valleys of two rivers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Newport Pagnell earlier this week, seeking the Comberford family links with Tickford, I also visited the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the parish church of Newport Pagnell, one of the towns that have been incorporated into Milton Keynes.

Whether Newport Pagnell is approached from either north or south, there are fine views of the church, which is cathedral-like in its location and dimensions. The church is a Grade 1 listed building and stands above the valleys of two rivers – the Great Ouse and the Ousel or Lovat.

At the time of the Norman Conquest, the town was known simply as Newport. In the reign of William Rufus, the owner of the Manor, Fulk Paganel, added his name to the name of the town. Newport was originally in the Diocese of Dorchester under Saint Birinus, and it was transferred to the Diocese of Lincoln in 1072. The town has been part of the deanery to which it gives its name since the 13th century.

Inside the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Newport Pagnell, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Fulk Paganel founded Saint Mary’s Priory in Tickford, and in 1100 Fulk Pagnell and his wife Beatrix gave Newport Church to the Prior and monks of Tickford, together with a ‘hide of land in the Field of Newport.’

At the time, the church in Newport Pagnell was probably a simple structure, with a nave and chancel.

The church was rebuilt in its present form ca 1350, with north and south aisles and porches but without a tower. Later, the church had a cruciform shape, with a nave, central tower and transepts. The North Porch, one of the earliest parts of the Church, dates from ca 1350. The South Porch dates from the same period and was restored in 1951.

The tower was destroyed in the 14th century, and records show a new tower was built on to the west of the nave in 1542-1548. The chancel was also rebuilt in the early 16th century.

Inside the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Newport Pagnell, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Meanwhile, Tickford Priory was dissolved by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524, and much of its endowment was given to Christ Church, Oxford.

During the great restoration of the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in 1827, the whole of the South Aisle was rebuilt and the pinnacles and battlements were added to the tower and the roof. The tower is of three stages, strengthened by clasping buttresses, and is surmounted by an embattled parapet with pinnacles at the angles and at the centre of each face.

New vestries were built onto the north-east corner of the church in 1905, and there was extensive restoration of the tower in 1972-1973 and of the exterior stonework and roof in 1989-1993.

The font is a copy of the Norman one in Aylesbury Parish Church.

The chancel, high altar and East Window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The west doorway has a pointed head and continuous mouldings. Above it is a four-light window with modern tracery under a four-centred head. Access to the upper stages is provided by a doorway on the east side of the tower leading from the nave roof. The tower being is reached by the turret stairway at the south-east of the nave.

The bell chamber is lit on each side by two tall windows, each of two trefoiled lights under a pointed head. All this work has been considerably restored, and the parapet and pinnacles are modern.

There are eight bells, a small bell by Anthony Chandler, inscribed ‘AC 1671,’ and a clock bell, added with the chiming apparatus in 1887. Five of the ring were recast in 1749 by Thomas Lester of London, one was added in 1769, one in 1816, and one in 1819, but the whole ring was again recast in 1911.

The roof was found to be badly damaged by the death-watch beetle in 1934 and had to be rebuilt. Some of the wooden figures supporting the main beam can be identified as apostles. The roof was decorated during 1967 when the interior of the building was cleaned and redecorated. The clerestory was built in the 15th century.

Looking out onto the world … the North Porch dates from ca 1350 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The threefold sedilia, now in the south aisle, dates from the early 14th century, and was probably originally in the chancel.

Above the sedilia is a marble wall memorial to John Revis, who built and endowed the row of almshouses north-east of the church in 1763. The brass figure of the civilian fixed to the turret door dates from 1440.

The chancel screen was erected in 1870. The pulpit was given in 1871, and the modern oak lectern dates from 1933.

The baptismal font is a copy of the Norman font in Aylesbury Parish Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

There are references to various altars in the church before the Reformation. However, it was not until 1933 that the present Lady Chapel was restored in the south aisle, and the Chapel of the Transfiguration in the north aisle in the following year. These chapels were refurbished with oak flooring and new Communion Rails in 1957-1958.

Galleries, dating from 1710, were removed in 1926, when electric light was installed. Two standard candlesticks were made from the old timbers and are used for the Pascal Candles. Rewiring and new lights were installed in 1959-1960.

The chancel was newly roofed and paved in marble in 1894. There is a piscina on the South wall, by the High Altar, and the memorial slab on the opposite wall dates from the 17th century, commemorates Sir Richard Adkins, descended from Dr Henry Adkins, the Royal Physician who owned the Tickford Abbey Estate.

A four-light window in the south aisle, attributed to George Edmund Street and Alexander Gibbs (1860), shows (from left) Moses and the Brazen Serpent, Christ healing the lame man at Bethesda, Christ healing the man born blind, and the Good Samaritan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The rerdos, given in 1894, consists of three hand-painted panels. The original organ, built in 1665, was replaced in 1867 with a Henry Willis instrument, which was enlarged in 1905.

No ancient stained glass survives in the Church, but the West Window in the tower is a memorial to Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873), first Bishop of Oxford (1845-1869).

The parish registers, dating back to 1558, are now held in the Buckinghamshire County Archives at Aylesbury. A list of Vicars dates from the 13th century, when the first vicar, Henry, took office in 1236.

A three-light window in the south aisle attributed to Alexander Gibbs (1862), depicts the Adoration of the Magi, Christ’s Charge to Saint Peter and Christ Blessing the Children (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Newport was moved in 1845 to the Diocese of Oxford, where it still remains.

Today, the Benefice of Newport Pagnell with Lathbury and Moulsoe is a group of four inclusive and individual Anglican churches in Newport Pagnell and the villages of Lathbury and Moulsoe. Each church and congregation in the benefice is different but friendly and welcoming.

The Rector of Newport Pagnell, the Revd Nick Evans has been ordained for 35 years. He trained at Queen’s College, Birmingham, and his first curacy was in the Diocese of Hereford. Since then, he has served in the London, Guildford and Birmingham dioceses, taught RE in school and was an army chaplain with tours in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. He has been involved in Christian Healing Ministry.

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the parish church of Newport Pagnell, is part of the Benefice of Newport Pagnell with Lathbury and Moulsoe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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