06 September 2022
Saint Laurence’s Church
has been at the heart of
Winslow since Saxon times
During my recent visits to the small, pretty Buckinghamshire town of Winslow, I have visited Saint Laurence’s Church on each occasion.
Saint Laurence’s Church dominates the west side of the High Street in Winslow, with the war memorial taking up most of the High Street frontage, and the church is reached most easily by a narrow lane off the Market Square.
Although the earliest parts of the church date back to the 14th century, there may have been a centre of Christian worship since the late-eighth century when King Offa of Mercia granted vast estates in Winslow and the surrounding areas to Saint Alban’s Abbey in the year 793.
Saint Laurence’s Church may have been first built as a Saxon foundation that was a minister of the abbey, although the dedication may be an 11th or 12th century Norman naming. The Norman church survives in the heart of this small town, although it has been altered, extended, rebuilt and restored down through the generations and over the centuries.
A tower was added to the church in the first half of the 13th century, and later in that century the first aisles were replaced with aisles that still be seen today. At the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, the south and west doors were enlarged, and by 1320, the church consisted of chancel, nave, and tower with north and south aisles inclosing the tower.
During the 15th century, a number of windows were inserted, the walls of the nave and aisles were heightened, the whole building was reroofed, the great East Window was installed in a style similar to windows in Saint Mary’s, Haddenham, and the chancel arch was rebuilt and the chancel screen replaced.
Some traces of the late mediaeval repainting of the walls can be seen in the remaining traces on the north wall of depictions of the Last Judgment, Saint Christopher and the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket.
The upper part of the tower was rebuilt in the 16th century.
At the Dissolution of the Monastic Houses during the Tudor Reformation, Winslow lost its links with Saint Alban’s Abbey, and Saint Laurence’s Church was stripped of many of its images.
A visit by the archdeacon in 1586 records that the Revd John Dauncey, Vicar of Winslow in 1565-1590 was unable to answer in Latin and was ‘very meanly able to satisfy questions of religion in the English tongue.’
The Revd Robert Mainwaring, Vicar of Winslow in 1597-1648, was buried in the church. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the chancel was repaired, the church was reordered, the bells were recast, the porch roof was restored, the great chandelier was hung in the nave, and a gallery erected under the belfry, and the church acquired a chiming clock and a weathervane with a gilded cockerel.
The chancel was restored again in 1700, the roof releaded, the windows reglazed and the altar raised and enclosed by Robert Lowndes at the same time as he was building Winslow Hall.
The first stained glass was inserted in the windows in 1867.
The church was restored in 1884 by the architect John Oldrid Scott (1841-1913), son of Sir George Gilbert Scott, the chancel aisle was added in 1889, the galleries were removed and the church was completely refitted.
The new reredos was designed by Farmer and Brindley, and an ornate mediaeval piscina was reconstructed alongside the sedilia. Oldrid Scott’s one regret later was that he was not able to add a great screen to fill the chancel arch.
The windows include work by Burlison and Grylls, Charles Eamer Kempe, Heaton Butler and Bayne, Mingaye of Paddington, AK Nicholson and Wippel and Co.
The former Sunday School area was dedicated as a Peace Memorial Chapel in the decades immediately after World War II. The Lady Chapel in the south aisle was rededicated in the 1930s. The panels in the reredos were painted in 2000 by Cherie Rush.
The pulpit, which dates from the early 17th century, is hexagonal in shape and rests on a modern base. Some of the communion plate dates from the mid-16th century. The registers date from 1560.
Many of the old gravestones in the churchyard have been laid flat to form paths and walkways through the churchyard.
Saint Laurence’s Church was designated a grade II* listed building in 1959.
The Sunday Parish Eucharist is celebrated at Saint Laurence’s at 9:30 am, with Evening Prayer or a reflecting Holy Communion at 6 pm on the second and fourth Sundays.
The Winslow Benefice has been vacant since Canon Andrew Lightbown took his last service at Saint Laurence’s Church on Sunday 30 January 2022 before leaving to become a Canon Residentiary at Saint Woolos Cathedral, Newport, in the Diocese of Monmouth.
Saint Alban’s Roman Catholic Parish in Winslow includes the surrounding villages including the Claydons and the Horwoods. It was founded by Franciscan Friars from neighbouring Buckingham, and from 1948 worshipped in a chapel in a wing of Winslow Hall. Since 2016, the parish has worshipped in Saint Laurence’s Church, Winslow.
David J Critchley, The Story of the Church in Winslow (Winslow: Winslow Parochial Church Council, 2001); available in Saint Laurence’s Church, Winslow (£2).