14 November 2022

Saint Michael’s Church,
an old church in the grounds
of the Open University

Saint Michael’s Church, Walton, was restored by the Open University in 1976 and is now used for choir performances and Open University club events (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I was on the campus of the Open University in Milton Keynes for the first time last week, to receive my fourth Covid-19 vaccination in the Michael Young Building.

Wandering around the campus after my vaccination, there was an opportunity to appreciate the modern architecture and sculptures on the campus, to see Walton Hall, which provides the original core of the university buildings, and to visit Saint Michael’s Church, which stands on the Walton Hall campus and was once the former parish church of the village of Walton.

Saint Michael’s Church no longer serves as a parish church. The last church service was held there in 1974. It was restored by the Open University in 1976 and is now used for choir performances and Open University club events.

The present building dates from ca 1350, but a church has stood on this site since the first church here was built in 1189. At this time, the area was walled or fenced, giving it the name Walton. The church was thoroughly restored in 1861 and again in the 1970s.

The church building dates mainly from the 14th century, with a slightly later south porch, and an early 16th century nave roof. It is built of rubble limestone with some greensand stone.

The tower has two stages with greensand-stone quoins, diagonal buttresses and a battlemented parapet. The nave parapet is over a string with corbel heads and the nave and chancel are buttressed between the bays. All the windows have good and varied curvilinear tracery.

The interior of Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall (Photograph © Open University, 2020)

Inside the church are a restored sedilia and a priest’s door on the south wall. The nave has four bays, there is a piscina at the east end of the south wall and a tall plain tower arch. To the north of the chancel arch is a staircase to the rood-loft.

The 14th century octagonal font has been restored and hatchments hang in the nave.

The oldest memorial inside the church has a rhymed inscription and is to 10-year-old Elizabeth Pyxx, who died from plague in 1617. She was probably the daughter of the then Rector of Walton, the Revd William Pyxx.

On the north wall of the chancel is a monument to Bartholomew Beale (died 1660) and Katherine Beale (died 1667), with an inscription, niches, busts, Corinthian columns, an entablature and frieze, a coat of arms and angels’ heads.

There are monuments too to members of the Pinfold family, including Sir Thomas Pinfold, Chancellor of Peterborough.

The church and churchyard contain a number of gravestones and memorials to families that have lived in Walton Hall over the years.

The south porch of Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

When the Open University moved onto the campus the church was dilapidated. The last parish service was held there in 1974. The Open University leased the building and undertook a programme of extensive restoration and the church reopened with a concert in 1978.

The former parish church is now the Open University church and recital room. It is used frequently for Open University clubs, choir rehearsals and performances, exhibitions and other meetings and events.

Several Open University staff members are buried in the churchyard, including the Open University’s first Secretary Anastasios Christodoulou.

Notice the two carved heads over a window on the north wall of Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The name of Walton remains in the Ecumenical Parish of Walton, created in 1985 in a partnership between the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

The partnership is formed from the congregations at three church buildings: All Saints’ Church, Milton Keynes Village, Saint Mary’s Church, Wavendon, and Christ the King Church, Kent’s Hill, which has two congregations (Roman Catholic and Anglican/Free Churches).

The partnership also sponsors Church Without Walls in the Broughton area.

The south side of Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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