07 April 2022

Edward Swinfen Harris,
the architect who left his
mark on Stoney Stratford

Saint Mary’s School, now the Old School House, remains one of the most visible designs by Edward Swinfen Harris in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Stony Stratford has suffered two great fires. The sundial on the house at No 40 Church Street bears a Latin inscription from 1739 that translates, ‘Time and Fire Destroy All Things.’ The bigger fire in 1742 destroyed 146 buildings, and even crossed the River Great Ouse, burning houses in Old Stratford.

The fires destroyed most of the town’s mediaeval buildings. But the coaching era introduced new prosperity that enabled much of the building now standing on High Street today.

The other great influence on the architectural legacy of Stony Stratford was the locally-born architect Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), whose works, mainly in the Arts and Crafts style, can be seen throughout the town.

Swinfen Harris returned to Stony Stratford in 1868 to make additions to the vicarage of Wolverton Saint Mary on London Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Swinfen Harris was a distinguished architect with a national reputation. The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, best known for his monumental 46-volume series of county-by-county guides, describes him as ‘the only outstanding local architect working in’ north Buckinghamshire.

Swinfen Harris worked in London as well as Stony Stratford, and many of the fine houses he designed in North Buckinghamshire are still standing today, with surviving buildings also in Dorset and Northamptonshire.

He was born on 30 July 1841 at 36 High Street, Stony Stratford. His father was the clerk to the town bench of magistrates, the Board of Guardians and other bodies, and Edward was the eldest son. The family later moved to Back Lane. He began his formal education when he was 11 at the Belvedere Academy at Old Stratford, and then went to Ullathorpe House School in Leicestershire as a boarder.

He was apprenticed to the book trade around 1858, and was articled then to an architect in London. On completing his apprenticeship, he shared an office in London with two friends, but he returned to Stony Stratford in 1868 to make additions to the vicarage of Wolverton Saint Mary on London Road, Stony Stratford, and also to Calverton Limes.

The Swinfen Harris Church Hall on London Road was built by Swinfen Harris in 1892 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin on London Road was designed in 1863-1865 in the Gothic style by Sir George Gilbert Scott and was then in Wolverton Parish.

The John Radcliffe Trust bought a parcel of land on London Road for use as a cemetery for the new-built church in 1870. Swinfen Harris was commissioned to design and build the London Road Cemetery, also known as Galley Hill Cemetery, and the first burial was recorded in 1871.

The Lychgate and Ecclesiastical Cross designed by Swinfen Harris have been restored in recent years.

Swinfen Harris was commissioned to design and build the London Road Cemetery, including the Lychgate and Ecclesiastical Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

After his marriage in 1870, Swinfen Harris settled in Stony Stratford at a new house at 15 Wolverton Road. In this period, he designed the house at 19 Wolverton Road for Dr McGuire.

In the following years, Swinfen Harris was involved in ecclesiastical architecture, restoring many churches. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and travelled extensively in Europe to study architecture.

In his professional life, he was the county surveyor of North Buckinghamshire. After the Education Act was passed, he built a number of local schools.

His schools include Saint Mary’s School, on the corner of Wolverton Road and London Road. The Radcliffe Trust donated the site to build Wolverton End School and School House in 1867, and the church school for the poor, designed by Swinfen Harris, was built in 1871-1873. The school was financed by Mrs Russell of Beachampton, and over 280 pupils attended in the early 1890s.

The school became the Plough Inn in 1937, and has recently been refurbished and renamed The Old School House. It remains one of the most visible of Swinfen Harris’s designs in Stony Stratford.

He restored and decorated All Saints’ Church in Calverton 1871-1872 and restored and extended the Old Rectory in Great Linford in the Arts and Crafts style in 1878.

The Retreat alms-houses in Stony Stratford were designed by Swinfen Harris in the Queen Anne revival style in 1892 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, then known as Saint Giles Church, was restored in 1876-1878 by Swinfen Harris, who put new tracery in the windows and added the north and south galleries. He also added the north vestries in 1891.

A year later, in 1892, he commissioned stained-glass windows in the church by Nathaniel Westlake, one of the best stained-glass artists of the time, to commemorate his parents.

The Swinfen Harris Church Hall on London was built in 1892 by Swinfen Harris as the Parish Hall for Saint Mary the Virgin Church on London Road.

The church and hall are now owned by the Greek Orthodox Community of Milton Keynes and have undergone extensive restoration.

Swinfen Harris built Rothenburg House at 107 High Street as his family home in 1892 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The inscription over the door of Rothenburg House, ‘Nisi Dominus’, quotes the opening words of Psalm 127 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Retreat alms-houses in Stony Stratford form a group of three cottages off High Street designed by Swinfen Harris in the Queen Anne revival style in 1892. They are built in limestone and brick and are listed Grade II buildings.

Swinfen Harris also built Rothenburg House at 107 High Street as his family home in 1892. Now a Grade II listed building, it was designed in his highly individual style. The inscription over the door, Nisi Dominus, quotes the opening words of Psalm 127: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.’

Swinfen Harris retired in 1914 and died on 30 May 1924.

Swinfen’s Yard, in the middle of Stony Stratford, includes individual, specialist shops under a covered courtyard, with offices on the upper floors. It is named in honour of Edward Swinfen Harris.

Edward Swinfen Harris was born on 30 July 1841 at 36 High Street, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying at the Stations of the Cross in
Lent 2022: 7 April 2022 (Station 5)

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross … Station 5 in the Stations of the Cross in the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

We are in the middle of what is often known as Passion Week. Before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning (7 April 2022) for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I have been reflecting on the Psalms each morning. But during these two weeks of Passiontide, Passion Week and Holy Week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on the Stations of the Cross, illustrated by images in the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, Wexford, and the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the lectionary adapted in the Church of Ireland;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Station 5, Jesus Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross:

In an unusual arrangement, the Stations of the Cross in the church in Clonard are set in the curved outer wall of the church in 14 windows designed by Gillian Deeny of Wicklow. In her windows, she emphasises the role of women in the Passion story.

Her windows were made in association with Abbey Glass, where she worked with the cut-out shapes of coloured glass, the pigment being a mixture of lead oxide, ground glass and colour. Each window is signed by the artist.

The Stations of the Cross on the north and south walls of the nave in Stoney Stratford were donated in memory of John Dunstan (1924-1988).

The Fifth Station in the Stations of the Cross has a traditional description such as ‘Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross.’ Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in three of the four Gospels as the man forced by the Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry his cross. He was from Cyrene in north Africa. But was he a black African, or was he like so many others there who were of Greek, Roman or Jewish descent?

Whether Simon was a Jew or a Gentile is perhaps irrelevant. His action reminds me of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations,’ an honour used to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

The term originates with the concept of righteous gentiles, a term used in rabbinic literature to describe non-Jews (ger toshav) who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah.

The Righteous are defined as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Only a Jewish party can make a nomination. Helping a family member or a Jew convert to Christianity is not a criterion for recognition. Assistance has to be repeated and substantial, and it has to be given without any expected financial gain.

The largest number of Righteous is from Poland (6,706). Mary Elizabeth Elmes (1908-2002) from Cork was the first Irish person to be honoured among the Righteous by Yad Vashem. She saved at least 200 Jewish children under the age of 12 by smuggling them over the border between France and Spain in the boot of her car. There is also an application for another Irish person, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who rescued 6,500 Prisoners of War and Jews in Rome.

The Righteous are honoured with a feast day in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the US (16 July), and a Righteous from Italy, Edward Focherini, was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 2013.

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross … Station 6 in the Stations of the Cross in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

John 8: 51-59 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 51 ‘Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ 52 The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ 54 Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, 55 though you do not know him. But I know him; if I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ 57 Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ 58 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.’

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Meeting the Invisible.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana Do Brasil. The prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (Thursday 7 April 2022, World Health Day), invites us to pray:

Let us pray for healthcare workers, nurses and doctors. May they be guided by the Holy Spirit in all they say and do.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org