09 April 2022
Wolverton is one of the four towns incorporated into Milton Keynes – along with Stony Stratford, Bletchley and Fenny Stratford – in 1967. But Wolverton developed long before the planning of Milton Keynes with the development of the railway.
Wolverton was established in 1838 as the site of the locomotive repair shop at the midpoint of the world’s first trunk railway, the London and Birmingham Railway, then being built. The London and Birmingham became part of the London and North Western Railway in 1846.
Earlier this week, I visited the Church of Saint George the Martyr in Wolverton, said to be the world’s first railway church, built by the railway company.
Saint George’s was built in 1843 as the District Church of Saint George the Martyr, Wolverton Station. The church was built to provide a place of worship for the inhabitants of the new company town and was paid for by the railway company, with the help of the Radcliffe Trust.
So, Saint George’s can claim to be the world’s first railway town church – beating Saint Mark’s, Swindon, into second place.
The new church was designed by the Irish-born architect Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880), who worked mainly in the Gothic style.
The Wyatt family, originating in Weeford near Lichfield, were a significant architectural dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Thomas Wyatt, who had a prolific and distinguished career as an architect, was born in Loughglin House, Co Roscommon. He was President of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1870-1873, and his works in Ireland include 1865 Saint Michael and All Angels Church, Abbeyleix (1865), and Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (1867).
He enlarged and altered Saint Mary’s, the Church of Ireland parish church in Gowran, Co Kilkenny. He reported on the completion of the restoration of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. He also worked on several country houses in Ireland, including Abbeyleix, Co Laois, for Lord de Vesci, Ramsfort, Co Wexford, for the Ram family, Lissadell, Co Sligo, for the Gore-Booth family, and Palmerstown House, Co Kildare for the de Burgh family.
Saint George’s Church in Wolverton was built in local Cosgrove limestone, with dressings of red sandstone from Hollington, Staffordshire. It originally consisted of a nave and small chancel, with lancet windows in the Early English style.
The landmark feature of the church is the tower at the north-east corner of the nave, housing one bell and a porch. This is the only church tower with a spire in Milton Keynes.
When the Revd FW Harnett was rector, plans were drawn up to enlarge the church to meet the demands of a growing congregation and a much larger town. His son, the Revd WL Harnett, put forward designs by J Oldrid Scott to increase the church capacity in 1895.
The work involved mainly the addition of north and south aisles to the nave in the form of a pair of transepts or double transepts as they were called in the plans, a large clergy vestry on the north side of the chancel, and an organ chamber on the south side. Blue Forest of Dean stone, soft blue-grey in colour, was used for the piers of the new nave arcades, and the work was completed by Easter 1896.
The final enlargement of the church was undertaken in 1902, when the east wall of the chancel was taken down to enlarge it by 12 ft, and the original three-light east window was replaced by a five-light window with new stained glass.
The original, more brightly coloured and better designed stained glass, of medallions of the Life of Christ in 13th century style, was mostly re-used in the side windows of the chancel. There are fine stained glass figures by Henry Holiday depicting Faith Hope and Charity, and Christ, in the double transept windows.
The congregation of Saint George’s has an open, dynamic and innovative outlook towards liturgy and worship, although rooted in the central Anglican tradition. The music ranges from old and modern hymns to worship songs played by the worship band, Church Street Band.
The two churches in Wolverton, Saint George’s and Holy Trinity Church, form one benefice with the Revd Gill Barrow-Jones as the Rector.
This parish on the northern edge of Milton Keynes includes Wolverton, a town made up primarily of Victorian houses, from large detached houses to terraced rows.
New building in the area has seen the development of Wolverton Park and a new railway station offers commuters easy links to London and Birmingham.
We are at the end of what is often known as Passion Week, and tomorrow is Palm Sunday. Before today day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (9 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 7, Jesus falls for the second time:
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 Seventh Station in the Stations of the Cross has a traditional description such as ‘Jesus falls for the second time.’ Although Simon of Cyrene has come to help Jesus carry his cross, although Veronica has sought to sooth his brow, Jesus falls beneath the weight of his cross a second time.
In Station VII in Clonard, Jesus seems to seek to break his fall by holding his hand towards a rock on his path. In Station VII in Stony Stratford, Simon is seen trying to lift the cross with both hands with dignity as Jesus stumbles and falls on the city streets; he is no reluctant conscript but actively trying to share Christ’s burden.
So often, I have felt I am a broken and fallen man. In the past, at times, the Church had an appalling record for how it treated people regarded as ‘fallen.’ Instead of helping many women in distress, it has condemned them to the Magdalene laundries, and often conspired in the inhumane treatment of their children.
But the Church has also responded with both hands to people who have fallen to the bottom of the system because of political, economic and social policies.
I pray this morning for people from the churches who are working together throughout Europe with refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, the families, neighbours and friends those refugees have left behind, and those who have fallen victims of this appalling war.
John 11: 45-57 (NRSVA):
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’ 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! 50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. 53 So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
54 Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.
55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
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 (9 April 2022, Saints, Martyrs and Missionaries of South America), invites us to pray:
We give thanks for the saints, martyrs and missionaries of South America. Let us continue to work with partners in South America to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
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