29 December 2022

A walk through the fields
near Stony Stratford and
Wolverton to Warren Park

Walking in the fields and countryside around Stony Stratford and Wolverton at dusk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light
(– Isaiah 9: 2)

These days after Christmas Day have been relaxing and the days have been dry at times and almost sunny, with weather that has encouraged the two of us to go for walks in the fields and countryside around Stony Stratford and Wolverton.

The Balancing Lake between Wolverton and Stony Stratford is one of a pair of small balancing lakes near Wolverton Mill that connect to the wider Ouse Valley Park. This area was once agricultural land and the balancing lakes were created to help prevent flooding in nearby areas.

The water levels in the balancing lakes can be raised to store water and to reduce the peaks of river flow, a process that reduces flood risk in downstream areas. The lakes are fed and controlled by a complex system of sluice gates and weirs.

The Balancing Lake between Wolverton and Stony Stratford is one of a pair of small balancing lakes near Wolverton Mill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Many older trees still stand in the park, and at dusk their bare branches stood silhouetted against the dark blue skies. They serve as reminders that although we are close to the A5 this was once rich agricultural land before Milton Keynes was created half a century ago.

Walking through the fields and parkland earlier this week, Charlotte and I crossed a fence and found ourselves in Warren Park, on the outskirts of Stony Stratford and Wolverton and about three miles from the centre of Milton Keynes.

Warren Park is a purpose-built campus office development arranged in two courtyards, developed around Warren House and with extensive landscaped grounds incorporating Victorian fishponds.

Modern offices at Warren Park reflected in one of the Victorian fishponds (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

There were six significant farms on the Wolverton Estate in the 19th century: Wolverton House, Wolverton Park, Manor Farm, Stonebridge House, Stacey Bushes and Brick Kiln. Other farms included Debbs Farm, then no more than 90 acres, and later absorbed by the new Warren farm.

The farms on the Wolverton Estate were inherited as family concerns, with sons succeeding fathers as tenants. Thomas Harrison at Wolverton House farmed about 400 acres. After he died in 1809, the house and farm passed to his son Richard Harrison. When Richard Harrison died in 1858, the farm was managed by his widow Grace until 1869, and then by their son Spencer Harrison until 1892.

When Spencer Harrison gave up the farm in 1892, the Radcliffe Trust separated Wolverton House from the farm and rented it as a large country house. Warren Farm was created that year and the trust rebuilt the farmhouse in the field once known as the Warren.

Henry Barrett was the first tenant and he remained at Warren Farm until he died in 1917. The Turney family then took over the tenancy of the farm. They stayed there until 1970 when the entire estate was sold to Milton Keynes Development Corporation.

Warren House or Warren Farm Cottage dates from the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Warren House or Warren Farm Cottage dates from the 18th century. This is a stone-built house that has two storeys at the front or south-west side, and three storeys and an attic at the rear or north-east side.

The south-west front has two widely spaced windows on each floor, with three-light casements and glazing bars, and a closed, stone-built porch that is gabled, with a tile roof. There is a blind window recess above the porch.

The coursed dressed rubble north-east front has a lower floor half-basement. There are four windows with keys on each floor and they have glazing bar sashes. There is one hipped dormer and the house has a steep, old tile roof and two brick chimneys.

The north-east front of Warren House and the lower floor half-basement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today, Warren Park is a purpose-built campus office development, with a mixture of traditional properties and modern buildings. The courts and yards are atmospheric and intimate in their layout and design, with a mix of brick, stone and timber board elevations, all beneath pitched and tiled roofs.

Canon Harnett Close and Canon Harnett Drive leading into Warren Park are named after Canon WHL Harnett resigned as rector of Wolverton in the 1930s after 40 years.

Warren Park has a variety of businesses as tenants. The external landscaped areas include the Victorian fish ponds, and the onsite facilities include post boxes, electric vehicle charging points and a Greek café.

Warren Park is a purpose-built campus office development, with a mixture of traditional properties and modern buildings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

When we arrived at dusk, that part of me that is Greek was disappointed that the Greek Grill Café was closed. But it offers one of many excuses to return soon again and to explore Warren Park further.

We walked back to Galley Hill as dusk turned to evening darkness under a crescent moon and a sky decorated with bright stars.

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned
(– Matthew 4: 16)

Dusk turns to evening darkness in Warren Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying at Christmas through poems
and with USPG: 29 December 2022

Saint Thomas Becket (or Saint William of York?) in the Saint Thomas Window in All Saints’ Church, North Street, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

Today, 29 December, in the Calendar of the Church of England commemorates Saint Thomas Becket (1170), Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr.

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Two plaques on a street corner in London recall Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered on 29 December 1170 (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

This year has marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Waste Land by TS Eliot in 2022. Christmas has a significance throughout Eliot’s work, not only in the Ariel poems, but in his verse play Murder in the Cathedral, where Thomas à Becket preaches his Christmas sermon.

Murder in the Cathedral was first staged in the Chapter House in Canterbury Cathedral over 87 years ago, on 15 June 1935. This verse drama is based on the events leading to the murder in Canterbury Cathedral of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 29 December 1170.

The play was written at the prompting of the Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, a friend of the martyred German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and later one of the key critics of the excesses of violence unleashed in World War II.

The dramatisation in this play of opposition to authority was prophetic at the time, for it was written as fascism was on the rise in Central Europe and Bishop Bell had chosen wisely when he suggested Eliot should write this play.

The play is set in the days leading up to the martyrdom of Thomas Becket at the behest of King Henry II, and the principal focus is on Becket’s internal struggles.

As he reflects on the inevitable martyrdom he faces, his tempters arrive, like characters in a Greek drama, or like Job’s comforters, and they question the archbishop about his plight, echoing in many ways Christ’s temptations in the wilderness when he has been fasting for 40 Days.

The first tempter offers Becket the prospect of physical safety:

The easy man lives to eat the best dinners.
Take a friend’s advice. Leave well alone,
Or your goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone

The second tempter offers him power, riches and fame in serving the king so that he can disarm the powerful and help the poor:

To set down the great, protect the poor,
Beneath the throne of God can man do more?

The third tempter then suggests the archbishop should form an alliance with the barons and seize a chance to resist the king:

For us, Church favour would be an advantage,
Blessing of Pope powerful protection
In the fight for liberty. You, my Lord,
In being with us, would fight a good stroke
At once, for England and for Rome

Finally, the fourth tempter urges Thomas to look to the glory of martyrdom:

You hold the keys of heaven and hell.
Power to bind and loose: bind, Thomas, bind,
King and bishop under your heel

Becket responds to all his tempters and specifically addresses the immoral suggestions of the fourth tempter at the end of the first act:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason

In the saint’s mouth in the interlude in Murder in the Cathedral, Eliot puts Christmas peace in the context of the feast days on the days that follow of the martyrs, Saint Stephen and the Holy Innocents.

The Archbishop preaches in the Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas Morning 1170:

‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’

The fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Dear children of God, my sermon this morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should ponder and meditate the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overborne by mourning, or mourning will be cast out by joy; so it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. ‘But think for a while on the meaning of this word ‘peace.’ Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples ‘My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.’ Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbours, the barons at peace with the King, the householder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember then that He said also, ‘Not as the world gives, give I unto you.’ So then, He gave to His disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord’s Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world’s is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.

I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birth day, to remember what is that Peace which He brought; and because, dear children, I do not think I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Selskar Abbey, Wexford … Henry II is said to have spent Lent 1172 here in penance after the murder of Saint Thomas Becket (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the USPG Christmas Appeal: Journey to Freedom. The Journey to Freedom campaign supports the anti-human trafficking programme of the Diocese of Durgapur in North India.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for human traffickers and all who exploit others for their own gain. May they be brought to justice, have a change of heart and find a righteous path.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Thomas Becket … a 13th century window in Canterbury Cathedral