29 January 2023

All Saints Church, Milton Keynes
Village, is one of the largest
and most attractive mediaeval
churches in Buckinghamshire

All Saints’ Church in Milton Keynes Village … one of the largest and most attractive mediaeval churches in Buckinghamshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

All Saints’ Church in Milton Keynes Village – or Middleton, as it is sometimes called – is one of the largest and most attractive mediaeval churches Buckinghamshire, in a forgotten corner hidden in the midst of modern Milton Keynes.

Charlotte and I visited the church last week after celebrating my birthday at lunch in the Swan Inn in Milton Keynes Village, the mediaeval village that has given its name to the new city.

In John Betjeman’s Guide to English Parish Churches (1958), Clive Rouse describes All Saints’ Church as ‘Text book 14th century.’ This attractive church, with its roofs and north tower, is said to be one of the best examples in this area of the Decorated period of architecture.

Little is known of the first church built in Milton Keynes, but it may have been stood at the Saxon burial ground discovered in 1992 close to the old Rectory. On All Saints’ Day 1995, 100 Saxon bodies were reburied in the churchyard at All Saint Saints’ Church.

On All Saints’ Day 1995, 100 Saxon bodies were reburied at All Saint Saints’ Churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

All Saints’ Church was mainly built ca 1330, although the chancel arch remains from an earlier building on the site and dates from ca 1200. All Saints’ Church consists of a chancel, north chapel, north tower and south porch. It is built of stone rubble, faced both internally and externally, and the roofs are covered with tiles.

The layout of the church is unusual, with a chancel offset from the centre-line of the nave so that a chapel could be accommodated on the north side of the church. The tower is also in an unusual position on the north side of the nave.

The earliest-known church on the present site, on the opposite side of Willen Road from the Old Rectory, dates from ca 1200. Most of the glebe land owned by the church was on the east side of the road, beside to the Rectory.

The church was first mentioned in 1221, when Luke de Kaynes presented Ralph de Kaynes to the rectory. This earlier church may have had a north aisle with an arcade of pillars, and when the church was rebuilt it may have been decided to incorporate the aisle into the nave. The only remains of the original structure are the east wall of the nave, the fine chancel arch, and a lancet reset in the south wall of the nave.

The present church dates from an extensive rebuilding ca 1330 by Philip de Aylesbury, then lord of the manor. The nave was widened towards the north and probably lengthened, the chancel enlarged, and the chapel, tower, and porch added.

The three-stage tower of All Saints’ Church is in an unusual position on the north side of the nave (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

An extensive restoration was carried out in 1864 by George Edmund Street, the Oxford Diocesan Architect, with a grant from the Incorporated Society for Buildings and Churches. Street also restored Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at this time. He was sensitive to the decorated period features of the church, and eliminated some of the later alterations to bring it more into line with his ideas of how it would have been ca 1330.

Street’s major changes included the steeply-pitched tile nave roof. The interior was extensively remodelled, the plaster was stripped from the walls, a new floor of contemporary tiles was laid, with wood under the nave seating.

Two of the windows and the straight parapets, which are carried round the church, have been substantially renewed, but otherwise the mediaeval stonework is well-preserved, and the church, with its fine traceried windows, elaborate south doorway and openwork porch, is one of the finest examples of 14th-century architecture in Buckinghamshire.

The east window in the chancel is of three trefoiled lights, with reticulated tracery in a pointed head. On the south are two fine traceried windows, each with two cinquefoil lights, while near the west end of the wall is a two-light low-side window, both lights of which are rebated internally for shutters.

Immediately to the east of the low-side window is a small moulded doorway with a pointed head. A piscina, credence niche, and two sedilia, enclosed in a square head with shields in the spandrels, and divided from each other by circular shafts, form one composition of three bays below the east window on this side. The sedilia are trefoiled and have their seats on different levels. The piscina and credence, which are formed by the subdivision of the east bay by a central shaft, are cinquefoil in shape, and their shafts are carried down below the sills to the level of the seat of the adjacent sedile.

The north side of the chapel, including one of two small low-side openings doors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

On the north side, opening to the chapel, is an arcade of two pointed arches, supported by a circular pillar and filleted responds with moulded capitals and bases. The capitals of the responds were originally enriched by carvings on each side, but these have been cut away. To the east of the arcade is a plain locker recess. The chancel arch, which dates from ca 1200, is acutely pointed, and springs from engaged shafts with moulded bases and water-leaf capitals.

The north chapel was probably founded for a chantry by Philip Aylesbury, who died in 1349, or his grandson John who succeeded him. It was endowed by the Chaworth and Stafford families in the reign of Henry VI, for Masses to be said for the souls of their ancestors in the Aylesbury family. After the Tudor Reformation, the north chapel was converted into a school during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The chapel is lighted from the east by a window of three cinquefoil lights with flowing tracery in an ogee head, and from the north by three windows, two of which are of two cinquefoil lights with graceful tracery in their heads; the remaining window, at the west end of the wall, is a single light.

The two small low-side openings doors near each other in the north wall are most unusual. Between these openings is a moulded doorway with a pointed head.

The nave has three windows in the south wall, two in the north wall, and one in the west wall, all of three lights with tracery in pointed heads. All of these date from the 14th century, with the exception of the west window, where only the jambs are original.

To the west of the two windows on the north is a doorway similar to that in the chapel, and at the east end of the north wall is a pointed arch, opening to the ground stage of the tower, with moulded responds, the capitals of which are embellished with ball-flower and dog-tooth ornament.

The south porch at All Saints’ Church in Milton Keynes Village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The south doorway is a particularly rich and well-preserved example of 14th-century work. It has an acutely pointed head with continuous mouldings, the inner part of which develops into a large trefoil with sub-cusping. The label is enriched with a running ball-flower ornament and terminates in carved stops. The bases of the jambs have been restored.

The three-stage tower has buttresses and an embattled parapet, and a ring of five bells.

Some memorials on the chancel floor were lost when the floor was retiled, many other furnishings were changed, including the pulpit and font, and quotations from the scriptures were placed on boards over all the windows and archways, although these have since been removed.

A new porch was added outside the north door of the nave in 2019 to house two toilets. This modern addition closely matches the style of the church in its exterior design.

In a field to the west of the church are the remains of a moat and traces of fishponds, probably the site of the ancient manor house and its ponds known as the Pondwykes in 1418. The school at the north end of the village was built in 1859.

The west end of All Saints’ Church in Milton Keynes Village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The advowson descended with the manor, but on the death of Hugh Aylesbury in 1423 the Chaworth and Stafford families divided the advowson between them, each taking alternate turns to present or nominate the rector.

The Stafford family’s interest descended with the manor, and the Chaworth family’s interest descended with the Manor of Drayton Beauchamp until ca 1543, when it was held by the Revd Thomas Dynham and his cousin the Revd Thomas Babington.

The Revd Francis Babington, who was the Rector of Milton Keynes in 1559-1565, appears to have been a son of Humphrey Babington (1489-1544) and his wife Eleanor Beaumont; she was a co-heir with her sisters Dorothy who married Humphrey Comberford and Jane who married William Babington of Teremore.

Francis Babington was also Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and Master of Balliol College, Oxford (1559-1560), but he was forced to flee overseas because of his Catholic sympathies and died in exile ca 1569.

The Revd Louis Atterbury (1631-1693) was the Rector of Milton Keynes during the Civil War and Commonwealth period, and remained in office after the Restoration (1657-1693). He drowned in Broughton Brook on the night of 7 December 1693 in suspicious circumstances while he was returning from a meeting in London with his lawyers to discuss a land dispute with the Finches, Lords of the Manor.

Lewis Atterbury’s son, Francis Atterbury (1663-1732), was born in the rectory in Milton Keynes and later became Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Rochester. Bishop Atterbury was arrested in 1722 during the so-called ‘Atterbury Plot’ by Jacobites. He protested his innocence, and may have been the victim of his High Church sympathies. He died in exile in Paris, but was brought back and buried in Westminster Abbey.

The Queen Anne-style Old Rectory in Milton Keynes Village built in 1696-1711 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Queen Anne-style Old Rectory is a red brick house built in 1696-1711 by the antiquarian, the Revd Dr William Wotton, who was the Rector of Milton Keynes in 1693-1726. The previous rectory was an stone house built around a courtyard.

The Old Rectory is a Grade 2 listed building and remains the largest house in the village. The last rector to live there was the Revd John Franklin Cheyne. It was bought from the Oxford Diocese in the early 1960s, when the gardens were remodelled.

The Old Rectory was eventually acquired by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation and split into four separate apartments that were later sold on. The stone-built garden wall facing Willen Road probably dates from the time of the earlier stone built Rectory and also has Grade 2 listing.

All Saints Church in Milton Keynes Village, along with Saint Mary’s Church, Wavendon, Church Without Walls, Broughton, and Christ the King Church, Kent’s Hill, form the Walton Churches Partnership (WCP), an ecumenical parish created in 1985 in a partnership between the Church of England, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist Church. There are also two redundant church buildings in the area: Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall, and Saint Lawrence’s Church, Broughton.

The Rector is the Revd Matt Trendall, and Sunday services in All Saints are at 11:15.

The village school in Milton Keynes Village was built in 1859 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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