04 March 2023

Holy Trinity Church in
Old Wolverton has
survived many changes

Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, is the original parish church of the Saxon settlement of Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

In the last few weeks, I have been in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, on a number of Sunday mornings, alternating with Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church in Stony Stratford, and sometimes walking through the fields and the Buckinghamshire countryside between Stony Stratford and Old Wolverton on the way there or back.

In the past, when I have blogged about Holy Trinity Church, my photographs were only of the outside of the church. But inside this is one of the most impressive and beautiful churches in the Milton Keynes area.

The Church of the Holy Trinity is a Grade II* listed church, incorporating Saxon and mediaeval elements, and it was rebuilt in 1809-1815. This is the original parish church of the Saxon settlement of Wolverton, on a prominent site overlooking the valley of the River Ouse, close to the mound of a Norman motte and bailey castle first built by Manno the Breton.

Manno’s son and successor, Meinfelin, founded the Benedictine priory at Bradwell Abbey on the southern edge of Wolverton in 1157.

Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton is on a prominent site overlooking the valley of the River Ouse, close to the mound of a Norman motte and bailey castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The old mediaeval church in Old Wolverton was much rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries. It consisted of a chancel, central tower, nave, south aisle overlapping the tower, and a south church.

By the early 18th century, the once flourishing village of Wolverton had faded to a mere hamlet, and low and parks of the manor house occupied most of the site of the mediaeval village. In 1713, Sir Edward Longueville sold the manor to Dr John Radcliffe, who died the following year, leaving his estates to trustees for the benefit of the University of Oxford.

The derelict mediaeval manor house in Wolverton was demolished by the Vicar, the Revd Edmund Green, in 1729, and he used the materials to build a new vicarage, later known as Longueville Court and Titch Manor.

The church was in ‘a dilapidated and decayed state’ by the end of 18th century. It was replaced in the early 19th century, and the church rebuilding was undertaken by the Radcliffe Trust.

The new church was designed by the architect Henry Hakewill (1771-1830), who was commissioned by the chair of the Radcliffe trustees, Heneage Finch (1751-1812), 4th Earl of Aylesford.

The old church, except for the tower, was taken down in 1809, and the new church was built entirely to the east of the tower, close to the castle mound, using some of the materials from the old building. The new stonework used sandstone from Attleborough, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, with some similar stone from Bilston, Staffordshire. These stones were brought to a field to the east of the church by barge on the Grand Junction Canal, which had opened recently.

The sanctuary and the chancel in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The new church was completed by Christmas 1814, and the remaining work was finished in 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo. But, in the decades following, with the opening of the new London-Birmingham railway in 1838, the new town of Wolverton Station developed, and later became known simply as Wolverton, and was served by the new parish churches of Saint George, Wolverton, and Saint Mary the Virgin in Wolverton End, Stony Stratford.

Holy Trinity Church now consists of a chancel, nave, two transepts and the 14th century west tower. A new stone font was provided in 1833, and a new stone pulpit, organ and new seating were provided in 1858.

The chancel and nave were redecorated in 1903.

The west door in the tower of Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The rebuilt church was one of the first in Britain to be designed in an historical style, and the first in England to be built in the Norman or Romanesque style, a choice that may have been influenced by Wolverton’s Norman past.

The new church incorporates the 14th century central tower of the old church, although this was re-cased in new masonry as a west tower, a third stage was added, and the pointed arches on the north and south sides of the ground stage, originally intended to communicate with transepts, were blocked.

When the Revd William Pitt Trevelyan and Canon John Wood were the Vicars of Wolverton and Calverton, a new scheme of decoration was embarked on in 1870-1871, at the same time as a similar scheme in All Saints’ Church, Calverton. His aim was to give the interior a more full-blooded character, inspired by mediaeval church interiors. This included brightly coloured woodwork, vivid stained glass windows, and wall paintings with stencilled decorations.

The pulpit in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, decorated with four leading patristic figures (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The co-ordinating architect was Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), an eminent Victorian and Edwardian architect born in Stony Stratford.

The scheme included brightly-decorated woodwork and stonework, wall paintings and vivid stained glass windows, a new altar and reredos, fine new altar frontals and vestments, and polychromatic decorations in the chancel designed by Daniel Bell of Bell and Almond.

Bell also embellished the pulpit in 1877 with four figures representing four Fathers of the Church (Pope Gregory the Great, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine),designed the nave windows, and decorated the west wall with images representing Baptism, with images that include passing through the Red Sea in Exodus and Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer. Swinfen Harris designed a towering oak cover for the font.

The great round East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, dates from 1888 and was designed by Nathaniel Westlake (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The climax of these improvements was the installation of the great round East Window in 1888, with Portland stone tracery of eight lobes round a large central circle. It was designed by Nathaniel Westlake and was made by Lavers and Westlake.

The arches on the tower were completely hidden until 1903, when they were exposed internally. An incised cross has been rebuilt in one of the tower arches and a grotesque head, perhaps of the 12th century, was found in the stair turret. The internal walls of the second stage bear traces of once having a gabled roof.

A large marble monument refixed on the north side of the chancel shows a recumbent effigy of Sir Thomas Longville of Wolverton, second baronet, who died in 1685. This monument shows the coat of arms of Longville impaling Fenwick and impaling Peyton, recalling his two wives.

An angel among the stencils in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A 17th century stool is preserved inside the church, and some old floor slabs with matrices for small brass plates have been relaid outside the south door.

The large west portal of three orders has interlacing arcading above. The tower contains a ring of six bells, all by John Briant of Hertford (1820).

The plate includes a chalice of 1867 made from a cup given in 1686 by Catherine Longville, and a paten and flagon of 1837 given by the trustees of Dr Radcliffe.

The west wall of Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The north and south transepts and the nave have stained glass windows depicting: the Baptism of Christ (north transept, Henry Holiday, James Powell and Sons, 1876); the Resurrection (south transept, 1870); the Supper at Emmaus (south nave, Daniel Bell, 1870s); Pentecost (south nave, Daniel Bell, 1870s); the Nativity (north nave, Daniel Bell, 1870s); and the Christ Child in the carpenter’s shop with Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary (north nave, Daniel Bell, 1876).

The decoration of the side walls of the chancel and its ribbed vault dates from around 1907, when the Revd St John Mildmay was the Rector and Charles Harrison Townsend was the architect.

The tower houses a ring of six bells by Briant of Hertford, cast in 1820. Those buried in the churchyard include the stonemason George Wills, grandfather of the chemist George SV Wills.

I hope to reflect on the East Window and some of the other windows in the church in later postings.

The west wall in Holy Trinity Churcthe is decorated with images depicting Baptism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Out in the churchyard, a large number of interesting gravestones date back to the late 17th and early 18th century. I hope to describe these in a posting tomorrow afternoon (5 March 2023, see HERE).

Holy Trinity Church lost its patron and benefactor in 1970 when the Radcliffe Trust sold the Wolverton estate to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. The team ministry with Saint George’s was instituted in 1973 when Holy Trinity and Saint George became a united benefice.

A small toilet and kitchen were installed in the tower as part of an otherwise ill-considered scheme of re-ordering in 1974. The brass altar cross is all that survives of the reredos designed by Swinfen Harris.

Important restoration work was carried out in the 1990s, but the parish concedes ‘more is needed.’

The recumbent effigy of Sir Thomas Longville of Wolverton, second baronet, in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Parks Trust established by Milton Keynes Development Corporation looks after the parkland setting of the church and the earthworks of the larger village which the church used to serve in the Middle Ages, in the field to the west.

The congregation of Holy Trinity represents all ages and backgrounds, with younger couples and retired people who have moved into the area, and people from the newer housing estates.

The worship at Holy Trinity Church ranges from traditional liturgies, including sung Book of Common Prayer liturgies, as well as contemporary services and some fresh expressions styles of worship.

Social events include concerts, summer cream tea afternoons, barbeques, Christmas Fairs, quiz nights and a ‘Stargazing Evening’ led by the Milton Keynes Astronomical Society.

The clock in the tower of Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The house next door to the church was built in 1729 and later became the vicarage. The front door has stonework from the nearby but demolished 16th century manor house, including the de Longueville family coat of arms, and pieces from the earlier church building.

The church was Grade II* listed in 1953. Holy Trinity is grouped with Saint George the Martyr in Wolverton.

• The Revd Gill Barrow-Jones is the Rector of Wolverton, the Revd Francesca Vernon is the curate, and the Revd Chibuzor Okpala is the associate minister (part-time). Sunday services are at 11 am each week.

The house next to the church was built in 1729 and later became the vicarage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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