01 June 2023

A return visit to see inside
Saint Michael’s Church,
an old church on the campus
of the Open University

Saint Michael’s Church, Walton, is now part of the Open University campus in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was on the campus of the Open University in Milton Keynes again last week, expecting to receive my fifth Covid-19 vaccination in the Michael Young Building. But, while things did not work out to plan, I took the opportunity once again to explore some of the delights of the campus.

Wandering around the Open University, there was an opportunity to appreciate some more of the modern sculpture and architecture on the campus, including the Wolfson Building, and to revisit Saint Michael’s Church, which was not open when I first visited it last November.

Saint Michael’s Church stands on the Walton Hall campus and was once the former parish church of the village of Walton.

However, the last church service was held Saint Michael’s in 1974, and it no longer serves as a parish church. It was restored by the Open University in 1976 and is now used for choir performances and Open University club events.

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

It was a delight to find the church was open to visitors in last week’s warm and welcome sunshine.

The present church building dates from ca 1350, but a church has stood on this site since the first church here was built in 1189. At this time, the area was walled or fenced, giving it the name Walton. The church was thoroughly restored in 1861 and again in the 1970s.

The church building dates mainly from the 14th century, with a slightly later south porch, and an early 16th century nave roof. It is built of rubble limestone with some greensand stone.

The tower has two stages with greensand-stone quoins, diagonal buttresses and a battlemented parapet. The nave parapet is over a string with corbel heads and the nave and chancel are buttressed between the bays. All the windows have good and varied curvilinear tracery.

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall, facing the west end and the tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Inside the church, the chancel, which inclines towards the south, has one window on the east, one on the north, and three on the south side. All of them date from the mid-14th century except the window at the west end of the south wall, a square-headed low-side window of two cinquefoiled lights, which was inserted a century later.

The east and south-east windows are each of three lights with tracery in a pointed head, and the other windows are of similar character but of two lights with more simple tracery.

A turret-stair in the north-east of the nave once gave access to the rood loft (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

There is a restored sedilia In the chancel, a 14th century priest’s doorway below the middle window on the south. A cinquefoiled piscina at the south-east has been considerably restored but probably dates from the same period.

The pointed chancel arch is of three orders, and has semi-octagonal respond shafts with moulded capitals and bases.

The nave has four bays, there is a piscina at the east end of the south wall and a tall plain tower arch.

A turret-stair with a narrow blocked light, which projects at the north-east of the nave, once gave access to the rood-loft.

The high-pitched collar-beam roof of the chancel probably dates from the early 16th century. The nave has a low pitched timber roof dated ca 1600. The king-post trusses have moulded and carved timbers and rest upon moulded stone corbels. Traces of a black-letter inscription and colour-painting remain on one of the tie-beams.

The monument to Bartholomew Beale and ‘his only wife’ Katherine Beale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The oldest memorial inside the church has a rhymed inscription and is to 10-year-old Elizabeth Pyxe, who died from plague in 1617. She was probably the daughter of the then Rector of Walton, the Revd William Pyxe.

On the north wall of the chancel is a monument to Bartholomew Beale (died 1660) and ‘his only wife’ Katherine Beale (died 1667), with an inscription, niches, busts, Corinthian columns, an entablature and frieze, a coat of arms and angels’ heads.

There are late 18th to early 19th century monuments to members of the Pinfold family on the south wall.

The monument to Sir Thomas Pinfold, Chancellor of Peterborough, who died in 1701 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

One monument on the south wall is by Nollekens and commemorates Sir Thomas Pinfold, Chancellor of Peterborough, who died in 1701. It has an inscription panel on flat brackets with a central cartouche of arms between and a tall black pyramidal top with a white portrait medallion and ribbons over a trophy of books and rolls.

There is also a tablet to Charles Pinfold, Governor of Barbados (1756-1766), who died in 1788, and his sister Ann who died in 1805.

Charles Pinfold, a lawyer who owned Walton Hall from 1701 until he died in 1754, was the second generation of the family to own the estate. His grandson Captain Charles Pinfold, who is also buried in the churchyard, built the Georgian style white façade of the Walton Hall building.

The Pinfold family grave in the churchyard … cleared of ivy and growth after it was rediscovered by Amanda Saladine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The church and churchyard at Saint Michael’s have a number of gravestones and memorials to families that have lived in Walton Hall over the years.

When the University’s Senior Archive Assistant, Amanda Saladine, was researching the history of the Walton Hall Estate, she rediscovered the grave of the former owners of Walton Hall, Charles Pinfold and his wife Renea, who are buried beneath a large mid-18th century monument in the churchyard.

She had photographed and researched the details of the gravestones, yet had never come across the large Pinfold tomb on the east side of the church. It was so encased in ivy she had assumed it was a tree or a large shrub.

The University Estates team removed the ivy, has uncovered the tomb and has worked hard to stabilise it.

Several Open University staff members are buried in the churchyard, including the Open University’s first Secretary Anastasios Christodoulou.

Looking out on summer sunshine from the south porch of Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The church was dilapidated when the Open University moved onto the campus. The last parish service was held there in 1974.

The Open University leased the building and undertook a programme of extensive restoration and the church reopened with a concert in 1978.

The former parish church is now the Open University church and recital room. It is used frequently for Open University clubs, choir rehearsals and performances, concerts, exhibitions and other meetings and events.

The chancel of Saint Michael’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

In the past, the church plate included a silver cup from 1814 inscribed ‘For the town of Walton’, a silver paten of the same date, a plated flagon with the same inscription, and a plated flagon without a date or inscription.

The name of Walton remains in the Ecumenical Parish of Walton, created in 1985 in a partnership between the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

The partnership is formed from the congregations at three church buildings: All Saints’ Church, Milton Keynes Village, Saint Mary’s Church, Wavendon, and Christ the King Church, Kent’s Hill, which has two congregations (Roman Catholic and Anglican/Free Churches).

The partnership also sponsors Church Without Walls in the Broughton area.

The south side of Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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