29 June 2023
Saint Peter and Saint Paul:
visits to three churches
dedicated to two apostles
Today in in the Church Calendar is the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles (29 June 2023). I thought it might be interesting to mark the day this evening by recapitulating on three churches dedicated to the two saints that I have visited in recent months, in Watford, Newport Pagnell and Buckingham.
During my recent visit to the village of Watford in Northamptonshire, in search of any traces of the Comberford Manor that existed from the mid-15th to mid-16th century, I also visited Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, the parish church in this village which gives its name to the nearby Watford Gap on the M1.
For centuries, this was effectively an estate church for a succession of families, including the Burnabys, Clerkes, and then the Edens, later Lords Henley, who owned the manor in succession to the Parles, Comberford and Spencer families. However, all that survives of the 16th to 17th mansion at Watford Court, on the site of the Comberford Manor, is a pair of stranded gate piers on the road near the church.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church is a Grade I listed building on the west side of Church Street in Watford. The church has been re-opened recently following extensive roof repair and restoration works.
The main structure of the church was built between the early 14th century and the 15th century, with further work and additions in the 18th century and restoration work in the 19th century. The church now consists of a nave, north and south aisles, a chancel, a north chapel, north and south porches and a west tower.
The church is built of coursed and uncoursed ironstone rubble, the west tower is partly sandstone ashlar, and there is a lead roof. Chancel with north chapel, aisled nave.
The perpendicular chancel incorporates early 14th century work, and has a Perpendicular sedilia and piscina with cinquefoil arches. The five-light east window has a five-centred arch and panel tracery. There are three similar three-light windows on the south wall.
There are two similar three-light windows in the south wall to the east of the porch and two pairs of lancets to the west of the porch. There is a flat-arched Perpendicular window without tracery in the west wall of the south aisle and a straight-headed doorway of same date below.
The priest’s doorway from ca 1300 has a chamfered arch, and there is a three-light east window in the south aisle from ca 1300 with intersecting tracery.
Other features in the church include the 14th century south porch, the Perpendicular west tower with a castellated parapet and gargoyle waterspouts, traceried two-light bell openings, a four-light west window with panel tracery, a 14th century west window without tracery in the north aisle, and an early 14th century three-light window with reticulated tracery to the west of the north porch and two similar windows to its east, and a five-light window with geometrical tracery in the east wall of the north chapel.
An early 14th century tomb recess in the north wall has an arch with deep hollow mouldings and short jamb shafts with leaf capitals. The blocked 14th century double chamfered arch to the west is a former opening to north chapel.
The north chapel has been converted to the vestry. It has a panel opening to the east end of the north aisle that was blocked when a 19th century doorway inserted. Pevsner noted it had three further tomb recesses.
The three-bay nave arcades, also dating from ca 1300, have octagonal piers, double chamfered arches, and hoods with large head stops. There is a Perpendicular clerestory.
The altar rails date from ca 1800 and are in the Gothic revival style.
The restoration works in the church in the mid-19th century brought the introduction of low box pews and the stained glass in the chancel by Heaton, Butler and Bayne.
The east window is of five-lights with a five-centred arch and panel tracery and is part of the Perpendicular period build of the chancel. The stained-glass dates from 1863 and is the work of Heaton, Butler and Bayne.
The images include: Christ in the home of Mary and Martha; the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink, sheltering the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and visiting the prisoner; the impaled arms of Henley and Peel; two roundels with A and Ω; the four Evangelists; the 12 apostles; and floral patterns.
This east window is in memory of Julia Emily Augusta Peel, wife of Anthony Henley, Lord Henley, who died on 15 February 1862 at the age of 34.
A three-light window in the south wall of the chancel by Heaton, Butler and Bayne (1866) shows Christ raising Jairus’ daughter, accompanied by her parents, Saint Peter and Saint John. The text below reads: ‘The damsel is not dead but sleepeth.’
This window is in memory of Florence Mary Henley, eldest daughter of Arthur Henley, 3rd Baron Henley, and his wife Julia Augusta (Peel); she died on 28 May 1866 aged 18.
Another three-light window in the south wall of the chancel by Heaton, Butler & Bayne (1869), shows the Resurrection with the soldiers are shielding their eyes in terror. The text reads: ‘Behold there was a great earthquake, for the angel of the Lord descended from Heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it.’ The window also shows angel musicians.
The window is in memory of Harriet Peel (died 1869), widow of Robert Henley Eden, 2nd Lord Henley (1789-1841).
Another windows on the south side of the chancel is yellow with purple tracery, and gives a sunny glow to the chancel when the afternoon sun shines.
The monuments in the chancel include one to Sir George Clarke, who died in 1649. This is a black and white marble architectural wall table with segmental pediment and black columns, and was described by the architectural historian Sir Niklaus Pevsner as ‘uncommonly noble.’
To the left of this, a monument to George Clarke, probably from the late 17th century, is an architectural wall tablet in grey and white marble.
The monument to Susanna Eyton, who died 1631, is a stone wall tablet with Tuscan columns, entablature with strapwork cresting and a long inscription on a wooden panel.
At the west end of the church, a small exhibition near the south porch remembers two residents of Watford, Thomas Rogers and his son Joseph, who were passengers along with other Puritans among the ‘Pilgrim Father’ on the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620.
The churchyard gates, designed by Christopher Fiddes, were commissioned to celebrate the millennium in 2000.
The parish registers survive from 1565, and the historic registers are held at Northamptonshire Record Office.
Watford is part of a united benefice with Long Buckby, West Haddon and Winwick, each parish retaining its own church. The benefice is currently vacant and seeking a new vicar.
During a visit to Newport Pagnell, seeking the Comberford family links with Tickford, I also visited the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the parish church of Newport Pagnell, one of the towns that have been incorporated into Milton Keynes.
Whether Newport Pagnell is approached from either north or south, there are fine views of the church, which is cathedral-like in its location and dimensions. The church is a Grade 1 listed building and stands above the valleys of two rivers – the Great Ouse and the Ousel or Lovat.
At the time of the Norman Conquest, the town was known simply as Newport. In the reign of William Rufus, the owner of the Manor, Fulk Paganel, added his name to the name of the town. Newport was originally in the Diocese of Dorchester under Saint Birinus, and it was transferred to the Diocese of Lincoln in 1072. The town has been part of the deanery to which it gives its name since the 13th century.
Fulk Paganel founded Saint Mary’s Priory in Tickford, and in 1100 Fulk Pagnell and his wife Beatrix gave Newport Church to the Prior and monks of Tickford, together with a ‘hide of land in the Field of Newport.’
At the time, the church in Newport Pagnell was probably a simple structure, with a nave and chancel.
The church was rebuilt in its present form ca 1350, with north and south aisles and porches but without a tower. Later, the church had a cruciform shape, with a nave, central tower and transepts. The North Porch, one of the earliest parts of the Church, dates from ca 1350. The South Porch dates from the same period and was restored in 1951.
The tower was destroyed in the 14th century, and records show a new tower was built on to the west of the nave in 1542-1548. The chancel was also rebuilt in the early 16th century.
Meanwhile, Tickford Priory was dissolved by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524, and much of its endowment was given to Christ Church, Oxford.
During the great restoration of the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in 1827, the whole of the South Aisle was rebuilt and the pinnacles and battlements were added to the tower and the roof. The tower is of three stages, strengthened by clasping buttresses, and is surmounted by an embattled parapet with pinnacles at the angles and at the centre of each face.
New vestries were built onto the north-east corner of the church in 1905, and there was extensive restoration of the tower in 1972-1973 and of the exterior stonework and roof in 1989-1993.
The font is a copy of the Norman one in Aylesbury Parish Church.
The west doorway has a pointed head and continuous mouldings. Above it is a four-light window with modern tracery under a four-centred head. Access to the upper stages is provided by a doorway on the east side of the tower leading from the nave roof. The tower being is reached by the turret stairway at the south-east of the nave.
The bell chamber is lit on each side by two tall windows, each of two trefoiled lights under a pointed head. All this work has been considerably restored, and the parapet and pinnacles are modern.
There are eight bells, a small bell by Anthony Chandler, inscribed ‘AC 1671,’ and a clock bell, added with the chiming apparatus in 1887. Five of the ring were recast in 1749 by Thomas Lester of London, one was added in 1769, one in 1816, and one in 1819, but the whole ring was again recast in 1911.
The roof was found to be badly damaged by the death-watch beetle in 1934 and had to be rebuilt. Some of the wooden figures supporting the main beam can be identified as apostles. The roof was decorated during 1967 when the interior of the building was cleaned and redecorated. The clerestory was built in the 15th century.
The threefold sedilia, now in the south aisle, dates from the early 14th century, and was probably originally in the chancel.
Above the sedilia is a marble wall memorial to John Revis, who built and endowed the row of almshouses north-east of the church in 1763. The brass figure of the civilian fixed to the turret door dates from 1440.
The chancel screen was erected in 1870. The pulpit was given in 1871, and the modern oak lectern dates from 1933.
There are references to various altars in the church before the Reformation. However, it was not until 1933 that the present Lady Chapel was restored in the south aisle, and the Chapel of the Transfiguration in the north aisle in the following year. These chapels were refurbished with oak flooring and new Communion Rails in 1957-1958.
Galleries, dating from 1710, were removed in 1926, when electric light was installed. Two standard candlesticks were made from the old timbers and are used for the Pascal Candles. Rewiring and new lights were installed in 1959-1960.
The chancel was newly roofed and paved in marble in 1894. There is a piscina on the South wall, by the High Altar, and the memorial slab on the opposite wall dates from the 17th century, commemorates Sir Richard Adkins, descended from Dr Henry Adkins, the Royal Physician who owned the Tickford Abbey Estate.
The reredos, given in 1894, consists of three hand-painted panels. The original organ, built in 1665, was replaced in 1867 with a Henry Willis instrument, which was enlarged in 1905.
No ancient stained glass survives in the Church, but the West Window in the tower is a memorial to Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873), first Bishop of Oxford (1845-1869).
The parish registers, dating back to 1558, are now held in the Buckinghamshire County Archives at Aylesbury. A list of Vicars dates from the 13th century, when the first vicar, Henry, took office in 1236.
Newport was moved in 1845 to the Diocese of Oxford, where it still remains.
Today, the Benefice of Newport Pagnell with Lathbury and Moulsoe is a group of four inclusive and individual Anglican churches in Newport Pagnell and the villages of Lathbury and Moulsoe. Each church and congregation in the benefice is different but friendly and welcoming.
The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, known commonly as Buckingham Parish Church, is prominently located on Castle Hill in the centre of the old town of Buckingham.
There has been a church in Buckingham, since Saxon Times. The old church stood further down the hill, at the bottom of what is now called Church Street, in Prebend End.
Most of Buckingham’s town centre was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1725. Then, in 1776, the spire on the old church, fell down for the second time and caused so much damage that it was decided to build a new church on the vacant site of Castle Hill.
Castle Hill was the site of Edward the Elder’s stronghold against the Danes during the 10th century. Later, a Norman castle was built on the site, giving Castle Hill its name.
The earlier church located in Prebend End and dated from before 1445. However, no records have been found before this date, apart from a reference to it in the Domesday Book of 1086.
The old church had a history of the tower and spire collapsing several times and it collapsed for the final time in 1776.
Browne Willis (1682-1760), the MP for Buckingham (1705-1708) and antiquarian who tried to rescue Saint Mary Magdalene Church and its tower in Stony Stratford after it was destroyed by fire, also wanted to restore the church in Buckingham to its former glory following the last repairs in 1698, but the new spire was too ambitious.
A detailed letter to the Bishop of Lincoln explained that after the church tower had fallen and destroyed the church, the inhabitants of Buckingham were unable to rebuild the parish church.
A new site became available on Castle Hill and the decision was taken to move the church. It is said that much of the fabric of the earlier church was reused in building the new church. Indeed, the story goes, Church Street was given its name because the old church was carried up it to be rebuilt on Castle Hill.
Richard Grenville-Temple (1711-1779), 2nd Earl Temple and William Pitt’s brother-in-law, undertook to build a new church and the site was donated Ralph Verney (1714-1791), 2nd Earl Verney, an Irish peer who had previously been known as Lord Fermanagh.
The foundation stone for the new church was laid by Robert Bartlett, bailiff of Buckingham, on 25 November 1777 at a ceremony that included singing a hymn composed for the occasion, followed by the roasting of an ox with beer and bread supplied by Lord Temple.
The church was completed by Lord Temple’s nephew, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville (1753-1813), 3rd Earl Temple and 1st Marquis of Buckingham, later Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1787-1789).
The new church in the ‘Debased Gothic’ style, was consecrated by Thomas Thurlow, Bishop of Lincoln, on 6 December 1780, and was dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul.
The church originally was a simple Georgian building with a simple design. The main part of the church was formed by the nave and sanctuary, and there was a tower with an octagonal plan spire.
Remnants of the original church inside the new church include finely carved pew heads and a magnificent early 18th century brass chandelier that had been donated by Browne Willis. The greatest treasure is a rare Latin manuscript Bible originally presented in 1471.
However, the foundations of the church were insufficient and several cracks began appearing.
The present Victorian Gothic Revival church is the result of many 19th-century alterations by the local-born architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who added buttresses to prop up the building and redesigned the church in late 13th century geometrical style.
Scott remodelled and extended the church in 1862-1867, with the addition of the south porch, the chancel and chancel aisle, and a decoration scheme in the Gothic style. Scott’s alterations left little of the original 18th-century church untouched, although the tower and spire remain unchanged since 1780, and the windows were slightly altered.
The new chancel was funded by a £358 donation from the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The refurbished and rebuilt church were consecrated by the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, in 1867.
The doorway of the south porch has cusped heads and there are statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the paired niches above. A convex shield above the west door shows the Swan of Buckingham in relief.
Inside, the chancel has a two-bay arcade with shafted piers at the north aisle, which houses organ chamber and vestry.
The vault, probably of redwood, is ingeniously fitted below the original 18th century roof, which has massive timber trusses designed to give clearance to the former elliptical plaster vault.
The oak reredos dating from 1904 is by John Oldrid Scott, and has painted panels of the Nativity and angels.
The prayer desks in the Lady Chapel incorporate late 15th and early 16th century pew ends from the old church with poppy heads and complex blank tracery panels. Another pew end dated 1626 is now part of the reading desk with a coat of arms and scrollwork.
The oak pulpit stands on a tapering stone base with saints’ heads in circular medallions and an eagle book rest. The oak lectern has similar medallions at the sides of the book slope and is supported on lions feet with miniature buttresses.
A charity board with gilded frame is dated 1685. The Hanoverian royal arms can be seen on the front of the timber gallery front of carved and painted wood.
Much of the stained glass is by Clayton and Bell, including the East Window (1877) depicting the canticle Te Deum.