19 January 2023

Searching for the Oxford
college and church links in
street names in Wolverton

Christchurch Grove and Oriel Close … linked to the names of Oxford colleges (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

In recent weeks I have enjoyed walking around Wolverton, photographing the churches and other architectural features, searching for snippets and nuggets of local history and enjoying the contrast between Wolverton and Stony Stratford as neighbouring towns.

I was writing yesterday (18 January 2023) how the name of Anson Road sent me on a false trail in search of a possible link in the past between Lichfield and Wolverton. In a similar vein, the name of Christchurch Grove sent me in search of a church I may have missed as I continued to photograph the churches of Wolverton.

I ought to have known better. Of course, the Radcliffe Trustees of Oxford University owned large parts of Wolverton until the 1970s, and many of the street names in Wolverton are derived from the names of past trustees or from Oxford colleges linked to the Radcliffe Trust.

The Radcliffe Trust is one of Britain’s oldest charities and was founded in 1714 by the will of Dr John Radcliffe. Dr John Radcliffe (1650-1714) bought the Wolverton Estate from Sir Edward Longueville in the early 18th century, and so acquired large tracts of land in Wolverton, Old Wolverton and neighbouring Stony Stratford.

Radcliffe was elected MP for Buckingham in 1713, but died a year later he died and left his estate in trust for the endowment of educational and medical foundations. In his will, he directed his Trustees to spend £40,000 on building a library, and today the Radcliffe Camera is one of Oxford’s architectural glories.

The Trustees also built two other important Oxford landmarks, the Radcliffe Observatory and the Radcliffe Infirmary, the predecessor of the modern John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The Radcliffe endowments also gave the name to Radcliffe School in Wolverton.

By the mid-20th century, the Radcliffe Trust had become limited in its ability to support other charitable projects. However, in the 1960s, with the selection of the location for a new town, the Trust’s Wolverton estate became the subject of negotiations for purchase by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, and the sale was concluded on 29 September 1970.

The proceeds gave the Trust a substantial endowment and increased income. It was felt that this income was insufficient to support significant science projects, and instead new fellowships and grant schemes were developed to support projects in the arts, particularly music and crafts.

By the time of the sale, the Radcliffe Trust and the trustees had left their mark on the names of the streets of Wolverton.

Christchurch Grove at the western end of Wolverton leads into the Radcliffe School (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Christchurch Grove is a recent housing development at the western end of Wolverton, leading into the Radcliffe School. The Radcliffe School only took its name in 1956, and Christchurch Grove takes its name not from church I have yet to find in Wolverton but from Christ Church College, Oxford.

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, is both the college chapel of Christ Church College and the cathedral church of the Diocese of Oxford, which extends across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and beyond, including Wolverton, Stony Stratford and Milton Keynes.

Christ Church is one of the smallest cathedrals in the Church of England, and its dual role as cathedral and college chapel is unique. Saint Frideswide’s Priory in Oxford was surrendered in 1522 to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who planned Cardinal College. Instead, however, Christ Church became the see of the Diocese of Oxford in 1546, when Christ Church College was founded as a constituent college of the University of Oxford.

WB Yeats refers to Christ Church in his poem ‘All Souls’ Night, Oxford’:

Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell
And many a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls’ Night …

Oriel Close, Wolverton, takes its name from Oriel College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Christchurch Grove in Wolverton is spelled as one word. It leads into Oriel Close, which also takes its name from an Oxford college. Oriel College was founded in 1324 by Adam de Brome under the patronage of Edward II.

John Henry Newman is among the most renowned figures associated with Oriel. He was a fellow of Oriel from 1822 to 1845. During these years he was also the college chaplain (1826-1831, 1833-1835) and Vicar of the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin (1828-1843).

Newman was the driving force behind the Oxford Movement, alongside John Keble (1792-1866) and Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), and Oriel is pre-eminently the college of the Oxford Movement, the first phase of which lasted from 1833-1845. Its proponents produced the Tracts for the Times, a series of 90 tracts that gave them the name ‘Tractarians’.

Besides Newman, Keble and Pusey, other figures of the movement associated with Oriel included Robert Wilberforce (1802-1857), Richard Hurrell Froude (1803-36), GA Denison (1805-1896), Thomas Mozley (1806-1893), Charles Marriott (1811-1858) and RW Church (1815-1890). Richard Whately (1787-1863) was a fellow of Oriel (1811-1821) and Drummond Professor of Political Economy in Oxford (1830-1831) before becoming Archbishop of Dublin (1831-1863).

Oriel College, Oxford, gives its name to Oriel Close in Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In a similar vein, St John’s Crescent in Wolverton may have been named after St John’s College, Oxford, although local historians also suggest its name honour the Wolverton Corps of the St John Ambulance Brigade.

Saint John’s College on Saint Giles’, Oxford, was founded as a men’s college in 1555 by Sir Thomas White to provide a source of educated Roman Catholic clergy to support the Counter-Reformation under Queen Mary. Saint John’s is the wealthiest college in Oxford, with a financial endowment of £600 million, largely due to 19th century suburban development of land in the city of Oxford.

These street names show how the Radcliffe Trustees were intent on making links between their Oxford colleges and the streets of Wolverton as the town grew and expanded from the mid-19th century on, and how this practice continued into the late 20th century, even as their Wolverton estates were being incorporated into the development of Milton Keynes.

However, local historians suggest Cambridge Street in Wolverton is not called after Cambridge University. Instead, they suggest it was so named, like Bedford Street, because of the Bedford and Cambridge Railway, which opened in 1862.

Christ Church, Oxford, gives its name to Christchurch Grove, Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying through the Week of
Christian Unity and with USPG:
19 January 2023

Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford … ‘Come and Sing Evensong’ this evening is part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I have been 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.’

However, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began yesterday (18 January 2023), and between now and next Wednesday my morning reflections look at this year’s readings and prayers.

Churches Together in Milton Keynes continues to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this evening with ‘Come and Sing Evensong’ at 7:30 in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford. I hope to be part of this service this evening as a member of the choir in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church.

Choral Evensong is one of the great English musical traditions, with its rich biblical language and emotive music. Choirs and singers from across Milton Keynes are gathering for a brief rehearsal at 6 pm. The Revd Lisa Kerry, the Baptist Regional Minister, is speaking and the Moderator of the United Reformed Church East Midlands Synod, the Revd Geoffrey Clarke is leading the intercessions.

‘If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard’ (Proverbs 21: 13) … ‘Christ the Beggar’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Day 2: When justice is done …


Proverbs 21: 13-15:

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers.

Matthew 23: 23-25:

Justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done.


From the beginning, the Book of Proverbs sets out to provide wisdom and instruction in “wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity” (1: 2). Throughout its oracles of wisdom, the call to act justly and to pursue righteousness is a constant refrain, relentlessly shared and affirmed as more acceptable to God than sacrifice. In a one-sentence pearl of wisdom, the speaker testifies that the righteous rejoice when justice is done. But justice upsets the workers of iniquity. Christians, across their separations, should be united in joy when justice is done, and prepared to stand together when this justice brings opposition. When we do what the Lord requires and dare to pursue justice, we may find ourselves in a whirlwind of resistance and opposition to any attempt to make things right for the most vulnerable among us.

Those who benefit from the systems and structures buttressed by White supremacy and other oppressive ideologies such as “casteism” and patriarchy will seek to delay and deny justice, often violently. But to seek justice is to strike at the heart of the powers, making space for God’s just ordering and enduring wisdom in a world all too often unmoved by suffering. And yet, there is joy in doing what is right.

There is joy in affirming that “Black Lives Matter” in the pursuit of justice for God’s oppressed, dominated, and exploited beloved. There is joy in seeking reconciliation with other Christians so that we may better serve the proclamation of the kingdom. Let that joy manifest itself through our shared experiences of God’s presence in community in the known and unknown spaces where God journeys with us toward healing, reconciliation and unity in Christ.

Christian Unity:

The religious leaders Jesus addresses in the Gospel passage have grown accustomed and comfortable with the injustices of the world. They are happy to perform religious duties such as tithing mint, dill and cumin, but neglect the weightier and more disruptive demands of justice, mercy and faithfulness. Similarly Christians have grown accustomed and comfortable with the divisions that exist between us. We are faithful in much of our religious observance, but often we neglect the Lord’s challenging desire that all his disciples be one.


How can local congregations support one another to withstand the opposition that may follow from doing justice?


God, you are the source of our wisdom. We pray for wisdom and courage to do justice, to respond to what is wrong in the world by acting to make it right;

We pray for wisdom and courage to grow in the unity of your Son, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit, reigns forever and ever. Amen.

‘You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!’ (Matthew 23: 24) … a camel near the Goreme Open Air Museum and the rock-cut churches of Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began yesterday (18 January), and the theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Week of Prayer For Christian Unity.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a reflection from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.

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

Let us pray for a healing of divisions. May we know the humility and wisdom of Christ in our search for reconciliation.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow</b>

30 seconds of bell ringing at Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford … the venue for Choral Evensong this evening (Patrick Comerford)