23 January 2023

The childhood home
of an archbishop who
grew up in Wolverton
and Stony Stratford

Wolverton House was the childhood home of Archbishop John Habgood, who grew up in Old Wolverton and Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

One of the walks I have been enjoying in recent weeks is between Galley Hill and Wolverton Mill, passing the Balancing Lakes and through Warren Park to Wolverton House on Stratford Road and on to Old Wolverton and into Wolverton.

One morning last week, I wandered around the grounds of Wolverton House, having heard the story of a former Archbishop of York who was born there and grew up in Old Wolverton and Stony Stratford.

There may always been a farm house on the site of Wolverton House from the 16th and 17th century. In the early 18th century it was part of the large estate acquired by Dr John Radcliffe.

Thomas Harrison, the land agent for the Radcliffe Trust and a farmer, decided to build a substantial house in 1784 at a cost of £1,800. Harrison farmed over 400 acres and had an annual income of more than £100 for managing the estate in Wolverton on behalf of the Radcliffe Trust, based in Oxford.

After Thomas Harrison died in 1809, his son Richard continued to live at Wolverton House with his widowed mother and his own family. When Richard Harrison died, his widow and son Spencer remained as tenants at Wolverton House until 1892, when Grace Harrison died and Spencer Harrison and his family retired to the south coast.

Wolverton House is a large rambling stone house with steep pitched old tile roofs. The house built by Harrison probably incorporates parts of an earlier house dating from the 16th and 17th century.

The house built or rebuilt by Harrison was a compact two-storey, three-bay south-facing house. Four heavy pilasters rise from the ground to a deep plain frieze and cornice with blocking course. All windows have glazing bars.

The two ground floor windows are three-light sashes set in segmental-headed recesses; The first floor windows are single light sashes in plain reveals. The flush quoins, the surrounds of the windows and the edges of the pilasters are of a darker stone than the rest of the house.

The central entrance is a square headed doorway with deep panelled reveals and soffit. The shallow stone porch has two heavy panelled pilasters and a shallow triangular pediment.

The fairly steep pitch roof is slate at the front and has three casement dormers with semi-circular heads. On the west there is a two-storey, three-light bow window with glazing bar sashes and a canopy extending to the right and the left on a cast-iron frame. There is a tented canopy on the first floor, and a parapet with three panels. A door to the left has marginal glazing in top half.

To the east is a rendered gable end that is partly recessed. Bargeboard. The pointed windows have marginal glazing and labels and two pointed lunettes below and one above also with labels.

After the Harrison family left, Wolverton House was separated from the farm and let to tenants. Those tenants in the 20th century included Dr Arthur Henry Habgood, a medical practitioner a Stony Stratford.

Dr Habgood and his wife, Vera (Chetwynd-Stapylton) Habgood, were the parents of John Stapylton Habgood (1927-2019), a future Archbishop of York, who was born at Wolverton House on 23 June 1927. The Habgood family later moved to Calverton House in Stony Stratford.

Wolverton House was leased by Buckinghamshire County Council after World War II. The council who used it as a residence for Grammar School and Technical School pupils whose families lived more than 20 miles from Wolverton or who were working overseas. The schools combined to create the Radcliffe School in 1958.

Wolverton House was run in the 1960s by Basil and Barbara Jacobs, who were house master and house mistress. They were succeeded by the Moyles, who brought a new vibrancy to the house. The pupils attended church on Sundays in Holy Trinity, Old Wolverton, Haversham or Stony Stratford.

The house was also used for residential courses, and some rooms facing the rear courtyard were used as council offices.

Wolverton House continued to be maintained by Buckinghamshire County Council in the 1980s.

Today Wolverton House is a pub and restaurant.

As for the future Archbishop York, John Habgood spent some of his boyhood in Wolverton House, which he remembered as a very draughty house in winter. In 1935, at the age of eight, he wrote this letter to God:

Dear God

If you feel lonely up in the sky would you like to come down and stay with us, you could sleep in the spier-room [sic], and you could bathe with us, and I think you would enjoy yourself.

Love from John

The Habgood family later moved to Calverton House, which was closer to his father’s medical practice in Stony Stratford.

John Habgood was educated at Eton, King’s College, Cambridge, and Ripon College Cuddesdon, and held a doctorate in science. He was a Demonstrator in Pharmacology in Cambridge University from 1950, and became a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge in 1952.

John Habgood was ordained deacon in 1954 and priest in 1955. He was a curate at Saint Mary Abbots Church, Kensington (1954-1956) before becoming Vice-Principal of Westcott House Theological Vollege, Cambridge (1956-1962). He was then Rector of St John’s, Jedburgh (1962-1967), and Principal of Queen’s College, a theological college in Birmingham, until he became Bishop of Durham in 1973. He was passed over by Margaret Thatcher for appointment as Bishop of London in 1981, but became Archbishop of York in 1983.

As Archbishop of York, Habgood was seen as a leader in keeping more conservative Anglicans within the church during growing divisions over the ordination of women as priests. He supported the ordination of women, arguing that God is neither male nor female, but he also supported the introduction of provincial episcopal visitors or ‘flying bishops’ to provide pastoral care and oversight to laity, clergy, and parishes who could not accept women priests.

After he retired as Archbishop of York in 1995, he continued to sit in the House of Lords as a life peer, taking the title Baron Habgood of Calverton in the County of Buckinghamshire, a title that recalled his childhood days at Calverton House in Stony Stratford. He died in 2019.

Wolverton House was built or rebuilt Thomas Harrison, the land agent for the Radcliffe Trust, in 1784 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

‘I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak’ (Ezekiel 34: 16) … part of Rowan Gillespie’s ‘Famine’ memorial on Custom House Quay, Dublin (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 last Wednesday (18 January 2023), and until Wednesday my morning reflections look at this year’s readings and prayers.

Later today, Churches Together in Milton Keynes continues to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with an evening devoted to ‘Climate Unity’ at the Quaker Centre in Milton Keynes at 7:30.

The Climate Crisis is the single biggest issue facing the planet in this century. The Society of Friends has a strong tradition of working for justice through creative action and will help us address the challenge. They will bring people together this evening in a Meeting for Worship in the Quaker tradition, with a mixture of silence, spoken word and song.

‘All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats’ (Matthew 25: 32) … sheep and goats grazing together in a field in Platanias near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Day 6: Just as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me.


Ezekiel 34: 15-20

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.

Matthew 25: 31-40:

I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.


In the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded that we cannot separate our love for God from our love for others. We love God when we feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner. When we care for and serve ‘one of the least of these,’ we are caring for and serving Christ himself.

The years 2020 and 2021 made visible the immense suffering among God’s family members. The world-wide Covid-19 pandemic, along with economic, educational and environmental disparities, impacted us in ways that will take decades to repair. It exposed individual and collective suffering throughout the world and brought Christians together in love, empathy and solidarity. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin exposed continued racial injustice. Floyd’s cry of ‘I can’t breathe’ was also the cry of many suffering under the weight of both the pandemic and oppression.

God calls us to honour the sacredness and dignity of each member of God’s family. Caring for, serving and loving others reveals not who they are, but who we are. As Christians, we must be unified in our responsibility to love and care for others, as we are cared for and loved by God. In so doing, we live out our shared faith through our actions in service to the world.

Christian Unity:

The prophet Ezekiel describes the Lord God as a shepherd who makes the flock whole by gathering in those who have strayed and binding up those who are injured. Unity is the Father’s desire for his people and he continues to bring about this unity, to make the flock whole, through the action of his Holy Spirit. Through prayer we open ourselves to receive the Spirit which restores the unity of all the baptised.


How are the ‘least of these’ invisible to you or your church? How can our churches work together to care for and serve ‘the least of these?’


God of Love,
We thank you for your unending care and love for us.
Help us to sing redemption songs.
Open wide our hearts to receive your love
and to extend your compassion
to the whole of the human family.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

‘I was ill and you visited me’ … ‘I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’ (Matthew 25: 36) … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began last Wednesday (18 January), and the theme in the USPG Prayer Diary last week was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme this week is the ‘Myanmar Education Programme.’ This theme was introduced yesterday with a reflection from a report from the Church of the Province of Myanmar.

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

Let us pray to be good listeners. May we learn to pay attention and hear what is being said, and so seek to understand.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow