25 March 2023

A visit to Saint Mary’s Church
in Haversham in advance of
the Feast of the Annunciation

The parish church in Haversham, on the northern edges of Milton Keynes, has been dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin since the early Middle Ages (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March 2023), or ‘Lady Day’. Earlier this week, I walked from Wolverton to Haversham to visit the parish church, which has been dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin since the early Middle Ages, and which still retains its rural setting in the old village, despite being on the edges of the Stony Stratford and close to the main Milton Keynes to Birmingham railway line.

I was also interested in visiting the church because of its links with the Hort family, and two church figures about whom I have written in books and journals, Jospiah Hort, Bishop of Tuam and Archbishop of Tuam after he had been Rector of Haversham, and his descendant, the Dublin-born Cambridge theologian and Biblical scholar Professor FJA Hort.

A fine old yew tree in the rectory garden in Haversham offers evidence of the antiquity of this ancient church site. It is said to be over 1,000 years old, has a girth 5 ft, and is 12 ft 8 in high. A mound about 55 yards from the tree has the outlines of an ancient large building.

Some experts say there is evidence of Saxon work in the west of the Church, although their findings are inconclusive. A rectangular-shaped church probably stood on the site of present nave, which was built ca 1160 in the early part of the reign of Henry II, and the tower was added later. Only the west wall remains of the church built ca 1160. The tower was built in 1190, and a large part of the remainder of the church was built in 1220.

The arrival of Hugh de Haversham and his family at the manor coincided with the building or rebuilding of the church. The chancel is 33 ft long and is almost as long as the nave, 40 ft, separated by a low archway.

The tower is of three stages and is part the original structure of 1190 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The tower is of three stages, and all of it – except the embattled parapet and the north-west buttress – is part the original structure of 1190. There are two small windows in the ground floor stage, and four larger ones in the bell chamber.

The Norman window in the west wall testifies to the early date of the church. The reverse side of this window, now inside the tower, was originally an outside window, showing how the tower was added a little later.

The church was considerably enlarged ca 1220, and only the west wall and the tower of the former building were retained.

Other early 13th century survivals include the two buttresses with edge roll moulding at the east end of the chancel, with an inscribed dial on one of them.

An old doorway from this period was on the north side of the church and may have been used by the rector. The doorway is now substantially built up. In some parts of England, an old disused doorway such as this on the north side came to be known as ‘the Devil’s door.’

An old doorway on the north side of the church has been substantially built up (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The de la Plaunche family added a chantry chapel ca 1290 and it was rebuilt about 1325, as two windows suggest.

The restoration of 1934 revealed the existence in this chapel of a hagioscope or squint, an ambry or recess for church vessels, originally much deeper, a 14th century piscina and a sedilia or liturgical stone seat.

The south aisle was entirely rebuilt to align with the new chantry chapel ca 1325. The south arcade was also rebuilt, as well as the chancel arch. The last stage in reconstruction took place ca 1360.

The chancel windows, which had been narrow lancets, were enlarged, as were two large windows in the north aisle. The south porch, the canopy over the tomb, and the font date from ca 1390. The clerestory was added in the 1400s when the pitch of the original roof was lowered.

The south porch of Saint Mary’s Church, Haversham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

I was disappointed not see inside the church, where the canopied altar tomb of Elizabeth Lady Clinton, dating from 1390, is an outstanding feature in the chancel. It includes an alabaster recumbent effigy of a woman with clasped hands in widow’s head-dress and pleated garb, her head resting on a cushion supported by angels, and a lion at the feet; an alabaster altar-shaped tomb, with six figures under trefoil-headed niches at the front, and another figure at the west end of the tomb; and a stone canopy.

Until recently it was assumed that this is the tomb Lady Clinton, who died in 1423, although it has no inscription. The canopy appears to be of an earlier date than the alabaster tomb and effigy, and the tomb may date from 1423-1424.

The tomb may not have been fitted into the vacant recess until as late as 1665. The tomb appears to be slightly too long for the recess, and may have been cut at the ends to make it fit.

A brass of 1427 in the chancel is in memory of Alicia Payn, who died four years after Lady Clinton. This brass was originally at the head of the Clinton tomb, and was restored in 1884.

A brass on the chancel floor of the chancel depicts a skeleton and is to the memory of John Maunsell of the manor house, who died in 1604.

The old organ was built in 1665 by Ralph Dallam for Hackney Parish Church and Samuel Pepys mentions it in his diary on 20 April 1667. The organ was moved from Hackney to Newport Pagnell in 1738, and was brought to Haversham in 1869. A new organ was installed in 1962.

The font is said to date from 1380. The 17th century pulpit is of oak and hexagonal in shape, although the base dates from 1934.

Two bells were hung in the church tower during the reign of Charles I (1625, 1638), and a third was added after the restoration of Charles II (1667). A ‘sanctus bell’ dates from 1752.

A piscina on the outside of the north wall of the chancel was revealed during restoration work in 1941 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The chantry chapel was restored in 1934. The hagioscope, which had been bricked up and plastered over, the ambry and sedilia, which had been greatly damaged, and the beautiful piscina were now exposed.

A piscina on the outside of the north wall of the chancel, dating from ca 1280, was revealed during restoration work in 1941, and can now be seen clearly from the churchyard.

During the Cromwellian period, the Clinton monument was defaced and damaged, and the church registers disappeared. The present registers date from 1665.

The advowson at Haversham was vested in the Lord of the Manor since at least 1221 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The advowson at Haversham was vested in the Lord of the Manor from at least 1221, when Michael de Haversham was the Rector. The names of all subsequent rectors are recorded.

John de Cheshull or Chryshull was at Haversham for 10 years before becoming Bishop of London in 1274. He later become the Lord Treasurer and Lord Chancellor of England and died in 1280. Chishull was succeeded by Master Angelus Cameracensis, advocatus dom. regis in curia or the king’s advocate in the Papal court in Rome.

In the Middle Ages, William de Ledcomb had been the rector for 18 years when the new Lord of the Manor did his utmost to make things unpleasant for him. William complained that he had been assaulted and imprisoned by Sir John de Olneye, John le Hare, Robert le Long, Nicholas le Someter and others at Haversham, and that they forbade the inhabitants of Haversham to give him tithes, fire or water, or to speak with him, assaulted his servants, took away his plough, starved his oxen and other cattle, and prevented his servants from saving his hay, corn and vegetables. Ledcomb resigned two years later.

The Revd Robert Sturmy of Haversham was attacked by William Golds, the bailiff of Newport Pagnell, in 1357. In defending himself, Sturmy accidentally killed Golds, but the Rector was pardoned and remained in office until he died in 1361.

During the Cromwellian era, the Revd Michael Bostock, who had been rector since 1623, was deprived of the living in 1646, and was replaced by a Puritan, John Newman.

Josiah Hort (1674-1751) by an unknown artist, oil on canvas, 126.1 x 100.4 cm, a gift from the Revd HJ Carter to Clare College, Cambridge, in 1897 (courtesy Clare College).

Josiah Hort (1674-1751), who was the Rector of Haversham in 1715-1718, later became Bishop of Ferns in Ireland (1722-1727) and ended his days as the Archbishop of Tuam (1742–1751). Hort was brought up as a Nonconformist, and is said to have spent some time as the pastor of a dissenting congregation in Newbury, Berkshire. He is the subject of my paper, ‘Josiah Hort (1674?-1751), Bishop of Ferns, ‘A Rake, a Bully, a Pimp, or Spy’ and ‘Bp Judas’,’ published in the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society, No 24, 2012-2013 (ed Celestine Murphy).

Hort never had the degrees he claimed from Cambridge – indeed, he spent less than one full academic year in Clare College – and, even while he was still alive, serious questions were asked about whether he had ever been ordained an Anglican priest. Hort’s lifestyle and his lies about his academic credentials became a public scandal when Archbishop William King of Dublin refused to consecrate him as bishop for Ferns and Leighlin in 1721. Eventually, he was consecrated by the bishops of Meath, Kilmore and Dromore.

Hort was an immediate ancestor of the Dublin-born, Cambridge theologian Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), who was a member of the ‘Cambridge Triumvirate’ and Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity in Cambridge. He is the subject of my chapter, ‘F.J.A. Hort (1828–92), the Dublin-born member of the Cambridge triumvirate and translating the Revised Version of the Bible’ in Salvador Ryan and Liam M Tracey (eds), The Cultural Reception of the Bible: explorations in theology, literature and the arts (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2018), pp 189-198.

The Revd Edward Cooke, a former curate, was appointed Rector of Haversham in 1802. He contributed to many periodicals and publications, and owned an extensive library, particularly of theology, law, history, antiquities, classical literature, and local and natural history. He began a parish Sunday School for boys, and died at the age of 51 in 1824.

When the manor estate at Haversham was divided and sold in 1806, the right was retained by the trustees of the heir of the former Lord of the Manor so that he might be appointed Rector when he was old enough. The Revd HA Small was 25 when he became the Rector of Haversham and Clifton Reynes in 1828. But he lived beyond his means, and was sued for a debt of £10,000.

Haversham remained in the Diocese of Lincoln until 1845. The Bishop of Oxford sequestrated both of Small’s livings in 1850; Small formally resigned as Rector of Haversham six years later, and the Revd AB Frazer was appointed in his place.

Frazer initiated the Victorian restoration of the Church in 1857, with the renewal of the roofs, repairs to the flooring and pews. During this work, the Norman window was discovered in the west wall, and an ambry and piscina were found in the chancel.

The right of patronage later passed to Church Pastoral Aid Society.

• Sunday services in Saint Mary’s at 11 am, with Holy Communion on the Third Sunday of the month. Saint Mary’s is part of the ‘LAMP’ Group of Parishes including Saint Leonard’s Church, Little Linford, Saint Peter’s, Tyringham with Filgrave, and All Saints’ Church, Emberton. The Vicar of Haversham-cum-Little Linford is the Revd Adrian Low, Emeritus Professor of Computing Education, Digital Technologies and Arts at Staffordshire University.

Saint Mary’s Church, Haversham, is part of the ‘LAMP’ Group of Parishes including Little Linford, Tyringham and Emberton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (32)

‘The pensive man never loses himself in crowds, but walks the cloister or frequents the cathedral’ … Samuel Johnson’s statue at the south-east corner of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

There are monuments to Samuel Johnson on the south-east side of Lichfield Cathedral and in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, a window commemorates him in Southwark Cathedral, and he is buried in Westminster Abbey. I have revisited these cathedrals in recent months. But what did Johnson have to say about cathedrals?

In his Life of Milton, Johnson wrote:

The pensive man at one time walks ‘unseen’ to muse at midnight, and at another hears the sullen curfew. If the weather drives him home he sits in a room lighted only by ‘glowing embers’; or by a lonely lamp outwatches the North Star to discover the habitation of separate souls, and varies the shades of meditation by contemplating the magnificent or pathetick scenes of tragick and epick poetry. When the morning comes, a morning gloomy with rain and wind, he walks into the dark trackless woods, falls asleep by some murmuring water, and with melancholy enthusiasm expects some dream of prognostication or some musick played by aerial performers …

The pensive man never loses himself in crowds, but walks the cloister or frequents the cathedral.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection