Saturday, 16 April 2022

All Saints’ Church, Calverton,
a 200-year-old church built
on mediaeval foundations

All Saints’ Church dates from the 12th century and was rebuilt in 1818 and 1824 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In the afternoon sunshine that I have been enjoying in Stony Stratford this week, I walked out one day to Calverton just outside Stony Stratford, and enjoyed a short time in the Shoulder of Mutton. It is an appropriate name for an old country pub looking across the fields filled with sheep and new-born lambs, and I enjoyed the view across those fields to Calverton Manor and All Saints’ Church.

The parish of Calverton includes one village, Lower Weald, and two hamlets, Upper Weald and Middle Weald. Lower Weald is the largest of these three settlements, and includes Manor Farm, the parish church and the former parish school.

The name means the ‘farm where calves are reared,’ and in the Domesday Book in 1086 the village was recorded as Calvretone.

Thatched cottages in the village of Lower Weald in Calverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The west side of nearby Stony Stratford was once included with the ecclesiastic parish of Calverton, while the east side was in Wolverton, so that in the past the Manor of Calverton was often called ‘the Manor of Calverton with Stony Stratford.

The manor was sold in 1616 to Sir Thomas Bennet, who had been Lord Mayor of London in 1603. It was extended by his grandson, Sir Simon Bennet, in 1659. The manor is reputedly haunted by the ghost of Simon’s wife, Lady Grace Bennett, who was murdered there in 1694. The Bennet family also owned the nearby Manor of Beachampton.

The fair and market of Stony Stratford were part of the life of the Manor of Calverton until they were separated by an Act of Parliament in the 18th century.

Looking across the fields to Calverton Manor and All Saints’ Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The church in Calverton may be one of the oldest Church foundations in Buckinghamshire. Richard the clerk of Calverton witnessed a deed with Robert de Whitfield, Sheriff of Oxfordshire, in 1182-1185. This may be the earliest reference to the church in Calverton, which was dedicated to All Hallows – the mediaeval equivalent of All Saints. The old Church of All Hallows consisted of a nave, a chancel and a south aisle with an entrance porch.

However, the Christian presence in the area goes back much further, to sometime between the years 600 and 700. Birinus a missionary came to this area to work among the West Saxon people, and decided to settle among them permanently.

Birinus became the first Bishop of Dorchester, organising the parish system in the area. Perhaps the Parish of Calverton was established at this time.

The west door of All Saints’ Church, Calverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The advowson of Calverton was held in 1233 by Isabella de Bolebec, Countess of Oxford and wife of Robert de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford. The advowson or living then descended with the manor until the manor was sold in 1806, when the living was sold by the Marquess of Salisbury to Charles George Perceval (1756-1840), 2nd Lord Arden and an elder brother of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval (1762-1812). Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons, the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

Lord Arden presented Dr Butler as a temporary Rector of Calverton in 1814, to hold the parish until his son was ‘of a proper age.’ The patronage of the living later descended in the Perceval family to the Earls of Egmont.

Lord Arden commissioned the architect William Pilkington to rebuild All Saints’ Church between 1818 and 1824, on the foundations of All Hallows’ Church. The church was built in stone in the 12th and 14th century styles, and during this this work some of the old details were re-used. All Saints’ Church opened in October 1818, and includes a chancel, a nave of three bays, a south aisle, a west tower and a south porch.

The south porch of All Saints’ Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Lord Arden’s work was assisted in this work by Dr Butler. Arden also built a new rectory at his own expense, and the foundations of the house were laid in July 1819.

Butler was succeeded in 1821 by Lord Arden’s third son, the Revd the Hon Charles George Perceval (1796-1858), who came to live at Calverton as Rector on 26 March 1821, at the age of 24.

Perceval was a devout High Churchman and a supporter of the Tractarians. Much of the decoration in the church, the stained glass windows and other embellishments, owes its origins to Perceval.

Many of the Tractarian leaders met in the Rectory at this time, including Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), John Henry Newman and Edward Manning, and some of the Tracts for the Times were planned if not written at Calverton.

Some of the ‘Tracts for the Times’ were planned in the Rectory in Calverton … a new rectory was built in 1819 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Perceval’s eldest surviving son, Charles George Perceval (1845-1897), who was born at Calverton Rectory, eventually succeeded as 7th Earl of Egmont in 1874. Egmont was an Irish peerage, and in 1889 Lord Egmont sold off many of the family estates in north Co Cork, including Liscarroll Castle, near Buttevant. Kanturk Castle was donated to the National Trust by his widow in 1900.

More rebuilding took place in the church in Calverton in the 1850s, and further restoration and decorations were carried out in 1871-1872, when the architect was Edward Swinfen Harris. The royal arms, carved in wood and painted, probably date from that restoration. The inscriptions below the arms date from the reign of Edward VII.

The monumental cross in All Saints’ churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The chancel arch and the nave arcade are apparently 14th century work reset, and the two-centred tower arch over the modern semi-circular arch may be of the 15th century and rebuilt. All the fittings are modern, there is a ring of six bells, and the plate consists of a chalice, paten and flagon, probably dating from the 17th century, and a modern paten.

A monumental cross in the churchyard is topped by an interesting cross, and has carved representations of the four evangelists encircling the base.

Today, All Saints’ Church, Calverton, is part of the Parish of Stony Stratford and Calverton.

Calverton Manor is a Grade 2* Listed Building and featured in BBC2’s Restoration Home series in 2011.

Calverton Manor featured in BBC 2’s ‘Restoration Home’ series (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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