19 April 2022

Holy Trinity Church in
Old Wolverton dates
back to Saxon times

The Church of the Holy Trinity in Old Wolverton was rebuilt in 1809-1815, incorporating Saxon and mediaeval elements (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In this week’s summer-like sunshine, two of us walked from Stony Stratford through the fields and the Buckinghamshire countryside yesterday (18 April 2022). It was a month since I had suffered a stroke in Milton Keynes, and we walked along the banks of the River Ouse to the Church of the Holy Trinity in Old Wolverton.

The Church of the Holy Trinity is a Grade II* listed church, incorporating Saxon and mediaeval elements, and was rebuilt in 1809-1815. This is the original parish church of the Saxon settlement of Wolverton, on a prominent site overlooking the valley of the River Ouse, close to the mound of a Norman motte and bailey castle, thrown up by Manno the Breton.

The old mediaeval church in Old Wolverton was replaced in the early 19th century, and the new church incorporates the 14th-century central tower of the old church, although this was re-cased in new masonry as a west tower.

Holy Trinity Church stands on a prominent site overlooking the valley of the River Ouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Holy Trinity Church now consists of a chancel, nave, transepts and west tower. The tower dates from the 14th century and the rest of the building from 1815, when the church was rebuilt and the tower encased, the work being carried out in the Norman style. The chancel and nave were redecorated in 1903.

The new stonework in the early 19th century rebuilding used Warwickshire sandstone, with some similar stone from Bilston, Staffordshire. These stones were brought to a field to the east of the church by barge on the recently opened Grand Junction Canal.

The church rebuilding was undertaken by the Radcliffe Trust, the principal landowner in the parish, Lord of the Manor and Patron of the Living since 1713.

Holy Trinity Church seen from the south-east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The rebuilt church was one of the first in Britain to be designed in an historical style, and the first in England to be built in the Norman or Romanesque style. This choice was probably influenced by Wolverton’s important Norman past.

When the church was being rebuilt, the church the tower was preserved at the west of the new structure, a third stage was added, and the pointed arches on the north and south sides of the ground stage, originally intended to communicate with transepts, were blocked.

These arches were completely hidden until 1903, when they were exposed internally. An incised cross has been rebuilt in one of the tower arches and a grotesque head, perhaps of the 12th century, in the stair turret. The internal walls of the second stage bear traces of having had a gabled roof.

The church’s dominant feature is its great round East Window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Inside, the church was simply and plainly treated. It is dominated by the great round East Window, with Portland stone tracery of eight lobes round a large central circle. The stained glass in this East Window, dating from 1888, was designed by Nathaniel Westlake and was made by Lavers and Westlake.

A large marble monument refixed on the north side of the chancel shows a recumbent effigy of Sir Thomas Longville of Wolverton, second baronet, who died in 1685. This monument shows the coat of arms of Longville impaling Fenwick and impaling Peyton, recalling his two wives.

A 17th century stool is preserved inside the church, and some old floor slabs with matrices for small brass plates have been relaid outside the south doorway.

The large west portal of three orders has interlacing arcading above. The tower contains a ring of six bells, all by John Briant of Hertford (1820). The plate includes a chalice of 1867 made from a cup given in 1686 by Catherine Longville, and a paten and flagon of 1837 given by the trustees of Dr Radcliffe.

The tower, large west door and interlacing arcading (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

An important scheme of decoration began in the church in 1870. This was designed by Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), an eminent Victorian and Edwardian architect in Stony Stratford. His aim was to give the interior a more full-blooded character, inspired by mediaeval church interiors. This included brightly coloured woodwork, vivid stained glass windows, and wall paintings, combined with stencilled decoration by the firm of Bell and Almond. This figurative work was carried out by Daniel Bell himself.

The font was given a towering oak cover designed by Swinfen Harris. But the climax of the improvements begun in 1870 was the replacement of the glass in the east window in 1888 with the present magnificent stained glass rose window by Nathaniel Westlake. Much of the stencil work has been obliterated, but key elements, including the figurative work round the east window, have now been restored.

The nave has stained glass windows probably designed by Daniel Bell (ca 1870-1879). Other 19th century stained glass windows can be seen in the north and south windows of the transepts. The round stone pulpit with decoration is by Bell and Almond. The font has a tall oak font cover designed by Edward Swinfen Harris.

The decoration of the side walls of the chancel and its ribbed vault dates from around 1907, when the Revd St John Mildmay was the Rector and Charles Harrison Townsend was the architect.

The tower houses a fine ring of six bells by Briant of Hertford, cast in 1820. Those buried in the churchyard include the stonemason George Wills, grandfather of the chemist George SV Wills.

The clock on the south side of the tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Holy Trinity lost its patron and benefactor in 1970 when the Radcliffe Trust sold its Wolverton estate to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. The team ministry with Saint George’s was instituted in 1973. A small toilet and kitchen were installed in the tower as part of an otherwise ill-considered scheme of re-ordering in 1974. Important restoration work was carried out in the 1990s, but the parish concedes ‘more is needed.’

The Parks Trust established by Milton Keynes Development Corporation looks after the fine parkland setting of church, and the earthworks of the larger village which the church used to serve in the Middle Ages, in the field to the west.

The congregation of Holy Trinity represents all ages and backgrounds, with younger couples and retired people who have moved into the area, and people from the newer housing estates.

Holy Trinity Church seen from the south (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The worship at Holy Trinity Church ranges from traditional liturgies, including sung Book of Common Prayer liturgies, as well as contemporary services and some fresh expressions styles of worship. This is the only church in Milton Keynes to offer a Morning Prayer service five days a week.

Social events include concerts, summer cream tea afternoons, barbeques, Christmas Fairs, quiz nights and a ‘Stargazing Evening’ led by the Milton Keynes Astronomical Society.

The house next door to the church was built in 1729 and later became the vicarage. The front door has stonework from the nearby but demolished 16th century manor house, including the de Longueville family coat of arms, and pieces from the earlier church building.

The church was Grade II* listed in 1953. Holy Trinity is grouped with Saint George the Martyr in Wolverton, and the rector is the Revd Gill Barrow-Jones.

The house next door to the church was built in 1729 and later became the vicarage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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