31 May 2022

Saint Peter and Saint Paul,
the Gothic Revival church on
Castle Hill in Buckingham

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Buckingham Parish Church, stands on Castle Hill in the centre of Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, known commonly as Buckingham Parish Church, is prominently located on Castle Hill in the centre of the old town of Buckingham.

I spent a day in Buckingham last week. But, as I visited the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on Castle Hill, I wondered why, in a town as old as Buckingham, the Parish Church is only 250 years old?

There has been a church in Buckingham, since Saxon Times. The old church stood further down the hill, at the bottom of what is now called Church Street, in Prebend End.

Most of Buckingham’s town centre was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1725. Then, in 1776, the spire on the old church, fell down for the second time and caused so much damage that it was decided to build a new church on the vacant site of Castle Hill.

Castle Hill was the site of Edward the Elder’s stronghold against the Danes during the 10th century. Later, a Norman castle was built on the site, giving Castle Hill its name.

The earlier church located in Prebend End and dated from before 1445. However, no records have been found before this date, apart from a reference to it in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Inside the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Buckingham, facing the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The old church had a history of the tower and spire collapsing several times and it collapsed for the final time in 1776.

Browne Willis (1682-1760), the MP for Buckingham (1705-1708) and antiquarian who tried to rescue Saint Mary Magdalene Church and its tower in Stony Stratford after it was destroyed by fire, also wanted to restore the church in Buckingham to its former glory following the last repairs in 1698, but the new spire was too ambitious.

A detailed letter to the Bishop of Lincoln explained that after the church tower had fallen and destroyed the church, the inhabitants of Buckingham were unable to rebuild the parish church.

The old churchyard and the site of earlier parish churches until 1776 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A new site became available on Castle Hill and the decision was taken to move the church. It is said that much of the fabric of the earlier church was reused in building the new church. Indeed, the story goes, Church Street was given its name because the old church was carried up it to be rebuilt on Castle Hill.

Richard Grenville-Temple (1711-1779), 2nd Earl Temple and William Pitt’s brother-in-law, undertook to build a new church and the site was donated Ralph Verney (1714-1791), 2nd Earl Verney, an Irish peer who had previously been known as Lord Fermanagh.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid by Robert Bartlett, bailiff of Buckingham, on 25 November 1777 at a ceremony that included singing a hymn composed for the occasion, followed by the roasting of an ox with beer and bread supplied by Lord Temple.

The screen and chancel in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The church was completed by Lord Temple’s nephew, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville (1753-1813), 3rd Earl Temple and 1st Marquis of Buckingham, later Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1787-1789).

The new church in the ‘Debased Gothic’ style, was consecrated by Thomas Thurlow, Bishop of Lincoln, on 6 December 1780, and was dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul.

The church originally was a simple Georgian building with a simple design. The main part of the church was formed by the nave and sanctuary, and there was a tower with an octagonal plan spire.

Remnants of the original church inside the new church include finely carved pew heads and a magnificent early 18th century brass chandelier that had been donated by Browne Willis. The greatest treasure is a rare Latin manuscript Bible originally presented in 1471.

However, the foundations of the church were insufficient and several cracks began appearing.

Inside the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Buckingham, facing the liturgical west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The present Victorian Gothic Revival church is the result of many 19th-century alterations by the local-born architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who added buttresses to prop up the building and redesigned the church in late 13th century geometrical style.

Scott remodelled and extended the church in 1862-1867, with the addition of the south porch, the chancel and chancel aisle, and a decoration scheme in the Gothic style. Scott’s alterations left little of the original 18th-century church untouched, although the tower and spire remain unchanged since 1780, and the windows were slightly altered.

The new chancel was funded by a £358 donation from the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The refurbished and rebuilt church were consecrated by the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, in 1867.

The East Window depicts the canticle Te Deum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The doorway of the south porch has cusped heads and there are statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the paired niches above. A convex shield above the west door shows the Swan of Buckingham in relief.

Inside, the chancel has a two-bay arcade with shafted piers at the north aisle, which houses organ chamber and vestry.

The vault, probably of redwood, is ingeniously fitted below the original 18th century roof, which has massive timber trusses designed to give clearance to the former elliptical plaster vault.

The oak pulpit stands on a tapering stone base with saints’ heads in circular medallions and an eagle book rest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The oak reredos dating from 1904 is by John Oldrid Scott, and has painted panels of the Nativity and angels.

The prayer desks in the Lady Chapel incorporate late 15th and early 16th century pew ends from the old church with poppy heads and complex blank tracery panels. Another pew end dated 1626 is now part of the reading desk with a coat of arms and scrollwork.

The oak pulpit stands on a tapering stone base with saints’ heads in circular medallions and an eagle book rest. The oak lectern has similar medallions at the sides of the book slope and is supported on lions feet with miniature buttresses.

A charity board with gilded frame is dated 1685. The Hanoverian royal arms can be seen on the front of the timber gallery front of carved and painted wood.

The oak reredos dating from 1904 is by John Oldrid Scott, and has painted panels of the Nativity and angels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Much of the stained glass is by Clayton and Bell, including the East Window (1877) depicting the canticle Te Deum.

The current Rector of Buckingham is the Revd Will Pearson-Gee, who trained for ordination at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. The usual Sunday services are: 9 am, traditional service with Holy Communion; 11 am, family service; 6 pm, contemporary service.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the paired niches above the south porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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