11 September 2022
All Saints’ Church,
Calverton: a return visit
at the end of summer
Within weeks of moving to Stony Stratford six months ago, one of the first churches I visited was All Saints’ Church in the small village of Calverton, about two miles outside Stony Stratford in the gentle countryside of Buckinghamshire.
Two of us walked out from Stony Stratford to Calverton in Spring sunshine that Sunday afternoon and enjoyed a short time in the Shoulder of Mutton before visiting All Saints’ Church.
However, the church was closed, and on that afternoon I did not get inside the church to photograph the chancel arch, the stained-glass windows and the other decorations that mark out All Saints’ Church as an attractive example of the influence of the Tractarian revival on church architecture in Victorian England.
But I made amends last Sunday afternoon, when I was at the parish fete in Calverton, and I visited the church inside and also climbed the church tower for views across the surrounding countryside across to Stony Stratford and beyond to Milton Keynes.
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.
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,’ while the parishioners of All Saints’ Church boasts that the church is ‘the mother Church of the Parish of Stony Stratford’, although the two churches are now joined in one benefice.
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.
Some local historians speculate that the church in Calverton may stand on one of the oldest church foundations in Buckinghamshire, and that the Christian presence in the area goes back to sometime between the years 600 and 700.
In that time, Birinus a missionary came to this area to work among the West Saxon people, and decided to settle among them. Birinus became the first Bishop of Dorchester, organising the parish system in the area. Local historians have suggested that the Parish of Calverton may date back to this time.
The early Saxon church in Calverton may have been built of wood or ‘wattle and daub’ and simply built with a nave and chancel.
The church in Calverton first appears in local records in 1068, two years after the Battle of Hastings.
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.
In all likelihood, the old Church of All Hallows was a simple structure that consisted of a nave, a chancel and a south aisle with an entrance porch.
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.
The Marquess of Salisbury sold the living in 1806 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 styles of the 12th and 14th century, 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.
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, including 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.
Perceval’s eldest surviving son, Charles George Perceval (1845-1897), who was born at Calverton Rectory, eventually succeeded to the family titles 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, who lived in Stony Stratford.
The Victorian reredos is an unusual for the time, with its unsentimental depiction of the Infant Christ not as a babe in swaddling clothes but as a toddler standing on his mother’s knee. This depiction is said to reflect the Christ Child at the age when Herod commanded the slaughter of all male children up to the age of two.
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.
The pulpit, decorated with mosaics depicting the Four Evangelists, is on the north side of the chancel arch and the lectern, which is adorned with images of the Passion of Christ on the south side. There are statues of Christ the Good Shepherd on either side of the chancel arch.
The organ is an original ‘Father Willis’ pipe organ. But its present position hides many of the beautiful floor tiles and obscures the view from the Chancel of the Baptistry and the font at the south side.
Long-term aspirations to create an organ loft at the west end of the nave to rectify this situation and to improve the quality of sound from the organ have yet to be realised.
The church is filled with colourful stained-glass windows depicting individual and paired saints – an in two instances collections of six saints – all serving as reminders that this is, after all, All Saints’ Church. None of the artists of these windows has been identified on any resources I have accessed in the past week.
The interior of the roof of the nave reveals the great beams and panelling.
The royal arms, carved in wood at the west end and painted, probably date from that restoration. The inscriptions below the arms date from the reign of Edward VII.
All the fittings are modern, and the church also has a simple collection of the Stations of the Cross.
The plate includes a chalice, paten and flagon, probably dating from the 17th century, and a modern paten.
I climbed the tower, which has a ring of six bells, and enjoyed the views of the rectory below and the old manor house – Calverton Manor is a Grade 2* Listed Building and featured in BBC2’s Restoration Home series in 2011. The view stretched and across the countryside to Stony Stratford and beyond to other parts of Milton Keynes.
A monumental cross in the churchyard is topped by an interesting cross, and has carved representations of the four evangelists encircling the base.