28 March 2022

Saint Mary the Virgin: a former
Gothic Revival church by
Scott in Stony Stratford

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin on London Road, Stony Stratford … designed in the 1860s by Sir George Gilbert Scott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Although Saint Mary and Saint Giles is the Church of England parish church in Stony Stratford, the town had two parish churches for about a century. The ‘Saint Mary’ in the name of Saint Mary and Saint Giles is a reminder of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, built as a new church on London Road in 1864.

The part of the toen in the parish of Wolverton was left without a church after the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene burnt down in the Great Fire in Stony Stratford in 1742. For over a century, Saint Giles’ Church in Stony Stratford was the only church serving the parishes of both Wolverton and Calverton.

A new church on London Road was designed in 1863-1865 in the Gothic style by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), a prolific architect of the Gothic Revival. When the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin was built, it was still within Wolverton parish. The church was commissioned by the Revd William Pitt Trevelyan (1812-1905), Rector of Calverton, and his cousin, Mary Perceval of Calverton, later Lady Mary Russell.

Her father, the Revd Charles George Perceval (1796-1858), was the Rector of Calverton. Her brother, Charles Perceval (1845-1897), 7th Earl of Egmont, sold their family’s extensive estates in Co Cork in 1889, including Lohort Castle and Liscarroll Castle near Buttevant, once reputed to be the third largest castle in Ireland but now in ruins; his widow donated Kanturk Castle, Co Cork, to the National Trust in 1900.

The architect Sir Gilbert Scott is chiefly associated with the design and renovation of churches and cathedrals. He was inspired by Augustus Pugin to take part in the Gothic Revival, and one of his early works was the Martyrs’ Memorial on St Giles’, Oxford (1841).

Scott designed over 800 buildings, including the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station, the Albert Memorial and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, and King’s College Chapel, London.

While Scott was working on the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Stony Stratford, he was extensively renovating the ornate West Front of Lichfield Cathedral (1855-1878). He restored the cathedral to the form he believed it took in the Middle Ages, working with original materials where possible and creating imitations when the originals were not available.

Scott’s church in Stony Stratford was built in stone in the Early English style, with lancet windows, an apse, south porch, nave, aisles and a bellcote. However, some commentators described the church as ‘dullish’.

Scott also built a parish room and a vicarage in 1864. Initially, they were detached but were later joined to the church. The vicarage was an asymmetrical design built in stone, with a window by Farmer to which a later bay was added along with other alterations.

After the church was built, the new parish of Wolverton Saint Mary was formed in 1870, covering that end of Stony Stratford. A Vicarage was built opposite the church, as well as two curates’ houses, now known as ‘Jesuan House,’ and a parish hall.

The priests in the new church were supporters of the Tractarian Movement and the Oxford Movement, and faced vigorous opposition from strong evangelicals. Some of its priests were persecuted for what were regarded as ‘ritual offences’ and one was deprived of his living for these practices.

For a century, the church served the Wolverton Road and London Road area to the south and east of the historic core of Stony Stratford. Many of the houses in this area are terraced housing built in the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Most of the housing in the Wolverton Road, Queen Street, King Street and Clarence Road area was built for employees of the Wolverton railway works nearby. A tram was built to take workers to and from the factory, and a track was built along Wolverton Road with the terminus at Russell Street. However, by 1926 the tram was outmoded and closed.

After a fire severely damaged Saint Giles Church in Stony Stratford on 26 December 1964, many thought Saint Giles would be closed and Saint Mary the Virgin would become the sole parish church in the town. However, the Diocese of Oxford decided to restore Saint Giles and the congregation of Saint Mary’s were not happy to lose their church with their High Church traditions.

The Diocese of Oxford amalgamated the two parishes, the altar, the reredos by Sir Ninian Comper, and other furnishings were moved from Saint Mary’s Church to Saint Giles, and Saint Giles was re-dedicated as the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles on Palm Sunday, 7 April 1968. Saint Mary the Virgin then ceased to be a church and became a community centre.

The Swinfen Harris Church Hall is the former parish hall beside the former church. The hall was built in 1892 by the local architect Edward Swinfen Harris, and is a beautiful listed building on London Road.

The former church and hall were acquired by the Greek Orthodox Community of Milton Keynes in 2010. The two buildings have been has been restored extensively and are used by the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos, the Greek community and the Greek school. The hall is surrounded by extensive grounds and gardens and is available for hire.

A church school was built on the corner of Wolverton Road and London Road for Saint Mary’s Parish. The school was also designed by Edward Swinfen Harris in 1867-1873. The limestone walls are laced with patterns in red brick. When the school closed, the building was converted to the Plough Inn in 1937, and it is now being renovated as a gastropub.

The Swinfen Harris Church Hall, the former parish hall, was designed by Edward Swinfen Harris (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
28 March 2022 (Psalms 48)

‘Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God’ (Psalm 48: 1) … the city of Jerusalem depicted on a tile in a restaurant in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are now halfway through Lent this year, and I am still in Milton Keynes University Hospital following my stroke ten days ago, waiting for a possible to transfer to John Radcliffe Hospital. Meanwhile, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (28 March 2022) for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 48:

Psalm 48 is a celebration of the security of Zion, composed by the sons of Korah. In the slightly different numbering in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate , this psalm is Psalm 47. Its opening words in the Vulgate translation are Magnus Dominus.

Psalm 48 is referred to in its heading as both a ‘song’ and a ‘psalm’. This is a hymn of praise to the beauty and endurance of Jerusalem. It sings the praises of Zion, the city of our God, the city of the great King (see 48: 1, 2). It is a companion to Psalms 46 and 47, which also proclaim God’s victory over God’s enemies.

Verse 2 describes Mount Zion as ‘Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.’ The word ‘Zion’ comes from the word ציון (tziyun), a monument, landmark or marker. One rabbinical source hints that this eternal monument alludes to truth and sanctity, that will last forever. Verse 4 refers to ‘the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.’

The psalmist affirms that God’s beneficent rule belongs only to the godly, the residents of Zion. Mount Zion stands for the vision of God’s kingship. God’s kingdom is greater than Jerusalem but receives its visible expression in the temple and palace of Jerusalem.

God has chosen to establish his kingdom and delights in those who submit themselves to his rule: ‘For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation’ (132: 13). The Zion theology-eschatology inspires God’s people with adoration, joy, hope, and commitment to the Great King. The godly are those who live and act in anticipation of the vision of Zion. This hope was the basis for ethics, praise and life as God’s people (48: 8-14).

Jerusalem in its glory overwhelms even enemy kings who come against it. The city has outlived all those who tried to conquer it, and it is protected by God.

God’s praise extends to the ends of the earth. The psalm celebrates the beauty and security of Jerusalem on Mount Zion, where God is to be praised.

God is present in the Temple in his steadfast love. Jerusalem is a joy to pilgrims who consider God’s gift of love when worshipping in the Temple. God is to be praised for ever and to the ends of the earth, and for all future generations

The sons of Korah describe Jerusalem as ‘the joy of all the earth,’ because the throngs of people came to the holy city and to the Temple.

Jerusalem is the eternally beautiful and ever glorious city, and God chose it as his eternal resting place on earth.

This psalm goes on to describe how the enemies of God would flee when they saw his might and power. May we and all future generations dwell in peace, with God as our guide.

‘Let Mount Zion rejoice … because of your judgments, O Lord’ (Psalm 48: 11) … ‘The Holy City,’ a batik by Thetis Blacker in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 48 (NRSVA):

A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites.

1 Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, 2 beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
3 Within its citadels God
has shown himself a sure defence.

4 Then the kings assembled,
they came on together.
5 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
they were in panic, they took to flight;
6 trembling took hold of them there,
pains as of a woman in labour,
7 as when an east wind shatters
the ships of Tarshish.
8 As we have heard, so have we seen
in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
which God establishes for ever.

9 We ponder your steadfast love, O God,
in the midst of your temple.
10 Your name, O God, like your praise,
reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.
11 Let Mount Zion be glad,
let the towns of Judah rejoice
because of your judgements.

12 Walk about Zion, go all around it,
count its towers,
13 consider well its ramparts;
go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
14 that this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
He will be our guide for ever.

Today’s Prayer:

The USPG Prayer Diary this week, under the heading ‘Let my people go,’ focuses on the approximately 230 million Dalits living in India. Considered outcasts, these communities suffer systematic exclusion and discrimination under the caste system, a system of social stratification. The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (28 March 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for Dalits across India. May they be empowered to break free from their caste.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow</b>

‘As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God’ (Psalm 48: 8) … Jerusalem in bright lights in Jerusalem Restaurant in Camden Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org