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)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
19 April 2022 (Psalm 55)

‘My heart is in anguish within me’ (Psalm 55: 4) … street art in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I was reflecting each morning on the Psalms. Then, during the two weeks of Passion Week and Holy Week, my morning reflections drew on the Stations of the Cross in the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, Wexford, and the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes.

Yesterday, I returned to my morning reflections on the Psalms, and in the coming weeks, 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 55:

Psalm 55 is often known in English for its opening words in the King James Version, ‘Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not thyself from my supplication.’ In the slightly different numbering in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 54. In Latin, it is known as Exaudi Deus orationem meam.

This psalm is a lament in which the author grieves because he is surrounded by enemies, and one of his closest friends has betrayed him.

Psalm 55 is similar to Psalm 41, especially 41: 9:

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

The introduction to this psalm identifies it as a ‘Maskil’ (instructional piece) and associates it with King David. The anonymous author may have been an Israelite living in a foreign city, and the false friend could be another Israelite living there.

This interpretation may be considered especially plausible if the second part of verse 23 is translated ‘men of idols and figurines,’ as used in some translations, rather than ‘bloodthirsty and treacherous’ or ‘men of blood and treachery.’

The psalm can be divided into three sections:

1, Verses 1-8: this section begins with a desperate appeal to God for deliverance (verses 1-3) and then describes the psalmist’s anguish and his desire for peace.

2, Verses 9-15: here we hear a strident denunciation of the author’s enemies, especially an individual described as ‘my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,’ who has turned against the psalmist (verses 12-14). This second section closes with a wish that the speaker’s enemies be swallowed alive in Sheol, a possible allusion to the fate of Korah.

3, Verses 16-23: The final section is a confident meditation on God’s justice. The psalmist is sure that God will save him and destroy the wicked.

It is unclear whether the psalm was written by a single author or not. Some scholars suggest that verses 12-14, 20-21, and 22 are fragments by a different author that were inserted into the text of the original psalm.

In an early example of antisemitism among the Patristic writers, Jerome, in the Vulgate, entitled this psalm Vox Christi adversus magnatos Judaeorum et Judam traditorem, meaning The voice of Christ against the chiefs of the Jews and the traitor Judas.

Ulrike Bail used intertextual interpretive methods in 1999 to read the psalm as a reference to the rape of Tamar.

The text was set to music as Hear My Prayer by Felix Mendelssohn in 1844. The Czech composer Antonín Dvořák set verses 1-8 to music in his Biblical Songs (1894). The Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály set Psalm 55 in 1923 with interpolations and extensions of grief and lamentation full of historic associations for the Hungarian people to the paraphrase by 16th-century poet Mihály Vég.

‘The terrors of death have fallen upon me’ (Psalm 55: 4) … graves in the grounds of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 55 (NRSVA):

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.

1 Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
2 Attend to me, and answer me;
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught 3 by the noise of the enemy,
because of the clamour of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me,
and in anger they cherish enmity against me.

4 My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
8 I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest.’

9 Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech;
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go around it
on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11 ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
do not depart from its market-place.

12 It is not enemies who taunt me—
I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—
I could hide from them.
13 But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend,
14 with whom I kept pleasant company;
we walked in the house of God with the throng.
15 Let death come upon them;
let them go down alive to Sheol;
for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.

16 But I call upon God,
and the Lord will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice.
18 He will redeem me unharmed
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
will hear, and will humble them—
because they do not change,
and do not fear God.

20 My companion laid hands on a friend
and violated a covenant with me
21 with speech smoother than butter,
but with a heart set on war;
with words that were softer than oil,
but in fact were drawn swords.

22 Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

23 But you, O God, will cast them down
into the lowest pit;
the bloodthirsty and treacherous
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘From Death to Resurrection,’ and was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, Coordinator of the Environmental Network of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (19 April 2022) continues the Easter theme and invites us to pray:

Let us pray for our brothers and sisters across the Anglican Communion as they celebrate Easter in their provinces, dioceses and churches.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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