23 January 2023

The childhood home
of an archbishop who
grew up in Wolverton
and Stony Stratford

Wolverton House was the childhood home of Archbishop John Habgood, who grew up in Old Wolverton and Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

One of the walks I have been enjoying in recent weeks is between Galley Hill and Wolverton Mill, passing the Balancing Lakes and through Warren Park to Wolverton House on Stratford Road and on to Old Wolverton and into Wolverton.

One morning last week, I wandered around the grounds of Wolverton House, having heard the story of a former Archbishop of York who was born there and grew up in Old Wolverton and Stony Stratford.

There may always been a farm house on the site of Wolverton House from the 16th and 17th century. In the early 18th century it was part of the large estate acquired by Dr John Radcliffe.

Thomas Harrison, the land agent for the Radcliffe Trust and a farmer, decided to build a substantial house in 1784 at a cost of £1,800. Harrison farmed over 400 acres and had an annual income of more than £100 for managing the estate in Wolverton on behalf of the Radcliffe Trust, based in Oxford.

After Thomas Harrison died in 1809, his son Richard continued to live at Wolverton House with his widowed mother and his own family. When Richard Harrison died, his widow and son Spencer remained as tenants at Wolverton House until 1892, when Grace Harrison died and Spencer Harrison and his family retired to the south coast.

Wolverton House is a large rambling stone house with steep pitched old tile roofs. The house built by Harrison probably incorporates parts of an earlier house dating from the 16th and 17th century.

The house built or rebuilt by Harrison was a compact two-storey, three-bay south-facing house. Four heavy pilasters rise from the ground to a deep plain frieze and cornice with blocking course. All windows have glazing bars.

The two ground floor windows are three-light sashes set in segmental-headed recesses; The first floor windows are single light sashes in plain reveals. The flush quoins, the surrounds of the windows and the edges of the pilasters are of a darker stone than the rest of the house.

The central entrance is a square headed doorway with deep panelled reveals and soffit. The shallow stone porch has two heavy panelled pilasters and a shallow triangular pediment.

The fairly steep pitch roof is slate at the front and has three casement dormers with semi-circular heads. On the west there is a two-storey, three-light bow window with glazing bar sashes and a canopy extending to the right and the left on a cast-iron frame. There is a tented canopy on the first floor, and a parapet with three panels. A door to the left has marginal glazing in top half.

To the east is a rendered gable end that is partly recessed. Bargeboard. The pointed windows have marginal glazing and labels and two pointed lunettes below and one above also with labels.

After the Harrison family left, Wolverton House was separated from the farm and let to tenants. Those tenants in the 20th century included Dr Arthur Henry Habgood, a medical practitioner a Stony Stratford.

Dr Habgood and his wife, Vera (Chetwynd-Stapylton) Habgood, were the parents of John Stapylton Habgood (1927-2019), a future Archbishop of York, who was born at Wolverton House on 23 June 1927. The Habgood family later moved to Calverton House in Stony Stratford.

Wolverton House was leased by Buckinghamshire County Council after World War II. The council who used it as a residence for Grammar School and Technical School pupils whose families lived more than 20 miles from Wolverton or who were working overseas. The schools combined to create the Radcliffe School in 1958.

Wolverton House was run in the 1960s by Basil and Barbara Jacobs, who were house master and house mistress. They were succeeded by the Moyles, who brought a new vibrancy to the house. The pupils attended church on Sundays in Holy Trinity, Old Wolverton, Haversham or Stony Stratford.

The house was also used for residential courses, and some rooms facing the rear courtyard were used as council offices.

Wolverton House continued to be maintained by Buckinghamshire County Council in the 1980s.

Today Wolverton House is a pub and restaurant.

As for the future Archbishop York, John Habgood spent some of his boyhood in Wolverton House, which he remembered as a very draughty house in winter. In 1935, at the age of eight, he wrote this letter to God:

Dear God

If you feel lonely up in the sky would you like to come down and stay with us, you could sleep in the spier-room [sic], and you could bathe with us, and I think you would enjoy yourself.

Love from John

The Habgood family later moved to Calverton House, which was closer to his father’s medical practice in Stony Stratford.

John Habgood was educated at Eton, King’s College, Cambridge, and Ripon College Cuddesdon, and held a doctorate in science. He was a Demonstrator in Pharmacology in Cambridge University from 1950, and became a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge in 1952.

John Habgood was ordained deacon in 1954 and priest in 1955. He was a curate at Saint Mary Abbots Church, Kensington (1954-1956) before becoming Vice-Principal of Westcott House Theological Vollege, Cambridge (1956-1962). He was then Rector of St John’s, Jedburgh (1962-1967), and Principal of Queen’s College, a theological college in Birmingham, until he became Bishop of Durham in 1973. He was passed over by Margaret Thatcher for appointment as Bishop of London in 1981, but became Archbishop of York in 1983.

As Archbishop of York, Habgood was seen as a leader in keeping more conservative Anglicans within the church during growing divisions over the ordination of women as priests. He supported the ordination of women, arguing that God is neither male nor female, but he also supported the introduction of provincial episcopal visitors or ‘flying bishops’ to provide pastoral care and oversight to laity, clergy, and parishes who could not accept women priests.

After he retired as Archbishop of York in 1995, he continued to sit in the House of Lords as a life peer, taking the title Baron Habgood of Calverton in the County of Buckinghamshire, a title that recalled his childhood days at Calverton House in Stony Stratford. He died in 2019.

Wolverton House was built or rebuilt Thomas Harrison, the land agent for the Radcliffe Trust, in 1784 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)


Anonymous said...

Who now (2023) owns Wolverton House?

Anonymous said...

I lived in wolverton house in the very early 70’s . The moyles family would have been there .

Anonymous said...

Dr Habgood delivered me. My brother Michael and myself used to pick watercress from the Water around the lions mouth in Calverton on a Saturday. Mrs Habgood ued to buy it from us.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

I thought Thomas Harris was paid £40 a year by the Radcliffe Trust for his services as land agent. He was also paid a similar amount by Earl Spencer and the Paget family. It was while working for the Paget family over a disputed copper mine in Anglesey that Harrison made a great deal of money - about £20,000 by my estimate. He was thus easily able to afford to build Wolverton House.
I think it was practically a new build. There may have been a property on the site but it was always intended as a grander construction. After the demolition of the Longueville house at Wolverton c 1720, Wolverton House became the only house of significance the district.