29 January 2023

All Saints Church, Milton Keynes
Village, is one of the largest
and most attractive mediaeval
churches in Buckinghamshire

All Saints’ Church in Milton Keynes Village … one of the largest and most attractive mediaeval churches in Buckinghamshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

All Saints’ Church in Milton Keynes Village – or Middleton, as it is sometimes called – is one of the largest and most attractive mediaeval churches Buckinghamshire, in a forgotten corner hidden in the midst of modern Milton Keynes.

Charlotte and I visited the church last week after celebrating my birthday at lunch in the Swan Inn in Milton Keynes Village, the mediaeval village that has given its name to the new city.

In John Betjeman’s Guide to English Parish Churches (1958), Clive Rouse describes All Saints’ Church as ‘Text book 14th century.’ This attractive church, with its roofs and north tower, is said to be one of the best examples in this area of the Decorated period of architecture.

Little is known of the first church built in Milton Keynes, but it may have been stood at the Saxon burial ground discovered in 1992 close to the old Rectory. On All Saints’ Day 1995, 100 Saxon bodies were reburied in the churchyard at All Saint Saints’ Church.

On All Saints’ Day 1995, 100 Saxon bodies were reburied at All Saint Saints’ Churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

All Saints’ Church was mainly built ca 1330, although the chancel arch remains from an earlier building on the site and dates from ca 1200. All Saints’ Church consists of a chancel, north chapel, north tower and south porch. It is built of stone rubble, faced both internally and externally, and the roofs are covered with tiles.

The layout of the church is unusual, with a chancel offset from the centre-line of the nave so that a chapel could be accommodated on the north side of the church. The tower is also in an unusual position on the north side of the nave.

The earliest-known church on the present site, on the opposite side of Willen Road from the Old Rectory, dates from ca 1200. Most of the glebe land owned by the church was on the east side of the road, beside to the Rectory.

The church was first mentioned in 1221, when Luke de Kaynes presented Ralph de Kaynes to the rectory. This earlier church may have had a north aisle with an arcade of pillars, and when the church was rebuilt it may have been decided to incorporate the aisle into the nave. The only remains of the original structure are the east wall of the nave, the fine chancel arch, and a lancet reset in the south wall of the nave.

The present church dates from an extensive rebuilding ca 1330 by Philip de Aylesbury, then lord of the manor. The nave was widened towards the north and probably lengthened, the chancel enlarged, and the chapel, tower, and porch added.

The three-stage tower of All Saints’ Church is in an unusual position on the north side of the nave (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

An extensive restoration was carried out in 1864 by George Edmund Street, the Oxford Diocesan Architect, with a grant from the Incorporated Society for Buildings and Churches. Street also restored Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at this time. He was sensitive to the decorated period features of the church, and eliminated some of the later alterations to bring it more into line with his ideas of how it would have been ca 1330.

Street’s major changes included the steeply-pitched tile nave roof. The interior was extensively remodelled, the plaster was stripped from the walls, a new floor of contemporary tiles was laid, with wood under the nave seating.

Two of the windows and the straight parapets, which are carried round the church, have been substantially renewed, but otherwise the mediaeval stonework is well-preserved, and the church, with its fine traceried windows, elaborate south doorway and openwork porch, is one of the finest examples of 14th-century architecture in Buckinghamshire.

The east window in the chancel is of three trefoiled lights, with reticulated tracery in a pointed head. On the south are two fine traceried windows, each with two cinquefoil lights, while near the west end of the wall is a two-light low-side window, both lights of which are rebated internally for shutters.

Immediately to the east of the low-side window is a small moulded doorway with a pointed head. A piscina, credence niche, and two sedilia, enclosed in a square head with shields in the spandrels, and divided from each other by circular shafts, form one composition of three bays below the east window on this side. The sedilia are trefoiled and have their seats on different levels. The piscina and credence, which are formed by the subdivision of the east bay by a central shaft, are cinquefoil in shape, and their shafts are carried down below the sills to the level of the seat of the adjacent sedile.

The north side of the chapel, including one of two small low-side openings doors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

On the north side, opening to the chapel, is an arcade of two pointed arches, supported by a circular pillar and filleted responds with moulded capitals and bases. The capitals of the responds were originally enriched by carvings on each side, but these have been cut away. To the east of the arcade is a plain locker recess. The chancel arch, which dates from ca 1200, is acutely pointed, and springs from engaged shafts with moulded bases and water-leaf capitals.

The north chapel was probably founded for a chantry by Philip Aylesbury, who died in 1349, or his grandson John who succeeded him. It was endowed by the Chaworth and Stafford families in the reign of Henry VI, for Masses to be said for the souls of their ancestors in the Aylesbury family. After the Tudor Reformation, the north chapel was converted into a school during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The chapel is lighted from the east by a window of three cinquefoil lights with flowing tracery in an ogee head, and from the north by three windows, two of which are of two cinquefoil lights with graceful tracery in their heads; the remaining window, at the west end of the wall, is a single light.

The two small low-side openings doors near each other in the north wall are most unusual. Between these openings is a moulded doorway with a pointed head.

The nave has three windows in the south wall, two in the north wall, and one in the west wall, all of three lights with tracery in pointed heads. All of these date from the 14th century, with the exception of the west window, where only the jambs are original.

To the west of the two windows on the north is a doorway similar to that in the chapel, and at the east end of the north wall is a pointed arch, opening to the ground stage of the tower, with moulded responds, the capitals of which are embellished with ball-flower and dog-tooth ornament.

The south porch at All Saints’ Church in Milton Keynes Village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The south doorway is a particularly rich and well-preserved example of 14th-century work. It has an acutely pointed head with continuous mouldings, the inner part of which develops into a large trefoil with sub-cusping. The label is enriched with a running ball-flower ornament and terminates in carved stops. The bases of the jambs have been restored.

The three-stage tower has buttresses and an embattled parapet, and a ring of five bells.

Some memorials on the chancel floor were lost when the floor was retiled, many other furnishings were changed, including the pulpit and font, and quotations from the scriptures were placed on boards over all the windows and archways, although these have since been removed.

A new porch was added outside the north door of the nave in 2019 to house two toilets. This modern addition closely matches the style of the church in its exterior design.

In a field to the west of the church are the remains of a moat and traces of fishponds, probably the site of the ancient manor house and its ponds known as the Pondwykes in 1418. The school at the north end of the village was built in 1859.

The west end of All Saints’ Church in Milton Keynes Village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The advowson descended with the manor, but on the death of Hugh Aylesbury in 1423 the Chaworth and Stafford families divided the advowson between them, each taking alternate turns to present or nominate the rector.

The Stafford family’s interest descended with the manor, and the Chaworth family’s interest descended with the Manor of Drayton Beauchamp until ca 1543, when it was held by the Revd Thomas Dynham and his cousin the Revd Thomas Babington.

The Revd Francis Babington, who was the Rector of Milton Keynes in 1559-1565, appears to have been a son of Humphrey Babington (1489-1544) and his wife Eleanor Beaumont; she was a co-heir with her sisters Dorothy who married Humphrey Comberford and Jane who married William Babington of Teremore.

Francis Babington was also Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and Master of Balliol College, Oxford (1559-1560), but he was forced to flee overseas because of his Catholic sympathies and died in exile ca 1569.

The Revd Louis Atterbury (1631-1693) was the Rector of Milton Keynes during the Civil War and Commonwealth period, and remained in office after the Restoration (1657-1693). He drowned in Broughton Brook on the night of 7 December 1693 in suspicious circumstances while he was returning from a meeting in London with his lawyers to discuss a land dispute with the Finches, Lords of the Manor.

Lewis Atterbury’s son, Francis Atterbury (1663-1732), was born in the rectory in Milton Keynes and later became Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Rochester. Bishop Atterbury was arrested in 1722 during the so-called ‘Atterbury Plot’ by Jacobites. He protested his innocence, and may have been the victim of his High Church sympathies. He died in exile in Paris, but was brought back and buried in Westminster Abbey.

The Queen Anne-style Old Rectory in Milton Keynes Village built in 1696-1711 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Queen Anne-style Old Rectory is a red brick house built in 1696-1711 by the antiquarian, the Revd Dr William Wotton, who was the Rector of Milton Keynes in 1693-1726. The previous rectory was an stone house built around a courtyard.

The Old Rectory is a Grade 2 listed building and remains the largest house in the village. The last rector to live there was the Revd John Franklin Cheyne. It was bought from the Oxford Diocese in the early 1960s, when the gardens were remodelled.

The Old Rectory was eventually acquired by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation and split into four separate apartments that were later sold on. The stone-built garden wall facing Willen Road probably dates from the time of the earlier stone built Rectory and also has Grade 2 listing.

All Saints Church in Milton Keynes Village, along with Saint Mary’s Church, Wavendon, Church Without Walls, Broughton, and Christ the King Church, Kent’s Hill, form the Walton Churches Partnership (WCP), an ecumenical parish created in 1985 in a partnership between the Church of England, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist Church. There are also two redundant church buildings in the area: Saint Michael’s Church, Walton Hall, and Saint Lawrence’s Church, Broughton.

The Rector is the Revd Matt Trendall, and Sunday services in All Saints are at 11:15.

The village school in Milton Keynes Village was built in 1859 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Praying through poetry and
with USPG: 29 January 2023

The Moat House, the former Comberford home on Lichfield Street, depicted on the welcome sign at Tamworth Railway Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, although some parishes may decide to bring forward the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation from next Thursday to this morning.

Later this morning, I plan to be at the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford. But before the day begins I am taking some time in prayer and reflection at the beginning of the day.

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation on Thursday next (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘Our town has underused churches and underappreciated ancient monuments’ … Saint Editha’s Church and the town seen from Tamworth Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I was back in Tamworth last week, visiting some places associated with the Comberford family. So, my choice of poem this morning is another poem about Tamworth by Mal Dewhirst, ‘Our Town.’

Mal Dewhirst, who died in 2021, became Staffordshire’s first poet laureate in 2012. He lived in Tamworth and Tamworth inspired a number of his poems.

He was a writer and film maker, and his plays have been performed across the Midlands, including ‘The Fell Walker’ in Tamworth and ‘At the Crossroads’ at the Garrick in Lichfield, which was commissioned by the Lichfield Mysteries.

Mal was a poet-in-residence in a town market and an archaeological dig, his work has been published in many magazines and journals, and he appeared on BBC Radio and Radio Wildfire. He was also responsible for the Polesworth Poets Trail.

Mal was a regular reader on the Midlands poetry scene and was part of the Coventry Cork Literature exchange in 2011, performing readings in Cork City and Limerick. As a film director, his film Double Booked was shown at the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival in Ireland in 2014.

He hoped to bring ground-breaking writing to new audiences, always seeking to redefine boundaries, and wanted to develop and improvise new work as collaborations with other artists and performers in unexpected places as a melding of ideas, skills and talents.

Tamworth Castle, on a mound above the town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Our Town, by Mal Dewhirst:

Our town is being defined
by the corporate; coffee shop, pseudo design brand clothing stores, token music shop and two branches of a major pharmacy,
mixed in with charity shops for our hearts, the aged, the hospice and cancer.
It has an out of town retail park
with two supermarkets, a pet store, two electrical shops and a DIY store,
all mingled among a disruptive road network.

I know what you’re thinking,
Our town sounds just like your town.
It has several co-ops, a flower shop, a row of; banks and building societies,
travel agents and estate agents, solicitors and accountants,
they all group together, power in numbers,
creating quarters, where they know each others secrets.
Then there is the local council office, the tourist information centre,
pubs and restaurants, cafes and Kebab shops,
cheep booze emporiums,
where Chateauneuf-du-Pape is not even an aspiration.
Market stalls on xdays and ydays,
for the purveyors of:
fleeces and fruit, trainers and towels,
books and batteries, rugs and rollers,
cheese and chutney,
Our town sounds just like your town

Our town has a Non-league football team,
whose fans chant about coming from our town,
how nobody likes us but we don’t care,
just like they do in your town.
We have a leisure centre, with swimming pool and gym,
all franchised out to entrepreneurs from the Dragons den.
Our town has underused churches and underappreciated ancient monuments,
it has some green open spaces with swings and a slide
and some artworks, that just appeared as if dropped by aliens.
There is a carnival in the summer,
where lorries squeeze through open backed streets
and the sea cadets, girl guides and boy scouts
hold on for dear life, whilst the spectators thrown coins at them.
The carnival, when they crown a local girl as queen
who smiles for the camera and hopes that there is more to fame than this.

Our town has the battle of the bands in the autumn,
when young testosterone filled teenagers
thrash guitars and grunt about being misunderstood.

Our town has a bonfire and fireworks in the park,
except now it’s only fireworks
because the fire destroys the grass.
Our town sounds just like your town

Our town was badly re-planned in the sixties and has a local newspaper
that keeps reminding us, by printing pictures from the past.

Our town’s car parks are free after seven pm
but demands payment for a minimum of two hours at all other times.

Our town has its Assembly rooms where fading sixties bands strut their Zimmer tunes,
and the local dance groups hold their annual shows,
followed by the X factor rejects, grabbing their last gigs
before disappearing into Wikipedia.

Our town has its taxi ranks where A2B vie for business with Ourtown Taxi’s,
there is a bus garage that is in the narrowest most inappropriate part of town,
the multiplex Cinema surround sounds an American Diner.
Pedestrianised streets where
there are sometimes fights at weekends,
tears and bruises, over indulgent consequences.
Fading hotels, who have offers for weddings
where suits feel uncomfortable
upon their wearers
and women wear large bright hats.
Our town sounds just like your town.

Our town has bred several footballers, rock musicians and the odd writer,
all of whom no longer live here,
and never mention that they ever lived here,
We do have many other worthies, who were named after the roads,
where boy racers now avoid the awkward speed bumps
as they tear up the worthy tarmac.

Our town has its own crest,
is tripleted with several foreign towns,
one in Germany, as an act of reconciliation,
another in France, although I did not realise Agincourt still ran so deep,
and the obvious one, the one with same name, in a former British colony.
Our town used to produce things,
was known for producing certain things;
now either people don’t want our things,
or they can be made cheaper in Eastern Europe or China,
our town has lost its industry
has become overspill for the city
has more incomers who commute to work,
than those who are born and bred and speak with a local accent,
use local sayings; know everyone and who they are related too.

OK, In our town there is a familiar feeling
that our town is just like your town.

© Mal Dewhirst

‘Our town has its own crest’ … the Tamworth Arms on Lichfield Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Opening Our Hearts.’ This theme is introduced this morning by James Roberts, Christian Programme Manager at the Council of Christians and Jews, who reflects on Holocaust Memorial Day and World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Holocaust Memorial Day, which we commemorated on Friday, and World Interfaith Harmony Week, which begins on Wednesday, require us to open our hearts, both to the memory of the past and towards a more tolerant and loving future.

Holocaust Memorial Day is when we remember all the victims of Nazi persecution, including the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and all subsequent genocides. In order to authentically witness to the memory of the Holocaust, we need to open our hearts to the pain of the past. We need to inform ourselves of this shameful history, and to hold the memory of the victims in our minds. We may even look inwards and ask ourselves how we might do more to stand up for those who are persecuted, abused, or rejected in our world today.

To look forward towards a better future, towards a world where genocide will be no more, we must also open our hearts to the other — to our neighbours, to people who are different from us. In interfaith harmony week, we think especially of people of other faiths.

To open our hearts to the memory of the past, and to our neighbours, is to actively and prayerfully strive towards harmony between all people, so that we may grow one step closer to a world united in love.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Lightness our darkness, O Lord,
and reveal the unspeakable
lest we forget the victims of our inhumanity.
Turn our hearts to repentance and our actions to justice.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

‘Our town has … underappreciated ancient monuments’ … the Comberford monument in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)