25 March 2024

A spring afternoon on
the green in Woughton,
listening to legends about
Dick Turpin and his horse

Woughton-on-the-Green and Saint Mary’s Church beside the Village Green … the village has many legends about Dick Turpin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

After our visit to Milton Keynes University Hospital last week to mark the second anniversary of my stroke (18 March), Charlotte and I went to the nearby village of Woughton-on-the-Green, to the east of the hospital, to walk around the mediaeval village, to see Saint Mary’s Church beside the Village Green and neighbouring Woughton House, and to enjoy a late lunch in Ye Olde Swan, where we heard some of the local lore about Dick Turpin.

Woughton on the Green was listed in the Domesday Book in 1086. It is a traditional Buckinghamshire village that is now part of Milton Keynes. The civil parish of Old Woughton in south central Milton Keynes was established in 2012 by the division into two parts of Woughton parish. The original, undivided, civil parish was itself originally called ‘Woughton on the Green.’

By the time Queen Victoria succeeded to the throne, Woughton on the Green was a large village, thanks largely to the nearby Grand Union Canal and later to the nearby Wolverton Works that served the West Coast Main Line. Its population peaked at 350 in 1850, but has declining to 150 by 1960.

A new civil parish was formed in 2012 following a campaign by residents of Woughton. The new parish was given the temporary name of ‘Ouzel Valley’ until the new council adopted the name of Old Woughton Parish. Today, it has a population of 28,000, and is a suburb of Milton Keynes, although it maintains its autonomy.

The name Woughton is Anglo-Saxon in origin, meaning ‘Weoca’s farm.’ The suffix ‘on-the-Green refers to the large grassy area in the centre of the village, the traditional village green. About 60% of the parish is green space.

Until the end of the 18th century, the River Ouzel was crossed by a bridge, known as Monxton’s Bridge, connecting Walton and Woughton parishes. This name is supposed to commemorate William de Mokelestone, at one time lord of a manor in Woughton. The 18th century Buckinghamshire antiquarian by Browne Willis wrongly identified him with the priest’s effigy in Saint Mary’s Church.

Ye Olde Swan Inn looks out onto the village green and Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

There were two manors in Woughton at Domesday. The more important manor belonged to Martin who had succeeded Azor son of Toti, a thegn of King Edward. The manor later belonged to the Earls of Arundel, until Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, was executed in 1397 as a political traitor.

The descent of the manor is difficult to trace. Part of it passed through the de Botetourt, Harcourt, Burnell, Green, Fox and Vavasour families, until it was sold in 1553 to Edmund Mordaunt, ancestor of the Earls of Peterborough. Woughton Manor was later acquired by the Nicholls and Troutbeck families and then by the Dreyer, Rose, Farrell, and Carrington Bowles families.

Part of Woughton Manor passed from the de Cheriton family to John Longville, whose family, whose seat was at Wolverton. They retained their estate in Woughton for up to 400 years before selling it to the Troutbeck family.

Domesday also records a second estate known as Woughton Manor. It later belonged to the Earls of Cornwall as part of their estates at Berkhamsted. Woughton continued to be attached to Berkhamsted as late as 1649. Part of this manor was owned by John Grey, Lord de Grey, and his descendants, the Greys, afterwards Earls of Kent, who owned the Manor of Bletchley.

In addition, the Abbots of Woburn owned property in Woughton until the Dissolution of the monastic houses at the Tudor reformation in the 16th century.

Woughton House … the manor is named in the Domesday Book, and Woughton House is expected to reopen as an hotel in April (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Woughton House, which has been an hotel for many year, stands on over 40 acres of parkland beside Saint Mary’s Church. The house was built in 1813 and remodelled in 1845 by Colonel William Levi and his wife Fanny from an earlier manor house. A talented musician, Colonel Levi ran Bletchley Musical Society for 21 years and he installed an organ in Saint Mary’s Church in 1892. For all intents and purposes, Colonel Levi and the rector of Saint Mary’s governed the village.

Woughton House was bought in 1925 by Captain and Mrs Barton, who made many improvements and added a tennis court and a cricket pitch. Woughton House was bought by General Oswald Blount and his brother Harold in 1937. General Blount was a local councillor and chairman of Woughton-on-the-gGeen Parish Council. When World War II broke out, he commanded the Home Guard unit in the village, transforming the house into Woughton’s military organisation centre.

Woughton House is expected to reopen in April as a boutique hotel.

Ye Olde Swan Inn, a 17th century inn, is said to be one of the haunts of Dick Turpin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

We enjoyed a late lunch in Ye Olde Swan Inn, a 17th century inn with later additions, and once said to have tunnels that led to Saint Mary’s Church.

This is a period building with low ceilings and exposed beams, extended over the centuries and with seating on different levels. The pub restaurant dates from Tudor times and has retained many original features.

Most of the pub is given to dining, but there is a small but comfortable bar area to one side. The large garden overlooks the Green and is very popular in the summer.

Ye Olde Swan is a period building with low ceilings and exposed beams (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

According to local lore, Woughton-on-the-Green was one of the haunts of the 18th century highwayman Dick Turpin when he changed the scene of his activities from the great North Road to Watling Street.

Turpin was said to travel to and from his exploits by an unfrequented route running over ancient tracks. The route led down the track known as Bury Lane in Woughton past the Olde Swan and down what was known as the Roman Road, across the patch of scrub covered waste known as No Man’s Land, and so on to Watling Street.

The Old Swan was a convenient stopping place for Turpin, and the landlord may have supplied him with information on travellers’ movements. A gloomy and unlit room in the centre of the inn was once known as the prison room, and prisoners travelling in custody were held there for the night. Tradition also says many wanted men were hidden there by the landlord.

Turpin’s Rock, where Dick Turpin is said to have mounted his horse to ride off from the Olde Swan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Legend says Dick Turpin reversed his horseshoes at Ye Olde Swan to escape pursuit, and that he used a large stone outside, known as Turpin’s Rock, to mount his horse quickly when he was riding off from the tavern.

Dick Turpin was captured in York and charged with horse theft in 1737, then punishable by death. He was tried in York and was hanged on 7 April 1739 by a fellow highwayman who was pardoned for his crimes for being the executioner.

Local lore in Woughton claims Dick Turpin’s ghost can still be seen on occasional dark nights riding his legendary horse Black Bess along Bury Lane. Folklore also suggests that if Turpin’s Rock is moved bad things will happen to the person who tries to move it.

Woughton-on-the-Green is a suburb of Milton Keynes but maintains its autonomy and separate identity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
41, 25 March 2024,
Saint Richard of Chichester

Saint Richard of Chichester depicted in a window in the Dyott Chapel in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

This is the last week of Lent, Holy Week, and yesterday was Palm Sunday, the Sixth Sunday in Lent (24 March 2024). In the Church Calendar, today is usually celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation, but because it falls in Holy Week this year it has been transferred to Monday 8 April.

Today (25 March) is also Greek National Day. The Greek revolution against the Turkish occupation and the War of Independence began on 25 March 1821, when Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the Greek flag in the Monastery of Aghia Lavra in Peloponnese.

Monday in Holy Week is known in many parts of the Church as Fig Monday.

Throughout Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints commemorated in Common Worship.

We are travelling to Norwich later this morning. But before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on an early, pre-Reformation English saint;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A window depicting Saint Richard of Chichester and Saint George of England in the Dyott Chapel in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 41, Saint Richard of Chichester

Saint Richard, Bishop of Chichester, is remembered in Common Worship on 16 June. Richard de Wych was born in Wych, present-day Droitwich in Worcesterdhire, in 1197 and worked hard for his yeoman father to restore the family fortunes. Later he studied at Oxford and Paris and then in Bologna as an ecclesiastical lawyer.

When Richard returned to England in 1235, he was made Chancellor of Oxford University and eventually Chancellor to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund of Abingdon. When he decided to become a priest, he studied theology for two years with the Dominicans at Orléans.

When Richard became Bishop of Chichester in 1244, he was seen as a model diocesan bishop: progressing around his diocese on foot, visiting and caring for his clergy and people, generally being accessible to all who needed his ministry. He insisted that the sacraments be administered without payment and with a proper dignity. While he was on a recruitment campaign for the Crusades, he fell ill at Dover and died there on 3 April 1253. His mortal remains were translated to Chichester on 16 June 1276.

Saint Richard is often remembered for the popular prayer ascribed to him:

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
follow thee more nearly.

The prayer was adapted for the song ‘Day by Day’ in the musical Godspell (1971), with music by Stephen Schwartz. The words used, with a few embellishments, were based on the following from Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition:

Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

A scene from the life of Saint Richard of Chichester depicted in a window in the Dyott Chapel in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 12: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Figs on a stall in Athens … Monday in Holy Week is known in many parts of the Church as Fig Monday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 25 March 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Holy Week Reflection.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Revd Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar, Theologian and Director of Global Mission, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (25 March 2024), reflecting on the traditional Feast of the Annunciation, invites us to pray in these words:

Today we pray for the strength to follow the calling of the Lord. May we embrace unexpected events and trust in God.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who in your tender love towards the human race
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant,
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation:
give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.

Additional Collect:

True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.

Yesterday: Saint Edmund of Abingdon

Tomorrow: Saint Robert Grosseteste (1253), Bishop of Lincoln, Philosopher, Scientist

The Greek flag flying above the Acropolis in Athens … Greek National Day recalls when Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the Greek flag in the Monastery of Aghia Lavra on 25 March 1821 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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