Our Church history

A Brief History of the Church of St Mary the Virgin

The church can be found at the end of a leafy lane appropriately called Church Walk on the east end of the village. In Collins guide to English parish churches, edited by Sir John Betjeman, St Mary’s of Weston Turville is described by the author of the Buckinghamshire section, Mr E Clive Rouse, as a building 'of many styles and an attractive irregularity with things to please everyone'. A visit to the church that has stood for centuries it is not difficult to be captured by its antiquity and beauty.

The current church in Weston Turville dates back to the middle of the 13th century but the font, of ‘Aylesbury’ style, is early 12th century as are the fragments of decorated stone that are now located in the south wall of the chancel. It is therefore probable that an earlier church (12th century) existed on the same site as the current church. An archaeological dig, in 1985, at the motte and bailey that can be seen in the grounds of the nearby manor house, has also shown evidence of an even earlier church. The church on its present site would have been much smaller than it is today and probably only included the chancel area (where the choir and the altar are located) and a small nave (where the congregation sit).

During the 14th century the north aisle of five bays was added and the south aisle lengthened by two bays to make both aisles of equal length. At the same time, or thereabouts, the chancel was rebuilt and widened. In the 15th century the tower was built filling up the west bays of the aisle within which it stands. Also during the 15th century, the clerestory was added to the nave. A clerestory refers to the upper level of a church or cathedral and is a high wall with a band of narrow windows. The clerestory wall usually rises above adjoining roofs i.e. the roofs of the north and south aisles. During the same century the chancel roof was heightened and the north aisle rebuilt.

An inventory of Weston Turville church in 1547 stated that the church had 5 bells but only one of the six bells now in the tower bears a date prior to 1547. What happened to the original bells is unknown but they were probably confiscated or hidden during the Reformation. The inventory of the church also stated that the church had a chalice and a paten made of silver but these have also disappeared around the time of the Reformation.

The church underwent a major restoration in 1860 as the church was in a very dilapidated state. Unfortunately much of the earlier splendour was removed or covered up by the Victorians. There were medieval paintings on many of the walls (some of this can still be seen on the walls in the nave). There were also a number of flagstones with names or initials of those who were buried in the church but these were removed at the same time. Also of note was that prior to 1860 the nave and the chancel had ceilings and thus the vaulted roof that we see today would not have been in evidence. The quarry of the 15th century glass in the east window with the picture of Our Lady and Child was moved at this time to its present prominent position after being discovered hidden away high up in a clerestory window. When the nave floor was being repaired, some pieces of ancient stone coffins were discovered. The stone coffin engraved with a Maltese cross at its head, probably dates from 1100 and a person of considerable distinction in those days being buried here.

In 1936 a Church Restoration Fund was opened, as the condition of the church was the cause of some major concern and there was a danger to passersby of the cement falling off the outside of the church. Eventually in 1960 major restoration began. The nave was almost completely restored with the floor of the nave dug up and replaced and the old pews, only installed in 1860 but now seriously damaged by insect attack, were taken out and new oak pews installed. The font was also moved to its current location by the north door and the top half of the tower was also repaired. The final significant restoration was to the roof of the chancel. This necessitated extensive repair work that included cleaning and treatment of all the roof timbers, re-tiling the roof and painting the Heraldic shields.

The six bells of the church are rung from the floor of the tower to the bells that are 65 feet up in the tower. The great distance makes the ringing of the bells in the church a very skilful art. Originally they would have been run from the bell chamber above (entry through the small door on the north side of the tower) but the ringing was moved to the floor of the tower in 1951.

Over the last 40 years of the 20th Century and 7 years of this century a number of repairs and improvements have been made to the church of St Mary the Virgin without changing the beauty or structure of the church.

There is also some information about the church on the website of the Weston Turville Historical Society which you can find at wthsoc.org.uk.