HISTORY of ST. MICHAEL’S
For 800 years and more a Church has stood on the present site at Aston Clinton. Although no one is certain, it is thought that Bishop Grosseteste (pronounced Growtett - Norman French meaning Big Head), Bishop of Lincoln, dedicated the original church in about 1250.
In those 800 years, of course, the village has grown and altered enormously but the Church remains as an abiding link with our heritage. Through its doors have passed countless generations of people for ordinary Sunday worship, for joyful Baptisms, cheerful weddings or sad funerals. Dressed in their ordinary clothes of the day or their Sunday best, the weathered stones have borne witness to the devotion of so many people over the years.
But the Church is no museum; it is and always will be, a living, working Parish Church open to all for worship. Our aim is not that it should merely be a beautiful 13th century building for all to admire for its age and its beauty, but that it should be an inspiration to take part in the regular daily and Sunday services and other activities which take place in it and to say “Truly, the Lord is in this place”.
So, read on and perhaps, spare a thought for all who have worshipped in the church in the past and those who continue to do so now.
Although the current Font is not the original, it is standing in its original spot. It is probably Victorian;
it is remarkably similar in style to the Pulpit, which was erected in 1867.
The Nave is thought to have been originally built in the 12th or 13th century but was destroyed at the time of the Restoration. It was rebuilt in the 14th century, when the Clerestory, with its quadrifoil shaped leaded windows, high up above the Nave, was added. The pink tinted panes are the original glass.
LIST OF RECTORS
The list of Rectors of the Parish, displayed on the back wall of the North Aisle, goes back to 1232. The most famous of them was George Neville, younger son of the Countess of Salisbury who was appointed in 1452 at the age of 21. He would not have resided in Aston Clinton but merely taken the money and tithes provided and paid a small stipend to a ‘Vicar’ to run the parish for him. He later became Bishop of Exeter and then Archbishop of York. His elder brother was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (‘Warwick the King Maker’), a notable figure in the Wars of the Roses. Notable among the Patrons who are shown on the list include Henry VIII, Mary Tudor and her husband, King Philip of Spain.
These are the diamond shaped paintings which hang high on the Nave walls. They are representations of the coats of arms of Squires and families who have been Lords of the Manor. They were painted at the time of their deaths and laid on their coffins before being ‘laid up’ in the church.
The Minshulls were a mediæval family, one of whom followed Richard the Lionheart on the Third Crusade. There is a monument on the South Aisle wall in his memory. The recurring motif on the monuments and the Hatchment is the star and crescent moon and the Saladin Crest.
The Lakes. Lord Lake of Delhi and Aston Clinton was an 18th century General who fought in North America and in India. There is a marble memorial to him on the north wall.
The Rothschilds were (and are) a famous banking family whose country seats in the area included Aston Clinton Park. Sir Anthony Rothschild regularly entertained such distinguished guests as Disraeli and Gladstone, who attended services at this church. The hatchment is, in fact, that of Lady de Rothschild and the coat of arms of her family (the Montefiores) can be seen in the right half of the shield.
THE PARISH MAP
The Aston Clinton Parish map, displayed on the north wall of the Nave, was prepared by people of the village to celebrate the Millennium. It was dedicated on 2nd July 2000. See a preview of the map.
THE LEWIS WINDOW
This internal window, above the Pulpit, commemorates The Reverend Terry Lewis, who was Rector from 1955 to 1986. It was kindly donated by his family. It depicts St. Michael, our Patron Saint. The artist’s sketch for this window is now our church’s logo.
THE BALDWIN WINDOW
This stained glass window, in the north wall, is dedicated to the Baldwin Family, who were landowners in the 1500s at Dundridge Manor at St. Leonard’s, which was at that time within the parish of Aston Clinton. Sylvester Baldwin was born in about 1588 and emigrated to New England with his wife and seven children in 1683. Unfortunately, he died on the voyage on the 21st June of that year, but his wife and children survived and his modern American descendants have dedicated this window to his memory. The Baldwins have prospered in the New World, eventually founding a dynasty which included making Baldwin Cars, which are now part of the Chrysler Corporation, and Baldwin Pianos.
For more information on our stained glass, follow the links shown here.
THE AIR CRASH MEMORIAL
This brass plaque, on the north wall of the Nave, commemorates the ten American Airmen who were killed when their plane crashed in Aston Clinton on 3rd January 1945, immediately following takeoff from Cheddington on a mission to drop leaflets over the German-occupied Netherlands. It was dedicated on 4th June 2000.
THE CARVED STONE HEADS
It was customary for stone masons to carve caricatures of living people when building churches. It is therefore quite possible that the men and women on the capitals on the north wall of the Nave and both walls of the Chancel are faithful representations of people of this village at the time. On the south wall of the North Aisle are the grotesques, two evil lions and a monkey, which are a throw-back to the pagan belief that evil spirits lay to the north, and these heads were made to ward them off.
THE OAK PEWS AND CHOIR STALLS
Older pine pews were gradually replaced from 1953 onwards, and the current fine pews were installed. They were carved in Aylesbury by Webster and Cannon, in English oak taken from trees felled to make way for the then new Bedgrove Estate. At the same time, as part of the overall re-ordering of the church, the Altar currently at the head of the North Aisle was made by Mr. A. A. Tomkins, one of the Churchwardens. The fronts to the Choir stalls were made at the same time, but the rear choir stalls were made in the 1990s. The pews, the choir stalls and the desk lights on the choir stalls were all paid for by parishioners and dedicated to commemorate friends and relatives.
Although the Pulpit was erected in 1867, it is possible that it sits on a much older base, possibly from a previous wooden Pulpit.
THE CHANCEL ARCH
This once contained a Rood Screen which ran right across the Chancel from pillar to pillar. It was surmounted by a gallery (or loft) access to which was by steps leading up to it from both sides. Behind the Lectern can be seen the last remaining signs of the spiral stair and on the north side the actual steps can be seen high above the front of the Nave. In the middle of the Rood Loft would have been a large cross with a life-size figure of Christ on it.
The 14th century stone work is exceptional and probably gives the church its Grade II* Listed status. On the south side is a three-seat Sedilia (for Priests), and a Piscina to drain the water used to wash the Communion vessels. On the north side is an Easter Sepulchre, for the Blessed Sacrament to rest from Good Friday until Easter Day, recalling Christ’s entombment after the crucifixion. This was possibly added by the Montacutes. The head of that family, the young Earl of Salisbury, fought at Crecy in 1346. The window above the Sedilia was blocked up in the mid 19th century because of subsidence.
The organ was installed in 1894 at a cost of £280. In the 1960s it was moved to its present position in the west end and a choir organ now occupies the space. Behind the choir organ is a ‘squint’ - a small window through which lepers and others unable to come into church for health reasons, to watch the administration of the sacraments. See more details on our Organ page.
The Tower was rebuilt at the beginning of the 19th century and the bells were re-hung at that time. The tower contains a ring of 10 bells. See more details on our Bells page.
In the north wall of the Sanctuary is a glass ‘window’ which encloses what is thought to have been a cupboard and is the only remaining sign of the vestry which was built at the same time as the North Aisle in 1340. It was destroyed by fire.
Above the South Porch is a much restored Priest’s Room. It measures only 8 feet by 10 feet but in this room in the early days of this church the Priest appointed by the Rector would actually live. It is reached through a low door on the west side of the South Porch and then up a stone spiral staircase. The hand rail is the original and has never been restored since it was first placed there nearly 800 years ago.
FOR MORE HISTORICAL INFORMATION, see here.
Also, the Historic England website has some details of St. Michael's Church, here,
and has information on many other buildings in Aston Clinton.