Remains of the church and churchyard of St Mary Magdalen


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1021371

Date first listed: 20-Jan-1987

Date of most recent amendment: 13-Jan-2005


Ordnance survey map of Remains of the church and churchyard of St Mary Magdalen
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Milton Keynes (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Stony Stratford

National Grid Reference: SP 78596 40659


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A parish church is a building, usually of roughly rectangular outline and containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate to its use for Christian worship by a secular community, whose members gather in it on Sundays and on the occasion of religious festivals. Children are initiated into the Christian religion at the church's font and the dead are buried in its churchyard. Parish churches were designed for congregational worship and are generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provides accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which is the main domain of the priest and contains the principal altar. Either or both parts are sometimes provided with aisles, giving additional accommodation or spaces for additional altars. Most parish churches also possess towers, generally at the west end, but central towers at the crossing of nave and chancel are not uncommon and some churches have a free-standing or irregularly sited tower. Many parish churches also possess transepts at the crossing of chancel and nave, and south or north porches are also common. The main periods of parish church foundation were in the 10th to 11th and 19th centuries. Most medieval churches were rebuilt and modified on a number of occasions and hence the visible fabric of the church will be of several different dates, with in some cases little fabric of the first church being still easily visible. Parish churches are found throughout England. Their distribution reflects the density of population at the time they were founded. In regions of dispersed settlement parishes were often large and churches less numerous. The densest clusters of parish churches were found in thriving medieval towns. A survey of 1625 reported the existence of nearly 9000 parish churches in England. New churches built in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries increased numbers to around 18,000 of which 17,000 remain in ecclesiastical use. Parish churches have always been major features of the landscape and a major focus of life for their parishioners. They provide important insights into medieval and later population levels or economic cycles, religious activity, artistic endeavour and technical achievement. A significant number of surviving examples are identified to be nationally important.

The remains of the church and churchyard of St Mary Magdalen will provide important information regarding its history and development as well as its relationship with the parish and the town of Stony Stratford. The churchyard will provide evidence for the demography of the local population together with information about their health and life expectancy. As well as the tower, the remains of the church will include buried evidence for the nave, two aisles and chancel. It may also include other unrecorded elements such as a porch, chapel, crypt and transepts as well as evidence for the location of features such as the font, vaults, screens and shrines. The remains will include information relating to the layout and fabric of the church and evidence of rebuilding and modifications which will assist in dating changes to the church through time. Fixtures and fittings buried following the fire of 1742 will provide insights into the status of the medieval church. Such artefacts may include architectural details, fragments of sculpture and mouldings, as well as painted wall plaster and window glass. Burials dating from the earliest phases of the church will survive both within the nave and throughout the churchyard and these will provide information relating to the medieval and later community. Burial of the wealthiest members of society usually took place within the church itself whilst the general population were buried within the churchyard. After the fire of 1742 burial continued in the churchyard until the mid-19th century, including within the footprint of the destroyed church. The majority of the gravestones relate to this later period and it is probable that they overlie earlier burials; earlier gravestones which predate the fire are also believed to survive within the churchyard. Evidence for boundaries and divisions will also be provided within the confines of the churchyard and evidence of other structures, such as a churchyard cross, may also survive. Elements of an earlier landscape, predating the church and churchyard may be preserved within the churchyard, perhaps relating to the early layout of the town of Stony Stratford and associated with the Roman road of Watling Street or relating to earlier field systems.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the buried and standing remains of the medieval church of St Mary Magdalen, together with its associated graveyard, located on the north east side of the High Street in the market town of Stony Stratford. Stony Stratford emerged in the medieval period, growing up along either side of the former Roman road of Watling Street (now the High Street) which formed a boundary between the two ecclesiastical parishes of Calverton and Wolverton. The churches associated with the two parishes were situated along the Roman road: the church of St Mary Magdalen occupied a plot on the north east side of Watling Street in the parish of Wolverton and the church of St Giles was sited on the south west side of Watling Street in the parish of Calverton. The remains of the church of St Mary Magdalen are situated 220m to the north west of the church of St Giles which now serves as the parish church of Stony Stratford. It is not known when the two churches were first built, but references dating to 1202 and 1203 mention three clerks and one priest at Stony Stratford and therefore suggest the presence of at least one church at that time. The two churches are first mentioned by name in 1476 when a chantry is recorded as being founded `in the chapel of St Mary Magdalene and St Giles'. However it is probable that both churches were in existence by 1290 when Hugh de Vere was granted an annual fair on the vigil and feast of St Mary Magdalen, in addition to the fair granted to him in 1257 on the vigil, feast and morrow of St Giles. In 1487 John Edy, who was founder of the town guild, left funds in his will for the repair of the chancel of St Mary Magdalen. At the dissolution of the chantries during the 1540s the church of St Mary Magdalen was referred to as a free chapel with two priests, one of which was `maintained by the guild of Stony Stratford'. Not long after 1641 the chapels of St Mary Magdalen and St Giles in Stony Stratford were united and services held in them alternately. In 1742 the church of St Mary Magdalen burnt down in a fire which destroyed much of the town. Only the tower at the west end of the church survived the fire and its restoration took place led by the local notary, Browne Willis. Thirty pounds was spent in `setting up, leading' and putting a new roof on the tower with the idea of rebuilding the rest of the church. Browne Willis had previously made a survey of the church in about 1730 describing it as consisting of two aisles with a tower, 65 feet in height with six bells and a clock. In the east window were the arms of John Plantagenet, who was Duke of Bedford in the 15th century, and on the roof of the church, on stone escutcheons, were the arms of James de la Plaunche, who died in 1305. The scheduling incorporates the church tower of St Mary Magdalen, the buried remains of the church and the surrounding churchyard, a rectangular area of ground orientated north east-south west, together with the associated graves and gravestones. The church tower, which is a Listed Building Grade II*, is built of limestone in the perpendicular style of the 15th century and stands to its original height. It consists of three stages with a parapet at the top, and a string course between each stage. The original internal stone staircase survives. There are blocked-up arches on the north east and south east sides of the bottom stage. The north east arch would have provided access between the nave of the church and the tower whilst the south east arch would have provided access to the tower from the churchyard. This pointed arch has been partly filled-in leaving a low rounded arch, less than 1.52m high, with a brick voussoir. Access to the tower is provided through a padlocked iron gate and a wooden door on this side. On the south west side of the tower there is a blocked-up window with a moulded stone arch. Pilaster angle buttresses rise from the bottom four corners to the top of the second stage of the tower and there are square headed loop lights on the south east and south west faces. The windows on all four sides of the top stage, or bell chamber, each consist of two cinquefoiled lights with a transom and a quatrefoil under a two-centred head. The string course dividing this upper stage from the parapet has gargoyles on all four corners. The parapet is embattled on the north east and southwest sides and gabled on the north west and south east sides, indicating that the roof of the tower was formerly pitched. The main part of the church would have originally extended in a north east direction from the church tower and a string course marking the gabled roof of the nave is visible on the north east side of the tower. The footprint of the church is not clear on the ground which is uneven and slopes from the south east and north west sides of the churchyard. However its foundations will survive buried beneath the ground surface, together with the remains of graves and other features which originally lay within the church. After the 1742 fire, burials continued within the churchyard until about 1865 despite the destruction of the church. These burials, with accompanying gravestones, are laid in rows on the same north east-south west orientation as the church and some have been interred within the footprint of the church nave and aisles. The churchyard is surrounded by limestone walls on the north east and north west sides, by a limestone and brick wall on the south east side and by the back wall of number 96, High Street and an iron fence on the south west side. These boundary features are not included in the scheduling. The original outline of the churchyard is recorded as being much larger but it was poorly enclosed and subsequently reduced in size as neighbouring properties expanded. All pathway surfaces, the street lights and the telegraph pole are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 35357

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Brown, O F , Stony Stratford, (1985)
Milton Keynes District Council, , Guide to the Historic Buildings of Milton Keynes132
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire380
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire380
RCHM Bucks,
Title: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 25"
Title: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 25"

End of official listing