Guide to the church of St Giles, Water Stratford

South Door
Above the south (main) entrance is a famous twelfth century Norman tympanum.  This has a basso-relievo representation of a figure (probably Christ in Majesty) seated on a throne, the right hand raised in blessing and the left resting on a closed book supported on the thigh, within an oval compartment; on each side is a winged figure kneeling on one knee, supporting the medallion.  It is tempting to think that this tympanum helped inspire John Mason to write How Shall I Sing that Majesty.  The form of Christ in Majesty supported by angels came to England from Burgundy and its earliest surviving appearance in this country may be on the Prior’s doorway at Ely Cathedral in the 1120s.  As this has compositional similarities to Water Stratford our doorway cannot be significantly later (a 1958 suggestion dated it at around 1150).  The semi-circular arch of this doorway is richly zig-zagged, and supported by two low pillars with sculptured capitals; and along the head of the doorway, underneath the basso-relievo, is a border of small intersecting arcade work, delicately carved.  This entrance was at one time approached through a small porch, which must have been a practical feature, though an architectural sin against the fine arch and tympanum.

Tympanum over North Door
Above the outside of the north (priest’s) door is another Norman tympanum.  Just above two engraved dragons in combat on the lintel of the door, the sculpture is generally thought to be of a lamb and cross (the Agnus Dei) against a diaper of roses or quatrefoils.  However, an interesting suggestion has been made that it represents the Holy Hind (see St Giles). It certainly looks more like a deer than a lamb and does not resemble the usual depiction of the Agnus Dei.  It would be fitting if this was a recognition of our patron saint, as there is nothing inside the church concerning him.  This door leads to the neighbouring house which was the rectory from the 1630s until 1939, when the last resident rector left to be a RNVR chaplain. (The two black and white photographs above date from around 1905 and are taken, with thanks, from the Bucks County Council picture archive.)

The font is a poor thing, probably from the 1828 rebuilding or later.  Although now in a free-standing position it was clearly designed to stand against a wall and was probably made as a piscina.  There must once have been a proper font but it is not known what happened to it.  The deal pews are also 19th century
, as is the plain deal pulpit, shown
left on the occasion of a wedding in 2005.  Note the cold damp appearance of the walls, now much improved by the 2009 redecoration, as can be seen in the photo of the chancel arch below.  The south wall has one window of coloure
d glass (right).  On the north wall are two plain glass windows (the more easterly one is visible in the photos of the pulpit and chancel arch) and between them are the village war memorial and the memorial to Mary Franckyshe (1629) from her husband, John Franckyshe, then Lord of Water Stratford Manor – do read the poignant inscription
(photo of pulpit © Mike Edwards 2005, photo of window © Sara Hack 2006) 

The chancel arch (shown left at the conclusion of the 2015 Carol Service) is a fine Early English pointed arch, built in the thirteenth century, of two moulded orders.  On the north side of the chancel is an unusual deep-set window consisting of an Early English light over a rather elaborate timber shutter.  When the shutter was opened it would just be possible for someone outside to see the elevation of the Host at Mass, so it is probably a Leper’s Squint.  Also on the north side is the priest’s door.  The small alcove near the altar on the north wall was probably an attempt to reproduce an original mediaeval feature – an aumbry, a deep cupboard in which the Communion vessels were kept.  On the back wall of the alcove there is a naive painting dated 1934 by Madeline Winkworth, wife of the then Rector, William Thomas Winkworth.  This shows two children, one definitely a boy, the other of uncertain sex and bearing angel or cherub wings.  Their heads and shoulders are set in turbulent seas or clouds and the picture is entitled To the Glory of God.  She may have been immortalising her sons who were born in 1914 and 1919 but they were still living in 1934, so perhaps it commemorates two unknown children. (photo of arch © Revd Liz Simpson 2015) 

The stone tracery in the east window is the most recent in the church, dating from the 1880s (late Victorian Gothic) and is the setting for a Victorian stained-glass window of three lights.  Like the
Franckyshe memorial, this is a tribute by a husband to his late wife, Mary Anne Higgins, who died on 3rd March 1880.  Mr and Mrs Higgins were long-term tenants of Boycott Manor in the neighbouring parish of Stowe.  The central light shows Christ giving a blessing and bears the text 'I go to prepare a place for you' (John 14:2).  The flanking lights show St John with a pen and parchment and St Peter with a key, and above this trio, in the small tracery lights, are the Greek symbols Alpha and Omega. (photo of window © Sara Hack 2006) 
The stencilled decoration around this window is typically Victorian; there was once more decoration of this kind in the chancel but it was painted over many years ago.  The altar is a simple table.  It is recorded that in 1522 there were two altars: a high altar and one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the latter presumably being lost at the Reformation, though it is hard to imagine where a second altar could have been placed in such a small chancel.  The deal choir stalls are 19th century, probably from the same date as the pews and the pulpit.  The south one covers the gravestone of Benjamin Heart, Rector from 1720 to 1732.

The tower dates from around 1350, though its height was reduced at some unknown date.  Its ground floor is mercifully hidden from the nave by heavy curtains within an arch which appears to have been slightly narrowed from its original form.  The area is very small and has to serve too many different purposes to be anything other than a mess.  It is the vestry, a storage room and, on occasions, a 'kitchen' and a ringing chamber.  It contains a small door to the tower stairway and the church's west window, which is very similar to the south window above, with their glass appearing to be of the same date.  The spiral stairway is not for the faint-hearted, consisting of very narrow and worn steps which lead directly into the bell-chamber.
This contains four very old bells: three that are all more than two feet in diameter at their mouths, and a Sanctus bell.  The treble (G, 26.25 inches) is inscribed Marye Cornewell 1594, by Bartholomew Atton and the second (F#, 27.25 inches) Pro Carolo Newsham hanc resono musam 1669, by Richard Keene.  The tenor (E, 30.5 inches) originated in 1632, was recast in 1717 and 1925 and bears the inscription  Mary Cornwell gave mee 1632. New cast by H. Bagley 1717, Isaac Rushworth, rector, George Crow, C.W. (churchwarden).  The Sanctus bell (13.75 inches) is inscribed E. Hemins fecit 1736, William Fillpott, C.W., and sadly this is the only bell we can ring at present.  We do have a Bell Fund but it needs to be many times larger before we can contemplate the restoration necessary for the large bells to sound once more.

A Marie Cornwall is registered as being buried here on 27th December 1596, which suggests that the bells may have been given by her or in her memory.  There is an entry in the National Archives jointly naming her and Anthony Frankish (1540-1615, builder of The Manor) as disputing ownership of land in Water Stratford with a John Heydon.  Anthony's mother was Mary Heydon before her marriage so John seems likely to have been her brother and Anthony's uncle.  As Mary was being named as a landowner it seems highly likely that she is the same person who is connected with the bells.  Furthermore, as Mary Heydon's husband, John Frankish, died in 1554 she may well have remarried and she and Mary Cornwall be one and the same person.  This would make perfect sense of her name being coupled with Anthony's - they were mother and son.  There is also a Star Chamber dispute of 1571/2 in which William Cornwall esquire of Water Stratford and Mary his wife contested enclosure of arable land in the village with several other local land-owners.  The evidence still needing to be found is a record of the marriage between William and Mary.

In 1669, Charles Newsham (1633-1705) was Lord of the Manor of Chadshunt, near Kineton in Warwickshire, and at first sight he does not appear to have any connection with us.  However, Chadshunt church contains four bells founded by Richard Keene in that same year, so it seems likely that our bell was intended for Chadshunt, proved unsuitable, and was given to us instead.  Bartholomew Atton was a bell founder in Buckingham who also made a bell for each of nearby Tingewick and Mixbury churches.  Richard Keene, Henry Bagley and Edward Hemins were bell founders from Woodstock, Witney and Bicester respectively, all in Oxfordshire.

In 1996 the Buckinghamshire Family History Society recorded
 the inscriptions and locations of all the graves, and the index to this survey by surname is on this site.  We try to manage the churchyard for wildlife and wild flowers so please do not expect to see manicured lawns!  A visitor once counted thirty-five different plant species just outside the church door.  It is a magical place in spring: aconites and snowdrops are succeeded by hosts of wild daffodils, then come the primroses, bluebells and celandines.  Cow parsley then tends to take over, which looks magnificent when in flower together with the may blossom, but smothers anything growing beneath it.  Some years the mown area throws up a fine display of orange hawkbit, also known as fox-and-cubs and grim-the-collier.  A collection of pictures of the churchyard in different seasons can be seen HERE.

The trees include limes, horse chestnuts, hollies, hawthorns and yews.  We were proud custodians of a magnificent hornbeam on the northern edge of the churchyard, considered by local experts to be one of the finest specimens in North Bucks: Joseph Bosworth and his second wife are buried beneath it.  As its girth suggests it is between 100 and 200 years old, it may well have been planted to commemorate the death of Anne Margaret Bosworth in 1863 or Joseph himself in 1876.  Sadly a succession of dry summers killed it and it became dangerous, so on 19th August 2019 it had to be felled, though its trunk remains intact for now while its future is debated.  A yet mightier tree stands nearby in the grounds of the rectory: an oak which dates back to the sixteenth century.  A poem in its honour can be found HERE.