In this small village, in part of the most lovely countryside in the Vale of Aylesbury in the County of Buckingham, the Christian Faith and its Church have formed a major part of village life for at least 1,000 years. In the early 11th Century, the Manor was an estate of Queen Edyth, the wife of Edward the Confessor. It seems likely that by then there would already have been a flourishing community and church in Nether Winchendon.
Nether Winchendon today is still a tiny, unspoilt mediaeval village with only 57 households within the parish. There is no pub, no shop, no school and no village hall. The church is our only public building; we hold our Parish Meetings here, just as they did in the Middle Ages, so the church is, in a very real sense, the centre of the community. As a result, everybody in the village (not just those who go to church) is concerned to maintain and preserve this building, which is so much a part of our village life.
The Manor was acquired by Walter Gifford after the Norman Conquest and in 1162 one of his descendants gave Nether Winchendon as part of his endowment of Notley Abbey for Augustinian canons who had come from Arras. The church was reduced to a chapel of ease in 1182 and the Parish was administered as a grange or "farm" of the Abbey by monks and lay brethren.
In 1483, parochial status was restored and from then until now the succession of Vicars, noted beside the South door, has been continuous. During that time, the Parish has been variously connected with Chearsley, Cuddington and Long Crendon. It is now part of the United Benefice of Long Crendon with Chearsley and Nether Winchendon and is administered by one Vicar, living in the Vicarage at Long Crendon.
A service is held here every Sunday, being Holy Communion, Matins, Family Service and Evensong in turn. Times of the services are displayed on a notice in the Porch. In keeping with the traditional character of this church, the King James Bible is still used exclusively and all services are conducted using the Book of Common Prayer.
The present church dates from the early 13th Century although there are traces, notably in the rough hewn stones at the base of the Tower, of an earlier Saxon building. In early times, divine services were taken by monks of Notley Abbey; later on, Langlands Cottage in this village is supposed to have housed the Priest.
At the Dissolution, the church came under the care of Oxford Cathedral, which soon afterwards became the See of Oxford, although Buckinghamshire remained in the Diocese of Lincoln until 1845. Unlike many other churches, alterations to the interior did not occur after the early 17th Century and the Chancel and Nave have retained an uncluttered and beautifully simple appearance. Except for the tiled floor in the Chancel, the building has, to a great extent, been spared the enthusiasm of Victorian restorers and it retains a character and atmosphere that can have changed little since the late 18th Century. Indeed, if you stand on the Chancel steps and look West, you will be seeing what most English country churches must have looked like until around 1840.
The original pitched roof was removed in the 18th Century and replaced with a lead roof at a very shallow pitch. Since the Nave gables were left standing proud of the roof, giving the church a derelict air, it was for a long time known as "the Church with no roof". Eventually, the lead roof deteriorated and became dangerous and so the present tiled roof was erected in 1975, after many years of fund-raising, under the auspices of John Spencer Bernard at the original pitch. The Chancel roof was re-tiled in 1990.
On a buttress by the Chancel door are the remains of three Mass dials about three feet from the ground. These were used by the Priest to indicate the time of the next Mass and also as rudimentary sun-dials.
The Nave is remarkable for many things including its simplicity, the high box-pews, the West gallery, the Royal Arms, the large Commandments board and the imposing three-decker pulpit, dated 1613, with its reading desk and clerk's stall; even the floor has escaped re-paving. Some of the open pews at the back of the church date from the early 16th Century, while the box-pews date from the late 18th Century, the Manor pew being painted and having Gothic carving. Several of these pews are associated traditionally with various houses and families in the village.
The 15th Century octagonal font has the same moulding as the Chancel arch but bears traces of the original rough hewn stone contemporary with the stones at the base of the Tower. The West gallery, thankfully preserved unlike so many in the area, houses the organ and some original bench seating. The Royal Arms on the front of the Gallery are from the period 1816-1837, showing the escutcheon of Hanover.
The different alignment of the Chancel and the Nave probably occurred during the rebuilding of the Nave and the Tower during the 15th Century. A major part of the Chancel, including the East and North windows and the South door, dates from the 14th Century while the South windows appear to be 15th Century. The Altar rails and the two chairs are excellent 17th Century additions. The Chancel was partly rebuilt in 1891, when the floor was tiled and the tables of Commandments, Lord's Prayer and the Creed were transferred to the North wall of the Nave. The Chancel arch, which has been sparingly repaired over the years, shows no obvious signs of a rood screen or beam although there are visible buttress ends. On both sides of the arch there are nine small depressions, which are thought to be a 16th Century child's game similar to solitaire. On the North side of the arch and on the window nearest the Altar on the North side as well as the Entrance Porch can be seen Crusader crosses. These can also be seen beside the North-East window and in the entrance Porch. On the North side of the Chancel is a memorial to Lieut-Colonel Francis Tyringham Higgins-Bernard, which is a 20th Century version of a mediaeval knight's tomb (designed by Mr Loyd Haberly).
The South entrance porch dates, unchanged, from the 15th Century. The stone benches, probably used during "Church door" marriages and blessings, and the stone window arches look now as they must have looked then. The Stanley Young windows were added in 1997. In the North-East corner of the porch are the remains of a Holy Water stoup and the floor bears strange carvings, the significance of which is unknown. The carving of St. Nicholas above the door, depicting him as the Patron Saint of sailors (because he allayed a storm during a voyage to the Holy Land), was placed there in 1990 in memory of Richard Heppel, Churchwarden from 1979 to 1986.
Stained glass windows
The lovely airiness and lightness of the church are largely due to the absence of any large areas of stained glass. However, the existing glass is of some antiquity and interest. In the South window over the Gallery is a figure of St. Peter, dating from the 13th Century. In the North window opposite the pulpit are a pair of roundels, both dating from the 14th Century, which were said to have been taken from the church during the Civil War and hidden in Nether Winchendon House for safety; they were restored to the church in 1958. On the left is the Sacred Host with the letters INRI and the rays of glory; on the right is a monogram of the Blessed Virgin Mary (MARIA).
In the Chancel, the West window on the North wall contains the arms of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham; note the rays of the rising sun, emblematic of a follower of the House of York. These arms were placed in the church in 1483 to commemorate the granting of parochial status. The two animals are leopards. The West window on the South wall contains Flemish glass of the 17th Century dating from the time when Flemish nobles, resenting Spanish religious intolerance, fled to England bringing pieces of glass to prove their identity. In the East window of the South wall are arms of the Barton, Goodwin, Tyringham and Chetwynd families, who have lived in the area since Tudor times.
The Stanley Young Windows
The windows in the Porch were installed in 1997 to commemorate the ministry of Canon Stanley Young, from 1980 to 1995. The decorative roundel in the left-hand window (West side) consists of a lapwing. This was chosen because "Winchendon" is an old English name for a lapwing, and the village name may have been influenced by the many lapwings still to be seen in the fields which surround us. The yellow circles forming the border for the roundel reflect the similar yellow design used as a border for the existing very old stained glass panel of Saint Peter to be found in the South window of the gallery.
The right-hand window (East side) contains the figure of Saint Nicholas, our church's patronal saint. He is depicted, traditionally, in his episcopal robes as Bishop of Myra, holding Nether Winchendon church in his hands. The roundel illustrates the miracle in which Saint Nicholas alleviated the famine in Myra by arranging that however much grain was unloaded from a grain ship bound for Alexandria, the amount in the ship remained the same. The artist has also shown a pulley or winch, thought by some to have been the origin of the name "Winchendon". The Anglo Saxon meaning is "Hill at a bend".
The clock in the Tower, with its single hand and blue exterior face, was placed in the church in 1772 by the Will of Jane Beresford, the last Tyringham of Nether Winchendon House (she left Nether Winchendon to her cousin Sir Francis Bernard Bt). It is a fine example of an early 18th Century clock, of which only about six remain in the country. A 14 ft. pendulum, a 60 lb. bob and a Graham dead-beat escapement, unusually fitted upside down, still ensure a high degree of accuracy. In 1993, the clock was converted to automatic winding, with the added benefit of lighter weights. The exterior face, with gilded figures on a blue background, was painstakingly refurbished in 1995.
The inscription in the church over the Gallery reminds all those who hear the clock " .... to spend their time in an honest discharge of their calling and in the worship of GOD that repentance may not come too late".
The Bells In the Tower, there are six bells, five of which are rung for most services and at the weekly practice on Wednesday evenings. Ringers come here from many counties by arrangement and there is also a team from the village itself. In 1980, the bells were restored to their full glory by White's of Appleton after many years of fund-raising both here and in our generous sister communities of Winchendon and Bernardstown in the U.S.A. The Churchwardens' accounts give full details of the manufacture, in April 1640, of five bells out of the material from three older bells with extra metal added. It is not known for certain where the five bells were cast but it is likely that it was at the Whitechapel foundry in the East End of London. Two of the bells bear the date 1640. They are named:- "HOPE IN GOD" "PRAYSE GOD" Two bells were later recast and now bear these inscriptions:- "JOHN BRIANT HERTFORD FECIT 1796 : THOMAS ROSE CHURCHWARDEN" "H. BOND AND SONS FOUNDERS: 1897 : BURFORD OXFORDSHIRE"
The Rose family lived for several generations in the village and contributed to the restoration of the Chancel in 1891. The tenor bell, on which the clock strikes, is dated 1631 and named "LOVE GOD". The sixth and oldest bell, bearing the date 1620, was rehung in 1986 and is now the Sanctus bell. A new complete set of bell ropes was purchased and fitted in 1990.
The Organ The organ, in the West Gallery, was given to the church by Lieut-Colonel Francis Tyringham Higgins-Bernard. It is quite suitable for service work and accompaniment but would benefit from some additions. Equally, the pedal pipes, at present laid horizontally over part of the Gallery floor, take up a lot of space and it is hoped eventually to place them vertically on a sound-board against the West Wall. The specification is as follows:- GREAT SWELL Open Diapason 8 ft. Lieblich Gedacht 8 ft. Stopped Diapason 8 ft. Fugara 4 ft. Principal 4 ft. Mixture 2 ranks Stopped Flute 4 ft.
PEDAL COUPLERS Bourdon 16 ft. Swell to Great Swell and/or Great to Pedal
The Restoration and Rescue of St. Nicholas's Church The restoration project for the urgent and essential work to our historic church is in progress and began on 30th May, 2006. It is being undertaken in two phases, the first phase concentrating on the interior of the church and the second on external work. The architect, Rory Duncan, a Nether Winchendon resident, is taking tremendous care to ensure that the fundamental essence of St. Nicholas’s is not compromised. The builders, Ward & Company, are experienced in undertaking church restoration work and respecting consecrated ground.
Restoration and repair of the woodwork in the Nave, the gallery stair, the pulpit and the clock tower floor are part of the interior project. The existing oak timber has been salvaged where possible and re-used. The 18th Century fine timber box pews and Jacobean pulpit were removed whilst the raised pew bases, the wall paneling, the boxing around the pews and the pews themselves were repaired with the best quality English oak.
During the internal restoration work the welfare of our population of rare bats was of great importance.
External work will not be able to proceed until a substantial fund has been raised. Numerous fund-raising events are planned which will be enjoyable and entertaining.
Benefactors are invited to send donations for the restoration of St. Nicholas’s Church to Nether Winchendon House, Nr. Aylesbury, Bucks., HP18 0DY. Cheques should be made payable to The Friends of St. Nicholas.