The Way We Were: Singing the praises of Bow Brickhill Church

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CITY historian JOHN TAYLOR takes another walk down memory lane....

All Saints Church, Bow Brickhill, has achieved national renown from having been the setting for the painting ‘A Village Choir,’ by the famous artist Thomas Webster.

This – which portrayed real village characters – was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1847, being bequeathed in 1857 to the Victoria and Albert Museum by John Sheepshanks, for whom it had been painted.

Situated 535 feet above sea level, All Saints Church is first recorded in 1185, and, with the nave and chancel dating from the 12th century, saw the addition of the tower in the 15th century, plus the north and south aisles.

Becoming the alleged haunt of poachers, during the late 17th century the church fell into disrepair, but was restored by the lord of the manor, Browne Willis, in 1756/7. As such a lofty vantage, during the Napoleonic war the tower was used as a telegraph station, and during World War One the prominence served as a look out post during Zeppelin alerts, with those on duty knowing that the danger had passed when the lights came back on at Bletchley station.

During World War Two the tower proved an ideal vantage for the Royal Observer Corps, and when shortly after the war the church bells couldn’t be rung the rector, of an enterprising nature, employed an electronic amplifier from Weatherheads, in Bletchley, to broadcast a recording of church bells.

Presently the tower – from which on a clear day six counties are said to be visible – is in need of urgent restoration, and in consequence the villagers have formed the All Saints Tower Restoration Appeal.

Apart from having once been a reputed haunt for poachers, another disturbing tale is told from around the turn of the 19th century, when a man trying to open a grave on the south side of the church was disturbed by a watcher, who had been lying in wait in the church porch. The grave robber immediately opened fire, but was killed by the return fire.

An addition of land, conveyed on February 17, 1904, enabled an eastwards extension of the churchyard, wherein lies buried Antliff Edward Burton, the son of a village schoolmaster. Antliff had been a popular member of the Aylesbury Street Primitive Methodist Chapel, in Fenny Stratford, and in appreciation of his services, both as organist and choirmaster, on Tuesday, February 13, 1917 he was presented with a handsome wristlet radium watch, on the occasion of having been called to the colours to join the Cyclist Section of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, at Ipswich. Yet all too soon he would be the subject of another farewell, for, aged 18 years and 8 months, he died on March 29, 1917 from spotted fever, in the military hospital at Ipswich.

Before joining up he had been a student teacher at Bow Brickhill Council Schools, and had recently passed the Oxford Local Examination.

Also buried in the churchyard is Charles Lake, an engineer and author of many books on railway matters. In fact in 1919 during a railway strike he blacklegged the strikers and drove a train from Bletchley to Euston. During his later years he lived at Bow Brickhill, and died in 1942.

All Saints Church is one of the features in an interesting booklet recently issued by the Bow Brickhill History Society, and of other places of interest Plough House is mentioned, situated at the beginning of the incline to the church. As a pub, this continued selling ale until the 1960s, and was the scene of a gruesome suicide in 1924, when the landlord cut his throat with a razor.

Now the only pub in the village is the Wheatsheaf, a fairly modern building that replaced the 17th century thatched original, and for any persons interested in Bow Brickhill, from here copies of the booklet may still be available.