St Mary's Church, Stowe.
"I was glad when they said unto me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord." Psalm 122:1
The church is situated in the midst of the Stowe Estate, to the south west of the House. It's intentionally hidden by evergreens, planted by Lord Cobham to conceal the church from the mansion, and is all that is left of the medieval village that stood there before the Temples moved to the area.
The earliest parts of the church building date from 1270, when the present nave and chancel were built. The north aisle was built in the late 13th century, the west tower in 1330. In 1350 the chancel was rebuilt and enlarged, and later in the 14th century, the south aisle was added. At the end of the 15th century the clerestorey
was constructed, the aisles possibly rebuilt and the south porch added. The north or Pennyston chapel was the final large addition built in the first half of the 16th century.
The church building's relationship with the successive owners of Stowe has been a sporadic one. The first great owner and developer of the estate, Sir Richard Temple, helped his brother, who was vicar, to a certain extent, by constructing a vicarage. However, fifty years later, in 1755, Lord Cobham constructed a private chapel at the house and, moving the vicarage to allow him to extend his garden, also planted the trees that today so effectively hide the church and prevent it being seen from house or gardens. He ignored a published plea to "deign God's house to beautifie" rather erecting the pagan temples in the gardens, and gave no assistance to the church's upkeep. Some work was carried out at the end of the 18th century, however, when the building was "classicised" by the removal of the pinnacles on the tower, battlements around the roof, the change of the old lead and tile roofs to copper, and the stucco-work added to the ceilings. Briefly, the owners of the Estate showed interest again, when the Marquess paid for this 1792 restoration and his son, the first Duke, gave an organ.
The second Duke, however, was less interested in the building, and was said to have plundered family tombs for jewelry to sell to relieve his financial difficulties. However, the third Duke and his daughter, Lady Kinloss, rebuilt the third stage of the tower and restored the whole building in the 19th century. This included a new stone floor for the nave, given by one of the incumbents.
When the School came to the house in 1927, the church building fared rather better than it had done in previous years, and has benefited from School funds and from the dedication of new parishioners from the School. Its foundations were repaired in the late 1930's and again in the 60's and 70's. An extensive programme of re-roofing was carried out in 1957, and in the 1970's the Chapel roof was also re-covered. The 1970's also saw re-decorations, the re-building of the organ, the installation of a new heating system, which was replaced in 2005, the replacement of the pews, and the repair of all the windows.
Today, the church benefits from a continuing association with the School, particularly with respect to a combined service each term and to a growing number of former pupils who wish to be married in the church before a reception in the House.
The majority of windows to the clerestorey, aisles and chapel are in a restrained Perpendicular style with plain mouldings and shallow arches. The chancel and east end of the south aisle have Decorated style windows. The glazing is largely plain, with the exception of the east and south windows of the chancel. Both these contain glass presented in the late 1800's and in 1914 by Lady Kinloss commemorating her parents, and her eldest son, who was killed in the earliest days of the Great War, when he gave up his Christmas leave to a married officer. The south aisle was engraved by Laurence Whistler and his son Simon in memory of clergy family members and churchwardens associated with the church in recent years.
There is a detailed Guidebook available in the church .
An unusual etched window in Stowe.