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Wootton Church

Wootton church from the north about 1820
St.Mary the Virgin from the north about 1820 [X254/88/277]

Early History

The first reference to the church of St.Mary the Virgin is in 1251 when John of Dunstable became vicar although, as a well established village dating back to before the Norman Conquest, it is reasonable to assume that a church had existed for some hundreds of years. On 21st June 1273 Nicholas of Wootton was presented as vicar to the Prior and Convent of Newnham and instituted. This entry of institution is followed by letters of the Bishop of Lincoln, Richard Gravesend, assenting to the gift of half of the Church by John of Houghton, provided a Vicarage was ordained. An enquiry was held by  the Archdeacon of Oxford, by which it was found that a suitable portion could be up to a yearly value of £10, and Nicholas of Wootton was admitted and a vicarage ordained as follows: "The vicar to have that plot of land with buildings on it which the prior and convent bought of William Bernard of Wootton, provided they will free it from suit of court, and all rents and temporal services; the vicar to have the gifts to the altar and tithes of the parish, except tithes of sheaves and hay and of the homage and rents, besides the greater tithes of the demesne and of the fee of 40/- which was of John de Trayli, which we assign and ordain to the vicar and his successors in that vicarage. The vicar to have 12 acres of demesne land, a portion of that which Master John the last Rector held, so that he has four acres in each field and one and a half acres of meadow in Smethemade; the vicar and his successors to pay synodals and procurations to the archdeaconry in the accustomed amount of money, 7 shillings 6d, but if the archdeacon chooses his procurations in kind rather than to have a sum of money, he shall be received and entertained in the religious house, and only 7s 6d recovered from the vicar even though it costs more. The said religious house are to repair and rebuild the Chancel of the Church at their own cost and that this time only, they supply defects in books and ornaments provided that the vicar is bound to do this in future; of extraordinary payments, or charges by whatever name required, the religious shall acknowledge two parts and the vicar a third".

The present church building dates from the 14th century, the top of the tower and the rood screen being a century later. The first record held at Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service detailing church repairs is 1533 when a will mentioned that the arches were decayed, a will of three years later leaving a bequest to mend the roof and the organs, a very early reference to such an instrument in a Bedfordshire church. By 1578 the chancel was in decay and by 1611 a Church Lands Charity had been set up to provide a steady income for repairs.

Wootton church from the south east about 1820
St.Mary the Virgin from the south-east about 1820 [X254/88/276]


In the 18th century there was a bell foundry in Wootton run first by Thomas Russell then William Emmerton. Two of the church bells had been recast in 1587 and 1595 respectively, the tenor being cast in 1641. The foundry recast the third bell in 1736 and the treble in 1779. A small sermon bell, housed in a niche over the chancel arch was cast in 1748.

 Wootton Church about 1900
St.Mary the Virgin from the north about 1900 [Z50/136/5] 

Modern Restorations and Additions

The church was restored in 1845 and further repaired in 1848 by Wing and Jackson of Bedford, what was done is not clear but may have involved extensive roof repairs; it was proposed that the church have new seating but this was dropped due to local opposition to replacing the old pews. Rev.Frederick Neale undertook a substantial restoration during his incumbency, probably about 1857 to 1860 and seems to have taken charge of the work which he paid for himself, assisted by the lay Rector, Coventry Payne. Neale added western bays to the aisles, with plaster ceilings and modern, circular windows which attracted adverse comment at the time. He also removed the west gallery, opened up the tower arch, vaulted the ceiling under the tower and inserted stained glass into the west window. A new font was made and installed in 1857; three year's later the vicar's sister paid for a new organ. Other works undertaken at this time seem to be the addition of a vestry, installation of elaborate candelabra in the nave and aisles, restoration of the north porch and a new pulpit. The floor was re-laid in 1872 and the chancel may have been re-roofed at around this time.

Wootton church in July 2007
St.Mary the Virgin from the south-east July 2007

Frederick Neal died in 1872 and his successors continued to carry out improvements. The nave roof was repaired at around the time of his death and the bells restored in 1874; a new clock was installed in 1884, a funeral bier being obtained in the same year. In 1890 the east window was enriched by stained glass, given by Lady Payne in memory of her infant son. The rood screen was restored in 1894 and the organ in 1897 for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The bells were restored again in 1904 when a sixth was added. Late 20th century improvements include re-leading the spire in 1959, repairing the organ in 1964, improving the chancel in 1970, enlarging the vestry in 1975, adding a new roof over the nave and aisles in 1989 and improving the west end of the building in 1995.

Most of the notes on the structural history of the church can be found in greater detail in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume number 79 of 2000 Bedfordshire Churches in the Nineteenth Century: Part III: parishes S to Y, put together by former County Archivist Chris Pickford from numerous sources some held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service and some held elsewhere or published.

 Wootton Vicarage in 1963
Wootton Vicarage in 1963 [Z53/136/1]


In 1927 Bedfordshire was valued under the terms of the Rating Valuation Act 1925; every building and piece of land was inspected to determine the rates to be paid on it. The valuer visiting the vicarage found that the living was £350. The premises consisted of an entrance hall (25ft by 9ft), study, drawing room (20ft 6in by 16ft with a bay 4ft by 8ft) with French windows, a dining room, a lamp room under the stairs, a kitchen ("good"), pantry, cellar, scullery ("good") and store room. Up the main staircase was a half landing with a maid's room, wc and box room; there were four bedrooms, one each over the dining room, hall, study and drawing room. Down nine back stairs were a bath room and two maid's rooms and a scullery with two beds in it. Outside were a tool shed, wc with a low basin, potting shed, heated greenhouse (18ft 6in by 9ft), another heated greenhouse (23ft by 13ft 6in), a wood shed and coal house. There were also four garages with lofts over (two used as store rooms), two small stores and a three stall stable used for bicycles. The valuer's notes were as follows: "No light; water pumped from well (rather scarce); house has been added to; badly arranged; beds face N; garden large but badly arranged; Good K[itchen] garden; looks like a great big place would fetch £120".

Nearby was the Church Room. It was of brick and tile and measured 47 feet 6 inches by 14 feet "divided by sliding partition". It contained a kitchen. The valuer noted: "Used by Women's Institute".

Wootton church interior about 1870
Interior of the church about 1870 [X67/934/63]

List of Vicars

  • John of Dunstable - 1251 [Deacon];
  • Nicholas of Wootton - 21 Jun 1273;
  • David de Wootton - 9 Mar 1274/5 [Presented on the death of Nicholas];
  • Robert de Conington - 9 Dec 1301 [capellanus, on death of David];
  • John de Billesdon - 8 Sep 1328 [priest, on death of Robert de Conyngton];
  • William de Knyghton - 15 Nov 1348 [Presented by the sub-prior and Convent of Newnham, the convent being destitute of the care of a prior, priest, on exchange with John de Billesdon for Saint Mary de Castro Vicarage, Leicestershire];
  • Richard of Knyghton - 1 Aug 1349 [priest, presented on the resignation of William];
  • John Downe - 20 Aug 1401;
  • Matthew Barow (Barugh) - 22 May 1418 [chaplain, presented on a vacancy and instituted at Sleaford];
  • John Barowe - 23 Aug 1418 [Presented on the resignation of Matthew Barowe for the sake of an exchange with the vicarage of the prebendal church of Driffield, Yorkshire, instituted in the person of John Whithed, clerk, his proxy, in the Chapterhouse at York];
  • Matthew Skearne;
  • Thomas Barbur - 20 Apr 1457 [chaplain, presented on the vacancy caused by the death of Matthew Skeerne the last vicar, instituted at Nettleham];
  • John Lynne - 14 Aug 1490 [chaplain, presented on the vacancy caused by the death of Thomas Barbur];
  • Thomas Atkyne alias Barker - 20 Feb 1497 [priest, on resignation of John Bartholomewe];
  • Hugh Rere - 16 Jul 1499 [priest, presented on the vacancy caused by the resignation of John Lynne, instituted at Aylesbury];
  • Robert Hansloppe/Hanslope - 1534;
  • Reginald West - 18 Dec 1539 [clerk, presented on the vacancy caused by the death of Sir Robert Ansloppe the last vicar, instituted at the Old Temple, London, in the person of Sir William Wright his proxy];
  • John Dewe - 17 May 1554 [clerk];
  • Thomas Cox/Cocks - 14 Feb 1562/3 [clerk; vacancy said variously to be on the resignation of Reginald West and on the death of the last incumbent];
  • Richard Leverock - 7 Sep 1581 [clerk on the resignation of Thomas Cox. B.A. 1585, M.A. 1597];
  • Humphrey Totnam - 7 May 1600 [M.A. Still there 1614];
  • Alexander Hale - 10 Jul 1638 [B.A., on the death of the last incumbent];
  • Edward Fulham - 1637;
  • William Bunne - 1662 [incumbent on visitation];
  • John Hoffeman - 1660;
  • Thomas Cheyne - 11 Jul 1683 [the vacancy caused by the death of William Bunne];
  • Denis Cooling/Colinge - 19 Mar 1694/5 [caused by the cession of Thomas Cheyne];
  • Andrew Moore - 6 Sep 1711 [the vacancy caused by the death  of Denis Cooling];
  • German Pegg - 24 Feb 1718/19 [B.A., vacancy caused  by the cession of Andrew Moore, clerk];
  • John Slatter - 19 Jan 1719/20 [clerk, vacancy caused by the cession of German Pegg];
  • John Slater - 17 Aug 1731 [re-presented and instituted following his own cession, instituted to Stibbingtonm Huntingdon 26 Mar 1731];
  • George Backhouse - 25 Aug 1739 [M.A., vacancy caused by the death of John Slater, clerk];
  • John Welling - 13 Sep 1775 [vacancy caused by the death of George Backhouse];
  • Thomas Gadsby - 14 Jun 1785 [M.A., on the death of John Welling];
  • John Jenkyn - 30 Apr 1834 [clerk, on the vacancy caused by the resignation of Thomas Gadsby];
  • James Jenkyn - 17 Feb 1842 [M.A., on resignation of John Jenkyn. Resigned 5 Jun 1852];
  • Frederick Neale - 5 Jul 1852 [B.A., on resignation of James Jenkyn.];
  • William Hardy Vernon - 23 Oct 1872 [M.A., on death of Frederick Neale];
  • Albert John Foster - 31 Dec 1880;
  • Charles Edward Squire - Dec 1918;
  • Thomas Quigley - Jan 1940;
  • Charles William Fortescue Jebb - Jul 1946;
  • James Francis Wilson - 1950;
  • Ronald Earl Thorp - 1956;
  • Anthony James Smith - 1964;
  • John Victor Michael Kirkby - 1975;
  • Christopher P.Strong - 1987;
  • Peter Ackroyd - 2002