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Totternhoe Church Alterations and Additions

Totternhoe church from the north December 2008
Totternhoe church from the north December 2008

Most of the structural history of the church can be found in 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.

In 1617 it was reported that the north part of the church was in danger of falling down due to the extent of the decay [ABC5].  By 1708 there were five bells, probably in a complete ring of 1654-5, by Anthony Chandler of Drayton Parslow [Buckinghamshire] [ABE2 Volume 2, page 430]. There is an oak chest dated 1677 with the initials of the churchwardens Daniel Clithero and Reynold Wells.  The church is also noted for its 18th century windmill graffiti, now much weathered due to the softness of the stone. This mill, as noted by J. Steele Elliott in the XIV volume published by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society in 1931, was: "about 60 yards distant to the north of 'Doe Little Mill'; the latter mill was then solely run by the stream. the mill-stump was still to be seen there up to twenty years sgo".

 Graffiti on the exterior of Totternhoe Church [Z50/127/9]
Graffiti on the exterior of Totternhoe Church [Z50/127/9]

Early 19th century illustrations show that many of the pinnacles on the nave and aisles were missing or damaged, the south porch had a tiled roof, and the chancel had flushwork masonry, plain coping on the east wall and no battlements on the south side [Z50/127/113].

Totternhoe church from the south-east in 1812 [Z50-127-113]
Totternhoe church from the south-east in 1812 [Z50/127/113]

In 1827 it was noted that the chancel was "much out of repair".  Archdeacon Bonney's order book shows that in 1833 "the whole church was under a thorough restoration… according to the orginal architecture, and in excellent style".  Bonney authorised the use of slate for the roof of the aisles and nave.  The work seems to have included the repair of all the pinnacles, alterations to the south porch, the addition of a vestry, and a complete remodelling of the chancel by raising the walls and adding embattled parapets.  The chancel was ceiled with plaster and the exterior was rendered.

‘W.A.’, John Martin, who wrote a series of articles on Bedfordshire churches in the Northampton Mercury wrote of the church in the edition of 20th February 1847, although impressed with the restoration, as usual he found something to grouse about: "The condition of this church affords an agreeable contrast to the last one noticed [Eaton Bray]; nothing can be in better order, and the restoration recently effected has been done with care".

"The chancel roof is ceiled, which is to be regretted. But the railing and altar-table are such as become this part of the building. It has no pews, but open benches against the side of the wall. A great improvement when the necessity for such accommodation is required. It is, however, but a sorry alternative, and we can hardly be inclined to believe that means may not be found to avoid placing any portion of the congregation in this part of the church".

"The nave and aisles have wooden roofs; the sittings are all open; there is not a solitary bit of exclusive apportionment [i.e. private box pews] to mar the beautiful effect procured by this arrangement. We are sorry to observe a stove, with its ugly chimney-shaft poking through the roof. The best mode of airing churches will be the restoration of daily service; but it must be the result of sincere conviction of the duty, and with an equally sincere desire to urge the attendance of the many who can have no excuse for neglecting it. It must not be conducted in the spirit which we accidentally witnessed in a sadly desecrated church in a town in this county….

"The western window being close up by boarding and gallery, consequently compelled the adoption of ugly tin candlesticks, for which as the innovation of evening service had not taken root here, there would have been otherwise no necessity. The pulpit and reading-desk occupied a better situation than usual; they are very poor efforts of the joiner. The font, in consequence of the ugly gallery, was removed from its appropriate site. There were no monumental tablets, or as they have been well called 'marble blisters', in the chancel, and the church-yard was open".

Totternhoe church from the west December 2008
Totternhoe church from the west December 2008

A new weathercock was erected on the tower in 1848 [P58/5/1].  A bell was recast in 1865.  The roof of the porch was repaired in 1883 [P58/5/1].  The church was generally kept in order, and Archdeacon Bathurst refers to several "partial restorations" between 1876 and 1888. 

A further restoration of the roofs took place in 1890 and 1891, the architect was James Sutherland of Little Gaddesden [Hertfordshire] who was clerk of works on the Ashridge Estate P58/5/1 and P58/8/2].  The work on the nave roof and tower cost £190.  In 1892 the cracked tenor bell was recast and the bells were re-hung.  A jewelled altar cross with candlesticks and vesper lights was acquired in 1892 [P58/5/1].  The reredos behind the altar in the south aisle was carved by Lizzie Pratt in 1896 [P58/5/1]. 

Totternhoe church from the south-east about 1900 [X325-146-11]
Totternhoe church from the south-east about 1900 [X325/146/11]

A new organ, by Atterton & Son of Heath and Reach, was obtained in 1901.  In 1906 a new stained glass window was installed in the south side of the chancel and in 1912 the chancel was improved with new choir stalls and an opening was made into the organ chamber [P58/5/1]. A new lectern was given in the same year and the present pulpit by Jones and Willis was set up in 1914 [P58/2/2/6].

The interior of the church about 1910 [Z1130/127]
The interior of the church about 1910 [Z1130/127]

Further restoration work was undertaken between 1920 and 1930, including repairs to the tower and bell-frame after damage by fire in 1923 [P58/2/2/9-10].  A sixth bell was added in 1930 and two more bells in 1953 made a ring of eight.  A new ringing gallery was erected in the tower in 1967 [P58/2/2/29-30].  The east window now contains modern stained glass of 1971 designed by John Piper and made by Patrick Reyntiens [P58/0/6].

Totternhoe church from the south-east December 2008
Totternhoe church from the south-east December 2008