Saint Marys in 1847
Saint Mary's in 1805 [X254/88/170]
John Martin (1791-1855) was the librarian at Woburn Abbey. Either side of 1850 he wrote a series of articles on Bedfordshire churches for the Northampton Mercury under the pseudonym WA. these tend to be pompous, sinde and acerbic as he was very unhappy with the state of most of them, not least because of his high church beliefs. He wrote about saint Mary's in the issue of 27th February 1847.
"This nobel church is in a most disgraceful condition, bad enough when seen by that good judge of Gothic Architecture, the late Mr Rickman [Thomas (1776-1841) was an architect as wel las a writer], who says "This has been reckoned a beautiful specimen, but is sadly dilapidated and disfigured as to its ornamental parts". As it was in his time, so it now remains; but our business is not so much with its architectural details as with the injuries it has suffered. The ruinous condition of the western window, so lovely even in its present ruin, led us to expect many flagrant abuses, though it did not at all prepare us for the scene of shocking devastation which burst on us when we had fairly entered the church".
Fragments of medieval glass about 1900 [P85/28/4/1]
"The chancel, which owing to a deformity suspended across it [the 18th century Hoo gallery] , to be noticed shortly, is rendered useless, affords a miserable instance of neglect. The roof is plastered: and, while we viewed it, endeavours to make it water-tight in various places wre in progress, - the workman inside with a long besom giving a good thump as a signal to him outside that there was a hole. The eastern window is a poor modern affair, with the worst arrangement of glazing. The sedilia are, as usual, covered with plaster. A volume of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, the gift of some pious inhabitant, was wasting away piecemeal, fit comment on the general neglect prevailing around; a wooden arch, forming a back-board to the great pew [the Hoo gallery again] which is so ostentatiously and so improperly stretched across the whole of the chancel, opening with the stair-case leading to it, complete our tale of selfishness and abuse in this quarter of the church. This offensive erection, of course, not only destroys the beauty of the building, but prevents the proper celebration of the service, and exhibits the occupants setting the example of turning their backs on the sacred table.
Stall ends about 1960 [Z54/19a]
Some of the stalls yet remain, and some poor wooden work is at the back of an equally poor communion table. The room appropriated to a vestry would be a very beautiful one, were it not for the various abuses perpetrated upon its proportions.
The Wenlock Chapel in 1805 [Z254/88/171]
The Wenlock chapel us in a state of filthy neglect, added to which, it is apparently converted into a school-room, with all its shabby fittings-up, and the dirst which its late occupants had introduced; out of this springs a staircase, much resembling the one that would be used in a stable or granary. It leads to a loft which, we were informed, was also a school-room; in this was a closet appropriated to the reception of the ruins of the church, portions of brasses. Perhaps a colelction of these effigies is stored to make a companion to the chandelier, which Gough says was made of former brasses in this church, "a vast absurdity! useless in a country parish church". The interesting sepulchral monumens are fast hastening to decay. "The tomb of grandeur hastens to its fate". Part of the remains of the wooden screen, removed from its right place to make way for the horrid pew before mentioned, is placed here, partly boarded and covered with rags, for the purpose, we suppose, of confining the school children's attention to the decayed and neglected site set apart for their teaching".
The baptistery about 1920 [Z35/17/2]
"The roof of the nave is wooden, and in tolerable preservation. The pulpit and reading desk are as bad as the pew; a little excrescence is made, to poke a clerk into. The beautiful western window is hidden from view; its present state shaming those who, we presume, stuck up a gallery for the purpose of concealing it. The introduction of this clumsy contrivance led to the removal of the font, with its interesting baptistery, to the ridiculous position it now occupies. The font is so abused as to render it difficult to discover what remains of the original. The baptistery is whitewashed, and almost rendered ugly from the glaring effect produced by this wretched stuff; this corner also appeared to be the refuge for dirt, cinders and other defilements. The aisles are in a state of ruin; there are several lofts erected in them to which access is obtained by stairs - the back one is occupied by the servant of the owner of the front seats, and exhibits marks of their attention to the duties for which they attend, by scrawls on the wooden work, of figures and inscriptions, varying in merit according to the profficiency of the authors in literature and the fine arts. Such is one of the results of these private and secluded seats in churches".
The interior looking east about 1910 [X291/186/49]
"And here we must break off, for we dare not mention the number of columns that we could occupy were every abuse to be detailed. If any one were to ask us which of the Bedfordshire churches exhibits most completely everything that is distressing to a true churchman, we should answer "the most beautiful one" and continue "Go to Luton, and as you pass along the town you will see, in the vast piles of buildings recently erected for the purposes of trade and commerce, evidences of increasing wealth and prosperity, and you will find the inhabitants showing forth their gratitude to Him from whom these blessings come, by erecting for themselves spacious and substantial mansions, furnished with every contrivance for comfort that the extravagant luxury of the nineteenth century has called forth; and with cold indifference leaving the House of God to crumble into ruins. The great suspended pew, the idea of which we suppose was taken from Mahomet's coffin (no very desirable model of anything in a Christian Church) would alone give this pre-eminence in abuse; amd when you see the Wenlock Chapel, and consider what it is, and what it was, we think that without offering any opinion on the subject of prayers for the departed, you will agree with us in preferring of the two its former state, when guarded with watchful and reverent care, the recumbent images in all their original beauty, and day and night some holy priest chanting masses for the souls of the dead, to its present condition - the effigies mutliated, some of teh altar tombs sacrilegiously robbed of their brasses, the floor strwewd with dirt, and the building itself desecrated by being turned into a school-room".
Saint Mary's interior about 1910 [X291/83/88]
"When we are told, as an excuse for all these things, that there is a difficulty in procuring a rate [a church rate of the population to spend on restoring the fabric of the church etc], we are led to think that there has been as great an inattenton to the spiritual wants of the parish as to the fabric of the church; for, surely, there must be some great dereliction of duty in any pastor who suffers so many of his flock to desert the true fold, and schismatic bodies so to flourish that the church should be numerically an inferior body. We do not believe that it would be found to be the case here. In most instances it is not the thwartings and opposition of Dissenters, but the lukewarmness and covetousness of Churchmen, that are the great obstacles to a rate. But, supposing in this case it is unfortunately true that funds cannot be raised in the legal way, let the membersof the church do it by subscription. Frivolous and expensive amusements must be abandoned, all luxuries and many comforts given up, self-denial practised, and heavy sacrifices made, to remove a blot which gives Luton a disgraceful notoriety even amongst the neglected parishes of Bedfordshire".