Woughton Ecumenical Partnership


Ecumenical Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Simpson, Bucks:
A brief history and architectural description
Stephen A Castle

September 2007

St Thomas church in winter (photo: Peter Barnes)

Central Tower
South Transept
North Transept
South Porch
Dedication of the Church
Notes added 2022 - 2023


Welcome to the Church of St Thomas and 790 years of recorded church history.

It is not known whether a church or chapel existed here in Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Danish or Norman times. Although the Domesday Book of 1086 (reign of William I) lists two manors at “Sevinstone/Suivinestone” (Simpson) in Seckloe Hundred, it does not mention a church or priest here! The records of the Diocese of Lincoln mention, that in 1231, during the reign of Henry III, Philip de Lemington was presented as Rector of the church by Geoffrey de Cauz, Lord of the Manor.

The church was valued at £5 6s 8d in 1291 (reign of Edward I) and at £17 6s 8d in 1535 (Reformation of Henry VIII).

By 1847 Simpson, or Sympson, like other ecclesiastical parishes in Buckinghamshire, had been transferred to the Diocese of Oxford. St Thomas is now one of the five churches in the Woughton Ecumenical Partnership a, which was established in 1977.

Grade 2* listed, St Thomas is of Oolitic Limestone construction and cruciform in plan – aligned east to west. It comprises a tall slender Central Tower; Nave, North and South Transepts and Porch with clay peg-tile roofs; and a Chancel with low-pitched Welsh slate roof.

The Central Tower <back to top>

This, the oldest part of the existing building, appears to represent all that survives of a smaller cruciform plan church. The double-chamfered pointed arches resting on the semi-circular sectioned responds or jambs of the crossing, are in the late Early English style and date from c1250–1300. Four pointed windows of c1400 pierce the walls of the bell chamber. The Tower contains a peal of six bells - one bell of 1604, two bells of 1630 and one bell of 1694, all four recast in 1895/6; a new bell of 1895 and yet another of 1926.

The Nave <back to top>

The Nave is later than the Tower and is entered through north and south doorways which are typical of the Decorated style of 1300–1350. The single window piercing the north wall and two windows piercing the south wall, although repaired, show some portions of tracery of 1300–1350. However, at the west end of the Nave is a limestone font, with plain tapering round bowl, cylindrical stem and stepped base, typical of the 13th century. The elaborate wooden cover dates from the 17th century. Other 14th century features in the Nave include the cinquefoil arched niche for the holy water stoup by the south doorway and the doorways leading to the North and South Transepts (chapels). The large four light window at the west end of the Nave dates from the late-15th century and is in the Perpendicular style although extensively repaired externally. Also of the 15th century is the magnificent nave roof, with hammer-beam trusses at the east and west ends and three intermediate trusses of double arch-braced collar-with-tie-beam type. The 14th century roof was both higher and of steeper pitch!

A 15th century stair turret in the angle of the Nave north wall and the North Transept west wall gave access to a former rood (cross) loft, below which was a screen. It now gives access to the staircase of 1904 which leads to the bell ringing chamber in the Tower.

Above the Tower west crossing arch and unusually painted on the plaster are the Royal Arms of George II, dated 1742. The fourth quarter of the circular shield depicts the Hanoverian Royal Arms, in particular the white horse. The mural was carefully restored in 1953 (Coronation Year), when the outer GR2 was changed to ER2!

At the north-west corner of the Nave is a fine pipe organ, which was installed in 1920 by Messrs Bishop and Son, the organ builders, of Ipswich and London. The organ is said to have come from “the church at Frinton-on-Sea, Essex” and is the last surviving pipe organ in the three historic churches of the Woughton Parish.

The Chancel <back to top>

The East window and altar
The long Chancel is of the early-14th century. Its roof was lowered during the extensive renovation works of 1873. The window surrounds piercing the north and south walls show clear traces of early-14th century work, whilst a blocked 15th century doorway in the north wall gave access to the former Vestry. The entire east wall, including the window, were rebuilt in 1904. Of three lights and in the Decorated curvilinear style, this stained-glass window depicts the Ascension of Christ and is the work of Powell and Sons. It commemorates Henry William White, who died 29th May, 1921, aged 19 years. The reredos is similarly dedicated.

Two important medieval features survive in the sanctuary; firstly, piercing the north wall is a flat arched aumbry (safe) and piercing the south wall a somewhat worn looking piscina. Repositioned in the piscina is a broken headstone commemorating William Gale, who died in 1638 and an exceptionally early churchyard stone. Fixed to the internal face of the Chancel south wall are various monuments to the Hanmer family, who were Lords of the Manor. These range in date from Job Hanmer, died 16th November, 1738, aged 63 years to Arabella Hanmer, died 16th November, 1828, aged 66 years. However, the most impressive is the monument commemorating Sir Walden Hanmer, died 20th October, 1783, aged 66 years and Dame Ann his wife. It depicts Justice with the scales and is the work of “J. Bacon R.A., Sculptor, London,1789.”

South Transept <back to top>

This was formerly the Lady Chapel and is now used asa Vestry. The reticulated (fish net) south window which dated from 1300-1350, had to be rebuilt in 1999. To the left of the altar table is an original piscina and to the right a blocked squint. In the north-east corner of the Lady Chapel is a squint (hagioscope) which afforded a view of the Chancel high altar, until blocked by Sir Walden Hanmer’s monument in 1789. The curved queen-post roof trusses are of 17th century date.

North Transept <back to top>

Formerly the North Chapel, this now functions as the kitchen and toilets. In the kitchen is a fine trefoil arched piscina of 14th century date and piercing the east wall is a 15th century doorway which gave access to the former Vestry. The north wall is pierced by an original three light reticulated window of 1300-1350. To its left is a blocked squint. As with the South Transept, there are curved queen-post roof trusses of 17th century date.

South Porch <back to top>

Later than the Nave and of limestone with some red brick patching up, the South Porch dates from the late-15th or early-16th century. The two-centred archway rests on weathered capitals and has weathered head-stops. The blocked west window shows earlier reused tracery. Above the archway is a badly weathered limestone scratch dial, with sockets for the former iron gnomon.

The Former Vestry <back to top>

The former Vestry, which dated from the 15th century, stood between the east wall of the North Transept and the north wall of the Chancel. It was demolished in the 19th century. In 1989, during re-ordering works at St Thomas Church, the Milton Keynes Archaeology Unit excavated part of the original floor of the Vestry which consisted of glazed floor tiles of Little Brickhill type dating from the 15th century.

Dedication of the Church <back to top>

The church has been dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle at least since 1847. His feast day is celebrated on 21st December b by the Church of England. However, in a will dated 20th April, 1485 (reign of Richard III), John Browne, the cousin of Edmund Lord Grey (Lord of the Manor), included a request to be buried in the cemetery of the Church of St Nicholas at “Seveneston.” Alas, we do not know when the name was changed. It may have been in 1535 or 1536 at the Reformation of Henry VIII c. Efforts to revive the dedication of St Nicholas in 1929 were to no avail! Note the stained glass, dated 1931, in the 14th century Nave north window, which depicts St Nicholas! His feast day is celebrated on 6th December by the Church of England. St Nicholas, who was Bishop of Myra in Turkey, died in c. A.D.326. He is a patron of bankers and money-lenders, sailors, travellers and children. He is also the figure behind ‘Santa Claus’, the proper name of Father Christmas, who brings gifts to children.

Notes added 2022 - 2023 <back to top>

a The graveyard burials record book for 1888 - 1976 has a handwritten marginal note on the page for 1974 stating "New parish of Woughton created Jan 1st 1974 to include former parish of Simpson." This was presumably an Anglican parish before it became an ecumenical one. (The spelling "Sympson" is used in the burials record until 1936.)

b The feast day of St Thomas was moved by the Common Worship calendar of the Church of England to 3rd July, which is when the church now celebrates its patronal festival.

c If the dedication was changed at the Reformation, clearly this was only a partial change. A map dating from 1880 (excerpt below), and the Ordnance Survey 1:10,560 map of Buckinghamshire of 1881-1886, both show the church as “St Nicolas’s”. However a map produced for a sale in 1919 (excerpt below) shows it as “St Thomas’s”. 

A map of Simpson from 1880 showing St Nicholas church        A map of Simpson from 1919 showing St Thomas church

A list of the rectors of the church from 1231 to 1807 can be found at www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/BKM/Simpson/rectors.