This year, St Mary the Virgin church in Eaton Bray celebrates its 800th anniversary. There was a place of Christian worship on the site from earlier times, but the first known vicar of the parish, Nicholas was recorded in 1219. William de Canteloup owned the Manor of Eitone and he began to build a stone church which forms the basis of the church we have today.
If you visit St Mary's you will see two rows of arches described by Sir John Betjeman as 'nave arcades of absolute and quite unexpected magnificence.' Yet they do not match. One row of arches is much less decorative than the other, but we are not quite sure why. The font dates from the 13th century and has carving very similar to that on the capitals of the north arcade which are probably of the same date.
Also dating from the 13th century is the intricate ironwork on the south door. It is thought to have been made by Thomas de Leighton who also made ironwork for Westminster Abbey.
In 1490 the manor of Eaton was granted to Sir Reginald Bray - hence the name of Eaton Bray. He was closely involved in the building of St George's Chapel, Windsor. He applied his architectural skills to St Mary's and was responsible for the present appearance of the building. Other features, including the stained glass windows, have been added in more recent years.
The church building has faced challenges, particularly in the nineteenth century when it was in a serious state of disrepair. For several years services had to held in the schoolroom across the road.
Eaton Bray was a place of poverty and the vicar a man of fiery temper. That changed which Revd Edwin Sutton became Vicar in 1890. In conjunction with Jeffrey Sharratt, a local builder, and Mr Wallace, who built the nursery, the church was restored.
In 1930, Mr and Mrs Wallace gifted the money to build the vestry in memory of their son. More recently, in 1991 the organ was replaced and in 2016 a new extension housing toilet and storage facilities was opened. Both of these were accomplished by fundraising, generous grants and donations.
As part of our 800 year celebrations we are privileged to be having a Royal Visit. His Royal Highness Richard Duke of Gloucester, the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, the Bishop of Bedford, and other dignitaries will visit St Mary's on the afternoon of Wednesday 15th May.
There will be a short service of thanksgiving with choirs from Dagnall Church of England School, Eaton Bray Academy and Edlesborough School. Canon Malcolm Grant will give a brief guided tour of the church after which HRH will plant a tree and unveil a plaque in commemoration of the occasion.
There are a limited number of tickets available for the service. If you wish to apply for a ticket (these are free on a 'first come first served' basis) please contact us via the church email [email protected] There will be a limit of 2 tickets per household. The tree planting will take place in the church yard following on from the service.
I hope you can join us for some of our 800 year celebrations.
Joy (Vicar of Eaton Bray with Edlesborough)
About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.