St Mary’s Church
Like most English towns, Aylesbury’s church has played a defining role in shaping the path the town has taken. As well as serving as the primary religious institution of the town for hundreds of years, its influence has been felt in secular life too. Parish officers functioned as a de facto local government, with responsibilities at different dates including looking after the poor, repairing roads and pest control. The church also had a role in the early provision of education. Until it relocated in the 19th Century, the Aylesbury Grammar School adjoined the Church. Various church officials have been schoolmasters, and teaching was carried out there by licence from the Vicar.
19th Century engraving of St Mary's Church, Aylesbury showing the church after Gilbert Scott's renovations (reference phAylesbury 1048)
There is thought to have been a religious building on the site of the present church since Saxon times. The core of the current building is 13th Century with later additions, replacements and repairs carried out throughout the 14th and 15th Centuries. The Church had a greater freedom from higher church authority than many local parishes because it was a Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral. This meant it was responsible to a distant Lincoln rather than to the local Archdeacon of Buckingham. The downside to Aylesbury’s Prebendary status was that much of the revenue of the parish from tithes went to the Prebend in Lincoln rather than to the Vicar. Throughout much of the 18th Century many of the vicars were absentees, combining the post with positions at other churches in order to attain an acceptable income. Without money to repair the church, and with vicars resident elsewhere the building itself suffered. It was allowed to fall into a poor condition and was described as being in a dangerous state in 1765.
The problem doesn’t seem to have been addressed until the mid 19th Century when money raised by a church rate and by public subscription paid for repairs by George Gilbert Scott. Scott’s works covered both the interior and exterior. In the period 1849 to 1855 he removed galleries, replaced furniture and repaired both the aisle and nave roof. From 1866 to 1869 the exterior works altered the appearance of the church considerably by renewing stonework and rebuilding the spire. Scott’s work means that much of the church is now a mixture of the medieval and the modern. This extends to the stained glass as well. Much is Victorian in date and paid for by local families. Among them are the Tindals, who accumulated status in the 19th Century as Clerk of the Peace for Buckinghamshire and Lord of the Manor of Aylesbury.
Extensive parish records from Aylesbury church are held in the Archives under reference PR 11.
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