St. Mary’s Church & new Rectory
St Marys’ Church is an important Grade I listed building at the centre of the old town. Built in the 13th century, it was enlarged in the 14th and 15th centuries with a South porch and tower.
It was restored in 1890 when the exterior was re-faced with knapped (split) flints and the tower was modified (see photos below). On the North side there is a Drake family chapel with many sculptural pieces. (See the photo of the church in winter on the Chiltern Society PhotoGroup site.) See also the views from the tower.
The churchyard has about 40 round-topped gravestones (see picture below right) known as “body stones”, all dated from about 1770-1860. These are unusual, although some similar stones exist in Kent. There are also some “bale tombs” which are similar, but on top of a highly decorated chest-type tomb. The reasons for using this design are not known, other than the fact that it became fashionable for a while. There also two unusual listed cast iron memorials in the churchyard – click here and here.
Listen to Jean Archer in 1991 talking about John Knox’s visit to St. Mary’s in 1553
Click on any of the photographs below to enlarge it and to see the description. Then click on forward or back arrows at the foot of each photograph. To close the pictures, just click on one.
The following description of St. Mary’s was written by Tim Harper, the Rector of Amersham and is reproduced with his permission:
St Mary’s Old Amersham dates from around 1140 A.D. though the site has been a holy one for much longer, as it stands where Roman Road crosses the little River Misbourne. The missionary monks of St Augustine and indeed earlier evangelist Bishops would baptise their converts at just such a location.
As the town expanded during the middle ages, the church was extended, widened and heightened, much work being done in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the building came to look much as it does today.
In the early 16th century, King Henry the 8th sanctioned the persecution of the Lollards, early Protestants, and a number of unrepentant townspeople, now known as the Amersham Martyrs were burned on the hill overlooking the town.
Important visitors include John Knox, who preached his last sermon here before fleeing abroad from the wrath of Queen Mary; Oliver Cromwell, who parked his wife for safe keeping at Woodrow High House, just outside the town; Richard Baxter, the Puritan Divine who described a ‘disputation’ with Parliamentary soldiers during the Civil War; and William Penn, walked over from Penn Village to court his second wife Guilemina Springett, then resident at a farmhouse in the town, before going off with her to found Pennsylvania!
In about 1620, the Drake family (possibly cousins of Admiral Sir Francis Drake) bought the town and its estates. They remain patrons of the Parish to this day, many of their younger sons serving as Rector over the centuries. In the 1870s, Rector Edward Drake persuaded his brother the Squire to reorder and restore St Mary’s to something its mediaeval interior layout. It was also at this point that the church was clad in flint. (See article from local paper below).
In the 20th century the building was further restored and re-pewed, and is in very good order, much in demand by the local community not only for worship, but for concerts and arts occasions of all kinds.
An excellent guide to the Church and its history, written by Michael Andrews-Reading, is available from the Parish office.