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HS2 protest Help to save an old sacred site

A few years ago, I came across the old ruined church of Stoke Mandeville almost by accident, and from then on I deemed it a worthy place to visit because of its sense of ancient history within a sensitive and natural setting. The story of this church is maybe

a little sad, but what is due to befall it would be far worse. St Mary’s church can be dated to the 12th century or slightly earlier, as photographs exist showing a Romanesque chancel arch. The church developed with an added aisle, a tower and a nave remodelled to fit the fashion of the times. In the

Clive O’Sullivan is an experienced illustrator of long-lost architectural structures, using new perspectives based on existing evidence.

The story of the Saxon village site at Stoke Mandeville The village of Stoke Mandeville

late 19th century a new church was deemed necessary, nearer to the centre of the village and so the font, bells and a tomb were removed to a new site. The church quietly fell into ruin; the building was gradually covered in ivy, the roof eventually collapsed.

was not always where it is today. In the fields around the church site are indications of old buildings, mill races and fishponds which made up the original Saxon village. Its site has never been excavated or surveyed in detail. In 1966 the church was reduced to

its present state with very low walls and the rubble left as it fell. It became overgrown, but the vegetation was cut back periodically. There are a few tombs dating to the mid 19th century that still stand, giving the best clue to the passer-by that a church existed here. At this point it must be revealed

that nature will not destroy the church entirely, but the building of a railway from London to Birmingham. This rail link known as HS2 will completely destroy the church remains and its environs. At this time there is an uncertainty as to what will happen to the ruin. The question is what will happen to the many souls that rest in the small churchyard. An estimate from

the parish records suggests that nearly three thousand souls rest in the oval churchyard, but as the building had been around since at least the Norman times then the reality may be much higher. The resting souls at Stoke

Mandeville have been quietly overtaken by nature and this may be a last chance to see the site before it succumbs to the violent act of excavation in the name of progress. Walkers are recommended to park at The Woolpack pub on the A4010. Turn left and look for the sign for Stoke House and a public footpath. This takes you across a very small bridge. Look ahead for the gate and trees (pictured). The mammoth task of exhuming

the many skeletal remains would hopefully be done in a respectful way. However, there is a painful reminder that when the station of St Pancras was upgraded for HS1 it was mechanical diggers that did much of the work. The site of the old church and

village is of national importance, supported by archaeological evidence. We sincerely hope that the rail link bypasses the site of the old church, and that the departed rest on in peace.

Clive O’Sullivan

What can you do? Designs for LIFE encourages you to protest to your local MP c/o House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA

Find out more Buckhamshire Archaeological Society has published a booklet about the site. Go to and look under ‘Projects’, where a free download is available.

An Open Day will be held on Sunday 19th October 2014 from 11 am to 4pm. Go to the new Stoke Mandeville parish church and then visit the old site.


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