Building » Woburn Sands – St Mary

Woburn Sands – St Mary

Aspley Hill, Woburn Sands, Buckinghamshire

A brick-built Gothic church, one of many such built in the diocese in the 1950s and early 60s by J. S. Comper. The church was built on a large site acquired from the Bedford estate, and a major benefaction from Miss Christine Chichester allowed for a quality of design and fitting not normally possible in the late 1950s.

A mission was established at the Fir Tree Hotel, Woburn Sands in 1926. Three years later a semi-public chapel was opened at Wavendon Fields, the home of Mr Henry Lyons. In 1932 a temporary wooden church was acquired from St Neots and built in Theydon Avenue. In 1949 a site for a permanent church and priest’s house on Aspley Hill was purchased from the Bedford estate. Two years later, Miss Christine Chichester (from a prominent West Country Catholic family) left a substantial legacy for the building of a church. Fr Golston, the priest-in-charge, asked Francis Pollen, then at the start of his career, to produce plans but these were rejected by Bishop Parker, who insisted that J. S. Comper should be appointed. Plans were duly drawn up by Comper and an application for a building licence made to the Bishop of St Albans (at this time any licence for a new church of any denomination had to be approved by the bishop of the relevant Anglican diocese). Work started on site preparation towards the end of 1954, with Messrs Simcock & Usher of Northampton the contractors. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Parker on April 23 and the completed church was opened (unusually by Fr Golston rather than the bishop) on 2 July 1956. The church was consecrated by Bishop Parker and Archbishop Chichester SJ on May 8 1957. A presbytery was built at the same time, also to Comper’s designs. The contract cost of the church was £14,277, and of the presbytery £3,850.

In 1987 a parish hall, the Mary Adams Memorial Hall, was built. At about the same time a brick columbarium was built alongside this, incorporating a mosaic panel from the convent chapel at Clapham Park.


Church in a simple modern Gothic style by Sebastian Comper, 1956. Like most of Comper’s churches in the diocese, it is built of wire-cut Fletton bricks in cavity wall construction, with cast stone dressings, and a plain tile roof. The church consists of nave with western narthex/porch, three-sided apse and south Lady Chapel and sacristy. The nave is 64 ft long and 24 ft 5 ins wide, and was built to seat 243 people.

The projecting western porch has a gabled central bay incorporating a tablet bearing the motto of the Chichester family, Ferme en Foy (Norman French for ‘strong in faith’). Below this is an entrance with a four-centred arch, and paired windows on either side to the baptistery and the confessionals. Above this on the west elevation of the nave is a triple lancet window under a flat head and in the gable an overhanging gablet incorporating a single bell. The side elevations are of five bays, with paired lancet windows under pointed arches, except for the three bays over the Lady Chapel, where there are shorter four-light clerestory windows with flat heads. The south chapel addition has a shallow pitched roof, a brick stack against the nave wall and windows of three and four lights. Paired windows similar to those of the nave in the canted sides of the apse; the flat central bay is plain.

In the entrance porch is a stone plaque recording the benefaction of Miss Chichester. The church interior has painted brick walls, with the bay divisions marked by brown sandstone-coloured attached triple columns supporting pointed transverse arches, brick clad over a reinforced concrete core. Between these arches is an open timber roof, the rafters and boards painted grey-white and the purlins pale blue (just grey-white in the apse). Two wide arches to the Lady Chapel giving off the south side, the easternmost of these with a wrought iron screen designed by the architect. Other furnishings of note by Comper include a gilded and painted canopy over the site of the original high altar (not yet installed when the church was photographed for the Consecration brochure in 1957), pendant lights in the nave, oak doors and seating (benches at the front and chairs at the back). There is much recent colourful memorial stained glass, variable in quality; more worthy of the note are the four-light window to Henry Lyons, benefactor of the mission, in the Lady Chapel (Presentation in the Temple, designed by Comper and signed by him, 1956) and a three-light window (Suffer the Children, by Joseph Nuttgens, 1992). The sanctuary has been reordered, with a modern altar and with the communion rails removed. The original font has been moved from the western baptistery to a location alongside the ambo.

Amended by AHP 25.01.2021

Heritage Details

Architect: J. S. Comper

Original Date: 1956

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed