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St Mary, Pitstone, Buckinghamshire

(51°49′29″N, 0°38′4″W)
SP 942 149
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Buckinghamshire
now Buckinghamshire
  • Ron Baxter
14 March 2008

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Feature Sets

Pitstone is a village in the east of the county, 7½ miles east of Aylesbury and less than a mile N of the Hertfordshire border. It is on the northern slopes of theChiltern Hills, in the chalk belt, and there are chalk pits to the S of the village, near the church which is partly built of flint. The village itself clusters around a junction of minor roads, but the church is a half-mile to the S, with a moated site to the NE. The name of this area is Church End, and other –ends nearby suggest that the village was cleared from the forest. There is evidence of occupation here from the Neolithic period onwards, with an Iron Age enclosure found at Church End, and Roman tile and pottery also excavated nearby. St Mary’s has a nave with a N aisle and S porch, a chancel with a N chapel and a W tower with a polygonal stair turret on the N side. The 2-bay arcade between the chancel and the N chapel has an octagonal pier and developed stiff-leaf capitals pointing to a date around 1225-30, and the E chapel window is a 13thc plain lancet. The N aisle wall is also 13thc, with lancet windows, and the S doorway is of the same period. There was considerable rebuilding in the 15thc, when the 3-bay arcade was replaced along with the nave and chancel windows. No clerestorey was introduced, but the nave walls appear to have been heightened and the roofline made less steep. The W tower and S porch are 15thc. The chancel and its chapel are of flint with brick repairs and a brick battlement to the chancel. Nave and tower are largely of rough-hewn ashlar blocks, and the upper part of the S nave wall is mortar rendered. The only Romanesque feature here is an Aylesbury-type font that must have belonged to an earlier church. At the time of the visit the nave floor was being relaid. The church is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.


In 1086 the Count of Mortain owned three holdings as overlord. The first, a manor of 3 hides and 1 virgate, was held by Ralph and included woodland for 20 pigs. It had been held before 1066 by Aelfgaet of Aylesbury. The second was a manor of 3 hides and 1 virgate held by Bernard that included woodland for 30 pigs and was held before 1066 by 2 men of the Abbot of St Albans. The third was 1 hide and 1 virgate held by Fulcold that included woodland for 10 pigs and was held before 1066 by Glaedwine, a man of the Abbot of St Albans. The Domesday Survey noted that Turgis, the Count of Mortain’s man, had unjustly taken 6 hides from the manor of Pitstone for the count’s demesne.

Another manor, of 5½ hides, was held by Ralph from Walter Giffard. This also included woodland for 40 pigs, and had been held by Thorulf, a man of Earl Leofwine, before 1066.

Two more holdings came under the lordship of Miles Crispin in 1086. A manor of 5 hides with woodland for 40 pigs was held by Roger, and had been held by Leofsige, a man of Beorhtric before 1066. Lastly Swaerting held 2 hides with woodland for 25 pigs from Miles. It had also been held by Leofsige before 1066.

The land held by Ralph from the Count of Mortain was later known as Pitstone Morrants. The overlordship became part of the Honour of Berkhampstead, passing to the Earls of Cornwall and the tenancy passed to the Chenduit family. Ulian Chenduit gave the manor of Ashridge with Pitstone to Edmund Earl ofCornwall, and the earl gave it to thecollegeofBonhommesat Ashridge, which he founded in 1283. The Count of Mortain’s second Domesday manor, held by Bernard in 1086, became part of the Fee of Mortain, which passed to the Earls of Cornwall. The two holdings of Miles Crispin were attached to the Honour of Wallingford, which also came into the hands of the Earls of Cornwall, and the three were later combined as the manor of Pitstone Neyrnut, held by the Neyrnut family in the time of Henry II. The church was attached to this manor, Geoffrey de Neyrnut presenting Walter de Neyrnut to the vacant rectory in 1263.

This leaves the manor held by Ralph from Walter Giffard in 1086, later known as Pitstone Manor. The overlordship became part of the honour of Giffard, passings to the Earls of Shrewsbury, then the Earls of Pembroke. The tenancy was held by Oliver de Aspreville in the early 13thc, passing to Simon de Baseville by 1234 and remaining in this family into the 14thc.





The font belongs to a group of 22 (according to Pevsner) centred on Aylesbury, of which thirteen (not all complete) are in Buckinghamshire. These are at Aylesbury, Bledlow, Buckland, Chearsley, Chenies, Great Kimble, Great Missenden, Linslade, Little Missenden, Monks Risborough, Pitstone, Weston Turville and Wing. Of these the finest are at Aylesbury, Chenies, Great Kimble, Great Missenden (base only), Weston Turville and Wing (base only). Others in the group have shallower or less complex carving, while a further three in the county, at Ludgershall, Saunderton and Haddenham, are less adept copies of the design. Outside Buckinghamshire there are related fonts at Duston and Eydon in Northants, and at Barton-le-Clay, Dunstable, Flitwick and Houghton Regis in Bedfordshire. These fonts are normally dated late in the 12thc, c.1170-90. The Pitstone font cannot be counted among the finest examples; the carving is relatively shallow and sometimes inaccurate, and the repertoire of decoration is unadventurous. It has also lost its original base; often the site of the most impressive carving in these fonts, but the overall form is true to the bold concept of the design. According to Pevsner (1960) the top frieze is recut, but the present author can detect no sign of this.


N. Pevsner, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire.London 1960, 224.

N. Pevsner and E. Williamson, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire. London1960, 2nd ed. 1994.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Buckingham. Vol. 2 (North), London 1913, 236-38.

M. Thurlby, “Fluted and Chalice-Shaped: The Aylesbury Group of Fonts”, Country Life, CLXXI, 1982, 228-29.

M. Thurlby, “The Place of St Albans in Regional Sculpture and Architecture in the Second Half of the Twelfth Century.” in M. Henig & P. Lindley (ed.), Alban and St Albans. Roman and Medieval Architecture, Art and Archaeology. (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions XXIV). Leeds 2001, 162-75.

Victoria County History: Buckinghamshire. III (1925), 406-12.