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St John the Baptist, Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire

(51°40′55″N, 0°40′9″W)
Little Missenden
SU 921 990
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Buckinghamshire
now Buckinghamshire
  • Ron Baxter
27 February 2007

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Little Missenden is a village towards the S of the county, 2 miles W of Amersham in the Chiltern hills. The village extends for approximately a mile along the S bank of a stream, the Misbourne. The church stands in the centre of the village, and consists of nave, chancel and W tower with aisles to the nave and a long N chapel, extending further E than the chancel. It is constructed of small flints, pudding stone and assorted stone rubble. The nave is 11thc, perhaps pre-Conquest, and the chancel arch and one S and two N windows date from this phase. In the 12thc the nave walls were pierced with arcading and the aisles added. This was carried out in two stages; the S c.1120 and the N c.1160-80. The short chancel has 13thc windows on the S and E, and the N chapel has 14thc details except for a plain pointed lancet towards the E end of the S wall. This, according to the church guide, was recently discovered and set in its present position. The S doorway is also 14thc, and its timber-framed porch is 15thc, as is the W tower with its polygonal S stair and embattled parapets. The church fell into disrepair between the 15thc and the 18thc, and in 1711 it was restored in brick. The S aisle windows date from this restoration. The church is justly celebrated for its 13thc to 14thc wallpaintings, including a Crucifixion (on pier 2 of the N arcade), and a large St Christopher and a St Catherine cycle on the N arcade wall. The chancel arch and nave arcades are described here, along with the font, one of the Aylesbury type.


The Domesday Survey lists three holdings in Little Missenden. Vigot held 1 hide of ploughland with meadow for 1 plough and woodland for 100 pigs, from the Count of Mortain. This land was held by Alwine, a man of Sigeraed, before the Conquest. Next, Hugh de Bolbec held half a hide with meadow for 1 plough and woodland for 30 pigs, and Wulfgeat held it from him. Wulfgeat, a man of Bishop Wulfwig (ofDorchester), also held it before the Conquest. Finally Turstin Mantel held half a hide with meadow for 2 ploughs and woodland for 30 pigs. This land was held by Saeric, a man of Sigeraed, before the Conquest. In no case is a church mentioned. The abbey of (Great) Missenden was founded in 1133, receiving Great Missenden church and lands nearby as part of its original endowment. In 1161 Turstin Mantel, a descendant of the Domesday landowner, gave Missenden Abbey some of his land in Little Missenden. ThechurchofLittle Missendenwas part of the foundation endowment given to a different foundation; the priory of Augustinian canons at Bicester (Oxfordshire) in 1182. The founders of Bicester were Gilbert Basset and his wife Egelina, and the gift was confirmed in 1315.


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches






Pevsner’s view is that the fabric is early Norman rather than Anglo-Saxon, and that the S arcade was pierced early in the 12thc and the N arcade a little later. RCHME goes no further than to date the original fabric before 1120, when the first of the arcades was pierced. The church guide (Simpson 2006) prefers a much earlier (and unaccountably exact) date of 975 for the original structure. The curiously uneven nave arcades may reflect the disposition of earlier porticus or porches. For the present author, the capitals of the tiny pseudo-colonnettes of the N arcade suggest a date as late as the 1160s or ‘70s for this work, while the N arcade imposts point to a date in the 1st quarter of the 12thc for that.

The glory of the place, for the lover of Romanesque sculpture, is of course the font, which 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. Thurlby suggests, on the basis of comparisons of foliage forms on the Aylesbury and Weston Turville fonts with sculpture at St Alban’s Abbey dating from the abbacy of Simon (1167-83), and on the resemblance between these fonts and liturgical chalices, that the sculptors were copying St Albans metalwork, perhaps of the kind produced by one Master Baldwin according to an account by Matthew Paris. Of the other fonts in the group, the Little Missenden font is closest to Weston Turville, which also has a cushion base but is generally more elaborately carved, and to its neighbour at Great Missenden. The latter has lost its original bowl, but an identical motif appears on the bases of the two fonts. The Little Missenden font is the only one in the group to use the dart foliage motif.


C. S. Drake, The Romanesque Fonts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia.London, 2002, 26-27, 175.

N. Pevsner and E. Williamson, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire.London 1960, 2nd ed. 1994, 442-43.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Buckingham. Volume 1 (south).London 1912, 232-34.

J. Simpson (ed.), A Guide to the Church & Parish of St John the Baptist, Little Missenden. Little Missenden 2006.

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, esp. 164-67, 173.

Victoria County History: Buckinghamshire. I (1905), 369-76 (on Missenden abbey).

Victoria County History: Buckinghamshire. II (1908), 354-60.

E. C. Vollans, “The Evolution of Farm-Lands in the Central Chilterns in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries”, Transactions and Papers (Institute of British Geographers), No. 26. (1959), 197-241.