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St Firmin, North Crawley, Buckinghamshire

(52°5′34″N, 0°38′53″W)
North Crawley
SP 927 447
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Buckinghamshire
now Buckinghamshire
  • Ron Baxter
07 September 2006

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North Crawley is a good-sized village in north Buckinghamshire (ancient hundred of Moulsoe), three miles E of Newport Pagnell and the edge ofMilton Keynes. It is numbered among the so-called villages ofMilton Keynes. The suffix “ley” suggests a woodland settlement, and the outlying “ends”; Brook End, Up End, Little End andEast End, are typical indications of the extent of the clearing. Little continuous woodland survives, and the surrounding landscape is rolling arable and pasture now. The church is alongside the pub in the centre of the village, set back from the high street on the N side.

St Firmin’s is an imposing church with a W tower, an aisled and clerestoried nave with a N porch (the main doorway facing the village) and a long chancel, all in coursed, roughly-shaped, irregular stone. Battlements have been added to the tower, nave, aisle and chancel walls, all except the S aisle wall which has a plain parapet. The tower is 4 storeys high and unbuttressed, with a round stair turret at the SW angle that rises to the top of the 2nd storey. The 3 lowest storeys date from the late-12thc or early 13thc; there is a plain round-headed doorway on the N side, apparently 12thc but probably reset from elsewhere, and the windows on the lower storeys are plain, slightly pointed lancets. Inside, the tower arch is a replacement of c.1300, but with 12thc label stops reused either from the earlier tower arch or from the S arcade. The top storey of the tower is a 14thc addition with large double bell-openings with flowing tracery. In the nave, the c1200 S arcade is of five bays with pointed arches, but the 3 E bays have taller arches than the two W bays. The piers are all octagonal except for pier 3, which marks the boundary of the two campaigns and has a rectangular core with semi-octagonal responds to E and W. The N arcade is as long as the S but has only four bays; it belongs to the end of the 13thc and has quatrefoil clustered piers and moulded capitals. The clerestory is a 15thc-16thc addition with five windows per side, matching the rhythm of neither arcade. The roof is contemporary with the clerestory, and the aisle windows are 15thc. The chancel was remodelled at the end of the 13thc by Peter de Winton, rector from 1294-1321, according to an inscription below the E window, but retains flattish pilaster buttresses on the lateral walls. Its plate tracery windows are renewed or heavily restored but its double piscina and aumbry are original. The chancel arch is contemporary with the remodelling and the N arcade and is carried on corbels. The N chancel doorway is early to mid-13thc with moulded capitals and heavily moulded arch orders with filleted rolls. The N nave doorway is stylistically slightly earlier but still 13thc, with flat-leaf capitals and deeply moulded arch orders. Both predate Winton’s remodelling, but neither could be considered Romanesque, so photographs are included here but no descriptions. The N porch is early 19thc, rebuilt in 1912. There was a restoration in 1827 (by J. Goodman of Buckingham) and repairs in 1938-47 (by F. E. B. Ravenscroft ofReading) and 1948-51 (by C. M. O. Scott ofLondon). Romanesque features recorded here are the N tower doorway, the S nave arcade and reset label stops on the tower arch.


There was a minster at Crawleyin 1086, dedicated to St Firmin, and at that time the vill was known simply as Crauelai. In 1197 Great and Little Crawley were distinguished; Great Crawley taking the name ofNorth Crawley, perhaps in the 15thc, and Little Crawley retaining its name. The abbey was recorded as holding land in Hardmead in 1086, although curiously there is no Domesday entry forCrawleyitself.

There are later records of three manors inCrawley. The manor of Great Crawley, was held under the honour ofGloucester, by the Filiols, and passed by female heirs to the families of Bohun, Owen, and Southwell. It was purchased from the last in the reign of King Henry VIII. by Sir Robert Dormer, and from his descendants in 1704, by Francis Duncombe, who sold it to William Lowndes in 1724. A second manor (now called Broughtons) was in the family of Broughton from 1219 to 1529. It passed afterwards by successive purchases to the families of Morton, Stanton, Knight, Gregory, and Lowndes. The Manor of Hellows belonged successively to the Latimers and Nevilles, and was at a later period in the families of Apreece, Smith, and Duncombe. William Lowndes purchased it from the Duncombes. Hence by the 18thc all three manors were held by the Lowndes family, who also held the advowson of the rectory by that time.

The parish is now in the benefice of Sherington with Chicheley,North Crawley, Astwood and Hardmead.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches



An incoherent text of the 8thc refers to two bishops ofAmiens(Somme) called Firmin. The earlier, Firmin the Martyr, a native of Pampeluna, was said to be the first bishop and founder of the see, martyred by Diocletian at the end of the 3rdc. The second, Firmin the Confessor, was said to be the third bishop, named in honour of his predecessor, who ruled wisely for forty years in the later 4thc. Modern scholarship has dismissed the legend, but it was doubtless accepted by the founders of the minster, who presumably believed that they owned a relic of one Firmin or the other. The only other English church dedicated to St Firmin is at Thurlby,Lincolnshire.

The S arcade was built in two sections, and in Pevsner’s view the form of pier 3 indicates that a decision to lengthen the nave was made at this time; the thickness of plain wall between the responds representing the original W wall of the church. This seems plausible but leaves a couple of issues unresolved; notably the reason for building the W bays of the arcade lower than the E bays, and the observation that, if anything, the W section appears stylistically earlier than the E.


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints. 3 vols.London 1899, I, 438-39.

N. Pevsner and E. Williamson, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire.London 1960, 2nd ed. 1994, 582-83.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Buckingham. Volume 2 (north).London 1913, 219-21.

Victoria County History: Buckinghamshire. IV (1927), 327-38.