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The Wonky Church

Cruciform church tower archesThe chancel (not open to the public at the moment) is visible through the tower arches. Above the nearest arch are the royal arms of George II. The outer G,R, and 2 were changed to read E,R, and 2 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Stairs up to the bellringing platform are on the left.

Look closely at St Thomas’ church in Simpson, Milton Keynes, and you might wonder why the tower seems a little slender compared to the rest of the church. It’s because it’s all that’s left of an earlier, smaller church.

St Thomas is a cruciform church. It’s built with a central tower between the West nave and East chancel, (their usual orientation) and with transepts to North and South.  A birds eye view would show the church to be shaped like a Christian cross; the nave forming the long arm and the tower where the arms all join.

But it’s a slightly wonky cross; the transepts do not match and the South one has a West wall which isn’t quite at right angles to everything else. The porch, built around 200 years after most of the church, has an East wall that is also way off being square.

Church of St. Thomas  SimpsonThe tower is a little slender in proportion to the rest of the church.

Screen Shot 2023-03-08 at 17.55.18Plan of the church in 1927, 
from A History of the County of Buckingham, via British History Online.

The older church would have been built to a similar design, but possibly with a small semi-circular apse instead of a bigger, rectangular chancel.

The late 13th Century tower gained a bellringer’s floor during the 1904 restoration, and an oak staircase leading to it from the 15th Century rood loft stairs to a low doorway with a four centred arch.

I think this doorway dates from the 14th Century rebuilding, and I’d guess it was for ladder access from the nave to the tower, leading through the wall to another, fixed ladder for access to the bells and the upper parts of the tower.

In the bellringer’s room is a more recent fixed ladder leading up the tower, though I didn’t go up it. There’s also an old sign with a warning about messing around with the bell ropes if you don’t know what you are doing, and in the window reveal, an old gas lamp, complete with supply pipe.

Gas lamp in church towerThe gas lamp in the tower in the window reveal. The window is now obscured by the 14th Century South transept's roof, and is blocked off by wood. From the outside, part of its arch is just visible. (See the photo above)

The North transept is now divided up into toilets and a small kitchen. The bottom of the 15th Century rood loft stairs is behind a door in the West wall. In the kitchen, the East wall has a 15th Century doorway to the old, long ago demolished vestry.

In the kitchen is a 14th Century aumbry, a built in cupboard or safe. The South transept is now the vestry.

The nave roof dates from the start of the 15th Century and has hammer beam trusses at each end. The chancel roof was replaced in the 1873 renovations.

The chancel is also wonky, though that’s not really a serious enough word for what’s been happening.

Big cracks have appeared in the North and West walls, and since I visited St Thomas’ just over six weeks ago these cracks have got much worse as the North East corner of the chancel pulls away from the rest of the church.

Investigations are going ahead, but it’s going to cost thousands to put right. Investigations are already going on, but their first step is to hold an auction; see the poster, below. If you can donate something to be auctioned or attend and buy something, please do.

Simpson auction posterPlease attend!

15th Century nave roofThe 14th Century nave has a 15th Century roof with hammerbeams at each end.

Aumbry  Simpson churchThis aumbry in the North transept has a rebate for a cupboard door. It's now a good place for a first aid kit, out of the way but clearly visible.

Tower arches13th arches, the pulpit and a North wall nave window.

Hammerbeam roof detailA close up of the hammerbeam roof, viewed from the stairs to the bellringing platform.

Reredos and East window  SimpsonThe reredos (foreground) and East window.

Cracked chancel window SimpsonThe crack runs right through this window, at the East end of the chancel. You can see more photos of the damage in my earlier post, Cracks in the chancel.

This post's photos were taken with a Sony A6000 camera and lens.

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