The Church of St Mary Magdalene, Boveney, is a redundant Anglican church standing close to the river on the north bank of the Thames, near the village of Boveney, Buckinghamshire, England. It is about 3 kilometres (2 mi) to the west of Eton College. The church has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building, and is under the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches.
A church has been on the site since before the Norman conquest, but the fabric of the present church dates from the 12th century. Windows and the tower were added in the 15th century. The church was built to serve the bargemen working on the River Thames; there was a quay alongside the church but there are now no remains of this. It was a chapel of ease to St Peter's Church, Burnham. An attempt to make it into a separate parish in 1737 failed because sufficient endowment could not be raised. Probably in the middle of the 19th century, a dado of bricks was added to the exterior in an attempt to keep out damp, and in 1897 the window tracery was replaced.
St Mary's in constructed in flint and chalk rubble, with ashlar dressings. Small fragments of flint have been inserted in the mortar; this process is partly functional and partly decorative, and is known as galletting. The tower is weather boarded; it stands on a timber framework, which itself stands on the ground. The door is in the south wall. High in the west wall is a small narrow lancet window that probably dates from the 12th century. Inside the church, some of the original 15th-century pews are still present. Other fittings date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The ring consists of three bells. The largest of these dates from about 1536 and was cast at the foundry in Reading; the other two bells were cast in 1631 and 1636 by Ellis I. Knight.
Recent history and present day
The church was declared redundant in 1975, and it was planned to demolish it or convert it into residential accommodation. However following a local campaign, it passed into the care of the charity the Friends of Friendless Churches in 1983. The charity holds a 999 year lease with effect from 10 June 1983. The church is still consecrated, and has been used for occasional services since 1983. However the church then had to be closed because it was found that the tower had become unstable, and repair was essential. When 19th-century plaster was removed from the footings of the tower, it was found that they were almost completely rotten. The cost of the repair totalled £200,000. Of this, 70% was received as a grant from English Heritage, and the remainder was raised from a number of sources. These included Sir John Smith and the Francis Coales Charitable Foundation, and Eton College who donated the proceeds of their annual "Concert for the Choir". The repair of the tower has been completed, and in 2010–11 another round of repairs was undertaken, including work on the windows. The repair work carried out on the tower won the Royal Institute of British Architects South Conservation Award for Architects in 2005.
There is no visible evidence, today, of any burials having taken place in the small churchyard surrounding the church.
As a chapel of ease, that would not be unusual.
Except for two pieces of relevant information:
Firstly, in a Papal letter dated August 15th, 1511; twenty-three years before 'The Act of Supremacy' abolished the Pope's authority in England; The Pope instituted a cemetery at Boveney Church, "without prejudice to anyone; that the inhabitants of Boveney may be buried therein; this being in consideration that the village is about two miles from the Parish Church at Burnham and in wintertime the bodies of the dead cannot be conveniently brought to that Parish Church." [It is actually about 5 miles from Boveney to St Peter’s Church, Burnham]
Secondly, in 1859 a Mr and Mrs S. Hall of London published a book titled 'The Book of The Thames'. They arrived by boat from Windsor, and wrote "Let us step ashore to visit yon wee church of Boveney, half hidden among lofty trees, it is the last of its class we shall ever encounter" etc., “After inspecting the interior, and wondering why so small a church was ever built, we returned to the churchyard and stood for some little time beneath the shadows of a glorious old tree, whose boughs and foliage formed a protection against the rain or sunshine. The old withered women who had opened the church door followed and regretted the gentry should be disappointed as there was nothing to see." We differed from her, saying there was a great deal that interested us, could anything be more picturesque or beautiful than the churchyard? She shook her head "The churchyard was thick with graves, some with stones and some without, like any other place of the sort - a poor melancholy place it was." "She thought it was so lonely and miserable, and yet sketchers were always making pictures of it Yes there were stories of those who lay there"... and so the narrative went on.
So, two references – many years apart - to people being buried in the churchyard.
The Friends of St Mary Magdalene, Boveney, with the Dorney History Group, decided to research this further. The initial Research Outline is below:
We then requested assistance from the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, who kindly passed the research to their Active Archaeology Group. They agreed to undertake an archaeological survey in order to attempt to determine whether there appeared to be any evidence of the churchyard having been used for burials.
Their report is below:
The conclusion of their work is as follows:
So the million dollar question is: have we found any graves? The short answer is: none that I can see. The long answer is, sadly, that that does not mean there are no graves. Geophysics does not detect everything, as much as we would like it to.
The question is, therefore, only partly answered. Further work may be undertaken. If it is – it will be posted on this website!