Bells, Penyston Chapel and Piscina
Stowe Church Bells
There are six bells in the tower, with the tenor (the largest bell) weighing a little over 10 cwt (about 550 kg). The oldest three bells are dated 1654, with 2 others added in 1660 and 1665. The bells were re-hung on a new frame in the 1960s. and a new treble (the smallest bell) was added in 1989.
We know there were some bells before 1654. A Thomas Saunders (possibly the husband of Alicia, whose memorial brass is in the chancel) left money in his will of 1493 to buy a bell, and in 1520 George Pynnocke of Akeley bequeathed two pence to the ringers of the parish of Stowe. Browne-Willis says that the current bells were re-cast from an earlier ring of 4 bells, but we have no corroboration for this.
There may be significance in the date of the "new" bells. Sir Peter Temple, who was responsible for depopulating the old village of Stowe in the 1630s, died in 1653. He was effectively bankrupt, leaving debts around £24,000 and his estate about to be managed by a group of his creditors. It seems unlikely that the Temple family paid for the recasting - so who did? We would expect a significant benefactor to be commemorated by an inscription on one of the bells, but we have here only the names of the bellfounders and the churchwardens. The fact that the installation of the original 3 was followed by two more over the next 11 years suggests a gradual collection of funds rather than a single wealthy donor. The most likely answer is that the members of the parish paid for the work. So is it simply coincidence that the new bells were installed the year after the death of the man who depopulated the village?
Currently only two members of the congregation are bellringers. However, we share a rota with the ringers of Maids Moreton and of Buckingham, so that all three towers are rung at least once and usually twice per month.
The Penyston chapel
This chapel appears on stylistic grounds to have been built in the late sixteenth century. This corresponds to the time that the Temple family acquired the ownership of the manor of Stowe, together with the two Dadford holdings and one of the two at Lamport (the other at Lamport being held by the Dayrells). It seems likely that the Temples had it built as their family chapel. Many parish churches have private chapels added or screened off for their own use by the principal local gentry as one of the cherished signs of heirarchical status.
The large monument is to Martha, Lady Penyston. She was the fourth daughter of Sir Thomas Temple, and wife of Sir Thomas Penyston of Leigh, Essex. Like his father-in-law, Sir Thomas Penyston received one of the first batch of baronetcies sold by King James I in 1611.
Martha Penyston died in January 1619. From this year on, several of the Temple family were buried in a vault beneath the chapel. The fact that in 1592 the infant John Temple was interred in the chancel could possibly indicate that the chapel was not complete by this date. Martha’s infant daughter Hester died in 1612, and there is an effigy representing the child at the foot of Martha’s monument. Hester is apparently interred in the floor of the chapel - this might be taken to indicate that the chapel existed by this date but that there was as yet no vault beneath it.
The infant Hester’s memorial slab is in the floor immediately by the entrance from the North aisle.
Monument to Hester Penyston
The monument in the floor at the entrance to the chapel is of slate, with inlaid marble - now rather damaged. The inscription around the edge reads in (slightly wobbly) Latin -
It is strange that this monument records her death as “about 18th August” - why was there doubt over the date? does this mean that the interment here took place some time after her death? - and perhaps because the chapel was still not complete in 1612? Or was she originally buried at her father’s home church in Essex, and only moved here when her mother died? Is this why the stone is damaged?
The upper tablet in the monument reads “PRIMITIAS DEO CONSECRAMUS” - We dedicate the first fruits to God. The larger, lower, tablet reads
in memory of whose infant daughter the most grieving mother caused this small monument to have been placed
Penyston chapel vault
The following list of those buried here is a transcript from the “Parish Register of Stowe cum membris Lamport Dodford and Boycott”, begun in 1568, and now deposited in the County Archive in Aylesbury.
“In the vault:
This niche dates from the 14th century and is known as a “piscina”. It is a sort of drain - note the bowl-shaped depression with a blocked-up small hole. There would originally have been a small projection at the front to complete the circle of the bowl. Until the Reformation a piscina was used for the disposal of the holy water with which the priest had rinsed his fingers before handling the host, and the rinsings from the chalice after communion. This was to avoid the holy water and the remnants of the consecrated wine being acquired for profane uses. The water simply soaked into the fabric of the wall. The presence of a piscina indicates that there was once an altar on your left - against the east wall of this aisle. There is a similar piscina on the south side of the arch between the north aisle and the Penyston chapel - indicating there was an altar on the wall where the archway is now. There would once have been a piscina in the south wall of the chancel, near the East end: this may have been lost at the time the chancel was re-roofed in 1792-4.