This article was written by one of our Church Wardens, Hilary Monaghan, for the Autumn, 2019 edition of the Hitcham and Taplow Magazine. It is re-produced here with permission.
I’ve never considered myself a religious person. Membership of the Brownies resulted in an obligatory monthly attendance at Church Parade. Ironed uniform, polished shoes and a shiny threepenny bit in my top pocket. Occasionally at Christmas I was pulled reluctantly from my bed to attend Midnight Mass. Every year there was a tearful family attendance on Armistice Sunday.
My grandmother died. My sister married. My nieces and nephews were baptised.
I studied, built a career, travelled the world, raised a family. The church was still there, largely ignored. However, I took opportunities to visit and enjoy religious buildings wherever I went, along with many other visitors. Places built to be noticed: imposing, uplifting, spectacularly both beautiful and awe inspiring, filled with artistic treasures. Places that make you pause a while, and reflect. Places that appear in all civilisations across the globe, in all their different guises.
Who can imagine an English village without a pub, a school and a church? All of them places of hospitality and welcome. Places to interact with other people, to take time out of a hectic schedule. The church unites all ages, from toddler groups and Sunday School to the elderly and infirm who enjoy the assistance of other members of the congregation. Major services at Easter, Christmas and Remembrance Day attract large congregations. During the last four years St Nicolas has hosted 49 weddings and 24 funeral services, and welcomed 72 new lives in baptisms. These milestone events have lifelong significance for families. The church is also a community space used for concerts, meetings and a large variety of social events.
St Augustine’s mission to England in 597AD is often taken as a starting point of Christian worship in this country. Only 38 years later, in 635AD, Birinus, first Bishop of Dorchester, was preaching Christianity and baptising converts in Bapsey Pool (hence its name) in the grounds of what is now Taplow Court. Bapsey Pool, on high ground overlooking the river but fed by a fresh water spring, would have been thought of as a mystical place. It is no surprise that there are remnants of Iron and Bronze Age hill forts as well as evidence of Roman occupation.
After the Romans left in about 410AD, the area was claimed by warring Saxon leaders, Taplow being at the boundaries of the Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex and Kent. There remains a 7th Century Anglo-Saxon burial mound believed to be where the Anglo-Saxon warrior chieftain named Taeppa was buried ca AD620. The mound was excavated in 1883 and the Taplow Hoard displayed in the British Museum.
A Saxon church was built in sight of the mound, which was succeeded by a Norman one in use until the eighteenth century. The old churchyard, although in the grounds of Taplow Court is consecrated land and is still owned by the Church of England.
The first church to be built on the present site was constructed in 1828 but in later years was declared to be of poor quality. In 1865, Rev Charles Whately (Rector 1850/90) personally funded the addition of a chancel, designed by the renowned architect Sir George Gilbert Scott. Elizabeth and Charles Seymour Grenfell of Elibank were the driving force when the church was substantially rebuilt in 1912. The Grenfell family provided approximately half the cost of over £9,000, Waldorf Astor of Cliveden donated £1,000 and the balance was subscribed by over 200 parishioners.
The architect was George Fellowes Prynne. The original tower was retained but topped by the distinctive timber and copper spire. G G Scott’s chancel was also kept but extended, reroofed, refloored and refaced. The altar was raised seven steps above the nave floor level, and the floor of the chancel and sanctuary laid with at least 16 shades and styles of marble. The main body of the church was entirely new. Of particular note is the delicate stonework in the screen, the fine oak roof, the stained glass, and the beauty of the Lady Chapel with its marble altar and mosaic floor. No expense was spared to create a very special building. Indeed, the new building even possessed under floor heating and electric light!
At the dedication service on 6th December 1912, the church was full to overflowing with many people obliged to stand, and a large assembly formed outside. Maidenhead Advertiser reported: Strings of bunting were hung across the streets and roadways, flags were hung out from the windows of residences, and when darkness fell the fronts of many houses were illuminated with fairy lights …. As the clock chimed six o’clock, the Bishop, accompanied by the Rector, the Rev F G A Phillips, and the churchwardens, proceeded to the west door of the church, and after knocking at the door three times with his staff, pronounced these words: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in.”…. The doors of the church were then unlocked and thrown open. A flood of light, intensified by the darkness without, came from the interior of the church, which was brightly illuminated, and fell full upon the Bishop and his attendants as they entered the church.
Many of the treasures in the church pre date the current building. In the floor of the lady chapel is the earliest surviving civilian commemoration in brass, certainly in the country, possibly in the world. Nicholas of Amerden was a member of the Fishmongers Company and Lord of the Manor in 1350. It is thought he travelled from Amerden to London by barge to sell fish. Other important brasses include those commemorating the Manfield family and date back to the 15th century. The brasses can be viewed on church open days or by appointment.
St Nicolas’ Church manages frequent requests for information from people across the country, and indeed across the world. This month we have welcomed Danish artist Troels Andersen doing research into the stained glass windows by Baron Arild Rosencrantz. There are four very fine examples in St Nicolas. Troels studied the windows over two days, observing them in changing light conditions.
This follows the discovery of a roll of cartoons for the windows, in the attic at Rosenholm Castle, family home of one of the oldest and most famous families in Denmark. The following week, we were excited to meet a direct descendant of James Rutland who was organist at St Nicolas for 50 years, parish clerk, and responsible for the excavation of Taeppa’s mound.
The church of St Nicolas in Taplow is a legacy bequeathed to all of us by our predecessors. They organised it, paid for it, ran it and many of their sons are named on the war memorial in the churchyard. All residents of the village and its surroundings are stewards of their church. Our vicar Jane is dedicated to serving the parish.
As in the Victorian times, she is supported by a large team of volunteers who are committed to serving the ever-changing needs of our community in our generation and in the future. There is no financial help from the diocese. In fact, St Nicolas’ contribution to the diocese to enable them to support the work of the churches in the area was over £48,000 last year. The current congregation of 80 struggles to provide sufficient income to cover the running costs of the church. In addition, there have been several major projects recently to maintain the church as the building ages. Extensive work has been done on the roof and the south wall. Now, another substantial sum of money is required to replace the failed heating system. This work is expected to take place in January.
The easy way to secure a steady income to enable the volunteers to maintain the church for everyone to enjoy now and in the future is to spread the cost between a large number of people. If you would like to help by pledging a regular subscription, however small, please ask for an application form for the Parish Giving Scheme by emailing the treasurer: firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can go to the Giving to Church section of this website to make a one-off donation, or consider leaving a legacy https://www.churchlegacy.org.uk/leaving-a-legacy/leaving-a-legacy