Monday, June 8, 2009


Life and soul

The 1981 Shell Guide to Buckinghamshire describes Buckingham as ‘A small, quiet, ancient country town of stone and brick buildings with red-tiled roofs, in a tight loop of the Great Ouse’. I was pleased to see that the centre of Buckingham still answers to this description, and that the interest spreads out from the impressive market place (with gaol and Town Hall) to the neighbouring streets. Up a narrow road off the Market Place is this medieval survivor, the Chantry Chapel.

Chantries were medieval institutions, set up to provide priests to celebrate Mass involving prayers for the souls of those who set up the chantry and for others nominated by them. Chantries were widespread in the Middle Ages, often based in chapels within parish churches, but they were suppressed in the 16th century, ultimately because they were linked with the Catholic doctrine of Puragtory.

Many chantries disappeared without leaving any architectural trace, but this chantry chapel survived by beginning a new life as Buckingham’s Latin School. The building now belongs to the National Trust and in its most recent incarnation houses a secondhand bookshop that is open two days a week. Opinions will differ as to whether this is a good use for the building, but clearly the chapel doesn’t fit into the familiar Trust template (tasteful paint finishes, tea rooms, gift shops selling pot pouri) so often used in its country houses. At least the chapel’s Gothic windows (including the lovely round one) and still older crisply carved Norman doorway, are well maintained and continue to enliven the townscape in this quiet side street.


Peter Ashley said...

Never mind about purgatory and crisp Norman, what second hand books did you buy? Eh?

Philip Wilkinson said...

I'm afraid I'd not cottoned on to the fact it was a bookshop and so arrived when it was closed. So I'll just have to go back, won't I?

Peter Ashley said...

Oh yes.