A heart-warming walk round Stony Stratford

The Cock Hotel, Stony SratfordDestination

Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes

In times gone by, Stony Stratford was the equivalent of today's Newport Pagnell services station. Inns along the high-street would have been crowded with coaches, carriages and wagons arriving from and leaving for every point of the compass. Travellers stopping for a meal at The Cock or the Bull tried to excel each other in telling stories about what they had seen or experienced on the journey, giving rise to the expression "a cock and bull story”. You could hire a horse at the Cock (a Cock horse) and ride it to Banbury Cross. In among the hustle aand bustle, God was and is at work. This activity takes you on a gentle walk to discover some of the Christian heritage of this fascinating town.

Travel

Car
Stony Stratford is near the junction of the A5, A422 and the A508. There are a number of car parks in the town.

Bus
Frequent bus services run to Stony Stratford from Milton Keynes shopping centre and Milton Keynes Central station.

Train
To Milton Keynes Central, then bus.

A heart-warming walk around Stony Stratford.

Start from the north end of Stony Stratford High Street.

The High Street follows the course of the old Roman road, Watling Street, which ran from London to Chester. 

Fegans HomesWalk in a southerly direction along the High Street and look out for St Paul's Court on the left. This complex started life in the mid 19th century as a "school for the sons of gentlemen". In the year 1900 it was purchased by a remarkable man called James William Condell Fegan. Mr Fegan had started a charity which provided a home, an education and a Christian upbringing to orphaned boys. and he needed larger premises to house his growing "family‚" The public were invited to a gospel service in the chapel on a Sunday evening.

Mr Fegan's Homes live on today in the form of a charity called simply, Fegans. It still works to ensure the welfare of vulnerable children but times have changed and the old, institutional model has been set aside. Fegans sold the building to a Roman Catholic school-run by Franciscan monks. In the 1980s the original school buildings were split up and sold as separate units for different purposes, some as industrial units, some as housing. The old chapel is now an Indian restaurant.

At the end of an alleyway further along the left side of the High Street you will find a ruined tower, all that remains of the 13th century church of St Mary Magdalene, which was destroyed in a massive fire that raged through the town in 1742. The Roman Catholic church, on the other side of the Hih Street, keeps the same dedication.

Stony Stratford originally was divided into two rival parishes, with the old Roman road marking the boundary between them. To the west was the Parish of Saint Mary Magdalene, ruined chuch towerStony Stratford - to the east the parish of Saint Giles, Wolverton. During the Civil War one parish was royalist and the other supported Cromwell. In the 19th century one followed the evangelical tradition and the other identified with the Anglo-Catholic movement. When the diocese set up a Church of England school, tradition has it that sometimes one head teacher would announce a holiday for the pupils and the other would cancel it. Today both parishes are combined with one parish church, St Mary and St Giles, which you will see further along the High Street on the right hand side.

Stony Stratford parish churchFrom the parish church walk northwards. Turn left into Wolverton Road and you will find Stony Stratford Evangelical (Congregational) church which houses a Christian bookshop. Cross over the road, turn left and then right into London Road. Just beyond the petrol station on the left side you'll find a building, which began life as the parish church for the Wolverton side of the town. For many years it served as the Parish hall and now is used by Milton Keynes' Orthodox Church congregation.

Stony Stratford Community ChurchCross over London Road and turn into Horsefair Green. Across the Green to your right you'll find Stony Stratford Community Church, or Stony Stratford Baptist Church as it has been known as for most of its history. The early records of this congregation were lost in one of the many fires that the town has suffered from.  It seems likely that it was started during the Civil War through the preaching of some of Cromwell's Roundhead soldiers. The elders purchased the land where the chapel now stands in 1657. One tradition says its first Pastor was Rev George Martyn who lost his arm fighting for the King in the Civil War and who had been the vicar of Weedon Bec until, with hundreds of other clergy, he refused to take an oath of allegiace to the crown and so was ejected from his living.

During the Restoration period no deviation from the Church of England was allowed and the County Council raised a special army to combat dissent. When soldiers came to break up services and arrest the congregation, members would climb out through a window at the back of the building and hotfoot it to the county boundary at the other end of the street.

In 1810 the congregation dwindled to five, four women and one man. The church records that the ladies voted to terminate the man's membership “for inconsistency”. Within a few years, though things turned around. The congregation grew so much that a new building was needed and the current chapel was opened in 1823.

Walk along to the end of Horsefair Green, turn right (North) along Silver Street. You’ll see the Methodist church on the right.  Just beyond this, turn into Market Square on the right. In the nearest corner of the square a notice commemorates the fact that there used to be an elm tree there, under which the famous Methodist founder John Wesley once preached.

Wesley's tree signJohn Wesley heard the message of salvation by faith in Jesus from some Moravian missionaries. He was unsure at first but one evening he said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed” as he listened to someone reading what Martin Luther had written. He was inspired by a friend, George Whitfield, to preach in the open air instead of just in church. He travelled the length and breadth of Britain, proclaiming the message, especially in the inustrial areas of the north and in the West Country. He encouraged people to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In this he influenced the Salvation Army and the Pentecostal movement.

Walk across Market Square and turn left into the High Street.This wll bring you, physically, back to where you started but I hope it leaves you in a new place with your heart warmed, like John Wesley's and your imagination stirred by the example of the saints of every denomination who have followed Jesus in Stony Stratford over the years.