If you want to visit a postcard-pretty church in a small patch of a rural landscape, then St Mary Magdalene’s, Boveney is the church for you.
The church of St Mary Magdalene is likely to predate the Norman Conquest, although the church here today is a “mere” 900 or so years old. Built from flint and chalk rubble, the small church was sited next to the Thames for bargemen working on the river, and later became a chapel of ease to the nearby St Peter’s Church in Burnham.
In the 15th century, it grew a bit when windows and the church tower were added, and much later, possibly in the 19th century, a dado of bricks was added to the exterior in an attempt to keep out the damp.
It was declared to be redundant as a church in 1975 and there were plans to turn it into a small house or demolish it entirely. However, it was saved by the Friends of Friendless Churches, who took over its care 40 years ago this month — on 10th June 1983.
The friends raised money for restoration, and as the church is still consecrated it’s occasionally used for services by those who don’t mind a bit of a hike to get to it. Otherwise, though, it’s usually open to visitors most days to have a look inside.
As a chapel of ease, it’s pretty small, and rather plain inside, although there’s an impressive 12th-century font for such a small church and a remarkable set of exposed timbers on the rear wall.
A small altar and some 15th-century pews fill the main body of the church, and there are a few memorials to look at, one from WWI, and another very recent in memory of a benefactor. A fragment of a 15th-century painting can be seen on one wall, which gives the barest hint of what the inside of the church would have looked like if the puritans hasn’t been quite so efficient in whitewashing everything.
There’s also a very confusing memorandum board dating to 1707 that cits some sort of legal dispute over the ownership of the land around the church from the time of Queen Elizabeth I.
The church has two doors, and as I came in from the north side, spied also a large sign by the gate that tells a little of its history, and a note that the church is open daily, from roughly 9am to 4:30pm. The grass around the church was growing in abundance on my visit and gave it a very picturesque feel as I wandered around, and while there’s not a huge amount to see, it’s very much worth visiting if in the area.
Despite its awkward location, it can be used for weddings or as a venue for hire – although their website notes that “the charm of St Mary Magdalene is partly dependent upon the lack of modern conveniences and facilities.”
That means it would probably be ideal for Champing.
Getting to St Mary Magdalene’s, Boveney
It’s next to the riverside path that runs along the Thames about half way between Windsor and Maidenhead, and there’s also a footpath that leads to the Boveney Ramblers Car Park, which is open daily. I happened to be walking from Dorney Court, which is about 20-30 minutes away.
Otherwise, it’s about 40 minutes walk from Windsor town centre via Eton as you’ll need to be on the north side of the river.