Welcome to St Micheals
The first Church on this site, dedicated to St. Michael, was, according to several modern references, made of wood, although we do have two carved stone pieces from that early church.
The village was originally known as Isenhampstead and we know that Alexander de Isenhampstead held it for a Knight’s fee from 1165. It is believed that it was he who built the original church which would date it to the latter part of the 12th Century. The two carved stone pieces that remain may be seen at the foot of the pulpit. Also preserved from that 1st Church is the 12th Century font, a fine example of the renowned “Aylesbury” style which can be found throughout Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire.
The 12th century Church was later replaced by the stone and flint building that we have today. It was built at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th Century, probably by Sir David Phelip (elsewhere spelt Phillips), husband of Dame Agnes Cheyne. In his will he left four pounds “To fynyshe my building of the Parish Church of Chenies”.By the 1700’s the Church was in a poor state. The chancel roof had collapsed and the chancel was closed off. In 1829 the new Rector, Lord Wriothsley Russell, set about repairing the Church; his long and fruitful period of office lasted 57 years and many improvements were made. During 1835-36 the Church was closed for major restoration, reopening on 23rd June 1836.
In the period 1861 – 87 the flint facing was reworked, the porch to south door, the battlements, turret and flagstaff were all added. In 1886-87 the roof was raised and the present handsome hammer beam roof was installed.Wriothsley Russell persuaded his father, 6th Duke Bedford, to allow him to use the armoury wing of the Manor House for Church meetings and late persuaded his half brother the 7th Duke and his wife to build the village school. He also started an orphanage for boys in what are now the Platt Cottages and opened the new burial ground opposite the Church overcoming some opposition by promising that was where he and his wife would be buried when the time came. The villagers were appeased and you can see their memorial there. A presentation to him after 50 years as Rector, signed by all the villagers of Chenies, hangs on the south wall; it depicts views of the village.
The improvements continued under his successors, new windows were installed in the period 1895-98; only the kneeling figure in the bottom centre of the east window is 16th century. An organ chamber was created by extending the south aisle and an organ installed. In 1960 the original organ was replaced and re-sited where you see it today; the earlier one having suffered storm damage. The original organ chamber was later enclosed to form the room in the south aisle. The pulpit dates from 1640 and was originally three-tiered but now only the top is original. In puritan times it is recorded one sermon lasted 5 hours!In fact this is an unfinished and un-finishing story as maintenance and improvements continue and are planned for the future.
The Church in earlier days was different in other ways. The bell ringers could be seen in the tower. The choir in that period sat in front of the pulpit whilst the chancel was reserved for Lady Blandford and Lady Russell who used to enter by the chancel door and sit in the choir stalls, one each side.The Royal Coat of Arms was ordered by Queen Anne to be hung in every Anglican Church, e reminder that the Monarch is head of the Church. Those hanging in the south aisle are the Arms of Queen Victoria. The Russell-Bedford Coat of Arms over the window to the Bedford Chapel in the Chancel is double sided and goes through to the Bedford Chapel.The brasses are all detailed on nearby cards, you may also find by the vestry door information about our peal of bells.
The hassocks (kneelers) were made in 1982 to a set of designs by Mrs. Doreen Wright. The designs include watercress (grown on the River Chess), shells (Russell cost of arms), oak leaves, music, doves of peace and fleur-de-lis (Prince Charles was married in 1982); many hassocks being “signed” with the initials of a person that the needle work wished to be remembered.A list of the Rectors is on the north wall adjacent to the font. The first Rector was John de Chednuit, appointed in 1`232; Chednuit was an early version of Cheyne, Cheyney and now Chenies. The Cheyney family lived in the Manor and presented the Rector to the Living. Isenhampstead-Chenies, the village and surrounding land, passed through marriage to the Russell family who later became the Dukes of Bedford.
The old entrance to the Cheyne vault can be seen on the outside south wall. There is a lot more to tell, if you would like to know more why not buy a copy of the St. Michael's booklet, illustrated in colour. Income from its sale all goes to the maintenance fund. If you would like to contribute to the upkeep of this church your gift will be very welcome and we thank you. There is a wall box for offerings at the back of the church. Use of a “Gift Aid” envelope found on the pews will, if you are a standard rate tax-payer, enable us to reclaim the tax that you have already paid.