The following beautiful description of the Ancient Church at Boveney is taken from "The Book of the Thames," by Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall, London, 1859,
"Before we reach Windsor, however, we pass through Boveney Lock. There was a fishery here from a very early period; and it is recorded in the annals of Windsor that, in 1201, William, the son of Richard de Windsor, gave two marks to the king, in order that the pool and fishery in Boveney might be in the state it was wont to be during the reign of Henry II. The men of this, and all other villages near Windsor, were accustomed to give toll at Windsor of all their merchandise. When Eton College was building, Boveney and Maidenhead contributed their share of elm-tree wood for its construction. The village is still but a small group of cottages, retaining very primitive features.
Let us step ashore for a brief while, to visit yon 'wee' church, half hidden among lofty trees: It is the CHURCH OF BOVENEY, and is the last of its class we shall encounter; for, although we may meet some more aged and many more picturesque, there will be none along the banks of the great river that so thoroughly represent the homely and unadorned fanes where the simple villagers have been taught to worship. It is very small, and of the most primitive construction, consisting of four walls merely, the chancel end being railed off by wood-work. The font is large and simple in character, and there are traces of early mediaeval work in the external walls; the pulpit is Elizabethan, but the open seats of oak may be much earlier; the roof is arched, but has originally been supported by open timber-work, - the cross-beams now alone remain. We have engraved the interior as an example of one of our sacred edifices, where, through many ages, sate
"The rude forefathers of the hamlet."
After inspecting the interior, and wondering why so small a church was ever built, we returned to the churchyard, and stood for some little time beneath the shadow of a glorious old tree, whose boughs and foliage formed a protection against rain or sunshine. The old withered woman who had opened the church-door followed, and regretted the gentry should be disappointed, as there was 'nothing to see.' We differed from her, saying there was a great deal that interested us, - could anything be more picturesque or beautiful than the churchyard? She shook her head. ‘The churchyard was thick with graves, some with stones and some without, like any other place of the sort - a poor, melancholy place it was. She thought it so lonely and miserable, and yet sketchers were always making pictures of it; and she had seen a printed book once with a picture of it, and its history all done into print. She could not but think the gentry had very little to write about. Yes, there were stories about those who lay there - many stories. There was a story of two brothers - wicked men, she called them - who died, she could not well tell how; and as to the things cut upon tombstones, she set no count by such grand words - she knew her own know! People could get anything they liked cut on stones if they paid for it. There was a cold, proud man who lived at the Hall when she was a child - a bad, cruel man; his shadow would wither up the young grass, and the look of his eye was as bad as a curse. He died, as he had lived, full up of bitter riches: He was not buried in this churchyard - it was not grand enough for him - but in a fine new one, where so much was put on his tomb about his charity - he who would steal a halfpenny out of a blind man's hat - about his justice, who would rob a foot off the highway to add to his own field - about his being a meek Christian!‘ the woman laughed, scornfully; 'meek! meek! the haughty reprobate! Well, a poor little lad, who had but too good reason to know the falsity of the whole, from first to last, wrote under it, 'It's all lies!' and though everyone in the place said the lad was a true lad, and a brave lad, yet he lost his situation, and not one in the place dared give him food or shelter, so he left the neighbourhood did the lad; but as sure as that sun is shining above us, so sure is there One who sifts the tares from the wheat - yes, indeed, the tares from the wheat. And I forget how it was, for I married out of the village, and just came back ten years ago, like a crow to the old nest - only he grew rich, through honest labour; and his son is in the Hall now; and the great tombstone was cleared away, and nothing to be seen now but a broad slab, with never a word on it, over the bad man's dust and ashes.'
She was a strange, weird-looking old creature, with odds and ends of information: like an artist who can paint a distance, but not a foreground, the past was with her light and bright enough, but the present was already her grave - she could tell us nothing of the present. She still leant against the old tree, and we were so soothed by the silence and tranquillity of the scene, that we lingered among the tombs, when suddenly we heard a quick, light step behind us, and before we could turn around to ascertain whence it came, a thin hand rested on our arm, and a pale face, the lips parted over white and glittering teeth, and the eyes, deep sunk and restless, were advanced so close to our own that we started back almost in terror. ‘Can you tell me the grave?’ she inquired eagerly, but in a low voice: 'oh! if you know it, do tell me! I know he is buried here - they all own that, but they will not tell me where; do tell me - I am sure you will - come, make haste!'
The lady was dressed in faded mourning, the crepe was drawn and crumpled, and the widow's cap beneath her bonnet did not conceal a quantity of fair hair, which looked the fairer from being streaked with grey.
'What grave?' we inquired of the pale, panting little creature, who wrung her hands impatiently, 'what grave?'
'Oh! You know - my husband's! Round and round, across, along - from the first tap of the reveille to the last drum-roll at night, I seek his grave. I throw myself down and talk to the dead and buried, but they tell me to let them alone: and they say he is not here, but I know he is. We went out in the same ship and returned in the same ship, so we must be both here, you know. We went out in the same ship,' she repeated, mournfully, 'and they buried him here. Oh! Have pity - have pity, and help me to find his grave!' She hurried us on, pointing to each green mound we passed - 'It is not that, nor that, nor that - no, no! Do not look at the tombstones, there was no time to put one up - the enemy was too fast on us for that!' She cast herself on her knees beside a grave close to a bank, murmuring ‘Charles!' into the long grass, and holding up her finger to indicate that we should keep silence, expecting an answer.
At the instant a tall, venerable gentleman entered the lonely graveyard - 'Jane, my child - my darling,' he said, tenderly, 'here again! Come, my child, we can look for the grave to-morrow.' The old man's eyes were filled with tears; but she did not heed him, murmuring amid the grass. ‘Forgive her,' he said, 'my poor child's mind wanders: her husband was killed at Inkerman, and she fancies he is buried where they were married!' It required some little force to raise her from the sward, and then, after a little struggle, he raised her in his arms, her head resting quietly on his shoulder - the large tree the next moment hid them from our sight."
There are no references that the Friends have found to date of anybody being buried in the churchyard. We are still researching this based on the above description.
The Church is now open daily.
We encourage those who are interested to take advantage of going inside the Church and enjoying the wonderful, quiet, peaceful place that it is.
The Friends of St Mary Magdalene, Boveney would be most grateful for any donation you might wish to make to assist us in maintaining this beautiful church. Thank you.
The Church is available as a venue for appropriate events.
Full details in the Venue section