St Mary the Virgin Church
St Mary's the Virgin Church is situated at the end of Church Road, and although it is a little way from the centre of the village, it remains a focal point for many activities.
The building of the present church was started in 1198, and it was consecrated in 1219 by Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln.
The original church was built of flint and Totternhoe stone, however in order to protect the building from decay a roughcast finish was applied over 200 years ago. It is only in recent years that a restoration project has removed the render from the front of the church and the walls have been restored to their original glory.
Through the south door, we enter a building that always seems larger from the inside than the outside. It consists of the chancel, nave, north and south aisles, western tower and south porch close to the entrance. The octagonal pillars show that the 'Norman' style was becoming passe when work began on this church, resulting in a change of style to 'Early English'. There was probably at the start of its life a high-pitched roof on the Nave section resting on the wall some 3 or 4 feet above the top of the arches. This must have made the church very dark and a clerestory was added about the end of the 14th Century, although strangely only two windows were added on each side, so that if one looks from east to west a large area of unbroken wall between the two side windows may be seen. The screen at the start of the chancel is carved oak and is possibly one of the finest examples of this type of screen to be seen in Bedfordshire. At one time a large cross surmounted the screen but regrettably, this was removed in the 1960s and now stands in the tower.
Some of the oak pews to the rear of the church date from the 15th Century and the linenfold effect on the ends is particularly interesting. As you sit in these pews you can almost feel the presence of the generations of people who have sat in them.
When the church was dedicated in 1220 there were five altars and the record for this read, " Robert, Bishop of Lismore, on St. Alpheges' Day, did dedicate the church of Stodham and five altars in it and a large churchyard with a yearly remission of sins for 20 days." The tower was built partly within the body of the church and again there is a large area of plain wall. The tower has four bells, of which Nos 1 and 2 from the well known 'Foundry of Chandler' are inscribed thus: "Chandler made me 1666"; No. 3 is one of the oldest bells in the district and bears the legend, "Pries the Lord 1599" while No. 4 has "God save our King 1627 1k". The date for No. 4 would seem to connect the first Earl of Carnarvon to Charles I who became King in 1625. There are some fine examples of Medieval tiles to be found at the west end of the church. These tiles are believed to have come from St. Margaret's Pottery just outside Dunstable.
The real pride of the church is the font, which is older than the church itself. There is some evidence of a church on this site prior to the present one. In 1064 the Abbot of St Alban built one of the very few stone churches of the pre-conquest times, and in 1198 work started on the present church which probably had some of the old stone building in it. It is felt that the font in the church came from the original building. It has a band of amazing monsters devouring the foliage around it. So old and interesting is this font that a detailed examination and study has been undertaken by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Pilgrim Trust.
The church is not over-blessed with stained glass windows, but one is worthy of mention. On the south side of the chapel behind the choir stalls there is a window by Kemp and is made of what is called Kemp Glass, reputedly one of the best of the period. In the bottom left hand corner is a wheatsheaf which was the trademark for Kemp glass at the turn of the century.
The churchyard too has changed over the years. At one point it had an avenue of oak trees leading to the south porch. One of these oak trees was cut down and made into a pulpit that stands to this day in the Church of Kensworth. This pulpit was given in the memory of Mr Thomas Jones.
The pulpit in St Mary's is made of Cornish serpentine granite and was installed in the memory of the Rev. Charles Wagstaffe, the Vicar of Studham for 39 years.