Stoke Poges, situated between Gerrards Cross and Slough, is known for its association with Thomas Gray. It is an extensive area and includes several estates and much wood and common land within its boundaries.
Originally known as ‘Stockes’, this was the meeting place of the Hundred, held before the Conquest by Siret, vassal of Earl Harold; it passed to Walter who was succeeded by Hugh de Stoke, whose descendants held the Manor until 1291. In this year it was just called Stoke but either in 1291 or shortly before, Robert Poges married Amica de Stoke from which union came the name Stoke Poges. Stoke Park, which now accommodates the Stoke Poges Golf Club, was landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown in 1771 and again by Repton in 1790. The mansion is late-Georgian and was the work in turn of Robert Nasmyth and James Wyatt. Some of the staircases and rooms are magnificently proportioned.
A road between the woods leads to the Church of St. Giles, with its tomb of Thomas Gray, lying off Church Lane. It is bordered on one side by the National Trust field with its sarcophagus to Thomas Gray erected in 1799 by John Penn and the beautiful Stoke Poges Garden created by Sir Noel Mobbs. These gardens are open to the public. In 1977 the then Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, launched an appeal to restore the monument. Restoration has now been completed.
The church dates mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries. Its chief points of interest are the 14th century porch, the 13th century tower and the Hastings Chapel with its panels of 17th and 18th century glass. Renovation has not spoilt the beauty of the proportions of the church, much of which has stood for 700 years. In the chancel is the bronze base of a 15th century altar cross. This is English and is great rarity. The number of brasses and numerous hatchments are a distinctive feature. The Hastings Chapel was added in 1558, originally for the use of inmates of an almshouse which then stood nearby. One feature of note is the unusual cloister, the private entrance to the church from the manor, and in the windows of this cloister is glass that is several hundred years old.
The churchyard was immortalised in Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The poet lies in the simple tomb of his mother and sister, close to the church. His name does not appear on this tomb but his death was recorded on a tablet on the church wall opposite and, of course, in the parish register. Though twice enlarged since Gray’s lifetime, the churchyard still remains much as he must have known it. The yew, under which Gray is said to have written his Elegy, is still to be seen near the church door, and the church tower, then clad in ivy, is referred to in the poem.
The adjoining Elizabethan manor house was built of brick in 1550-60 by the 2nd Earl of Huntingdon and was the former manor of Stoke Poges. Queen Elizabeth I was most lavishly entertained here in 1601 by Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke whose statue stands on a column set up in 1880. In August 1644 Charles I spent a night or two there as a prisoner following his removal from Moor Park, Rickmansworth. The house is restored and this delightful setting was formerly used as a diocesan retreat and conference house. It was Sir Noel Mobbs, creator of the Slough Trading Estate, who purchased the house and gave it, fully restored, for that use. It is now in the ownership of South Bucks District Council and is leased to a private company.
Adjacent to the churchyard and the manor house lies the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens, administered by the South Bucks District Council. These gardens extend to some 30 acres of attractive landscaped areas of both formal and informal gardens, which are open to the public from Sunday to Thursday inclusive each week on payment of an admission fee. Plots are also available for the interment or scattering of cremated remains. Full details are available from the Church Cottage Office on site. Tel: 01753 523744.
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