An Introduction to the History of Holy Trinity Penn
John Betjeman, observed that ‘within and without, the church has the charm of old water-colours’. It reflects the changing beliefs and fashions of generations of churchgoers for over eight centuries. The nave is late 12th-century (also the font, consecration crosses and stone tomb), the south aisle and low tower are early 14th-century with the chancel and Lady Chapel largely rebuilt in brick in the 1730s. The clerestory and the fine queen-post roof with arcading were added in c.1400. The nave is built of flint, with clunch and tiles incorporated into parts of the quoins, buttresses and porch. All the exterior roughcast was removed in 1952 to reveal the flint-work and stone.
The ‘Penn Doom’, one of only five surviving wooden tympanums in the country, is a 12-foot wide painting of the ‘Last Judgement’ on oak panels and hangs above the chancel arch. It has twice been on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. There is also an attractive arrangement of 14th-century Penn floor tiles set into the floor of the Lady Chapel, and a fine collection of Tudor and Stuart brasses of the Penn family. There is a well-preserved example of Queen Anne’s arms on the nave wall. Six grandchildren of William Penn the Quaker, founder of Pennsylvania, are buried in a large family vault under the centre of the nave. Heraldic shields on the roof corbels portray eight centuries of English history. There is a particularly fine collection of 18th and early 19th-century wall monuments mainly to the Curzons and Howes.
In the churchyard there are many well-known names, and two are notorious: Donald Maclean who defected to Russia in 1951 and David Blakeley who was shot in 1955 by Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England.
In the Second World War, the church tower was an observation post of the Home Guard’s nightly watch from a wooden sentry box erected on the roof. They could see Windsor Castle, Ascot racecourse, Northolt airport and the outskirts of London, as well as American planes landing at Brackley in Northampton some 40 miles away.
Photographs, Eddie Morton ARPS