In the first half of the 20th century, when regular attendance at a church or chapel was much more common than it is today, residents of High Wycombe, many of them newcomers, would have had two parish churches to choose from. They were All Saints in Church St, for some 800 years the only parish church in Wycombe, and Christ Church in Crendon St.

Christ Church was a newcomer, having been formally opened on February 25,1875 (see Nostalgia November 12, 2021). The wealthy Wheeler family were the driving force behind its establishment. Its congregation preferred a freer style of worship, with greater emphasis on preaching (this became known as “Low Church”). There appears to have been no ill-feeling between the new Free Church and All Saints parish church.

The site of Christ Church adjoined the (then) premises of the Union Baptist church and was opposite the Congregational church in Crendon Street. Initially it was what was known as an “iron church”, referring to its method of construction. Worshippers from other places of worship, including the Congregational church opposite, soon began to join the new church..

Not surprisingly the church had the nickname “The Wheelers’ Church” though its real name was “The Free Church of England in Wycombe”. A Sunday school was started in April 1875 at the Friends’ (Quaker) Meeting House in the London Rd.

New Church Building

The church prospered and in the 1880s there was talk of building a permanent church. Thomas Wheeler offered to donate the land on which the iron church stood and plans for a church to seat 450 to 500 people, and to cost no more than £2000, were drawn up. Five architects submitted plans. Arthur Vernon’s design for a red brick and stone building in the 13th century style with chancel, nave, aisle, porch and tower won the contract. The foundation stone was laid on June 18, 1888 by Thomas Wheeler and the church opened for worship in April 1889. The total cost was £2,660 plus £300 for a new organ.

Relations with All Saints parish church continued to be fairly amicable. In the mid 1880s one of the ministers of Christ Church sounded out the Church of England about possibility of Christ Church joining the established church. This came to nothing as the Committee was opposed.

Transfer to the Church of England

The establishment of the Roman Catholic church in Wycombe in the early 1890s led Thomas Wheeler, Secretary of Christchurch to “consider that an united front should be opposed to its inroads”. In 1894 he signed a proposal to transfer Christ Church to the Church of England, but this was again rejected.

The idea was revived a year later and this time it was agreed. It seems that the need for a united Protestant front to counter the threat of the Roman Catholic church “had won the day”. Christ Church was licensed by the Bishop of Oxford in March 1895 to perform Church of England services and on July 22, 1896 was consecrated by the Bishop of Oxford.

Parish boundaries

Christ Church was now a parish church and so needed a parish!

The creation of a new parish and its boundaries (known as ‘assignment of District Chaplery‟) was a difficult process and at times acrimonious. It took over 3 years of meetings, inspections and correspondence from November 1893 to March 1897 to achieve.

The main players were:

  • Christ Church Committee –the Trustees led by George Wheeler, who was angling to become the Patron of Christ Church just as Lord Carrington was Patron of All Saints
  • The Rev E. D. Shaw, Vicar of All Saints who was much exercised by the potential loss of part of his parish, tried to involve the Archbishop of Canterbury, but His Grace replied with a hand-written letter urging concessions on all sides.
  • The Bishop of Oxford who was happy to add a new church to his diocese
  • The Ecclesiastical Commissioners who designated new parishes
  • Earl Carrington who feared 'a grave public scandal' would be inevitable if the parishioners of the proposed new parish were not consulted

Eventually boundaries were agreed and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners sent the proposal in March 1897 to the Privy Council for ratification. It was a small parish bounded by Crendon Street to the west, the Great Western railway line to the north (including the station), the line of Saffron Road to the east and Easton Street to the south, in all a rectangle of about 17 acres, 116 houses and 500-550 souls.

The existing Trustees of Christ Church became The Patron, and provided £1000 towards the establishment of the benefice, a vicarage (Christ Church Lodge) and church school. Patronage was transferred to the Church Pastoral Aid Society in 1926. The Vicar of Christ Church was to be a curate at All Saints, but this did not happen, so the two churches continued as separate parishes.

Christ Church prospered, constructing in 1927 a Memorial School (in memory of those who died in WW1) near where the Post Office sorting office is now, and with the full panoply of Anglican services, Sunday school and choir.

Declining Congregations

In the early 1960s it became obvious that with a falling congregation the future lay in the parish being re-absorbed into that of All Saints. In 1966 the church was demolished, the land, church hall and the Memorial School sold. The disposal of the furnishings was left to the discretion of the Parochial Church Council and the funds transferred to All Saints. Two brass plaques, one to George Wheeler (who died in 1921) and one to his wife Bertha (died in 1927) were deposited in All Saints.

So after 70 years the supremacy of All Saints as the parish church for High Wycombe was restored.


I am very grateful to Neil Rees who carried out much of the research for this article.