When I first heard the name Stowe-nine-Churches, like most people I thought, ‘Where
did that name come from?’
After hearing several suggestions, I decided to try to find nine alternatives.
I have succeeded, by cheating a little bit. In the following list the first three
are really variations of the same story.
1. When attempts were being made to build the church, the Devil threw down the
work each night. This was repeated eight times, until the builders moved to a different
site, whereupon their efforts were successful.
2. In an attempt to find out why the work was being destroyed, a Labourer was
posted to watch overnight; in the morning he reported that a fierce monster filled
in the foundation trenches.
3. The site chosen was on a Fairy Ring and it was the Fairies who were responsible
for frustrating the builders’ efforts.
[It has been suggested that these stories may be a folk memory of the struggle between
Paganism and Christianity.]
4. I have been told that in a document, for which I have no reference, a Priest
was referred to as coming from Stowe nigh the Church.
5. When the church was newly ‘repaired and beautified’ in 1639, perhaps it was
referred to as L’Eglise neuve (feminine); possibly heard incorrectly as L’Eglise
neuf (masculine). This may then have been translated into English as Nine Church.
Neuf also translates as Nine.
6. It is possible that there was a religious settlement here. Some early Christian
monastic sites in England included multiple churches. This also occurred in Ireland,
where seven was the legendary number. Perhaps this site actually once contained nine
small churches or chapels.
7. The word Nine is a misunderstanding of the name of the river Nene, pronounced
hereabouts ‘Nen’. This flows under Watling Street only about one mile to the North.
8. It is possible to see nine other churches from this one. Bridges, the famous
historian, when writing about Weedon Bec, says that Whitewell Hill ‘affords a view
of twenty spire steeples at once’. Weedon Hill is slightly higher than Stowe.
9. Because it is based upon a historic document, I favour the explanation that,
as part of the property, the Lord of the Manor of Stowe owned the Advowson, the Right
of Presentation, to nine churches.
Stowe-Nine-Churches boasts a long and varied history.
The earliest evidence of settlement at Stowe-Nine-Churches derives from a Prehistoric
triple ditch system at the Larches in Church Stowe.
With the villages of Church Stowe and Upper Stowe lying close to the historic Watling
Street (A5) and the Whitehall Farm Villa near Nether Heyford which dates from the
early 3rd century, the Roman era would have had an influence. The upland position
and accessibility of the two villages would also have contributed much to their early
The Manor at Church Stowe originally formed part of a Saxon Estate and was recorded
in the Doomsday Book (1086). It is believed that the present house has its origins
in the 15th Century, the first part being built in 1420.
In the sixteenth century The Manor was owned by John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer,
who was the second husband of Catherine Parr. On his death in 1543, The Manor was
given to Catherine for her lifetime. It is said that Henry VIII visited Stowe whilst
courting Catherine who later became his sixth wife. Catherine therefore owned The
Manor and may have lived there while Queen of England.
The Manor succeeded to the Earl of Danby who added the front part of the house around
1620 for his mother, Lady Elizabeth Carey. The exquisitely carved marble figure
of Lady Elizabeth Carey lies to the south side of the altar in St Michael’s, Church
Stowe. The work by Nicholas Stone, a leading sculptor of funeral monuments, has
been described as one of the finest sculptures of the age for both design and execution.
Lady Carey, who died in 1630, is believed to have been a friend of Shakespeare and
during an excavation of the crypt it was hoped that some missing manuscripts of Shakespeare
might be discovered, but alas not.
Stowe-Nine-Churches contribution to the Great War and World War II.
A total of eight residents of Stowe-Nine-Churches gave their lives in defence of
their country in the Great War and World War II.
In addition the village played a more indirect role in World War II. The Rectory,
now Wyndham House, was used as a school for Army Padres. Prior to this on 26th February
1935 in a field below Upper Stowe radar was demonstrated for the first time in Britain.
Robert Watson Watt and Arnold Wilkins showed that aircraft could be detected by
bouncing radio waves off them. It was radar, more than any other invention that
saved the RAF from defeat in the 1940 Battle of Britain. A memorial to the Birth
of Radar can be seen on the Northampton Road(B4525) near Litchborough.
View of The Manor and St Michael’s Church
Upper Stowe has been variously known as Far Stow, Little Stow and Butter Stow.
The following is a quotation from Bridges (1791)
Stowe with the nine Churches ........... is divided into two towns, the one called
Church-stowe and Great-Stowe, and the other Little-Stowe, or by the neighbouring
villagers, Butter-Stowe, from the circumstance of delivering their butter here every
Thursday to the London carrier at a fixed price for the whole year.