Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, Olney
According to ‘A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 4’ (1927) ‘A church existed in the parish from a very early period, probably long before 1273, the date of the first known reference, but the present structure was built during the middle of the 14th century, the chancel being erected first and the other parts of the building some few years later. As there are no vestiges of earlier work, the local tradition that it was built on a new site is probably correct.’
The tradition referred to is probably the siting legend associated with the church. The following account of this legend is taken from ‘Olney, Bucks’ (1907) by Oliver Ratcliff. ‘Respecting the commencement of our present Parish Church, which was erected in the early part of the fourteenth century, a curious story is told which illustrates the superstitious tendencies of the age to which it relates. The old Church, which stood at the north end of the town, had become very dilapidated and it became a question of thoroughly repairing it or building a new one. The latter course was decided upon, the site to be near the river, in the field now called Lordship Close. The work was put in hand, and in due time the foundations were laid; but on the morrow when the workmen appeared to resume their labours, they were much surprised to find that the stones had been shifted into the adjoining field. Thinking possibly that some footpads or midnight marauders had been guilty of the mischief, they gathered up the materials, and conveying them back into Lordship Close, replaced them in their original position.
The next morning their surprise was deepened into astonishment and alarm on finding that the strange proceedings had been repeated. The stones had not only been shifted as before, but laid with a skill and precision that marked the hand of a cunning workman. Who could it be? It had not occurred to any of those concerned to set a watch the night before, and failing a satisfactory solution of the question, the workmen came to the conclusion that it was no other than the Devil himself. Of course competition with such a worker was entirely out of the question and so the men refused to work. The resources of the promoters of the building were equal to the emergency, and they very soon devised means to allay the fears of the workers. They boldly declared that the Devil had nothing to do with all the commotion; but that Heaven, in its wisdom, had in this manner indicated another and better site for the new Church. The men, who were ready enough to follow the course thus miraculously pointed out, returned to their work, and the structure was completed, where it now stands. The above is told of several Churches throughout the country’
‘Amazing Grace’ is one of the Olney Hymns which were written for the parish church and authored by the curate John Newton (Born 1725 – Died 1807) and the poet William Cowper (Born 1731 – Died 1800). They were published in 1779.