The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Bampton, Oxfordshire, England has a new roof after all these hundreds of years. The church, formerly known as The Church of St. Beornwald, is the setting for a best selling historical mystery novel, “The Unquiet Bones” by Mel Starr, who for more than 39 years was a Michigan public school history teacher.
The reason I have an interest in this book is that the church is the home church of my husband, David Hunt, who immigrated to Texas from Bampton in 1957. For a period, David’s mother, Dorothy Hunt, was organist at the 14th century church.
The story goes back about 10 years when David and I were in Sacramento, Calif., attending the jazz festival held there every year. After a performance by a jazz group from England, we went to meet them and learned that the vocalist was from Aston, just two miles from Bampton, where David was born and grew up.
We also learned that the daughter of David’s friend, John Quick, was editor of The Bampton Beam, a small quarterly newspaper that serves the entire community of small towns around Bampton. A while later contact was made with her husband, Fred Gray, who asked David to write a piece for the paper on his coming to the United States and the last almost 50 years here. David subscribed to the newspaper.
About a year ago David learned that the church was raising money to repair the church roof and it would take a lot of money to do the job. He made a small contribution.
The latest issue of the Beam carried a small article about Starr providing a portion of the sale from each of four books that take place in medieval Bampton, the first three already being sold there, to the church project. We discussed the books, and as a surprise to David, I ordered “The Unquiet Bones” as a Fathers’ Day gift.
“The Unquiet Bones” is a murder mystery novel set in medieval Bampton. It was selected by Amazon as its Deal of the Day in the U.S. and became Kindle’s best selling book for the day, outselling even John Grisham’s new book, “The Litigators.”
The book is the first in a series of Starr’s four mystery novels, all set in 14th century Bampton and in nearby Oxford. “A Corpse at St. Andrew’s Chapel,” and “A Trail of Ink” have also been published and the fourth in the series, “Unhallowed Ground,” is due out in January 2013.
“The Unquiet Bones,” now is in its second printing, is a chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, a surgeon, the fourth son of a minor knight, who was ordered by Lord Gilbert of Bampton Castle to identify human bones of a young woman found near the walls of the castle there.
According to information on the Internet written by Starr, nothing about the church has changed except for the name. In the 16th century, 1742 to be exact, it was renamed and has since been called the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The roof of this wonderful old church was in serious need of repair and thanks to contributions and book sales, the repair work was completed in 2010.
Starr said that while on a trip last year to do more research, he was recognized on the street by some of the small town’s residents and it made him feel he had “become a local celebrity there.”
Things are a little different in England, where buildings last for hundreds of years. It’s sad, but here nothing would ever be allowed to become as old as the Bampton Church. It would have long-since been torn down and a new, modern structure would have replaced it. Being a historian at heart, I loved hearing about the old structure being saved and repaired. It’s wonderful how the people have worshipped at the Bampton Church for their entire lives as well as their ancestors further back than most could remember.
David has shared his first book with friends who were intrigued with it. Needless to say, we have purchased the other two books and will get the final one when it comes out. His friends are waiting for David to finish the next two in the series so they can share them, too. The books are available at Amazon.com.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.