The borough of Reading: Churches

A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1923.

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, 'The borough of Reading: Churches ', in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3, (London, 1923) pp. 367-378. British History Online [accessed 23 May 2024].

. "The borough of Reading: Churches ", in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3, (London, 1923) 367-378. British History Online, accessed May 23, 2024,

. "The borough of Reading: Churches ", A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3, (London, 1923). 367-378. British History Online. Web. 23 May 2024,

In this section


The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of a chancel 49 ft. 6 in. by 27 ft. 10 in. with a modern north organ chamber and quire vestry, out of which opens an octagonal clergy vestry, a modern south chancel aisle, a nave 69 ft. by 29 ft. 9 in., a modern north aisle, the eastern end of which was originally a north transept measuring 20 ft. 10 in. by 16 ft. 4 in., a south aisle 68 ft. 9 in. by 19 ft. 10 in., a west tower 17 ft. 4 in. by 17 ft. 2 in., and a south porch. These measurements are all internal.

Little can be said of the early history of the existing building, the original church having been altered on several occasions and having suffered badly from the 19th-century restoration. An early 12th-century doorway reset in the north wall of the north aisle suggests the existence of a much earlier building than the present structure, the oldest part of which appears to be the north-east corner of the north aisle, the walls here having formed the north-east boundaries of an early 14th-century north transept, out of which opened an east chapel. The piers of the south arcade of the nave are, however, of early 13th-century date, but from entries in the churchwardens' accounts they appear to have been brought from the dismantled abbey when the parish church underwent a drastic rebuilding between the years 1550 and 1553; it was at this rebuilding that the south aisle and tower were added and the nave re-roofed. Further entries in the churchwardens' accounts state that the steeple was blown down and rebuilt in 1591, but as the total expense amounted to but a few pounds, mainly for lead and timber, the only part of the fabric which was damaged was no doubt a timber spire. In 1863 the church underwent a thorough restoration, the chancel was entirely rebuilt, and the chancel aisle and priest's vestry were added, and the quire vestry built. In 1872 the building was again enlarged by the addition of the north aisle.

The chancel is built in the Early English style. Built into the north wall under the sill of the window is a late 13th-century Easter sepulchre much restored. It is of two trefoiled arches with crocketed and finialled gables, supported in the centre by a moulded corbel and at the sides by small modern jamb shafts of red granite.

The north and south arcades of the nave are each of four bays, the middle arches being wider than the others. The arches of the north arcade are pointed, and are carried by circular piers with moulded capitals and bases. The south arcade has a very distinct leaning towards the aisle, caused by the thrust of the nave roof. The arches are semicircular and of two orders; the inner order, which was inserted when the aisle was added, is almost the entire width of the wall above and has a very wide chamfer; the arches are supported by circular piers with semicircular responds. All the piers have moulded abaci, most of which are restored. The first and third piers from the east have carved capitals of a rather crude from, while the bells to the capitals of the responds are unmoulded. The capital to the centre pier has a fluted bell, which may be of 16th-century date. The bases are moulded and are of the same date as the aisle.

At the north end of the east wall of the north aisle, opening into the quire vestry, is a 14th-century pointed archway which was originally in the centre of the wall, and no doubt gave access to an east chapel. It has a sunk quarter-round moulding at the angle and small attached angle shafts, partly renewed, with much worn capitals, carved with a naturalistic leaf ornament. To the south of this arch is a modern pointed opening of about the same span. At the east end of the north wall of this aisle is a modern three-light window of 15th-century design, below which is a modern doorway; the jambs of both are ancient. The rest of the aisle is modern, and is lighted by four windows, one opposite each bay of the nave arcade, and one in the west wall. Between the two westernmost windows in the north wall is a blocked early 12th-century doorway, which was removed from the north wall of the nave when the north aisle was built; it is round-headed and of two square orders without abaci or ornament of any sort. Across the east end, between the old transept and the modern aisle, are two modern arches carried by a central column of polished granite.

St. Mary's Church, Reading, from the South-west

The south aisle has three windows in the south wall and one in the west wall, all modern. Between the second and third windows from the east is a 16th-century pointed doorway, having a segmental rear arch and continuously moulded internal and external jambs.

The tower is in three stages with an embattled parapet and octagonal buttresses at the angles surmounted by crocketed pinnacles; in the north-east angle is a stair turret. The tower arch is pointed and of two chamfered orders. In the west wall of the ground stage is a doorway with a four-centred head under a square moulded hood mould with small uncarved shields in the spandrels. Over the doorway is a pointed four-light window, divided by a transom, the tracery of which is formed by the intersecting of the mullions, while the lights below the transoms have four-centred heads. The ringing stage is lighted from each side by a pointed window of two lights, and in each wall of the bell-chamber is a threelight window with vertical tracery in a pointed head.

Built into the walls inside the tower are many 12th-century stones and pieces of Norman carving which came either from the walls of the old church during the rebuilding, or, more probably, from the abbey ruins. On the south-west buttress, about 8 ft. from the ground, are scratched the letters 'I H' and the date '1572.'

The walls of the chancel, vestries, and north aisle are faced with flint with stone dressings, but the other walls are diapered with flint and ashlar squares. The diaper-work to the tower parapet is set lozengewise. The roofs, which are tiled, are modern, except those of the nave, south aisle, and south porch. The nave roof is of the 16th century, and is said to have been constructed of timber from the abbey. It is divided into four bays by curved moulded trusses springing from carved oak corbels; the purlins are also moulded and support trussed rafters. On the south side are four dormer windows, the two easternmost of which are apparently of the 15th century and older than the roof itself. These are each divided into three cinquefoiled lights with vertical tracery over, while the others, which are contemporary with the roof, are each of four lights with four-centred heads. The roof over the south aisle is divided into six bays by arched trusses, only the centre one of which has a tie-beam, and there are two purlins on each side, strutted by curved wind-braces. On the north side the trusses spring from stone corbels, the easternmost carved with the figure of an angel.

The font, which is of early 17th-century date, is octagonal, and rests on a plain stem, the sides of the bowl being panelled with quatrefoils. In the panels on the north, south, and eastern sides are roses, but the western panels have carved shields; the shield in the north-west panel is charged with a cheveron between three wheatsheafs, the shield in the west panel crusilly a cross paty, while the south-west shield is charged with three sinister bends.

A portion of the upper part of the screen under the tower arch is Jacobean. On either side, supporting the floor over, are three projecting brackets, the outer of which are carved in the form of satyrs, while the middle one takes the form of a shaped console. Above the figures is an arabesque frieze, and on the east side is inscribed 'W. F. 1631 R O.' By the north respond of the tower arch on the east side of, and of about the same date as, the screen is an oak almsbox in the shape of a small Doric column; above the post is a tablet. Eight of the modern pews in the chancel aisle have Jacobean panels set in their ends. In the chancel are two chairs and a small table of the same period, and in the tower is a stool which may be a little later in date. There is another Jacobean chair in the clergy vestry.

On the east wall of the south aisle is a brass inscribed with the name of William Baron, who died in 1416. On the wall immediately above is another brass, probably of mid-16th-century date, commemorating John Boorne, Mayor of Reading, and Alice his wife. The inscription is in black letter, and states that John Boorne died in his third mayoralty. On the north wall of the chancel is an elaborate mural monument of stone, painted in black and gold, to William Kendrick, who died in 1635. Above a tablet with a laudatory inscription are the figures of William Kendrick and his wife kneeling on either side of a small desk, while above them is an entablature with a broken pediment, supported by two Ionic columns. Set within the broken pediment is a tablet with a carved shield of arms, Kendrick: Ermine a lion sable impaling Lydall: Azure a saltire or and a fesse or over all with three roundels sable thereon. In the floor at the east end of the south aisle is a stone slab with the matrix of a 14th-century foliated cross, while in the floor in the middle of the aisle is another stone slab with the matrices for the figures of a man and his wife, under which were an inscription and the figures of their children, while in the four corners were small shields.

There is a peal of eight bells: the treble and second are by Robert Catlin, 1740; the third is inscribed 'Love God 1640'; the fourth 'Feare God 1640 W. M.'; the fifth and sixth are by R. Catlin, 1743; the seventh is by Mears, 1863; and the tenor is of the same date and by the same maker as the third and fourth. There is a modern sanctus bell by Mears in a small frame on the roof.

The plate consists of a silver-gilt chalice and cover paten of 1597; two silver-gilt patens of 1626, one inscribed 'The guift of Gyllbert Haryson son of Lo: Goulsmith ano 1626 to ye parish of St. Mary's in Redinge,' the other 'The guift of Thomas Haryson Churchwarden ano 1626 to ye pīhe of St. Mary's in Reding'; a flagon of 1628; a large flagon of 1652 inscribed 'Ex dono T. B. L.L.D. in usum Ecclesiae Stae Mariae de Reading,' and a shield with the arms of Browne; a chalice inscribed 'Calix: Doi Richard Fellows, Church-warden 1661,' with a cover paten of the same date; an almsdish inscribed 'The Gift of Mr. Nathaniel Clissold Gent to the church of St. Mary's Reading A.D. 1776'; a large silver almsdish of 1861, presented to the parish the following year; a silver chalice and cover paten of 1867; a silvergilt chalice and cover paten of 1898; two small silver-mounted glass flagons, one of 1873, the other of 1874; four pewter almsdishes; and four modern brass ones. There are also a silver-gilt spoon of 1668; a large silver bowl about 9 in. high inscribed 'The Gift of Mrs Elizabeth Thorne for the use of the Font of the Parish Church of St. Mary in Reading A.D. 1767'; a latten paten inscribed 'The guift of Mrs Marie Mews ye wyfe of Dr Peter Mews Vicar of St. Maries Parish in Reading to ye Ch: of ye sayd Parish An: 1664'; and a beadle's badge inscribed with the names of the overseers for the years 1786 and 1787.

The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) all entries 1538 to 1653; (ii) 1653 to 1736; (iii) baptisms and burials 1737 to 1804, marriages 1737 to 1754; (iv) marriages 1754 to 1774; (v) marriages 1775 to 1788; (vi) marriages 1788 to 1805; (vii) marriages 1805 to 1812; (viii) baptisms and burials 1804 to 1812.

The church of ST. GILES consists of a chancel with a north aisle which is used as an organ chamber and vestries, a corresponding chapel on the south, a nave, north and south aisles with slightly projecting transepts, a west tower, and a south porch.

From the church as it stands to-day nothing can be gathered of the early history of the building, a restoration which practically amounted to a rebuilding having taken place in 1872–3, when, with the exception of the late 13th-century south wall of the south aisle, the whole of the church east of the 15th-century tower appears to have been pulled down. If the pieces of carving built into the south wall of the tower belong to the original structure, a building must have existed here in the early part of the 12th century, but it is not improbable that they were brought from the abbey after its dissolution.

The 19th-century rebuilding was carried out in the 'decorated' style and the walls are of flint with dressings of Bath stone. The chancel has arcades of two bays on the north and south, while the nave arcades are each of four bays, the easternmost arches on either side opening into the transepts. In the south wall of the south aisle are three original, though much restored, pointed windows, each of two uncusped lights with a pierced spandrel in the head. The window in the west wall is similar, and all have chamfered hood moulds. Below the easternmost window in the south wall is an original trefoiled piscina having a circular basin, over which is a credence shelf; this has been considerably damaged. Under the next window is another piscina with a round head and foliated basin. At the west end of the south wall is a 13th-century pointed doorway, much restored, which has a continuous chamfer to the outer jamb and a roll label. To the east of the inner jamb is a mutilated water-stoup which was originally supported upon a shaft, but this has been broken off flush with the wall face.

The tower is in two stages, with an embattled parapet surmounted by an octagonal spire of stone. All above the floor of the bell-chamber has been rebuilt. In the north-east corner is a modern stair turret, entered through an old but reset pointed doorway in the west wall of the north aisle, and at the western angles are diagonal buttresses in three stages which stop at the level of the bell-chamber. The tower arch is pointed and of two hollow-chamfered orders, supported by modern semi-octagonal responds. In the west wall is a pointed doorway, over which is a threelight window, lighting the bottom stage of the tower, which is used as a large entrance vestibule. Both doorway and window are modern. The floor of the vestibule being below the floor level of the body of the church, the nave is approached from the tower by a small range of steps. Built into the south wall and visible internally are the carved stones referred to above, the earliest of which is a sculptured capital of the early 12th century, with an enriched abacus and rudely cut angle volutes on either side of a central pointed leaf. There are also two small carved capitals of later 12th-century date, a large capital of the same period, several pieces of shafts, some fragments of 'dog-tooth' ornament, a well-carved 19th-century trefoil leaf, and four mediaeval tiles. A curious piece of masonry built in flush with the wall appears to be part of an arch, the stones or voussolrs of which are chamfered. In the middle of the north and south walls are buttresses of two stages which stop below the level of the ringing stage, while built into the north, south, and west walls, with their apices at about the level of the floor of the ringing stage, are pointed ragstone relieving arches, and above them is a narrow band of stonework, flush with the face of the wall, evidently the remains of a moulded string-course. In the north, south, and west walls of the ringing stage are small single lights, while in each wall of the bell-chamber are two large modern windows, each of two lights. The walls of the tower are faced with flint, although they have been considerably patched up with ragstone and tiles.

On the south wall of the south aisle is a brass to John Bowyer, who died in 1521, and his wife Jane. On the chancel steps is a brass tablet to Margaret Malthus, who died in 1613. On the north wall of the north aisle is a slab commemorating Dorothy, eidest daughter of Edmond Daniel of Basingstoke, and wife of Samuel Jemmett of Reading, who died in 1659. On the same wall is a marble tablet to 'Mrs.' Anne Fiennes, third daughter of the Hon. Nathaniel Fiennes, who died in 1675.

There is a peal of eight bells, the first two by Mears & Stainbank, 1890, the others by Thomas Mears, 1793.

The plate consists of a silver-gilt chalice and cover paten of 1599; a paten of 1632 inscribed 'The Gifte of Thomas Towne, 1632'; a silver-gilt chalice and cover paten of 1618; a paten, recast in 1872, inscribed 'The Gift of Mary Oades to the Church of St. Giles, 1727'; two chalices of 1849; a paten of 1857; two silver chalices of 1910; three silver flagons of the years 1636, 1637, and 1639 respectively, and a large silver-gilt almsdish of 1872. There are also an oval silver beadle's badge and a silver mace-head.

The registers previous to 1812 are as follows: (i) all entries 1564 to 1599; (ii) all entries 1599 to 1636; (iii) baptisms 1636 to 1646, marriages and burials 1636 to 1644; (iv) baptisms 1646 to 1787, marriages 1648 to 1754, burials 1648 to 1787 (at the end of this volume is an entry of all the deaths which occurred during the Plague); (v) baptisms and burials 1788 to 1812; (vi) marriages 1754 to 1771; (vii) marriages 1771 to 1788; (viii) marriages 1788 to 1803; (ix) marriages 1803 to 1812. There is also a churchwardens' account-book from 1518 to 1807.

The church of ST. LAWRENCE consists of a chancel about 35 ft. 10 in. by 21 ft. 4½ in., north chapel 36 ft. 6 in. by 19 ft. 9 in., nave 92 ft. 6 in. by 26 ft., north aisle 115 ft. 6 in. by 16 ft. 6 in., and west tower 15 ft. 1 in. by 14 ft. 6 in. These measurements are all internal.

The earliest building on the site was probably erected in the early part of the 12th century, and appears to have consisted of an aisleless nave and chancel with a large western tower. Of this building there remain the south wall of the nave, the lower part of the south wall of the tower, and a reset window at the south-west of the present nave. In 1196 or thereabouts, in consequence of the founding of the hospitium of St. John Baptist and the resulting need for greater accommodation, the church appears to have been enlarged by demolishing the western tower and throwing the space thus gained into the nave. At the same time the chancel was rebuilt and new windows and doorways were inserted in the nave walls. To this period belong the east windows of the chancel, the south doorway, the jambs of a south-east nave window, and the fragments of a north doorway now built into the north wall of the north aisle. A few years later, c. 1220, the north chapel was added to the chancel; the addition of a north aisle at some period in the same century is suggested by the springer of an earlier arch upon the west respond of the existing arcade. At this period the nave must have been very badly lighted, the west gate of the abbey, which abutted upon its south wall, only allowing windows at the east and west ends of this wall, while the buildings of the adjoining hospitium prevented the construction of windows in the west end of the north wall of the aisle. The few old stones remaining in the jambs of the two windows at the south-east point to the 14th century as the date when they were inserted to remedy the darkness of the nave in place of the single window of 1196, the jambs of which are still partly visible. To the same date may belong the window to the west of the south doorway. In 1410 the church was re-roofed with timber from Earley. The oldest roll of the churchwardens' accounts gives a list of contributors to the cost. The eastern and western trusses of the nave roof are apparently the only surviving portions of this work. About 1440, again with the object of better lighting, always the ruling motive of the alterations to the fabric, the north arcade was rebuilt; the only part of this arch remaining in situ is the east respond and the east limb of the eastern arch. In the drum of the eastern column, set too high to be in its original position, is the shield of Aiscough Bishop of Salisbury, 1438–50. The churchwardens' roll for the year 1458 gives the names of contributors towards the expense of the 'emendation of the campanile.' The statement presupposes an earlier tower, but of this nothing now remains with the exception of some earlier stones incorporated in the walls. Late in the 15th century the north aisle appears to have been rebuilt, and perhaps extended westwards to its present length. The windows of the north chapel also date from some repair in this century. The next important piece of work seems to have been the reconstruction of the nave roof; an entry in the churchwardens' accounts for 1520–1 records the payment of a sum of 'vjs for takyng doune the bracis of the beamys and for settyng up vj new corsis iijs.' About the same time the two south windows of the chancel seem to have been inserted, 13s. 4d. having been paid 'for arrerag.s of the glasse for the new wyndows in the quere in full payment for the same wyndows.' The lighting of the church must still have been very unsatisfactory, for a year later the nave arcade was raised and the present four-centred arches constructed, using the stones of the former two-centred arches where possible, new springers only being introduced, struck from the new centres. The entry in the accounts, 'paid for the timber and sawyng of viij Corvetts for the new arches, viijd,' seems to imply that eight new arches were then constructed; it is possible that the tower arches belong to this work, though the detail of their mouldings is better than would be expected by comparison with the coarseness of the capitals of the nave piers. In 1524 the roof of the north aisle was repaired with boards; this roof still exists. In 1620 the arcade known as Blagrave's Piazza was built on the same side of the church; it is described in 1802 (fn. 1) as 'a handsome portico called the church walk.' Soon after this, in 1637, a burial chapel was built by Sir Francis Knollys on the south side of the nave; old views show that its position was immediately to the west of the second window from the east. Both these features were removed in the past century. In 1848 the chancel arch was rebuilt in its present form, and in 1881 the church was generally restored.

Plan of St. Lawrence's Church, Reading

St. Lawrence's Church, Reading: North Aisle looking East

The chancel is lighted from the east by three grouped lancets of c. 1196. The jambs are shafted, and the rear arches are moulded with a roll between two hollows. The shafts have cushion capitals and chamfered abaci. The north wall is occupied by an early 13th-century arcade of three bays opening into the north chapel. The arches, which are two-centred, are supported by circular columns and responds with foliated capitals and moulded bases standing upon double circular plinths. In the south wall are the two early 16th-century windows referred to above. Each is of three cinquefoiled lights within a fourcentred head and between them is a small doorway of the same date. All the windows of the north chapel are of the 15th century and have vertical tracery under square heads, the west window being of three cinquefoiled lights and the north windows of two cinquefoiled lights.

The 16th-century nave arcade is of six bays with five complete fourcentred arches moulded with a wide casement between two braces. The stones of the upper curves of all the four-centred arches are probably those of the arcade of c. 1450, which it replaces, new springers being cut to raise their haunches, while the eastern limb of the eastern arch is left with its original respond, only the western half being struck from two centres to take its bearing on the heightened pier. The west respond appears to be that of a 13th-century nave arcade; there is no capital, and the springer of the original western arch is utilized as a corbel, from which springs the present 16thcentury four-centred arch. Over the piers of the arcade on both chancel and nave faces are five image niches with carved corbels formed by angels holding shields, and having on the nave side cinquefoiled heads with crowns for canopies above. The heads on the aisle side have been destroyed, and the corbels now serve to support large knees of timber carrying the aisle roof-plate. On the nave side the shields have the following charges, beginning with the easternmost: (1) a gridiron, (2) two cheverons between three roses, (3) a tun inscribed with a capital 'B,' (4) a cheveron between three tuns, (5) three cheveronels between three roundels. On the aisle side the shields have: (1) an angel holding a label, (2), (3) and (4) are blank shields divided palewise, (5) a flower, probably a merchant's mark. At the south-west of the nave, forming the lower part of the wall, is a fragment of the tower of the original early 12th-century church, and above this is a reset window of the same date with a round head and plain internal splays. Of the five remaining windows in this wall the jambs of the two easternmost and of that immediately to the west of the south doorway are probably of the 14th century, though their tracery is modern. The two windows in the centre of the wall are completely modern, and occupy the position where the compter-gate of the abbey originally abutted upon the nave, and subsequently the 17th-century Knollys chapel. Below the sill of the second window from the east has been uncovered the lower portion of the east jamb of an original south-east window of c. 1196, containing a piscina niche with a two-centred head. To the west of the present window, and a little above the springing of the arch, a part of its western shafted jamb has also been uncovered. Of contemporary date, though much restored, is the south doorway, which has externally a well-moulded round head of two orders, the jambs of the outer shafted, and a segmental rear arch.

With the exception of the easternmost, where the hospitium abutted upon the church, all the squareheaded windows of the north aisle are of original 15th-century date, though much renewed, and the three-light west window and doorway are of the same period. To the north of the doorway is a semicircular-headed niche, probably a stoup. The aisle is continuous with the north chapel, there being no arch between them, but only a slight break in the wall.

The tower is of three stages with an embattled parapet and octagonal buttresses, surmounted by pinnacles at the angles, the south-east buttress containing the vice, which is entered from the nave. The ground stage opens into the nave by a tall and well-moulded two-centred arch of three orders, the outer continuous, and the inner carried by slender shafts with moulded capitals and bases. A similar but smaller arch opens into the aisle. The west window is of five lights with a traceried twocentred head, and beneath it is a doorway with a four-centred head flanked externally by image niches. The bell-chamber is lighted on all four sides by windows of three uncusped lights with traceried twocentred head, and the ringing chamber by windows of two cinquefoiled lights with heads of similar form on the north, west, and south. The whole tower, with the possible exception of the nave and aisle arches, which may have been enlarged in the early 16th century with the nave arcade, dates from c. 1450, though every external detail has been renewed.

Externally the walls throughout the whole building are faced with flint and have been much renewed. Beneath the east window of the chancel is a stringcourse partly of original date. The buttresses of the north chapel and at the south-east of the chancel are probably of the 13th century, while those of the north aisle are of the 15th century.

The roof of the chancel is modern. The eastern and western trusses of the nave roof are of the braced collar type and probably belong to the roof constructed in 1410, while the six remaining trusses, which are of an early queen-post type with large cambered tie-beams, strengthened by wallposts and curved braces on the south side, probably belong to the roof constructed in 1520–1. The north chapel has a timber ceiled roof of seven cants divided into panels by moulded ribs with carved bosses at their intersections. The work appears to be of the 15th century. The aisle roof has a timber ceiling of similar but slighter construction, which almost certainly dates from the repair of 1524 above mentioned.

The font was made in 1522. (fn. 2) In the east wall of the nave to the south of the chancel arch is a small 15th-century alabaster bas-relief of the Adoration. The Blessed Virgin is lying upon a couch, propped up on pillows, and holding on her lap the child Christ. A figure bending over the foot of the couch is making an offering, and behind him is a seated figure, probably Joseph. In the background are three standing figures, two crowned, while the third appears to be a girl. The alabaster is cut off above the heads of the figures, but there appears to have been a crowning canopy of elaborate workmanship. The whole has been much mutilated and the faces of the figures destroyed. There are slight traces of colour. In the chancel are five 15th-century bench-ends with poppyhead finials and traceried panelling.

On the north respond of the nave arch of the tower a ragged staff has been rudely scratched in two places, and on the north respond is cut in black letter 'I.h.m.' (perhaps for 'Jesu mercie').

On the east wall of the nave to the north of the chancel arch is a palimpsest brass, hung in two portions in hinged brass frames to facilitate inspection. The brass is that of Water Barton, who died in 1538, as the inscription states, and the matrix may be seen in the chancel floor. On the back of his figure, which is in two pieces, may be distinguished the feet of a knight, resting on the back of a collared lion, and a fragment of a shield of arms. By the side of the shield is part of the hilt of a sword. On the back of the inscription and presumably belonging to these fragments is inscribed: 'Hic jacet Joh[anne]s Popham miles qond[am] d[omin]us de Gurney in Normandia & d[omin]us | de Chardeford de Dene ac de Alvyngton & Alibi in Anglia . qui obiit xiiiio | die mensis Aprilis Anno d[omin]i mill[essim]mo ccccolxiiio cui' a[nima]e ppicietr de.' Below this, removed from its matrix, which is now in the chancel floor, and set in a modern oak frame, is an undated brass, probably of the last half of the 15th century, to John Kent, 'Burgensis de Redyng,' and his wife Johanna. Above the inscription are their figures. In the chancel floor is a brass to John Andrew, who died in 1428, with the matrices of a figure and a shield above and below the inscription, which is as follows:—

'Vermibus hic donor: et sic ostendere conor
Ut sicut ponor: ponitur omnis honor
Quisquis eris qui transieris sta perlege plora
Sum quod eris fuer[amq]ue quod es p[ro] me precor ora
Hic jacet dūs Joh[ann]es Andreu qui obiit tercio | die
marcii Anno d[omini] Mill[essim]o ccccoxxviiio.'

In the tower are slabs with indents of the figures of a man and wife and of a man and two wives. On the south wall of the chancel is a brass, with figures, to Edward Butler of Reading, 'fyve tymes maior of this toune,' who died in 1584, and to his wife Alice, 1583. On the same wall, with the inscription partly concealed by the present chancel steps, is a monument of c. 1600 to Thomas Lydall and Margery his wife. It is divided into two arched compartments by three Corinthian columns of marble supporting an entablature. In the dexter compartment are figures of Thomas Lydall and three sons, in the sinister his wife and six daughters. At the south-west of the chancel is mural monument to Martha, the wife of Charles Hamley 'of Cornwall,' and daughter of Thomas Seakes of Henley-on-Thames, who died in 1636. Her figure in painted alabaster, wearing a hat and ruff, is represented kneeling at a desk, with the hands in prayer. High in the wall between the two south windows is an elaborate monument to Anne Haydon, wife of Gideon Haydon, who died in 1747.

Plan of Greyfriars Church, Reading

On the south wall of the nave is the monument to John Blagrave, the mathematician. An architectural frame, ornamented with personifications of the five regular geometrical solids, surrounds his half-length figure, which holds a sphere in the right hand and a quadrant in the left. The inscriptions have suffered considerably by repainting, and the date of his death has been apparently cleaned off. The church contains no other monuments of interest.

There is a ring of ten bells: treble, 'Richard Cobb Ch. Warden, R.C. 1748'; (2) 'By adding two our notes we'll raise & sound ye good subscribers praise 1748'; (3) 'Robert Catlin fecit 1748'; (4) 'Prosperity to all our benefactors, R.C. 1748'; (5) 'Imprimis venerare deum mandataque serva, Quere non alios unicus ipse deus, R.C. 1748'; (6) and (7), by Taylor & Co., 1881; (8) recast by Thomas Mears, 1803; (9) by the same, 1793; tenor, by Taylor & Co., 1882. There is also a small sanctus bell by Thomas Mears, 1793.

The plate consists of two cups, each with cover paten, all of 1637, given by Richard Curtis; a flagon and large paten or almsdish, both of 1631 and given by Richard Johnson in the following year; a flagon of 1638 given by John Saunders; a paten without date letter, inscribed with the date 1701 and the names of the then churchwardens; a paten of 1708; an almsdish of 1735; another of 1752, given by Mrs. Barbara Foster; a good wine-strainer, funnel-shaped, with a beaded rim, of 1739; a silver-mounted shell of 1870; a cruet with plated mounting, and a mace-head of silver, unmarked.

The registers previous to 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms and marriages 1605 to 1653, the latter fragmentary from 1649, burials 1605 to 1644 (a note in the register states 'Lost from 1644 to 1654 in burials'); (ii) all entries 1654 to 1687; (iii) 1686 to 1724; (iv) baptisms and burials 1724 to 1772, marriages 1724 to 1754; (v) baptisms and burials 1772 to 1812; (vi) marriages 1754 to 1762; (vii) marriages 1762 to 1772; (viii) marriages 1772 to 1779; (ix) marriages 1779 to 1782.

The church of GREYFRIARS consists at present of a nave about 77 ft. 6 in. by 29 ft., north and south transepts, each about 24 ft. in depth and 28 ft. wide, a small modern vestry to the west of the north transept, and north and south aisles each about 48 ft. by 9 ft. 6 in. Over the eastern gable is a modern bellcote containing three bells.

The nave, aisles, and foundations of the south transept date from the early 14th century. This is fixed approximately by the will of Alan de Baunebury, who died at Reading in 1311 and bequeathed a sum of money operi fratrum minorum. (fn. 3) The chancel has entirely disappeared, leaving only the chancel arch. The body and side aisles of the church were granted by Henry VIII in 1542 to the Mayor and burgesses of the borough of Reading, when it was converted partly into a town hall and partly into an almshouse. By 1613 it had become a house of correction. (fn. 4) In 1863 the church was restored to its original use, when the present north transept was added, and the eastern end of the building, including the still surviving chancel arch, with the south and west walls of the south transept, were rebuilt.

The bricked-up chancel arch is two-centred with a containing label, and of three orders, each moulded with a deep hollow; the responds are triple shafted with moulded capitals and bases. The nave arcades are of five bays, two occupying the width of the transepts. The arches throughout are of three orders, and are moulded in the same manner as the chancel arch. On both aisle and nave faces are labels of the overlapping roll section with head-stops at their intersections, partly original. The piers, with the exception of those of the easternmost arches, which are of smaller span, have an inner square with semicircular shafts attached to each of the four faces. The shafts have bell capitals with well-moulded abaci and neckings, and double - roll bases standing on large plinths, which follow the semicircular plan of the shafts and overlap the inner square. The western responds are halfpiers of the same form. The eastern piers have four clustered shafts with capitals and bases of the same section. The outer orders of the arches die upon the east wall of the nave, the inner being carried by short shafts of the ruling type, corbelled off and stopped by foliage. The lower part of the eastern shaft of the southern pier is left square as if to receive some kind of screenwork.

The tracery of the east windows is modern, but some old stones are used here and there in the heads and jambs, which are shafted internally. The remaining windows of the transepts are entirely modern. Acute two-centred drop arches of two chamfered orders, abutting upon the second from the east of the nave arcade piers, carry the west walls of the transepts and separate them from the aisles. The inner order in each case is carried by the semicircular attached shaft on the aisle side of the nave pier, and by a corbel on the aisle wall. The outer order is stopped clumsily on the outer order of the nave arcade, and dies upon the aisle wall on the west, descending unbroken on the east upon the angle made by the aisle and transept walls. The splendid west window of the nave, though much restored, is a particularly fine example of the period. It is of five trefoiled ogee lights with reticulated tracery within a two-centred head having an external label. Externally the jambs have a deep, narrow hollow, and the angles of the internal splays are finished with a roll between two hollows.

The side walls of the aisles have each two windows of three trefoiled ogee lights with flat segmental heads and labels containing reticulated tracery. The north doorway has a two-centred external head of two chamfered orders and a ribbed rear arch. The south doorway, which has a head of similar form, with an external leaf-stopped label, is of two elaborately moulded orders with a ribbed segmental rear arch. These details, though considerably restored, are all original.

The walls are of flint, the stones of the facing being split and squared; the facing of the south aisle is largely original and is remarkable for the wonderful precision with which the stones are set. The open timber roofs are all modern. Some 14th-century red and yellow tiles, dug up at the restoration of the church, are preserved in a frame hung up on the west wall of the north aisle. The patterns include a dog with a collar and bell, upon a background of oak leaves and acorns; a hare with a ground of trefoil foliage; an antlered stag; and a geometrical design of four small squares divided gyronwise. The living is a vicarage in the gift of trustees.

Greyfriars Church, Reading, from the South-west

The church of ST. MARY, Castle Street, consists of a chancel, with a north organ chamber and vestry, a nave, north and south aisles, and a west entrance vestibule extending the full width of the building, with staircases at either end leading up to the galleries, which are continued across the west end of the nave.

The church was built in 1799 on the site of the old county gaol, the portico added in 1840 and the chancel in 1842. It was founded by a body of churchmen who seceded from the congregation of St. Giles, not liking the successor of the Hon. and Rev. W. B. Cadogan. For some time before 1820 services were held by Nonconformist ministers. The body of the church is of brick, but the portico on the western front, which is hexastyle and of the Corinthian order, is of stone and is surmounted by a square bell-turret of the same material. The galleries are supported by Doric columns, superimposed upon which is an Ionic order carrying the coved ceiling of the nave. The living is a perpetual curacy in the gift of trustees.

The church of ST. STEPHEN, Orts Road, consists of a chancel, north vestry and organ chamber, south chapel, nave, north and south aisles, and north porch of timber. A bellcote containing two bells surmounts the west gable of the nave. The materials are red brick with stone dressings and the style adopted is 'early decorated.' It is a chapel of ease to St. John the Evangelist. The roofs are of timber, covered externally with tiles.

The church of ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST consists of a chancel, with north organ chamber and vestry, a nave, north and south aisles, slightly projecting north and south transepts, a baptistery at the west end of the north aisle, a south-west tower, the bottom stage of which is used as an entrance vestibule, and a north-west turret and vestibule with a staircase leading to the gallery over the west end of the nave. The present church was erected in 1872–4 from the designs of Mr. W. A. Dixon, and is built in the early French Gothic style of Kentish rag with Bath and red sandstone dressings. The living is a vicarage in the gift of trustees.

CHRIST CHURCH, Whitley, consists of a chancel, north vestry and organ chamber, south chapel, nave, north and south aisles, and a tower and spire at the north-west. The church was originally built in 1861–2, the south aisle and tower being added in 1874. The material is quarry-faced coursed rubble with ashlar dressings and the design is in the early decorated style. The roofs are of timber and covered externally with slates. The living is a vicarage in the gift of the bishop.

The church of ALL SAINTS consists of a chancel with an apsidal end, a north organ chamber and south chapel, a nave of five bays, north and south aisles, a north vestry, and a galilee porch; above the east gable of the nave is a small bell-turret containing one bell. The church was built in the year 1865, and was enlarged westwards by the addition of two bays in 1874, while the vestry was enlarged in 1896. It is a dignified building in the decorated style, and is built of coursed rubble with Bath stone dressings. It is a chapel of ease to St. Mary's.

The church of ST. BARTHOLOMEW, Earley, consists of a chancel, north and south chapels, a north vestry, nave, and north and south aisles. A bellcote, containing two bells, surmounts the west gable of the nave. The church was originally built in 1878–9, but the chancel was rebuilt and the chapels added in 1903. The materials of the older part of the church, which is of an Early English character, are red and blue brick with stone dressings. The new portion is of red brick with stone dressings; the east walls are faced internally with ashlar. It is designed in an eclectic version of English decorated. The living is a vicarage in the gift of the bishop.

The church of ST. LUKE, Redlands Estate, consists of an apsidal chancel, north and south transepts, south vestry, nave, north and south aisles and a west porch or galilee. Over the east gable of the nave is a bellcote. The church was erected in 1883. The materials are red and yellow brick with stone dressings, and the style adopted is Early English in character. The incumbent is appointed by the vicar of St. Giles.

The church of ST. SAVIOUR, Wolseley Street, consists of an apsidal chancel, north vestry and organ chamber, south transept, nave, north and south aisles, and a temporary western porch. The materials are red brick with stone dressings; the building was begun in 1887 and is not yet complete. It is a chapel of ease to St. Mary's.

The church of HOLY TRINITY was originally built as a proprietary chapel by the Rev. George Hulme in 1827. The building ceased to be a proprietary chapel in 1875, and in 1888 was reconstructed and partially rebuilt, and in its present state consists of a chancel, a north chapel and south vestry, a large and lofty aisleless nave, with a gallery at the west end, in which is placed the organ, and a large vestibule extending across the whole front of the church, with staircases at either end leading up to the gallery. At the apex of the west gable is an octagonal bell-turret containing one bell. The building is of brick, the west front being faced with stone, and the style may best be described as 'pointed.' The living is a vicarage in the gift of the vicar of St. Mary's.

The church of ST. MARK, built in 1904, consists of a chancel, a nave with north and south passage aisles, north vestries, and a west gallery with a southwest stair turret. The materials are red brick and stone and the style is an eclectic version of Gothic. It is a chapel of ease to St. Mary's. A small iron building standing to the north of the new church was previously used to hold the services in.

The Roman Catholic church of ST. JAMES in North Forbury Road was built in 1840.

There are also Congregational, Baptist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Unitarian and Primitive Methodist chapels, a Friends' meeting-house and a synagogue.


The church of St. Mary the Virgin according to ancient tradition represents the church held before the Conquest by Leveva the abbess and given by the Conqueror to Battle Abbey. (fn. 5) Possibly its origin was connected with the monastery destroyed by the Danes. (fn. 6) It was a parish church certainly as early as the year 1129, for it is mentioned in a confirmatory charter granted by the Bishop of Salisbury to Hugh first Abbot of Reading, who in that year was preferred to the archbishopric of Rouen. (fn. 7) As no other church is mentioned it was probably then the only existing one. The abbot was rector and he appointed a vicar to serve the church. In 1291 the church was worth £8 per annum, (fn. 8) out of which the vicar was obliged to pay to the rector a pension of £3. In the reign of Henry VIII it was worth £11 4s. 3d. per annum. (fn. 9)

At the Dissolution the rectory and advowson lapsed to the king. In 1545 he granted the rectory to Sir Francis Englefield, (fn. 10) who granted the rectory impropriate to the vicar, John Weatham, and his successors. (fn. 11) After the exile of Sir Francis Englefield this arrangement was confirmed by Elizabeth (1574) to Weatham's successor William Powell, so that the incumbent of the living is at once vicar and rector. (fn. 12) The advowson continued in the Crown until it was transferred to the Bishop of Oxford in 1855. (fn. 13)

A chapel of All Saints is mentioned in connexion with St. Mary's about the end of the 12th century. (fn. 14) It was probably a detached chapel, as it is sometimes called an 'ecclesia,' (fn. 15) and a vicus omnium sanctorum is mentioned. (fn. 16) The chapel seems to have had some connexion with the gild merchant, for on the eve of All Saints' Day fuel was sent by the gild to be burned in a bonfire outside and wax candles to be burned inside the chapel. (fn. 17) It seems to have disappeared before the Reformation.

The Colley or Colney chapel or chantry was founded in St. Mary's Church in the reign of Edward III. In 1371 the king granted to William Baron and Bartholomew Mayhew licence to assign the rent of a messuage to a priest who was to say mass every day 'in a certain chapel called Colneyes Chapel' for William Catour and his wife while they lived and for their souls after their death as well as for the souls of Thomas and John de Colneye. (fn. 18) The presentation to the chaplaincy was to be vested in the Mayor of Reading, but if within three months he failed to appoint the presentation was to lapse to the bishop or his representative for that turn only. The successive mayors exercised this right and jealously prized it, as may be seen from references in the corporation diary to the careful keeping of the charters connected with the chantry. The right was cited as an evidence of the corporation of the borough of Reading in the late 15th or early 16th century. (fn. 19)

In 1535 the chantry was valued at £7 6s. 6d. per annum, (fn. 20) by the Chantry Commissioners at £9 per annum, of which £8 8s. 2d. formed the stipend of the priest whose duty it was to sing mass daily. The incumbent was Richard Turner, but the intention of the founder was not carried out. (fn. 21)

A fraternity known as the Jesus fraternity also existed in St. Mary's Church. (fn. 22) In 1617 Sir Thomas Vachell, 'to whom a great estate of inheritance is descended within the parish' of St. Mary, was allowed by the churchwardens and parishioners to have 'a place, howse or I'le sometime used as a schoolehouse' on the north side of the church, which apparently had once been part of the church, for a family seat and burial-place. He and his successors were to pay a yearly rent to the church of £1 and were to keep the aisle in order. The first payment is recorded in 1619 (fn. 23); the aisle became known as the Vachell aisle, and in it the Vachells were buried as long as they continued at Coley.

St. Giles's Church is first mentioned in a confirmatory charter given by Hubert Walter, Bishop of Salisbury (1189–93), to the Abbot and convent of Reading. (fn. 24) The abbot was rector, and the church was served by a vicar. In 1291 it was the richest church in the town, being worth £10, (fn. 25) while St. Mary's was worth £8 and St. Lawrence's only £5. It paid a pension of £2 per annum to the Abbot of Reading. It held the same position in the reign of Henry VIII, being worth £14 17s., while St. Mary's was worth £11 4s. 3d. At the dissolution of Reading Abbey the rectory and advowson lapsed to the king. In 1545 he granted them to Sir Francis Englefield, (fn. 26) who granted the rectory impropriate to the vicar, Edward Yonge, and his successors, which arrangement was confirmed by Elizabeth. (fn. 27) The incumbent is thus, as at St. Mary's, at once vicar and rector. The advowson continued in the Crown, but Sir Edmund Ludlow is found appointing to the vicarage in 1616. (fn. 28) In 1855 the advowson was bought by the Bishop of Oxford. (fn. 29)

In St. Giles's Church at the time of the Reformation there was a confraternity of Jesus. (fn. 30) The Englefield chantry was dissolved in 1536 without the king's licence by one of the Englefield family. (fn. 31)

St. Lawrence's Church is first mentioned in a charter of Hubert Walter when Bishop of Salisbury, confirming the gift which Hugh Abbot of Reading had made of it to the hospital of St. John Baptist. (fn. 32) In the text of this charter it is called capella Sancti Laurentii. (fn. 33) It paid a pension of £5 per annum to the Abbot of Reading. (fn. 34) At the dissolution of the abbey the advowson became the property of the Crown. Charles I in 1640, probably through the good offices of Laud, who was born in the parish, granted it to St. John Baptist College, Oxford, (fn. 35) which held it until it was bought by the Bishop of Oxford in 1861. (fn. 36) The chapel of St. Edmund was founded in 1204 under a licence of Abbot Helyas by Laurence Burgeys alias Abyndus, bailiff of the town of Reading, who endowed it with a house (mansio) in New Street and became a hermit there. (fn. 37) It is mentioned in connexion with St. Lawrence's Church in 1272. (fn. 38) The people of Reading complained to Edward IV when he visited the town that this chapel 'at the west end of the towne of Seynt Edmund the Kynge and Martyr wherein lyeth the bonys of many cristen people' had been turned into a barn. It does not appear to have been restored. In 1545 the site was granted to William Grey, (fn. 39) and so passed to the Blagraves. On the site where it is believed to have stood some remains of an ancient barn were to be seen about the middle of the 18th century. A capella Sancti Spiritus is mentioned in 1272, apparently in connexion with St. Lawrence's Church. (fn. 40)

The 'Mass of Jesus' in this church was apparently founded by Henry Kelsall, clothier, of Reading, who died in 1493. (fn. 41) Richard Cleche and John Baxster were among the first 'brethren of the Mass of Jesus.'The chantry was refounded under royal licence (1506), and was in existence at the Reformation, at which time there was also a stipendiary priest who was paid by the Haberdashers' Gild in London. (fn. 42)

The records of St. Lawrence's Church make mention of many altars besides the High Altar, those of our Lady, of St. Thomas, of St. George, of St. Nicholas, that of St. Blaise (mentioned in 1433), who was the patron saint of woolcombers, and whose altar was perhaps connected with a gild of woolcombers, Mr. Justice's altar founded 1520 and the Trinity altar. The 'lights of St. Catherine' in the chapel of St. John are mentioned in the 15th century. (fn. 43) There was a chantry, which may have been connected with one of these altars, to furnish a chaplain for which Thomas Carpenter (d. 1520) left a house in High Street, Reading, to the Mayor of Reading and the proctors or guardians of St. Lawrence's. (fn. 44)

Until the middle of the 16th century the parishioners of St. Lawrence were buried in a churchyard 'lying next unto the late Churche of the late Mon[astery] ther'; this ground (the right of burial in which was no doubt a survival of the days when the abbey church served the future parish of St. Lawrence) was taken from them, and in 1556 another ground next to the parish church was granted in lieu of it. (fn. 45)


  • 1. Coates, op. cit. 164.
  • 2. In the accounts for 1522 are the following entries: 'It. to Chenye the mason for make[yn]g the font, xxxis viijd. It. payd to the pl[umb]ar for make[yn]g the font and mendyng of the stepull ixs xd.'
  • 3. Arch. Journ. iii, 143.
  • 4. Coates, op. cit. 308.
  • 5. Harl. Chart. 83, A 12.
  • 6. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 40.
  • 7. Harl. MS. 1708, fol. 189.
  • 8. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 188b.
  • 9. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii, 154.
  • 10. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xx (1), g, 1081(52).
  • 11. Rec. of Borough of Reading, ii, 60.
  • 12. Pat. 16 Eliz. pt. ix.
  • 13. Lond. Gaz. 1 June 1855, p. 2104.
  • 14. Harl. MS. 1708, fol. 188.
  • 15. Cott. MS. Vesp. E v, fol. 50b.
  • 16. Harl. MS. 1708, fol. 47.
  • 17. MSS. of Reading Corp. (Cat. XII).
  • 18. Pat. 45 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 10.
  • 19. Rec. of Borough of Reading, i, passim.
  • 20. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii, 154.
  • 21. Chant. Cert. 51, no. 23.
  • 22. V.C.H. Berks. ii, 28.
  • 23. Churchwardens' Accounts, St. Mary's, Reading, 126.
  • 24. Harl. MS. 1708, fol. 190b.
  • 25. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 188b.
  • 26. Pat. 37 Hen. VIII, pt. iv.
  • 27. Ibid. 16 Eliz. pt. ix.
  • 28. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 29. Lond. Gaz. 1 June 1855, p. 2104.
  • 30. V.C.H. Berks. ii, 28.
  • 31. Chant. Cert. 51, no. 23.
  • 32. V.C.H. Berks. ii, 97.
  • 33. Harl. MS. 1708, fol. 190b.
  • 34. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 188b; Dugdale, Mon. iv, 50.
  • 35. Pat. 15 Chas. I, pt. xi, no. 2.
  • 36. Lond. Gaz. 3 May 1861, p. 1891.
  • 37. Cott. MS. Vesp. E v, fol. 81b.
  • 38. Ibid. fol. 45.
  • 39. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xx (2), g. 707 (50).
  • 40. Cott. MS. Vesp. E v, fol. 45.
  • 41. Kerry, op. cit. 28.
  • 42. V.C.H. Berks. ii, 26.
  • 43. Kerry. op. cit.
  • 44. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), A 605.
  • 45. Kerry, op. cit. 200.