The church of St Nicholas stands in the Market Place, alongside the west gateway of the abbey precinct. The W front and N wall date from the mid 12thc., but no original sculpture survives. The present W doorway belongs to a restoration of 1880, and is based on drawings by H.Neil (1804, engraved by J.C.Smith and published in 1805), and J.Storer (1808, engraved by the artist). These show the doorway in a dilapidated state, but substantially as it appears today, with the exceptions noted below.
The church was built as part of the abbey, for the use of lay officials, abbey servants and visitors, and its position straddling the precinct wall reflects this marginal function. It had no parish until 1372, when an appeal to the Bishop of Salisbury resulted in the provision of one, carved out of that of the town church of St Helen's, but fragmented and mostly made up of the abbey granges. The income from this was certainly not enough to support both a rector (a sinecure anyway) and a vicar, and the two posts were combined in 1410. Ultimately even this failed to work, and after 1508 the cure of souls was taken over by the vicar of St Helen's, although most of the income went to the rector of St Nicholas', Thomas Randolph, whose efforts were largely taken up by his work as a prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral.
Round headed, of five orders. Belongs entirely to the restoration of 1880, but is described here without measurements since it is a (loose) copy of the original. It is flanked by niches of one order with pointed arches.
Angle rolls on jambs, with small foliate capitals containing parts of three rows of concave leaves with rounded tips. The lowest row arranged around a concave oval on the angle, with a drilled hole at its centre. The middle row overlaps the hollow chamfer of the impost, and the top row, with curled terminations to the central leaves, is entirely on the impost chamfer. Plain roll neckings. The L capital is better preserved than the R. Imposts upright above chamfer, with a wedge moulding defining the lower edge. In the arch, a large keeled angle roll above the capitals, and outside this a smaller roll between two hollows.
Nook rolls turning inwards at a right angle at the level of the outer capital neckings, and then upwards again, like a drainpipe. At the level of the tops of the outer capitals is a roll, or necking, and above this an uncarved cube, projecting slightly above the top of the imposts on either side. In the arch, a single row of raised, spade-shaped forms in an angled hollow.
Nook shafts with large capitals, the L foliate with seven-lobed palmettes at the angles, and in the centre of each face, a pair of stems joined by a band and diverging above this towards the upper angles, where each stem terminates in a fleshy leaf. Two of these leaves meet and curl over the palmette on the main angle of the capital. In the top centre of each face is a large ball. The R capital is a cushion. Both have plain roll necking. Imposts upright with a roll on the lower angle, above a deeply undercut hollow and a bead. They continue into orders four and five. In the arch, a roll on the angle with a fillet, with a smaller roll inside it and a fillet outside.
Smaller nook shafts with capitals to match, narrower than in orders three and five but equally high. The R capital is an uncarved cuboid block, with no necking. The L has large palmettes on the angles, each joined by fluted stems to a lozenge-shaped projection in the lower centre of each face. In the arch, single face chevron with a trefoil leaf in each unit.
Colonnettes carrying capitals visible on three sides. The L capital has a sunken trefoil, and is decorated below this with waterleaf. The R capital is a cushion. Above the imposts, double springers carry the outer order of the doorway and the arches of the niches flanking it. The outer order of the doorway has a keeled angle roll with two rolls separated by hollows on the soffit, and a hollow on the face. The niches also have an angle roll and a hollow on the face. The label is identical on the doorway and the niches. It has two narrow steps and a flat face.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. Harmondsworth, 1966, 53-54.
G. Tyack, S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. New Haven and London 2010
Victoria County History: Berkshire IV (1924), 430-51.