St John the Baptist, Padworth, Berkshire

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Feature Sets (3)


Padworth is a village in West Berkshire, in the Kennet valley midway between Reading and Newbury.  The church is surrounded by woodland and the grounds of Padworth College, just outside the village centre to the north.  It is a complete 12thc. church with a rectangular aisleless nave and apsed chancel and a shingled W bell-turret. The external masonry is covered with pebbledash rendering throughout. High-quality 12thc. sculpture is to be found on the N and S nave doorways (the S doorway protected by a modern porch), and the chancel arch.


The Domesday Survey records two holdings in Padworth.  The larger, assessed at 7½ hides but paying geld for 5½, was held by three thegns in 1066, and by Stephen FitzErhard in 1086.  Of Stephen's holdings, Nigel held 1 hide from him and "a certain knight" held half a hide.  This land also contained 48 acres of meadow and 2½ mills. In 1164 this land was in the possession of Miles of Padworth, and his successor might have taken part in the revolt of 11y73, for his land was in the king's hands by 1175. By 1240 it was held by Fulk de Coudray.

The smaller holding, assessed at 2½ hides, contained the remaining half of the mill, and was held by Aelfstan in 1066 and William de Eu, and Joscelin from him, in 1086. The overlordship later belonged to the Earls Marshal, and passed to the Earls of Gloucester after the marriage of William Marshal's daughter and heir Isabel to Gilbert de Clare. It remained in Clare hands until the death of the last Gilbert de Clare in 1314.


Exterior Features


N doorway, nave

Round-headed, of two orders. Identical in appearance to the S doorway with the following exceptions: The imposts and label are modern replacements with no carved ornament. The attic bases are original, though worn. Most of the L capital is broken away. What remains shows traces of the furled leaf motif found on the S doorway capitals, but the design was not the same. The R capital is a simple volute capital with a simplified lily motif between the volutes at the top of each face.

Height of opening 2.66 m
Width of opening 1.32 m

S doorway, nave

Round-headed, of two orders.

Height of opening 2.81m
Width of opening 1.33m
First order

Plain square jambs without capitals or imposts. In the arch, a double hollow on the face, and an angle roll.

Second order

En-delit nook shafts supporting block capitals carved with foliage. The R base is a replacement with a double roll profile. The L base is damaged but has a bulbous lower roll and may originally have been of the same form as the R. The capitals are identical and have mirror symmetry. On each face is a single, large furled leaf, fluted with a scalloped edge. These leaves grow from a forked beaded stem rising from the necking on the angle of the capital. There are volutes on the angles, and other foliage is suggested by curved stems rising from the main beaded stem. Cable neckings and plain, hollow chamfered imposts.

In the arch of the second order is a fat roll carved with directional chevron which points up from either impost, the two series of arrows meeting at a saltire in the centre. This is very accurately conceived and executed. Outside this roll is a plain hollow, and finally a chamfered label carved with a series of palmettes.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round headed, of two orders to W.

First order (shared)

Bases cut back. Coursed half-columns supporting carved volute capitals with plain hollow chamfered imposts.

N capital: on the main face a symmetrical design. At the bottom centre is an interlace knot of stems, and from this issue straight stems rising diagonally across the face to terminate in a coil at the angle volutes. Furled leaves with fluted lobes and scalloped edges flank the two main stems. The two side faces each carry half of the same design. Beaded cable necking.

S capital : on the main face a symmetrical design. At bottom centre is a semicircular beaded loop, flanked by two others at the angles below the volutes. From the angle loops rise palmettes which terminate in the volutes themselves, and these are flanked by semi-palmettes which rise from small bosses on the central loop. At the top centre of the face is a small nebuly motif with straight ridges radiating from it to disappear behind the semi-palmettes. The cable necking is unusual in that the cabling is concave rather than convex. On the flanking half-faces a furled leaf with fluted lobes and scalloped edge balances the angle palmette to produce a more-or-less symmetrical effect.

Second order (W)

N capital: this is carved with the same design on its two faces, although it seems compressed on the narrower W face. At top centre of the S face is the mask of a catlike beast with pointed ears, a brow marked with a triple loop, tear-shaped eyes with heavy brows, a prominent nose and wide mouth outlined with a groove. From the mouth issue two beaded stems which curve upwards to end at the angle volutes. Furling over them are a pair of symmetrical leaves with scalloped edges. On the W face, the cat-mask is replaced by a beardless human face with wavy hair parted centrally, and almond eyes. On the angle below the volute a large, flat fleshy leaf rises from a semicircular motif, passing over a smicircular beaded loop, then bifurcating and passing under the two beaded stems which issue from the central masks. The two tips of this leaf terminate in small volutes which flank the main angle volute. This motif, halved, also appears at the outer sides of each face. The necking is beaded cable.

S capital: at the upper angle is a beast mask with pointed ears, tear-shaped eyes, broad nose and wide mouth with teeth. Four beaded stems issue from this, the outer pair running almost vertically down to the necking, and the inner pair curling underneath them and outwards, and transforming into the tails of a pair of dragons which face one another on either side of the mask. Further beaded stems and the familiar furled leaves complicate the design. The necking is of beaded cable.


Comparisons may be made between the capitals here and from the cloister of nearby Reading Abbey. The two capitals of the second order of the chancel arch share many features with eg. Reading Museum 1992-76, notably the lavish use of intertwining beaded stems, sometimes issuing from masks, and the tendency to mark leaf joints with small spiral bosses. There are no very exact comparisons with Reading, but that is hardly surprising in view of the low survival rate of that enormously varied sculpture. The palmette motif on the S doorway label is also found at Letcombe Bassett on the chancel arch impost. The use of semicircular beaded stems found on the chancel arch capitals here recurs as a repeated motif on the label of the N doorway at West Hanney. For the work at Padworth, a date in the 1130s is suggested.


  • J. Martin, Padworth Church Guide, 1993.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. Harmondsworth 1966., 190-91.

  • G. Tyack, S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire.  New Haven and London 2010, 420.

  • Victoria County History: Berkshire III (1923), 413-17.

Exterior from SE


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SU 613 662 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Berkshire
now: West Berkshire
medieval: Salisbury
now: Oxford
now: St John the Baptist
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
19 August 1998, 19 November 2013