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St Laurence, Reading, Berkshire

(51°27′24″N, 0°58′9″W)
SU 717 736
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Berkshire
now Reading
medieval Salisbury
now Oxford
  • Ron Baxter
05 Sept. 1996, 09 March 2010

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St Laurence's is in the centre of Reading, originally standing beween the W gate of the Abbey and the Hospitium of St John. It now faces Friar St with the Town Hall to the N. It consists of a nave with a N aisle only, a chancel with a N chapel and a 16thc. W tower. Construction is of flint. The original church on the site may have been early 12thc., but according to VCH all that remains standing of this is the S nave wall, the lower part of the tower S wall and a window reset in the SW of the nave. The foundation of the Hospitium of St John in 1196 may have acted as a spur to enlarge the church by demolishing the old tower to extend the nave, and at the same time new N and S doorways were added. The S is still in place, and fragments from the N are set in a blocked arch in the N nave aisle. The N aisle itself and the chancel chapel apparently followed in the 13thc. The N arcade was rebuilt in 1522, and the church was repaired and reseated by Joseph Morris of Reading in 1867-69. Late 12thc. sculpture is found on the S nave doorway and in a blocked arch in the N aisle wall, but more interesting is the folly in the churchyard NE of the church, centred on the former W window of St Laurence's but also including carved stones from the Reading Abbey site.


The church probably stands on land held by the Abbot of Battle in 1086, consisting of a church with 8 hides belonging to it. This was held before the Conquest by Leofgifu abbess of Shaftesbury whose lands were granted to Battle on its foundation. There was land for 7 ploughs and 12 acres of meadow and woodland for 5 pigs, but also 2 mills, 2½ fisheries and 29 messuages in Reading. The earl;iest mention of the church of St Laurence is in a charter of Hubert Walter (1189-93), Bishop of Salisbury, confirming the gift which Abbot Hugh had made of it to St John's Hospital. Since 2001 St Laurence's has had a specific mission for young people.


Exterior Features



Interior Features

Interior Decoration


Pevsner connects the S doorway and other additions to the fabric with the foundation of the Hospitium of St John in 1196. The date at least seems reasonable for the S doorway, but the two Romanesque fragments in the curious feature in the N nave aisle belong to an earlier date; not later than the middle of the 12thc. It is possible that these do not represent a lost N doorway, but instead are fragments from the earlier church on the site, or even the abbey ruins. A semicircular closed arch head similar to that on the right niche of the folly is in Reading Museum (1992.53), but it has no chamfer and is decorated with bosses on its face. The museum also holds a beast-head corbel (1992.52)


Victoria County History: Berkshire, III, 1923, 364-78.

C. Kerry, History of the Municiple Church of St Lawrence, Reading, Reading 1883.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. Harmondsworth, 1966, 199-200.

G. Tyack, S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. New Haven and London 2010, 448-49.