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St Mary, Thatcham, Berkshire

(51°24′5″N, 1°15′29″W)
SU 517 672
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Berkshire
now West Berkshire
medieval Salisbury
now Oxford
  • Ron Baxter
28 August 1990, 19 November 2013

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Feature Sets

Thatcham is a town of 23000 people (2003) in the Kennet valley in west Berkshire, 2 miles east of Newbury and on the opposite side of the river. It has strong claims to be oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Britain, with remains from the mesolithic, bronze age and iron age as well as a Roman town. The A4 runs through the town and the church of St Mary is just to the south of it, standing in a large churchyard in the town centre. The church itself is an imposing building of flint with ashlar dressings, largely rebuilt by T.Hellyer (1857). It consists of an aisled nave with a S porch, chancel with S chapel and N vestry, and a W tower. The S doorway, evidently moved to its present position when aisles were added to the nave in the 13thc., is all that survives of the 12thc. sculpture.


The manor was held by the King in 1086, previously by Edward the Confessor. The Domesday Survey also mentions a church and three hides attached to it, held by two clerics who pay tax with the County. This argues a degree of independence from the manor which was to have far-reaching consequences.

In 1125 the manor was transferred to Henry I's new foundation at Reading, but Bishop Roger of Salisbury (1107-39) retained the church and its revenues. On Roger's death, Empress Matilda gave the church to the monks of Reading by charter, confirming their possession of the manor at the same time. The gift of the church was confirmed by Henry II when Roger of Salisbury's successor, Bishop Joceline (1142-84) tried to claim it.

Successive bishops were concerned to retain an interest in the church. By an agreement between Hubert FitzWalter (Bishop of Salisbury 1189-93) and Abbot Hugh of Reading, the revenues of Thatcham and Bucklebury were assigned to Abbot Hugh's hospital in Reading, saving only sufficient provision for vicars. This arrangement was confirmed by Clement III (1187-91) and by Celestine III (1191-98), and would seem to uphold the abbey's claims over the bishops', however a papal act of 1206 indicates that the two were again in dispute over Thatcham and Bucklebury. In 1240 the then bishop, Robert Bingham, ordered that the rector (Gilbert de Biham) and his successors should pay 20 marks annually to the abbey in exchange for the church an arrangement which effectively returned the church to the diocese. It was not until 1309 that, after a petition by Queen Isabella, Pope Clement V ordered that Thatcham church be restored to the abbey on the death or cession of the rector. A licence by Edward II dated 1310 allowing the abbey to appropriate the church in mortmain indicates that they did not have long to wait.


Exterior Features



The assigning of the bulk of the church revenues to Abbot Hugh's hospital would seem to date the 12thc. fabric, including the S doorway before 1189. Barfield argued (p.77) that the old church (i.e. the one mentioned in DS) was pulled down very shortly after Matilda's 1139 charter, and the new one begun then. The present disastrous state of the sculpture rather disguises the fact that the S doorway was originally elaborate and expensive, and the history of disputes between Reading Abbey and successive bishops of Salisbury reflect Thatcham's wealth. One source of this was the abbot's Sunday market, which was the subject of charters by Henry II and Richard I, who ordered that all the men of Berkshire should attend on pain of a 10 fine (Kemp, II, pp.258-59). The simplified bud motif found on the 3rd order of the S doorway also appears on the jambs of the N doorway at Farringdon with decorative variations. The two sites have no other features in common, and no workshop links are suspected. The same motif, again with elaborate variations, and also the spiral colonnettes, occur on the S doorway of nearby Bucklebury, whose fortunes were closely linked with Thatcham's (see VII). The two doorways owe something to one another, but the heavily restored state of Thatcham makes it difficult to assess what it may be.


Victoria History of the Counties of England: Berkshire. London. Vol. 3 (1923), 311-29.

B. Kemp (ed.), Reading Abbey Cartularies, 2 vols., London (Camden Fourth Series vols. 31 (1986) and 33 (1987))., esp. I: 34-36, 46-49, 60-63, 134-36, 160, 163, 172-73; II: 257-69.

S. Barfield, Thatcham, Berks and its Manors, 2 vols, London and Oxford, 1901, especially 75-88.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. Harmondsworth, 1966, 239.

G. Tyack, S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. New Haven and London 2010, 558.