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St James, Reading, Berkshire

(51°27′24″N, 0°57′54″W)
SU 720 736
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Berkshire
now Reading
medieval Salisbury
now Oxford
  • Ron Baxter
05 September 1996, 10 March 2010

Please use this link to cite this page - https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=14288.

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St James's stands on the site of the N transept of the Abbey church; now on Forbury Road immediately E of the Forbury Gardens. The original church of 1840, built of flint from designs by Pugin, consisted of an aisleless nave with a S sacristy off the E end, and a semicircular E apse. There was no tower, but a simple bell-turret on the W gable. A major enlargement by Wilfred Mangan of 1925-26 added a S aisle, a narthex (Pugin's doorway being moved west), and an ambulatory around the apse. The sacristy was extended eastwards at this time. Finally a N nave aisle was added by H. Bingham Towner, work completed in 1962. The complex also includes a Priest House, S of the church, and S of this a school (now Forbury Gardens Day Nursery), parallel and similar in form to the church, even to the bell-turret. Access is through an arch at the end of Abbot's Walk into a path running along the W side of the complex. Walls on either side of this path include reset abbey stones. The complex was built on the site of the N transept of the Abbey church, and two masses of rubble marking angles of the transept may be seen at the front of the Priest House. The S boundary wall of the school is built on the line of the N choir arcade, and includes two pier bases. A respond base, belonging to a N transept chapel, may be seen in the Priest House garden. All these remnants of abbey fabric still in situ are dealt with more fully in the entry on the abbey itself. The present entry describes two capitals inside St James's, one remodelled as a font, and fragments of carved stone from the abbey built into the external walls of the church, the Priest House and the wall in front of the complex. Facing this wall is the E wall of the Forbury Gardens, and stones reset there are described in th entry for the Forbury Gardens.


All the sculpture is connected to the abbey, qv.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration



Loose Sculpture


The font, or 'Reading Abbey Stone' was discovered, according to the plate on its E face, 'most curiously concealed within the site of the old Abbey Church' on 24 January 1835. That is to say that it was already well known long before the discoveries by Keyser and Zarnecki of cloister sculpture from Borough Marsh, and indeed the style of its carving enabled these scholars to identify their discoveries as Reading work. The similarities with the cloister sculpture are so striking as to indicate that the same carvers were involved. In particular, the general arrangement of loosely symmetrical beaded and grooved foliage is paralleled on Reading Museum capital 1992/112, while similar Byzantine blossoms appear on capital 1992/106. If this stone came from the cloister area rather than the church, as these workshop connections imply, the likeliest contexts would be the chapter house entrance or the lavabo. The capital in the church is comparable to cloister capitals in Reading Museum, especially 1992/76 and 1992/78 (both of which, unlike this one, have masks at the angles). The impost chamfer decoration is also a plainer version of that on 1992/78.


F. W. Albury, "Reading Abbey, its History and Architecture and the Reading Abbey Stone", Berkshire Archaeological and Architectural Society Transactions, 1880-81, 65-90.

J. B. Hurry, Reading Abbey. London 1901, 144, 147-48

C. E. Keyser, "Norman capitals from Sonning, Berks., and sculptured stones at Shiplake and Windsor Castle, probably brought from Reading abbey", Proc. Soc. Ants. Lond., 2nd ser.28, 1916, 243, fig.22

J. Mullaney, St James's Catholic Church & School in the Abbey Ruins Reading. Reading 1987.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. Harmondsworth, 1966, 201.

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

J. Wheble, "The Reading Abbey Stone", Berkshire Archaeological and Architectural Society Transactions, 1880-81, 87-90.