A brief history of St Mary's Church
The name Shinfield is most probably derived from the Saxon settlement Selingesfeld, recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) as Sellingefelle, although local lore has it that the name comes from the 'Shining Fields' that are still seen when the river Loddon floods. It is possible that a Saxon church existed before the Norman conquest.
After the conquest Shinfield was awarded to William Fitz Osbern, Lord of Breteuil, Seneschal of Normany and Earl of Hereford, a close companion of William the Conqueror. At that time the manor of Shinfield stretched from Reading in the north to the Berkshire/Hampshire boundary in the south and encompassed the present ecclesiastical parishes of Shinfield, Swallowfield, Grazeley and Spencers Wood; in total about 4126 acres. In 1069 Fitz Osbern ordered a church, dedicated to St Mary, to be built at Shinfield. It is uncertain how much of the original structure remains but it is possible that the lower walls of the nave and parts of the stone framing of the north door date from then. In common with all churches St Mary's is a working building and has changed with time to suit the needs of the people. At some time before about 1300 the original roof was replaced by the king post structure that we see today. The south aisle, with a Quenn post roof, and the Martyn Chapel (vestry), with a Tudor barrel-vaulted ceiling, were added in the early- and late-sixteenth century respectively.
The early church is recorded as having a steeple and bell, but by the early-seventeenth century it had become unstable and it is reputed to have been finished off by canon fire by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. A new, brick tower with three bells was built in 1664, with three other bells added in 1722, 1730 and 1803. In 1855 the church was restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott, including replacement of a brick arcade between the nave and south aisle with stone arches, creating a gothic arch between the nave and chancel, a new chancel roof, covering the floor with red and black tiles, blocking up the south doorway and removing a minstrel's gallery from the west end of the nave. From 1807 until 1905 problems were experienced with cracking of the tower structure by belling ringing and the iron bands and tie rods still visible were installed over that time.
In 1906 the south wall of the church was found to be unstable and it was underpinned by infilling burial vaults in the south aisle. Further work to buttress the south wall was done in 1929. Gas lighting and heating was installed in 1927, but it was not until 1946 that electricity was introduced. In order that full circle ringing of the bells could resume a new bellframe was installed in 1976, sited lower in the tower than the original frame. The roof installed by Gilbert Scott in 1855 required relaying on new laths in 1931 with progressive relaying and partial replacement of the Victorian tiles carried out between 1997 and 2011.
To mark the start of the third millennium a stained glass window, depicting the history of St Mary's, was commissioned and installed at the west end of the south aisle. Re-ordering to create more open space within the church by the removal of some Victorian pews was undertaken in 2004 and in 2010. In 2005 Shinfield became part of the United Benefice of Loddon Reach, covering the parishes of Beech Hill, Shinfield, Spencers Wood with Grazeley, and Swallowfield with Farley Hill and Riseley.
Residential development continues around St Mary's and, although the people and forms of service evolve and change to meet new needs, St Mary's remains a constant place at which the people of Shinfield are welcome to meet in fellowship and worship God.