The churches of Beech Hill, Shinfield, Spencers Wood & Swallowfield serving the community
The churches of  Beech Hill,  Shinfield,  Spencers Wood  &  Swallowfield serving the community
The churches of
Beech Hill,
Spencers Wood
& Swallowfield

serving the community

Points of architectural interest

st mary site planMurals, Monuments and Brasses

1 Mitford Brass – In 1936, work to prevent the font sinking revealed a brass plate recording George and Mary Mitford, parents of Mary Russell Mitford, beneath the Victorian tiles.

The plate was raised to floor level. Early in 2009 the font was moved and a new area of stone floor laid. Removal of the font revealed that it had previously been placed directly over the Mitford grave. The ledger slab was intact and it was cleaned and raised to floor level, and the brass plate re-attached. Mary Russell Mitford was author of Our Village and she is buried in the churchyard at All Saints', Swallowfield.

St Mary's Beke monument2 Henry Beke, 1580 – The worn tablet reads ‘Here lieth bereed the bode of Master Henry Beke Esquier, who desesed the 23 May 1580’. Beneath the tablet is a small widow’s lozenge with three chevrons, the lozenge showing her own entitlement to bear her father’s arms and the chevrons being part of the shield of those arms. It was restored in 1979 when Campbell Smith redecorated the church.

3 Huick Steward, 1575 – This is the earliest existing monument in the church and is made of plaudina limestone. It commemorates Huick Steward who died on 31st July, 1575, possibly while young, as there is no helmet on his crest.

4 Royal Coat of Arms, 1660 – Painted on oak and placed to denote the supremacy of the monarch over the Pope.

5 Martyn Monument – Originally placed in the Martyn Chapel in 1607. Edward Martyn died in 1604, aged 79, but his effigy is missing, possibly destroyed during the Commonwealth.

6 Charity Board – Various bequests from 1611 to 1729 are recorded. This was not done to advertise the benefactors but to ensure that the money was not misused.

7 The Body Family – Four tablets span a period of nearly 200 years (1748-1933), indicative of the persistence of families in the village.

8 Henry Beke (died 1580, see 2 above) – The tableau is of marble and alabaster and was erected in 1627 by Sir George Speke on the order of his mother, Eliza, nee Beke. The Latin inscription says:

  Here the father Henry, the mother Habe and daughter
    Eliza are represented, the father alone is interred.
    Beke is his name, of the house of Hartley Court, the
    Mother was the daughter of Roger Lewkenor, Knight,
    George ( the son of Hugo Speke by Eliza ) raised the
    Monument by pious command of his mother.

9 Rebecca and John Webster, 1785 and 1792 – The inscriptions of the two tablets record the fulfilment of their wishes to be buried together.

10 Rev'd G. Hulme, 1888 – The Revd. G. Hulme was chaplain to the King of Hanover. After his death his children built a new classroom onto the school at School Green in his memory.

11 Communion Table – In 1633 Archbishop Laud ordered the Vicar of Shinfield to move the Communion table from the centre of the Choir to the east end of the church. In 1908 the Jacobean table was found in an outhouse, having been used for filling lamps and was restored and put back into the church.

12 Hatchment Boards, 1845 – For Revd. G. Hulme and his wife. The motto means ‘I shall rise up’.

13 St John’s Head Plaque – It is believed that there were originally four plaques but these were removed during the restoration in 1855. The remaining one was found in an outhouse at Hyde End Farm in 1900. The plaque, of cast iron, shows St. John the Evangelist, who, legend has it, could not die: attempts to burn and imprison him are represented.

14 Rev'd Matthew Fielde, 1846 – The Revd. M. Fielde was Vicar of Shinfield from 1824-1846 and the last to live in the C 18th vicarage, which pre-dated the old vicarage of 1847 (now L’Ortolan restaurant)

15 Wilder Family, 1797-1816 – Two tablets record the terrible incidence of infant mortality, even amongst the wealthier members of the community. General Wilder moved to Binfield in 1813 but sold up in 1818 after the death of his son, Francis, by drowning at 14 years of age, in 1816.

16 Brasses – Lists vicars of Shinfield from 1280 to the present day.

17 Mrs Mary Floyer, 1726 – The wife of Colonel Peter Floyer, who served under Marlborough and settled at Shinfield, between Ryeish Green and Spencer’s Wood. There is a house in Hyde End Road called Floyer’s Barn.

St Mary's tower date stoneThe Tower

The tower was added in the 17th century following the battle of Reading during the Civil War when the previous spire was destroyed by cannon fire. The replacement tower is of red brick with the date carved on the outside of the west wall. The spiral staircase, which originally gave access to the bells, was blocked off when the bells were re-hung and is now used for storage. Access is now by a ladder within the ringing room. It also contains some charity boards referring to the school, which still stands on School Green and a case with 15th century pot sherds. There is a polished section of a Cedar of Lebanon that once stood on the lawn of the Manor to the east of the church, and which was blown down in the gale of 1986.

St Mary's Bells

st marys bellframeAlthough affiliated to the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, until the 1970s the ringers of Shinfield never rang much more than ‘stony’, the most basic of ringing and, whilst part of the Reading branch in name, were never visited by the great and good of St Mary’s in the Butts and St Laurence or helped to improve their standards. By the 1930s there was no longer a band at Shinfield who could ring full-circle and eventually the duties of chiming the bells for service fell to the choir. The bell gear deteriorated and the ringing chamber became unsuitable for full-circle ringing as it added dangerous clutter in the shape of cupboards and pall-bearers. The floor originally was cobbled with a loop set into the cobbles beneath the tenor, so that it could be chimed with the foot. The tenor rope was of immense thickness.

In the early 1970s a Stewardship campaign initiated a programme to restore the bells and create a new band, since the knowledge of change ringing had been lost. The fledgling band was taught by Brian Gatward of Theale, but its activities were cut short when the tower was condemned as unsafe. The four larger bells of the six were hung in the same plane and contributed to undue stresses on the tower.

Much fundraising was done and the money raised mainly from the village. Lapsed ringers from the congregation came forward and, while the tower was out of action, practices were held at Swallowfield, whose bells had just been restored.

The bells were re-hung in a new frame and their orientation changed. They were quarter-turned and lowered a floor with the old frame left in situ above the bells.

Now, in the 21st century, the church bells are still rung regularly for services and weddings and the ringers often join forces with those from All Saints’ Church, Swallowfield.

History of structural works

Date   Description
1630   Doubtful date of building of Tower  (Neave, 1989)
1664   Canon fire damage to Tower during Civil War, repairs; brick W 1664 P on west face. 3 bells dated 1664. (source: Doble, 1961, Neave 1989).Probable build date.
1803   Sixth bell added to tower. 2 iron bands fitted around top of Tower (Neave, 1989)
1807   Further 2 iron bands reinforcement of Tower (Neave, 1989)
1820   Roof to Tower repaired, new drainage to prevent internal dampness (Neave, 1989)
1855   Church remodelled by George Gilbert Scott. 15th C Brick arcade between South Aisle and Nave replaced with Monks Park Bath stone arches; floor covered by tiles; Chancel lengthened with new windows on N and S sides and re-roofed; south door blocked up; Minstrel Gallery removed. (source: Doble, 1961, Jefferies, 1971, Neave 1989)
1856   Organ moved to Martyn Chapel (source Doble, 1961)
1863   2 more iron tie rods on Tower, east to west. Arch built to support west window of tower. (source: Doble, 1961)
1904/5   Refurbishment of bell frame to prevent vibrations. Installed 2 tie rods N—S through Tower. Cutting out of cracks. (source: Doble, 1961)
1906   South wall of Church underpinned. South Aisle crypt filled in. (source: Doble, 1961)
1927   Gas lighting and heating installed in church.
1920   Stucco removed from outside walls, revealingMartyn tablet. (source: Doble, 1961)
1929   South wall of Church bulging. Repairs (not specified) by A F Jones. (source: Doble, 1961) (source: Doble, 1961, Neave 1989)
1931   Laths supporting tiles rotting. All replaced (29,000 tiles).
1936   Collapse of floor by font. Mitford brass found. (source: Doble, 1961, Jefferies, 1971, Neave 1989)
1946   Electricity into church.
1957   Tower parapet repaired, new roof put on. New west door to tower. 2 iron bands added to SW corner of tower, about half way up. (source: Doble, 1961)
1976   Bells moved to lower position in Tower, Iroko frame supported on RSJs. Old tie bars cut to allow new frame in place. Record of Conservation stated "The tower is in satisfactory condition and will be under less strain with the steel joists built in at a lower level, tying the walls and supporting the new frame." Photograph before cementing in place shows cross flange at the end of a joist that would provide some bonding to the brickwork.
1979   Redecoration internally by Campbell Smith, including monuments.
1997   Roof valley retiled, R Dawson
1998   Retile tower roof, install new hatch to roof.
2004   Removal pf pews from west end of South Aisle, reflooring and carpet tiling. S Povey
2009/10   Remove pews from N side W end of Nave; create stone floor; move font to position beneath window; widen cross-aisle with tiling of new floor and creation of storage. Mitford grave slab exposed and incorporate in floor. A F Jones and S povey.
2011   Retile north slopes Nave and Chancel. R Dawson.
2011   Replacing decaying floor panels at west end of South Aisle and improve under-floor ventilation. S Povey
2011   Replace defective rainwater drains from SW corner of  church S. Povey
2012   French drain to W face of South Aisle. S Povey
2012   Repair defective ornamental brickwork on west face of Tower. C Avery.
St Mary's Church, Church Lane, Shinfield, Reading, RG2 9BY