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A History of St Mary’s Church

By Bill Butler

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A church has existed on this site at Thatcham for more than ten centuries. The original Saxon Minster is thought to have been made of wood. The Normans built the first stone church around 1140; it probably looked something like this picture above.

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A chancel was built about 1220. We know it originally had three tall lancet windows in the east end which probably would have been positioned as shown here.

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In 1344 Earl of Salisbury, Sir William de Montacute of Crookham Manor, was killed in a jousting tournament at Windsor. His widow Katherine added a low tower to the church in his memory. The sketch above shows how the building looked when work was halted as nearly half the people in the parish died from the Black Death.

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In 1480 a north aisle was constructed. A short south aisle was also added at an unknown date. Brick porches were built on the north and south sides. The sketch above shows the South side.

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In 1500 the upper part of the tower was completed and three or four bells were installed. The Chamberhouse Chapel was built in memory of Sir William Danvers by his widow Anne in 1530.

For the next three hundred years the external appearance of the church changed very little. However there were some changes. Six new bells were added in 1624; two of the tower pinnacles blown down in the violent storms of 1704 were replaced; galleries were added to cope with the larger congregation in 1819, and the first organ was installed in 1845.

In 1857 the church was completely renovated. Restoration included the extension of the south aisle and the altering of the roof line to incorporate it. The Norman doorway, a part of the original church in the twelfth century, was moved from the nave to the south porch where it still spans the entrance today.

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Apart from the removal of the pinnacles in the 1970 tower renovations, the exterior of the church remains unchanged. Gas lighting was installed in September 1867; sixty years later it was replaced by electricity. A new hot water radiator system provided heating in 1919; radiant gas heaters replaced it in 1982. The organ was completely rebuilt in 1956, with further extensive work in 1982 and 1994. The tower bells were augmented to eight in 1927 and to ten in 1969.

The Meeting Room was constructed at the back of the church in 1979: we were one of the first churches in the Oxford Diocese to utilise some of our space in this way. Changes in the style of worship in the 1970s led to the use of a temporary nave altar, and this was established on a permanent basis with the construction of a dais and new altar rails in 1989. New exterior doors were added to the porch at the same time.

Floodlights were installed in 2000 and the heating system replaced in November 2001. Further improvements to access for the disabled and reordering the Chapel are planned.

We have so far described the history of our church in relation to the building. The changes that have been described are only a reflection of how succeeding generations have worshipped God here in Thatcham. The church building provides a focus in our local area for the meeting together of God’s people for worship – but the Church is still, as it always has been, about the community of God’s people learning about, sharing, and living out their Christian faith.