The United Benefice of Sulhamstead Abbots
& Bannister with Ufton Nervet
Sulhamstead Abbots, Berkshire
RG7 4ED -
United kingdom
WARNING - this GPS Postcode is 1/4 mile from the Church - Go Northwest
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St Mary's Church

Church Cottage

Ufton Court

West Berkshire
Community Broadband

Making a Film or a TV Documentary

The Perfect Location for a Church Film is

The Parish Church of St Mary's
Sulhamstead Abbots
in the Diocese of Oxford

There was no mention of a church at Sulhamstead Abbots in the Domesday Record but it is assumed there would have been so in the returns for Reading Abbey. As the font is 12th century this suggests a church was here then and certainly a church at Sulhamstead Abbots was in the possession of Reading Abbey at the end of the 12th century. This building is believed to have been built in 1220 and dedicated to St Bartholomew and was possibly re-dedicated to St Mary after the Black Death.

The Nave
The stone doorway into the church from the south porch is from the 15th century and may have been part of a major reconstruction at that time. A south aisle was removed between 1450 and 1500 allowing the wall to be heightened to support the fine timber roof struts. The pitch of the roof is not above the central aisle. The nave is not straight with the chancel, a feature to be found only in some 13th century churches. It is called a “weeping” or “skew” chancel, thought to represent our Lord’s head on the cross.

There are three arches to the north aisle, increasing in size from east to west; the eastern most being from the 14th century. Two support pillars support the arches; the circular east one has been restored, the square west one dates from the 13th century. On the east wall the pier is modern, carved with foliage in 14th century style and there is a cinquefoil niche dating from the 15th century. Was this a window before the vestry was built?

A noted church warden in Victorian times was George Faulkner, who is commemmorated in the north east chancel window, dying in 1889 aged 52. The former flat Norman chancel arch had been replaced by the current one in about 1855 but in 1878, under the guidance of church warden Faulkner and financed by the Thoyts family, several large resrtorative works were carried out. The west gallery, erected in 1762 was removed, as were square pews and a Jacobean pulpit and the vestry and the south porch were added. The south door may have been part of this work but it is not known if it was at this time that the old west door was blocked up. The present west door dates from the year 2000, as does the Parish Room, these alterations being made to celebrate the Millennium. The old stones inserted above the entrance to the room were part of the in-fill of the original west doorway which has a scratch sundial on the north side.

Two royal Coats of Arms hang in the nave; one Hanoverian and an earlier one from the reign of William and Mary which came from the church at St Michael at Bannister which was demolished in 1966. These would have been placed in the church both to demonstrate and encourage loyalty to the sovereign.

On the south wall is an iron cross, thought to be a medieval English or Flemish finial, which was given to the church in 1968 by Mrs Honor Beckwith Smith. It was found in the base of a compost pit in the lovely Queen Anne house at the bottom of Sulhamstead Hill, owned by Mrs Beckwith Smith, which was the Sulhamstead Rectory for many years.

John Halton, M.A., Rector here from 1687-1708, left the rectory close to the Abbots Church in order to live closer to the excellent fishing in the River Kennet. Canon Alfred Shepherd, Rector from 1887-1930,built an annex to the house to accommodate a school and it has been suggested that the cross was placed on the roof of the school building.

The font is 12th century with a modern base, probably dating from the mid-19th century when it was moved from the north-west corner of the building to its present position.

The Chancel
On the south wall are two interesting plaques. One is to Robert Fenn who lived at Cottage Farm, now Folly Farm, and who hybridised and improved the potato for which he was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour. The other was erected by Rector Ralph Eyer in 1521 – the date is shown in Arabic characters (Eyer died in 1528). It is in medieval latin, a translation of which is on the nearby window sill.

There are four windows in the chancel. The north east window shows Christ holding a bunch of grapes representing the wine of the Eucharist; the north west one shows Christ holding a sheaf of corn, representing the bread of the Eucharist; the south windows show Christ holding a lantern as Light of the World and Mary with baby Jesus in her arms.

The east window, reredos and altar frontal were designed by Sir Ninian Comper and date from 1936. Comper was an eminent church architect and ecclesiologist who lived from 1864 – 1960; his work is widely known. The window is dedicated to the memory of Beatrice Gilbey who lived at Folly Farm; the Gilbey family arms are depicted, as are those of St James the Greater to whom Reading Abbey was dedicated and of Queen’s College, Oxford and the diocese of Oxford. The reredos and frontal were given by Lady Benyon in memory of her moth, Lady Peek, and both the Benyon and Peek family arms are shown. Comper’s signature mark of a strawberry can be seen in the glass.

The Bell Tower is weather boarded outside and is now roofed with tiles but was formerly topped with copper. It houses four bells; the treble dated 1773, and two others dated 1654 and 1673. The “two minute” or “hurry hurry” bell came from St Michael’s Church and has on it the words
“Praise ye the Lord 1581”.

From outside an old Priest’s doorway can be seen in the south wall of the chancel and on the south east corner stone are two medieval scratch dials and a modern bench mark.

The church is now closed for burials but cremated ashes may be interred. An old headstone has the caution:-

“All you that do behold this stone,
Pray think how quickly I was gone,
Death does not always warning give,
Therefore be careful how you live”

Produced by Sheila Price and Pat Willoughby, September 2004
Drawing by Anthony Peabody

Filming or TV Organiser - Contact:

£1000 a day for a Film or £100 an hour for a TV documentary
All money go to the SUN Church Funds

Sulhamstead & Ufton Nervet Parochial Church Council supports the Centenary Poppy Campaign 2014—2018