It is assumed that the church referred to in the Domesday book was on the same site. It may well have been altered or added to, but the building which existed in the mid nineteenth century, and which is depicted in the centenary window was considered “inadequate to the accommodation of the parishioners who are wont to attend divine service there” and was demolished in 1842. A new church built by R & J Billing in brick with stone dressings and slated roofs to a design by J B Clacy, the Reading postmaster and architect, was consecrated in 1843 by the Bishop of Oxford. In 1892 the original apse was replaced by a larger chancel designed by Bodley and Garner, with a vestry and organ chamber, new choir stalls, a new pulpit and a new reading stand.
A note from H G Willink dated 15/6/1915 addressed to the then Rectorstates the faculty for the new church was granted on 4/6/1842. The estimated cost was to be £2000 of which £1100 had already been raised. On 21/2/1843 £500 was borrowed from Public Works. He records the architect as Clacey, adding a postmaster!, and the builder as Billing. A lithograph in the London Illustrated News dated 3/6/1843 records the opening of the new church, wrongly identifying architect as J B Clay. J B Clacy (1810-1880) served his articles with Samuel Beazley and was postmaster for Reading
According to Pevsner (The Buildings of England- Berkshire 1966)- St Mary’s is “a rather terrible neo-Norman effort … [with] a stumpy spire on top, two unhappy porches in the angles between tower and nave.” The 2010 edition by Tyzack is a little kinder:
“An odd contrast: Neo-Norman nave, transepts and highly eccentric tower, all in brick chancel by Bodley & Garner,1892, in their immediately recognisable version of Late Gothic, carefully proportioned and beautifully crafted”
An open recessed gallery was provided at the west end for school children, the choir and organ etc, but with the provision of the new chancel in 1892 the organ and choir were relocated. A wooden partition dividing the ringers’ room from the rest of the gallery was provided in 1939 and modified with glazed doors in 1997.
A re-ordering in the 1970’s provided a nave altar, and in 1983 a partition was erected in the South transept to form a choir vestry.
The initial heating system was replaced in 1892 and againby hot water piping in 1957. A new oil fired boiler was installed in 1973, and subsequently electric halogen wall heaters in 1989.
Electricity was installed in 1932, and the beam mounted lamps were replaced by halogen spots in 1976, at which time the church was rewired.
A sound system was installed in 1991, stolen in 1995, and modified in 1997
A letter dated 18/3/77 from the Archdeacon refers to a ‘ faded and somewhat dingy interior’. A letter from Rector Brian Bailey c1977 to parishioners comments “the church had a hasty repaint in 1947, whilst the chancel has been untouched since 1892. The cost of redecoration would be £7000”. The decorators (Campbell smith & Co) suggested ‘the walls be done in soft warm off-white, with inner window linings white and remaining area of east wall be finished in green’. They also recommend the dado rail be painted to match wall.
In 1990 the old heating pipes were removed, the new heaters repositioned, pews were varnished and internal redecoration completed.
In 1928 Mr F E Howard in e admired the screen and pulpit, but thought their effect was spoilt by the lack of white walls
Electricity was installed in 1932 (Faculty 5/4/32)and the original lighting consisted of six wrought iron and walnut fittings, with gilt balls, each of four lights. One was placed in each transept on the beam at the crossing; four in the nave, two on the beam nearest the crossing and two on the third beam back. There were individual lights in the stokehold, organ cabinet, vestry, pulpit, lectern, outside the vestry door, and four in the chancel, one in both the NW & SW corners, and one midway on each side of the choir stalls. Church was rewired with new lighting in 1976