The History of St. Mary's Church
THE HISTORY OF ST MARY'S CHURCH.
In addition to this brief History below The "Friends Of St Mary's" have published in 2007 a beautiful new Booklet written by our local Historian, Janet Kennish.
The 23 page Booklet is in full colour and also features many photos of our Victorian Stained Glass Windows.
Priced at £3.50, the "History & Guide" is for sale in Church and from "The Bridge Ecumenical Centre Coffee Shop" next door.
THE EARLY MEDIEVAL CHURCH
The Church as it stands now was rebuilt nearly 150 years ago; only the walls of the chancel retain some masonry from the medieval building. The first church on this site was almost certainly an Anglo-Saxon one and probably built of timber. From 1066 the new Norman Lords of the Manor (the de Pinkney family) would have been responsible for the parish church and first written reference to it is from the mid-1100s when Gilbert de Pinkney gave the right to appoint the vicar at Datchet to St Alban’s Abbey. This was confirmed by his great grandson Henry in 1238, and from the next year the names of all subsequent vicars are recorded.
Because of this, 1239 is sometimes mistakenly given as the earliest date for the existence of the church. However, the building which the Victorians demolished may well have dated from the time of Henry de Pinkeny, about 1250.
THE LATER MEDIEVAL CHURCH AND ST GEORGE’S CHAPEL WINDSOR
In 1350 the church was again given as an endowment, this time by Edward III to his new Chapel of St George in Windsor. At this period, the right to a church’s tithes and the appointment of its vicar was a valuable asset and a financial rather than a spiritual arrangement. From then until the 19th century, Datchet was a very poor church indeed, all its tithes going to St George’s (through a lay Rector) and only a tiny stipend left to pay a vicar.
The Chapel was responsible for the upkeep of the chancel (where the priest said Mass) and seem to have rebuilt it around 1350 and later carried out repairs, but there was no proper source of tithe money available for looking after the rest of the building.
TUDOR PERIOD TO NINETEENTH CENTURY
It is therefore not surprising that several diocesan reports on the state of the building describe almost ruinous conditions since the cost of repairs fell upon the parishioners. Even more significantly, the vicar’s stipend was so small that St George’s found it hard to provide suitable candidates; several in the 17th century were scandalously behaved. In 1818 a parish foundling called James Randall left money by his will in to build a vestry and provide a clock, the mechanism of which still survives in the new tower.
Throughout this period the parish church had a vital role in responsibility for the poor and bequests were often left by the rich to be administered by the churchwardens. These were all listed on the wooden ‘charity boards’ dating from the late 1700s, which now line the walls around the west end of the nave. The bequests themselves, amalgamated as Datchet United Charities, still benefit many people in the village.
THE VICTORIAN REBUILDING 1857-1869
By the mid 19th century Anglican evangelism and social conscience was leading to the provision of new churches in growing towns and the restoration of old ones throughout the country. So when, in 1853, Datchet’s new vicar Henry Francis Udney Hall was seized with a ‘fervent desire’ to remedy the dilapidated condition of the church, he was taking part in a spirit of national religious revival.
Renovation began in May 1857, the peak year for rebuilding everywhere. The architect was Raphael Brandon who designed in the Gothic Revival Early English style, deemed suitable for a village church. Raising enough money in Datchet was difficult and the programme of work to restore, replace and greatly enlarge the building was done in a piecemeal fashion.
By Christmas in the same year the chancel had been restored on its original site, the nave had been replaced and a much larger south aisle built. The north aisle was not rebuilt until after 1860, when the tower was also added. But in 1864 it was decided the church was still too small ‘especially for the families of working men’. Further funds were raised to build western extensions to the nave and north aisle as well as a strange ‘outer’ north aisle, as well as an organ chamber at the end of the south aisle. Since the old church had upper galleries where the poor sat, the (unspoken) intention may have been to place the working classes in these new areas as far away as possible from more respectable families.
THE STAINED GLASS
On the death of Prince Albert in 1861 the parishioners raised funds to place stained glass dedicated to him in three of the new empty windows. These set a precedent for high quality glass being commissioned by local people in memory of their own families, so that within a decade or so the church was filled with the Gothic Revival stained glass which is its chief glory.
Two firms of glass makers were responsible for all the windows; O’Connell for the earliest group with Lavers & Barraud providing most of the later ones. Almost as soon as it was in place, and for the next century, Victorian glass of this date was despised as artistically inferior and its bright, hot colours were thought rather vulgar in comparison with William Morris's Arts & Crafts movement. It is only recently that the complete scheme surviving at Datchet has become the subject of serious study and appreciation. In 1935 a diocesan report on the building actually referred to its 'bad glass', but no doubt ordinary worshippers have always enjoyed and been moved by the glorious colours, detailed scenes and rich patterns which fill the church with light.
The oldest memorials are in the chancel, while 19th and early 20th century plaques line the aisle walls. The earliest (1559) is an heraldic brass to Kathryn Berkeley, wife to Sir Maurice the standard bearer to Tudor kings and queens. This family lived at Riding Court and were followed by the Hanburys and Wheelers. The pictorial brass (1593) is to Alice, wife of Richard Hanbury, a London goldsmith, and the three important bust sculptures are of their grandchildren; John and Hanbury Wheeler’s are the work of the artist Edward Marshall.
Many marble slab memorials have been re-set in the chancel floor from elsewhere in the church, including that of Thomas Brinley (1661) He was auditor of the revenue to King Charles I and II and the memorial records his five sons and seven daughters. Several of these left England around 1650, during the English Civil War, to found a settlement on Long Island and American visitors often come to view this tombstone.
Above the Hanbury brass is a black marble tablet to Christopher (1599), the father of Robert Barker and printer to Queen Elizabeth I; Robert himself owned the same Royal patent. The tablet was originally part of a great chest tomb half filling the chancel but removed during the rebuilding. Although it is almost illegible from the ground, in the memorial Robert describes his father as 'finding English printing as rough as brickwork and leaving it smooth as marble'. Robert Barker’s great work was printing the newly translated King James Bible in 1611 but he overreached himself financially and died in debtor’s prison. A small domestic version of this Bible printed by Barker in 1614 is displayed in the south aisle where there is also a modern wooden memorial plaque to Robert Barker. He is remembered in the village for establishing the Barker Bridge House Trust, which now administers the profits from the Royal Stag pub towards the maintenance of the church and various projects in the village.
On a window sill in the north aisle there is a beautiful modern tablet of grey-green slate, commemorating the death of Canon and Mrs T. R. Russell-Potter; he was Vicar of Datchet for 39 years until 1962.
TOWER AND BELLS
There are five bells dating from 1607 to 1854 and a new Millennium Bell cast to celebrate the year 2000. At the time it was made, all the bells were taken to Taylor’ of Loughborough for cleaning and retuning before being re-hung. The bell frame built into the 1864 tower was not stable enough for the bells to be swung and they were chimed by an ‘apparatus’ made by the local blacksmith. This was replaced by a sophisticated electronic mechanism in 2000 when the bells were secured in a modern frame. An earlier name for the Royal Stag pub, next to the church, was the ‘Five Bells’.
The present organ at Datchet was built by Bishop and Son in 1889 and presumably replaced that installed following the building work of the 1860s. It is a good example of a typical parish church organ of the period, but it is almost certain that the instrument was not originally intended for the church at Datchet from the alterations obviously made to squeeze it into its present location.
By the early 1990s and after many years sterling service, the instrument was in need of repairs and a full overhaul was carried out. Although this was conservative in nature it included a number of valuable changes to the instrument to increase its versatility. Now, although small, the organ has a wonderful ‘Full Swell sound and is more than capable of accompanying the regular choral services of the church and rendering almost all of the organ repertoire.
(For more technical details, scroll to the bottom of this page.)
CHANGES TO THE CHURCH IN MODERN TIMES
The basic building of St. Mary’s has not changed since the Victorian period but a number of changes to the interior of the church have taken place over the intervening years.
In 1938 the pews were removed from the outer North Aisle and a wood block floor was laid, enabling an attractive chapel to be created at the east end and a children’s area at the west. Pews were also removed near the south door to create a more spacious Baptistery near the Victorian font. This entrance was further improved in 1954 by the addition of an interior oak vestibule.
Between 1960 and 1962 the choir stalls were moved from the rather cramped chancel to their current position in the south aisle and following the discovery of damp in 1965 the remaining pews in this aisle were replaced with chairs.
The timbers supporting the pews in the Nave were found to be badly rotted in 1981 and the pews were then removed and the floor filled and resurfaced.
THE CHURCH TODAY
As through the ages the building has changed to reflect the needs of the community, both worshipping and not, so St. Mary’s is still an active church. The most obvious activity of the church is its worship on Sundays but there are varied activities throughout the week for all ages. It is also a place for those who do not feel able to worship, for whatever reason, to use as a place of quiet and reflection and the church is active in trying to reach out and meet the needs of those who do not join the active church family for worship.
Sunday Services although following a routine pattern can change from time to time, especially around major Christian Festivals. For details of all Services and Other Events, please return to our Home Page.
Details Of The Church Organ.
(For the Technically minded.)
16’ Double Diapason
8’ Violin Diapason
8’ Voix Celestes
8’ Rohr Flute
4’ Geigen Principal
III rk Mixture
8’ Open Diapason
8’ Viol da Gamba
4’ Hohl Flute
2 2/3’ Twelfth*
Swell to Great
32’ Double *
16’ Open Diapason
8’ Bass Flute
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal