The history of St Mary's Church, Streatley

St Mary's Church has the privilege of nestling close to one the loveliest stretches of the River Thames. It is situated near the bridge between Streatley and Goring, and its sister church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Goring.

The parish of Streatley has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon times. Following the Norman conquest of 1066, Geoffrey de Mandeville was made Lord of Streatley Manor for his valour at the battle of Hastings. It was he who made a generous gift of land to support the priest, and it was he who appointed Wibert as Priest of Streatley in 1086.

St Mary's Church no doubt occupies the same spot now, as it did in Saxon or even earlier times, a little way from the main street. The present church and chancel were practically rebuilt in 1864. Some additions were made to the tower, which was originally built in the 15th century: the turret staircase on the south side and the demolition of the original cupola which housed the Sanctus bell (circa 1549). Used to call the faithful to prayer this bell was lost for some time. It was recovered but unfortunately had cracked. It now hangs at the back of the church in the base of the tower. It is inscribed, "Hac in conclave Gabriel nunc pange suave" - "In this congregation Gabriel sweetly sounds."

The old church was probably built under Bishop Poore, the founder of the beautiful cathedral at Salisbury, early in the 13th century, with the chancel dating from around 1220. Until the 19th century Streatley came under the Diocese of Salisbury.

At the beginning of the 19th century, St Mary's was in a very poor state of repair but it was extensively restored in the mid 19th century under the auspices of a Mrs Stone, who was the lady of the manor at Streatley House in the High Street. The chancel was rebuilt by the lay rector, S Pusey, Esq.

In 1893, the fine Victorian reredos was erected in grateful memory of Mrs Stone. The reredos is a beautiful design in alabaster by J L Pearson RA, having for its centre panel the scene of the Crucifixion, on one side being the childhood of our Lord, and on the other the Resurrection. Between the panels and on either side are other smaller statuettes, the four outer ones being the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. On the north side of the centre panel is Aaron. On the south side is Elias representing priests and prophets. Besides the reredos there are a number of memorials to the Stone family. Both the east and west windows are in memory of William Henry Stone (1863).

During the 19th century rebuilding work, many of the original 13th century materials were used, such as, flint (a local material) and stone. The clerestory is an addition; the clerestory being a raised extension with top windows to the side walls of the nave. Thus, the old roof was preserved intact but raised to its present height, which greatly improved the proportions of the building. The extra windows increased the light and ventillation. The columns of the nave and aisles were built in alternate bands of cream Bath stone and Berkshire chalk. In 1864 Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, consecrated the restored church.

Six church bells hang in an oak frame with elm headstocks, hoop gudgeons, brass bearings and traditional type wheels and clappers. They ring in the key of A flat. The treble bell was cast in 1738 and recast at the Whitchapel Foundry in 1936. The second and tenor bells are by the bell hanger, Elias Knight 1 of Reading in 1649. The third is by Henry Knight 11, 1661, the fourth is by Richard Phelps of the Whitechapel Foundry 1737, and the fifth by the same in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee. The bells and fittings were extensively overhauled in 1978.

Under the tower arch is a marble wall slab to Sophia Small, of Chalford, Gloucestershire, spinster 1783. Near this is a tomb with painted crest, to Samuel Rush (1771). At the back of the church there is a brass plaque, which lists the Vicars of Streatley dating back to 1307, when John de Whicheford was presented with 'the tithes of the Manor at Streatlee'.

Today the church is situated in West Berkshire and is in the Henley Deanery within the Diocese of Oxford. In July 2007 the parish of St Mary's Streatley became part of the newly formed United Benefice of Goring and Streatley with South Stoke.

The Saxon Warrior

In 1932 a local resident, Alfred (Jack) Woodage, was working on the site of the old Bowling Green. He discovered the remains of an ancient Saxon warrior: human bones, a blood-stained tooth, an iron spearhead and knife, and a bronze buckle with an iron bar. The warrior's bones were re-buried by the late Reverend Hughes. A memorial stone in the churchyard marks the spot. The iron spearhead, knife and buckle are kept in a secure place elsewhere.

In January 871, King Ethelred and his brother Alfred gathered an army to fight the Danes. The Danish invaders had already taken London and Reading and were determined to seize the crossing of the Icknield Way. This crossed the River Thames at Streatley, and would have opened up the historic invasion route from East Anglia to the West of England. The battle was fought in Ashdown, which is the ancient name for the Berkshire Downs. The warrior, buried in the churchyard, fought for the West Saxons. It was Alfred's first battle, and it was their first famous victory over the Danes.


As with all English churches, the maintenance of these beautiful ancient buildings is costly. No Government funding is provided. If you have enjoyed reading the history of this church, you have visited the church itself or you have some other enjoyable association with St Mary's and you are minded to make a donation, please click on How can I give a donation to one of the churches? Thank you.

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