The history of St Thomas' Church, Goring

St Thomas of Canterbury Church is situated in the heart of Goring, close to the river Thames. The church was built about 1100, probably by Robert d'Oilly who was a Norman baron and staunch supporter of William the Conqueror. He was rewarded for his support by the grant of sixty manors, one of them the Manor of Garinges (as Goring was then called).

The building was originally without aisles or transepts and then consisted simply of a chancel, nave and western tower, with the chancel ending in a semi-circular apse. The north aisle was added in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century by the Augustinian nuns of the adjacent priory. The north porch and doorway date from the fourteenth century. At one time there was a Musicians' Gallery above the door at the west end of the nave, which was removed in the nineteenth century.

Before the aisle was built, the nuns shared the church with the parishioners of Goring, but this arrangement was found to be inconvenient, so the nuns built the aisle as their place of worship. This, too, proved unsatisfactory, so the apse was demolished and the nuns built their own church to the east of the existing building, separating it from the parish church by a stone screen.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the nunnery church was destroyed and the stone screen extended upwards to form the east end of the parish church. Old photographs show this square ending. During excavations in 1886, the foundations of the original Norman apse were discovered. Two years later, when a major refurbishment of the church was undertaken, the apse was rebuilt on these foundations and the wall that had served as the east end of the church for so many centuries was demolished. Nothing can be seen today of the nunnery except the corbels that supported the roof of the cloister on the south wall of the church.

There is evidence that the church was originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the evidence taking the form of a Charter of Confirmation issued by King Henry II about 1180. In it, the king confirms the grant made by his grandfather Henry I to the nuns and church of Saint Mary of Goring. The parish church was re-dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury when the nuns built their own church.

Features of St Thomas' Church

The lower stages of the tower are Norman, while the upper stages and battlements are Perpendicular (fifteenth century). The Norman stair turret that springs from the north-west angle is contemporary with the tower.

The Norman font was removed from the church in 1848 and taken to Gatehampton, where it lay neglected for almost ninety years. In 1937 it was recovered and repositioned at the base of the tower and in 2009, during the church's most recent refurbishment, reinstated in its original position by the north door.

There is a ring of eight bells in the tower, all recast or new in 1929. The oldest was originally cast in 1556 in Reading. One of the oldest bells in England can be seen inside the church, above the doorway that leads from the nave to the west door. It was cast about 1290 and bears the Latin inscription: Orate pro petro exoniense episcopo. Richard de Wymbis me fist (Pray for Peter, Bishop of Exeter. Richard de Wymbis made me).

The doorway below the old bell and the west doorway of the tower are both impressive. The latter has an unusually high arch with two orders of roll-moulding on jamb shafts with scalloped capitals.

The rough-blocked openings that are visible externally in the south and west faces of the tower were probably doorways that linked the church with the priory buildings which stood against the tower. A print dating from 1823 shows remains of these buildings still standing. Inside the church on the south side, the doorway that now leads into The Canterbury Room originally led into the nuns' cloister. The height of the arch was extended in 2009 as the floor of the church must have been at least two feet below the present level.

Medieval patterned tiles have been positioned in the clergy vestry along one wall. Most of them date from the thirteenth century and originally formed part of the floor of the priory church.

The organ chamber was built in 1888 and the organ installed in it the same year. The paving in the sanctuary was laid in memory of Henry Albert Lacey Smith (organist from 1888 to 1925) and the apse arcade of round-headed interlacing arches in Norman style was added in 1937 in memory of Charles Shield (churchwarden from 1901 to 1924).

The oldest of the brasses in the church is that of Henry de Aldryngton (who died in 1375). It is on the south wall of the chancel and bears an inscription in Norman French. The finest brass in the church is that of Elizabeth Loveday (who died in 1401). It is on the north wall of the chancel and provides an illustration of the dress worn by a lady of rank in the reign of Henry IV. The Whistler brass commemorates Hugh Whistler of Gatehampton (died 1615) and other members of his family. It is on the north wall of the sanctuary and shows costumes of the seventeenth century.

The Stokes Memorial window is the central window in the newly-built apsidal east window which was consecrated in April 1888 in memory of the Rev. W H Stokes, Priest-in-charge 1851-1884.

The Dancer Memorial window in the north aisle near the font was given in 1888 by the church Patron and benefactor, Charles L W Gardiner, in memory of his sister, Lady Isabella Dancer, who died in 1886 aged only 30.

The rood screen was erected in 1910 as a memorial to the Revd Lionel Wallace, who was Vicar of Goring from 1895 to 1908. It was designed by Mr Percy Stone of Goring and made of oak that came from a ship called HMS Thunderer. On the screen, there are eight angels, each bearing a shield showing an emblem of the Passion. The rood is flanked by figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John.

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 Thomas' and you are minded to make a donation, please click on How can I give a donation to one of the churches?
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