Local History Society

 Churches - Old Church

Arborfield Tithe Apportionment Map 1839

Photos of the old church building, just before it became disused

Monuments in the old churchyard

Article on old church by Ernest Dormer, 1907

Notes by Peter Ditchfield for a Berks Archaeological Society field-trip, 1922

Article in Berks Archaeological Journal, 1934

Article on the old church before removal of Conroy Chapel roof, 1939

Photos of Old Church Ruins from the late Fred Fox

Articles by Leslie North in the Reading Chronicle, 1960s




The old “Wooden Chapel of Edburgefeld”, not dedicated but named St. Bartholomew, and dependent on the Church of Sonning, from where it received oil and chrism (consecrated oil), was first mentioned in the Salisbury Diocesan Record of 1220.

It was built of wood and although a good list of books and ornaments was found there, the building is described “to be in a disgracefully ruinous state and shamefully desecrated.” The churchyard was over-run with cattle and uprooted by pigs. The Salisbury Diocesan Record adds that the aged priest of Edburgefeld, who lived at the Manor House with Richard Bulloc “could not render a single sentence of the Canon or the Gospels correctly” owing to partial blindness.
“Reginald” chaplain of Arborfield was also another, who at the same visitation by the Dean of Salisbury, was found to be most illiterate and ignorant.

In 1224 the Chapel seems to have been in the charge of Priest John of Barkham, who was remiss in the oversight of his subordinates and the care of the Chapel.

The Chapel was in the grounds of the manor and close to the river Loddon.

Reference: Victoria County History p. 203


It is highly probable that the old church owes its erection to a former lord of the manor, as it was built close to the Manor House, an appended chapel to the Parish Church of Sonning.

It was most likely built of chalk and flint in 1256, with a wooden tower and spire to the west-end, the church was added to in 1631. Portions of each can still be seen, though only a few walls are standing.

From the various sources that have been traced, we attempt to describe the church as it was:

The chancel was 9ft by 24ft wide; the nave 58ft by 28ft and had a tiled roof with wooden trusses. The chancel was raised two steps above the floor. There were two windows on the South side, with a door in the centre of the wall. This picture from an old watercolour shows the building as it was in 1818.

Arborfield Old Church as in 1818

When the building was pulled down in 1862, the chapel to the right was rebuilt as the 'Conroy Chapel' with an arched East Window instead of the simple rectangle as shown here. The doorway on the South Wall can still be made out in the remains of the wall, now reduced to only a couple of feet above ground level.




ON MONDAY, OCTOBER 8th 1855, 1.30 P.M.

Present: the Rev’d Sir John Warren Hayes, Bart., rector, Arthur Pott, curate, 2 churchwardens. The church in a very bad condition. The roof apparently in a state of decay. Directed it to be examined by opening it in several places. The font, a wooden one, but lined with lead and a pewter basin within. Directed the basin to be disused and a drain made. Ordered table of prohibited degrees to be put in a conspicuous place.

There is a mortuary aisle belonging to the estate, late Sir J. Conroy’s. The proprietors have lately divided it into two and set up a high partition with a still higher lattice thereupon between the divisions.

Note: The Rev’d Arthur Sidney Pott, licensed as curate of Arborfield, 19 December 1852.


The following was written down from memory by Sir John Conroy, 3rd baronet, in May 1869. It gives a short account of some paintings which formerly existed in the old church, and which, after being hidden for a long period, became visible after the disused church had been un-roofed and allowed to become a ruin.
The words and copy of the illustrations (not reproduced here) are Sir John’s own.

“I found that only the East wall, and portions of the North, South and West walls were standing. With the exception of the West wall (which had been the wall of the tower), all the masonry bore traces of having been painted in fresco, - the paintings had been plastered and white washed over; where the covering had peeled off the remains of the paintings were tolerably distinct. The plaster on the West wall was perfect, and as I did not attempt to remove any portion of it, I cannot say whether that wall had ever been painted on.




A - East window
B - Doorway (modern?)
C - Doorway

I found that a great portion of the church was built of hard chalk, the jambs of the doorway at C being formed of the material, as also were the jambs of the East window (A). At D there were painted figures (say three and a half feet high), each figure under a painted canopy.

The one nearest the window represented an “ecclesiastic”, or at least a person in ecclesiastical dress; the painting was much injured from having been exposed to the weather foe sometime, and it was almost impossible to distinguish the dress accurately, for with the exception of the mitre (which was of the low triangular shape), the outlines had been destroyed by damp; however the figures appeared to be vertical, with yellowish stripes.

The next figure, for there were two under the middle canopy, were of a woman and child, the child being represented as of about 13 or 14 years old. They were both dressed in brownish drapery. The figures could represent St. Nicholas and his mother.

The third figure was again of an ecclesiastic, appearing similar in all aspects to the figure first mentioned, with this portion of the wall having suffered more from damp, the painting was more indistinct. Above these figures, the wall had been painted with reddish brown paint, to represent stones, with a little ornament in the centre of each stone.

Below the figures there was a large circular ring (about one and a half feet in diameter) painted on the wall, with the same coloured paint. On the opposite, or north side of the window, the plaster had only been removed in a few spots, but the paintings there seemed of a similar character.

On the South and North walls, there were remains of painted drapery (also of the same reddish brown colour), the drapery being two feet wide, commencing about two feet to two and a half feet above the level of the ground, and above the drapery some kind of geometrical pattern appears to have been painted upon the wall, only slight traces were visible. This decoration appears along both the North and South walls of the church.

About the spot F, near where the pulpit had to stand, the remains of a piscina (a stone basin near the altar in Roman Catholic and pre-Reformation churches for draining water used in the Mass) were visible; a plain semi-circular arch had apparently existed, but the greater portion of this had been destroyed; and thus there only remained a portion and the hallowed stone of the piscina, which was rather oblong without any kind of ornament and was formed of sandstone.
Between D and B there were also the remains of a small arch, similar to that of the piscina, but that was the only portion remaining of which had probably been a credence, (a small side table, shelf or niche which holds the elements of the Eucharist before they are consecrated), for Cordery (the local builder), had said that they had found no remains of a drain: he also said that they had found remains of three stone seats between D and F, the sedilia (three stone seats for priests in the South wall of a chancel, often canopied and decorated), and he also added that all the woodwork of the roof had been painted.

I observed three encaustic tiles, the ground being of a dirty red and the pattern formed of buff and black, each tile however containing a portion of the pattern, it was not possible to get much idea of what sort of a thing it had originally been, but apparently it had consisted mainly of circles with a kind of flower shaped ornament in the middle.

On one of the blocks of chalk forming the jambs of the door at C, a pattern of this shape had been cut about 2 inches in diameter, over the East window, a smaller opening had formerly existed, apparently in the shape of a trefoil (a three lobed ornamentation, especially in tracery windows).

In 2004, a couple of tiny patches of paint were still visible on the surrounds of the East Window.

Searching Old Records

Extract taken from “The Conroy Papers”:

The Records in the Augmentation Office have been diligently searched but afford no material information whatever respecting this Church. The Parish of Arborfield does not occur in the Taxation of Pope Nicholas the Fourth made AD 1291. neither among the Spiritualties nor, Temporalties for which reason it may be presumed that the Parish is of more recent erection. This is somewhat unfortunate as owing to this circumstance, there will be no return of it, in a Survey made not many years afterwards entitled the Nona Roll, which Survey in many instances has been found to give not only an account of the quantity of the Glebe Land, but a description of the specific Tithes due to the Incumbent. Arborfield is an ecclesiastical Rectory and no Endowment is extant, which would most probably have been discoverable, had it been a Vicarage.

The general ecclesiastical Survey taken in pursuance of an Act of Parliament edited in the twenty sixth year of Henry the Eighth, affords but little information. It appears from thence, that it was then of the yearly value of eight pounds, but whether that Amount arose from Tithes or from Glebe Land is not set forth (as it is believed) in the Records. In this Case, unless any Terriers should chance to be in existence, it does not seem that any light can be derived from ancient Records. The proper Repositories for Terriers are the Places following: Viz.

The Bishop’s Registry
The Archdeacon’s Registry
The Church Chest

Arborfield seems to have been for a considerable Time connected with the Deanery of Sarum, so far at least that the Dean has *peculiar Jurisdiction there, but the two last Presentations seem to have been by Elizabeth Waterman 1739 Richard Hayes Esquire 1755. by an Estimate made in the last Century the Value of it annually was stated to be sixty pounds.

In addition to what has been stated as to the probability of there being Terriers of this Rectory in existence it may be mentioned that there was an ecclesiastical Survey taken of Church Benefices during the Usurpation of Oliver Cromwell, which Survey is lodged in the Library of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth, and which is sometimes found to contain an Account of the Glebe Lands, Tithes and other Dues of the Benefice so surveyed, It does not appear as far as can be judged by inspection of the Records in the Augmentation Office and various other Repositories that either the Church or any Lands within the Parish ever belonged to any Monastery so as to be entitled to any priviledges in that respect.

Arborfield seems to be a small and obscure Parish of which very little mention is made in Records of Antiquity, Mr. Caley having searched for it not only in many Repertoires and Calendars in his own possession but also in the several Catalogues to the Muniments contained in the British Museum, without meeting with any reference to it. It need hardly be mentioned that the Incumbent of this Church being an ecclesiastical Rector, is entitled of common Right to all Tithes as well great and small within the Parish, upon mere proof of Institution and Induction, not so with respect to Glebe Land, for there he must either shew actual Usage, or Evidence of antecedent Usage from Surveys or Terriers, it therefore would have been highly desirable to have met with such Documents.

*Mr Caley’s Observations respecting the Living of Arborfield, in the County of Berkshire

Elias Ashmole the antiquarian, prior to his death in 1692 visited Arborfield and Barkham and gives a meagre account of them informs us that the Rev’d John Sale was Incumbent of the two Livings of Arborfield and Barkham, to which livings he had been probably presented by the Standen family who at that time were lords of these two manors, whereof they sold Barkham in 16.. (1700) to a Mr. Waterman of London, who was (says Ashmole) Lord of the manor of Barkham, and Patron of the living, having purchased them from the Standens.

The Rev’d John Sale incumbent of both Parishes, died 1739 - when it would appear that Mrs. Elizabeth Waterman - (Widow of the Mr. Waterman mentioned) made the next two Presentations to Arborfield, which Manor was not in the Waterman’s domain, but which after the last male Heir of the Standens (viz. Edward Standen who died Sept. 1730) had passed to Mr. Aldworth, a minor and subsequently father of the 1st Lord Braybrooke; The Minor’s Guardian sold the manor of Arborfield to Mr. Pelsant Reeves, a Master in “Chancery”, but not the Living, which Lysons in his History of Berks says was reserved in the family of Braybrooke. So how Mrs. Elizabeth Waterman came to present the Rev’d John Waterman in 1739 - and the Rev Richard Hayes in 1755, who died in 1797 - (42 years Rector) and whose table tomb is now in Good preservation in the Grave Yard of old Arborfield Church, and who the Richard Hayes Esquire is, I am at a loss to conjecture! - on the death of Rev’d Richard Hayes in 1797, the living was given by the then Lord Braybrooke to the Rev’d Henry Hodgkinson, also 42 years Rector, and who dying Sept. 1839, was succeeded by the Rev’d John Warren Hayes (2nd son of an Army Surgeon, created a Baronet in 1787) whose friends purchased for him, many years before Mr. Hodgkinson death in 1839. The presentation to the Rectory of Arborfield, for one life, from Lord Braybrooke, to whom it reverts on the now John Hayes’ death.

Monumental Inscriptions

In 1927, a list of monumental inscriptions was made, which has preserved in writing what has since proved to be subject to decay in lapidary form. Click here for more details.

In the Reading Mercury, 29th February, 1930, there was a list of inscriptions in the old Conroy Chapel. Also in the Mercury, on 15th May 1930, but not recorded in detail here, was a list of the tablets in the Old Church:  Standen; Edith Hargreaves; Edward 4th Viscount Exmouth; Washington Jackson; Anna Maria, wife of Washington Jackson; Arthur Hargreaves; Pelsant Reeves; George Dawson; John Reeves. The tablets were later transferred to the walls of the new church.


The Feast of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle - AUGUST 24th

St. Bartholomew, according to legend was martyred by being skinned alive. Hence he is the patron of butchers, skinners, tanners, bookbinders and all leatherworkers. This day was famous for its fairs, especially the great Bartholomew Fair at Smithfield, in London.

“If Bartlemas Day be fine and clear
You may hope for a prosperous Autumn that year.”

Some say that St. Bartholomew brings in the cooler Autumn weather - “St. Bartholomew brings in the cold dew” - and that his day ends the forty days of rain presaged by a wet St. Swithins.

“All the tears St. Swithins can cry
St. Barthelmy’s mantle can wipe dry.”

(from The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore
by Charles Kightly)


Other References

Leslie North published a History column in the Reading Chronicle and its predecessors over the years. Click here to see some extracts.

Ernest Dormer, writing in the Reading Mercury over half a century earlier, wrote another article describing the Old Church. Click here to see it.

The Berkshire Archaeological Journal published an article in 1934 on the stained glass from the old church. Click here to see it.

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