Detailed history of the Church
- Notes: see also the Gallery of pictures from around the Church
- If you select a picture on this page it will open up as a larger image.
There has been a Christian church, dedicated to St Michael, on this site in Tilehurst since 1189, about 70 years after Reading Abbey was founded. The church was served by the monks of Reading Abbey until the Dissolution. In 1542 the parish was transferred from the Diocese of Salisbury to the Diocese of Oxford. The first church building here was probably made of wood and no trace remains of it. Several other buildings may have followed.
The oldest part of the present church is the south aisle, now called the Lady Chapel, which was built round about 1300. Signs of local chalk can be seen in the arches (arcading).
Beside the lady chapel altar is one of the oldest brasses in Berkshire. It is of Gauwin More, his wife Isabella and their five children. He was one of the marshals of the royal court (probably that of King Henry VI). The dress of the period can clearly be seen from a brass rubbing which hangs on the south wall. The inscription reads as follows:
"Hic jacet Gavwinus More generosus quondam filius Ricardi More Armiger olim unius Marescall aule domini Regis et Isabella uxor eius qui quondam Gavwinus obijt XXVIII die Septembris et dieta Isabella obijt ij die Novembris anno Domini MCCCCLXIX quorum animabus propicitur Deus Amen." "Here lies noble Gawain More, son of Richard More Esquire, once one of the Marshals at the court of the lord King, and also Isabella his wife, which same Gawain died the 28th day of September and Isabella died the 2nd day of November, in the year of our Lord 1469, on whose souls may God have mercy. Amen."
In the Lady Chapel, the elaborate tomb is that of Sir Peter Vanlore and his wife Jacoba Thibault. He was a Dutch merchant and banker, born in Utrecht in 1547 and naturalised in 1607. He bought the manor of Tilehurst from Thomas Crompton in 1604 and also owned Wallingford Castle. He lived in a mansion which he built in Calcot, probably on the site of Calcot House in the present golf course.
The tomb is thought to be the work of William Wright of Charing Cross. At floor level, the tomb portrays their nine children. Those who died in infancy carry skulls in their hands, as was the custom. Resurrection is symbolised by fruit, flowers and leaves, and dissolution by spades, picks, scythes and torches. Prayer and time are depicted by flaming censers and hour glasses. The epitaph includes the lines:
'When thou hast read the name "Here lies Vanlore"
Thou need'st no story to inform thee more.'
Only two of their children were alive at the time of his death. Their granddaughter, Jacoba, and her husband, Henry Zinzan, were also buried at St Michael's Church in 1677 and 1676 respectively.
There are many interesting memorials on the walls; some dating from the early Victorian period are high up.
The east window of the lady chapel is an early design by William Morris, artist, designer and social reformer. The centenary of his death was marked in 1996, both locally and nationally. The window shows Mary and the baby Jesus surrounded by angels playing mediaeval instruments. The window is described by an Arts & Craft website as "1869 window, Burne-Jones Virgin and Child designed for the window and five minstrel angels by Morris."
You can view Photos of the Stained Glass in St Michael's here.
The statue of the Madonna and Child was added to the lady chapel in memory of John Sefton Tilston, Rector, who died in office in 1984.
Directly below the Madonna statue is one of the oldest brasses in the County of Berkshire.
The Brass Memorial is to William More (son of Richard More) and Isabella his wife, both of whom died in 1469, during the Wars of the Roses.
William More was a Marshall of the King's Court. One of his duties may have been to organise Masques and Dances to entertain the court.
He is shown as a full length figure in civilian dress, standing on a small grass covered mound. He has long hair and wears a close fitting gown, with a plain girdle around the waist. His wife is wearing a butterfly headdress and a close fitting gown, low at the neck, with very tight sleeves, which end in large cuffs, half covering the hands.
Below are the effigies of three sons standing behind each other, and each wearing long gowns, also two daughters, both wearing the peculiar butterfly headdress.
Very few churches in the County of Berkshire have brasses as old or older than this one of 1469.
The main body of the church, the nave, stands today as it was restored in 1855 and altered in 1955. By the mid 19th century, the church had fallen into disrepair. G. E. Street, the renowned architect and champion of the gothic style, was engaged for major restoration work and the addition of the north aisle. The cost, amounting to £3,000, was borne by the Routh family. (Martin Joseph Routh and his nephew, John William Routh, were Rectors of Tilehurst 1810-1855 and 1855-1905 respectively.) Street was associated with several Pre-Raphaelites; he was a close friend of Ford Maddox-Brown and the Rosettis, and William Morris was his pupil for a time.
The font (for holy water for baptism), the cupboard under the bell tower and the pulpit (replacing one with three tiers) are all Street's design. Street's pews replacing the old box pews were, in turn, replaced in 1966.
At the head of the North aisle is an icon of St Michael defeating the devil. This was commissioned in 1989 to mark the 800th anniversary of the church.
The windows on the north aisle are assumed to be designs by Clayton & Bell, much used by Victorian gothic revival architects, including Street. The window near the icon shows St Peter, at the top with keys, to the left raising Tabitha from the dead, and to the right being freed from prison chains by an angel. The window towards the back of church shows the visit of the three wise men to the infant Jesus.
The 17th century parish chest, originally used to store church documents, has a coin slot for alms for the poor of the parish. It is thought to have originally been a dowry chest.
The kneelers were made by members of the congregation in the late 1970s; no two are the same. The lady chapel kneelers were made by members of the Mothers Union in 1997.
Recent maintenance and minor alterations have taken place, including the addition of doors to the south porch in 1962, and retiling the floor to the original Victorian design in 1975.
The tower was built in the 1730s. The spire was added at the time of re-building in 1855 to Street's design. There are currently eight bells. Originally there were six, cast in 1723 by Henry Bagley at the foundry of Joseph Carter (the last of the famous Wokingham bell founders). Two trebles by Mears & Stainbank were added in 1885, and individual bells were recast in 1970 and 1978. They were rung from the ground floor until 1906 when an extra ringing floor and screen were erected.
In the Sanctuary and Chancel the choir stalls by Street are decorated with different leaf designs. The current electronic organ was installed c.1998. The previous organ was built in 1905 by Norman & Beard as a memorial to the Rev. J.W. Routh; it was powered originally by an hydraulic pump fed, it is thought, from a pond in the Rectory garden; prior to 1955 the organ console was located on the south side of the chancel. In 1836, the church had owned a barrel organ which could play thirty different tunes.
The east window shows (top to bottom, left to right):
Our Lord in glory surrounded by angels (round window) - St Michael & St George (small round windows) - The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan; - The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; - The Ascension of our Lord; - The burial of Jesus; - The risen Jesus meets his disciples again.
12 old testament prophets & 12 apostles (row of smaller figures).
Naaman washing in the Jordan; - The triumph of David after the slaughter of Goliath; - Our Lord's crucifixion; - The lowering of Joseph into a pit; - Joseph meets his brothers again.
The other chancel windows show (left to right): The Song of Simeon / Presentation of Christ in the Temple; - St Gregory, St Augustine, St Chrysostom.
The extension was completed in 1993. It comprises cloister with enclosed garden, small meeting room, office, large meeting room with kitchen, sacristy, choir room, toilets and utility room. It was paid for entirely by donations and fund-raising events of parishioners.
Along the walls of the cloister are photographs of former Rectors and some pictures showing views, inside and outside, of the old church prior to alterations.
During early 2012 after many years of fundraising the major parts of the Church were restored and refurbished. Much effort was made by all the parishioners. The Church was closed for three months and services were held in the Church Hall. Before this the Church Hall was redecorated and set up as a place of worship. The link here takes you to a full history of the refurbishment project including pictures as the work progressed.