While the church at Englefield was presumably intended to serve the lord of the manor and the immediate village it has always drawn its congregation from a wider area. Historically, the nearby hamlet of North Street and the neighbouring village of Theale were in Tilehurst parish and the parish church was some considerable distance away up a long, steep hill. There was no church in Theale until 1832, although there may have been a chapel of St John the Baptist in the 13th century and there was a chapel of ease from 1799. Englefield, therefore, was more convenient for people from a much wider area. The favoured location and more traditional ethos continue to draw large congregations.
We assume that the style of worship at Englefield followed the various changing dictates of those in authority, along with the decorations and accoutrements in the church. Though there was obviously some delay, for an inventory from the last year of the reign of Edward VI (1553) shows that the Protestant revolution seems to have failed to reach Englefield by the time things went into reverse during the Marian interlude.
“One chalice of sylver and gylte and one pyx of sylver, ij copes one of purple velvett and oneof grene damaske, 5 payer of vestmentes viz. one of Russett velvett, one of purple sylke, one of blewe velvett, one blacke vestment, A frount And Table for the highe Altar of Russet velvet and whyghte tynsell saten, one clothe for the Sacrament of purple sylke. An olde canapie of clothe of golde and crimsen velvett, iij cusshens viz. one of clothe of sylvr and velvet, one of Russet velvet and one of reel velvet, one surplesse, iij Alter clothes, iij towelles and ij shetes, one corporasse kercheffe, and iij corporass cases viz. one of clothe of Golde and crimsen saten, one of clothe of sylver and crymsen saten and one of Russet velvet, iiij litle candylstyckes of brase, ij crosses of brase and ij lampes of brase, iij belles comenlye cawled the great belles, A sanctus bell, A lyche bell, And A sacrynge bell, one holy water pote of brase, A payre of sensers, and A ship of brase” (the last to hold the incense).
We must assume that the edicts of the Puritans were at least eventually obeyed at some stage during that “long eighteenth century” and that this accounts for the absence of any early plate except a single chalice from the time of Elizabeth I. That being so, the second half of the nineteenth century clearly saw dramatic changes not only in the church architecture and furnishings but probably also in religious practice. The Oxford Movement (of which Englefield was clearly a part) represented a partial return to the days before the Puritans and the reintroduction of more Anglo-Catholic practices, including the presence of the cross and candlesticks on the altar. In Englefield this probably reached its height during the ministry of A L C Heigham during the early 1890s with the reintroduction of the chancel screen, the raising of the altar with its embroidered superfrontal and more decoration throughout the church. In April 1888 he apparently "shocked the Protestant feelings of the worthy people of Bradfield" with a sermon advocating confession and absolution, although the context is uncertain. The correspondent, "A Looker On", commented on the touching speech by one of the Bradfield parishioners, "who trembled lest his children should suck in at Bradfield church the milk of Ritualism".
The Act of Uniformity Amendment Act of 1872 had allowed Holy Communion to be separated from Morning Prayer and a general pattern of Sunday services, at Englefield as elsewhere, was for Holy Communion at eight or half past (often only once a month), Morning Prayer at eleven and Evensong at seven. Notwithstanding that, in the 1900s there was a celebration of choral Eucharist on the first Sunday in the month which was evidently the full service of Morning Prayer followed by Eucharist for in 1906 the Rector shortened the service by the omission of the sermon to make it easier for those with duties at home to attend. Starting at 11.00 he hoped this measure would allow people to be out of church by about 12.30. On Saint’s Days and other Red Letter Days there was usually Holy Communion and Mattins and in Holy Week 1906, for example, there was Mattins, Holy Communion and Evensong every day from Monday to Thursday and on Easter Day two services of Holy Communion at 7.30 and 8.30, followed by Mattins and Choral Eucharist at 11, then a Children’s Service and Baptisms at 2.30 and Evensong at 6pm.
The attendance of wives and mothers at the morning Service was a subject raised by the Rector in 1892 when children’s cookery lessons were provided. His view was that attendance by the children at Sunday school was not as important that of their mothers at church and that many of the children were quite able to stay at home on Sunday morning to prepare the dinner. He suggested that mothers and children might take it in turns to go to church and commended some fathers who were “neither unwilling not ashamed to stay at home in the morning (not idly and for no purpose) but to see to the dinner themselves and so set the wife free to go to church.”
Heigham’s successor, Granville Gore Skipwith, continued the move back from the earlier plain and simple approach for in March 1907 after there had been some discussions in the newspapers he explained the Ornaments Rubric and its implications in terms of the ornaments of the church and of the ministers, including the requirement for Eucharistic Vestments such as the alb, chasuble, cope and surplice. The Ornaments Rubric had been included in the Book of Common Prayer since 1559 but these orders were disregarded during the period between 1649 and 1660, continuing, as the Rector notes, “...even to our own times”. While accepting that sudden changes are never good for a church or its congregation he hoped “…by degrees to free myself from the charge of being disloyal to our Prayer Book”.
Seating in the Church
In April 1892 the Rector addressed a common question of the time: that of appropriated seats in the church. Although by this time rows of seats had replaced the old family box pews it was still ususal for rows of seats in the best part of the church to be reserved by families. These were often not fully used while the unappropriated seats at the back of the church were well filled and some people had to stand. The appropriation of seats was not formally ended but Mr Benyon gave up three seats on his long bench and others were encouraged to follow this example. The desired effect was apparently achieved for in May the Rector comments: “The congregation on Sunday evening April 10th numbered exactly 200 and there was plenty of room at the back for more persons had they been present…”. The Rector hoped this would lead to a improvement in attendance at church adding that “…there is plenty of room for improvement in this respect”. Generally across the country, whatever the case before, the ending of appropriation of seats led to a sort of social stratification with the squire at the front, behind him the local yeoman farmers, and the labourers at the back.
In 1911 the then Rector again made clear that all seats in church, except those for the churchwardens, were free and unappropriated and that no one had any right to any particular seat. Nevertheless he felt it right that regular worshippers should, by courtesy, be allowed to occupy the same seats Sunday after Sunday. Accordingly arrangements were made for strangers and occasional attenders to be shown by the sidesmen to seats not likley to be occupied by regular worshippers. At the start of the five-minute bell it was to be reckoned that those not in their usual places were likely to be absent and their seats liable to be taken.
Conduct in Church
The Rector, in 1892, also felt that one of the Churchwardens should sit further down the church than hitherto and be ready to “execute the duties of his office whenever occasion requires”. This wish was evidently carried out for the second row of seats to the west of the choir vestry door has a socket for the churchwarden’s staff. The duties included not only seating parishioners and strangers if necessary but also to maintain order and “occasionally to leave the church during service and see that no loiterers are outside”. In October 1895 the Churchwardens were indeed required to act to end the nuisance of boys loitering at Appleton’s Corner and playing about near the church before and after Service, and in some cases during it.
Perhaps the boys who were causing a disturbance outside the church were the same ones who in August the same year had been admonished in the parish magazine for their conduct during services: “The careless bad behaviour of some lads in our Church during service is nothing short of a shame and a scandal, we are not again alluding to the mischievous destruction of books and hassocks, but we allude to the whispering, giggling, irreverent want of kneeling, and entire carelessness which marks the conduct of some, to the annoyance of those who wish to worship, and to their own grievous injury”.
Not that their elders always gave a good example for in June 1907 the Rector commented “We were sorry to see (or rather hear) that stampede from Church during the singing of the offertory hymn”. He reproduced an extract from the Congregation in Church on non-communicating attendance making quite clear his opinion that making a pause in the service or otherwise sanctioning the departure of the congregation before taking Communion was a scandal “for which no words of condemnation can be too strong”. He also commended the practice of making the sign of the cross and bowing at the appropriate points in the service.
In his 1907 condemnation of non-communicating attendance the Rector makes it plain that all baptised children should be taken to church as soon as they are able to sit still though this was in addition to attendance at Sunday school which was also provided in the afternoon. The superintendent was usually the headteacher of the village school assisted by others. These included Mrs Roake, the wife of the Clerk of the Works, Mr Coombes, the Head Gardener and his daughter Lizzie, and Miss Edith Buckland, daughter of the Head Keeper. In February 1905 the services of one or two others were requested as the numbers attending were too large for the “small band of teachers”. The earliest children could readmitted to the Sunday school was four years of age.
In the 1890s Sunday school was in the morning and the children were also expected to attend Evening Service. There were prizes for those with the best attendance. In 1893 some 69 children were on the register.
In the 1900s a special children’s service lasting half an hour was held once a month instead of Sunday school. A children’s toy service was also held during Advent when the children each brought a parcel containing a toy or a garment as a present to a child in a poorer district. At a given point in the service each child brought the gift to the Rector and received a blessing in exchange. In 1905, sixty-seven presents were sent to St George’s, Reading.
A boy’s football club, a cricket club and special classes at the annual produce show were open only to those who attended Sunday school or the Rector’s Bible class. A Boot Club was started in 1904. There were also Christmas parties provided by Mrs Benyon.
In the 1950s there was no formal Sunday school, instead the children were all seated together at the back of the knave under the supervision of Mrs Claydon the infant teacher. In those days the eleven ‘o clock service was always Morning Prayer and the children were allowed to leave just before the sermon. In the next decade Sunday school was held in the vestry.
An Early Motoring Tragedy
Englefield was the scene of a very early motoring tragedy when on Sunday 20 September 1914, while riding her bicycle to Evensong, Miss Fanny Deacon, aged 61, was run into by a motor car and died almost immediately as a result. She and her elder sister Bessie were spinsters from North Street, and she was a regular member of the congregation at St Mark’s. The funeral, however, took place at Theale.
St Mark's Church
© 2021 Richard J Smith