Like the exterior, the interior as we see it today is not as it would have originally been. Were there, prior to 1855, the common 18th century furnishings of box pews, high-backed seats, three-decker pulpit and gallery? We cannot say for unlike the exterior there is no pictorial evidence at all of how the interior looked before the 20th century and written evidence only from the middle of the 19th. In fact, by then it had probably already been through several evolutions.
If the outside of the church today is more decorated than the original, the inside is almost certainly less so; less so now, in fact, than it was 100 years ago. Originally the church would presumably have been quite richly decorated, with religious images and artefacts and there is an original moulded image bracket on the east wall of the aisle above the squint. As well as the high altar there may have been other subsidiary altars or shrines belonging to fraternities and perhaps the original chantry, all with their burning candles. Of the subsequent changes wrought by the Reformation and the reigns of King Edward VI, Queens Mary and Elizabeth, King Charles I, the Commonwealth and the Restoration we know nothing but can assume there would have been repeated changes in both the style of worship and the space in which it was conducted.
The rubric in the Book of Common Prayer reminds us that “The Table at the Communion-time …shall stand in the Body of the Church or the Chancel… and the Priest standing at the north side of the table…” so we may assume that at some time, perhaps even right up until the 1850s rebuild, the chancel and sanctuary were a single open space with a level floor and the Table positioned as directed. Certainly the choir stalls, altar rails and an altar were all new in 1857 and the sanctuary floor was obviously raised before the rails were installed.
Whatever the state of the interior at the beginning of the 19th century we know that, other than some tombs and monuments, little of the present interior dates from before 1855. The restoration that took place then saw not only the exterior transformed but also all the interior furnishings renewed. The tiled floor throughout the church probably dates from about this time or slightly later as the tiles are fitted round the pews and chancel stalls and do not run underneath. All of the timber work was carried out by the Estate carpenters and paid for, as was the exterior restoration, by Mr Benyon.
Decoration in the church
The interior of the church is now probably as plain as it has ever been, and certainly more so than at the beginning of the 20th century for there are records to show that certainly from about 1881 when the reredos was painted and texts placed on the walls of the nave and aisle a certain amount of decorative effects were introduced, all of which have now gone.
In October 1892 a banner of the Good Shepherd was dedicated, having been presented to the church by Mrs Butler of Lambdens House (widow of the Rector of Tidmarsh and a relation of the Benyons). It was made by Mrs Baker of Wigmore Street, London “...and is quite perfect in its harmony of colour: the face which is painted is all that could be desired.” This banner is no longer displayed and is not seen in any of the old photographs, including the one above. This must be from sometime between 1920 and 1932 because the memorial to the dead of the Great War (without the World War 2 addition) is on the wall to the left and the Girl Guide colour is not seen. Oddly, the banner can be seen just behind the lectern in the Country Life photograph of 1981 reproduced on the right, with another similar behind the pulpit.
In January 1893, 14 pictures of the Stations of the Cross were given to the church by an unknown donor. They included some scenes not mentioned in the Bible, such as Christ’s meeting with His Mother, His falling three times under the Cross and the legend of St Veronica. In various old photographs some of these pictures can be seen.
Later in 1893 the walls were decorated under the direction of Mr E Swinfen Harris, architect, of Stony Stratford, who also designed a new super-frontal for the side altar, made by Mrs Baker. The Rector commented that “Scarcely anything which has been done to the church through Mr Benyon’s kindness during the last few years has been so evident and manifest an improvement, giving such a home-like feeling of warmth and colouring as these wall-decorations. The wealth of invention in Mr Harris’s facile pencil is remarkable, no pattern repeats itself, each seems singularly adapted for the place which it occupies.” Both the photographs show the walls decorated, though the angels on the east wall of the chancel were already there in 1885 and were probably painted by Joseph Bouvier who did the paintings on the reredos. The lower part of the walls below a plaster dado was of a dark red colour. In 1954 repairs to the plasterwork took place and a new coat of distemper was applied and there is no longer any painted decoration, although the light coloured finish has failed to cover all evidence of the dark colour below the dado and some stray traces of red paint can still be seen on the half-round string-course under the east window of the aisle and by the south door.
The sole survivor of all this decoration is the triptych that used to hang on the wall of the nave just to the left of the choir vestry door but this has now been relegated to the vestry in favour of two wooden tablets relating to charitable gifts. Another, larger, triptych was formerly in the aisle under the east window and can just be seen in the photograph below. A better picture of it is shown on the page dealing with the aisle.
Heating and lighting
At least by the end of the 19th century the church was heated, although it was a simple convection system relying on hot air from the furnace in the cellar rising through grilles in the floor and not very effective. A grille can still be seen under the centre of the reredos behind the altar. In 1908 Mr Benyon paid for a new hot water system to be installed using the radiators still in use today, although the hot water is provided by more modern means.
The church was first lit by gas in the 1880s, the gas being made at the Timber Yard and piped to the church and Englefield House. At this time the illumination was by simple gas flares that gave poor light but a good deal of heat, the latter probably a blessing in the winter but oppressive at Evensong in the summer. These flares can be seen in the picture by Keyser (right) included in his 1911 book but two years later the system was changed to one using incandescent mantles, as seen above. This improved the amount of light and reduced the heat. Electricity was installed in 1937.
Inside The Church
The nave and chancel pictured in 1981 by Country Life magazine
The nave and chancel pictured in 1981 by Country Life magazine