The present church in Englefield originates from before the end of the 12th century and there must have been one before 1180 for the patron, William Englefield, granted the advowson to Reading Abbey during the time of Abbot Joseph (1173-80), although he later rescinded the gift. This was a time referred to by Sir Roy Strong as the “Great Rebuilding” when the village emerged as the new rural social unit and lords of the manor built small churches for public worship in their communities, providing a more local focus than the Minster or Abbey in the nearest town. At this time the church was physically, as well as spiritually, at the centre of the community for the village itself was clustered close to it until it was moved at the beginning of the 19th century. The nave and chancel of St Mark’s, although much changed, probably form the original structure as during the 19th century rebuilding of the chancel a Norman piscina was found in the south wall of the chancel; it is now in the Englefield chapel.
It is said that that there was an oratory or chapel in Englefield (site unknown) in the time of the Saxon King Egbert in 802, evidenced by a terrier of lands in which there is mentioned a "Cantaria de Englefield". This comes from a book on the Baronetage published in 1720 but while it is quite possible that would have been some sort of religious institution then, the source is so historically confused that it is not to be trusted.
Whether the dedication was always to St Mark is uncertain for it is known that a great many churches only received their current dedication in the 18th or even 19th century and early records do not mention the church by name.
The aisle was soon added, early in the 13th century, and the triple lancet window in its east wall is the only original one to remain, although the stained glass is almost certainly more recent. The south (main) doorway and the north doorway, now leading into the choir vestry, are also of the thirteenth century, although heavily restored. An aisle added on the south side (God’s side) at this time is perhaps a little unusual since space in that part of the churchyard tended to be maximised for burial of important people with any additions to the building on the north side (the devil’s side), which also avoided the need to rebuild the porch, an important feature. While the lords of the manor had their tombs and ledger stones in the church itself, in the ground on this side of the church tended to be buried the second rank such as yeoman farmers. This tradition continued at Englefield for here, alongside the path are the chest tomb of the May family and prominent headstones for members of the Draper, Powel, Horn and Povey families. The Englefield Chapel, on the north side of the sanctuary, was added in 1514.
The church as it looked around 1790 is shown in an engraving by Charles Tomkins (left) that was included in a book of prints of scenes of Reading Abbey and the churches originally connected with it, published in 1802. The print of Englefield church shows plain, apparently rendered walls, with battlements and a small, square tower with pointed wooden roof. The windows visible are square-headed and similar to those still to be seen in the Englefield chapel, although these are modern replacements. The church is similar in appearance to other local unrestored churches at Sulhamstead Abbots, Tidmarsh and Padworth. Padworth has the same square-headed, three-light windows (though without the trefoil over) but these are known to have been replaced in the sixteenth century, around the time that the Englefield Chapel was built. So it is possible that even the Tomkins drawing shows at least a partly 16th century facade rather than the original one. Some work had certainly been done before the major restoration in the Victorian Gothic style (part of the second "great rebuilding") for when the church was described by W Fletcher in A Tour Round Reading published in 1841 it was already said to be “partly in the early English style of architecture, but much modernised”. Otherwise the description is exactly as Tomkins’s drawing.
Two sketches in the archives at Lambeth Palace (unfortunately too faded to reproduce) by an anonymous artist but evidently made in the early 19th century show the same building but one of them shows the triple lancet east window in the aisle and a similar three-light window with arched header in the east wall of the chancel. While the former was preserved during the rebuilding, the window in the chancel was replaced by a new one. The stained glass in both is from the 1850s and is by John Hardman of Birmingham.
St Mark's Church
The north elevation of the Englefield Chapel showing the (modern) square-headed windows