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Barkham History

The middle of the nineteenth century was marked by the building of a large number of new churches better to serve the growing urban population of Victorian Britain as well as the modernisation or rebuilding of many existing churches. Dr Samuel Wilberforce, the great reforming Bishop of Oxford 1845-1869, was a leading proponent of the new church building movement. 

The population of Barkham had risen from 185 in 1801 to 274 in 1851, and it was felt that the old fourteenth century (mainly) wooden church (with seating for 117) was too small and dilapidated for the needs of the parish and the church was rebuilt (with seating for 159) on the site of the mediæval church in 1859-1861. The cost of rebuilding the parish church was £1,400. The principal benefactress was Mrs Charlotte Clive of Barkham Manor, widow of Henry Clive MP (who died in 1848), although surviving correspondence indicates that there was difficulty in finding other donors.

The old church was pulled down in 1859, and the following (composite) account of the laying of the corner stone of the new church by Mrs Clive on 18 October 1859 appeared in the Reading Mercury and the Berkshire Chronicle.

'The corner stone of this church was laid on Tuesday last by Mrs Clive, that estimable lady handling the trowel and mallet in true masonic style, assisted by the architects, Messrs. Clacy and Son, of Reading, and the builder, Mr Hollis, of Wokingham. Suitable prayers were offered by the Rev. E. St John, the [rector], and the Rev. A. Roberts, curate, the school children joining in singing anthems. At the conclusion of the interesting ceremony, the clergy and numerous friends accompanied Mrs Clive to her residence, and partook of an elegant déjeuner. The workmen engaged in the building were provided with an excellent dinner at [The Bull] by the kind liberality of Mrs Clive, who is also a large contributor to the building fund'.

Unfortunately, no record was made of the old building, which was 'encumbered with a gallery', before it was demolished, although a sepia photograph of the old church survives and hangs opposite the entrance of the present church. P.H. Ditchfield (rector 1886-1930) was later to bemoan its pulling down by 'the Goths and Vandals of the nineteenth century'. (There is a drawing of the old church in 1835 by H.W. Burt on page 39 of Barkham - A History).

The rebuilding took about 18 months, and the consecration of the new church by Dr Wilberforce took place on 15 March 1861.

'This church, which has been re-built from the design of Messrs Clacy and Son, architects, Reading, and erected under their superintendence by Mr Hollis, builder, of Wokingham, was consecrated yesterday by the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, the ceremony being witnessed by a large congregation, comprising the clergy and principal families in the neighbouring districts, in addition to the residents of the village. The special service appointed for the ceremonial of consecration having been performed by the Right Rev. Prelate, assisted by the Rev. E. St John, rector, and the Rev. A. Roberts, curate, a very impressive and suitable discourse was delivered by the Right Rev. Lord Bishop, with his accustomed eloquence ... At the termination of the service, the Lord Bishop, the clergy, and a numerous and distinguished party, the architects, churchwardens, &c., partook of luncheon elegantly served at the residence of Mrs Clive, Barkham, when that estimable lady, who truly is of those who "do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame," received the hearty congratulations of all present on the successful result of her liberality, the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop being pleased to pass a high encomium [praise] on the architectural beauty and appropriate style of the church. The building is of flint and free stone, of Gothic character, with the entrance at west side, under the tower, and with its well proportioned spire, tapering amidst the fine old cedars and other trees, is as pretty a rural church as can be wished. The interior is open to the roof, the framing resting on carved brackets, and the lofty chancel arch supported by dark stone columns, is very effective. The seats are open benches, the reading desk of oak, and pulpit of stone, carved with scriptural emblems ...'
Mrs Clive's contribution is reflected by the replacement of the hexagonal font in the old church by a new circular font of light-coloured stone, decorated with winged cherubs and the griffin crest and motto from the Clive family arms (see page 88 of Barkham - A History). A plan of the new church may be seen at http://www.churchplansonline.org

The Rev. Ditchfield used to like to recount the story of the parish clerk, Elijah Hutt, who one Sunday whilst Barkham church was being rebuilt decided to attend Morning Service at nearby Finchampstead (where the Rev. Edward St John was also rector). He arrived late, just when the rector, reading the first lesson from I Kings 19 asked 'What doest thou here, Elijah ?'. According to Ditchfield, Elijah respectfully responded 'Please, sur, Barkham church is undergoing repair, so I be cumed 'ere !'.

It seems, however, that the new church was less than well built, and within 20 years the building was in need of substantial repair. Mrs Clive died (aged 89) in 1874, and the role of principal benefactor of the parish passed to John Walter III of Bearwood, chief proprietor of The Times.

The 1880's also marked the high point of the Bearwood estate, which in 1883 extended to 7,054 acres (11 square miles).

In 1887 John Walter rebuilt the whole of the eastern end of the church, including the altar and vestry, and added north and south transepts, at a cost of £1,800. Instead of flint stone, the walls of the new chancel were constructed of grey Portland stone with Bath-stone facings. The old barrel organ was also replaced.

The church was very crowded for the dedication of the new chancel on 27 April 1887 as it was followed by a confirmation service for 92 candidates from Barkham and 5 nearby parishes. The following account appeared in the Reading Mercury.

'On Wednesday last the Bishop of Oxford visited the village of Barkham to hold a Confirmation and to dedicate the new portion of the Church which has just been completed. It consists of a chancel, two transepts and vestry, which form a very handsome and well-proportioned structure. Twenty-six years ago a new church was built in place of the old building, composed principally of wood, wherein the people of Barkham had worshipped for many centuries ... Although a new church was built so recently, the workmanship was so inferior that there was great danger of the total collapse of the chancel, and the condition of the nave is not much better. With his usual liberality and munificence, Mr Walter, of Bearwood, on whose estate nearly the whole of the village of Barkham is situated, undertook to rebuild the chancel, and to add the new transepts which form such an important and valuable addition to the church ... Very few churches are so firmly and substantially built, and few exceed the beauty of its proportions. The roof is a particularly good piece of work. All the building has been done by Mr Walter's workmen, under the superintendence of Mr Deacon and Mr Teakle ...

The service commenced with the dedication; after which the Confirmation Service was proceeded with, the Bishop giving two most able and instructive addresses to the candidates, who numbered 92 - 50 males and 42 females ... The collection for the new organ fund amounted to £8 18s. The choir sang with accuracy, taste, and feeling, both at the morning and evening services, and were well supported by the excellent playing of Miss Ashby, who presided at the harmonium. Mr Wood, the choirmaster, deserves great credit for the way in which the choir acquitted themselves. In the afternoon some of the choirmen from Arborfield joined in the service. After the service a large number of visitors proceeded to the Rectory for tea. We may remark that the decorations of the church were very carefully and tastefully arranged.'

©David French

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