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The history of
St Mary Magdalen, Tilehurst

A potted history of the place

The area which was known as Tylehurst-on-Thames and the Norcot Estate had grown in the early years of the twentieth century and the district was some distance from the Parish Church of St Michael which was up the hill.   St Michael's Parish Magazine for 1929 records that " ... residents near Tylehurst Railway Station have long complained of having no Church at hand".


The appointment of the Reverend James Williams as Assistant Curate of St Michael's Church in January 1928, and the purchase of his house in Kentwood Hill, gave the opportunity for planning a new church in this area.   He was given the responsibility ( under the Rector of St Michael's) for the people in the area which comprised some 611 houses.


At first Mr and Mrs Randall offered the use of a room in their house at 781 Oxford Road, where a Sunday School met at 3 p.m., and an Evening Service was held at 7 p.m. on most Sunday evenings.   Mr and Mrs Randall were later the voluntary caretakers for the new building.


On June 19th, 1929 it was unanimously resolved "that this meeting of St Michael's Parochial Church Council pledges itself to co-operate with the Rector in the efforts he is making on behalf of the more northern part of the parish".    With the assistance of the archdeacon of Berkshire a site was obtained off Weald Rise from the estate of Sir Walter Palmer.    The contract was signed in July 1929, and one condition was that a permanent church should be built within five years.


Contributions from all over Tilehurst financed the new Mission Church, and an old building dating from the 1914-1918 War was purchased from the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Wimbledon, at a cost of £50.   The building, an iron and wood construction, was dismantled and transported to Reading where it was erected on the Weald Rise site - where the nursery school now stands.   The foundations, fencing, paths and transport charges and other expenses cost another £1300, and the church was furnished by pews which were provided free of charge by the Vicar of Wimbledon.


The building opened for worship on Wednesday, 18th December 1929 and was dedicated by Bishop Shaw, the Bishop of Reading, on that evening.   Sunday services were a 9 a.m. Sung Eucharist, 3 p.m. Sunday School, 4 p.m. Holy Baptism and 7 p.m. Evensong and sermon.   An additional Eucharist was celebrated at 8 a.m. on the second Sunday of the month.


During January 1930 a new building fund was launched to provide a more permanent church to meet the five year agreement.   However by the end of 1930 some £400 debt remained on the cost of the temporary building, and during 1931 efforts were made by churches throughout Reading to clear the debt.   A Spring Fayre held at St Giles on Wednesday and Thursday 29th/30th April 1931 involving many of the Reading churches, and chaired by the Archdeacon and the Mayor of Reading, raised £250. 14s 9d.


An interesting insight into the thinking of the time is seen in the magazine of January 1932.   A paragraph discussing the duties of those Tylehurst people who had " ... attached themselves to St Mary's at Purley" before the building of St Mary Magdalen's Church, included the suggestion that "one day this part of the Parish might be joined to Purley".   The article ends with the hope that "Tylehurst-on-Thames people will do as some have done already, recognise their obligations towards St Mary Magdalen's."


Plans and fund raising for a new and permanent church building continued slowly and following a meeting with the architect Mr Dodd, the Parochial Church Council agreed " ... to further in every possible way the building of the new church ... in succession to the present temporary church".   In fact the permanent building was thirty years away.   


However a Church Hall was built.   This gave the Church some added financial benefit.   The building was designed by the Priest-in-Charge, the Reverend Spencer Darby and built by Messrs. H. & R. Davey on the Weald Rise site.   It was dedicated by the Bishop of Oxford on Tuesday October 1st, 1935.





Some twenty years of Church life passed with the Second World War directing energies elsewhere.


It was under the care of the Reverend Eric Lane that the St Mary Magdalen's area was established as a Conventional District from 1st July 1955, with its own clearly defined boundaries and its own Priest Missioner, who was no longer a curate of St Michael's Church.   St Mary Magdalen's Church was a 'parish on probation' and had to prove that it could support itself and become a permanent parish.   During this period people in the district still had marriage rights at St Michael's Church.


Further proof that the Parish was taking its new status seriously was shown in 1956 when on Thursday 29th November Bishop Eric Knell, the Bishop of Reading dedicated the new prefabricated 'Rema' building in Rodway Road as the new St Mary Magdalen Church.   During 1954 a new Building Fund had been set up, and house to house collections, a Diocesan loan of £3500 and a Diocesan grant of £1000 had raised the £6000 required for the building of a new church.   This building is now used as the Church Hall.





Under the leadership of the Reverend Peter Bullock-Flint (Priest Missioner 1956-1972), fund raising continued for a more permanent Church on the Rodway Road/Kentwood Hill site which had been purchased in 1954 by the Reverend Raymond Heath, the Priest-in-Charge.


After four years of constant fund raising efforts, the foundation stone of the third and permanent Church was laid by the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire on September 24th 1960.   the Nave and Chancel were completed by the builders Collier & Catley in 1962 at a cost of £20,000, and the Church was consecrated on 5th May 1962, by Harry Carpenter the Bishop of Oxford.


Part of the cost was met by the sale of the Weald Rise site to the Reading Corporation following the destruction of both the old church and church hall by fire on two different occasions - the church on 7th September 1958, and the hall on the 13th May 1961.


A large amount of voluntary help saved some of the building and decorating costs of the new Church, and the pews and organ were obtained from the disused Sulhampstead Church.


The main structure of the Lady Chapel and Vestry Transepts were added in 1969 and these were slowly finished off until 1977 when on 11th May a Service of Thanksgiving for the Completion of the building was held in the Church by the Archdeacon of Berkshire.   The large stained glass window was also the result of many years of painstaking work by the artist and glass maker, M.C. Farrar-Bell, and depicts the suffering of Our Lord with the crown of thorns and the nails on either side of the cross.   Each panel is given as a memorial or a thanksgiving, and was completed for the Feast of St Mary Magdalen in 1980.


On August 12th, 1974 a formal application was made for full Parochial Status for St Mary Magdalen and new boundaries were drawn up taking in small areas of the parishes of Purley and St Michael's Tilehurst.


The Order in Council granting full Parochial Status was signed by Her Majesty the Queen on 22nd October 1975, and from       1st November 1975 the new parish of St Mary Magdalen, Tilehurst was formed, with the Reverend Philip Santrum as its first Vicar.   The vision of those who had first built the Church in Weald Rise in 1929 to serve the needs of this part of Tilehurst were at last a reality.


In 1984 during the Reverend Paul Mellor's incumbency the Parish of St Mary Magdalen joined the Tilehurst Group Ministry which was confirmed by Her Majesty the Queen in Council and St Mary Magdalen officially became part of the Group Ministry on 1st April 1984.


Once again the church of St Mary Magdalen had a link with St Michael's as well as the churches of St Catherine's, St Birinus, Calcot and St Matthew's Southcote.   The Group Scheme allows closer working relationships between parishes as well as giving some sort of unity to the Church's witness to this side of Reading.


February 1991 saw the redrawing of the boundaries between St Mary Magdalen's Parish and the Parish of Purley when the Westwood Fields Estate passed to Purley.   This estate had been built on fields which were inaccessible from any road within the parish of St Mary Magdalen and geographically belonged to Purley.


Under guidance from the Revd Ray Smith a survey was undertaken in the Westwood Fields Estate and there was a strong opinion that the area looked to Purley rather than Tilehurst.


Today the parish contains some 10,000 people and the church serves them in the occasional offices of Baptism and Marriage and at the death of a loved one.   But the Church also exists to bring the Good News of God's love and the challenge of Christ to live for him to all who live within the Parish boundary.


text by Revd. Ray Smith

photographs copyright of Carl Feltham

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