Church History


Friends of St Mary's Church, Cricklade, Wiltshire, U.K.


Chairman: Hugh Dudley, 4 Pleydells, Cricklade, SWINDON, SN6 6NG

Secretary: Gerry Dudley, 4 Pleydells, Cricklade, SWINDON, SN6 6NG

Treasurer: Tony Barratt, 13 Boundary Close, Stratton, SWINDON, SN2 7TF


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The following History of St Mary's is as published in pages 8 to 11 of the Commemorative Programme for the St. Mary's Cricklade Flower Festival - "A Band of Gold"



There were two parishes within the circuit of the Saxon boundaries of Cricklade - St Sampson's and St Mary's. With an area of 121.85 acres, St Mary's was much the smaller of the two. In fact, it became the smallest when the present Diocese of Bristol was vested in 1897. In 1952 the two parishes of Cricklade were united, and in 1981 St Mary's was declared redundant. St Mary's re-opened as a Catholic church on 1st January 1984.

There has been

perhaps 900 years of

continuous worship at

St Mary's

The church of St Mary's stands at the north end of the High Street. The site is a stone's throw from the upper reaches of the River Thames on the border of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. The church as we see it now owes much of its appearance to the Victorian restoration of 1862. However, St Mary's had by then already been the focus of perhaps 900 years of continuous worship.

The north edge of the churchyard, viewed from the High Street is noticeably higher than the modern street. This earth bank is the remains of the Saxon town wall and is the site of the north gate of the town. The site was acquired in 1008 AD by the abbey of St Mary's at Abingdon near Oxford, which may explain the dedication of the church. St Mary's was established as a separate parish to the rest of Cricklade, and remained so until 1952.

The church has a complex architectural history which is reflected in the variety of styles of windows, arches and carved stone mouldings, as well as the alignment and thickness of the walls and pillars. There have been three churches on the site. The first was a Saxon chapel, built perhaps by the monks of Abingdon abbey soon after 1008, or even earlier, as a gate chapel associated with the North Gate. The north chapel (where the pipe organ stands) is thought to be built on the foundations of this early chapel. Note that the chapel has a different alignment to the main body of the church. The existing walls and windows are probably mid 15th century.

The second church was built after the Norman conquest, perhaps to meet the needs of a growing community. It would have been a long rectangle more or less where the present chancel and nave now stand, but not extending so far to the east. The chancel arch is the most obvious surviving feature. It is early 12th century, with characteristic semicircular shape and 'dog tooth' or chevron carving on the west face. The tower and a south aisle were added to the church soon after.

Sometime in the mid thirteenth century the church was rebuilt for a third time, achieving its present form. The number of features that date to this period suggest that a major disaster may have struck the church which required complete reconstruction. The tower was increased in height and buttressed, the nave pillars were replaced on a slightly altered alignment, and a north aisle added.

The ground plan of the present day church therefore dates to the 13th century. In the 14th century the chancel was extended farther to the east, and linked to the north chapel. The 15th century saw the rebuilding of the north chapel, and the addition of a porch.

By the mid 19th century the church was in need of restoration, its 'churchwarden gothic' style offended what contemporaries considered to be the 'present improved taste'. Work was put in hand by the Rev. Hugh Allan, and commenced in 1862. The restored church was rededicated at a service on the 7th January 1863.

The clock, which has its face on the exterior east wall of the nave, was presented to the parish by Major Henry Smyth and his wife Elizabeth in 1863. The clock has its mechanism in the tower and is connected to the face by a shaft running under the roof. This was one of several gifts and endowments by Major Smyth to the church and parish. The sundial on the east end of the south wall of the chancel was made in 1822 to replace an earlier one which had been placed centrally on the same wall.

Inside the Church

The bowl of the font is C13 and thought to be an inverted column base on a Roman capital. The triple shaft replaced an earlier single shaft when it was reset in C19.

The altar table with stretchers between turned legs is dated 1627. The houselling benches with stretchers and sloping baluster legs are thought to have served as communion rails and date from the same period.

The pulpit of half-octagonal oak with archaded panelling is Jacobean.

St Mary's chained bible dated 1613 is on display at Cricklade Museum.

The brass chandelier is C18.

The pipe organ was installed in 1893 at which time the roof of the chapel had to be raised to accommodate it.

Stained glass window (east wall) This window was inserted in 1906 to replace a three light window of Early English form dating from the restoration of 1862. It is the work of Horace Wilkinson, a former pupil of Kemp, and was commissioned in memory of the Rev. John McKaye who was rector for twenty years. The window represents "The Nativity", "The Baptism of Our Lord", and "The Holy Women at the Sepulchre". The inscription reads:- To the glory of God and in loving memory of John McKaye, B.A., for 20 years rector of this parish, who died June 30th, 1905, this window is dedicated by his friends and parishioners, October, 1906.

Stained glass window (south wall of chancel) This 2 light window was inserted in 1949 in memory of Cicely Laura Miller who was a benefactress of St Mary's and responsible for the beautiful embroidery on the altar frontal. This frontal has recently been restored. The window represents "St Christopher" and "St Hubert" and is the work of G E R Smith.

Stained glass windows (east wall of south aisle and east end of south aisle) These windows, also the work of Horace Wilkinson, were inserted as a memorial to Thomas Butt Miller, a J.P. for the Cricklade Division, master of the Cricklade side of the V.W.H. and chairman of the Trustees for the Waylands Trust, as well as being High Bailiff of the Borough. He was a staunch churchman and benefactor of St Mary's. The windows were the gift of his widow Cicely Laura Miller. The single light in the east wall represents "The Virgin and Child". The lights in the south wall are of "St Michael", "Christ the King" and "The Angel Gabriel". The latter includes a verse from Luke 1.19. - Ego sum Gabriel qui adsto conspectu Dei - I am Gabriel, who stand before God. The inscription reads:- To the glory of God and in memory of Thomas Butt Miller 13th January 1915.

Stained glass window (south west corner of south aisle) This window representing St Nicholas was inserted in memory of the Rev. C Wray, for many years rector of St Mary's. He took a keen interest in the lads and youths of the town, establishing a club for them. He died in 1945.

In 1553 there were 3 bells. They have had to be removed because they made the tower unsafe. The money from their sale was used for repairs to St Mary's. Now only the call bell of 1733 remains, inscribed:- Come away, make no delay.

A 15" clock-striking bell, cast in 1876 by J Taylor & Sons, will shortly be installed.

Did you know

that in 1553 St Mary's had 3 bells?

The Churchyard

The Churchyard Cross dominates the entrance to St Mary's and is 14th century. Pause to look at the figures in the lantern which are just discernable and are thought to represent scenes from the life of Our Lady. They are "The Assumption of the Virgin", "a Bishop with Crozier" depicting the Presentation, a "Crucifix with St Mary and St John" and "Queen and Knight" depicting the Annunciation.

There are two chest tombs which are listed ancient monuments. They are sited west of the porch and date from the 17th and 18th centuries. The churchyard is small. Even so, there are 900 recorded burials between 1605 and 1840 and it is estimated that more than 2,000 people have been buried in the churchyard over the years. Burials were discontinued in 1882.

Skeletons from the past ...

In the late 18th century the house beside the churchyard gate was occupied by William Peare and his sister Mary. William was convicted for robbing a stage coach and hanged in 1783. Friends retrieved his body and tradition has it that they buried him in an unmarked grave in St Mary's churchyard - at dead of night.

...they buried him at

dead of night

 Not so long afterwards, on the evening of 7th May 1819 a man was murdered on the road between Purton and Purton Stoke. He was Stephen Rodway, a coal merchant from this parish. He had been shot through the chest. Robert Watkins from Wootton Bassett was convicted of the murder and was publicly executed at Purton Stoke at a place called Moore-Stones but which has since become known as Watkins Corner. According to The Times, between 10,000 and 15,000 people witnessed the hanging. His victim Stephen Rodway is buried in St Mary's churchyard and his grave is clearly marked by the largest headstone.

The Catholic Community in Cricklade

Before the last war, there were only a few Catholic residents in Cricklade. The first Mass centre was located in the old schoolroom in Gas Lane, a building that had been used for a time as a cinema and is now a motorcycle workshop. Our most senior parishioner who remembers these early days is Mrs Eileen Bowsher who came to settle in Cricklade on 1st September 1939.

When Prior Park Preparatory School was opened in 1946 with its own Catholic chapel, the Chaplain celebrated a public Mass each Sunday. Even though this facility existed, the townspeople continued to worship in hired accommodation. In 1949 it was in a Nissen hut in Waylands, in the early 1950's it was in the Town Hall, then in 1955 the Baptist chapel in Calcutt Street was purchased to provide permanent premises, but ....... the Catholic population of Cricklade was growing.

Then, in 1981, St Mary's Anglican church became redundant. An article in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard summarised the situation:

"Hopes for a new lease of life for St Mary's - Religious Services could be resumed at a redundant Cricklade Church within 12 months. Roman Catholic in the town are hoping to take over St Mary's church, which has been unused for over two years. The Anglican church became redundant in 1981 - 28 years after the two Cricklade parishes amalgamated under the one roof of St Sampson's."

... and here we are!