WARGRAVE, Berkshire – St Mary. 

Rebuilt 1914-16

The church was almost completely destroyed by a fire on 1 June 1914, which was suspected to be arson. The rebuilding commenced soon after, despite the First World War, and the new building design by Fellowes Prynne incorporated as much as possible of the old, either in what remained, or in the essence of what was previously there. Indeed, Fellowes Prynne had been briefed to retain as much of the character and feeling of the old church as he could.

A particular point to note, concerning the architect’s approach to conservation of older features, is that fragments of Norman arches were uncovered during the rebuilding. Fellowes Prynne not only made a point of leaving them exposed, but he echoed the round arch shape at the entrance to the north transept. His plans for a baptistry were never used.  A report in the Building News and Engineering Journal of 26 July 1916 gave not only full details of the new build, but of the old church, and all the details that were uncovered and used as the basis for the new build.  It described the inside of the new building thus:

Internally the contrast between the old and new is somewhat more marked in effect [than externally]. In the first place it is much lighter, as only three windows are filled with stained glass.  Also a large four-light has replaced a small three-light window at the west end of the south aisle.  The clear lead glazing, however, through which the green foliage of the surrounding trees is reflected, gives such a quiet and pleasant effect that the need for stained glass was seldom, if ever, less felt.  The east windows are filled with stained glass by Messrs. James Powell and Sons.

The walls are plastered, with chalk stones of the ancient work showing through, the columns and dressings, generally, being in Corsham Down stone.  The whole of the roofs are carried out in English oak, those of the nave and aisle being of open timber construction, with tie beams and carved hammer beams.  The chancel roof is of barrel form, with horizontal and vertical ribs and carved bosses at the intersections.

The nave is 69 ft. 6 in. in length by 25 ft. wide, the chancel 38 ft. long by 19 ft. wide.  The accommodation, with extra seats, is for about 450 adults. 

One of the design features Fellowes Prynne used in his design for the rebuild was a wooden screen.  Pictures of the church before the fire show that here was no screen, though this does not of course mean that there never was one. There is an attractive simplicity about the new screen. The principal feature is the unusual overhanging carved “pelmet”, which is unlike any other that I have seen.  It is this canopy effect that makes it so different, and, as it does not house a rood or figures, so very effective. There is a remarkable amount of light to be seen through the structure, despite its depth at the top. It is surmounted by a pattern so delicate that it is a tribute not only to the designer, but to the deft crafters, who too often fail to be given the credit they so deserve. In this case, it was the firm of A. Robinson of London SW1.  The screen, along with the east window is a War Memorial to the First World War.

Externally, the main features of the old building were preserved, although comparison between a postcard sent in 1906, and a recent photograph shows the differences in the chancel and sanctuary windows, and that the roof level of the new chancel is higher (though not to the level of the nave).

The archive records of the firm of Dart and Francis showed that on 23 May 1919 Fellowes Prynne sent a drawing of a font cover to them, which they returned on 7 July 1920.  As well as the oak screen, the firm of A. Robinson also carved the choir stalls and other items.  The marble, granite and mosaic work was by the firm of H. C. Tanner.

The lych gate was not designed by Fellowes Prynne, but was built in 1913 to a design by A.Y. Nutt.  (Thanks to John Pritchard for this information.)

The first postcard shows the interior of the church before the fire.  The second shows the rebuilt church, prior to the screen, and the third has the screen in place.  All three cards were unposted.  Below them are two cards of the exterior,  the first from 1906, and the second undated, but after the rebuild.