Most towns have a place of religious worship, a church or chapel for example. Thatcham is no different and Kemp1 suggested that Thatcham might have been a Minster Church. That is the main church for the whole area. In c.1304 a chapel, St Thomas', was built at the east end of the town, what today is known as the Old Bluecoat School. The parish church it is thought was built c.1141 with several extensions over the years. It is assumed that this replaced an earlier, Saxon, wooden church.
This church is what we call St Mary's but what do we know about it?
The picture shown above dates to c.1857, just prior to the Victorian restoration. At this time many churches were decayed and the Victorian period saw a great many of them being renovated. Some like Shaw-cum-Donnington were demolished and rebuilt completely. Thatcham was lucky in that it was not demolished but it did undergo significant alterations. Most of the exterior was refaced in flint, the interior was substantially changed and the south isle altered. But the restoration is for another post. It is at this point, 1857, that we find the church being called St Luke's.
Hitting the history books we find many say it was called St Mary's originally and this was changed in the 1500s to St Luke. Sadly many of those historians copy work from earlier books and fail to research it properly. One that has made it into most 20th century local history books is that according local historian Mr Fyfield it was the Rev. Chamberlain who in c.1920 discovered the church was originally called St Mary's and thus it was rededicated. I do not know where this information came from, did Mr Fyfield get it first hand from Chamberlain or someone else? Either way it is wrong.
How do I know it is wrong?
Just a simple glance at the census or an OS map from say the 1880's would have confirmed it, or not. What I have done is to find as many maps, newspapers, parish magazines, and other sources that I can and document the name of the church. Sadly many resources just note the "parish church" and fail to name it. However the census calls it St Luke's in 1881 and St Mary's in 1891. The OS maps, newspapers and so forth seem to swap around 1880 to 1882. The Rev. Hezekiah Martin had been there from c.1868 to c.1889 so it was not a change in the Vicar that prompted it.
As yet I do not know why it changed from St Luke's to St Mary's but I am looking into that.
When or even if it was ever called St Mary's before that change I do not yet know. There are a few theories:
- It was never called St Mary's;
- It was changed to St Luke's around the time of the dissolution; or
- It was changed around 1857 during the restoration.
So at present St Luke's changed to St Mary's in c.1882. It might or might not have originally been known as St Mary's and that is the topic of additional research.
1Kemp, B.R., The Mother Church of Thatcham, Berkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol. 63, pp. 15 - 22