Visiting Greyfriars Church, Reading, Berkshire, England: a former Franciscan friary, dating from 1311, now Anglican

Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Greyfriars Church
Greyfriars Church | Source
Greyfriars Church, Friar Street, Reading, from the south-east, c. 1875.
Greyfriars Church, Friar Street, Reading, from the south-east, c. 1875. | Source

A history of being put to all sorts of uses

It may be a long stretch from a Medieval Franciscan friary to an evangelical Anglican church (1). The fact that in between there were periods when the building was variously used as Reading's town hall, or as a jail, or in ruins, may go some way towards explaining the metamorphosis. In an understated way, this process is described by the present users as 'a blip of about 325 years' (2).

The current state of the building, in Friar Street, Reading, Berkshire, is essentially a Victorian restoration by W. H. Woodman, surveyor for the borough; this restoration was carried out in the 1860s. A triple arched belfry was added by Woodman (3)

Various, definitively Gothic features are evident in this stone building's style, which include pointed window arching, with tracery, and flying buttresses. Its main building material is knapped flint.

In 2011 the BBC commemorated Greyfriars' 700th anniversary (4).

It may be said that within the Church of England there are some hugely divergent tendencies and the evangelical proefession of the congregation now using this building has been emphasized by the installation of a large, permanent tank for adult baptisms. The church was formerly known as a centre for the continued use of the 1662 Prayer Book, although this was discontinued some decades ago in favour of the Alternative Service Book (itself subsequently discontinued).

Greyfriars has traditionally had a well appointed bookstore (5). An historical study of Greyfriars by Malcolm Summers was published in recent years.

Greyfriars belongs to the Anglican Diocese of Oxford. It has a strong musical tradition. In 2014, the Church hosted the Reading Bach Choir's performance of Handel's Messiah.

The adjacent, former Vicarage is now used as a day care centre.

The church has an annex in York Road, Reading, known as New Hope Community Church.

I recall that many moons ago I once happened to meet the Curate from Greyfriars, a young gentleman by the name of Giles.

February 2, 2015

Notes

(1) The Franciscans were an order characterized by their custom of wearing grey habits. Thus, the name 'Greyfriars', by extension, stuck with the buildings with which they were associated. The Order of Friars Minor Convectual, as they are known in full, was founded by Francis of Assisi in 1209. Oddly, the first settlement of Franciscan friars in London, England, was based at a road named Stinking Lane.

There have actually been many religious buildings in England and Scotland named Greyfriars, incuding a former Permanent Private Hall of Oxford University and a parish church in Edinburgh associated with the (Presbyterian) Covenanters.

(2) See also: http://www.greyfriars.org.uk/Groups/202355/Greyfriars_Church/About_Us/Greyfriars/History/History.aspx Interestingly, the Borough of Reading was also known to have used for its Town Hall another, former religious building in the town: the Hospitium of Reading Abbey (dissolved at the Reformation), which in 1892 served as the venue where Reading University Extension College — later Reading University — was founded.

(3) See also: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-38955-greyfriars-church- Other works for which W. H. Woodman was responsible included the rebuilding of the Vachel Almshouses at Castle Hill, Reading.

(4) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-14079270

(5) See also: http://www.greyfriarsbookshop.org.uk/about/4579000320 Years ago, I remember acquiring in this bookstore a rather provocatively titled book by Francis Schaeffer named 'The Great Evangelical Disaster'.


Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom | Source

Also worth seeing

In Reading itself, visitor attractions include many other church buildings of note, including Reading Minster, St Mary's Episcopal Chapel, the former Broad Street Independent Chapel; the church of St Lawrence-in-Reading, the Hospitium of the former Reading Abbey in which what became the University of Reading partly originated in 1892; Providence Chapel; and many others.

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How to get there

United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Reading is 49 kilometres. A regular bus link exists between Heathrow Airport and Reading. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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