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Visiting Carey Baptist Church, Reading, Berkshire, England: High Victorian Gothic dating from 1871

Updated on February 3, 2015
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
 Carey Baptist Church, Reading
Carey Baptist Church, Reading | Source
William Carey
William Carey | Source

A seemingly two-dimensional frontage with multi-coloured brickwork

This building is a good example of the Victorian flair for exploiting the Gothic theme in architecture. Although its Carey Street elevation is preponderantly Gothic — even forcefully so, with its many pointed arches — there is also evidence of other design influence in the form of Syrian arches at the building's frontage, the rounded character of which stand in contrast to other pointed arches. High Victorian Gothic indeed; but there are also elements of the Romanesque.

The crowning Gothic feature of the building is a large, central triple arched window. Similar, smaller triple arching may be seen at the adjacent church hall.

Another feature of the building demonstrates the evident penchant among Victorians for the use of multi-coloured brickwork (1). Thus also, the apexes of the pointed Gothic arching as well as the Syrian arches are emphasized by the profusion of colour. The Syrian arches themselves contain an element of window tracery, even if they are not fully to be described as rose windows.

Doctrinally the congregation is Protestant and evangelical; indeed, with its identification with William Carey, its identifiable roots are also strongly Nonconformist. Architecturally, however, the profusion of Medieval-themed features would not be unfamiliar to traditionalists.

The building's Carey Street elevation seems to have a fairly strong two dimensional feel to it, reinforcing the building's strong sense of solidity, although this apparent two dimensional appearance is mitigated somewhat by the slight protrusion of the two Gothic doorways. These doorways are made more ornate by the presence of pillars, or strictly speaking, pilasters, which give the appearance of supporting the doorway arching, although this is probably not the case from a structural perspective.

The congregation which meets at Carey Baptist Church dates from 1867; the building itself was opened in 1871. Its name refers to William Carey (1761-1834), the 18th century Baptist preacher often known as 'the Father of modern missions', whose many years in Serampore, India saw his translation, and sponsorship of translation work, of the Bible into Sanskrit, Bengali and several other languages. Many educational establishments have been named for William Carey, including schools in India, a theological college in Vancouver, British Columbia and William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Carey Baptist Church, Reading also sponsors activities at other sites in the town. These include centres at Anstey Road and Baker Street, plus a venue in the Tilehurst suburb of Reading known as Carey Westwood Farm.

Noted individuals associated with the ministry of the church have included Jonathan Stephen, Principal of Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and the late Theodore Bendor-Samuel, long-serving director of Messianic Testimony.

The street on which the building is erected was originally known as Tappenden Street. This, however, was subsequently changed to Carey Street, being re-named for the church building.

I myself became aware of Carey Baptist Church many years ago while a student at Reading University because a neighbour of mine attended the congregation based in this striking building.

February 3, 2015


(1) Indeed, John Ruskin, whose influence in the Gothic Revival was great, developed a whole theory of the use of polychrome materials. In Reading itself, Reading University's Foxhill House and Whiteknights House, by Alfred Waterhouse, dating from 1868, also makes significant use of polychrome brickwork.

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

In Reading itself, visitor attractions include many other church buildings of note, including Reading Minster, Greyfriars Church, 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 (situated fairly close to Carey Baptist Church); and many others. Much of Reading's church achitecture may be viewed by exploration on foot; and this building in Carey Street lies only a few minutes' walk from Reading's Downtown area.


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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