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Visiting St Mary's Chapel, Reading, England: with a Classical 19th century frontage and a vanished bell tower

Updated on October 12, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
The Sun Inn and St Mary's Chapel, Reading
The Sun Inn and St Mary's Chapel, Reading | Source
Castle Street, Reading in 1890, with St Mary's Episcopal Chapel
Castle Street, Reading in 1890, with St Mary's Episcopal Chapel | Source
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom | Source

Tribute to the founder of a local, architectural dynasty

The striking, Corinthian pillared, Classical frontage of the church building, depicted above, in the main photo (2), belongs to St Mary's Chapel, Reading, in Berkshire, England.

The building by Richard Billing (2), the first of a family — one might even say, dynasty — of architects, dates from 1798. The conspicuous, Classical portico by H & N Briant (see also, below, re. the Royal Berkshire Hospital) was commenced in 1840 and completed in 1842.

This portico was built complete with a bell tower. I have also supplied an old photo in which the now vanished bell tower is visible. What remains of the former tower is a pedestal above the portico's pediment.

Interestingly, a short distance from St Mary's Chapel is another Church sometimes referred to as St. Mary's Church, or, Reading Minster. So: is this because one is Anglican and another Roman Catholic? Actually this is not the case; both are described as Anglican; St Mary's Church, or Minster, is a parish church, while St Mary's Chapel is an Episcopal Chapel, governed by trustees who are not within a Church of England Diocese, but which maintain the church along Anglican lines; technically, this congregation is affiliated to the Church of England (Continuing)(3).

The original St Mary's Chapel had its inception in the late 18th century in a congregation formerly associated with the Church of St Giles, Reading.

Among the ministerial personalities associated with St Mary's has been Dr David Samuel.

October 11, 2012


(1) Also depicted in the main photo, above, adjacent to St Mary's Chapel, is the Sun Inn, which dates from the 17th century.

(2) The dates of the Richard Billing in question here are: c.1747-1826. A number of distinguished buildings in Reading and elsewhere are by 'Richard Billing', which was also the name of the son and the grandson of the architect of St Mary's.

(3) While in England most Anglican church buildings and congregations are governed by Crown appointed bishops and archbishops, some are not. Of these, a number are under independent trusts; and some have the status of a Royal Peculiar: an interesting name which denotes that the building and congregation is directly under The Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England: among these are included Westminster Abbey and St Edward, King and Martyr, Cambridge. The Church of England is an historical and doctrinal amalgam of many influences; St Mary's Chapel would be regarded as being Reformed and Biblical Protestant in emphasis.

Also worth seeing

In Reading itself, other examples of noted church architecture included St Lawrence-in-Reading, once the chapel of the ruined Reading Abbey; the former Broad Street Independent Chapel and Providence Chapel, Oxford Road; the distinguished Alfred Waterhouse was the architect for the Town Hall and Reading University's Foxhill House; the University's Great Hall, Wantage Hall and St Patrick's Hall are of note; the Georgian Royal Berkshire Hospital (also a Briant work; see above), birthplace of Kate Middleton, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, is in London Road.


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, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

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

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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 5 years ago

      Gypsy Willow: Yes, there is a lot of history in Reading; and church history can be fascinating (and even personally challenging?) Thank-you for your comment.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Gosh! I went to school in Reading and obviously didn't know much about it. Thanks for the interesting education.