Cavensham - Our Lady and St Anne

South View Avenue, Caversham, Berkshire RG4

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A Gothic Revival suburban parish church by Canon A. J. C. Scoles, completed in stages over thirty years. A shrine to Our Lady of Caversham was added in the 1950s in a contrasting Romanesque idiom, using stone donated in the 1920s from a medieval bridge chapel.

In 1895 Mrs Florence Crawshay (died 1920) of Caversham Park invited a group of French Sisters of Mercy to live at The Firs in Caversham. The following year, the mission at Caversham was established and the convent chapel blessed.

In 1898, a Dr Cockran donated the present site (in the vicinity of The Firs) and a school-chapel was erected in 1899. In 1902, the foundation stone for the present church was laid and it was opened by Bishop Ilsley on 6 February 1903. The architect was Canon A. J. C. Scoles. In the same year, the adjacent presbytery was completed.

The church was completed in stages. In 1904, the tower was built; its bells included a pre-Reformation bell from Canterbury. In 1906, the south aisle was added. In 1908, Mrs Crawshay presented a new organ by Bishop & Son, a narthex screen and organ gallery front, designed by Wade-Palmer of Sonning and carved by Samuel Elliott & Sons of Caversham, as well as an east window by Westlake (that is, according to The Tablet; this may actually refer to the glass in the west window). In 1913, she donated a marble high altar designed by E. L. Freeman, and in 1914, a hall and clubroom (now the school hall). In 1932, the north aisle was added (possibly by Scoles’s nephew Geoffrey Raymond, who continued the practice after his death in 1920) and the following year the church was consecrated. 

Caversham was the site of an important medieval shrine to Our Lady, but the precise site appears to be unknown. It was destroyed in the time of King Henry VIII. Fr Haskew, the first priest of the revived Catholic mission at the end of the nineteenth century, and author of an account of the shrine, mistook this for the former chapel to St Anne on Caversham Bridge. When that was rebuilt in the 1920s, stones from its foundations were offered to the parish for the building of a new shrine, but this did not happen until 1958-9, under the Rev. William O’Malley. The addition was built in contrasting style and materials (Romanesque, stone), and housed an antique polychrome oak carving of the Virgin and Child, possibly of Southern German workmanship and acquired by the parish at that time.    

Between 1981 and 1987, the church was repaired, redecorated and reordered by Brian Wain & Associates of Cork. In 2003, a new narthex and meeting room (called ‘Cenacle’) were opened by the Archbishop. As part of the works, a former entrance in the north wall of the tower was blocked and inside a confessional created. Also, the original porch was replaced. In 2009, the side chapel (or shrine) was restored and the Angelus bell refurbished.

The church was built in 1902-3 and extended with a tower and side aisles between 1904 and 1932. The Cenacle and narthex were added in 2003. Designed in Early English Gothic style, the church is of orange brick in English bond with stone dressings. The roof has modern roof tiles (1980s). The apsidal northeast Lady (shrine) Chapel was added in 1958-9, in contrasting Romanesque style and limestone with stone roof tiles. The plan of the church is longitudinal. All the windows have plate tracery. The south aisle has four cross roofs of which the east one is longer and contains a side chapel. The north aisle has a transept arm at the east. At the southwest is the Cenacle, a polygonal red and blue brick banded addition of 2003 (photo top left). This is connected to the church via a corridor link with WCs, a three-sided apse with stone lancets and a gabled porch also with red and blue brick bands and a carved tympanum panel of St Anne and the Virgin Mary. A former entrance on the north side of the tower is now a window. The gable of the north transept has a niche with a statue of St Anne and the Virgin Mary. The battlemented tower has angle buttresses and a canted stair turret to the southwest. The middle stage of the tower has two-light windows to the north and east; the top stage has three lancets with bell louvres.

Inside, the arcade of the five-bay nave is supported by polygonal pillars. The nave has a panelled waggon roof, while the panelled ceilings of the side aisles rest on pointed arched braces with pierced trefoils in the spandrels. The sanctuary has a marble reredos of 1913 with four small painted panels of the Virgin Mary and three saints and a canopy over the monstrance throne. The lectern, altar and tabernacle stand are of Bath stone (1980s). The entrance to the northeast Lady (shrine) Chapel is flanked by a wrought iron screen with coats of arms. The chapel has a plain stone altar in front of a large oak statue of Our Lady of Caversham in the apse (of sixteenth century Northern European origin, figure 3). The north wall has a squint and a small window with fragments of medieval stained glass (from Norwich). At the east end of the south aisle stands the Gothic-style stone font beside a tall, wrought iron Gothic Revival candle stand. The south chapel is timber panelled and has part of the original timber altar rails as well as a carved timber altar. The north aisle has a painting of the Visitation which was presented to the parish by the former Visitation Convent when it closed in 2005. The timber west gallery front and screen of 1908 have finely carved Perpendicular tracery.

Several windows in the north aisle have stained glass panels depicting saints, possibly by Lavers & Westlake, but only one of these windows has stained glass in all three lights. In the south aisle there is a window with a single-light stained glass panel (to Fr Land, Rector, by Hardman, 1921). The stained glass in the four quatrefoils of the east window show Marian scenes, 1905, possibly by Lavers & Westlake. The three stepped lancets of the west window have grisaille stained glass of Our Lady and a host of angels (signed by Lavers & Westlake, donated by Mrs Crawshay in 1909). The three-sided apse of the modern narthex has three panels of stained glass, two of which came from the original baptistery (possibly by Lavers and Westlake).

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Canon A. J. C. Scoles

Original Date: 1903

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1904; 1906; 1932; 1958-9

Listed Grade: Not listed