Building » Dorchester-on-Thames – St Birinus

Dorchester-on-Thames – St Birinus

Bridge End, Dorchester-on-Thames, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10

A small Puginian Gothic church commissioned from William W. Wardell by John Davey of a local Catholic family, who also donated the presbytery. The church is notable for its sanctuary furnishings, including a rood screen, which have recently been refurbished. It lies near the River Thame, where St Birinus baptised the king of the West Saxons. 

The beginning of a continuous mission at Dorchester is generally thought to have been in the 1790s, when the Davey family, yeomen farmers of Overy, sheltered several French clergy. From 1798, the mission was served from Oxford. From c.1832 the Rev. Robert Newsham was in charge of the missions at Oxford and Overy. In 1846, John Davey commissioned William Wardell to build a public chapel near the family’s dower house, Bridge House, which was to become the presbytery. The chapel, a fine example of Puginian Gothic Revival architecture, was opened and blessed on 21 August 1849 by the Vicar Apostolic (Bishop) Ullathorne, who reputedly described the building as ‘a perfect gem’. The rood screen may not then have been in situ; Kelly reports that Newsham ‘took up permanent residence in the mission this year (1849) and added a fine rood screen to the church’.

The dedication was to St Birinus, a missionary who had been sent to Wessex by Pope Honorius I in 634 and who baptised Cynegils, King of the West Saxons, in the River Thame (which runs behind the present chapel). Dorchester was a bishopric until 1072, when the See was transferred to Lincoln.

The furnishings and stained glass in the church were the joint gift of George Davey and Fr Newsham. Fr Newsham became the first resident mission priest and transferred to Dorchester the boys’ school which he had founded in 1832 in Oxford. When he died in 1859, he left £1,000 as an endowment for St Birinus’s.


The church is fully described in the list entry (see below). This needs only a few corrections and updates.

  • The materials of the church are Littlemore limestone, Caen stone dressings, and stone slates of white Stonesfield stone
  • There is currently no painted inscription on the chancel arch. (There are inscriptions on the chancel cornice and on the rood screen)
  • The rood figures on top of the screen are no longer the original sculptures. They have been recently replaced by new sculptures carved in Bavaria
  • The canopied recesses in the south wall of the chancel are a piscina and sedilia, not for a piscina and font
  • The timber font is at the west end of the church, below a carved Latin inscription commemorating the founding of the church by John Davey in 1849
  • Recent works include: A new glass door with an etched design of Christ in Majesty (by Philip Lawson Johnston) installed between the porch and the nave and an English altar with Comper-style riddel posts with angels
  • The seating for the congregation consists of individual chairs.

List descriptions



Roman Catholic Church. 1849 by William Wilkinson Wardell for John Davey of Overy. Coursed squared limestone rubble with ashlar dressings; stone-slate roof nave, chancel, north vestry and south porch. Decorated style. The one-bay chancel has a 3-light traceried east window and cusped single lights in the side walls. The small 2-light side windows of the 3-bay nave have a variety of flowing tracery and all hoods have carved head stops. The porch, in the centre of the south side, has richly-moulded doorway below a canopied statue of the Virgin and Child. The west wall has cusped single lights flanking a large canopied standing figure of St Birinus supported by an angel corbel. The gable parapets bear apex crosses and, over the chancel arch, a tall bellcote with a traceried opening.

Interior: the contemporary fittings of the chancel include a painted and gilded panelled ceiling with an elaborate cornice, plus elaborately-canopied recesses for piscina and font in the south wall. The traceried wooden chancel screen carries carved rood figures, and the chancel arch has rich foliage capitals and a surrounding painted inscription. The contemporary glass in the chancel windows is by Ward and Nixon and there is one later stained-glass window in the nave. A rich and complete interior. Wardell was a friend of Pugin and later designed the RC cathedrals of Melbourne and Sydney.

Listing NGR: SU5790093936

Churchyard and garden wall


Wall. Mid C19. Brick-lined coursed clunch rubble with brick-and-tiled coping. Wall extends for approx. 60m. alongside the road and steps up over a pointed segmental-arched gateway with a moulded surround and double-leaf oak doors. Over the gateway is a stone cross. Included for group value.

Listing NGR: SU5788993951

Bridge House, 1 Bridge End (presbytery)


Substantial house, now 3 dwellings. Late C18, extended C18 and C19. Red brick with flared headers; old plain-tile roof with brick stacks. Double-depth plan. Late-Georgian style. 2 storeys. Symmetrical 3-window front, of flared bricks in header bond with red-brick dressings and gauged arches, has a central arched doorway, with panelled reveals, a matching 6-panel door and an ornamental fanlight, under a flat canopy on narrow columns. Flanking windows have tripartite sashes, but at first floor have been reduced to 12-pane sashes; arched sash above doorway. Brick dentil eaves course returns to sides but has moulded dentils only at front. 2-window end walls are in Flemish bond with flared headers. Hipped roof returns at ends to a slightly later parallel rear range with similar sashes. House is further extended by a string of C19 brick: and tiled buildings. Interiors not inspected.

Listing NGR: SU5790793883

Heritage Details

Architect: W. W. Wardell

Original Date: 1849

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*