Building » Fairford – St Thomas of Canterbury

Fairford – St Thomas of Canterbury

Horcott Road, Fairford, Gloucestershire, GL7

A simple, attractive example of a Puginian Gothic rural church, built in a lancet style in the 1840s and witness to the Catholic revival at this time in the area. It forms a good group with the presbytery and the former school, designs attributed to Benjamin Bucknall, and has its own burial ground. 

Hatherop Castle, home of the Webb family, was a centre of recusancy in penal times. A priest and private chapel were maintained there until the death of Lady Barbara de Mauley in 1844. In 1845 the convert Iles family, using funds from the Webb and de Mauley families, set about building the church at a cost of £700, which opened on 12 October 1845, when the ecclesiologist and antiquary Dr Daniel Rock (chaplain to Lord Shrewsbury at Alton Towers and to the Throckmorton family at Buckland House in Berkshire) preached. The building is in a simple and archaeologically-correct early Gothic style, and Harding comments that it ‘is said to be a replica of a Pugin building’. In its aisleless, buttressed form with western bellcote and porch it does indeed bear a resemblance to the type of small rural chapel advocated by A. W. Pugin and Dr Rock. Moreover, Pugin visited Fairford in 1842 and sketched the famous medieval parish church. However, any formal connection between him and the building of St Thomas’s church is not recorded, and the identity of the architect has so far eluded researchers. Charles Hansom is one possibility; he built a new chapel for Dr Rock/Sir Robert Throckmorton at nearby Buckland in 1846, and moved in the right circles.

In the 1850s the focus of the mission moved to Cirencester, and then to Swindon. In 1863 the Rev. Peter Seddon came from Swindon to Fairford, and using benefactions from the Iles family and Joseph Garcia (who also helped the Cirencester mission) built a presbytery, school and school house (most probably from designs by Benjamin Bucknall). The school was not successful and closed in 1888 (it was finally sold in 1974 and is now a private house). Fr Seddon also established a burial ground, in about 1867.     

In 1962 the presbytery was refurbished and adapted by Eric Cole of Cirencester, changes including the relocation of the front door and placing of a window where the door had been. The church was also refurbished and adapted, with new entrance doors, the nave floor relaid with wood blocks and the sanctuary walls lined with marble. The altar was moved forward in 1989 and the font brought into the sanctuary (it was returned to its original position by the west door in 1997). The church was consecrated by Bishop Alexander on 4 June 1991, when three new stained glass windows were dedicated. A five-year programme of repairs began in 1999, involving repointing and reroofing. More recently, the dais for the altar was removed, as were some of the altar rails (some re-used around the font). The church and presbytery were listed in 2004.


This is a small, unaisled lancet-style church of 1845, described in the list entry (below). Additional points:

  • The relocated rood on the west wall of the nave was acquired in 1912/13 and was hanging in the sanctuary arch until 1936.
  • The east window is by Wailes of Newcastle, signed WW and dated 1845. It depicts St Thomas of Canterbury, St Gregory the Great and St Augustine of Canterbury. 
  • The other stained glass windows are all twentieth-century in various styles. The north sanctuary window depicts the Seven Seals of the Lamb and was given in 1912 by the Iles family. There are also two windows probably by Jones & Willis (St John the Evangelist, in memory of John Francis Iles, d. 1917, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, in memory of John Shard, d. 1918), two by Hardman (St Patrick and St Augustine of Canterbury), c.1944-5; and three by Geoffrey Robinson of Joseph Bell & Sons, Bristol (St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Joseph the Worker, St Francis of Assisi), c1991. Two windows in the porch by Daniella Wilson-Dunne were installed to mark the 150th anniversary of the church in 1995. More recently two windows depicting episodes in local Catholic history have been installed at the west end of the church (artist Sarianne Durie). 
  • The organ, acquired from the Catholic church in Lambourn in 1998, is by William Hill & Son and dates from 1873 (originally it was commissioned for Hitcham church in Maidenhead). 
  • The Stations of the Cross came from the Catholic church in Burnham-on-Sea in 1999.
  • The niche over the original position of the front door of the presbytery contains a Caen stone statue of St Thomas of Canterbury, by Patrick Conoley of Hartpury (1999). 

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1845; architect not known. Coursed limestone with freestone dressings. Welsh slate roof with stone coped gable ends with gableted kneelers.

PLAN: Single-cell plan with sanctuary separated from the nave by chancel arch, porch at the liturgical west end and vestry on the liturgical north side linking church to presbytery. Victorian Early English style.

EXTERIOR: Lancet windows on ‘north’ and ‘south’ sides with buttresses between with set-offs. Triple lancet at ‘east’ end with small quatrefoil light above and stone cross at apex of gable. Small stone bellcote over ‘west’ gable, which has two lancets and small quatrefoil window above and gabled stone porch with double-chamfered 2-centred arch. The vestry has 2-light shouldered arch window.

INTERIOR: Plastered walls and open to braced collar-truss roof; tall 2-centred double-chamfered chancel arch. Carved stone altar and statue niches flanking ‘east’ window; wrought-iron Communion rail; seating intact; Rood removed from chancel arch to ‘west’ wall. Octagonal font. Stained glass mostly C20.

A largely complete small early Victorian Roman Catholic church attached to a presbytery.

SOURCE: Barton, Richard, Church Guide; April 2003.

National Grid Reference: SP 15287 00503



Presbytery. Circa 1865; by Benjamin Bucknall; extended late C20. Coursed limestone with freestone dressings. Steeply-pitched clay plain tile roof with stone-coped gable ends with finials and large shaped kneelers. Stone axial and corbelled gable-end stacks with weathered caps.

PLAN: 3-room plan with entrance and projecting stair tower to left of centre; linked at left end to Church of St Thomas of Canterbury by the church vestry. Late C20 single storey extension at rear. High Victorian Gothic style.

EXTERIOR: 1 storey and attic. Asymmetrical 4-window front with large stone cross-mullion-transom windows with hoodmoulds and relieving arches; large gabled stair tower to left of centre with 2-light stone mullion window with statue niche above and stone cross at apex of gable. To left a shouldered arch doorway with a plank door with wrought-iron strap hinges. Right-hand return gable-end has similar 2-light ground floor window and 3-light window to first floor, both with hoodmoulds and relieving arches. At rear a small gabled stone dormer at eaves level with corbelled kneelers and finial; late C20 single-storey extension with flat roof.

INTERIOR: Stone newel stairs. Windows have central mullions with corbels at top supporting the ceiling beams. A good example of a High Victorian Gothic style presbytery.

SOURCE: Barton, Richard; Guide to Church of St Thomas of Canterbury; April 2003.

National Grid Reference: SP 153

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1845

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II