Building » Reading – English Martyrs

Reading – English Martyrs

Liebenrood Road, Reading, Berkshire

Church designed by the Preston-based architect, Wilfrid C. Mangan, who worked extensively in Portsmouth diocese. He was an enthusiast for round-arched styles which were highly popular for Catholic churches between the wars. Other such work by him in the diocese is to be found at St Joseph, Romsey (1913), the convent church of the Sacred Heart, Waterlooville (1922-5), St Saviour, Totland Bay (1923), and St Joseph, Newbury (1926-8). Here he chose an ambitious cruciform, red-brick design in the early Christian Lombardic manner. Distinctive Italianate features are the widely overhanging eaves, northwest campanile, and octagonal crossing tower. The concave buttresses to the clerestory also add to the visual interest. The church is a significant landmark on a prominent corner site at the junction of Tilehurst Road and Liebenrood Road.

The church was built to serve the Catholic community in western parts of the town and was originally served from St James’s in the town centre. The present building was preceded by an old army hut that was pressed into service in 1921 and which could accommodate about 80 people. The prime mover behind the replacement was Reginald Cecil Powys-Lybbe of Thurle Grange (later Rectory Farm), Streatley, who was received into the Catholic Church in June 1914. He gave £10,000 towards building the present church, which was designed to accommodate 400 people. The foundation stone was laid on 18 October 1925 and the church was opened on 14 September the following year, having cost £12,000. A separate parish was erected in 1935. In the 1990s the Bethlehem Chapel was added on the south side and a hall, kitchen, meeting rooms etc built too, with a ‘prayer garden’ forming an open quadrangle between the church and ancillary buildings. A glazed corridor was built to link the presbytery and ancillary buildings to the church.


The church is cruciform in plan and has passage aisles, shallow transepts and a semi-circular apse to the east of the crossing tower. At the northwest corner is a 65ft campanile. Flemish bond red brick. It is designed in the Lombardic style, with overhanging eaves. Flemish bond hand-made red bricks made by S. &. E. Collier, tile roof. The aisles have one-light windows and the clerestory twinned lights. The sanctuary has large, single-light windows. The clerestory bays are demarcated by concave buttresses. The main entrance is at the west end under a large recess which is flanked by two Della Robbia-style roundels depicting Hugo Faringdon (last Abbot of Reading: north) and Sir (from 1935 St) Thomas More (south). In the tympanum over the three western doors are Venetian mosaic panels bearing the arms of the two martyrs and their emblems of martyrdom. The Bethlehem Chapel is built out from the southeast part of the south aisle and is separated from it by a glazed screen: it is a plain structure with top lighting and windows to the prayer garden.

The interior is c.122ft long and 45ft wide. It has exposed red brick to the six-bay arcade, and the dado in the aisles. Brick is also exposed in the window heads and in voussoir-like details round the crossing arches. Tiles are laid edge on to resemble keystones. The roof of the nave is a plain structure with tie-beams, queen- and king-posts with struts from the latter to the principal rafters. The aisles have lean-to roofs. The sanctuary is covered by a plain, plastered hemispherical ceiling and the crossing by a plain, plastered dome with two semi-circular lights providing cross lighting. There is a west gallery for choir stalls and the organ. The benches are plain and movable. The font is square and in Romanesque style. In the glazed screen to the Bethlehem chapel are two reset Victorian stained glass figures of a bishop and a female saint. It is believed it came from chapel of The Presentation College on Bath Road when this became disused.

List description (church listed in 2018)


A Roman Catholic church, designed and built by JH & WC Mangan in 1925-1926 in a Lombardic style, with additions and alterations of 1970 and about 1990.

Reasons for Designation: The Church of the English Martyrs, Liebenrood Road, Reading, of 1925-1926, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: Architectural interest: *the church is an accomplished design by the noted church architect Wilfred Mangan, which uses early-Christian architecture with confidence. Historic interest: * the church is a good example of its form of plan, which moved the choir to a generous western gallery and cleared views towards the eastern altar, anticipating the findings of the Second Vatican Council.

History: The local Roman Catholic community was originally served by the Church of St James in the centre of Reading. Prior to the building of the present church an old army hut had been used. The impetus to build a new church came from Reginald Cecil Powys-Lybbe of Thurle Grange, Streatley who was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1914 and gave £10,000 towards building a church designed to seat 400 people. The foundation stone was laid on 18 October 1925 and the church was opened in September of 1926, having cost £12,000. Additions of a presbytery* and a southern, linking passage* with glazed walls were made in 1970 by Sheppard Robson and caused the removal of the former baptistry, which was formerly attached to the western end of the southern flank. The Bethlehem Chapel* and Prayer Garden were added to the south side in the 1990s. Also in the 1970s and most probably as a result of the Second Vatican Council, the high altar and its ciborium were removed from the eastern end and replaced by an altar beneath the dome.

Details: A Roman Catholic church, designed and built by JH & WC Mangan in 1925-1926 in a Lombardic style, with additions and alterations of 1970 and about 1990. MATERIALS & PLAN: red brick, laid in Flemish bond, with tile dressings a shallow-pitched, pantile roof. The church has a nave of seven bays, flanked by passage aisles and a chancel with apsidal sanctuary. Shallow transepts are flanked by square turrets at either side of the central crossing tower, which is octagonal and low and has a saucer dome to its interior. A taller bell tower of five stages is attached to the north-west end of the nave. Attached to the south-eastern corner of the church is a single-storey vestry building. EXTERIOR: windows are arched and eaves are deep across the building. Inset, tilework crosses are placed above window heads and in panels. The western end of the nave has a deep, central portal with a round arch which extends up into the gable. The doorway is recessed and has panelled doors and a moulded, marble surround. Above this the tympanum has a mosaic panel which shows the arms of Hugo Faringdon (the last abbot of Reading) and Sir Thomas More as well as the Agnus Dei. Around this is the lettering ‘OMNES SANCTI MARTYRES ANGLIAE’ and ‘ORATE PRO NOBIS’. In the recessed walling above the door is a semi-circular window. At either side of the portal, the plain wall is inset with glazed terracotta roundels showing Faringdon and More. Recessed at either side, at the end of the aisles, are panelled doors. These, too, have mosaic-filled tympana bearing the motto ‘O CRUX AVE SPES UNICA’, at left, and ‘O REX CENTIUM’ at right. The flanks of the nave are similar and have single arched windows to each bay of the aisles, divided by pilaster buttresses. Above these each clerestory bay has paired windows set between buttresses with offsets which are ramped at their lower end, where they break through the aisle roofs. The later, Bethlehem Chapel* is placed in the re-entrant angle between the south transept and south aisle. It has a flat roof. The north western tower has paired lights to each stage on alternate faces of the tower. The penultimate stage has paired lights to each face and the belfry stage has four openings to each face. The walling to this stage projects outwards slightly, supported on brackets, and the balustrade beneath the belfry openings is decorated with tilework patterns. The pyramidal roof has an iron cross to its apex. The transepts each have a triple window set under a relieving arch with tilework keys. The turrets at either side of each transept, which flank the central, octagonal, crossing tower, have arched windows to their lowest stages, at the same level as the aisle windows. Above this they are blind with recessed arched panels to each side. They have pyramidal caps and their eaves connect to the crossing tower which has semi-circular windows to its drum on the north and south sides. The eastern end has ramped walling above the roof of the apsidal sanctuary. The eaves here are supported by four deep buttresses with shallow offsets and projecting panels to their tops. The vestry annexe, at the eastern end of the south side, is L-shaped with a boiler house projecting to the east. This has a square chimney with ramped walling at either side. INTERIOR: the nave arcade has plain, rectangular piers of brick with projecting tilework keys. Lateral brick arches cross the aisles. The paired clerestory lights have brick heads, but the walling here is plastered and divided into bays by brick pilaster buttresses. Roof timbers are exposed and the trusses have angled braces, as well as central and lateral uprights. A lower arcade continues across the western end of the nave as a narthex, above which is the organ loft with a central, projecting organ case. The central space beneath the dome has variegated arches with alternating stone and brick voussoirs to each of the four sides. Pendentives connect to a saucer dome over the crossing and there is a band of decoration, circling the lower edge of the dome. The sanctuary has a plain eastern wall flanked by lancets. This was altered in the 1970s and the high altar was moved from here to a position beneath the dome and the ciborium was dismantled.

* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the later Presbytery, the link corridor, the church hall and the Bethlehem Chapel are not of special architectural or historic interest.


Books and journals: G Tyack, S Bradley, Buildings of England, Berkshire, (2010), 487

Heritage Details

Architect: J. H. and W.C. Mangan

Original Date: 1925

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II