Theale High Street
|Area||3.64 sq mi (9.4 km2)|
|Population||2,835 (2011 census)|
|• Density||779/sq mi (301/km2)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
The compact parish is bounded to the south and south-east by the Kennet & Avon Canal (which here incorporates the River Kennet), to the north by a golf course, to the east by the M4 motorway and to the west by the A340.
The village's history is a good example of how different modes of transport have achieved dominance in England over the last three centuries, from road to canal to railway and back to road again.
The old significance of the position of Theale is that it lay at the junction of two ancient natural routes, one following the Kennet Valley from east to west and another which exploited the valley of the River Pang to run at a low level through the Chiltern Hills from north to south via the Goring Gap. This latter route was taken by a Roman road which ran from Calleva Atrebatum (modern Silchester) north to Dorchester on Thames. Extrapolation of the known alignment from Silchester to near Ufton Nervet indicates a crossing point of the River Kennet just east of Tylemill Bridge. This Roman road has its equivalent in the modern A340 from Theale to Pangbourne.
Roman remains were uncovered during the excavation of the Theale Old Gravel Pit (at the end of St Ives Close) for ten years after 1887.
The Kennet Valley route, the later Bath Road, only became important after the foundation of the Saxon borough of Reading in the 8th century. The Saxons had abandoned Calleva, but the north to south route remained important to them as connecting the royal capital of Winchester with the boroughs of Old Basing near Basingstoke, Wallingford, Oxfordshire and points north.
From the early Middle Ages to the 19th century, Theale was mostly part of Tilehurst ecclesiastical (and later also civil) parish. The old parish boundaries around here were complicated, and the village was a Chapelry comprising a western outlier of this large and irregularly shaped parish.
The odd parish boundaries by the river indicates that the valley bottom had been converted from swamp forest to valuable flood-meadows or reed-beds for thatching by the start of the second millennium. The portion belonging to Englefield lay between the main river (now the canal) and a branch called Holy Brook, which left the main course at Sheffield Mill and rejoined it at Reading Abbey. The name was allegedly because the abbey used the brook to power its corn mill and flush its toilets, and so engineered its course to ensure a good head of water.
From before 1241 until the 1800s, Theale unusually gave its name to the hundred containing the parishes of Aldermaston, Bradfield, Burghfield, Englefield, Padworth, Purley, Stratfield Mortimer, Sulham, Sulhamstead Bannister, Tidmarsh, Ufton Nervet and Woolhampton. The oddity of this is that the village was not in the hundred, because Tilehurst parish was in the Hundred of Reading.
The manor and church of Tilehurst belonged to Reading Abbey in the Middle Ages. However, the chapel at Theale did not but was part of land-holdings in Theale held by the nunnery of Goring Priory by 1291. The nuns also held the neighbouring manor of Sulham, but the chapel had some connection with the church at Englefield. This is circumstantial evidence of a readjustment of boundaries between Sulham, Englefield and Tilehurst parishes and the possible transfer of Theale in the earlier Middle Ages.
In the later Middle Ages, the abbey leased out many of its properties to ensure a cash income at a time when the economy was becoming increasingly cash-driven. The large manor of Tilehurst was subdivided, and a "manor" (not actually legally functioning as one) called Beansheaf was in existence by 1390. This was named after a family farming land in Tilehurst parish in the 13th century. The territory included Theale, but the manor-house was to the east of the present village and the site is now east of the motorway, at the north end of Bourne Close. A housing estate in Holybrook parish preserves the name.
Theale saw action in the English Civil War (1642–51). On 22 September 1643, soon after the First Battle of Newbury, the village was the site of a skirmish between Prince Rupert's Royalist forces and the Earl of Essex's Parliamentarians. Rupert attacked the Earl's forces from the rear as they were returning to London. According to contemporary reports, the Earl's forces – led by Colonel Middleton – held strong; up to 800 Royalist musketeers and 60 horses were killed, and at least 8 Parliamentarian units (a minimum of 800 men) were also killed, and were buried on the spot in Deadman's Lane. The Royalist forces retreated, and the Earl left Theale on the morning of 23 September, heading to Reading where his units recovered from fatigue. Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron marched through Theale on 1 May 1645, en route from Windsor to Salisbury.
Evidence for the encounter came to light in 1878, when a sword with the remains of an iron hilt was found near Deadman's Lane.
A housing estate in the south-west quadrant of the village has the street names Cavalier Close and Roundhead Road in memory of this skirmish.
Stagecoaches began to run through from London to Bath and Bristol in the mid-17th century, soon after the Civil War ended.
In 1667, the first through coach was advertised as The Flying Machine in an advertising poster: All those desirous to pass from London to Bath, or any other place on their Road, let them repair to the Bell Savage Inn on Ludgate Hill in London and the White Lion Inn at Bath, at both which places they may be received in a Stage Coach every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which performs the whole journey in Three Days (if God permit), and sets forth at five in the morning. Passengers to pay One Pound five Shillings each. 
In response to increased traffic, the first section of the Bath Road between Reading and Theale was made into a turnpike by Act of Parliament in 1714. The rest of the road from London to Bristol was to follow in the next four decades, leading to a Golden Age of coach travel.
As the Bath Road thus became an established trade route and turnpike between SW and SE England, Theale became a staging post and as such was known for its numerous coaching inns. A "stage" was the distance a coach would run before changing horses, and the staging post was the place where the horses were rested and refreshed before doing the stage again in the opposite direction. A stage was usually seven to fifteen miles depending on topography, so Reading to Theale at five miles was a short stage and would have taken an hour.
In 1802, topographer James Baker chronicled the village en route from Reading to Newbury, and described it as "inconsiderable". However, the wealth engendered by a continued growth in road traffic meant that the village entered its most prosperous era, expanding substantially in the earlier 19th century before the arrival of the railway.
The growth of the village led to the creation of a separate ecclesiastical parish and the consecration of a new church in 1832.
An alternative explanation is that the name comes from the Old English "þelu" meaning "planks". As with the village of Theale in Somerset, this probably refers to planks used to create causeways on marshes or flood plains.
The Kennet Navigation opened in 1723 from Reading to Newbury. The Kennet and Avon Canal, extending from Newbury to Bath, was opened in 1810. Theale had its wharf at a location called Sheffield, in Burghfield parish and next to Sheffield Lock. Here the road to Burghfield village crosses the canal by a single-lane swing bridge, now controlled by traffic lights.
On 21 December 1847, Theale railway station opened on the Berks and Hants Railway, a Great Western Railway subsidiary running from Reading to Hungerford. This immediately destroyed the coach traffic and the turnpike road company's income, and crippled the canal company which had to slash rates and be henceforth content with limited local traffic. The canal sold out to the railway in 1852, which maintained it in operation until 1951. Then a collapsed aqueduct closed it as a through route, although it was never formally abandoned.
The railway line was extended to Devizes in 1864, and became part of a new direct GWR main line to Devon and Cornwall in 1906.
Theale would have been one of the unfortunate towns and villages dependent on the coaching trade, for which the arrival of a railway was a disaster. This is shown by successive editions of the Ordnance Survey, which show that the village entered stasis and did not grow until the 20th century. Tellingly, apart from a station pub no development occurred near the station. From 1847 to the early years of the 20th century, the village had to make do economically with local farming, a brewery and gravel extraction. The last named was, however, greatly facilitated by the railway and a large pit near the village, the Theale Old Gravel Pit, opened in 1887 with its own railway siding.
The 1898 Ordnance Survey map also shows a small gasworks next to the station, and a ropewalk off Station Road near its junction with High Street. This is evidence that local farmers were growing hemp to make into rope.
The road came back to life with the invention of the motor car, and the new status of the Bath Road as London's highway to Bristol was demonstrated on 23 April 1900. Then, the Automobile Club (later the Royal Automobile Club) held a motor car reliability demonstration involving a cavalcade from London to Calcot Park, the home of Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe who was sponsoring it. Calcot Park was then just north of Theale parish.
For the next seventy years, all the motor traffic between London, Reading and Bristol passed along Theale High Street. The development response was slow, however, and only two small housing estates were developed in the inter-war period. The first was Lambfields west of the church, and the second comprised Blossom Avenue and The Crescent in the north. Lambfields was named after the Old Lamb coaching inn.
RAF Theale is a former Second World War RAF training facility located on Sheffield Farm, just east of the canal swing bridge (and actually in Burghfield parish). It was opened in 1944 and used for training by "No. 26 Elementary Flying Training School", and later in the same year by "No. 128 Gliding School". The EFT used twenty-four de Havilland Tiger Moths. There were two grass runways.
Gravel and birdwatching
Post-war, the major impact on the village's surroundings came from intensive gravel extraction along the River Kennet, which created a series of huge pits south of the railway, four miles long from south of the A340 junction to the railway to Basingstoke. These filled up with water after exhaustion, and became a series of large lakes. These in turn attracted much bird life including rarities, and became nationally famous as a birdwatching destination. The Theale cluster comprised the Wigmore Lane Gravel Pits, Bottom Lane Gravel Pits, Hosehill Pit Theale Main Pit and Arrow Head Pit.
In 1988, the Theale Area Bird Conservation Group was founded, and in 1997 this took over the abandoned Hosehill Pit which became a Local nature reserve called Hosehill Lake. This is now under the management of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust.
After the opening of the railway, the next day of total change for the village was the opening of the M4 motorway on 22 December 1971. The High Street went from having an enormous amount of traffic passing through, to none.
Junction 12 on the motorway was built just east of the village. The old road was cut (a footbridge was provided), and a new dual carriageway bypass built from the junction, running south of the village to the A340. A short link road, Hoad Way, was provided from this to the east end of the High Street.
The new transport link justified major development in the village. The area between the bypass and railway was zoned for industrial and warehouse development. Two substantial new housing estates were added to the village, Woodfield Way in the north-east and Meadow Way in the south-west. The narrow strip of land between the High Street and the bypass was infilled with blocks of flats.
As a precautionary preservation measure, in 1971 the Rural District Council declared three conservation areas: Theale High Street/Blossom Lane, Holy Trinity, Theale and The Lamb, Theale. In 1984, after it was realised that several of the buildings in the High Street were 17th century, a total of 32 edifices in the parish were given Listed building status. All are Grade II, except the church (Grade I) and Garston Lock (Grade II*).
Canal and railway again
The railway to Devizes was closed in 1963, and Theale lost its local service to that town.
The canal was locally re-opened from the Thames at Reading to Hungerford Wharf in July 1974. However, full restoration of the entire length to Bath was only completed in 2004. It has the legal status of a cruiseway, or a waterway devoted to recreational boat traffic, since 2011.
In 1983, West Berkshire Council declared the Sheffield Bridge Conservation Area to protect the swing bridge, Sheffield Lock and Sheffield Mill.
Rebuilding of the railway station began in 2013, but completion of the project has been delayed indefinitely and is now estimated to take place in 2024. Electrification of the railway line was in progress in 2018.
Until 1894, Theale was a chapelry and tithing territory in Tilehurst parish. Then, Theale civil parish was created. The new parish was included in Bradfield Rural District Council. However, in 1974 Bradfield Rural District became part of Newbury District Council which in turn became the unitary authority of West Berkshire.
The landscape of the present parish is relatively flat, with expanses of level ground flanking the main road. It is dominated by the built-up area of the village. This is residential north of the bypass, and commercial south of it. North of the village is a golf course, and to the west a few large fields owned by the Englefield Estate.
There were many wooded areas within the old parish before 2000, but these have been annexed by neighbouring parishes and the only named wood left is a tiny fragment in the south-east corner of the golf course next to the motorway called Further Clayhill Copse.
The River Kennet runs south of the village, and is here canalised as the Kennet & Avon Canal with two sets of locks and weirs (Garston and Sheffield Locks). It used to cut through meadows occupying a wide flood plain, but this were mostly dug out in the 20th century for gravel extraction and so replaced by a mosaic of lakes. The south-east and south boundary of the parish is now the canal. Just the other side, in Burghfield and Sulhamstead parishes, one of these lakes is now a Local nature reserve called Hosehill Lake.
Theale village has one lake within its residential built-up area to the far west, with privately owned houses flanking it on its north side but recreational walking possible to the south. This is also a flooded gravel pit, the Old Theale Gravel Pit. Two further such lakes are hidden away in a business park in the extreme south-east corner of the parish.
As with other parts of the Kennet Valley, soil in Theale is a variety of chalk, flint, gravel, clay, alluvium and loam. The village is on a broad gravel terrace, the gravel deriving from flints weathered out of the bedrock of chalk. The chalk outcrops in the hills to the north, with pockets of clay. The river flood plain is covered with alluvium, over beds of more gravel. The loam occurs where chalk and clay have weathered together.
Layout and fabric
Theale before the 20th century was an early example of ribbon development, in that the built-up area was a long strip along the Bath Road with no side streets. The layout focuses on the crossroads formed by the High Street (east), Church Street (west), Blossom Lane (north) and Station Road (south).
The High Street is completely built up with mainly Victorian edifices in red brick, some in patterned brickwork and some rendered in lime plaster. It is a "Conservation Area". Listed buildings earlier in date are 1, 4, 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 43–5, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 58, 60. Of these, seventeenth-century timber framed buildings are 29, 33, 35 and 52; the others are Georgian or Regency. 29, 31 and 47 are old coaching inns (31 still open as The Falcon). 49 has an unusual Gothick door-case.
Before the 20th century, Church Street was not completely built up but had clusters of buildings separated by paddocks. The village ended at the hamlet of Theale Green. Englefield Road branches north-westwards before the church, leading to the Health Centre, the Roman Catholic church and the Englefied Estate Office at the junction with Deadman's Lane. The church, churchyard wall, churchyard gate, the Old Rectory, the Old Rectory Cottage (former coach house) and the Webb Tomb in the churchyard are all Listed buildings. The church is the focus of its own "Conservation Area".
Church Street continues beyond the church to the Theale C of E Primary School, the library, Theale Green School and the St John Ambulance Centre. "Listed buildings" are 1–3, 2, 18-20 27, 29 and 49. 2 is the Crown Inn, a heavily altered 17th-century coaching inn formerly with a coach horse paddock opposite, where a car dealer is now. 18-20 is the Old Lamb, a former coaching inn which is now a hotel. It is the only thatched building in Theale, and is a 17th-century timber-framed edifice abutted by a large early 19th-century annexe. Dick Turpin stayed here and there is allegedly a ghost, but Historic England rejects the date of 1487 painted on the façade. The Old Lamb is easily confused with the Lamb next door at number 22, a pub in polychrome brickwork which closed down in 2012. The Old Lamb has its own Conservation Area, which includes a small housing estate called Lambfields. This was built in the 1920s, the first in the village, and features high-quality tile-hung semi-detached houses in a vernacular style.
Before the 20th century, Blossoms Lane ran to a hamlet called Blossoms End to terminate at Blossomsend Farm, now a golf course. The road is now Crown Lane, leading to Blossom Lane (singular, not plural). The High Street Conservation Area includes Crown Lane and lower Blossom Lane, protecting Victorian houses with polychrome brickwork.
Station Road leads through the industrial and commercial area, under the 1971 bypass bridge to the railway station, then on to the swing bridge over the canal at the Sheffield Bridge Conservation Area. This contains Sheffield Mill, Sheffield Lock and a pillbox, all listed. This lock has unusual scalloped walls. Garston Lock, to the east is Grade II* listed because it is a very rare turf-sided lock. The parish boundary is at the bridge, although the Fox and Hounds pub at Sheffield Bottom further on has a Theale postal address.
The smallest Listed Building in Theale is on the A340 just south of the Bradfield Road crossroads. It is an 18th-century milestone in the form of a short column, reading "TO BASINGSTOKE 15; TO WALLINGFORD 13".
According to the 2011 census, the parish had a population of 2,835. Of these, 49% (1,390) were male and 51% (1,445) were female. The populace lived in a total of 1,252 dwellings. The majority of working residents in Theale are employed in professional or administrative roles. Between 89% and 90% of residents considered their ethnicity to be White British.
|Output area||Homes owned outright||Owned with a loan||Socially rented||Privately rented||Other||km2 roads||km2 water||km2 domestic gardens||Usual residents||km2|
Theale has long been associated with pubs and the brewing trade. Many coaching inns were established on the road from London to Bath, though by the 1840s the success of the Great Western Railway had considerably reduced the custom the inns received. In 1843, writing about the effect of the railway on local business and environment, J G Robertson hypothesised that "it is probable that, in a few months, the completion of [the Great Western Railway] will totally annihilate the agreeable variety, and the hanging woods of Englefield and Beenham will no longer echo back the nocturnal challenge of the mail-guard's horn".
By 1854, the village's old coaching inns had either closed down or become ordinary inns and pubs. The survivors were: White Hart (on the eastern outskirts, at Pincents Lane, demolished 1969), Bull, Falcon, Castle and Crown. The Castle vanished in 1907. In 1939, only the Crown was an inn offering accommodation. On the other hand, the village then had the Railway Arms next to the station (demolished), the Bridge House Inn next to the canal (closed) and on Church Street the Red Lion (number 5, closed 2014), the (new) Lamb (number 22, closed 2012) and the Volunteer. So, The Ale Pub Crawl involved seven pubs on the Bath Road.
Blatch's Theale Brewery
The village business with the highest public profile in the later 19th and earlier 20th century was Blatch's Theale Brewery, located in premises off the High Street. The brewery began operations in 1752, and was acquired by the Blatch brothers (William Henry and Frank) in 1854. The family went on to create an estate of twenty-two public houses in west Berkshire and north Hampshire, including the Bull which was the tap house. The firm sold its beer under a trademark of a stylised ear of barley. There was also a bottling plant, and bottled beers were "Pale Ale", "Brown Ale", "B.B.", "XXXX" (a barley wine) and "Genuine Stout".
The company gave up brewing in 1959 after its beer lost palatability, but bought in beer from Wadworth Brewery in Devizes to sell under its own label. This continued until the death of Harold Blatch, the last chief executive officer of the family, in 1965. His heirs immediately sold out to Allied Breweries trading as "Ind Coope" in 1965, and the beer brands were terminated. The brewery buildings were not sold and some survive, converted to offices, as "Brewery Court". The company offices were at 43 High Street, a listed building, and the Bull tap house adjacent is now owned by Wadworth.
Local competition in the village before the Second World War came from Simonds Brewery of Reading which owned the Falcon and the Bridge House Inn by the canal, and from Strange's Brewery at Aldermaston Wharf, which owned the Crown and the White Hart.
The street name Blatch's Close commemorates the firm.
Theale was once involved in Tilehurst's tile industry; until at least the late 19th century there was a kiln to the north-east of the village. Pincents Kiln exploited the proximity of chalk to a pocket of clay to make lime cement as well as bricks and tiles. The site is now a business park to the east of the motorway. Some of the buildings in the High Street have old tiled roofs.
Gravel extraction was confined to small pits on the exposed gravel terrace of the village until the arrival of the railway. A large pit was opened in 1887 in the west of the village, with a railway spur. This pit was deep enough to flood as a lake, but subsequent work proceeding westwards down the Bath Road involved shallow stripping of the gravel above the water table. The Theale and Great Western Sand and Gravel Co was incorporated as a limited company in 1928, and was taken over by the Wraysbury Sand and Gravel Co in 1955. The rail-served "Theale Aggregate Depot" on Wigmore Lane remains in operation, although the material comes from other sources.
The gravel under the alluvium of the river valley was massively exploited after the Second World War, with a peak of activity in the Fifties. There is no extractive activity in the parish now.
Theale Motor Company
The car showroom on the corner of Church Street and Station Road is run by Theale Motor Company, a descendant of a very early garage and car repair business. The Theale Motor and Engineering Co was established, on the former coach horse paddock of the "Crown" opposite, by the First World War.
Five business parks adjoin the railway station. Those north of the railway are, west to east: Theale Technology Centre, Theale Business Park and Arlington Business Park. South of the railway are The Markham Centre (west) and Kennet Weir Business Park (east).
Theale has a railway station on the London to Exeter (via Taunton) line; the station has been in operation since 1847. Until 2013, the layout consisted of two platforms, the eastbound to Reading via Southcote Junction and Reading West and the westbound to Newbury via Aldermaston, Midgham, Thatcham, and Newbury Racecourse. Some trains run past Newbury to Kintbury, Hungerford and Bedwyn.
The station had a siding for general goods (freight) services on the north side to the east of its yard, and a pub called the "Railway Arms" at the yard entrance. Aggregate traffic (sand and gravel) used a terminal to the west, and this remains open.
The pub was demolished to build Brunel Way for the Theale Business Park. In 2013, a station upgrade was begun. The goods siding was replaced by a third platform on a new loop of track, and a car park for 215 places provided. Unfortunately, the project then stalled for legal reasons after all the old buildings had been demolished, and completion date is estimated as 2024. Meanwhile, there is no disabled access because the platforms can only be reached via stairs from the road bridge.
Trains are operated by Great Western Railway, and comprise a basic service of two trains an hour. One is a local Reading-Newbury, and one is a through London Paddington-Bedwyn.
After the opening of the M4 motorway removed all long-distance bus and coach traffic in 1971, the village's bus services consisted of a direct Reading to Newbury route, along the A4 road, and village routes between the same two towns running north and south of the main road west of Theale. These were operated by Reading Buses, the village ones being public services receiving a council subsidy.
The direct route is covered by the "Jet Black" bus service, instigated by Reading Buses between Newbury and Reading along the A4 road; the journey time is about 50 minutes to Newbury and 30 to Reading, with two buses an hour being the basic service.
In 2011, Reading Buses withdrew from providing subsidised services in the Newbury area. The Newbury & District Bus Company, then owned by Weavaway Travel, took these on. Also, the Reading firm contracted Weavaway to run "Jetblack" -although without changing the bus livery.
In 2018, Reading Buses took over Newbury & District Bus, and again dropped the village services. These were recast and reduced, being taken on by the West Berkshire Council Transport Services Team under the banner of Connect. The services are: 41 Newbury to Theale (Crown) via Chapel Row and Beenham, two to Theale and one from Theale daily, and 44 Thatcham to Calcot Sainsburys via Brimpton and Theale, one journey Mondays and Wednesdays.
Theale is just south-west of junction 12 of the M4 motorway; where the junction signs direct motorists to "Theale, Reading West". The motorway here was opened in 1971, simultaneously with a village bypass that runs south of the village. Part of the old road was suppressed for the motorway.
After 1971, the name "Bath Road" was given to the bypass. The first roundabout from the motorway on this leads to the village on the right via Hoad Way, and Arlington Business Park on the left via Waterside Drive. There is a Pay and display car park off the High Street, just east of the junction with Hoad Way.
The Kennet and Avon Canal is a statutory "cruiseway" for recreational boat traffic. Sheffield Bridge has a car park and picnic area, but no other facilities as the Bridge House Inn is defunct. The canal towpath is a statutory footpath, and also part of the Sustrans National Cycle Route 4 of the National Cycle Network, a long-distance cycle route from London to Fishguard in Wales. The towpath is not a statutory bridle path, however -no horses.
The village has a Church of England primary school, as well as a number of private pre-school organisations. The primary school was founded in 1814, when the Rev. Thomas Sheppard bequeathed a trust fund generating £20 a year for a school to learn poor children to read …and to instruct them their duty to God as taught by the church catechism, and our excellent Liturgy, as he wrote.
The school has occupied the same cramped site next to the church ever since, but in 2018 the parish council approved plans by West Berkshire Council to build a larger school on part of the North Street playing fields.
Theale Green Community School is a comprehensive secondary school located to the west of the village. The school's catchment area covers Woolhampton, Bradfield, Beenham, Englefield and Basildon. The school is an arts college and has a specialist department catering for students on the autism spectrum.
Places of worship
Mediaeval Chapel of Ease
There is documentary evidence from 1291 of a chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist at Theale, belonging to the nunnery of Goring Priory at Goring-on-Thames. This monastery also owned the adjacent manor of Sulham.
In the 19th century, villager A. Harrison of the Berkshire Local History Club wrote that the chapel was on the same site as the current church, and that it had some connection with Englefield church. The club was a private antiquarian society, the members of which passed notes about the history of their respective localities to each other.
In 1542, after Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the chapel was granted to Sir Leonard Chamberlain (the High Sheriff of Berkshire) and to Richard Andrews. The following year, it was transferred to the Burgoyne family by Chamberlain and Richard Hayles. In 1545 the Burgoyne family sold the chapel to Richard Bartlett, who in turn sold it to Humphrey Forster of Aldermaston in 1587. In 1609, Forster's son sold the property to Anthony Blagrave of Sonning, from whom the Wilder family purchased it in 1632. The last mention of the chapel as a working place of worship is a reference dated 1675 in the family's deeds.
The old chapel edifice was reportedly demolished in 1808, with evidence of its foundations being discovered in the building of the present church.
New Chapel of Ease
In 1799 Rev Thomas Sheppard built a new chapel of ease, at a time when Theale was still part of Tilehurst ecclesiastical parish. He held the advowson of Tilehurst church, and so had the authority to order this. The chapel was built of brick, had a bellcote, and was situated to the south-west of the present church., So, for almost a decade two chapel edifices stood near to each other.
Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Theale is a Church of England parish church in the Diocese of Oxford. The church continues to be highly active at the heart of Theale. At present there is one main service on a Sunday at 10:30am mixing traditional and modern music styles. The style of worship and ministry is of a Bible-centred evangelical tradition. The Rector is The Reverend Martin Davy, who was licensed as the incumbent on 5 September 2019.
Rev Sheppard died in 1814, having wished for a new Anglican parish church to be built to replace his earlier building. The benefactor enabling this was his widow Sophia, who donated £39,000 for the building of a church, rectory and premises for the school, though other sources state that the donation was closer to £50,000. Sophia was supported in the founding of the church by her brother, the famous Oxford classical scholar Martin Routh. He was rector of Tilehurst from 1832 to 1854. As a result, the advowson of the new church was granted to Magdalen College Oxford where Routh was President.
The church was designed in the Early English style by Edward Garbett, a local architect also responsible for the church of the same name in Reading. It was consecrated on 21 August 1832 by the Bishop of Salisbury; it had taken about 15 years to build. The dedication is to the Holy Trinity.
The chancel apse was added in 1892 by John Oldrid Scott. The church interior was then decorated with murals by George Frederick Bodley. Much of this decoration was destroyed in restorations in 1946 and 1965.
The church has been compared to the now-demolished church of St George in Newtown, Birmingham, owing to the designers' use of existing architecture, rather than "forcing [...] their own inventions".
The Bell tower is not part of the church edifice but is positioned to the south-east of the nave, with suggestions that its building was an afterthought. However, John Buckler built the tower between 1827 and 1828, with suggestions that he modelled the building on Salisbury's bell tower – demolished about 30 years previously – though little artistic and architectural evidence supports this.
The church consists of a tall and narrow nave without aisles of six bays, a five-sided apsidal chancel with an octagonal sacristy to the north, nave, a west porch and a detached bell tower to the south-east.
The nave bays are separated by prominent buttresses, with false pinnacles incorporated into their structures. The first four bays each have a pair of tall lancet windows in each side wall, but the last two bays have singletons. The façade is flanked by a pair of thin towers crowned with spirelets, and with blind arcades at their tops. The spirelets are echoed by a pair of tall pinnacles on the far corners of the nave. The frontage in between the towers is divided into three by a further pair of buttresses, the central zone having a triple lancet window and the two side zones, singletons. Above, a large rose window lights the void in between vault and roof. The porch is lofty, with a pair of pinnacles and a trefoil window above the pointed arched portal.
The chancel apse is lower than the nave, and has a single lancet window in each of its five sides. The octagonal sacristy is very unusual, and imitates mediaeval octagonal chapter houses such as at Westminster Abbey.
The tower is in three stages, the first incorporating an archway for a footpath. The belfry is lighted by triple lancet windows. Crowning it is a moulded parapet, with pinnacles at the angles -one is much larger than the other three. The tower is connected with the south wall of the chancel by a narrow range of the same height as the nave, lighted on the east and west sides respectively by two lancet windows. This has been called the "library".
The fabric is in Bath stone, brought in by the canal.
The nave is ceiled with a plaster rib vault in six bays, springing from engaged stone vaulting shafts rising from the floor. Geometric coloured stencilling from the (mostly destroyed) 1892 Bodley scheme of mural decoration has been restored on the vault. At the west end is a gallery supported by two rows of stone columns, with moulded capitals and bases, the eastern or front row having clustered shafts, from which spring pointed arches. The soffit of the gallery is groined in plaster. The nave floor is in Minton tiles. Tall lancet windows light the interior, paired in the first four bays and single in the last two.
The semi-octagonal apse has a massive triumphal arch. It has lancet windows above a trefoiled blind arcade, and a vault with radial ribs. The near side walls have murals of angels, remnants of the destroyed Bodley decorative scheme. The brass eagle lectern was a gift of the local Blatch family of brewers.
In the far left (north) side of the nave is the chantry of William Waynflete, the founder of Magdalen College Oxford, removed from the chapel of that college in 1830 and appropriated as the memorial of Mrs. Sophia Sheppard, at whose expense the church was erected. The chantry is a long, narrow structure, roofed by a four-centred barrel vault with molded ribs. In the south side are two windows, the eastern of five and the western of two cinquefoiled lights with tracery within square heads. The doorway has molded jambs and a straight-sided four-centred arch within a square head with traceried spandrels. On the west side is a traceried panel similar to the windows. Above this is a shield of Wayneflete's arms.
¶The doorway to the vestry and a doorway built into the interior face of the north-west wall of the nave appear to be of similar date, and were probably brought here from Magdalen College chapel at the same time.
The late 19th-century epigraph, in Gothic script, reads in Latin:
In hoc sacello, juxta summam altare Collegii Beatae Mariae Magdalenae apud Oxoniensis a Fondatore olim constructo et in hanc Sanctissimae Trinitatis ecclesiam ex dono Praesentis et Sociorum ejusdem Collegii AD MDCCCXXX tralato, depositum est cenotaphium Sophiae Sheppard hujus ecclesiae Fundatricis AD MDCCCXCII.
"In this shrine, erected by the Founder next to the high altar of the College of Blessed Mary Magdalen at Oxford and moved to this church of the Holy Trinity by the gift of the Present and Fellows of the same College in AD 1830, the cenotaph of Sophia Sheppard, the founder of this church, was placed AD 1892".
Sophia's cenotaph is a chest tomb with a mediaeval-style brass inset in the top.
The church's original organ had a single manual and was built by R. W. Rouse of Somerton, Oxfordshire. It was restored in 1933 by G. H. Foskett of London, with funds donated by the Blatch family. The restoration saw the organ moved from its original position in the church's west end to the nave, with preservation of the pipes. A second restoration was undertaken by Richard Bower of Weston Longville.
The churchyard walls and gate are separately listed by Historic England. The low main wall has very fine flint knapping with decorative stone panels and a gabled stone coping in three shallow steps. Either side of the entrance gateway the wall is higher, with a middle flint band between courses in brick. The original wrought iron gate has piers matching the main wall coping. To the west, the school wall was part of the same design, with piers now lacking gates and a wall also with a central band of flint. The school was part of the same architectural ensemble as the church, but it has been seriously altered and it, with its wall, is not listed.
The churchyard has been extended to the north. The original part has been denuded of its tombstones, but a chest tomb for Caroline Webb +1831 survives and is listed despite having lost its iron railings.
In contrast to the Gothic church, the very large original rectory (now the Old Rectory) is a two-storey building in a Neoclassical style. It is built in Bath stone, with a hipped slate roof -the slate would have come by sea to Bristol from north Wales, then by canal. The stone door-case has a pair of columns in the Doric order, supporting a triglyph frieze and triangular pediment. The original coach house, now the Old Rectory Cottage, is in the same style. Both edifices are listed.
St Luke's Church
The Roman Catholic church of St Luke is a modern building on Englefield Road. This is the only other place of worship in the village. It is a subsidiary church of the Catholic parish of Woolhampton, and is run by Douai Abbey. The plan is based on an elongated pentagon, and the walls are in red brick. The roof has five pitches meeting at a tall, thin spire in white.
There are now no Nonconformist congregations in the village.
The Congregational church founded a congregation in Theale in about 1875. This took over the Angel inn in the High Street in 1913, demolished the allegedly 16th-century building and built a chapel. This closed in 1996, and was itself replaced by apartments called Angel Court in 2007.
The Primitive Methodist Church founded a chapel in the village at 59 High Street about 1868, which survived until 1992. It was demolished for Beaumont House, but a stone plaque in the wall of this commemorates it.
Sport and recreation
There is a public meeting hall run by the parish council, the John Cumber Hall, at 38a High Street.
The village has its Recreation Ground on the Englefield Road. This is home to the Theale and Tilehurst Cricket Club which play in the Thames Valley Cricket League. Here also is the main village hall, home to the Theale Club which is a social club with a bar. A small skatepark is located here.
The North Street Playing Fields is a separate location on the other side of the road. It is used by the Theale Tigers Youth Football Club, but part of it was released for a new primary school in 2018.
The Theale Golf Club has an 18-hole golf course to the north of the village, the club house being approached via a driveway from Englefield Road. It was laid out in 1996. "Pay and Play" is available, as are day tickets and twilight rates (not weekends).
Dr Ellerton's Charity Allotments are a large set of allotments off Meadow Way. They were established by a private charity, Dr Ellerton's Charity which was founded in 1899 to help poor people in the parish.
Theale Water Sports Club has power-boating and waterskiing on the Main Gravel Pit.
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