The building was originally built in the early 14th century as a chapel for the borough of Thatcham. It was known as St Thomas’ Chapel.
The chapel held services for around 250 years. After that time it appears to have been unused. In consequence the building fell into a state of disrepair.
The following text is taken from “Thatcham, Berks, and Its Manors” by Samuel Barfield. Published 1901.
The Chapel of the Borough of Thatcham
The Chapel at the east end of Thatcham, erected c. 1304
Towards then end of the 13th century Thatcham was a comparatively thriving town, and had the title of a borough conferred upon it. The burghers were public-spirited men, and as the accommodation provided by the parish church, which was situate at the west end of the town and consisted only of a nave and chancel, was probably found to be inadequate to the requirements, it was determined, in the early part of the 14th century, to build a chapel at the extreme east end of the town, near the boundary division of Colthrop Manor estate. Sir Richard de Fokerham was lord of the manor of Colthrop at this time, and, as will be seen, took an active interest in the matter.
There can be little doubt that the provision formerly made for the public worship of the inhabitants had been insufficient; that they also were of this opinion, and that it was not long before steps were taken for improving their condition in this respect.
King Edward I. Was at Newbury in 1301, and shortly afterwards the parishioners having erected a chapel at the east end of the town, petitioned Sir Richard Fokerham to apply to the bishop of the diocese for leave to hold divine service there. Several meetings were held on the subject, and a correspondence ensued between Sir Richard and the bishop, when ultimately in 1304 the latter granted his provisional licence for two years for the performance of service in the chapel upon the terms specified in the licence. The purport of it is as follows:-
“Licence granted to Sir Richard Fokerham by the Lord [Bishop of Salisbury] to celebrate divine service in the chapel of Thatcham at his own expense and that of the parishioners.
“Being often earnestly desired by you and by some other parishioners of the church of Thatcham to allow divine service to be henceforth celebrated in the chapel which is said to have been already erected in the east part of the town aforesaid, by our letters we have directed out beloved son, the official of the archdeacon of Berkshire, having summoned those who should be summoned to go to the spot, and having heard all whom it interests to come forward in this behalf, to enquire diligently what necessity or utility moves those who make this request, and to whom any prejudice could in any wise arise from the said Chantry if it were thus granted, at whose expense also it ought to be now made and sustained in the future :- And whereas by the letters of certificate of the official aforesaid upon the execution of such our mandate to us directed it is clear that our beloved sons, the abbot and monks of Reading, the patrons, and Master Anthony the rector, of the church aforesaid have given their consent to the granting of this chantry, and that the devotion of the faithful may be increased hereby and that prejudice to no one will arise therefrom, and that you especially and the chief people of the parish abovesaid in general have promised in good faith in the presence of the official to effectually obtain as soon as you can a Licence from the King to abundantly endow that chapel with your lands and rents, and meanwhile to pay a suitable stipend every year to a chaplain to celebrate in the said chapel three times a week: You repeatedly coming in person to us and in out presence relating the premises with repeated instance have humbly besought us to accept in full confidence your promises and to condescend to give you favourable hearing in your petitions aforesaid in this behalf: We therefore having weighed all and singular the premisses, as was becoming, condescending for the time to you and the other manifold petitioners in this behalf, have thought good to grant to you and to them by the tenor of these presents that for the space of two years to be continuously reckoned from the date of these presents you may cause divine service to be celebrated in the said chapel by a fit chaplain to be provided at your and their cost in the said chantry on all Sundays, holydays, and festivals, having first sworn to pay the rector and mother church of the said place whatever profit accrues to the chantry from the devotion of the faithful. And he who celebrates in the chantry, on the days when it is not lawful for him to celebrate there, let him frequent the aforesaid church at canonical hours and at mass, and do you and the others, who by your promises have now obtained this favour from us, carry it out during the two years aforesaid. If you fail in any point of if anything is attempted contrary to this by you or the chaplain, we consider this grant to be revoked.
Dated at Potern th 23rd of May, A.D. 1304, and the 7th year of our consecration.”
The facts recorded in this interesting document and the care and judgment shown by the bishop on the occasion are worthy of note. A clear account is given of the solicitations made to him by Sir Richard de Fokerham and the other parishioners – of the enquiry directed by the bishop to be made on the spot by the archdeacon – of the consent of the Rector and the patrons having been obtained – the appropriation of the alms of the faithful – the obligation by Sir Richard and the other parishioners to obtain the King’s licence to the grant of their lands for the support of the chantry, and in the meantime to pay a suitable stipend to the chaplain, and of the services to be performed and the duties to be observed by him. All these matters show how thoroughly the arrangements were considered and provided for by the bishop. How far Sir Richard gave of his lands or goods for the support of the chaplain does not appear, but there can be little doubt that he made some provision.
At the end of the two years, it having been found upon enquiry by the archdeacon that all the arrangements had been carried out to his satisfaction, the licence was renewed and made perpetual, after a further enquiry ordered by the bishop under a document of which the following is the purport:-
“S[imon] by divine permission bishop of Salisbury, to our dear son, the official of the archdeacon of Berks, greeting, grace and benediction. We remember to have lately granted to our dearly beloved son, Sir Richard Fokerham, knight, a certain chantry in the chapel, which is is said is built on the east part of the town of Thatcham, in a form under our seal to be exhibited to you by the said knight. Whereas it is now urged on the part of said knight that we should prolong the time of the chantry, not wishing to agree to this petition without asking the consent of those whom the chantry might injure, we order you to go to Thatcham aforesaid, and enquire diligently whether the form of the grant of the chantry exhibited to you has been fully observed in all its articles, and whether the rector and patron of the church, and others whom it concerns, are willing to give their consent to the prolongation of the chantry; and report to us thereon. Dated at Sunning, the 4th June, 1306, 9th year of our consecration.”
This chapel of Thatcham is in the old documents called the chapel of the borough of Thatcham, and it is situated within the boundary-line of the borough, at its eastern end, while the same line is so drawn at the western end as just to exclude the parish church from its limits.
The chapel was used for services for probably nearly 250 years, until, in fact, the reign of Edward VI. From that time it appears to have been disused, and in consequence to have fallen into ruin, and to have so remained for about 150 years more. The next account we have of it is in the conveyance and trust deed of Lady Francis Winchcombe in 1707, in which it is spoken of as an old decayed chapel.
This is the building which Lady Winchcombe converted into a school known as the Blue Coat School, for an account relating to which see the chapters on the Charities of Thatcham.
Some of the features of the ecclesiastical building can be traced at the present time, as for example its situation, its bearings due east and west at the entrance to the town, the two canopied niches – one on either side if the west door – the bell-turret at the west end, the priest’s door on the south side, and the piscina.
There can be no doubt as to the identity of this chapel. Its situation corresponds with the school. The street which leads to it has from time immemorial been known as Chapel Street. The public playfield called in the court rolls of the Manor (hereafter to be mentioned) Chapel Marsh is close to it, all of which facts tend to prove its identity. Long after its dissolution this building continued to be known as the chapel of the borough of Thatcham, and in the court roll of the borough for the year 1691, as previously stated, it is expressly called the chapel of this borough.