St Michael and All Angels Church, Park Road
St Michael’s was built in 1864-7 on Park Road, just south of the newly created Albert Park. Christ’s Hospital, the main town charity which owned what was then an open field north of Ock Street, had started to develop it for housing.
The new church was built through the efforts of the Reverend Nathaniel Dodson, the indefatigable vicar of St Helen’s and rector of St Nicolas’ from 1824 until a short time before his death in 1867.
The new St Michael’s, which had space for 650 worshippers, was needed to cater for those who lived at the western end of the town and were furthest from the town centre churches of St Helen and St Nicolas. Many of them lived and worked in the crowded courts on Ock Street. St Michael’s would later serve as the local church for the new housing as it developed.
The church was designed by George Gilbert Scott, the most prominent British architect of the time. Scott created a restrained and dignified building. It is in a simple gothic style with a tall west bellcote, and is built of roughly-coursed rubble stone.
Although fundraising for the new church had started in 1860 some funds were still lacking when the structure was completed, and the fittings in place for the consecration service were sparse: second-hand pews, a borrowed harmonium, no fixed lighting, and no heating. It took a combination of donations and the efforts of the congregation over the next few decades to provide lighting, heating, an organ, stained glass, and other fittings including a reredos of 1878 by Edwin Dolby and an altar of 1911 by Harry Redfern, both of them well known local architects. A church room was added in 1968 and there was a major refurbishment and reordering in 2008.
Initially, St Michael’s would have followed the same practices as St Helen’s and St Nicolas’ as it was served by the same clergy, and its baptism registers show that its congregation was largely from the surrounding neighbourhood. Today, and it seems since the 1920s, it is at the high church end of the Anglican spectrum and its congregation comes from all over Abingdon.
See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.
© AAAHS and contributors 2013, revised 2022.
For estimates of today’s equivalents to the sums of money mentioned in this article, see: https://www.measuringworth.com/
The church of St Michael and All Angels on Park Road was consecrated on 25 January 1867 as a chapel of ease for those Abingdon parishioners furthest from the main church of St Helen’s. It was built thanks to the efforts of the indefatigable vicar Nathaniel Dodson. Dodson had become vicar of St Helen’s and rector of St Nicolas’ in 1824 in his mid-30s and served until four months after the consecration of St Michael’s forty ̶ three years later. He died in the August of that year at the age of seventy-nine. St Michael’s was the third church he was instrumental in building. It was completed twelve years after the churches in Shippon and Dry Sandford, hamlets outside the town that were part of the enormous parish of St Helen’s that he took over. He was also involved to some extent in the rebuilding of the church at Buttermere, Wiltshire, a hamlet near Hungerford where he was the absentee rector from 1818 to 1867.
St Michael’s was designed by George Gilbert Scott (later Sir George) to fit a restricted budget. Scott chose what Pevsner describes as “a quiet dignified design” in coursed rubble stone from Marcham, with tiled roofs and using simple geometrical tracery. It has aisles, short transepts, a quatrefoil clerestory, a chancel, and a south porch, with a tall western bellcote with triple openings as its most striking feature. The builder, James Gardiner of George Street, Oxford, had very recently worked for Scott on the restoration of St Mary’s, the University Church in Oxford. Internally St Michael’s has octagonal piers to the nave and a crown post nave roof. The interior was originally very plain but furnishings and fittings were gradually added through donations and the efforts of the congregation. They included a reredos, a chancel screen, an organ, a new high altar, and stained glass, as well as heating and lighting. Some details are discussed later in this article.
Dodson lived at a time when the population of England and Wales was growing fast – it doubled between 1801 and 1851 and had doubled again by 1911 – and, while the main impact was in the new industrial towns, rural counties like Berkshire were not exempt. The combined population of Dodson’s two Abingdon parishes increased from 4835 to 6807 between 1801 and 1851 though it roughly stabilised after that into the next century.
The national response to the unprecedented increase in population was to cater for their spiritual needs through a burst of church building, church enlargement, and the provision of more pews that were available for anyone to use – the free sittings. At the time, many pews were private and rented by subscription.
An appeal for donations for churches in Abingdon and its neighbouring hamlets was formally launched in 1849 by a committee of nine academics and townsmen in Oxford, including five heads of Oxford colleges. The extent of Dodson’s ambition is shown by the committee’s objectives: new churches in Abingdon, Dry Sandford and Shippon, and the enlargement of St Nicholas’ church in Abingdon, plus four vicarages, plus schools and school houses where needed. He already had the support of the Bishop of Oxford who had contributed £100, as had Dodson himself. The appeal recognised that “Such an extent of ecclesiastical improvement requires a very large supply of means for its accomplishment; but no one can think that it surpasses the spiritual need of the inhabitants of Abingdon and its Hamlets….” and it directly expected those living in “.…the Mansions and Villas of different Nobility and Gentry….” across Berkshire to make “abundant contributions”. It also hoped that “every gentleman in the County” would contribute to “…the relief of the spiritual destitution of the County Town of his own Shire.”
In the mid-1850s, after the churches at Dry Sandford and Shippon had been built and endowed, it became clear that urgent repairs were needed to the tower of St Helen’s and, though the Vestry was responsible for organising them rather than Dodson himself, this must have taken some of his time and energy. The repairs were carried out in 1857-8 allowing the 68-year-old Dodson to turn his full attention to the provision of a new church in Abingdon. Essentially no funds remained from the over £4000 raised in the initial appeal and he needed both finance and a suitable site.
Dodson had always wanted the new Abingdon church to be built west of the town centre at a location convenient for the crowded working-class housing in the ‘courts’ behind Ock Street . Ock Street had also developed as a centre of religious dissent with nonconformist chapels but no Anglican presence. Dodson’s initial grant application to the Diocesan Church Building Society was in 1851, and it seems he envisaged the new Abingdon church being built in the 1850s at the same time as the churches in Dry Sandford and Shippon, but was unable to go ahead because he could not find a suitable site. Christ’s Hospital, the main charity in the town, owned the open field to the north of Ock Street but needed Charity Commission agreement to sell its land. Finally, in 1859 and following a protracted investigation into its governance, the Charity Commission set out a new scheme for the administration of Christ’s Hospital. It included projects using the Hospital’s land for the benefit of the town: a recreation ground that became Albert Park, a new site for the grammar school and a specific provision that land could be sold for a new church. In 1860, Dodson arranged for the purchase of a site of almost a third of an acre on the south side of the newly laid out Park Road just opposite the southern entrance to the park, at a cost of £100, and the plot was conveyed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1861. It was too small to allow for a burial ground, but the new municipal cemetery off Spring Road and within easy reach had recently opened.
The appeal for funds was re-launched at the end of 1860. Dodson had already secured an unusually large donation of £400 from the Oxford Diocesan Church Building Society to which he himself added another £100. He already had a design for the church from the prominent architect George Gilbert Scott who had built up a large practice and was known for his Gothic revival churches. (His Albert Memorial, Grand Midland Hotel at St Pancras Station, and Foreign Office also date from the 1860s.) Scott’s church would hold 650 people, including some seats available to anyone free of charge. The foundation stone was laid in December 1864 and the church was completed two years later, standing isolated as the map below shows, on the newly-laid-out Park Road with open land to the south as far as the buildings on Ock Street. Despite this, its main entrance is via the south porch, and Dodson must have anticipated that a road would be built south from the church to Ock Street giving a vista from there up to the new church silhouetted on rising ground. In the event it was not until 1896, thirty years later, that the new road was built, and it did not reach all the way to Ock Street but only to a new residential road built parallel to and a little to the north of Ock Street itself.
The map also shows that both sides of Ock Street were lined with crowded ‘courts’ of workers’ cottages behind the street frontages. They remained in use until the slum clearance in the late 1930s when the inhabitants were moved to new housing on the southern edge of the town.
Dodson had originally conceived of St Michael’s as the church for Ock Street. The congregation would have increased during the following few decades as the land around the park and between it and Ock street was developed for housing. It would also have been temporarily swollen when St Helen’s was closed from June 1871 for over two years while it underwent what had become urgent repairs and a refurbishment. By the 1890s, attendance at Easter had settled down to about a third of the attendance at St Helen’s, about 240 on average compared to about 720.
St Michael’s, though a dignified and attractive building from the outside, must have been built down to a tight budget. When it was consecrated early in 1867, the bishop commented in his sermon that the building fund was still short of “many hundred pounds” and made an appeal for further “offerings”. Possibly as a result, the chancel floor and roof needed attention in 1878-9 and the roof again in 1908.
At first the church was furnished with second-hand pews, had no heating or fixed lighting, and relied on a borrowed harmonium for its services. Furnishings were added over time through donations and fundraising. A gas stove and gas lights were installed in late 1868, stained glass for the east window by 1875 at a cost of £80, followed by a reredos and low chancel screen in 1878. The last two were designed by Edwin Dolby, the leading local architect at the time. The reredos, of freestone and marble, was donated in memory of Daniel Godfrey (1799-1877), by his family. Daniel Godfrey was Abingdon town clerk from 1835 to 1877.[i26] The chancel screen was financed by another individual donation. We have found no record of the stonemasons who made the reredos and screen but two stonemasons’ businesses were active in Abingdon at the time: Lock and Godfrey and Peyman’s.
In 1876 fundraising had begun for the £300 needed for an organ, and in under two years an organ had been built by Charles Martin of Oxford and was in use in September 1877.
St Michael’s Guild was founded in 1886 to provide decorations and furnishings. Members paid varying monthly subscriptions, and during the next five years the membership of over a hundred provided a processional cross, two brass standard gas lamps, a brass lectern, and brass candlesticks as well as hangings and carpets. Funds were raised separately for a clock that was made by Mr Payne of High Street Abingdon at an estimated cost of £61 and was installed in 1887. It had an exterior dial high in the west gable and struck the hours which must have been a useful reminder of the time over quite a wide area. The working parts were removed in the 1930s after not functioning for some time.
In 1911 the guild also raised the £65 to pay for a new altar designed by the architect Harry Redfern who had started his career in Abingdon. It is of solid African walnut with inlays of mother of pearl and silver, and all the joints are secured by wooden pegs. It was made by a local craftsman, Amos Broughton. Soon after it came into use the marble reredos was covered with a curtain.
Other furnishings were donated as memorials following the First World War. The solicitor C Alfred Pryce presented the north choir stalls in memory of a son who was killed in Flanders in 1918, with the Guild financing the south choir stalls. The glass in the south baptistry window is in memory of two Perrin brothers, sons of a former verger, both killed in the war. The other four windows are also memorials including one, financed jointly by the congregations of St Michael’s and St Helen’s, in memory of the wife of a former vicar. One chancel window is by Clayton and Bell; the other, and the two aisle windows, are by Burlison and Grylls. The Stations of the Cross, which were gradually added from 1945, some as donations, are from designs made by Ian Howgate in the 1930s for Faith Craft.
St Michael’s has been repaired and refurbished in the century since then, most notably with the addition of the church room in 1968 and a major reordering in 2008 when under-floor heating was also installed. The new floor includes a prayer labyrinth.
Today, and it seems since the 1920s, St Michael’s is at the high church end of the Anglican spectrum – it uses candles, bells, and incense during the celebration of the mass – though originally it would have followed the same practices as St Helen’s and St Nicolas’ as all three were served by the same vicar and curates. From the baptism registers, for its first fifty years it was mostly serving its own neighbourhood. This changed in the 1920s when its congregation was coming from all over Abingdon, suggesting that by then its services were distinctive. From 1914 one curate had officiated at most of the St Michael’s services although it wasn’t until 1938 that there was a specific appointment to St Michael’s. Incense is first mentioned in 1914 when the then vicar asked the bishop for permission, saying that parishioners had made the request. Incense and a censer were purchased but apparently not used until 1919 and it seems incense did not come into regular use until about 1940. Stations of the Cross were gradually added to the furnishings only after the Second World War.
St Michael’s may have adapted physically and liturgically during its hundred-and fifty-year history, but it still embodies Dodson’s original vision of a church in the western part of the town serving its neighbourhood as well as the wider community.
We thank Hilary Clare for providing her private notes on St Michael’s which have provided much of the information in this article.
© AAAHS and contributors 2022
 J C Norris, St Michael and All Angels 1867-1967, 2016 edition by David Duce. Downloaded 24 August 2020 as a pdf from https://www.stmichaels-abingdon.org.uk/norris_history_1867-1967.pdf, p. 1; Hilary Clare, Lecture notes 2019, p. 1. The information is mostly from Norris, St Michael’s, supplemented by notes by the late Hugh Randolph in her possession.
 Oxford Times, 16 February 1868, p. 4 & 25 May 1867, p. 6.
 Reading Mercury, 17 August 1867, p. 5.
 Geoffrey Tyack, Simon Bradley and Nicolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Berkshire (2010), pp. 277 & 511.
 Anon, http://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getchurch.php?id=1571 (accessed 30 April 2022); Anon, https://images.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/luna/servlet/detail/LPLIBLPL~34~34~98523~115075?qvq=q:Buttermere%20Wiltshire&mi=1&trs=4 (accessed 30 April 2022).
 Nicolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Berkshire (1966, reprinted 1993), p. 53; Oxford University and City Herald, 2 February 1867, p. 12.
 Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 25 August 1866, p.5; Oxford University & City Herald, 29 June 1861, p.9; Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette 28 October 1862, p. 8; 1861 census.
 Tyack, Bradley & Pevsner, Berkshire, p. 99.
 VCH Berkshire Vol. ll, reprinted 1972, p. 243; Kelly’s Directory of Berkshire 1915, p.20 (for 1911), http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll4/id/226792/rec/56 , (accessed 17 May 2022).
 Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 12 May 1848, p .3.
 Tyack, Bradley & Pevsner, Berkshire, p. 94; Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 4 July 1857, p. 7 & 15 August 1857, p .8.
 Norris, St Michael’s, p. 2.
 Norris, St Michael’s, pp. 2-3.
 Sandy King (ed) ,Celebrating 150 years of Albert Park, Abingdon-on-Thames (Abingdon, 2015) pp. 1-3; The Scheme for the Management and Regulation of Christ’s Hospital at Abingdon in the County of Berks and the Application of the Income Thereof. Approved by the High Court of Chancery by Order Dated 4th June 1859 (London 1859), Clause 21.
 King, 150 years, p. 63.
 Tyack, Bradley & Pevsner, Berkshire, p. 100.
 Clare, Notes 2019 p. 2; Norris, St Michael’s, p. 3; Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 3 December 1864, p. 8.
 Clare, Notes 2019, p. 2.
 King, 150 years, pp. 53-60.
 Norris, St Michael’s, p. 17
 Oxford Times, 2 February 1867, p. 7.
 Clare, Notes 2019, pp. 4-5.
 Clare, Notes 2019, pp. 7.
 Oxfordshire History Centre, parish box 1 for Abingdon St Helen with St Nicolas, Ms Oxf dioc papers c 943, St Michael’s envelope.
 Reading Mercury, 8 June 1878, p. 4.
 Bromley Challenor, Selections from the Records of the Borough of Abingdon 1555-1897 (Abingdon 1898) Appendix LIII.
 Norris, St Michael’s, p. 13; Clare, Notes 2019, p. 5.
 Abingdon Herald, 23 July 1877
 Norris, St Michael’s, pp. 10-11.
 Norris, St Michael’s, pp. 6-18; Clare, Notes 2019, pp. 6 &16.
 Clare, Notes 2019, pp. 11-13.
 Tyack, Bradley & Pevsner, Berkshire 2010, p. 99.
 Clare Notes 2019, p. 21
 Clare Notes 2019, p. 25.
 Clare Notes 2019, pp. 17-21.