Following the death of Mary Sophia Tudor. a member of the Thynne family, her husband Henry and their children decided in 1861 to build a memorial to commemorate her life. They chose to build All Saints Church in a field near their home as a private chapel. The foundation stone was laid in 1862 and the red brick chapel was consecrated in 1863 by the Bishop of Oxford.
The family were patrons of the arts and they called in some of the Pre-Raphaelites to build and decorate the church. The Pre-Raphaelites were a movement that were reviving the literal and visual arts in England at that time. The family selected G.F.Bodley as the architect. He built other notable gothic churches but All Saints in Dedworth is the only example of his work to be found locally. William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox-Brown, members of the pre-Raphaelite movement, produced the stained glass windows that made All Saints an important stopping place for visitors to Windsor.
The church was opened in 1866 and over the next 20 years the stained glass windows were gradually put in place. But as early as the 1920s the PCC (Parochial Church Council) minutes reveal that there were structural problems to the building due to land slippage – a sign of problems to come.
Little is known about All Saints in these early days. Records from the early 1900s show that All Saints was well attended. For example the records for Christmas Day in 1911 show that the three Holy Communion services held at 6am, 7am and 8am had 96 communicants and there were also services for Matins’ at 11am and Carols at 3.3Opm.
(For more pictures inside the old church see below.)
From 1866 All Saints operated as a daughter church of St Andrews, Clewer and for the whole of the first half of the 20th century there was a new priest every 2-5 years. In 1950 Father Methuen started a 25 year period as Priest at All Saints. This time of his leadership saw a period of stability but also a dramatic change in the fortunes of the church building.
By the early 1960s it became clear that All Saints church was suffering from cracks caused by the movement of the Thames Valley clay on which the church is built. It is also possible that a nearby World War II doodle-bug explosion on July 1st 1944 which damaged houses locally in Kentons Lane may have added to the instability. In 1962 the brickwork was so cracked and deteriorated that it was decided that the church had to be closed to avoid injury to the congregation, and a new church building was needed.
In December 1964, Architectural Review carried an item titled “Morris windows at Dedworth” which stated “The church has been declared unsafe and is to be demolished and replaced on the same site by a larger building. The windows have been removed and are at present in the care of the V&A”.
Church services were moved into the small ‘tin’ church hall which was situated beside the crumbling church building on what is now the car park. Many experts were called in and opinion was divided as to the right step to take. Because of the great historical and architectural interest in the building many wanted to have the building restored. The congregation and friends collected 1300 signatures in support of restoring the building.
The debate continued through the late 1960s and in June 1970 it was decided to demolish the old building and rebuild on the same site. During this time the Parochial Church Council deliberated over what should become of the contents of the church, most notably the Morris windows. In the end the windows were moved to the premises of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers (Clayton and Bell in Aylesbury) for safe keeping. The Worshipful Company generously restored the windows free of charge before they were replaced in the new church. Other items from the old church were stored to be later reused in the new building.
In January 1971 demolition commenced and within a few weeks the site was cleared.
As a post script it should be noted that the first church is still a part of the present building in that a faithful member of the church for most of his life, Terry Skinner, painstakingly made a model of the first church building out of matchsticks. It is tremendously detailed inside and has interior lighting. Sister Gina made the altar cloth.
The model now resides in its own display cabinet in the entrance hall. Terry will be remembered with much affection.
Acknowledgements : “Windsor A Thousand Years – a living history” published by Windsor Local History Publications Group 2000
Pictures of the First Church: