The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Ipsden

Ambrosden church

Tradition has it that the first church in Ipsden was a small chapel on Berins Hill, about 2 miles east of the present church, built by St Birinus when he came from Rome in AD 634 to convert the Saxon peoples of South Oxfordshire.  He became the first Bishop of Dorchester (Oxfordshire). The Abbey Church at Dorchester continues to flourish.

St Mary the Virgin, Ipsden

The second Ipsden church was in a field south of ‘The Street’ opposite the Old Vicarage, about 1/2 mile south of the present church. It fell into disrepair in the 12th century and was eventually demolished: the materials were used to repair and enlarge the present church, which was much smaller and an upland chapel for the adjoining parish of North Stoke. This church, on the present site, eventually became Ipsden Parish Church.

The oldest part of the present building is probably the North Chapel, almost certainly that upland chapel.  There is a powerful small modern stained glass window in the west wall of the chapel.

The window opposite, at the east end of the chapel, is of the late 14th or 15th century – it would originally have had stained or painted glass. The wall painting round this window is of about 1400 and was cleaned and restored in 1990 – the whole wall was probably covered with a simple floral decoration and a surviving example of this can be seen near the lower south ledge of the window.  (For an extensive series of wall paintings see our sister church at North Stoke).

The present Chancel is said by Pevsner to be late 12th century and has an interesting range of stonework – including small carved stone capitals.  There is memorial brass in the Sanctuary dedicated to Sir Thomas Englysche and his wife, local big landowners, dated 1525.  The priest’s door has been blocked up but its location can be seen on the outside of the building.  The Nave is a mixture of 13th and 14th century work and at one time there was a South Aisle, traces of which are still clearly visible on the exterior of the building. There remain a number of monuments to important local families – including the Reade family (whose descendants still own and live in Ipsden House) of whom Charles Reade the author of ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ was a member.

The gallery at the west end of the Nave, probably replacing a wooden structure, was built about 1860 as a memorial to John and Anna-Marie Reade of Ipsden House. The organ was installed at the end of the 19th century and is a remarkably fine instrument for a small country church, (although unfortunately it blocks all the light from the west windows).

Historical information about the Church of St Mary the Virgin is provided by St Mary's Church, Ipsden – Langtree Team Ministry (

The Church of St Mary the Virgin is a Grade II* listed building. For more information about the listing see CHURCH OF ST MARY, Ipsden - 1059535 | Historic England.