Chapel attached to St Mary's Convent


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Challow Road, Wantage, Oxfordshire, OX12 9DJ


Ordnance survey map of Chapel attached to St Mary's Convent
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Statutory Address:
Challow Road, Wantage, Oxfordshire, OX12 9DJ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Vale of White Horse (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Chapel of 1887, designed by J L Pearson, extended in 1900, east end reconfigured in 1923 by Sir John Ninian Comper.

Reasons for Designation

The Chapel to St Mary's Convent built 1887-9 to the designs of J L Pearson, lengthened in 1900, probably by F L Pearson, the east end remodelled by Sir John Ninian Comper in 1923, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * A collaborative composition by J L and F L Pearson with Sir Ninan Comper, noted ecclesiastical architects and designers with a number of listed buildings to their names; * A finely crafted interior, with elegant vaulted roof to the nave and sanctuary and detailed carved features including a baldacchino and statuary at the east end; * Good quality, complimentary fixtures and fittings and stained glass by the architects executed with craftsmanship.

Historic interest: * An integral part of St Mary’s Convent which, with the main ranges designed by G E Street with later buildings by W Butterfield, comprise a record of the progress of the Gothic Revival by some of its most original and assiduous designers over a period of 70 years.

Group value: * With the convent buildings, gateway and walls by Street and Butterfield, and White Lodge by Baillie-Scott, separately listed at Grade II.


The Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) was founded in 1848 by William John Butler, then Vicar of Wantage but later Dean of Lincoln, following the spiritual revival in the Church of England known as the Oxford Movement. CSMV was one of the first Anglican Religious Communities to be founded in England since the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.

From the beginning there was an emphasis on simplicity of life, the first Rules being drawn up in 1854. These were revised in 1863 but the fully printed Rule and Consititution did not appear until 1896, from which time the sisters took explicit vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as they continue to do to this day. The Community grew over the years and was active in both social missions in the UK and overseas.

The original Convent building by G E Street was built in 1855-6, with the Chapel of St Mary Magdelene also by Street constructed in 1858-61. The Convent was extended by the addition of a long wing to the right in 1860; the refectory was added in 1866, extended 1871-2 and altered in 1900. Butterfield added a Noviciate to the north of the Street’s buildings in 1878. The construction of this larger chapel by JL Pearson began in 1887. It was lengthened in 1900 when the ante-chapel, Lady Chapel, galleries and vestry were added. Between 1913 and 1922 fixtures and fittings by J L and his son F L Pearson and Hems of Exeter were added. Also in 1922, the stone statue of Our Lady was installed at the west end, carved by Sister (later Mother Maribel) in memory of Sister Rhoda. The east end was reconfigured by Sir Ninian Comper in 1923. Other minor changes were made in the later C20, the most significant of which was the construction of St Peter's chapel in 1968.

J L Pearson (1817-1897) completed over 200 designs for new churches and renovations during his career including Truro Cathedral (National Heritage List for England 1205377, 1880, Grade I). His son, Frank (1864-1947) joined his father's practice in 1881, completing Truro Cathedral after his father's death. Sir John Ninan Comper (1864-1960) was a Scottish architect considered by some to be the heir to the earliest Gothic Revival architects. Comper designed numerous churches, their furnishings and stained glass in Scotland and England including highly-graded examples such as the Church of St Mary-in-the-Baum, in Rochdale (NHLE 1025294, 1911, Grade I).


Chapel to St Mary's Convent built 1887-9 to the designs of J L Pearson, lengthened beyond the screen to the west in 1900, probably by F L Pearson, when the vestries, Priest's Room, Song Room and Library were built. The east end was rebuilt by Sir John Ninian Comper in 1923, the east window stained glass is also by him. The stalls are by J L Pearson and Harry Hems; the angels above them by Josef Mayr of Oberammergau, Bavaria. The screen of 1913 is by FL Pearson; with the rood (crucifix) of the same date carved by Hems. The tabernacle of 1918 is by F L Pearson. Mother Maribel carved the stone statue of Our Lady.

MATERIALS: coursed and dressed limestone, with ashlar dressings and a tiled roof.

PLAN: central nave with side aisles and rooms attached to the north.

EXTERIOR: inspired by French Gothic with simple Geometrical tracery. The east end, by Comper, with corner buttresses, has three stepped lancet windows, pilasters rising on either side of the central window, with a multifoil roundel above. A spirelet rises from the ridge approximately at the point where the nave meets the chancel. The buttressed south elevation has two or three light lancet windows with hoodmoulds and quatrefoil tracery, with a transept to the west lit by two, two-lancet windows. The west end is dominated by a tall spire and a large geometrical window of five lights. Additions with gabled roofs at the north elevation have two, three and four light lancets, with plate-tracery, beneath pointed-arch hoodmoulds.

INTERIOR: a lofty, well-proportioned interior space with a stone, rib-vaulted roof and red and black quarry tiles to the narthex and nave floor. A finely-carved wooden screen between the west narthex and the nave is by F L Pearson; the stepped, flying cornice is surmounted by a rood (crucifix) by Hems, flanked by St John and the Virgin Mary. The nave stalls have carved backs with cusped arches and angels above. The sanctuary is approached by marble steps and has mosaic and marble patterned floor covering. The east end remodelled by Comper in 1923 has a carved baldacchino with four columns, flanked by two side vaults with carved statuary of saints. The sanctuary has rich carving including two decorated-style stone sedilia and an aumbry at the south side, with carved angels and saints above. The north side has carved chancel stalls. The richly-carved stone tabernacle by F L Pearson is to the rear. The stained glass of the east window depicts: at the centre, Christ in Glory, The Crucifixion, and Madonna and Child; to the left, Miracle of Cana, Mary and Joseph with Jesus and The Annunciation; to the right, the Crowning of Our Lady, the Risen Christ meeting Mary and the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Other stained glass to the north and south walls are in memory of sisters who died in the 1890s. The stained glass windows in the choir are dedicated to external sisters and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. There is a brass memorial to John William Butler. Two first floor chapels at the west end are accessed from the narthex. On the north side is a corridor leading to the ancilliary rooms, plainly fitted with quarry tile floors and carved architraves to the doors.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Bradley, S, Tyack, G, The Buildings of England: Berkshire, (2010), 589-591
Quiney, A, John Loughborough Pearson, (1979), 209-11, 278-279
History, accessed 13th July 2015 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 13 Jun 2001
Reference: IOE01/04411/34
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Anthony J Felmingham. Source Historic England Archive
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