How it Started
The Parish of St Sebastian’s, Wokingham Without, lies roughly halfway between the country town of Wokingham and the village of Crowthorne in Berkshire.
St Sebastian’s is an ecclesiastical parish in the parish of Wokingham Without – ‘without’ meaning outside Wokingham. There is no village of St Sebastian’s; the Church, with its associated Church of England Primary School, is the centre of the community.
Originally, the area was part of the Great Forest of Windsor. People lived in tents and small cottages in clearings in the forest. They were very poor and made a living by making and selling brooms – hence they were call ‘Broomdashers’. They were lawless and heathen and worshipped at mounds of peat decorated with pieces of broken pottery. Although in the parish of All Saints, 3 miles away in Wokingham, they were largely ignored by the Church.
This situation so alarmed a Mr Francis Soames, Churchwarden of All Saints that, in 1846, he wrote a letter to the Dean of Sarum appealing for help. His letter speaks of “a wild and remote district, the population composed of labourers and Broomdashers who stand in dire need of regular pastoral superintendence, the want of which is attended with the growth of irreligion, vice and immorality. Means should be speedily adopted to put an end to evils of so deplorable and awful a character”.
Although some attempts to convert people were made by Baptists, who held a small day school and there were occasional Sunday services held by a man from Heelas, the drapers in Wokingham, the situation continued until the 1860s.
The Sawyers moved into a large house at St Sebastian’s, which they renamed Ravenswood. The commitment and dedication of this family were central to the conversion to Christianity of the heathen Broomdashers. In 1862 Major Sawyer gave up a cottage on the estate to form a small day school; no child was allowed to go to school unless they also went to worship on a Sunday afternoon. The Bishop of Oxford gave Major Sawyer permission to read Evensong and later he received assistance from the vicar of All Saints.
The next step was to build the Church on a site donated by the Sawyers. The Bishop of Oxford procured grants and money was gradually raised, including generous donations from Mr Walter of Bearwood and the Master of Wellington College. The Church of St Sebastian’s was built and consecrated on 10th December 1864. The school was built approximately 6 years later with major contributions from another notable local, the Palmers, who lived at Heathlands nearby. The Sawyers’ involvement in pastoral care continued with Mrs Sawyer bringing in children for baptism and their daughter assisting in the formation of the first choir.
It is unclear why the Church was called St Sebastian’s. The most accepted explanation is that the Sawyers had recently been on holiday to Spain where there were many churches dedicated to St Sebastian. It is believed that the Bishop did not entirely approve of their choice as St Sebastian did not have a saint’s day in the English Church calendar. However, he did consent on the condition that the west window represented the martyrdom of St Sebastian.
St Sebastian’s continued to be in the Parish and under the control of All Saints, Wokingham, with curates supplied by them until 1871 when the Parish of St Sebastian’s was formed.
The population of the Parish has grown from 394 in 1881 to over 8,000 at the turn of the millennium.
The original church was a simple barn shape designed by William Butterfield, later the architect of Keble College, Oxford. Additions to the building in 1885 included a new vestry, pulpit, bell tower, oak eagle lectern and stained-glass window on the south side of the church. The oak choir stalls, with carvings relating to St Sebastian, were installed in 1887 and financed by the incumbent, Rev Carr. In 1926 many changes took place to the church. Stained glass windows were added, and the altar was enlarged. The very fine organ was bought in 1947 from a local house and the organ room built. The most recent extension was in 1983 to house the large congregations at family services. The stained-glass window of St Sebastian was moved into its current position.
The first vicar of the church was the Rev Hugh Redmond Mores who was the son of the Rector of All Saints, Wokingham. He was vicar for 13 years and was much loved by his parishioners. He was succeeded by the Rev Arthur Carr who was also a scholar – it was the proceeds from his book “The Church and the Roman Empire” which funded the choir stalls.
|Hugh Redmond Mores||1870-1882|
|Georg Knapp Turner||1896-1912|
|Arthur Perronet Carr||1912-1946|
|Frederick John Ernest Britnell||1947-1976|
|Andrew Marsden||1997- 2022|
|Rickey Simpson-Gray||2023 –|
St Sebastian’s Churchyard contains a number of war graves for those men who sadly fell during the First World War. These graves are maintained by Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Further to the gracious work of previous Incumbent, Reverend Canon Andrew Marsden, in 2014, the following information has been found of the following persons buried in the Churchyard:
- Reverend Vincent Coke Boddington;
- Lt. Ernest Edward Hains MC;
- Flight Lt. Desmon Young;
- Pyte Puaka Whitau.
Should you require additional information of the above persons, kindly contact the Wokingham Remembers website, which has undertaken research into the history of those named on Wokingham Borough Parish Council’s War Memorial.
Crowthorne is located in the Royal County of Berkshire close to the Hampshire and Surrey Borders.
The village of Crowthorne is split between the Unitary Authorities of Bracknell Forest Borough Council and Wokingham Borough Council and even those who live in the Wokingham Borough will tell you that they actually live in Crowthorne. There are few retail facilities within the Parish a small parade of shops in the east...