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St Mary's Convent

A Grade II Listed Building in Wantage, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.5914 / 51°35'29"N

Longitude: -1.4342 / 1°26'3"W

OS Eastings: 439292

OS Northings: 188213

OS Grid: SU392882

Mapcode National: GBR 6Y5.47K

Mapcode Global: VHC12.384C

Plus Code: 9C3WHHR8+H8

Entry Name: St Mary's Convent

Listing Date: 3 December 1969

Last Amended: 22 January 2018

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1182859

English Heritage Legacy ID: 251144

Location: Wantage, Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire, OX12

County: Oxfordshire

District: Vale of White Horse

Civil Parish: Wantage

Built-Up Area: Wantage

Traditional County: Berkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Tagged with: Architectural structure

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St Mary's Convent founded by William Butler, main Convent buildings by G E Street 1855-56, extended in the late C19 and C20 by J L Pearson and W Butterfield.


Convent built for the Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) founded in 1848 by William John Butler and Elizabeth Lockhart. The original Convent building by G E Street in the Gothic Revival style was built in 1855-6, with the Chapel of St Mary Magdelene also by Street constructed in 1858-61. The east wing of 1860 and a refectory of 1866, extended in 1871 and altered 1900, with a noviciate wing by W Butterfield 1874-8 and a larger chapel by Pearson of 1887 (which is separately listed), remodelled by Sir Ninian Comper in 1923. The guest wing is of 1897, covered cloister of 1900 and a gatehouse of 1936.

MATERIALS: coursed and dressed rubble limestone with limestone ashlar dressings, tiled roofs and stone stacks.

PLAN: a complex plan grouped around two courtyards, separated by a refectory, with an extensive service area to the west. Ranges to the north (rear) and west (left) of the front courtyard (1855-6) and the chapel (1861 and 1871-2) are by G E Street. The wing to the east (right) of the courtyard (1860), altered in 1900, and refectory (1866) to the rear by an unspecified architect, possibly by W Butterfield; the Noviciate wing to the rear of the courtyard block is by Butterfield of 1878; the Noviciate and Street’s chapel are attached by cloisters of 1900 to the main chapel by J L Pearson of 1887; the 1897 range to the left (west) of the front courtyard has a gabled rear wing of 1903; the gate-house of 1936 is to the front of the courtyard. The original entrance to the convent was in Street’s south range, accessed from the entrance from Challow Road. The current entrance is through a C20 covered link crossing the north courtyard defined by the north and late -C19 west ranges.

EXTERIOR: the convent’s ranges share similar external characteristics irrespective of the designing architect. They are irregular, broadly Gothic in style, unadorned and with hipped dormer windows, ashlar dressings, one-over-one sash windows (a number of windows are replaced with casements of varying dates) in surrounds with shaped heads and mullions occasionally formed by pilasters with simple capitals. The ranges have gabled roofs and flat-roofed extensions.

Street’s original entrance range has the southern courtyard to the front; it is of two storeys and an attic range with C17 style dormers beneath hips with some renewed casement windows. The ground floor has triple lights, some with cusped heads and engaged shaft mullions, others with square bays and trefoil-headed lights. The windows are a combination of replacement casements with some horned sashes. On the east courtyard elevation is the original entrance to the convent marked by a statue of the Virgin and Child in a cusped niche over a moulded pointed-arch doorway. The original chapel is located on the first floor to the right of the entrance, beneath a tall gabled dormer lit by slender lancets.

Street’s chapel has austere elevations to the north and south, lit by slender lancet windows in ashlar surrounds at the north elevation and a triple-light window at the south. Angle buttresses define the east end which is lit to the north and south by a foiled roundel window. The east window has five lights and geometrical tracery with C19 stained glass.

The former infirmary wing defines the east side of the courtyard: it is of three storeys with mullioned windows in pairs and threes with shaped heads and one-over-one sash windows. This range is incrementally extended at the east end with gabled and flat-roofed extensions and was heightened in 1900. The refectory was added to the north with Butterfields’ Noviciate range added further to the north at right angles. It is of three storeys with tall segmental-arched windows and a central gabled three-storey porch. The chapels and Noviciate are linked by cloisters with a tiled, gable roof. The cloister has courses of ashlar limestone in varying heights and hues, and pointed arch windows in groups of twos and threes. There is an external entrance on the east side defined by buttresses, with a four-square arched opening and double leaf timber door with strap hinges.

The service range to the west of the front courtyard is of three storeys with irregular projecting gables and flat-roofed extensions with mullioned and transomed windows and lateral stacks. A large early-C20 wing to the rear has one-light splayed windows over mullioned and transomed ground-floor windows.

The gatehouse is single-storey with an attic enclosing the south side of Street’s earliest courtyard. Constructed in rock-faced limestone with ashlar quoins and window surrounds, the gatehouse has a tiled, hipped roof with a central stack. On the south elevation is a projecting porch in line with the stepped entrance to the convent (separately listed) from which a covered cloister with arched openings leads around the north elevation. The windows are C16 style and round-arched with stone mullions. The main entrance lies to the west end of the north window; a solid timber door with original bell pull.

INTERIOR: the interiors of all ranges have been remodelled to varying degrees, with the loss of fixtures and fittings, including doors, staircases and fireplaces, but some C19 elements remain including some elements of the plan-form and original joinery.

Street’s principal range at the rear of front courtyard accommodated the main entrance to the convent where the foyer has an encaustic tiled floor and the original timber stairs with chamfered newel posts, moulded handrail and wide, flat balusters remain. The earliest chapel, located in the south-east corner of this wing, retains some stained glass with leaded lights and ironmongery. Street’s chapel was remodelled in the 1960s with a remodelled sanctuary, lowered ceiling and modern fixtures and fittings. The Stations of the Cross by Mother Maribel are located in niches beneath the deeply-splayed window openings.

The east wing housed the infirmary, which has renewed staircases and modern facilities including kitchens on the ground floor. The former refectory (now library) added in 1866 has some window shutters, wall panelling and exposed moulded bridging beams and braces, and doors with strap hinges and ironmongery. The north ranges contain the cells of sisters, which have plain fireplaces and modern fire doors. The west wing comprises accommodation over a remodelled laundry which retains its tiled walls.

The interior of the gatehouse was not inspected.


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 were active in social mission 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 (east) in 1860; the refectory was added in 1866, extended 1871-2 and altered in 1900. Butterfield added a Noviciate to the north of Street’s buildings between 1874-8 and the construction of a larger chapel by JL Pearson (considered separately) began in 1887, lengthened in 1900, the east end of which was reconfigured by Sir John Ninian Comper in 1923. In 1897 the guest wing was added to the west with a cloister of 1900. A gate house was added across the south-facing courtyard in 1936.

Internally the convent has been altered in the later C20, including remodelling of Street's chapel, renewal of doors, joinery and some staircases and updating of accommodation. The entrance, originally from the south, is now from a courtyard between the north and west wings.

The components of the convent are designed by eminent Victorian architects working in the Gothic Revival Style. G E Street (1824-1881) active in the Ecclesiological Society, specialised in new church buildings and renovations, noted for their finely-crafted details many of which are listed at a high grade. He also designed the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, London (1866-82, National Heritage List for England 1264258, Grade I). Fellow Ecclesiologist, William Butterfield (1814-1900) designed many highly graded listed churches typically using extensive polychromy such as All Saints, Margaret Street (1850-59, Grade I) in London, but also houses and institutional buildings including Keble College at Oxford University.

Reasons for Listing

St Mary’s Convent, Challow Road, Wantage built between 1855 and 1897 to the designs of G E Street and W Butterfield, extended in the late C19 and C20, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:
* An evolved group of ranges constructed with good quality materials, harmonious in scale, treatment and detail;

Historic interest:
* Designed by G E Street, with a later building by W Butterfield, comprising 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 gateway and walls by Street and White Lodge by Baillie-Scott, separately listed at Grade II, and Pearson's chapel of Grade II*.

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