The story of the church is part of the story of the old village of Didcot. Both began so far back in time that we cannot see the beginning clearly. There was definitely a settlement of some kind near where the church is now during Roman times, and since the church site is the highest point in the old village, it may have been a holy site even then.
Saxons lived here too and there has always been a story that Berin, the great British missionary, preached to them here. He later became Bishop of Dorchester, and history calls him St. Birinus. It is said that the yew tree outside the church was planted not long after this on the place where he preached – it is certainly well over 1,000 years old.
There would probably have been some kind of church here before the Norman Conquest; but as Didcot was a very small village, it may have been a wooden church. The earliest traces of the present stone building have been dated to around 1160. The first stone church was a simple oblong nave with a smaller, narrower chancel at the east end. There is little to be seen of this church now except the walls of the nave themselves and the font which also probably dates from this time.
During the twelfth century the chancel was rebuilt wider, to its current size, but the builders skimped a bit on foundations so the north wall of the chancel, with its two original windows, leans slightly now. Didcot’s population must have been growing, as the south aisle (where the main entrance door is) was also added at that time, and the arches and pillars made in the nave wall.
In the fifteenth century the church was modernized yet again. It was re-roofed and a new window was made in the west wall of the nave (the one that is there now, although the glass is much newer). The latest fashion in rood screens was also put in. To make it easier to get on to the screen, a staircase was let into the north wall of the nave – the stairs are still there today, although the rood screen would have been taken away after the Reformation.
Little is known about the church building in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although in 1638 somone carved the date on the pillar between the door and the pulpit. The two memorial slabs in the floor of the centre aisle near the front date from this time – one is to Robert Lydall, after whom Lydalls Road is named.
Didcot’s village church was modernized again in the Victorian period, being enlarged further in the 1860s. The North Aisle was built along that side of the nave, and the pillars designed to match the ones on the south side. A vestry was added to the north of the church and the wooden bell tower erected (although this may have replaced an earlier construction). A porch was added to the entrance of the church and the current chancel arch dates from this time. The chancel widows are also Victorian.
The twentieth century saw more changes to the church. The organ was replaced and has moved around the church – and remodelled yet again in 2001. The pulpit was replaced by the wooden one we have now.
A wooden rood screen with carved figures of the crucifixion was put in place as a war memorial after the First World War with the names of those killed on it. Many years later it was taken away again and parts of it used to wall off what had been a curtained-off glory-hole and make a little office for the Rector. After yet more years the crucifix from the top of the screen was hung from the chancel arch where it is now.
During the 1960s the heavy wooden pews were put in. It was discovered that the church needed a new roof; when the new one was built one of the old beams on the inside of the church was kept in place and is still there today. Later in the twentieth century the vestry was enlarged and a kitchen and toilet added to the north of the church. One of the north aisle windows was used to make a serving hatch into the kitchen.
So the church has always been changing, from its beginnings more than a thousand years ago until now, to go on meeting the needs of the community that worships there.