The first mention of a church on this site was in a grant of “William King of the English” (William the Conqueror) to the newly-founded Abbey of St Pierre de Preaux in Normandy in 1086. Confirmed by a Charter of King Henry II (circa AD 1187), the grant mentions “the patronage of the Church of St Nicolas of Newbury” being given by Ernuif of Hesding to the said Abbey. The grant of lands to an Abbey was seldom made at the time of the actual foundation and building of a church. Therefore, Ernulf, Lord of forty-eight manors under the gift of William the Conqueror, is said to be the original founder of the Church of St Nicolas towards the end of the 11th century. The only trace of this first church is some of the north porch foundations discovered outside the present building. The present building is therefore considerably larger than the Norman structure and covers the rest of the old foundations.
The patronage of the Rectory of Newbury remained in the possession of the Abbey of St Pierre de Preaux in Normandy (in the Diocese of Lisieu) until the wars of the 15th century, when the estates of foreign priories in England were granted by Parliament to the Crown. The King gave the advowson of St Nicolas to Sir Thomas Erpingham, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. He had commanded the English troops in France, and obtained permission from the King to grant his life interest in the advowson and possessions of the Abbey of Preaux in England to the Carthusian Abbey of Witham in Somerset (1413).
The church was entirely rebuilt, probably between the years 1509 and 1533. It is in the architectural style of the late Perpendicular period. The presence of certain devices in the stonework, in particular the pomegranate device (the apple of Grenada) and the portcullis device (which appears on the Tudor royal Escutcheon) indicates that the church was built during the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, which ended in divorce during 1533.
In Thomas Fuller’s ‘History of the Worthies of England’, published in 1663, it is stated: “John Winchcombe, commonly called Jack of Newberry… built the church of Newberry, from the pulpit westward to the tower inclusively, and died about the year 1520”.
At the dissolution of the monasteries all their estates became vested in the Crown. The patronage of the Rectory of Newbury continued in the gift of the Crown except during the period of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. During this period (in 1644), the Church of St Nicolas was used as a prison and a hospital by the Parliamentary Army after the second Battle of Newbury. In 1854, eighteen years after Berkshire had been transferred from the Diocese of Salisbury to that of Oxford, an Order in Council made over the presentation of the Rectory of Newbury to the Bishop of Oxford, where it remains to this day.