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Recent Additions

Little Bytham (Lincs) - revised

Luppitt (Devon)

Daglingworth (Gloucestershire)

Brigstock (Northamptonshire)

A Saunter by the Solway (7 Churches) (Cumbria)

St Bega’s, Bassenthwaite (Cumbria)

The Anglo-Saxon Period (Completely Re-written)

Wreay (Cumbria)

Deerhurst (Gloucestershire) - rewritten

Widecombe (Devon)

Whitcombe (Dorset)

Youlgreave (Derbyshire)

Stow-in-Lindsey (Lincolnshire)

 

Great English Churches

Whose is this site?

Welcome to my website. My name is Lionel Wall. I am a retired manager and I live in Ryhall in Rutland - England's smallest county - near the beautiful town of Stamford in Lincolnshire - a Georgian town that anyone with a love for English towns should try to visit. John Betjeman, no less, said “I really think it is our finest...” I have been interested in mediaeval churches for many years and this site is my “labour of love”. My partner is Diana who is now firmly hooked on church visiting! I should point out, to avoid any misunderstanding, that neither of us has any religious belief. As you would expect, however, we have the greatest respect for those that believe and stand in awe of the faith that gave rise to this most wonderful collection of architectural treasures.

A Note about Navigating this Site

The site is mostly organised into counties through the vertical menu bar at the left. The homepage is the topmost item: Great English Churches. When you navigate to another page (for example an individual church) the menu bar will often be incomplete. This is due to a frustrating issue with the website software I use. To see the entire menu bar it is always best to go back to the homepage.

Contact Me

My email address is brumman47@hotmail.com I’m always happy to correspond.

Guestbook

Please spare a few seconds to leave a comment. I don’t receive any revenue from this website and your feedback is what keeps me motivated!

Re-Use of Photographs

If you wish to use any of my photographs please email me for permission - which to date I have never refused. If yours is a commercial purpose I might ask you to make a small donation to the Churches Conservation Trust.

What is the Site about?

At the selfish level it is a record of our own travels and the places we have enjoyed best. It also keeps me out of mischief in my (early) retirement!

More importantly, however, it is a celebration of the incredible diversity, eccentricity and beauty of the English parish church. I am fond of saying that it is our good fortune that the British Museum is not able to chisel out and miniaturise the best of our churches so that they can squirrel them away in some vault under Bloomsbury. For the English parish church is the enduring and timeless mirror of our local history. It is where our people were baptised, married and buried. Our churches have seen famine, pestilence, plague and war. They bear witness to the fashions, intolerances, the benevolence and occasional downright cruelties of the Christian faith. They still stand today as the immovable timeless rocks around which the waves of history crash, waiting for the next turn of the card - or for the next mysterious way in which God will perform his wonders, depending on your point of view. They are, even in these irreverent times, part of the heartbeat of our communities.

I am often saddened when I visit a church to see other visitors come in, do a perfunctory five minute tour of the church and then leave a banal entry in the visitor's book like "beautiful" or "peaceful"! Many people look at everything and see nothing and I think it's a great shame. People do find churches beautiful and they must have some interest to enter in the first place. How much more enriching their visits would be, however, if they could understand what is exceptional, what is everyday; what is ancient, what is modern; and the historical context of what they see. There are plenty of books that fulfil that need admirably but it needs a conscious effort to purchase. My ambition is that casual visitors to my site will be inspired by what they find out and be motivated to find out still more and to visit churches with eyes wide open.

Our parish churches are our greatest historical heritage - and they are free to visit. They need your support. Get out there, buy their guidebooks and postcards and put a few bob in the wall safe.

Please Buy My Book!

I’ve done what some correspondents have suggested and written a book. It’s not, though, about churches in general because there are plenty of books like that already in print. My book - “Demon Carvers and Mooning Men” is about what I believe to be a “school” of external church carving within my part of the East Midlands. The research is original and focuses on a group of twenty or so churches where I believe an itinerant guild of stonemasons left some indelible marks of their presence, the main one being the inimitable and very rude “mooning man” image. Follow this link to “Demon Carvers & Mooning Men for more details.

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Choice of Churches on this Site

What you see here is about 20% of the churches I have visited, so it is a personal selection based on the things that excite me. There is a definite bias to Anglo-Saxon and Norman churches and artefacts - especially Norman fonts which I adore! I love carvings in stone or wood too.

Although I visit them, I don't write about many "great churches" such as abbeys and priories and I don't write about cathedrals at all. They are huge subjects and I can't add anything that hasn't been covered by the published literature. You don't need me to point you towards them.

Most entries are arranged by counties. I apologise if your county is omitted or under-represented. I do have other interests and I can't get everywhere!

Topics, Discussions and Rants

There are all sorts of church-related issues mentioned on these pages and sometimes I do like to digress into all sorts of barely-related areas. Please click here to see an alphabetical issue index of topics and discussions.

The text and photographs

All text and photographs are my own unless otherwise stated. I do draw heavily on Church Guidebooks which vary remarkably in scope and quality. Where I use their material and insights directly I usually acknowledge it. Writers of Church Guides are unsung heroes who often dedicate years to researching their subjects. We all owe them a huge debt.

I try not to make this site a dry regurgitation of other people's research. I speculate freely about why things are as they are and I often challenge the accepted "stories", even those that have their origins in the research of the sainted Nikolaus Pevsner! My apologies to anyone who feels affronted by this.

Photography in churches is not straightforward. Lighting is notoriously difficult in what are very big and open buildings. My advice is to use a camera that has good low light capability and to try to avoid using flash for close-ups of, for example, fonts and arcade capitals. Flash will completely wash out the detail. These days when we don't have to worry about film I would recommend taking some important pictures with and without flash. Often you will find that an under-exposed shot without flash can be manipulated in Photoshop or its like to make a much better picture than an accurately exposed shot that used flash. Of course, you will need a steady hand for slow exposures!

Technical Issues with this Site

I compose this site in WYSIWYG program called NetObjects Fusion. There is a free downloadable version that I would recommend to anyone who doesn't want to learn to write html code. What happens, in effect, is that you compose in a Desktop Publishing type format and the program itself generates the html code necessary for web publishing. It would be nearly impossible for an individual to produce a site as big as this in htmel

As any webmaster will tell you, however, web publishing is still a far from being a precise and predictable process! I pay huge attention to composing a neat, precise layout on my pages but Fusion still produces unexpected glitches when the pages appear on the web. There is often no way of getting it to do what I want. What's more, different web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox and the like) render pages slightly differently. So if you see some text a bit crowded together or untidy white spaces, to quote Elton John: "Don't shoot me I'm only the piano player"!

Rearranging a site post-hoc also poses surprising challenges, especially moving or removing a page. One gentleman pointed out that I had attributed a church to the wrong county. I haven't dared to try to move it!

Designing your own Itinerary and the “Simon Jenkins” effect

I doubt that any such book about churches has made the impact of Simon Jenkins’s “England’s Thousand Best Churches”. The title is pretty challenging and I am sure this is deliberate on Simon’s part. We disagree with many of his entries and with perhaps more of his omissions, but his book is never out of our car when we travel. It is wonderfully written and should be the first purchase for anyone wanting to seriously explore our church heritage.

Why don’t we agree with his choices? Well, who would? Few of us agree on anything, much less on 1000 things! We declare our own preference for Romanesque churches. Simon clearly has a real love of church monuments and memorials which we find, with some conspicuous exceptions, somewhat unexciting. It is definitely true, however, that every single entry in his book is for a church worth seeing. Some people, apparently, do a Simon Jenkins “trail” where they visit all of his churches in a given area. That’s great but they will be missing the joy of discovering their own favourites, which is a pity.

You will find that many of the churches on this site are not amongst Simon’s thousand best. I hope that visitors will take note of this and realise that slavishly following any book or gazetteer will simply lead them to missing treasures that may be on their doorstep.

If you are designing an itinerary in a particular area, Simon Jenkins’s book should be a starting point. The internet is another important resource, of course. Once you are on your church “trail”, however, you should make a point of picking up the many little leaflets that are produced that show all of the churches of interest within the local area. Many churches have leaflets that describe the half dozen or so in the immediate area. Tourist Information Centres often have these as well as some more expensively-produced (but usually free) leaflets covering a rather wider area. From these you can often uncover the churches that match your own preferences but which do not stir the “professionals”.

Locked Churches

For church enthusiasts this is one of the major frustrations. Sadly, all of us encounter a church that are locked. Insurance companies are often blamed, but it is our understanding (from a vicar!) that in fact insurance some companies regard visitors as a deterrent to thieves. Theft and vandalism, however, are a danger to many churches especially in urban locations. Insurance payouts cannot make good such damage so perhaps we should not be over-hasty in our condemnation of those churches that prefer to give limited access to visitors. That said, I think that in too many cases it is simply a case of “it’s our church and we’ll lock it if we want to”. Often the locked churches are in the most respectable of communities amidst prosperous homes. Urban wastelands generally they are not.

Many churches will leave a note of where a key is held, so don’t go away without checking the outside notice boards. I find that where I do have to find a keyholder they are invariably obliging and polite. Some churches, I am afraid, don’t even bother with that or, to be fair, perhaps can’t find anyone available to be a keyholder in daylight hours. I understand this, of course, but it would surely be polite and less anger-inducing to put up a note to this effect?

I know from conversations I have had up and down the country that the attitude of the Bishop or Deacons can often have a big effect on whether churches in a given area offer visitor access. That is very certainly the case with local vicars. Some Parish Church Councils are, however, completely intransigent. So don’t automatically blame the vicar: some might agree with you!

 My advice is to do your research before you travel. There are three main resources you can use:

1. The church's own website will sometimes tell you about access.

2. An excellent website http://www.digiatlas.org/ attempts to show the state of access for most English churches. The situation changes from week to week, in my experience, so no website can hope to keep up so use it only as a guide. There is also a mobile phone app available at a nominal yearly charge.

3. The website http://www.achurchnearyou.com gives you contact details for almost every English church. Do email the vicar or church office before making a long trip. Sometimes this website also has access information.

It won’t stop you ever being disappointed but it will help you to plan.

Ratings

Simon Jenkins "England's Thousand Best Churches" provided a massive stimulus to church visiting and is deservedly seen as the oracle by many enthusiasts. He rates all “his” churches from one to five stars. Because people love “ratings” I have taken the liberty of reproducing them on this site.

Diana and I discussed doing our own ratings but decided against it. The truth is that is very hard to be consistent over a long period and the last exciting church you saw will generally get too high a rating, thus devaluing all that went before. Also your ratings will reflect your own preferences and thus be of less use to someone with different tastes. I disagree with many of Simon's ratings. He loves funerary monuments and, with a few exceptions, I find them very boring. Likewise, I am sure he doesn't have my own preoccupation with Norman fonts and tympani.

Personal Recommendations

This is dodgy ground given all I have said about “ratings” but everyone has their favourites. So here are mine :

Kilpeck (Herefordshire). Late Norman. One of Britain’s greatest architectural treasures and almost unknown. Combine it with a trip to nearby Garway for its Templar and Hospitaller connections.

Escomb (Durham). The most perfect example of a Celtic Anglo-Saxon Church.

Deerhurst (Gloucestershire). Anglo-Saxon. Some of the greatest remaining Anglo-Saxon carvings.

Ludlow and Heath (both Shropshire). Ludlow for its perpendicular magnificence and for its superb misericords; Heath for its contrasting unadorned humbleness. See them on successive days if you can.

Brixworth (Northants) for its sheer age and Anglo-Saxon enormity.

Adderbury and Bloxham (Oxon) for their incomparable c14 frieze carvings. I prefer Adderbury personally. Others (including Simon Jenkins) would disagree but if you visit one you’d be mad not to visit both because they are so close!

Lullington (Somerset) for some delightful Norman carvings and an idyllic village setting.

Stragglethorpe (Lincolnshire) for its humble and serene timelessness. Combine it with the grandeur of Brant Broughton 1.5 miles away to see the extremes of British church architecture.

Brockhampton (Herefordshire). An gorgeous Arts & Crafts church which proves that some twentieth century churches could happily embrace new styles whilst respecting the past.

Wreay (Cumbria). The beautiful work of Sarah Losh who beat the Arts & Crafts movement to the punch by decades.

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Lionel

Diana

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