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Kirk Lonan (IOM)

Isle of Man

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Sherborne Abbey (Dorset)

Steetly (Derbyshire)

Adel (Yorkshire)

Barton Seagrave (Northants)

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A Cumbrian Miscellany

Access and  Information

Sadly, visiting parish churches and understanding what is there is not always as straightforward as one would like. Churches are functional buildings first and historical monuments second. If you are visiting a church as a historian you are not entitled to unfettered access and first class information about the church. On the other hand, all churches have some historical interest if only at the local level whilst many others are of historical or architectural significance. Custodians of the latter do, it seems to me, have some kind of duty to allow the world to visit a building which was not built by themselves but my their predecessors centuries before. It is my opinion that this is a duty that most churches understand and eagerly commit to, but there are some exceptions! That’s not to say I’m right and they are wrong, of course,

I decided to add this section belatedly after putting over 80 churches on the website and after I realised that some people (to my proud astonishment) are using my site to plan church-visiting itineraries. I felt that I should share my experiences on accessibility at churches and pre-warn people of churches that can be hard to locate. I have to make some very important caveats when talking about access:

1. The information here is my personal experience, usually of only one visit.

2. I am having to rely on my memory in many cases.

3. Situations can change. As with schools and businesses, a new leader - in this case a vicar - can turn policy upside-down for better or for worse.

So please treat all information with care.

Access

 A significant proportion of churches are kept locked pretty well all of the time. I have made comments about this on the homepage so I won’t repeat the arguments here. The important issues at locked churches are :

  • Up-to-date keyholder names, addresses and phone numbers should be displayed in a sensible location. If no phone numbers are available directions to keyholder premises are shown.
  • The arrangements should produce a near-certainty of a key being available at least between 9.00 - 18.00, seven days a week.
  • Obtaining a key should not involve a long drive from the church.

In my view, if all these criteria are fulfilled we are not entitled to complain. I would remark, however, that even if they are fulfilled many visitors will be deterred from visiting especially if the church is not particularly well-known. I have seen clearly distressed people in private prayer at several churches and I wonder if having to obtain a key first doesn’t rather limit access to God as well as the building!

My classifications are as follows:

4  - A busy church because of its location, historical significance or a palpably very active church community actively embraces visitors. Likely to be open at all reasonable times.

3  - I have been able to walk into the church on one or more occasions. I have no reason to doubt that access is likely to be available at all reasonable times.

2  - I have been able to obtain a key from a keyholder.

1  - I obtained access only at a second attempt.

“A” -  Keyholder remained in attendance while I looked at the church.  This is a mixed blessing. Sometimes the keyholder will give you insights you wouldn’t otherwise have got. On the other hand some tell you what you can read just as easily from the book! Some make you feel that you should hurry up and others hold you up while they have a good chat! On the whole I think it is beneficial. People are important as well as buildings, dammit!

Churches I have been unable to access at all because they are locked and no keyholders are displayed are listed on my Roll of Dishonour.

Please note that these classifications are usually based on a single visit by myself. The situations in individual churches can change. The overall trend, however, is to worsening access.

Findability

Most churches are easy enough to find, although I have had to drive through many a village twice to find the church! One or two are a nightmare where perhaps the church is well away from the village centre. This, again, is nobody’s fault and many local authorities don’t think churches important enough to warrant a “brown sign”. I provide this information to warn you that you should in some cases arm yourself with postcodes, Google maps and so on before you make the trip!

3 = Church of some fame that is well-signposted by the Highways Agency

2 = The vast majority where you just need to keep your eyes open! If you have a passenger ask him/her to look out for “Church Road/Lane” it works more than 50% of the time in villages! “Rectory Road” and “The Old Vicarage” can show you are in the right vicinity too. If you have a SatNav, always give “Church Road” a go,

1  = Can be hard to locate. Do your homework.

Church Guide Books

These vary wildly. Some churches have a written Church Guide of admirable quality and sometimes a price to match; some have amateurish leaflets produced on an ink-jet printer with varying degrees of information; a few have nothing at all. The quality of a book is not necessarily in proportion to the importance of the church. Some quite run-of-the-mill churches have admirable, scholarly and beautifully-planned guides, whereas some quite famous churches are using publications that have not been updated for 20 years or more.

Prices are very inconsistent. Bear in mind most churches are cash-strapped so don’t be cross if the book seems expensive - they don’t charge you to look at the church when all is said and done!

I was tempted to do classifications on these but decided against on the grounds it would be my subjective view a lot of the time and some people churchwardens and authors could take offence; and the potential visitor does not gain much from such an assessment.