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Recent Additions

Kirkdale (Yorkshire) - revised

Wootton Wawen (Warwickshire)

Beckford (Worcestershire)

Wareham (Dorset)

Melbury Bubb (Dorset)

Morcott (Rutland) - revised

Bere Regis (Dorset)

Winterborne Tomson (Dorset)

Swaffham Prior (Cambridgeshire)

Little Snoring (Norfolk)

Billesley (Warwickshire)

Old Shoreham (Sussex)


If you were to study every page of my website closely, I think you would pick up an appreciation of most things you really need to know about mediaeval church architecture. I donít, however, cover everything: church monuments and stained glass, for example, are things that I sometimes find interesting but about which I have no wish to be come an expert. So, if for nothing else, you need books!

You also need to know about the thousands and thousands of churches that I havenít and never will get round to writing about. So you need books.

A great deal of what I write is ďsecond handĒ knowledge that I have got other peopleís books. from church guides and internet sites. I put my own slant on it, and Iím not afraid to question it because - believe me - you soon find out that the book writers also rely on each othersí research. You can soon tell this from the obvious errors that seem to get mysteriously repeated!

Nevertheless, I need to tell you about the books I have used so you can reward their authors by buying their books for yourselves. Also you can know about what is good about each - because none of them are good about everything.

I am going to use three categories : Books about actual Churches; Books about Church Architecture; Books about specialist areas of Church Architecture.

Books about Churches

Englandís Thousand Best ChurchesSimon Jenkins

I refer to this book throughout my website. I take issue with the choice of the ďThousand BestĒ and I donít always agree with what Simon Jenkins. This, however, is the absolutely indispensable first book for your church architecture bookshelf. To write about 1000 churches is an awesome undertaking - and of course he visited many more. The style is interesting and humorous. The scholarship is superb. They are organised into counties which is the most useful structure for a book (or website!) of this kind. There is a section on church architecture in general, although you might well want to get something more specialised.

 I have niggling criticisms: the maps are poor because they miss out the towns that enable you to put the church locations into geographical context. They are not worthy of this splendid book, frankly. I would like to see more photographs: most churches donít have any - and Simon got library shots from Country Life! If they put in hundreds of pictures, however, the book would be unaffordable. I donít like his preoccupation with tombs and monuments. he would despise, in turn, my preoccupation with Norman fonts and my ignoring churches beyond the mediaeval period - not that I flatter myself that he would be interested in my humble efforts.

This book is splendid. Buy it! Do it now! There is a cheap edition available that is one of the best book bargains you will ever have.

Harrisís Guide to Churches & Cathedrals - Brian L Harris

This is another big book - about 500 churches, I think. It covers England and ďsome ofĒ Wales. It lays out the facts about the churches in more ďbullet pointĒ format that some might prefer to Simon Jenkinsís style. It has about the same proportion of photographs as Jenkinsís book. I prefer Simonís more lyrical style to Brian Harrisís but thatís a very personal view. Where this book scores is in the articles on individual features of churches - ďWooden EffigiesĒ, ďHorses in ChurchesĒ are examples.

I donít like its alphabetical format, although to be fair their are lists of churches by county at the front. This is an excellent book, though, that covers some ground that Jenkinsís book doesnít. If you can afford both then do!

Betjeman's Best British Churches - Updated by Richard Surman

Betjemanís original book was one of the first I ever bought. The original was extraordinarily terse and ratings were confined to those worth travelling out of your way to see and those that arenít! The new edition adds a broader rating system and some welcome colour photography. It claims to cover a remarkable 2500 churches; and note that it covers Scotland and Wales as well Again, it canít match Jenkins - or Harris - for descriptive qualities. How could it with 2500 churches?

It scores on geographical coverage, sheer numbers of churches  and on the best location information. A very useful first book.

County Guide to English Churches - Lawrence Jones and Roy Tricker

A smaller book than the two previously mentioned. Many churches are covered but the descriptions are much briefer than the other two. Pictures are sparse and all in black-and-white. I think it is out of print but it can still be bought for as little as £3 on Amazon. Frankly, it is less useful than any of the other books I mention here. It does, of course, cover some churches that the others donít. Get it as a cheap addition to your collection, by all means, but buy it cheap!

Timpsonís Country Churches - John Timpson

This is not like the other books in this category. Covering only a few dozen churches - but with a whole page for each - it concentrates on the quirky elements of churches and the myths and legends that surround them. Itís beautifully illustrated in colour. If you want a diversion from the usual then this book is for you. Thoroughly recommended.

The Pevsner Guides

These famous guides are a treasure house. Thereís one for each county and it covers all the churches, ancient and not-so-ancient. For these are about architecture, not just churches - although churches take up more than half of each volume. They are comprehensive, informative, occasionally funny but often very dry. They are pretty well the definitive source of information about churches. Illustrations are in black-and-white. The problem is that they are expensive - £30 plus at todayís prices. You will often find older editions in good condition for around £12 at secondhand bookfairs. Whisper it, but not everything in Pevsner is gospel but itís as close as anyone has ever got. It is amusing to see how many church guides and even books trot out his work unchallenged! f you canít afford them, the chances are that your public library will have the ones for your county and maybe those adjacent.

Books about Church Architecture

Unfortunately some of the best books about the architecture are long out of print. As I search my fairly comprehensive library of church-related books I find I come back to some of them again and again. There are some lovely modern books about church architecture but so many of them exchange scholarship for colour pictures! Itís not that they are bad by any means: in fact they are essential to gaining a general appreciation of features of churches, what they mean and their place in history. Itís just that if you want to find out more about the ďwhyĒ, the ďwhoĒ and the ďhowĒ no modern book seems to hack it.

Parish Churches - Their Architectural Development in England - Hugh Braun

This is the ďbibleĒ as far as Iím concerned. Hugh Braun wrote a whole series of books on British architecture, including separate volumes on Abbeys and Cathedrals. This particular book, first published in 1970, is 230 pages of insights that you just donít see elsewhere. It was this book that told me of the Byzantine influence on our early church architecture; about why lead roofing led to parapets and raised aisles; that Decorated and Perpendicular are styles not periods and the list goes on. It is readable and easy to handle. Out of print it may be but decent s/h copies are easy to track down. Target price for a good copy (hardback with intact dust jacket is no more than £8. No serious student of church architecture should be without it.

The English Mediaeval Parish Church - G.H.Cook

First published in 1954, this is not far behind Braunís book as an introduction to the history of the architecture of our churches. If anything, it is more comprehensive but its layout makes it a little harder to read. This one is less easy to find and a s/h copy in good condition with dust jacket will set you back a fairly consistent £12

Mediaeval Styles of the English Parish Church - F.E.Howard

Another superb book, this one is much harder to find. It was published as early as 1936 by Batsford and is profusely illustrated with b/w photographs. As with the other two books mentioned here, itís a superb piece of scholarship although I would want some modern books as well because theories change. Unfortunately, if you want a s/h copy you have to contend with people that collect Batsford books from that era and you will be fortunate indeed to find a copy with a dust jacket; few d/js have survived 75 years and this one features a painting by a man called Brian Cook whose work many people also collect - myself included. You may have tp pay £20 for one without a wrapper.

Churches and Churchyards - Mark Child

This is one of the few modern books that I heartily recommend. Mark Child has tried to cover every conceivable feature of the church, including many ignored by the more scholarly ones previously mentioned. It is packed with colour illustrations that illuminate the text and are not just there to make the book look nice on a coffee table. If you want a compact, comprehensive, modern guide to ďchurch crawlingĒ I donít believe you could do better. At the time of writing you can get if for £11.69 from Amazon. A snip!

More Specialised Books

How to Read a Church - Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor produced a TV series of the same name about church development which I found at once fascinating and a bit muddled! This book, however, is quite unique. Donít be misled by the title: this book is not so much about church architecture as about the iconography of a church. If you want to know the symbols of the saints, the significance of popular carvings then this is the book for you. Beautifully illustrated in colour it is a perfect complement to, say, Mark Childís book. Itís £8.62 on Amazon hardcover on Amazon which is an amazing bargain.

Fonts and Font Covers - Francis Bond

This book was first published in 1923 and has never been remotely equalled. You will find pictures of fonts in this book that you didnít know existed. 90 years on it is still the best book on the subject. It covers Norman fonts, lead fonts, seven sacrament fonts, thirteenth century fonts, fourteenth century fonts...itís got it all. I was fortunate to find a fine reprint for £12 at a s/h bookshop in Burnham Market but Iíve never seen another. You can, however, get a paperback reprint from Amazon for £18.99. The publishers have retained the original format and text. Itís expensive but for organising font-hunting expeditions it is a pre-requisite.

The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Architecture - Malcolm Thurlby

If you donít know what this is about follow links to Kilpeck or Eardisley. This is, of course, a very specialised book but it is the definitive one on this subject. Thurlby has searched high and low for examples of the schoolís work. He does not confine himself just to the architecture, however, but also traces where the artists found their inspiration and who their patrons were. If you live in this area (and it includes the eastern side of Worcestershire as well) and you love its churches - especially Norman churches - you must have this book. It is paperback and lavishly illustrated in black and white. The bad news is that although the last of its five reprints (since 1999!) was only in 2008 it is out of print and the cheapest offer om Amazon at the time of writing is an eye-watering £45!. If you see one cheap in a s/h bookshop snap it up!