There is plenty to see and much history to be discovered when visiting any of the 42,000 churches, chapels and meeting houses in the UK.
Together, they form an unparalleled network of public buildings which sustain local communities.
Keeping these tremendous assets looking beautiful and able to cope with the demands of the 21st century is a constant challenge and costly. The National Churches Trust is the UK’s church buildings support charity and provides support to Christian places of worship.
To mark their 60th anniversary, The National Churches Trust celebrated ‘The UK’s Favourite Churches’ and asked leading public figures to choose their most loved and interesting places of worship. Here The National Churches Trust shares the stories of four remarkable churches in England:
St Wilfrid’s Church, Leicestershire
Chosen by Michael Wood, Historian and Broadcaster
The church is not especially memorable for its architecture, perhaps, but I always love going there. It is dedicated to St Wilfrid, who maybe preached there in the late 7th century; its chancel is 12th century, its beautiful light and airy nave from the 14th century, the time of the Black Death; the same time as its elegant and towering spire which fell in 1825.
St Wilfrid’s is a warm and welcoming place, packed on the big festivals like Easter or Armistice Day, or for talks and music concerts; and it is a reminder that the English church everywhere is a witness to our story: Saxons, Vikings, Normans, the Black Death, the Civil War, and on down to us. But they are also living places.
St Mary the Virgin, Wetherden, Suffolk
Chosen by Rev Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch Kt FBA FSA FRHistS, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, Writer and Broadcaster
This was the Church my father served throughout my boyhood. It is a church crawler’s dream, having something from almost every period in English church history, since it stands in an oval churchyard which may be an Anglo-Saxon defended site, is mentioned in Domesday Book and has surviving fabric from at least the fourteenth century -including remnants of rich stained glass from that period.
None of the richly-carpentered roofs are younger than 1500. There are medieval benches and beautiful Victorian copies of them, box pews, monuments and hatchments of a great gentry family who were resident Roman Catholics right up to 1801. The beautifully sweet-toned organ, a War Memorial from 1922, was completed through the efforts of an organist whose family played it for half a century. The churchyard was preserved from being cleared into a meaningless lawn in the 1960s, thanks to my father’s obstinacy, and so a fine ensemble of gravestones and tombs from 1675 onwards, with one medieval coffin slab, are both companions to the building and hospitable to wildlife.
St Mary Magdelene, Paddington, West London
One of The National Churches Trust’s favourites.
Built in the 1860s and 1870s by G.E. Street, architect of the Royal Courts of Justice, St Mary Magdalene is one of only 14 Grade I listed Victorian churches in London and one of the finest by an architect whose work is universally recognised as amongst the best of the age. The church has an almost completely intact internal decorative scheme of the highest quality, including the later Chapel of St Sepulchre by Sir Ninian Comper in the undercroft. It survives as a unique but isolated building in a social housing estate.
The 21st century has seen the first successful efforts to restore and regenerate the building after decades of decay.
SS Peter, Paul and Philomena, New Brighton, Wallasey, Merseyside
One of The National Churches Trust’s favourites.
With a majestic dome visible from afar, this basilica-like 1930s church is a major Wirral landmark. It was built during the depression with money raised by Fr Thomas Mullins for the fashionable New Brighton seaside resort with a growing Catholic population. It was designed by E. Bower Norris and was nick-named ‘The Dome of Home’ by sailors returning from Atlantic convoys during WWII.
The church closed in 2008 due to the cost of repairs, and was listed on the Heritage at Risk Register as being of immediate risk of further deterioration. A local campaign saw the church reopen in 2012 when it was established as a national Shrine Church, cared for by the Institute of Christ the King. With support from the Heritage Lottery fund and the National Churches Trust, the church is now enjoying increased visitor interest, has a team of volunteer guides, a heritage trail and a Facebook following.
When you visit a church, do remember that keeping churches, chapels and meeting houses looking beautiful, and able to cope with the demands of the 21st century, costs money. Replacing a leaking roof, fixing a leaning spire or repairing precious medieval stonework can cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds – which is much more than most church congregations can afford. One source of assistance is the National Churches Trust, the UK’s church buildings support charity, which has a national remit to support Christian places of worship.
We’re putting together a list of the places that have witnessed some of the most important historic events.
Help us to name the 100 places that tell England’s story. Nominate now
Join in the conversation on twitter using #100Places
Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places is sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical.
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