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The search is on to find the Top 10 churches built in the United Kingdom since 1953 in a new architecture competition launched by the National Churches Trust, the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association and the Twentieth Century Society.
Any new church building or significant extension to an existing building from any Christian denomination in the United Kingdom which opened for worship after 1st January 1953 and which is still open for worship today can be nominated for the competition. Judges will be looking for creative architecture which imaginatively expresses Christian religious belief and practice of the past 60 years.
From the Top 10, a special ‘National Churches Trust Diamond Jubilee Architecture’ award will be presented to the three places of worship judged to be the best sacred spaces built in the last 60 years at a ceremony to be held at Lambeth Palace in November 2013.
Nominations for churches, chapels or meeting houses to be considered for inclusion in the Top 10 can be made online or by emailing the name and address of the church, chapel or meeting house to email@example.com. before 31 July 2013. Cathedrals are excluded from the competition as the National Churches Trust does not fund Cathedral buildings.
The Top 10 best churches competition is being held to mark the 60th anniversary of the National Churches Trust. Since 1953 the Trust has provided over 12,000 grants and loans worth £85 million to help fund the repair and modernisation of Christian places of worship.
Catching a glimpse of heaven
Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust said: “As a nation we are rightly proud of our magnificent heritage of historic churches. But there are also many exciting churches which have been built in the last 60 years designed for the changing nature of religious liturgy and practice which reflects modern architecture and design. The challenge of helping people catch a glimpse of heaven has always produced highly creative and imaginative architecture. It will be exciting to discover the best examples of modern church architecture and honour those responsible through the‘ National Churches Trust Diamond Jubilee Architecture’ awards.”
King of Prussia Gold Medal and Presidents’ Award
The National Churches Trust and the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association are also inviting nominations for the King of Prussia Gold Medal for church repair and conservation work and for the Presidents’ Award for innovative, high quality new church architecture built in the last year. Please download nomination forms for the awards King of Prussia Gold Medal and Presidents' Award
The UK’s churches, chapels and meeting houses are being urged to boost their collecting plates with text and online donations in a fundraising partnership announced by the National Churches Trust and online fundraising platform JustGiving.
The fundraising partnership is being launched to mark the 60th anniversary of the National Churches Trust, the only UK wide charity supporting and promoting Christian places of worship of historic, architectural and community value. The partnership will help churches, chapels and meeting houses which have not yet taken advantage of the benefits of online and text fundraising to raise more money, easily and tax efficiently.
Eligible places of worship will gain access to the JustGiving platform. As well as an online fundraising page, also included is a text donating option. If donating by text, the donor only pays the amount they wish to donate and will not be charged for the text nor have the text deducted from their monthly allowance and the full amount of the donation, with no deductions, will be paid to the church. Both online and text donations can be gift aided to maximise the benefit of the donation
There are an estimated 47,000 Christian places of worship in the UK and many will be eligible to benefit from the National Churches Trust and JustGiving fundraising partnership. Churches, chapels and meeting houses can apply online
About the National Churches Trust
The National Churches Trust was originally established on 24 March 1953 as the Historic Churches Preservation Trust. Since then it has provided over 12,000 grants and loans worth over £85 million in today’s prices to help the UK’s churches, chapels and meeting houses. Past trustees have included Sir Winston Churchill and Sir John Betjeman.
The National Churches Trust’s funding helps churches repair leaking roofs, restore stonework and preserve precious architectural features. It also pays for kitchens, heating and toilets, making it easier for places of worship to be used by local people for community activities such as playgroups, lunch clubs for the elderly, concerts and other art events.
Claire Walker Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust said:
“To mark the start of the National Churches Trust’s 60th anniversary year, we are making it easier for the UK’s churches, chapels and meeting houses to fundraise.“
“Thanks to our partnership with online fundraising platform JustGiving, more churches will be able to fundraise online and by text message. This will be of particular benefit to churches that either can’t afford or don’t have the expertise to set up their own online or text donation facility.“
“If a church is fundraising to repair a roof or to install a kitchen, by setting up an online fundraising page both local parishioners and friends, family and supporters living elsewhere will be able to contribute to the appeal.“
“In an age where fewer of us carry cash, our ‘fundraise for free’ offer also means that instead of looking for loose change to put into the collecting plate, the weekly collection can now be done by text message. Text donations also make it easier for tourists visiting a church to contribute to its preservation and upkeep.”
“This fundraising partnership between the National Churches Trust and JustGiving will make it possible for more of the UK’s Christian places of worship to raise funds online and by text message and so help ensure that churches, chapels and meeting houses can remain open for worship, community activities and for visitors wanting to discover their local heritage and history.“
The National Churches Trust supports church buildings across the UK. In an article published in the March issue of NADFAS Review, Claire Walker, the Trust’s Chief Executive, introduces its work and looks at the historic, artistic and architectural value of these important buildings, which are so much part of our communities
Britain’s churches, chapels and meeting houses are central to our nation’s heritage and landscape. An unparalleled mix of history, architecture, art and faith, they form the centrepiece of thousands of towns and villages across the country. More than two-fifths of Christian places of worship are listed for their historic or architectural significance.
For 60 years, the National Churches Trust (NCT) and its predecessor, the Historic Churches Preservation Trust (HCPT), have helped to keep these important buildings alive. Over the last 60 years, we have provided over 12,000 repair and community grants, worth £83m at 2013 prices, to Christian places of worship of all the major denominations throughout the United Kingdom.
Thanks to our pioneering work, many of the UK’s 47,000 churches are today in an excellent state of repair. But many others need urgent help. Keeping a medieval church in good condition is a task which never stops. And increasingly, many 20th century churches need repairing as brick and concrete crumble.
Keeping places of worship open and in a good state of repair is vital for local congregations. It’s also important for everyone who cares about our national heritage – churches and chapels form one of the finest freely accessible collections of art and architecture in the world. With the earliest examples dating from the seventh century, they document more than 1,000 years of fashions and ways of worship.
Medieval churches were full of art. In some, almost every available surface was covered in paintings; the same church may have had a carved and painted screen, a life-size rood or crucifixion, and possibly rich vestments for the priest, as well as gold and silver vessels for the taking of the Communion.
The earliest wall paintings date from the beginning of the 12th century, a time when very many churches were bright with paintings. The scenes depicted were biblical stories, biblical characters, symbolic images, or legends with a clear moral message. Where pictures could not fit, then patterns were used, and the traces of such painted decoration can often still be made out on pillars, arches and around the church windows.
The pictures told the Bible’s stories in visual terms for congregations who could not read. Many may look unsophisticated to our eyes, but in most the message or image is quite clear, which was the point of them. Some are masterpieces in their own right, and show the love and mastery of line which marks out so much British art.
‘Doom paintings’ were favourites for many artists. In these, the Last Judgement is depicted, often with imaginatively horrible scenes showing sinners about to endure the eternal torments of hell. Doom paintings were most often placed on and around the chancel arch – a large space which directly confronted the congregation.
A graphic depiction of the fate awaiting sinners is the ‘Ladder of Souls’ painting at the church of St Peter and St Paul in Chaldon, Surrey, one of the earliest to receive funding from our charity. Here, the 13th-century artist has let his imagination run riot, with the lower part of the painting showing devils dealing with those guilty of each of the Seven Deadly Sins. The upper part of the picture shows souls being weighed on one side and Christ defeating Satan on the other. The two parts of the painting are linked by a picture of a ladder, the upper part of which reaches up to heaven.
Originally Saxon, St Peter and St Paul was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is a mecca for tourists, especially walkers, who find it featured in most walking guides to the area. There’s usually a good, small choir which provides excellent music throughout the year.
The most arresting elements in medieval churches other than the wall paintings were screens and their associated roods, or crucifixions. Made of wood or stone, these separated the nave from the chancel.
Most were elaborately carved and painted. The rood itself consisted of Jesus on the cross, flanked by Mary and St John the Evangelist. Almost all the roods were removed at the Reformation and none now survive intact. But there are still many screens – especially wooden ones – to be seen, and they often remain the highlight of the church.
The best areas for screens are East Anglia and the West Country. In East Anglia, Suffolk is famous for its churches. The church of St Mary in Kersey, a short drive north of Ipswich, stands on high ground above its very pretty village, which prospered during the late medieval cloth-making boom in this part of Suffolk.
Kersey was a particular kind of woollen cloth, named after the village. The interior is light, with the large north aisle separated from the nave by a fine seven-bay arcade with interesting carving. Although it may not have originally belonged to the church, on display is part of a 15th-century rood screen (pictured above) with six panels in the original colour of kings and prophets. The church of St Mary is one which we helped to support over a number of years,n receiving six funding grants from 1963 to 1990.
Pews, benches and seats
Early churches did not usually have seating for the congregation, as services were short and sermons rare, so sitting was not necessary. But from the 13th century onwards, seating began to be introduced and by the early 19th century most churches had seating of different kinds. The earliest church seats look rather like low stone sills built against the walls of the church. These were for use by the ill and the elderly, hence the expression ‘the weakest go to the wall’.
Such seats can still be seen at Buckland, Gloucestershire, where they are partly concealed behind much later – early 17th-century – wooden seats with backs and canopies.
St Mary’s Church at Dunsfold, Surrey, has what many think are the earliest surviving wooden benches. Dating from the late 13th century, these still have holes in them which were made to contain candles.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, carpenters made benches that were highly decorated and marvellously carved. Many of these survive, and it is the bench-ends that draw the eye. Here, the carpenter could display his skills to the best advantage, with the flat surface being carved with an enormous variety of images, from Biblical characters to domestic scenes and from mythical creatures such as mermaids to religious symbolism. These bench-ends are superb galleries of late medieval art.
Enclosed seating, called box pews, was introduced in the 17th century and reached its most opulent in the Georgian period. Box pews were often for particular families; some were fitted with locks, others were upholstered for even further warmth and protection from the draughts in the unheated churches – one of the main reasons for their popularity.
Thousands of box pews were removed by the Victorians, but many remain, including at St Mary, Puddletown, Dorset, which has rows of box pews, installed in 1635. The little church of St James, Cameley, Somerset, is crammed with box pews, some labelled with the names of the people who sat in them.
The area around Coventry, Rugby, Warwick and Leamington Spa has plenty of urban sprawl and might not seem an obvious place to visit country churches. Yet there are many churches in villages or in secluded spots that could easily be far away from the built-up Midlands. St John the Baptist in Berkswell is a stout country church that proclaims its Norman origins as you approach, with its collection of five round-headed east windows. Perhaps even more striking is the quaint half-timbered porch, like a miniature cottage on stilts above then south door.
Inside, much of the woodcarving is by Robert Thompson, a well-known craftsman from Yorkshire. He was born in 1876 and became known as ‘the Mouseman of Kilburn’ because of his ‘signature’, a mouse carved in oak. Nine examples of this signature can be found in the woodwork in Berkswell.
Church towers and spires
Church towers and spires are an essential part of the British landscape. Even in remote and wild places you are rarely more than a few miles from one. They watch over towns and villages, act as waymarks on coastlines, and are guides in moorland. So they have practical uses, but most of all they are expressions in stone of the pride and beliefs of the parishes that built them.
Superb combinations of tower and spire were built in the Early English and Decorated periods. Raunds in Northamptonshire is an excellent example, with four distinct lower stages – one of which has unusual W-shaped mouldings. Above these rise the spire with little spire-lights becoming smaller as they go up. St Wulfram’s, Grantham, Lincolnshire, mixes Early English and Decorated to create a wonderful tower and spire. Shottesbrooke, Berkshire, and Ashbourne, Derbyshire, both have soaring spires from the second half of the 14th century.
St Botolph, Boston, Lincolnshire, universally known as the Boston Stump, has one of the tallest towers in England, and is consequently one of the most well-known anywhere. It is topped with a decorated octagonal lantern, one of the few of its kind left. The tower was built between 1450 and 1520 and is al andmark for miles around.
The building dates back to Boston’s glory days as England’s second most important port, although the town’s prosperity had already passed its peak by the time of the tower’s completion. However, by then a project to enlarge the chancel of the 14th-century Decorated building had already made this the largest parish church in England.
In 2012, St Botolph’s received a £50,000 National Churches Trust Cornerstone Grant to help fund the repair and restoration of the Cotton Chapel, a tribute to John Cotton, the non-conformist minister who served here from 1612 to 1633 before sailing to Boston, Massachusetts, as part of the Puritan exodus.
Spires began to be less popular in the last Gothic period, the Perpendicular, but the towers built then are among the finest in England. Today, they are an eloquent reminder that churches have been part of our local and national landscape for so many centuries.
A future for churches
It is all too easy to take their presence for granted but their continuing good repair is down to hard work, dedication and the injection of resources, and the National Churches Trust is proud to have played a part in helping keep churches alive for the last 60 years.
Over the next 60 years the challenge will be different, and maybe even greater, but we approach it with confidence and commitment.
Information on church art and church descriptions first appeared in ‘Exploring Britain’s Churches & Chapels’ by AA Publishing.
You can support the work of the National Churches Trust by joining as a Friend or by making a donation. You can also contact us on 020 7600 6090.
NADFAS is the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies and there is more information about their work on the NADFAS website
The National Churches Trust has confirmed funding of £159,500 to 48 Christian places of worship in England and Scotland to help pay for urgent repairs to roofs, stonework, windows and other essential works.
The funding comes from the National Churches Trust Partnership Grants scheme. The scheme is operated by the National Churches Trust, the only independent, UK-wide church repair and support charity, in collaboration with local churches trusts operating in English counties and with the Scotland’s Churches Trust. The majority of these trusts are volunteer-led and run.
PLACES OF WORSHIP RECEIVING GRANTS INCLUDE:
• St John the Baptist, Little Maplestead, Essex. Grade II*. Repairs to gutters £5,000
John Bloomfield, Friends of Essex Churches Trust, welcoming the National Churches Trust funding, said:
“This unique round church dates from around 1335 and is one of only four round churches still in use in England. Restoration took place in the 1850s, but the original design and composition of the rotunda that forms the nave remains, as do many of the earlier fittings. The church is part of a group of four parishes in rural north Essex. The church and community actively fundraise but are still short of their target.”
• Friends Meeting House, Stourbridge , Worcestershire. Grade II. Repairs to roof, stonework £2,500
John Davies, Worcestershire and Dudley Historic Churches Trust, welcoming the National Churches Trust funding, said:
“This is the original Meeting House with a gallery, built in 1689 immediately after the Toleration Act and in continuous use for worship ever since. The garden was once the burial ground. It is a little gem with a splendid fitted interior and is very much worth preserving for its architectural and historical significance alone. However the Meeting House also plays a prominent part in the local Stourbridge community, secular and religious, and is much loved by the people of the town.”
• St Botolph, Newbold-on-Avon, Warwickshire. Grade I. Repairs to roof and stonework £5,000
Jane Webster, Warwickshire and Coventry Historic Churches Trust, welcoming the National Churches Trust funding, said:
“Saint Botolph has been honoured as the Patron Saint of sailors and of agricultural workers but he is more especially recognised as the Patron Saint of travellers, and churches with his dedication were often built at city and town gates, where people would go to pray for a safe journey, or to give thanks for having just made one. This 15th century church is in an area of high deprivation and there is a constant struggle for finance to maintain it for the local community. “
View the full list of places of worship receiving Partnership Grants.
Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust said:
“Our Partnership Grants help fund urgent repairs to Christian places of worship. I am delighted that we are able to support repair work at 48 churches and meeting houses in England and Scotland which are much loved both by local people and by visitors who enjoy the beauty and history of these sacred spaces.”
“Our latest allocation of Partnership Grants help places of worship from a range of denominations, including the Church of England, Roman Catholic, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Quakers. The scheme also helps a number of unlisted places of worship that may have access to fewer sources of grant funding than listed buildings.”
“In allocating Partnership Grants we work with local churches trusts to benefit from their knowledge and expertise to identify where local need is greatest. These grants often support larger repair projects and help boost local fundraising efforts.”
“As with all of our grants, the amount we can give is dependent on the funding that we receive. Independent of church authorities and government, we rely on the generous support of trusts, foundations and individuals to continue our work supporting places of worship. So if you share our belief in the value of these buildings please support our work by making a donation or by becoming a Friend of the National Churches Trust ."