Finding the Best Historic Churches to VisitPosted: 2013-01-10
Yesterday I posted some resources I've found useful for determining if a historic church is likely to be open to visitors. That's all well and good, you might say, but how do you tell which historic churches are worth visiting in the first place?
To be honest, I don't think there's a more comprehensive resource for all of Britain than our own Historic Churches Guide. If there is, I want to find it! We've rated each church on its historic interest, rather than the rather ubiquitous star-rating system often employed. Hopefully, you will find our information useful, but if you want to look further, here's what I do when I'm planning a trip to visit interesting churches.
Many counties have their own historic churches trust (see a list of country trusts here) but these rarely have actual visitor guides, being more concerned with raising funds for essential preservation of buildings, and various membership activities. Amateur enthusiasts in many counties have prepared local guides. Of these, the best that I have found are Suffolk Churches and Historic Churches of Berkshire. But of course, these websites only detail a specific area.
There are several national charities that list churches to visit, though these lists are rarely comprehensive, but tend to be geared to specific churches under the organisation's care. Of these the best that I'm aware of is the Churches Conservation Trust.
If you want to cast your net wider, you'll have to go offline (what, IS there an offline?) Yes, I'm here to report that some of your best resources of information are good old fashioned guidebooks. I have quite a few - some regional, like John Leonard's Churches of Herefordshire and their Treasures, but most are national in scope.
Of these national church guides, the most popular over the past few years is Simon Jenkins' 1000 Best English Churches. Now as much as I enjoy Jenkins' book, I actually much prefer Betjeman's Best British Churches. This weighty volume (in every sense) is a treasure trove of information. Where Jenkins goes into exhaustive depth of detail on his favourite churches, the Betjeman team have elected to rate more churches, with just a paragraph or two of useful details.
Another written resource on my bookshelf are two volumes by the Blue Guide people; the Blue Guide to Churches and Chapels of Northern England, and, yes, the Blue Guide to Churches and Chapels of Southern England. These are fabulously detailed guides, but unfortunately, I do not think they are still in print. If you can get copies at a used book store I highly, highly recommend them - and they're small enough to slip in a pocket when you're travelling.
Another excellent resource is a more recent book, the AA's Exploring Britain's Churches and Chapels, Inspirational Journeys of Discovery. This book is beautifully illustrated, perhaps better than any of the other resources on my list. Appropriately enough, the smallest book on my list is John Kinross's Discovering England's Smallest Churches - a really excellent guide to over 100 remote or simply tiny churches and chapels.
There you are, a little light reading. Hopefully, some of the resources I've mentioned will help you discover which churches will be most interesting to your tastes!