English Church Architecture.
This website was last updated in March 2015. The number of churches currently featured is 636.
Please see below for notes about this website.
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St. John the Baptist's, Cirencester, Gloucestershire - the church from the east.
Any study of a subject undertaken seriously does well to include an assessment of its scope and limitations. This church architecture web-site presents some of the notes and photographs taken by an amateur architectural historian during the last thirty-five years, and while every reasonable effort has been made to make the notes rigorous and consistent, it would be idle to imagine that other interpretations of the building histories of the churches included are not sometimes possible, or even that all their descriptions are invariably accurate in every particular, for while all the churches have been examined by the writer both outside and in, “field trips” have generally only been followed up by study along the more accessible avenues of documentary research and, inevitably, sometimes even the conditions under which a visit was made were not ideal. It is difficult, for example, to examine closely a high nave roof from the ground on a dull day and it is all too easy to record a complex moulding or an elaborate funerary monument incorrectly while making an internal circuit of a large building followed by an impatient key holder, especially as there is then not usually the opportunity to go back to check one’s facts afterwards.
That said, it is, of course, my hope in presenting this website, that the notes on the few hundred churches it contains may prove at least a useful, additional source of reference for those who wish to examine them more closely, and that they may sometimes offer alternative interpretations of their history of construction, worthy of consideration, for I have certainly not hesitated to disagree with other writers, however distinguished, when I have felt so inclined. Inevitably this means Pevsner in particular, which is, perhaps, a little unfair considering that it was his Buildings of England series that introduced me to the subject in the first place and which taught me everything I knew in the late 1970s as I made my way round the churches of Cambridgeshire, a county that had then recently swallowed up neighbouring Huntingdon and Peterborough (under the Local Government Act of 1974). Pevsner’s own church visiting in the 1950s and '60s, however, was necessarily sometimes a very hurried affair, and for churches in the Perpendicular style - a style which in the widest sense might be considered to have predominated throughout the long period from the Black Death of 1349 to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 - there was hardly even a fully worked out methodology for their description at the time, never mind their accurate dating, which were subjects that had to await publication of the late Dr. John Harvey's seminal work, most notably in The Perpendicular Style of 1978. Pevsner’s writing also suffered sometimes from a lack of consistency as, for example, when he ascribed the same architectural feature to one date here and to another somewhere else, without offering any reason for the discrepancy. Even so, such criticisms should not be allowed to gainsay his astonishing achievements, and Harvey, like a number of other later writers, was surely not as generous to Pevsner as he should have been, not only because Pevsner’s work was prodigious in its extent, but also because it was often extremely insightful. It is thus only with trepidation that I ever choose to disagree with him, even though that never quite prevents me from doing so when I feel inclined.
Perhaps an even greater risk I have run in these pages, however, has been to pass judgement on buildings (often Victorian ones) on purely artistic grounds, for in something that must ultimately remain subjective, it is also more difficult, of course, to construct an argument in one’s support, and I am acutely aware that the church has yet to be erected that does not command the devotion of at least some of its parishioners or which does not have “Lovely old building” and “Peace, perfect peace” written somewhere in its visitors’ book. That this, again, has not stopped me doing so, is partly because to describe everything in these notes in positive or admiring terms would go a long way towards rendering them meaningless, and also because to fail to draw attention to the difference in quality between the work of an architect like William Butterfield, on the one hand, and, say, the Hakewill brothers on the other, would be to show no discernment whatever. Nevertheless, though entries may sometimes be influenced by personal opinion, they are, I believe, at least free of anecdote, and the reader will search this website in vain for stories about the vagaries of churchwardens or the hazards of travelling by bicycle.
The churches described below are listed under their respective counties and can be accessed directly. Each entry is dated and the site is updated monthly, with entries added in the last six months being marked as new in ORANGE. However, existing entries are sometimes also subject to revision, and these are not generally marked due to the difficulty of distinguishing between major and minor amendments, and entries where the only change made is in the addition of new photographs.
The gazetteer is accompanied by three appendices, of which the first is an index of artists mentioned by name and the third is a glossary of architectural terms, the usage of some of which varies between authors. The second is a list of some close-dated architectural features I have described, which it is sometimes useful to have before one when trying to reconstruct the building history of another church nearby for which only stylistic evidence is available for dating. Even so, it is important to recognize that this is not a perfect modus operandi either and that even consistency is an objective that can be pursued too far. Many mediaeval churches in England were constructed by masons told simply to build “as good as” or “better than” the people in the next parish, and although many folk in those days lived and died in the village in which they were born, the same was by no means true of highly skilled masons. Indeed, an architectural feature had only to be introduced in one place for it to be possible for it to crop up almost anywhere thereafter.
A Note on Copyright: This website is entirely non-commercial and although all notes and photographs contained within it are copyright, I have no objection to parochial church councils making whatever use they wish of the entries for their churches, nor to material being copied for private study or similar non-commercial reasons, nor to the quotation of short passages for architectural analysis, provided in all cases, the source is attributed. I have, of course, tried scrupulously to ensure that I have acknowledged all sources on which I have drawn in my turn.
Contact Details: Readers wishing to pass on comments, corrections or criticisms of this website, may do so by telephone on 01449-736121.
C. P. Canfield, B.Sc.(Wales), M.A. (London)