Sunday, March 25, 2012

Saving redundant churches

click photo to enlarge
In the early 1970s, when I first started to take an interest in church architecture, I became aware of an organisation called the Redundant Churches Fund. This had been established in 1969 under the Pastoral Measures legislation of 1968 to deal with churches that were superfluous to the needs of the Anglican Church. The Measures prescribed one of three fates for such buildings: demolition, conversion to a new use, or, where the historic and architectural merit of the building was too important for it to suffer either of those actions, then it was to be "vested" in the Fund who would take over its management and preservation.

Today this important organisation is known as The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) and it cares for over 340 churches. The county with most redundant churches managed by the CCT is Norfolk with 28, closely followed by Lincolnshire with 24. It is always a pleasure to visit one of these buildings because they are usually open. Moreover, if they are medieval churches they frequently have something of the character that they must have had centuries ago. Many don't have the newer building work and Victorian prettifying - what William Morris called "scraping" - or the artefacts of a church that is in use, and often you get a sense of being transported into the past when entering through the south door.

We came upon such a church a while ago, St Benedict at Haltham, Lincolnshire. It was made redundant in 1977 and remains open for visitors on its slight rise at the edge of the hamlet. The highlights of the building, for me, are the crude Norman tympanum, the beautiful fourteenth century flowing tracery of the east window and the rustic woodwork of the screens and seating. The real oddity of the church is the wooden bell turret that once must have stood tall above the roof, but which became embedded in a new one, almost to the point of disappearance when the nave was restored in 1880. However, it was the font, set upon a square rather than the usual octagonal stone,   on a brick floor that was lit by two modest windows that drew my camera. In its simple, rustic setting it exemplified the charm of such buildings.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation:  -1.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On


lincslady said...

That's lovely Tony. I can almost smell the mustiness and feel the cool air in that old church.

C B Newham said...

Sadly many more churches are set to become redundant and they will not all be able to be vested in the CCT - it is already stretched looking after the churches it currently has. It will be interesting to see what happens when the crunch comes (and that will be very soon). I suspect demolition or conversion will be the only way forward. In the mean time, make the most of visiting them!

Tony Boughen said...

The smell of an old church is distinctive isn't it lincslady, and these churches are rarely overpowered by the application of the cleaners' wax polish!

I'm sure you're right CB. I can think of a few churches in Lincolnshire that are "on the edge", some of which are widely noticed to be in that precarious state, others that are soldiering on with dwindling congregations and finances. Solely on the grounds of the historic record that many of these buildings embody it must surely be right for the state to give more support at some point, as happens in some other European countries.


Anonymous said...

It's a beautiful church and deserves preserving.  I came across another very interesting blog recently, also by a photographer in Lincolnshire with a keen interest in history and rare and collectable books.  Upon visiting this church he began to wonder if it had connections with the Knights Templar after seeing the tympanum above the door.  If you're interested here is a link to his blog, but many apologies if posting this is out of order.

Tony Boughen said...

Thanks for that information LA, it's not a blog I was aware of (and I have no problem with useful links being posted). I've only made a single visit to this church but we'll be going back so I'll look at in the light of his suggestion.