Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Conserving the past

click photo to enlarge
The Church of England has about 16,000 parish church buildings, and 43 cathedrals. Over 12,000 of these are "listed", that is to say, recognised and protected by legislation for their historic and/or architectural importance. The highest level of "listing" is Grade 1, and about 45% of all Grade 1 buildings in England are churches.

Many churches are the most ancient building in their locality. The oldest, St Martin's, Canterbury, was in use when St Augustine came to these islands in AD597. Clearly such buildings are worth looking after, not only for their religious purpose, but for the historical record that they carry for their communities. But, here is the problem. Each parish church is maintained largely with funds raised by its congregation. Some money is available from the government for building work, but rarely as much as is needed. And, Church of England congregations throughout the country are in decline, so money is increasingly hard to find. It may be that in the future the state will take over these buildings (as I believe is the case in France). But until that happens, or unless congregations flock back to the church, then maintaining these wonderful old structures is going to be a problem.

Some churches, usually the less architecturally and historically significant find other uses, perhaps as arts or community centres. Occasionally they find tenants for part of their space and become dual use buildings. But others, particularly in rural areas fall out of use and become redundant. The Churches Conservation Trust is a charity that cares for 340 of these buildings, including the one shown in my photograph, St Margaret at Haceby, Lincolnshire. This lovely, unspoiled old building, dating from about 1100AD, is next to a farmyard in the small settlement of a few houses. To step into it is to cast off the twenty first century completely. I took this shot from inside the church looking into the south porch. The aged walls, the shadows of the porch gate, and the collection of leaves blown in by the wind all suggested an evocative photograph. I found it hard to decide how to present the shot - black and white and sepia both work well, but here it is in colour.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 13mm (26mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/60
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.7EV
Image Stabilisation: On