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Church Locking Statuses

The first person who I knew that really emphasized the importance of church locking statistics and statuses was friend Cameron Newham, whom I had met back in 2002, through Phil Draper’s Churchcrawling ‘Yahoo! Group’. It was actually a few years later that Cameron began to publish his locking maps on his Digital Atlas of England website. The website, in Cameron’s own words “…aims to photographically record all of the rural parish churches of England in detail. So far over 70% of the country has been covered”. The locking maps have been an extremely thoughtful addition.

Initially, when Cameron suggested to me that I should add the same data to my own website, I was not entirely certain that it was worthwhile. This may have been partly denial, as I’d not kept any records of my own church locking findings – and partly my own naivety as to the importance of these statistics to people browsing such websites.

I finally implemented the idea several years ago now. I can’t remember when exactly, though it may have been around the time of the last major re-write – perhaps 2010/11. I originally had to guess a lot of the locking statuses, based upon whether I had external pictures only, or both internal and external. It was not too difficult, as I still had a good recollection of those churches where I had made special arrangements for the church to be open. It did mean, however, that I had a huge number of “Unknown status” on the site.

Because of the way that I had built the website – based upon a central database, I was able to clone the County Map page, to build a new Locking Map page. The map is rather interesting – and also quite sad to look at, with the vast numbers of locked churches to the south of the county. It is, though, a better story than in some other counties. In fact, a well planned visit in the northern parts of the county can make for an entire day of unlocked church viewing pleasure.

Essex Church Locking Map
Essex Church Locking Map

The map supports several different locking statuses, as follows:

  • unlocked during daytime
  • usually unlocked – keyholder details if not
  • locked with keyholder details
  • locked with no keyholder details
  • demolished
  • ruined church
  • private dwelling/business
  • consult church/diocese website
  • unknown

Those statuses in italics are by default not displayed on the locking map – but you can re-enable them by clicking the relevant map pin within the key below the map.

Gradually, the number of unknown statuses of key locking has fallen, and that is mainly due to the following people who have been a huge help in keeping this data up-to-date.

  • John Vigar
  • Simon Knott
  • Cameron Newham
  • David Robarts
  • Ben Elliott

Although I am grateful to all of the contributors above, David and Ben have been the most prolific supporters and providers of information for the church locking data, so I would like to take this opportunity to offer an extra-special thank you to them both. In addition, Ben has also been passing me details of church websites that he finds that are not present in my database.

It is always of concern publishing this information on the website, as whilst I am happy to be able to provide the information, it is always worrying that people may visit a church from a long distance to find that the locking information provided is out-of-date. With this in mind, I hope that all users of the data use it in the spirit that it is intended, and make firmer visiting arrangements if visiting from a long distance.

Incidentally, on Cameron’s Church Locking page, he also details an Android app that he has written, which will provide you with convenient ‘on the go’ church locking information for all sites to which he has the information available.

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BOOKS PART 5 – Print on Demand

I’d heard of print on demand – but I had no idea that it would enable me to get hold of reproduction copies of books which I had seen advertised on the likes of Abebooks for many hundreds of pounds!

The title which I’d always wanted to read, since seeing it referenced in some other books on Essex Churches, was Philip Morant’s History and Antiquities of the County of Essex. Compiled from the best and Most Ancient Historians.

This book pulls together details of how places appeared when Morant compiled the texts, along with many historical details and evidences that he researched from before his time. Reading it is like reading a hybrid of the Essex Pevsner and the Domesday Book. He makes mention of the parish of Milton (off the coast of Westcliff-on-Sea), and describes the fact that the church had been visible at low tide ‘until recent times’.

The book is in two volumes. I believe I paid around £25 per volume when I got them. They are print on demand facsimile copies – which means they can be a little tricky to read in places. But it is better than not having access to them at all.

I see that Amazon are selling the paperback copy of the first volume for the tiny sum of £3.84. Things are not always as good as they seem though, as the second volume then appears overpriced at around £50. However, you could get the first volume from Amazon and see if it appeals before shelling out for the second volume – which may be available for a more sensible price elsewhere.

As usual, the links to these books on Amazon can be found on the books page (link top right).

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Photographing and Processing Hatchment images

In the last blog, I recommended the Hatchments in Britain book, enabling its reader to decipher the hidden meaning within these depictions of heraldic achievement.

In this blog, I want to share something more practical, which I hope will be of use.

Hatchments are often hanging high up on the walls in churches – often above the level of any decent light. They can therefore be a complete pain to photograph. Put simply, if the light is poor, in order to capture enough of the image to process decently later on, you are going to want to use a tripod – but what I want to show you is what to do with that image if you have managed to get a detailed, if dark and skewed image.

Consider the following hatchment image, taken in Bobbingworth church.

Hatchment from Bobbingworth Church - as taken
Hatchment from Bobbingworth Church – as taken

The image is hardly something to write home about, is it?

What we ideally want to do, is show the hatchment lozenge the correct way up, and perfectly squared. You need a photo editing package that can perform perspective correction – preferably one where you plot four points on the image, which represent a parallelogram if it were viewed straight on. See below for those four points shown in my copy of Paint Shop Pro X4.

Perspective Marks Set
Perspective Marks Set

You then just click ‘apply’, and the program will do all of the mathematics for you, re-mapping the image to correct the perspective, as below – though we are not finished yet.

Perspective corrected
Perspective corrected

It may be possible to achieve the re-mapping shown above using other types of geometric perspective correction, but the co-ordinate plotting method is by far the simplest. As I said, I use Paint Shop Pro – which has had this function for many years. I also know that Adobe Photoshop (full edition) can perform this function (it resides within the cropping functionality) – though Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop Elements do not, to my knowledge, support it.

The next task on our list is to re-square the hatchment. We do this by firstly cropping the hatchment frame correctly. You should crop exactly where the front surface’s edges are. I.e. you want to be left with ONLY the front surface of the hatchment, as shown below.

Crop around frame
Crop around frame

Then we need to re-square it. This is done by re-sizing the image, but ensuring that the aspect ratio is not preserved during the resize. Essentially we are moving from a rectangle to a square, and maintaining the aspect ratio would cause any resized image to remain rectangular. In your resize dialogue, find out what the length of the current short side of the image is in pixels, and then set both the width and the height to that shorter pixel length, as shown below.

Re-squared hatchment image.
Re-squared hatchment image.

Now we can restore some of the image contrast etc. To get the image below, I performed:

  • Auto contrast
  • Auto colour balance
  • Auto saturation
Image contrast, balance and saturation corrected.
Image contrast, balance and saturation corrected.

Then finally, you just free-rotate the image accordingly, specifying a white background for new ’empty space’.

Rotated and finished image
Rotated and finished image

I hope this has been useful. Please do let me know.

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BOOKS PART 4 – Hatchments in Britain

When I first started looking around churches in anything more than a touristic fashion, I used to just look at the building itself. It had always been the soaring pillars, gothic archways and general mysteriousness of the building that captured my attention.

It took a while, therefore, before I truly understood what a hatchment actually was. In fact, I think it was my friend John Vigar who first explained exactly what they were used for, telling me that essentially, the hatchment was a depiction of a high status person’s heraldic achievement, which was used at a funeral, and that was carried in front of the coffin. After usage for the funeral, they were hung on the deceased’s front door for some time, and were then hung in the church. The fashion for hatchments first came about in the early 17th century, but they are rarely used today.

The raison d’être for this blog post is, then, to introduce the reader to what I believe is another essential read for the county church crawler. The book is Hatchments in Britain Volume 6: Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Middlesex by Peter Summers. You’ll find a link to the book in the BOOKS link, and by navigating to the second page of the ‘Essex Church Books’ category.

The book lists all known hatchments in the county, but also explains exactly what hatchments actually mean. There is a lot of symbolism and hidden meaning within these devices. There is far too much to go into here, but the colouring of the background, and shape of the arms can indicate marital status, or even a man surviving two wives.

In order to understand much of the detail relating to the individual hatchments, it is necessary to understand some of the terminology used. A start can be made on this Wikipedia page. For instance, dexter refers to the left-hand side of the hatchment as viewed by a third party (or the right-hand side as viewed by the bearer). And sinister refers to the right-hand side of the hatchment as viewed by a third party.

What the book will tell you, however, without too much heraldic knowledge, is which hatchment belongs to which person. The task is made easier when there is text on a hatchment…but even just understanding dexter and sinister goes some way towards identification.

Another aspect of hatchments of which I am fond is their photography, which I will cover in my next blog.

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