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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Church Support Societies

For a slightly different blog, I thought I’d discuss the church societies that I support, and why. This doesn’t mean that I don’t drop money into collection boxes and buy other fundraising items, but these are the societies that I am a paid up member of.

  1. Friends of Friendless Churches (FoFC)
  2. The Ecclesiological Society
  3. Friends of Essex Churches Trust

It would be lovely to support even more, but with the birth of our son, we did cut down somewhat on charitable donations, curbing the Kew Gardens and RSPB membership. In addition to two charities that I perpetually support, I maintained our donations to all of the church support groups, as I believe these are not as well supported as those in the mainstream hobby/interest areas.

I’ve listed the groups in the order of which I enjoy their publications. By default, as a member of FoFC, you are also a member of the Ancient Monuments Society, and 2-3 times a year you receive the AMS & FoFC Newsletter, as well as the annual publications of the society’s Transactions. Both of these titles are worth the membership money alone – which for an individual is now £30pa. The newsletters are about 60 pages, whilst the transactions are about 140 pages. Each contains news on buildings at risk, as well as updates on FoFC properties. I always keep an eye out for news on my personal Essex favourite – Mundon St Mary. There is only one other FoFC property in Essex – Wickham Bishops Old Church of St Peter. Whilst my primary interest is in the FoFC information, I do find the other building information fascinating. It’s like a condensed version of Restoration, with many saddened buildings needing a lot of care and attention.

The Ecclesiological Society is also worth being a part of – though their publications are unfortunately not quite as regular as that of the FoFC/AMS. Two or three times a year usually sees the publication of Ecclesiology Today – which generally contains 4-5 longer length articles of interest. By virtue of it’s very name, the Ecclesiological Society concentrates solely on church architecture and fabric. There is also a regular Church Crawler column – written by Phil Draper of Churchcrawler, which generally highlights churches at risk and their plight.

Occasionally, the Ecclesiological Society sends out full sized books to members, as part of their membership. These usually come as a complete surprise to me, as I tend not to read every drop of information supplied in the regular publications. In the time that I’ve been a member, the following full publications have been given to all members:

  • Pews, Benches & Chairs – Cooper & Brown
  • Sir Ninian Comper – Symondson & Bucknall
  • Temples – Worthy of His Presence – Christopher Webster

Lastly, the Friends of Essex Churches Trust is mainly concerned with supporting requests for grants, but does also offer several church guided tours each year. There is not as much in the way of publications from this trust – and I do not attend any of the tours, working full time – but I like to belong to support this very worthy cause.

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BOOKS PART 3 – Friends & Support Group Books

The next two books are both published by Essex Church charitable groups. I cannot rank one above the other, as they are both valuable in their own way.

The first, “A Guide to Essex Churches” is now long out of print, though second hand copies can still be found. It was published by the Essex Churches Support Trust, and edited by Christopher Starr. It contains information in a style that I have not seen in any other book for this county.

Rather than group information within parish, the book instead groups it by feature. It makes it very easy to look up, for example, details on Royal Arms within the county. Each section is written by different authors, and the following is a selection of the 16 chapters within the book:

  • The Gothic revival
  • Church carpentry
  • Monumental brasses
  • Funeral hatchments
  • Wall painting
  • Bells
  • Organs

This book organisation was a boon when someone contacted me via the website, and asked me whether I knew where any pre-Commonwealth Royal Arms could be found in the county. To be honest, I’d not really studied it, so even if it is not a complete list, I was able to offer the four mentioned in this one section of the book.

The second of the support group books, “Essex Churches and Chapels” is still available from Amazon – please see the BOOKS section (link at top right). It is edited by Canon John Fitch, and does not cover every church in the county. The following explanation is taken from the introduction: “To have attempted to include all the churches and chapels would have made it impossibly unwieldy and defeated our purpose”. Also, one annoyance – for me at least – is that parish prefixes like “Little” or “North” are always appended to the parish name following a comma. So LITTLE BADDOW becomes BADDOW, LITTLE. With no index or table of contents, flicking through the book can be frustrating.

What this book does offer, though, is a more free flowing narrative that the Pevsner guides. It actually makes for a more easy read than the Pevsner – mainly because it does not need to cram everything into such a restrictive volume size. Also (possibly in an attempt to replicate the feature-based organisation of the earlier Christopher Starr book) there is a chapter at the end entitled “Lists of Special Features”, which lists fonts, monuments etc. Though the chapter starts by stating that it is not an exhaustive list – and a brief glance does highlight omissions – for instance the list contains just 14 medieval fonts and 11 post-medieval fonts.

Both of these books should be on the bookshelf of any student of the county’s churches.

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BOOKS PART 2 – Lost Parish Churches of Essex

I daresay that some might disagree with me, but if I truly had to have just two books with which to continue my studies of Essex Churches, then the first, as I have already written, would be the new Buildings of England: Essex – by Dr James Bettley. The second, however, would be Andy Barham’s fabulous book, The Lost Parish Churches of England.

Andy’s book was original published by Ian Henry Publications back in 2000, and has been out of print from soon afterwards. You may be able to find a paper copy online at the likes of Amazon or Abebooks. But just a few months back, I heard from Andy that he has brought this book right back up to date, and has released it on Amazon’s Kindle. If you’ve never owned, seen or read Andy’s book, it really is a must-have. And of course, the benefit of a Kindle edition is that it can come with you on tours of the county. The link to this book is at the bottom of this post.

Why is it so good then? Since originally buying this book, I have had the good fortune to be able to converse with and then meet Andy. This book was the culmination of many trips across the county, which he undertook throughout most of the 1990s with renowned historian Ian Yearsley. They both covered every parish church in the county, though Andy specifically wanted to write the lost churches book.

This book will make you aware of some absolute gems of churches. Some now demolished; some still standing, but in a far from holy state; and others, preserved and maintained. Like St Michael, Pitsea, which was still standing when Andy started the description of that church, but was demolished by the end (December 1998).

It was better news for All Saints, Vange, which in the brief write up, was described as “now closed and its future does not look promising”. Fortunately for that church, and all who love it, it was taken into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, and is now a preserved monument, available for all to enjoy.

Andy’s Lost Churches book, along with Dr Bettley’s ‘Pevsner’ really will give you 80-90% of what you will ever want to know about churches in the county of Essex.

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BOOKS PART 1 – Pevsner

If you’re into Essex churches in a serious fashion, and you want to know more about them, there’s a core of books that you really must have. They are all detailed in the credits page on the main site, and most are available from the Books link in the main menu above.

If you buy only one book, it needs to be the latest version of the book usually referred to as the ‘Essex Pevsner’. This book is actually an updated version by James Bettley, and contains good detail on all important buildings in the county.

It’s always good to get hold of one of the earlier Essex Pevsner editions though, as there can be reference to demolished buildings for instance.

Although the earlier Pevsner editions covered all Chelmsford Diocese churches, they were not as detailed as the updated Bettley version. However, its not all plain sailing, as due to County boundary changes, not all Chelmsford diocese churches are now in Essex. As a result, if you want to cover churches like Chigwell and Silvertown, you now also need a copy of the ‘London 5 East’ Pevsner.

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I hated history…

…when I was at school. I seriously believe that the approach or attitude imposed by a teacher, can make or break a possible career choice. Of course, many subjects may quite easily be dropped or flunked without realising that they could be interesting in later life. For instance, I screwed up Latin & Art. But I’ve never felt pangs of regret about those.

I studied history at a school in Southend-on-Sea, where my first year’s experience of history, at the age of 11, was a teacher who had some very odd methods of teaching. It’s a real shame – as I now know that he really did know his stuff, as he has written several books – and he was, after all, head of history at the school too.

Those sorry teaching methods consisted of:

  • Making us listen to a recording he had made of himself the night before, lecturing the class, whilst he did marking or something else at the front of the class.
  • Copying down maps from the projector – or simply tracing them through normal paper. What was the point of that?
  • But the worst was the insistence that we must not use ballpoint pens. It had to be a fountain pen. This caused me more trouble than anything else. Why? Because my dad got in a right rage about it when I asked them to buy me one, as he – quite rightly – thought it was pretty darned ridiculous.

So if there are any teachers reading this, who like kids to do things their way – simply because they are sticklers for perfection – think before you put someone off of a subject – if not for life – but for their formative years.

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The new blog

I’ve decided that even with Facebook, Google+, Yahoo Groups and all of the other outlets, that this website needs something more, in order to stay in touch with it’s visitors. This blog will not be solely about churches – though they will feature heavily. It will also, however, be concerned with other things that I find of interest. And I hope this interests others too.

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