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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