Cambridge Walking Tour

Posted on: 25/09/2012

The Round Church, CambridgeThis Saturday I will be leading a walking tour of Cambridge churches on behalf of The Ecclesiological Society. We will be looking at 5 buildings in the centre of Cambridge, and in particular focusing on the 25 years from 1842-1867 during which time significant new churches were built and almost every medieval church in the city was altered.

The Cambridge Camden Society

Ecclesiological Society SealIt was in Cambridge that the Cambridge Camden Society was founded in 1839, and from here that the transformation of Victorian church architecture spread through The Ecclesiologist and other publications. The Society was founded by 3 undergraduates, including the hymn writer J M Neale (‘All Glory, Laud, and Honour’, ‘Good King Wenceslas’, and ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’…). When part of Holy Sepulchre Church (‘The Round Church’) collapsed in 1841 the Society seized the opportunity and funded a demonstration project for their ideas, in Anthony Salvin’s restoration. In 1845 the Society renamed itself the Ecclesiological Society; the current Society dates from a refounding of the original in 1879. The Society’s seal was designed by AWN Pugin – note the Round Church appearing at the bottom. For more on the seal see the Ecclesiological Society website (follow About Us etc). If you’re interested in the history of churches then membership of the Society is an absolute bargain and highly recommended.

The Usual Suspects

It is interesting to note the same (national) architects repeatedly involved in different projects. For example after the Round Church Anthony Salvin did some minor work at nearby Great St Mary’s and at Jesus College Chapel; George F Bodley not only designed the new All Saints Church, but also worked at Jesus Chapel, and of course George Gilbert Scott seems to have worked everywhere, designing the new Chapel for St Johns College, restoring St Michael’s, St Edward’s etc etc.

An altogether different character was Ambrose Poynter who designed three new churches in Cambridge – Christchurch Newmarket Road (1837 – a reduced version of Kings College Chapel in brick), St Paul’s Hill’s Road (1841 – red brick and loosely modelled on Great St Mary’s), and St Andrew the Great (1842). St Paul’s is interesting because it was attacked by Pugin in the first edition of The Ecclesiologist (November 1841):

“The church is of no particular style or shape but it may be described as a conspicuous red brick building something between Elizabethan and debased Perpendicular architecture … the huge clock, the disproportionate octagonal turrets, the great four-centred belfry, windows without cuspings or mouldings … the square clerestory windows; the enormous windows in the aisles … the graduated parapet of the nave … are quite indefensible.”

More Info

If you are interested in the itinerary for the walk you can download a pdf flier here. If you want to join the tour you would be very welcome, but please let me know beforehand (you can do so via the comments below). The charge for the day is £25 (cheque to The Ecclesiological Society on the day), which includes entry into all of the buildings.

Coventry Cathedral App

Posted on: 09/08/2012

coventry app screenshot - namecoventry app screenshot - trailsThose of you interested in how technology can help tell stories may be interested in the new app that will shortly be released for Coventry Cathedral. There are versions for iOS and Android.

The app is one in a growing series produced by the wonderful people at Christianity and Culture in York. What C&C are so good at is providing content that is well researched, compellingly presented and also (if you are interested) spiritually throught-provoking.

coventry cathedral screenshot - mapcoventry cathedral screenshot - menu











The The initial feel of the app is very good, with easy navigation and engaging content. The menu page provides a number of ways to access the material. From the trails section you can choose one of the following four themes:

  • The three cathedrals that have occupied the site;
  • Art and Architecture – focusing more on the features of the building;
  • Pilgrim Trail – which gives you more of the faith content;
  • Explore – a more general guide including most of the above.

I particularly liked the audio bit – giving a feel for the acoustic of the second cathedral before it was destroyed by bombing in 1940. I tested the app out on site at Coventry a couple of weeks ago, and it worked well – certainly better than the audio tours, which you have to return to the desk before you’ve had a chance to listen to the information that relates to the outside of the building! And the app is great because you can download it and explore the building before you visit, which makes the experience while you are there all the richer and less hurried.

coventry cathedral screenshot - glasscoventry cathedral screenshot - tour











Visitors and Pilgrims

Why does this matter? Because there are lots of people who are drawn towards our church buildings who would not identify themselves as Christian. Interpretive materials such as these teach us all more of the story of these buildings, but particularly they open them up to the visitor in a way that printed materials cannot. They are part of our welcome, and perhaps the beginning of a conversation that may see some that come as visitors leaving as pilgrims.

Why not download the app and explore for yourself? The app is due for an official launch by the Cathedral, but until then C&C would appreciate any feedback on glitches, or suggestions. They can be contacted by emailing the C&C office.

Why VAT changes matter…

Posted on: 26/04/2012

Alongside various political own goals in the pasty tax and the granny tax (to name but two), George Osborne’s budget on 21st March contained one proposal that is particularly toxic for the church. Without any consultation, the government now proposes to drop the zero-rated VAT allowance on approved alteration on listed buildings. This affects all of us, across the denominations, whether your church is a listed building or not.

You may have seen the YouTube video created by Pamela Greener, wife of the Dean of Wakefield Cathedral:

This is great entertainment deployed to make a serious point, and has received widespread media coverage, including on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.

Why does this matter?

There are some 12,500 listed Anglican churches alone, and of course others from other denominations. Ancient churches have constantly changed in response to the changing needs of successive generations, and have rich multi-layered stories to tell. In our own times, the church is faced with the urgent need to modernise its facilities in order to respond better to the changing needs of our culture, and to continue to play its role in what is now termed “The Big Society”. Whether it is the installation of a single WC and somewhere to make coffee, or a large scale reordering and extension, these projects often make the difference between the burgeoning life of a community building with a future, or the sad management of decline. In rural locations these churches are often the only remaining community building in a village; in cities they equally valuable. To slap an additional 20% onto the costs of such projects is nonsensical in the context of the avowed aims of “The Big Society”.

And we are all affected by this, whether or not we worship in a listed building. Like it or not, these listed buildings are often the most visible buildings in our community – if they close, or even if they cannot afford to change, then this impacts on our society’s impression that the church is closed for business.

What Can You Do?

Tell everyone you know. Write to your MP. Sign the petitions on the Downing Street website, and make sure all of your church knows about this and encourage them to do the same. Note there are two of these petitions:

Bring back zero-rate VAT on alterations to listed churches – this was created by Janet Gough, who is Director of the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops’ Council.

Save our heritage: say no to VAT on work on listed buildings – this was created by Jonathan Greener, who is Dean of Wakefield Cathedral.

These two overlap, so I suggest you sign both. If we can raise a petition of over 100,000 signatures, this will force a debate in parliament on the issue. We have a limited period of time to do this…

Don’t be fobbed off…

The government has proposed an extension of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, but this is wholly inadequate, for three reasons. Firstly the amount of the overall pot is capped at a much lower level than the demand (after all, the aim of the change is to save money). Secondly, the applicant does not know in advance how much if any of the money will be given back in grant – the proportion depends on who else is applying within that quarter, making it very difficult to plan. And thirdly the full value of the VAT needs to be raised and paid out before some of it can then be reclaimed. The LPWGS therefore does not in any way replace the current zero-rated arrangement.

Click here to see the letter written by The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, to the Treasury immediately after the Budget.

VAT Ditty – The Sequel

This second video was published in the last few days. Perhaps not as sharp as the first, but it is nice to see the ‘George Osborne sextet’ in action…

Planning to go to the Christian Resources Exhibition?

Posted on: 24/04/2012

Two weeks today is the opening of the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park Racecourse near Esher, which runs from Tuesday 8th to Friday 11th May. The CRE is a focal point for a broad range of Christian organisations, from charities to literature, from furniture to clothing – the list is endless. The exhibition is a great opportunity to reflect on church life and faith, to see what else is going on in the church, to meet old friends and make new ones.

Having exhibited successfully at two CREs last year ChurchBuild is delighted to be exhibiting once again at Esher. We see CRE as a great place to explore the themes we are championing through this site. We are at stand S61 on the ground floor (Surrey Hall) just next to the main entrance doors – see our ad on the inside back cover of the exhibition handbook. Lots more information on the exhibition is available at

Your Complimentary Ticket

As exhibitors we are pleased to invite you and your friends to CRE International as our guests, saving you up to £6.00 per ticket. Just click on the graphic. We hope you’ll be able to join us.

Growing The Rural Church

Posted on: 22/02/2012

Scargill House
In just two week’s time the Growing the Rural Church conference will be taking place at Scargill House in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. The conference is aimed at church leaders and members across all denominations, who are making progress growing the rural church. The three day structure enables the conference to look at three key questions:

  • Reaching rural communities both new and long standing
  • Buildings – burden or blessing
  • Enabling participation – empowering the people of God  

Scargill HouseSo why should those of us (like myself) who are not directly involved in a rural church be interested? Surely this is not for us? In preparing for the conference (I’m doing a workshop session on the Wednesday afternoon) I’ve been challenged in my thinking in a couple of important ways.

Firstly, if being the body of Christ means anything, then surely it means being actively engaged with other parts of the church that have concerns that are less directly relevant to our own. Many churches are used to looking abroad and getting involved in whatever way with churches in other parts of the world – so why not in our own back yard?

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there is what the rural church can teach the urban and suburban church. I suspect that is rather more than ‘townies’ such as myself  care to admit. One important area – and I suspect that this in one way or another is where the growth in rural areas is coming from – is in the very real ways in which the rural church is able to root their local communities.

The Wednesday is the buildings day, and includes input from Peter Aires (Head of Regeneration and Major Projects at the Churches Conservation Trust), Lesley Morley (Chaplain to Yorkshire Agricultural Society and former Rural Officer for the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds), Alice Ullathorne(Church Building Support Officer Diocese of Ripon and Leeds), and myself. The other days also look excellent, with some great speakers, including Simon Mattholie of Rural Ministries and Sian Lockwood OBE (Chief Executive of Community Catalysts).

The conference runs for 3 days from Tuesday 6th to Thursday 8th March – more information and booking details here. You can book for single days, or for the whole lot, with or without accommodation; I understand there is still some availability for each of the days.

I can’t wait – I think it could be a game changer.

The English Parish Church

Posted on: 30/11/2011

The English Parish Church through the CenturiesThe English Parish Church through the Centuries is an extraordinarily rich DVD-ROM resource that has been produced by The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of York. This effectively is an encyclopaedia of information on how we end up with the church buildings we do, covering everything from the early church up to the present day. The resource contains everything from easily accessible introductions to the latest academic research on parish churches and the influence of Christianity on literature, music, art and society.


  • 600 articles by over 225 experts in their respective fields
  • Video sections
  • Audio – eg church music of different ages
  • Interactive 3D models of how churches have developed from Saxon times to the present day
  • Galleries of images from national and international collections.
  • Glossary of terms, good for the complete beginner upwards
  • Christianity and writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dickens, Brontes, Wordsworth, TS Eliot, Tolkien, DH Lawrence.
  • Case studies detailing individual churches from around the country.
  • Practical sections on care, conservation, creative use, re-ordering and interpretation of church buildings and their contents.

EPC Resource Centre - Internal 3D modelStructure

The resource structures each time period along the following themes

  • Introduction
  • Context
  • Daily Life and Worship
  • Church Art and Architecture
  • Interaction with Society
  • Interaction with Culture


So Why Should I Be Interested?

In short, because we live in an age of forgetting. Ironic isn’t it, when we are awash with more and more knowledge, that we seem to know less and less about where we have come from? This was the impetus behind the setting up of Christianity and Culture, that first year undergraduates were coming up to university with little or no frame of reference for the Christian cultural foundation of much of what they were studying.

But the forgetting goes the other way too – in the church we forget how much Christian content there still is within the culture at large, and are also woefully ignorant of where we have come from. I for one have learned a good deal from the small part of the resource that I have accessed to date.

And who would benefit from this resource? Well, almost anyone. Any church needing to prepare a Statement of Significance (and that’s most of us) would be well advised to have a copy. All Rural and Area Deans should have at least one copy. It would work well in schools, for architects and other building professionals – anyone really. Even my 7 year-old enjoyed it, particularly the external and internal 3D virtual model of the church.

EPC_ResourceCentre_case-studiesSo How Do I Get A Copy?

The resource costs £17.50 plus postage, which in itself is an absolute bargain and available by following the link from the C&C website. Alternatively if you contact and quote “churchbuild” you can get a copy for £15 plus £1 postage (within the UK). Even better!

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana, from “Life of Reason”)

A 1930s Chapel

Posted on: 22/11/2011

20111117-203150.jpgLast weekend I had the pleasure of joining a walking tour of churches in Oxford, organised by the Ecclesiological Society and led by Allan Doig, Chaplain of Lady Margaret Hall. The walk ended at the chapel in LMH, which was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the early 1930s. Scott is perhaps best known for his lifework Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, and in Cambridge for the University Library, but also for example Bankside power station, now the Tate Modern, and for the design of the traditional public phone box.

The chapel is Byzantine in feel, with a central dome, circular internally and 12-sided externally. One enters the chapel along a relatively narrow vaulted corridor from the south into the centre of the plan, and after the confinement of the corridor there is a welcome release into light and spaciousness. The layout of the seating is collegiate, with raking pews to each side facing inwards. 20111117-204143.jpgThe walls are almost entirely bare, the wood is light oak, and the feel of the space is both pleasant and convivial.

The arrangement of the space provides excellent sight lines and a strong sense of inclusion; the only downside to this is that there is nowhere to ‘hide’ i.e. to be anonymous. Allan observed that some students feel too exposed. The idea that churches need to provide a welcome place for those who feel less confident is a really interesting theme, which I first heard articulated by James Blandford-Baker at the recent Keystone Church Building seminar.

20111117-204301.jpgTo the west, beneath an elevated organ gallery, is an entrance vestibule which is now used for smaller acts of worship. The apse at the east end is dominated by a baldechino, which is more than a little reminiscent of the iconic telephone box. Interestingly, Gilbert Scott’s 1942 (unbuilt) design for Coventry Cathedral moved the focus of the worship out of the apse and into the centre of the plan, and similarly featured a baldechino. Allan also uses the chapel to hang artwork for temporary exhibitions, bringing welcome colour and life to the interior.

For a detailed look at how the design of our churches relate to the patterns of worship they were built for, Allan’s book on Liturgy and Architecture is highly recommended. This volume covers the period from the Early Church to the end of the medieval period; a second volume is promised to complete the story to the present day.

Peaceful Protest

Posted on: 17/11/2011

The current occupation of the area outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has captured the national and international media spotlight for a number of reasons. However, my interest has been stirred by the apparent dilemma that faces the St. Paul’s establishment. That dilemma, as I see it, is that the church, as commanded by Jesus, is supposed to be sticking up for the poor and needy, and marginalised in society. And that is exactly what the protesters outside the Cathedral front door are claiming to do. So in effect, both the protesters and the church authorities are “singing off the same hymn sheet” (so to speak).

So why the controversy?

Well, the answer to that question is best answered by other, more politically astute commentators, but I am intrigued that the Cathedral leadership seem to be unsure of how to handle the situation they find themselves in. First they shut the doors, then they open them again, then they threaten legal action to evict them, then they don’t. It all looks a little confused.

I am at the moment dipping into a book by Giles Fraser called “Christianity with Attitude”. It is a series of articles written by Giles for The Guardian newspaper, and extracts from his appearances on Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. Mr. Fraser, as you may recall, resigned from his post as Canon Chancellor at St. Paul’s in October. In an interview with The Guardian following his resignation, he said-

“I cannot countenance the idea that this would be about Dale Farm on the steps of St Paul’s. I would want to have negotiated down the size of the camp and appeal to those there to help us keep the cathedral going, and if that meant that I was thereby granting them some legal right to stay then that is the position I would have had to wear … I believe that we embarked upon a course of action that would lead to a place where I didn’t want to go.”

What would Jesus Do?One doesn’t have to read too far between the lines to see that the St. Paul’s authorities (with the apparent exception of Giles Fraser and possibly a few others) didn’t want the protestors camped outside the cathedral. The possible reasons for this are many, but surely it is the command of Jesus to take a stand against poverty and the causes of poverty and injustice, and to stand up for the marginalised? Even if the cathedral did not accept the protestors’ apparent argument that the actions of the traders in the Stock Exchange were the cause of all of society’s current problems, isn’t there a case for supporting a peaceful protest to raise awareness of such issues?

A question of space

And if the answer to this question is yes, then what about considering creating space in our expressions of church buildings for such actions? In looking at how we might redevelop or rebuild our churches, or construct new ones, it is easy to consider where the “usual” things should go – dais, pulpit, font/baptistry, kitchen, vestry etc etc. But such things are all primarily internal fixtures and spaces, visible only when you are inside the building. What about a space externally, where the church can publicly express itself? Often the space around the outside of a building is resolved last – trying to squeeze in enough car parking and landscaping to satisfy the local planning authority. But what if it was considered at the same time as the internals – as a place to hold (for example) an outdoor Easter service? A prayer meeting? An area to wash cars and give out bacon sandwiches – free- on a Saturday morning? Even a place to hold a peaceful protest about a local or national issue, to draw attention to it? Or a place to invite other groups to protest over issues that are aligned with Christian values and principles of social justice and the eradication of poverty?

Too often, in my experience, we get excited about our expression of church as it appears inside the building in the form of fixtures and fittings, and even the style of worship. What about – when the opportunity presents itself – giving some thought to how we can express ourselves as a church body outside the church. If this is a thought that fills you with fear and dread- then it might just be that it is the right thing to do……

[hr]Colin Smith is a planning consultant and a member of Keystone Domain.

“Here For Life”

Posted on: 11/11/2011

Creation, from the Genesis Cycle at the west door of York Minster


We’ve just posted some material over at, our blog about conservation and heritage management, on the slogan “Here for Life”, which stands emblematically for an integration between people and places through time, the three critical dimensions of sound cultural heritage management.

In thinking further about this within a church context, the phrase also works well as a motto or rallying cry for churches engaged in their communities. Lots of churches do not make positive use of the physical presence of their buildings as anchors within their community, nor of the life stories that are associated with, and often commemorated in, that place. Equally the church is nothing if it is not about people being drawn together into the life of God. As Jesus said (John 10.10),

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.


It is much like the response to the reading of the law in Nehemiah chapter 8. Clearly what looks very much like revival was not caused by the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. But nor would it have happened without that rebuilding, because the walls created a sense of belonging, of restored identity, and of placedness before God. The same is true of our church buildings, of whatever age – or at least it can be if we engage with them properly.

So when thinking about your church buildings, “Here for Life” seems a helpful phrase to keep in mind.

Keystone Seminar Audio etc

Posted on: 02/11/2011

If you came to the Keystone Church Building Seminar on 6th October you can access audio files of all the sessions, apart from James Blandford-Baker’s keynote session which is available as video. You can also find pdfs of the keynote and supporting information for Giles Arnold’s talk on property ownership issues. You can access the page here.

If you missed the seminar then this is a great means of catching up on some of the content.

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