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  Title: England's Thousand Best Churches

Author: Simon Jenkins

Date published: 1999

Status: in print

Price: GBP 16.99 (11.89 0n Amazon)

What is it? A gazeteer of 1000 English churches, organised by county and given ratings out of five.

What's it like? Aldeburgh churchyard looks out over the rooftops towards the sea. The charming old town was a place of fishermen and farmers, and is now full of weekend and retirement cottages. But it is forever associated with its most distinguished resident, Benjamin Britten, and the festival which he founded here and at Snape Maltings, inland. Every church in the district seems to have some festival connection, an admirable re-use of these fine old buildings.

What's good about it? A comprehensive guide to what, despite one's prejudices, probably are among the best of England's churches. Each entry paints a church in fairly broad brushstrokes, giving major details and the odd little anecdote. The introduction is a seminal state-of-the-nation statement. The photographs, from the Country Life collection, are lovely. It is a great way of getting an overview of the nation's churches. His agnostic ex-Anglican eyes are not fooled by the 19th century rewriting of English church history. An immense book, a must for anyone even vaguely interested in English churches and their history.

What's bad about it? The star-points system is silly. And I can't understand how he could have missed Westhall and Badingham; he must have not visited them. He admits that he only visited about 2000 churches, on the recommendations of others, to narrow down to his 1000. It all depends who you ask, I suppose. He goes for grandeur and triumphalism rather than integrity and beauty. That explains how Stoke-by-Nayland inconceivably gets more stars than Blythburgh or Ufford. The book would be useful for finding out about a previously unknown church, but would be rather large to carry as a guide book.

Overall rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon.co.uk (UK and Europe), Amazon.com (rest of the world)