Understand your Church
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Supporting over 16,000 cathedral and church buildings of The Church of England

Understand your Church

The first step before considering plans for alteration or development is to think carefully about what is important about your church building. By looking at which parts of the building are of the greatest architectural, historical, artistic and archaeological significance you can start to see what impact changes on these elements may have.

Having this knowledge about your building allows you to then think in an informed way about any proposed alterations, developments or changes you might want to make. This research can lead on to the preparation of a Statement of Significance which is required for faculty and grant applications and is really best done at the beginning of the process rather than half way along or as an afterthought. Full guidance on how to research your building and prepare a Statement of Significance is provided here.

You may want to know more about your church building without any intention of making changes. Updating or writing a church guidebook is an excellent way of introducing visitors to the special aspects of your building. Think about different ways of presenting the information you find and consider different audiences such as local school children.

If you are just starting out in researching your building then click the links to see the following sources:

  • If your church is listed, the listing description will give you some basic information, like the name of the architect and the date of construction. You can obtain the description from your local authority's planning department or search for it on The National Heritage List for England.
  • Another standard source of information is the relevant volume of the Building of England books (often called "Pevsners" after the founding editor of the series) which list and describe the most significant buildings in every part of the country, suitable for both general reader and specialist.
  • The Victoria County History books are invaluable for English local history. Further information can be found in your local library, museum or county record office.
  • Lambeth Palace Library contains plans dating from 1818-1982 for many churches in England and Wales. Older plans of your church can help you reconstruct what it previously looked like and what changes have been made over time.
  • The Church Recorders of The Arts Society are researching churches and recording their architecture and contents. Their findings are recorded and a copy is presented to the church. So far 1,300 churches have been recorded and there may already be a record for your church.
  • The National Monuments Record is the public archive of English Heritage. It holds historic photographs, architectural and archaeological reports, plans and other items related to the historic environment of England.