‘A Church Near You – An introduction to Anglican churches
from Cumbria to Cornwall’ by Denis Dunstone
(with a Foreword by Simon Jenkins)
During the Spring and Summer of 2020 Denis Dunstone, a former BP executive, set out to draw in colour fifty churches within half an hour’s drive from his home in Essex. It began as a relief from lockdown boredom but as the restrictions persisted so did Denis and further counties were added in his quest to visit and illustrate Anglican churches in 19 counties across England and Wales, all built before 1700.
As the cover explains: “…it does not claim to be a history of Anglican churches nor an expert analysis. It is rather a valuable and helpful introduction to the subject, beautifully illustrated and seeking to point out major characteristics, to explain some peculiarities and to stimulate curiosity.”
Essex claims to have the oldest surviving wooden church in the world while Northamptonshire has the oldest large church surviving in Northern Europe. The book includes examples of Norman blind arcading, late medieval towers, external turrets built to provide steps to the belfry, the tallest church, the highest spire, drive through towers and many interesting facts ‘to stimulate curiosity’.
In the Celtic style of church it was the custom in England to enter a church on the south or north side. Originally this was because the colder north side of a church was regarded as the Devil’s side, and, at the moment of Baptism, he needed a door through which to escape. In Lincolnshire the tower at Dry Donnington leans 5.1 degrees from the vertical compared with a mere 3.9 degrees at Pisa, while earth movement at Cwmyoy in Monmouthshire has caused the church to be seriously contorted. While the nave remains upright, the chancel and tower lean sharply in opposite directions; the tower being held up by massive buttresses.
Sadly there is only one Devon entry, St. Mary’s at Ottery St. Mary, and the author acknowledges one of the book’s drawbacks, that while concentrating on the exterior many wonderful treasures inside are overlooked. Nevertheless, for anyone contemplating a ‘visiting churches’ holiday this summer this book would make a great starting off point.
NB. You can find a copy of the book in St. Mary’s, Offwell.
The review was written by Carol Hayes.