Looking forward to The Big Update?

We will, as always, be attending the Historic Religious Building Alliance’s The BIG UPDATE!

This year looks as exciting and informative as previous years, offering the chance to keep up to date with what’s happening to secure the future of historic religious buildings, and to meet others with similar interests and concerns. All are welcome.

There will be short, informative talks with space for questions and discussion, and time to network.


Speakers include (not in order of appearance):

* Keynote speaker: Sir Laurie Magnus, Chair of Historic England (a body which came into being when English Heritage split into two earlier this year)

* Philip Arundell talking about grants offered by the AllChurches Trust

* Ingrid Greenhow, talking about the ‘Taking Stock’ programme for Quaker Meeting Houses – a survey of these buildings to obtain a strategic overview of their importance and future opportunities.

* Rachel Harden, Deputy Director of Communication, Church of England, talking about effective ways of publicising a church project

* Shahed Saleem talking about the British Mosque, based on his survey of mosques and providing a foretaste of his forthcoming book

* Andy Warren of Natsol – everything you have always wanted to know about installing a compost toilet at your church

* John Winton, currently National Director of Churches Tourism Network Wales. This is soon to develop into Sanctaidd, a new organisation which will provide comprehensive support to all places of worship in Wales.

* CASE STUDY: Sara Loch and Chris Curtis on the Cupola Project in Blandford Forum


All are welcome.

The cost, including a full hot lunch and all refreshments, is £44.00 per person. Discounts are available to paid up members (see the booking form). Places are limited; paid up members receive priority. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any queries.


Venue: St Alban’s Centre, Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7AB


See you there!

Churches – to close or not to close?

This week the Church of England issued a major report looking at the future of its 15,700 church buildings.

Writing on the Church of England’s Tumblr blog, Sir Tony Baldry, Chair of the CofE’s Church Buildings Council sums up the report as being about realising the potential of the buildings and not seeking widespread closure. He says:

A blessing?

“More than three quarters – 78% – of the Church of England’s 15,700 churches are listed. More than half of churches, 57%, are in rural areas, where only 17% of the population lives. The Church of England is responsible for around 45% of the grade I listed buildings in England and almost three quarters of these are in rural areas.”

“The review group is not putting forward a single solution to the challenges that some churches face but it is suggesting an approach that realises the potential of church buildings, rather than characterising them as a burden.”

Or a burden?

That’s the official view, but many do see church buildings as a burden. That view is summed up by Giles Fraser in a comment piece in The Guardian.

“The Church of England is the custodian of 15,700 churches. A whopping 78% of them are listed. And they are a millstone around our necks, sapping the energy of our wider social and religious mission, and transforming the church into a buildings department of the heritage industry. Indeed, I suspect that if every single one of them were blown up tomorrow, England would be a much more Christian country in 10 years’ time. Theologically, they are little more than rain shelters. And yet the C of E treats them with a reverence that ought to be reserved for God himself.”

Giles Fraser even suggests that the CofE takes an axe to churches in the same way that Dr Beeching did to British railways in the 1960s and closes those that are ‘underused’.

(For those who don’t remember those days, the Flanders and Swann ‘The Slow Train’ sums up the regret over that particular accountant led drive.)

Brought back to life

The irony is that now, fifty or so years after the closure of railway lines and stations, some of the axed lines are being re-opened. If churches are closed, in the future will we also be seeking to have them re-opened? That is in fact what has happened in Norfolk to the small church of St Mary in Forncett St Mary. The example is well worth considering when thinking about the options for church buildings. What is important is that the community has helped to bring the church back to life.

Forncett St Mary is a village in Norfolk, England. It is close to Forncett St Peter. The two shared a railway station Forncett on the main line between London and Norwich.  Ironically, it was closed as part of the Beeching Axe.

forncett st mary

St Mary’s Church, was originally mentioned in the Domesday Book, but rebuilt during the 14th, 15th and 19th centuries; the church was closed in 1980. A former rector of St. Mary’s was Revered John William Colenso, who later achieved fame as the first Bishop of Natal.

A successful friends group was formed and has over 100 members. Their aim has been to restore the church and graveyard. Enough work had been carried out to enable the church to be taken out of redundancy on the 26th June 2012 to become a chapel of ease to St. Peter’s Church, Forncett. The church has already held several services, including Carols by Candlelight, a Colenso Celebration service and talk, a Tenebrae service at Easter and has held its first wedding service for 43 years. Services will continue to be held as well as many more community and fundraising events which have been very well supported.

If you’d like to visit the church there is more information here

Eddie Tulasiewicz – Head of Communications, National Churches Trust

Chapter House of St Paul’s Cathedral becomes more energy-efficient

Sat adjacent to the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, south side of Paternoster Square, is the grade II* listed Chapter House designed by Christopher Wren and his son and built between 1712-1714.

The Chapter House has been used by the Cathedral over the years for many purposes; it began as accommodation for the Dean and other members of the Chapter. Interestingly, like St Paul’s Cathedral which has been rebuilt five times, the current Chapter House was not the first to stand on site; its predecessor was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London.


Seen as the administrative heart of the Cathedral, it was refurbished during the 1950’s into offices and recently has been undergoing a major revamp while still retaining key characteristics of the building, to bring it up to 21st century office standards. Another important requirement was to improve the thermal insulation throughout the building, thus retaining the building’s heat and reducing energy bills.


Selectaglaze Ltd, specialists in the design, manufacture and installation of secondary glazing, undertook this project as their tested products can reduce heat loss by up to 50%. This is achieved by the bespoke fitting of the secondary glazing alongside the use of high performance seals.

In the Chapter House, a number of Selectaglaze products were used to suit the various window styles and sizes. These were mostly chosen from the slim-line range that is particularly appropriate for heritage buildings, as they are unobtrusive and accepted as a reversible adaptation by heritage agencies across the UK.


Established in 1969 and Royal Warrant holders since 2004, Selectaglaze boast an extensive range of products to suit the needs of different buildings. Find out more about Selectaglaze in our Professional Trades Directory or email .

The hidden meaning of gravestone symbols

In a guest blog post, Fergus Wessel, letter cutter at Stoneletters Studio, explains how gravestone symbols remain an important part of our history and our future.

Next time you wander through a churchyard, take a closer look at the gravestones and you might notice some wonderful carvings of symbols.  What do these symbols mean and what is the history of gravestone symbolism in the UK?

The earliest gravestones you might encounter are likely to have originated in the mid 17th century. Earlier ones had been largely destroyed during the Reformation, especially those with Catholic symbols such as the cross.  During this century, there was a morbid fascination with life and death which is reflected in the symbols often found on these early stones.  Common symbols include skulls and crossbones, hourglasses, angels and winged cherubs.  These are all symbols of death, resurrection and mortality, the hourglass representing the passage of time and the winged cherub representing the flight of the soul from the body upward to Heaven and the hope of the resurrection.

Towards the late 18th century, these earlier symbols began to be replaced with symbols of salvation and hope such as the dove, which, carrying a twig in its mouth, could mean hope or purity.  The urn, representing the soul was also common.  Early carvings of the figure of Hope and her anchor appeared, which were later simplified to just an anchor.

symbol dove


Victorian gravestone symbolism

By the Victorian period, more compact images became common often depicting flowers, foliage or the cross.  The cross did not become common until the 19th century due to fear of Popery.  As the primary symbol of salvation, it became prominent during this time, appearing in plain, decorative or Celtic forms. Trees also became popular, representing life when shown upright, or death when cut down.  The poppy represented sleep and palm leaves represented victory over death.

symbol celtic cross 1

Celtic cross

symbol poppy-w800-h600


symbol tree-


Tools or symbols of trade also became common as well as crops on memorials to farmers.  Mourning figures such as angels can be found from all periods.  Other symbols might represent accidents that occurred, or a biblical scene.  Books can represent the Bible, but can also mean wisdom and knowledge.


Bespoke gravestones

As a letter cutter myself, I am often asked by clients to carve a symbol onto a gravestone.  Quite often the symbol chosen represents something very personal; it might not have a universal meaning but means something to the person who commissioned it.  On the other hand, there is still an enduring popularity in symbols of love, peace and hope such as a heart, the cross and a dove. Symbols of eternity in the form of a circle, whether it be a sunken disc or a hole in the stone are also popular, as are symbols from nature.  Here are more examples of gravestone symbols, many of which I have carved in recent years.


Stoneletters Studio specialises in hand carved gravestones, opening plaques and heraldry. Find out more about Stoneletters Studio in our Professional Trades Directory. Or you can contact them directly on 01993 220405.

Pipes, gutters and drainage

J & JW Longbottom


Keeping churches watertight is a great concern to those who maintain the buildings for religious and community use. Efficient drainage and rainwater systems are therefore needed to ensure that rain ends up on the ground and not inside the church.

J & J W Longbottom Ltd, members of the Professional Trades Directory, are a specialist manufacturer and supplier of cast iron pipes and fittings for rainwater and soil drainage systems. The company take pride in the fact that they have maintained traditional methods of manufacture and have been based in their foundry at Holmfirth, West Yorkshire for nearly one hundred years.

Recently, J & J W Longbottom Ltd supplied new cast iron gutters to the Victorian Basilica-styled Russian Orthodox Cathedral Church in South Kensington. The project Architects, BLDA, were in need of a very large moulded gutter which the company was able to supply from its extensive range of standard patterns. New patterns were also made for non-standard gutters, matching those on other parts of the building, and cast in their foundry.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral Church in South Kensington

Russian Orthodox Cathedral Church in South Kensington

The company regularly supply their products to church projects and recent ones include the Grade I listed St Paul’s, Spalding where ornamental gutters as well as special hopper outlets were custom made to match those already in the building.

Another notable project was St Augustine’s Church in Ramsgate, to which the National Churches Trust awarded a £40,000 grant to fund major repairs and new cast iron gutters and rainwater pipes were supplied by J & J W Longbottom Ltd.

Kent, RAMSGATE, St Augustine (2012) #002

St Augustine’s Church, Ramsgate

Find out more about J & J W Longbottom Ltd in our Professional Trades Directory. Or you can contact them directly on 01484 682 141.




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