A Living Tradition

In a special guest post, Sarah Harrison, Executive Director of the Lettering Arts Centre, writes about how Britain’s tradition of memorial art and letter-carving is being kept alive.

As W.H. Auden wrote, “art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.” And the art of the memorial, with its powers to help assuage the sense of loss, is perhaps the most important way in which one generation can break bread with another.

Britain has an extraordinary tradition of memorial art and letter-carving and has been a pioneer of fine lettering for much of the last three centuries. The ancient art of the stone carver continues to be passed down to contemporary artists, who are designing and making joyful, creative memorials. Memorials by Artists is an affiliation of more than 75 of the UK’s foremost letter carvers under the auspices of the Lettering & Commemorative Arts Trust, a charity which champions Britain’s rich heritage in the art of lettering.  Founded in 1988 to help with the commissioning of beautifully lettered memorials, they guide clients to skilled artists across the UK who can design and create a memorial that is personal, unique and a work of art.

The skills of the master letter carver raise what can be a drab, semi-industrial product to the level of art. No machine can match the subtlety of the trained hand and eye in making the slight adjustments in spacing which bring an inscription to life. It is a form of ‘visual poetry’ as Dr Jonathan Foyle wrote in his article on letter carving in The Financial Times.

Every aspect of the memorial, the shape of the stone, the style and spacing of the inscription, the decoration and carving are elements which work together to make a single statement, at the heart of which is the inscription itself.

Reinvigorated by craftsmen

The skills required for letter carving are hard won – the design, drawing and layout of letters take years to master. The UK has led the world in this craft in the past century, since it was reinvigorated by craftsmen like Eric Gill (pictured below) under the influence of the calligrapher Edward Johnston. The artists on the Memorials by Artists register are rigorously selected, submitting their work to a panel of distinguished experts so that only the most talented are listed.  The advisors at the Lettering Arts Trust are familiar with all the artists’ works, so that they can match client with artist.

Eric_Gill_-_self_portrait

Once an artist has been selected, client and artist collaborate closely, often using photographs, favourite texts and reminiscences to inform the design of the memorial. One of the most important skills an experienced artist offers, is the ability to help the client whittle down the layers of memories to find the most important elements to inspire and inform the design.  This process should not be rushed and the best artists demonstrate enormous patience and sympathy. Over the ensuing months, clients will often visit the studio to see how the memorial is progressing. When it is completed, the finished work will be professionally installed at its chosen site.  This gentle and intimate process; the empathy between the artist and the client; the completion and installation help to bridge the emotional journey from grief to commemoration.

As one client wrote of her experience commissioning a memorial, “The artist’s workshop was a revelation, and I was able to take my time. I was immediately aware of the great quality of the artist’s work and his wide range of approaches, choice of material and use of lettering. Every time I visit my husband’s grave I feel happy – happy memories of getting him a headstone I love, and he would have loved and happy memories of the whole experience, that took part at the lowest time in my life.”

The Great War

Not all memorials are traditional headstones.  One family commissioned a memorial bench for their garden to commemorate family members who lost their lives in the Great War. They wrote to the artist, “I don’t know how to thank for your brilliance in producing such a magnificent memorial to the children’s forebears.  The seat and your matchless stone-cutting are things of real beauty which, God willing, the children and the generations that follow them will admire and wonder over.  Thank you so very much.”

To commission a memorial, please visit www.memorialsbyartists.co.uk email advice@letteringartstrust.org.uk telephone 01728 688 934

To find out more about the work of the Lettering Arts Trust, its programme of lettering exhibitions and education, please visit www.letteringartstrust.org.uk. The charity is a custodian of the ‘Art & Memory’ collection, a permanent collection of contemporary memorial art in five major sites – Birmingham, Bristol, Perthshire, Canterbury and Suffolk, the home of the Trust.

 

 

How to brand a church

Hugely influential and a signpost for future Anglican liturgy, St Paul’s Bow Common is widely regarded as the most significant post-War Church in Britain.  In 2013 the building won the National Churches Trust Diamond Jubilee Award and was chosen as the UK’s Best Modern Church.

Since then the church has started a major restoration project with the support of the National Churches Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund and other funders.

Another aspect of the church that is being updated is the visual style used on notice boards, letterheads, signage and other marketing and communication materials.

This work was carried out by Paperjam, a Belfast based branding agency which has worked closely with faith based organisations including the Diocese of London, the Bishop of London and the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

Paul Malone, Director of Paperjam explains:

“Our task was to create a brand worthy of this iconic church building, so we set ourselves the aim to create a visual style that sits with the personality and age of the structure.”

“Having such an iconic and unusual building to work with was a real pleasure – we quickly discovered the beauty in the Brutalist minimalism and the play of light on concrete structure. The origin of the building had to be reflected in the new brand, so we looked to the era of its conception the 1950’s – 60’s for inspiration.”

“As such, we decided on using the Univers typeface family. This is one of the most prolific grotesque sans-serif typefaces of the century. The cool, systematically designed font family appealed to the rationalistic style we thought suited the building, giving written documents a clear and punchy feel.”

st paul's bow common

A new visual brand

“Additional to the typographical Logo, we also created a new visual brand for the church. This was  created with geometric shapes which are drawn from how the light strikes the angular surfaces the building itself. While the left part of the logo is an abstract illustration of the building, the right fulfils the symmetry with the help of letters. This has a more iconic feel, timeless and stand alone direction. “

“In today’s age of people being bombarded with brands. It’s ever more important that Churches evolve and adapt to convey a brand that reaches out to congregation and the local community a message that appears on all the platforms that are now available to them particularly social media. We are now communicating with a younger and younger market who not only expect but demand to be spoken to in a professional non pastoral manner. “

Watch Paperjam’s video on the Importance of Branding below.

 

Read more on Paperjam’s Website

And here for the thoughts of Creative Review

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.

www.hrballiance.org.uk

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

 

See you there!

National Rural Crime Network survey

Police at churchSadly, our beautiful places of worship are sometimes victims of crime.

Thanks to the many dedicated organisations helping to care for and support places of worship much progress has been made in keeping heritage crime, including attacks on places on worship, on the national police agenda. However, we need to keep up the good work.

In response to concerns from people living and working in rural areas, the National Rural Crime Network is launching the biggest ever survey of rural policing and crime, and we hope that the results will provide evidence to support our pressure to make places of worship as great a priority as farm theft and other issues with which the police are more familiar.

The National Rural Crime Network survey has received Home Office funding to undertake the rural crime and policing survey. The on-line survey will run for about five weeks and it is hoped that the findings will help shape and inform:

  • awareness of crime in rural areas
  • appropriate crime prevention
  • government policy
  • policing and partnership activities

The survey provides an opportunity to raise public awareness of crime and anti-social behaviour within the historic environment and to provide data to  help the police to integrate heritage crime into their core business and working practices. Although it is a national project and clearly not aimed specifically at places of worship it does give everyone the chance to make their case and it would be good if the places of worship perspective could be well represented in responses.

If you care for a place of worship in a rural area, please consider taking part in the survey:

http://www.nationalruralcrimenetwork.net/research/internal/national-rural-crimes-survey-2015/?member=NorthYorkshire

 

For more information about security and personal safety in places of worship please explore our new website Resource Centre.

And for some recent good news from the Churches Conservation Trust, showing that stolen items can indeed be recovered by Police if they have enough information.

Churches and family history

Blog Pam Smith08In a guest posting, professional genealogist Pam Smith  writes about the importance of churches for family history.

Discovering your forebears, where they originated from and what they did for a living is a fascination held by many. The popular BBC series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ in which celebrities trace their ancestry, has stimulated many people to research their family history, making it an extremely addictive and popular hobby.

Television programmes such as these give the impression that it is very easy to find your ancestors with a few clicks of the mouse on a computer, and indeed it can be a reasonably straightforward process to trace back to approximately 1770 and more using both free and subscription websites.

However, it is worth reflecting upon the important role churches and chapels have had and continue to play in keeping the information needed by anyone interested in discovering their family history.

Parish chests

The Anglican church kept parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials since 1538 when Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s Vicar General ordered parishes to keep these records in a triple locked parish chest such as this fine specimen currently resident in St John of Beverley at Salton.

Parish chest at St John of Beverly at Salton (c) Pam Smith

Parish chest at St John of Beverly at Salton (c) Pam Smith

The incumbent was responsible for keeping the records secure although these wooden chests were often prone to damp and vermin. Today, any of these registers or parish records such as vestry minutes, churchwardens’ accounts, in which the earliest entry is over 150 years old, must be deposited in the Diocesan Record Office. North Yorkshire is mostly covered by the Borthwick Institute at the University of York. If you are lucky it is possible to see a sexton’s book of burials which literally marks the spot. You can imagine the scope of name-rich sources contained within these documents, recording all the significant events in a person’s life, which had the parish church at the very core.

After 1837, the state took over responsibility for recording births, marriages and deaths both locally and centrally. However the practice of recording baptisms, marriages and some burials (where the churchyard is still in use) still continues to the present day. Some vicars and church wardens are amenable to these records being viewed and some charge a fee.

Churchyards

The churchyard and the interior of the church contain valuable information in the form of a memorial or monumental inscription. Most people were buried in their local parish and a headstone may be found there. Some graves were filled with unrelated people who could not afford a headstone so the occupants were not commemorated. A higher status ancestor may have a monument inside the church. Both internal and external memorial inscriptions (MIs) offer rich detail of the life of a family member. This MI in the St Andrew’s Church in Rillington (pictured below) gives not only the date of death and age of Laurence Stratford, but also his occupation and details about his father, helping the researcher back a further generation.

Many churches hold a roll of honour commemorating the local people who fought during the Great War and the Second World War. Often you can find a list of incumbents which is an ideal starting point for researching clerical ancestors.

 St Andrew's Church Rillington - MI for Laurence Stratford inside porch  (c) Pam Smith

St Andrew’s Church Rillington – MI for Laurence Stratford inside porch (c) Pam Smith

My main area of research is in North Yorkshire and the former North Riding of Yorkshire. We are very fortunate that most rural churches are left unlocked for visitors during the day. I find them an invaluable source of research. An interior photo can help bring life to a set of genealogical data when one can imagine where an ancestor was christened, married and had their funeral service.

I have a collection of leaflets from different churches which, for a small fee, have produced details of the history of the building and a guide to the churchyard. Parish magazines hold a depth of information about community life including names and significant dates of the inhabitants together with snippets of local life presuming that a churchwarden has kept a copy of each one.

Pam Smith is a professional genealogist and a family history tutor based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire who also manages the Rillington One-Place Study.  For further details please contact Pam Smith on 0790 485 6099 or email pam@pamsmithfamilyhistorian.co.uk

%d bloggers like this: