Churches are a photographer’s dream

In a guest post, Julian Guffogg shares with us the joy and excitement he gets from photographing churches and the treasures hidden within their walls, be it the stained glass of an East Window, a delicately carved memorial or intricately carved stonework. Julian’s photo library is available to view on Flickr and Geograph.

“As a child both my parents were religious, so we attended church every Sunday. As I grew up. I was expected to attend every week until I was a teenager. To me, church was somewhat boring, usually cold with hard seats and lots of old people! And of course there was the musty smell that only churches seem to possess.

Occasionally we would make a trip to Tewkesbury Abbey and it was always impressive with the incense, ceremony, and the wonderful organ music.

Over the years my faith waned, and I would sometimes pop into churches as a tourist on holiday, but it was not until I started participating in the Geograph project (whose aim is to photograph something in each of the 1 km squares as seen on ordnance survey maps)  that I started looking more closely and photographing churches.

The challenge of getting inside

Most were easy to photograph from the outside, but the problem was getting inside and finding the points of interest. The challenge was intensified by the fact that many churches were locked; usually a keyholder could be found, but this was not case for all of them.

At first my interest was in monuments, especially those from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, usually showing a kneeling couple either side of a prayer desk dressed in their finery complete with ruffs and hats. Often they were shown holding a skull – what did that mean? Below the couple there were often whole rows of kneeling children, boys facing one way, girls facing the other, and even swaddled babies at their feet.

Quite often these monuments were brightly coloured and had strange Latin inscriptions (unfortunately I did not do Latin at school) and also coats of arms. A good example of this is at Saint Mary’s church, Bottesford in the Vale of Belvoir which has multiple monuments to the Earls and Dukes of Rutland.

One of my most memorable church visits was in Herefordshire. It was mid-December and there had been a lot of rain which had caused the River Wye to flood. I wanted to visit Holme Lacy church which is situated remotely, near to the river. When I turned off the main road to the access road to the church I was dismayed to find it was all flooded. Closer inspection showed that it was only a few inches deep and I could proceed with caution.

I finally arrived at the church and it was quite magical when I pushed open the door and stepped into the gloomy nave in silence. There was a wide south aisle and north transept, and at the end of the chancel was a gorgeous east window. There were also several excellent monuments from the eighteenth century complete with putti and flaming urns.

As time went by, I developed an interest in stained-glass, ranging from very old medieval glass to the most modern. I also perfected my photographic technique, as photographing some windows can be quite challenging. This is now my main interest and I have been lucky enough to photograph quite a lot of stained glass  – from the ancient windows at Canterbury (when I first saw these at the Cathedral I was in awe), to the windows of Coventry Cathedral from the 1960s.

Many stained glass windows have recurring religious subjects, and my religious education has proved helpful in understanding these scenes.

Visiting more churches

In 2015 I moved from Sussex to Lincolnshire and was able to visit more churches and take more pictures, especially of Lincoln Cathedral. The Cathedral has some very good roof bosses with highly detailed carvings. They are so high up they are difficult to see in detail, nevertheless, the artist who created them gave as much attention to detail as if they were at ground level.

Over time, one gets to recognise certain styles and periods of history, although I regard myself as still a novice. It is always inspiring to think of the work that has gone into these buildings, even the humblest church usually has an interesting history, and I can imagine the bands of stonemasons travelling round the country doing their work. Indeed I can sometimes recognise similar styles of work carried out by particular masons where those with a certain style to their work have visited.

It is great to know that the work is still being carried on by stonemasons today. At Lincoln Cathedral, and at others, there have been many new grotesques and figures added to the fabric.

COVID-19 has made it very hard to visit churches and cathedrals, but I intend to carry on adding to my photographic archive and posting images online as soon as I can. ” 

We thank Julian for allowing us to share this edited version of his article about visiting churches. Julian’s photo library is also available to view on Flickr and Geograph.

Lead Theft – Organised and opportunistic crime

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 was introduced to tackle rising levels of metal theft. The purpose of the Act was to reverse the upward trend in levels of metal theft through stricter regulation of the metal recycling sector to make it more difficult to dispose of stolen metal.

Despite the introduction of the Act, partly due to the involvement of organised crime and also because of increases in the price of some metals, over the last few years there was a marked rise in the incidence of the theft of metal, and in particular lead, from church roofs. One striking example was when 20 tonnes of lead – the entire roof – was stolen from All Saints’ Church in Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire in October 2018.

Figures published in 2020 seem to show a decline in metal theft. However, below, Antonia Grey, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for the British Metals Recycling Association says, these figures may well be misleading. She also makes clear that during these economically challenging times, metal theft may become more opportunistic with smaller items being stolen. So, please do take all measures you can to protect your church from lead and other metal theft crimes.

One of the best ways to protect a church is through a roof alarm. The good news is that Allchurches Trust’s Roof Protection Scheme provides grants to help churches install roof alarms in response to the issue of metal theft, which continues to be a very challenging issue across the UK.  This scheme has been extended until the end of 2021 and the amount of funding available has been increased, with grants now funding up to 50% of the cost of the alarm, up to a maximum of £2500. 

Metal theft – are the offical figures underestimating the extent of this crime?

By Antonia Grey, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, British Metals Recycling Association 

When the latest Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) metal theft data for year-end March (YEM) 2020, I was more than somewhat surprised that metal theft was down. Reports in the media and those I heard anecdotally indicated quite the opposite.  

So, I decided to have a closer look. In its most recent dataset, the ONS reports that at 15,947 incidents, overall metal thefts are down by 91. However, these data do not include thefts reported in Greater Manchester, which in YEM 2019 topped 1,300. In fact, given Metropolitan Police statistics show 8,248 catalytic converters were stolen in London alone in 2019, the data presented by ONS are curious to say the least.  

The ONS data also shows a concerning increase in infrastructure-related events, going from 6,884 to 8,313. The fact that many companies are not reporting what can be high-value thefts, possibly due to large insurance excess values or perceived reputational damage, means the ONS data will not be presenting a true picture and this figure is highly likely to be far higher. Worryingly, crimes recorded by British Transport Police (BTP) have nearly doubled going from 459 YEM 2019 to 850 in the latest dataset. The last time BTP reports were over 850 was in 2013, the year the Scrap Metal Dealers Act was implemented.  

Organised crime

Moreover, that ONS data does not reflect that the type of metal theft has changed. It has gone from individual low-value thefts such as a length of lead flashing to highly organised, gang-led thefts where entire church roofs are stolen.  

Such is the scale of losses that the value lost to metal theft is now said to have surpassed the £220 odd million calculated by Deloitte in 2011, which led to the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act in 2013. This is interesting because in 2011, the country had barely come out of the deepest UK recession since the Second World War.  

With the country once again beset by recession, it seems likely that stealing metal may once again become in vogue amongst those who see it as a victimless crime, who think insurance companies will pay up and all will be well. To quote BTP’s then Chief Constable Andy Trotter back in 2011: “Metal theft is a classic acquisitive crime, and acquisitive crime generally increases in difficult economic times.” 

Yes, cash has been banned from the sector and there are enhanced ID checks since then but there is now little to no enforcement by police services or local authorities. This is not for want of willingness, it is for want of budget. The Home Office look at the ONS data and declare ‘all is well; the Scrap Metal Dealers Act is working’. I would question how data that is potentially missing over 1,000 thefts can be relied upon? I would also question if the Act is working why were there an additional 1,429 infrastructure thefts?  

It seems to me there must be a disconnect in the way that metal thefts are reported. For example, is the theft of a catalytic converter a metal theft or theft from a vehicle when it comes to ONS data? Likewise, if someone steals a load of copper from a plumber’s garage, is that metal theft or burglary? As far as I am aware, metal theft is not a specific offence code within police recorded crime (PRC), which means the problem could be greater than we think. 

I also don’t believe that the ONS data is linked with the data gathered by the Energy Networks Association’s SIRS database. I understand that even if communications companies or power companies don’t report a metal theft to the police because the value was below their insurance excess, some still put it on SIRS (as long as they have the internal reporting systems in place). This means the data is there. 

Better enforcement needed

I don’t believe that we will truly tackle metal theft until we have proper enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act. However, there will be no funding to support sustained enforcement until we have the data to lay before the Home Office. In short, the first thing that has to be done is to find a more accurate way to gather metal theft data. Surely the first step is to give all metal theft a specific offence code. This needs to be supported by ensuring that all metal thefts are recorded, not just the ones that exceed insurance excesses.  

I may be being naïve, but I remain ever hopeful.  

Reprinted by kind permission of the author.

Why church buildings matter today.

In a guest post, Reverend Charles Chadwick, a Friend of the National Churches Trust Church, writes about why church buildings have an important role to play in Christian mission in the 21st century. He writes in a personal capacity.

In an age marked by distraction and uncertainty church buildings speak of permanence, stability and serenity. They can serve as places to withdraw to from the over-active and anxious times we live in. They can be where the tired may rest and find peace. Bishop John Inge has written of church buildings as being places of journey, encounter, and pilgrimagei. He believes that they proclaim that God is present and active in the world, and that God is not to be forgotten. Their physical presence echoes the Hebrew word emuna with its sense of trustworthiness and reliability. In a way that cannot easily be put into words they elicit loyalty, respect, and a sense of the sacred.

They also have the capacity to gently mould within people a sense of the divine in both conscious and unconscious ways. They provide places for silence and calm, reflection and prayer. A beautiful and well cared for church can transmit something of the character of the Christian faith as well as the perception that this building is a place where God can be encountered. A sense of the holy where generations of people have engaged with God and where the distance between earth and heaven is reduced can be conveyed in historic churches. People may experience a sense of awe and reverence for the magnificence of God, or feel curious and interested in the faith on which they were founded.

The interconnectedness of place, memory and relationships

The 16,000 Anglican Parish Churches are widely recognised as places where the stories and events of people’s lives, and local communities, can be connected to the story of God’s engagement with humanity through Jesus Christ. This is evident at christenings, weddings, funerals, and Christmas. Family histories are often deeply connected with the story of their village church. The interconnectedness of place, memory and relationships often has deep significance for people. Their sheer physical presence reminds us that God took human form and presence in Jesus of Nazareth and in a subtle, almost unspoken way they remind us of the importance of the doctrines of creation and incarnation.

They have the potential to connect people with history and heritage. English people have a strong interest in the past and its physical spaces and places. This is demonstrated in the considerable growth in membership of the National Trust, which reported having 5,600,000 members in 2019, and ‘500 heritage properties’. Church buildings have the potential to act as a bridge with this facet of English life. At its simplest they are the outward and visible sign of the nation’s ecclesiastical and spiritual heritage.

Serving the common good

Church buildings have an important part to play in serving the common good. This aspect of a church building’s identity has increased in many rural communities where other village public spaces and amenities such as the shop and the pub have closed in recent times. The parish church is now often the central focus of village community life. In 2006 the Rowntree Foundation observed that faith buildings, as well as being a resource for the neighbourhood, give the faith community visibility and a platform for wider engagement. As Luke March, Chairman of the National Churches Trust, observed in 2019, “At a time when so many public buildings are closing and high

streets are losing their shops, church buildings are places where people can meet, collaborate and build community, as well as continue to worship”. The House of Good Report by the National Churches Trustii in 2020 made the point that church buildings are more than places of worship and that they provide a growing list of essential services for people in need. Their work shows, “That the UK’s church buildings are not just Houses of God. They are also Houses of Good…. Despite having to lock down, some 89% of churches continue providing local support – from online worship to delivering shopping to isolated or vulnerable people”. Interestingly the Local Government Chronicle wrote in December 2020 that Councils should make better use of churches to bring communities togetheriii

At its simplest a Christian community needs a home to meet in and a distinctive building serves this purpose well. Church buildings can be a reminder that God chooses to reveal himself in specific places, such as to Jacob in Genesis 28, to Moses in Exodus 3, and to Isaiah in Isaiah 6, and such places are deemed to be sacred and holy. Such revelations elicit a response. They witness to Christian faith being alive and often, through the windows and other physical aspects of the building and its surrounds, to the message of that faith. They have an invaluable role to play in the developing life of a Christian community for they are the designated places where the congregation, the local embodiment of Christ, comes for worship, to be taught, fed and sent out to love and serve God in the world.

Potential to attract people should not be underestimated

At a time when concern about the environment is increasing, the area around church buildings can provide a space where, through carefully managed churchyards, fauna and flora can flourish. They can offer a haven for local wildlife as well as demonstrating stonemasons’ creativity and the social history of a parish. Beautiful and artistic gravestones and well-tended graves can remind us of the value of every human life.

Church buildings deserve to be valued as historical assets that convey more than can be put into words. They have been adapted in a whole range of ways across the centuries and much creative re-ordering work is currently happening, particularly in the rural context. They can be a physical means by which communities may be drawn together, where God may be encountered, and they can be a place that cultivates a deeper sense of what it means to be truly human. Their potential to attract people, to be admired and appreciated, and to elicit affection and affirmation should not be underestimated, for it is from these that faith may well grow.

Revd Charles Chadwick December 2020

A new treatment for Death Watch Beetle

22 August 2019

In a guest post, Martin Cobbald, Managing Director of Dealey & Associates Ltd, writes about a new way to deal with Death Watch Beetles.

Like many of you, I recently saw the National Churches Trust video, narrated by Michael Palin, warning of the dangers of church dilapidation from leaking rooves, crumbling stonework and Death Watch Beetle.

Michael Palin © John Swannell
Michael Palin © John Swannell

It made me sit up because we have recently been working on a solution for exactly this kind of problem. I work for a fumigation company in Suffolk called Dealey Environmental. In our 65-year history we have maintained our place at the forefront of fumigation technology and we proudly employ the largest fumigation team in the UK.


Recently we have been working with a chemicals manufacturer in the Czech Republic to create the perfect building fumigant and we believe we have done it. Our friends in Czechia have followed the process devised by Nobel award winning Fritz Haber to create Bluefume, a structural fumigant for all life stages of wood boring beetle. The product was approved for use by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) late in 2016 and we are currently undertaking pilot fumigations throughout the UK.

Traditional pest control treatments for churches usually involve paint-on or spray-on wood treatments that are like creosote wood stain. They kill very effectively but they leave toxic residues in our churches for many years. Furthermore, the only parts of the wooden structure that are treated are the visible parts. Further damage could be happening in those timbers that are in the middle of the structural elements of the building that cannot be painted.

Recently we have investigated a water mill that had been treated with paint-on chemicals for Death Watch Beetles. The main shaft was a thing to behold. The apple tree felled for its installation must have been a giant. After the treatment however, the owner had heard more sounds of Death Watch and he asked us to investigate.

Death watch beetle get their name from infesting wooden coffins and making their characteristic tap-tapping overnight, as if watching over the dead.  
Death watch beetle

We used thermal imaging technology to reveal the cause, the beetles on the outside of the timbers had been killed by the paint-on treatment but the core of the shaft remained under attack from happy and healthy beetles.

It is this problem that we wish to avoid for churches. Bluefume is a non-invasive treatment- there is no drilling, cutting or any woodwork at all required. We simply sheet over the entire building and apply the gas. The gas penetrates through timbers and right into the unreachable places where the insects lurk.

The whole treatment takes about two days and does not leave any toxic residues.

The gas kills all life stages of beetles, even eggs, and is lethal to any rodents that might be lurking as well.

Bluefume is also mightily cheaper than the other structural fumigant on the market, Sulfuryl Fluoride, which is so expensive it pretty much rules out any question of its use.

We believe we have struck upon the right solution for the problem of Death Watch Beetle in churches.

For more information contact:



Articles on this blog do not constitute an endorsement or approval by the National Churches Trust of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable.

How to thrive as a Churchwarden

In a guest post, Matthew Clements, writes about his new book,  ‘Rotas, Rules and Rectors’.

In my last year as churchwarden, I decided to write a short set of helpful instructions for my as yet unknown successor , and found that after 3,000 words I had barely scratched the surface – so I decided to see if I could write a book!

One might have thought that there were many books available about being a churchwarden, but I feel that none of them really do justice to the role, as they tend to concentrate on the legalities of PCCs, elections and meetings, rather than what a churchwarden actually does.

Rotas, Rules and Rectors - Cover

Rotas, Rules and Rectors – Cover

Sixteen weeks later I had a draft of 50,000 words which was fit to send to possible publishers; “Rotas, Rules and Rectors” was  published in November 2018.

The post of churchwarden is a responsible and important one which, if done conscientiously, will augment the efforts of the clergy and encourage the congregation, thus strengthening the Body of the church.

Practical wisdom, shrewd commonsense

“Churchwardens are the great unsung heroes of the Church of England” says the Rt Rev Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield, in his foreword to this book. “The great strength of Matthew Clements’ writing is that he sets the sometimes dry duties and responsibilities of wardenship within the warm context of human lives lived joyously and devotedly in the service of Christ and his beloved Church. All will find in this book practical wisdom, shrewd commonsense and indefatigable commitment to a noble cause.”

Roles and responsibilities

This book is my view of all aspects of the role and responsibility of being a Churchwarden. The aim of this book is threefold:

  1. To encourage existing churchwardens to approach their role with confidence, and with the knowledge that much can be achieved in their term of office.
  2. To provide detailed information on the responsibilities of churchwardens so that prospective churchwardens know the score when they are nominated. Hopefully this will help avoid the sad cases where a warden realises the full scope of the job far too late; if it deters such people from accepting nomination, that is a good thing in my view.
  3. To help incumbents get the best out of their churchwardens, by clearly understanding their respective responsibilities and working better with them.

Thriving, not surviving

Matthew Clements

Matthew Clements

The foundation of the book is my experience over twenty-two years as churchwarden (twice: 5 years and 6 years) and treasurer (5 years), each time in a different diocese. I try to detail the extensive boundaries of a churchwarden’s responsibilities and give many pragmatic examples of just what the job can entail.

Please note the sub-title of the book – “How to thrive being a churchwarden”. To merely “survive” as a churchwarden would mean that the job has probably not been done very well. Thriving is about enjoying the role, doing the best for the church and being able to see the differences you have made when you stand down. I wouldn’t deny that the role is challenging and that there are many pitfalls that await the unwary, but believe me there is much satisfaction as well.

How to order a copy

“Rotas, Rules and Rectors” is available through Troubador  who published it, and all major book sellers, but please purchase through where it is available until January 2019 for only £7.99 (£2 discount off RRP) plus P&P.

If you buy from the book’s website  all surplus revenue will go to my church’s re-ordering fund.




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