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:


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.

Cherish the Chapel

by Huw Edwards, journalist and broadcaster
Published in 2012 in The National Churches Trust Annual Review

Huw Edwards

Huw Edwards

The chapels of Wales need friends.

The past half-century, a period of base neglect, has seen hundreds of cherished buildings flattened without heed.

There is a bitter twist at work here. Wales has suffered a campaign of cultural sacking approved by elected and unelected officials; but many of those responsible have had little understanding of the scale of the loss.

In Wales today, those tokens of Plantagenet savagery, the medieval castles, are cared for with a vigilance approaching the fetishistic. We willingly revere these symbols of our oppression. And it follows that our national authorities accord them maximum listed protection.



In this same Wales, those heroic symbols of our Nonconformist freedom, the chapels, are neglected, disdained and spurned. They lie rotting and decomposed in town centres, casually vandalised. They are invisible and irrelevant. They seldom pierce the people’s awareness, but when they do, they provoke repugnance and scorn.

The popular memory is pitifully short. Even those who vilify religion praise the chapels for enriching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. These places of worship gave essential literacy and numeracy skills to children and adults; they provided the poor with food and clothing; and they operated an effective welfare system while state and parish dodged their duties.

In rejecting the state religion of England, the Nonconformist movement offered a new definition of Welshness. It really is no exaggeration to say that the spirit of the chapels shaped modern Wales.

But modern Wales doesn’t want to know.

These days, the fact of that transformative contribution is an irritant. The chapels are unsettling reminders of a very different past. To acknowledge the greatness of their contribution is to invite inescapable questions about their present lot. And that is acutely wearisome for a generation whose rejection of the chapel is absolute and final.

The official guardian of our built heritage of Wales is CADW. Unlike Historic Scotland, CADW does not appear to offer a website with a searchable database of listed buildings. What it does provide is an interactive map which locates countless castles, fortresses and monuments of importance.

Try locating Maesyronnen chapel, one of the earliest Nonconformist places of worship. It should be immediately visible as one of the prime religious sites of Wales. It is not. This lack of prominence is even more shocking for a building listed Grade I by CADW.

Rather more bewildering is the knowledge that of the 30,000 buildings listed by CADW following the national survey completed in 2005, very few chapels were accorded the integral protection afforded by Grade I status.



CADW’s own listing criteria are clear. Buildings of ‘architectural interest… which illustrate important aspects of the nation’s social, economic, cultural or military history’ are worthy of listed status. So are buildings with ‘close historical associations with people or events of importance to Wales’. The majority ‘of special interest’ are in Grade II. A much smaller number of particularly important buildings are listed Grade II*. Buildings of exceptional interest (around 2 per cent of the total) are in Grade I.

Nonconformist Wales

A visit to my home town of Llanelli, one of the strongholds of Nonconformist Wales, will reveal the folly and injustice of the listing process.

The only Grade I listed building is Llanelly House, a particularly fine Georgian town house now being restored in an impressive £6 million scheme. It certainly deserves its full-scale protection. Across the road lies St Elli’s Church, listed Grade II* thanks to its medieval west tower and fifteenth-century chancel. A short walk away we find Tabernacl Chapel, one of the most impressive chapel buildings in Wales, also ranked Grade II*. Tabernacl was designed by John Humphrey, whose much bigger Tabernacl in Morriston is listed Grade I.

So far, so good. But a longer walk around the town centre raises some unsettling questions which also apply to many other parts of Wales.

Capel Als, the oldest Nonconformist cause in Llanelli, is given the minimal protection of Grade II listing, despite an opulent interior rightly regarded as one of the finest chapel designs anywhere in the United Kingdom. It was designed by Owen Morris Roberts who also rebuilt Llanelli’s Capel Newydd. Here, too, he delivered an exquisite interior considered to be one of the best examples of Edwardian chapel design and craftsmanship.

For reasons which are difficult to fathom, both Capel Als and Capel Newydd are lumped together with the majority of chapel buildings in Llanelli in the basic Grade II band, a category which also includes some decidedly mediocre buildings and monuments. The historically significant Adulam Baptist Chapel in nearby Felin-foel, the oldest Nonconformist cause in this part of Carmarthenshire, is also considered worthy of a basic Grade II.

A real problem

This lack of consistency is a real problem. In Carmarthen, George Morgan’s Baptist Chapel in Lammas Street is Grade II*. His equally glorious Dinas Noddfa, Landore, inanely accorded Grade II status, is heading for the same fate as his Calfaria, Llanelli, a rotting mass on the steep slope of Bigyn Hill for the past decade.

This is plainly unjust. But the evident inadequacies of listed protection predate CADW, it must be said, and start with the implementation of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. It is clear that successive generations of officials have either failed or refused to acknowledge the architectural and cultural importance of Nonconformist chapels in Wales.

Llanelli does, however, offer some hope for the future. It once boasted 22 chapels in a compact town centre, several of which have been acceptably converted. Glenalla is one of the best examples: here we have a solid Edwardian chapel reborn in 1987 as a community centre and concert hall. A decade earlier, Siloh was the first Llanelli chapel to be refurbished, as a sports and social centre. It has proved to be a popular and valuable local asset. Zion, an elegant chapel design by Henry Rogers, is now part of a major theatre complex which involved one of the best heritage protection schemes in Wales.

It can be done.

The chapels of Wales, those distinctive emblems of Welshness, need many more friends. From the unadorned charm of Soar-y-mynydd, in the depths of Cardiganshire, to the flamboyant grandeur of Bethesda, Ton Pentre, in the heart of the industrial Rhondda. They all deserve protection and preservation. They are all part of the story of Wales.

UK’s Best Modern Church is St Paul’s at Bow Common

As part of our 60th anniversary celebrations, together with the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association and the 20th Century Society, the National Churches Trust organised a competition to nominate the UK’s best church architecture.

Over 200 churches were nominated for the competition by the public, parishes and architects. It was open to church buildings from any Christian denomination in the United Kingdom which opened for worship after 1 January 1953.

The winners of the architecture competition were announced at an awards ceremony held at Lambeth Palace on 7 November 2013. St Paul’s Church in Bow Common, east London, known locally as ‘The Gate of Heaven’ was chosen as ‘The UK’s Best Modern Church’.

Sherry Bates, President, Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association said:

“Top of our list is St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, London E3 to which we are delighted to award the National Churches Trust Diamond Jubilee Award. This church, designed by Robert Maguire and Keith Murray and consecrated in 1960, was hugely influential for church architecture and a signpost for future Anglican liturgy.”

St Paul's, Bow Common

St Paul’s, Bow Common

The judges remarked that the church is ‘Hugely influential and a signpost for future Anglican liturgy. This building is the embodiment of the ground swell of ideas about Christian worship, loosely termed the Liturgical Movement, that swept Europe and the United States after the Second World War. According to this thinking, the church as a building is first and foremost a liturgical space, a house for the performance of the liturgy and the gathering of the community. The design of this church is prefigured by the analysis of George Addleshaw, Dean of Chester and Frederick Etchells in The Architectural Setting of Anglican Worship (1948) and many of its ideas have since been reprised in Richard Giles Repitching the Tent (1996). To many they still seem new.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby presenting the National Churches Trust Diamond Jubilee Award for The UKs Best Modern Church to Preb Duncan Ross, Kelley Christ, Julian Bream of St Paul's Church, Bow Common, London with National Churches Trust Chairman Luke March

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby presenting the National Churches Trust Diamond Jubilee Award for The UKs Best Modern Church to Preb Duncan Ross, Kelley Christ, Julian Bream of St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, London with National Churches Trust Chairman Luke March

Comments from the architect, Robert Maguire (2011):

In the years following WW2, the mainline Churches had to concern themselves with the immense problems of reconstruction after war damage and the provision of new places of worship in the new towns and expanding suburbs.   There was some reworking of concepts related to economy, such as the dual purpose church/hall, but the new buildings simply assumed the continuation of the patterns of worship developed through Victorian, Edwardian and between-wars periods.   These patterns were predominately non-participatory, characterised by private devotion even though communally performed, and exhortation to the individual conscience from the pulpit.”

“There was however a largely subterranean groundswell of theological debate, concerned with what St Paul had defined as the true nature of the Christian Church: the mystical concept of the Body of Christ, in which the full functioning of all members, however lowly or exulted, is essential to the health of the Body.” 

“St Paul’s was the first church in the UK to embrace the concept of an interior which would be immediately recognisable as a ‘place of the Christian people as the Body of Christ’ and also facilitate forms of worship – reformed liturgies – which are the realisation of that oneness. Often such concerns were, and still are, seen in the simplistic terms of people being able to see and hear well what is going on, so that all that is necessary is to bring the altar forward and to plan the building short and wide rather than long and thin as before.   That however is to miss the point, for ‘what is going on’ is not ‘up there’ but the action, the words and the song of everyone.   The very spatial character of the building has to be such that it promotes in each individual person the conviction of belonging: inclusive space.”

“St Paul’s achieves this by a gathering-around of ordinary architectural elements; an outside wall that wraps itself almost literally around the interior; a colonnade continuous around all four sides defining an encircling ambulatory between it and the wall, and accentuating the ‘placeness’ of the central space within; and daylight from above making a gradation of luminance from low at the perimeter to bright at the high centre, the place of the altar and congregation.”

From a shortlist of 24 churches, judges selected The UK’s Top 10 Best Modern Churches.

Photographs of all the churches are available to download at  The full shortlist can be viewed online at

A specially shot 4 minute video about St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, is available for use and can be downloaded at

The altar at St Paul's, Bow Common

The altar at St Paul’s, Bow Common

Search is on for the UK’s Best Modern Churches

24 churches have been shortlisted for the Best Modern Churches architecture competition being run by the National Churches Trust, The Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association and the 20th Century Society.

A special website give details of all the shortlisted churches  and the churches and chapels are listed at the bottom of this page.

St Francis Xavier, Falkir

St Francis Xavier, Falkir

From the shortlist of 24, judges will announce a Top 10 Best Modern Churches and award a ‘National Churches Trust Diamond Jubilee Architecture’ prize to the three places of worship judged to be the best sacred spaces built in the last 60 years at a ceremony to be held at Lambeth Palace on 7  November 2013.  The awards will be presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Over 200 churches were nominated for the competition by members of the public, churches and heritage organisations, Church buildings or significant extensions to an existing building of any Christian denomination in the United Kingdom which opened for worship after 1st January 1953 are eligible for the competition.

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust said: “As a nation we are rightly proud of our magnificent heritage of historic churches. But there are also many exciting churches which have been built in the last 60 years designed for the changing nature of religious liturgy and practice which reflect modern architecture and design. The challenge of helping people catch a glimpse of heaven has always produced highly creative and imaginative architecture. This competition will  help discover some of  the best examples of modern church architecture and allow us to honour those responsible.”

The Best Modern Churches competition is being held to mark the 60th anniversary of the National Churches Trust. Since 1953 the Trust has provided over 12,000 grants and loans worth £85 million to help fund the repair and modernisation of Christian places of worship.

Judges for the awards are:  Sherry Bates, President Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association, Richard Carr-Archer, Trustee of the National Churches Trust, Catherine Croft, Director of the 20th Century Society, Jonathan Glancey, writer and architecture critic.

Churches and chapels nominated can be found below. together with the name of the architect year of construction.

  • Our Lady and St Columba RC Church, Wallsend    Vincente Stienlet    1957
  • English Martyrs RC Church, Wallasey    F X Velarde    1953
  • St Mary’s RC Church, Leyland    Jerzy Faczynski (Weightman and Bullen)    1964
  • Scargill Chapel, Skipton    George Pace    1960
  • St Mark’s Church, Broomhill, Sheffield    George Pace    1963
  • St John the Baptist Church, Lincoln    Sam Scorer    1963
  • St Joseph’s RC Church, Leicester    T E Wilson    1968
  • St Paul’s Church, Harlow    Derrick Humphreys    1959
  • St Paul’s Church, Bow Common    Maguire & Murray    1960
  • Lumen United Reformed Church, Tavistock Place, London WC1     Thies & Kahn    2008
  • St Paul the Apostle, Harringay    Inskip & Jenkins    1991
  • All Saints Church, Croydon    Curtis Green    1956
  • SS Mary & Joseph RC Church, Poplar    Adrian Gilbert Scott    1954
  • London     Church of the Ascension, Wembley Park     J Harold Gibbons     1957
  • Abbey Church, Douai Abbey, Woolhampton    Michael Blee     1993
  • West of England    Church of the Ascension, Crownhill, Plymouth    Potter & Hare    1958
  • Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College Cuddesdon    Niall McLaughlin Architects    2013
  • RC Chapel of St Albert the Great, Edinburgh University    Stuart Allan, Simpson & Brown    2012
  • Brucefield Church of Scotland, Whitburn, East Lothian    Row and Anderson Kininmonth and Paul    1965 – 1966
  • St Francis Xavier RC Church, Falkirk    A R Conlin    1961
  • St Bride’s RC Church, East Kilbride    Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan (Gillespie, Kidd & Coia)    1964
  • Kildrum Parish Church, Cumbernauld       Reiach & Hall     1965
  • Our Lady of Lourdes RC Church, Steelstown     Liam McCormick     1975
  • St Molua’s Church, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast Denis O’D Hanna 1963

Naples, Churches and Architecture – A Trip to Campania, Italy

Following the scorching weekend at the beginning of July I unfortunately missed the launch of ‘The UKs Favourite Churches’ at St Brides on Fleet street. However, I did get the chance to visit some awe-inspiring sites in Naples, many of which included churches with the most stunning architecture and interior design. And being like-minded people who appreciate true craftsmanship and history, I’d like to share some of this with you.

Napoli is an amazing place where life is real and gritty. The city is teeming with people from all backgrounds, who together with their proud and sing along Italian-manner, give the place the atmosphere of the south, and a place that I think you should all take the time to visit. Although it must be said that Naples is not to everyone’s taste. In 2007 the city was submerged in 100,000 tonnes of refuse, after the landfills were closed down, and even though violence between warring clans in the northern suburbs has been rife in the not so distant past, there are still times when it spills into Naples proper. To add to this, bag snatching and pick-pocketing is far from unheard of. But if you keep your wits about you, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about. From my experience, apart from an elderly lady who kindly took the time to demonstrate how best to hold ones bag while walking the Quartierli Spagnoli, nothing happened during our trip that was too unnerving.

Calata Trinita Maggiore (Photo - Roisin Therese)

Calata Trinita Maggiore (Photo – Roisin Therese)

With tumble down apartment blocks of bright red and yellow colourful facades, the city is bursting with character. A large majority of these buildings are built illegally, shoulder to shoulder and, sometimes, right on top of ancient ‘protected’ buildings or churches of the 12th and 13th Century. The city is a labyrinth, much of which is built out of the very volcano that has engulfed it in the past and threatened to do so time and time again over the last millennia.

The stone buildings are made from yellowish ‘tufo’, a soft eruptive stone and the very fabric of the city. And the grey-black ‘piperno’ is fast-cooled lava, used in the ornamental detail. Walking through the Piazza Bellini, you can see and even touch the original walls and streets, built by the Greeks as early as 700 BC.

Quartieri Spagnoli

Quartieri Spagnoli (Photo – Roisin Therese)

It could be said that some of the excavated remnants of the ancient city are not too well looked after, but in my opinion that’s precisely part of the charm. Unlike here in the UK with our suffocating barrage of new laws, legislation, and health and safety measures, there are no barriers or plastic sheeting that spoils the scene for you. You can literally lean over the iron handrail, beer in hand, and touch the very wall that a stone mason was chiselling away at 2,500 years ago!

You walk down these cobbled streets (made from the slow-cool lava rock from Vesuvius), and dodge 12 yr olds on scooters driving at 40mph down the narrow lanes (no helmet!) with their seven year old brother perched on the front! It is quite true that you sometimes do feel need to jump against the wall, but the locals walk around care free, as though the bikes should watch out for them if anything. And to add to this, you are surrounded by the inviting smells of delicious Sfogliatelle (a Neapolitan speciality, that you eat in the morning with your coffee), caffe all nocciola (another Neapolitan speciality – an espresso with sweet hazelnut paste) and, best of all, mouth-watering freshly oven baked pizza with local Mozzarella melted on the top.
Every few metres you literally stumble upon another hidden gem. The place is so built up that you wouldn’t even know that another historic church is just a step from where you stand. The colossal Gesu Nuovo and Santa Chiara are marvels to see, yet you wouldn’t know how close they are if you were in the wrong street.

San Paolo Maggiore

San Paulo Maggiore (Photo – Roisin Therese)

The fabric of the churches rival the decor and furnishings of St. Paul’s Cathedral. And there are about 475 of them in this city. Although this sounds quite impressive, what really characterizes this city is the money and opulence (inside the churches, in some of the higher apartments and stunning courtyards) that you find right beside what is real poverty (looking through people’s doors of ‘bassi’ – the ground floor apartments – you see whole families cramped into a single room with only one door for light and air). This of course is an issue that, to this day, still differentiates the south of the country from the north.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see all the churches that we wanted to, but those we did manage to visit were jaw-dropping to say the least. According to the guide book and the locals, there is a lot more of the ancient streets and buildings to be found. I’ve already started planning my next trip back to this amazing city.

Centro Storico - Vespa and shrine (Photo - Roisin Therese)

Centro Storico – Vespa and shrine (Photo – Roisin Therese)

Santa Maria del Purgatorio del Arco

Santa Maria del Purgatorio del Arco (Photo – Roisin Therese)


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