My name is Claire and I am a church crawler.
Yes, I know that may sound a bit dodgy but let me explain. A church crawler is a person who is interested in ecclesiology and church architecture and history. We spend many hours travelling up and down the country to visit churches – just because we like them! Its a great hobby to have and there’s a thriving church crawling community out there.
Prior planning is critical to any successful church crawling trip. Simon Jenkins’ England’s Thousand Best Churches is a great reference guide, but it only really covers those ‘big hitting’ churches. There are many, many smaller churches with hidden treasures out there that deserve to have a light shone on them.
And that’s where local books like Churches of The Marches by John Kinross come in. Books where the author has used their local knowledge and expertise to curate a selection of ecclesiastical buildings designed to satisfy even the most fussy church crawler.
John has also authored the guide Castles of The Marches. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Welsh Marches, its that area along the border between England and Wales. In simple terms, its that part of the world where you are never quite sure if you are in one country or the other.
The author uses the term The Marches in its broadest interpretation. You get information on churches from Cheshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, Powys and Shropshire. As a resident of the Marches myself, I probably would have defined the area differently. However, the liberal interpretation does mean more geographical coverage for your money!
Anyway, I decided to plan a day of exploring churches Herefordshire using the my new book. Long time blog readers will know I am frequently visiting the churches of the Marches (check out my blog posts on Cwmyoy and Old Radnor).
First stop on my trip was the Church of St John The Evangelist at Shobdon.
Shobdon is a unique blue and white wedding-cake confection of a church. The architectural style is that of the very short lived Strawberry Hill Gothic.
Strawberry Hill Gothic takes its name from the work of Horace Walpole at his London house of Strawberry Hill. The Bateman family who owned Shobdon Estate were close friends with Walpole.
While the present-day church is an architectural gem, there has been a church on the site since the Saxon era. The previous medieval gem must have been a marvel judging by the calibre of the remaining font, which is more than worthy of Kilpeck.
Shobdon should be high on the list for any avid church crawler. Jenkins called the interior ‘ a complete masterpeice of English Rococo‘. Pevsner described St John the Evangelist ‘the finest 18th Century church in Herefordshire‘. Either way, it is most definitely worth a visit.
One thing I really like about the book is that the author provides just the right amount of historical background to the church, along with the headline points of architecural interest to look out for. I don’t need to read War and Peace when I’m out and about exploring. The book is also a handy A5 size, which means it conveniently fits in my bag.
My next stop was St Barnabus Church in picture postcard-perfect Brampton Bryan.
St Barnabus is very special. It’s one of only six churches built during The Commonwealth. The medieval church was destroyed during a Civil War siege in 1643 and was replaced with a small, box-like structure.
There’s a delightful double hammerbeam roof inside, but apart from that the church is relatively plain. It is however delightfully set in this pretty little village.
(If you do have the pleasure of visiting Brampton Bryan one day, I totally recommend you leave enough time to visit Aardvark Books. It’s a charming second-hand book emporium with other 50,000 titles. I picked up some great books for next to nothing. It also has a lovely little cafe complete with a great selection of homemade cakes, including both gluten and dairy free and vegan options.)
When I returned home I had a chance to reflect further on the book. I only had one real criticism – and that is the lack of a map! To make the most of my time exploring, I like to visit churches in the same geographical area. Because the book had no map, I had to do a lot of googling to make sure the churches I wanted to visit were close together.
Nevertheless, I would thoroughly recommend Churches of the Marches by John Kinross to anyone who was interest in learning more about, and exploring, the churches of the border counties. Its a great intro to some underappreciated churches out there, and its size and format makes it ideal for taking with you on your historical adventures.
Many thanks to Amberley Publishing for kindly gifting me this book for review. However, all love of the book and Herefordshire churches is entirely my own!