Monday, 30 November -0001

OUR FAVOURITE CHURCHES

Grand and humble, ancient and modern – some of our bestloved Britons reveal the places of worship that are closest to their hearts

They are an integral feature of Britain’s culture and landscape, linking many of us to our community, our loved ones, our heritage and our history. And whether we are religious or not, many of us have one church that has particularly captured our imagination. Here, some well-known faces reveal their choices – but what would yours be?

Joanna Lumley OBE Actress, writer and broadcaster
St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London

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‘The tiny graceful spire, like a precious seashell, rises among the clustering modern and Victorian buildings like a dream vision. This spire was the inspiration (exactly the right word) for tiered wedding cakes the world over. Three hundred years have taken their toll on this little gem designed by Sir Christopher Wren – and now there is an urgent appeal for funds to restore this beautiful landmark to its former glory. It is the church of Fleet Street, the newspaper world of London. I love it.’

Jilly Cooper OBE Author and journalist
All Saints Church, Parsons Lane, Bisley, Gloucestershire

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‘My favourite church, All Saints, Bisley, is built of grey and Labrador-yellow Cotswold stone. Its soaring spire, topped by a gold weathercock, can be seen for miles around, and was a landmark that guided the bomber pilots back home to Gloucestershire during the last war.

‘On the inside walls of All Saints are lists of parish priests dating back to the Domesday Book. Different features have been added over the years to the church’s medieval site, “growing up out of the past” according to the excellent guidebook A Mosaic Of The Ages.

‘The real mover and shaker, however, was Thomas Keble, parish priest from 1827 to 1873. When he took over, the church was surrounded by ugly steep steps rising to 11 doors to allow the rich mill owners and their families to ascend to the gallery and not have to mix with their riff-raff workers below. Thomas Keble, opposed to such snobbery, whipped down the staircases and, when he wasn’t tirelessly raising money for the poor in his parish, supervised a wholesale rebuilding of the church.

‘Wandering round you will find a splendid circa 1200 font carved with fishes and a 13th-century effigy of a knight with a little whippet at his feet. Everywhere are beautiful carvings and glorious stained glass. My favourite window lights up the chapel on the right of the porch and depicts knights scrapping in the foreground and one of their horses, a savvy strawberry roan, craftily retreating into the bushes.

‘Despite its beauty, this is very much a family church, with a magically colourful corner set aside for the children and a troop of wonderful bell-ringers who often celebrate 80th and 90th birthdays in the village. The immaculately kept churchyard, where towering limes and yews seem to hold up the sky, is flanked by Blue Coats, the village school, and by several lovely houses all steeped in history. The oldest house gave birth to the legend of the Bisley Boy, who is alleged to have been switched with Queen Elizabeth I when she was a little girl and replaced her on the throne.

‘Passing a graveyard, currently disappearing in a foaming sea of wild garlic and cow parsley, steep steps lead down on the left to the famous Bisley Wells. Carrying on another Thomas Keble innovation, children from Blue Coats bless the Wells on Ascension Day every year by garlanding them with flowers.

‘No newcomer to Bisley need feel lonely, because all ages can join in the thriving social life generated by our lovely church.’

Huw Edwards Journalist and broadcaster
Capel Als Chapel, Marble Hall Road, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales

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‘Capel Als is one of the most significant religious buildings in Wales. The chapel, opened in 1780, was the first Nonconformist cause to be established in Llanelli, a town noted for its blend of industrial heritage and rich Welshspeaking culture. Capel Als fills a chapter of prime importance in the story of Nonconformist worship in Wales. Its first minister, David Rees, was a noted preacher, publisher, entrepreneur, agitator, gutsy fighter for workers’ rights and indefatigable campaigner for religious freedom. He was no fan of the state church and its autocratic clergy. The feeling was mutual. The building is also significant and deserves far wider attention. There is little to commend it externally, but the interior is one of the best examples of exquisite, ornate chapel design anywhere in the United Kingdom.

‘The chapel was reconfigured by the architect Owen Morris Roberts in 1894-5, increasing the capacity to 1,150 worshippers and incorporating the rare Bishop organ. There is a large platformpulpit fronted by a spacious, curvecornered ‘big seat’ for the deacons. The crowning glory is the coved ceiling, decorated with an ornate combination of boarding and moulded plaster in squares and circles.

‘These days, Capel Als is one of a handful of Welsh chapels held up as a great example of the confident, ambitious, high-quality chapel designs that typified the late Victorian period. In a sane world, Capel Als would be accorded maximum listed status. Sadly, as in the case of several other majestic chapel buildings in Wales, Cadw (the Welsh government’s historic environment service) relegates it to miserable Grade II status. Castles, country homes and Anglican churches tend to come first in Cadw’s Wales.’

Michael Palin CBE Comedian, actor, writer and broadcaster
St Margaret of Antioch Church, Abbotsley, Cambridgeshire

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‘I was married there, and others have been married, christened and buried there since the 13th century. It is a stout, strong, modest church, but has a unique feature of four knights on the corners of the tower. No one seems to know their story, but they make St Margaret very special.’

Dr Kate Williams Historian, writer and television presenter
Heath Chapel, Heath, near Bouldon, Shropshire

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‘Heath Chapel is all that remains of the settlement that was once there. It was built in the 12th century and the wonder of it is that, unlike with so many of our 12th-century churches, so very much of the original building remains.

‘Although it has a new roof and floor and medieval decoration, the church feels so very ancient when you enter – going inside is the closest you will ever feel to an ordinary 12th-century Shropshire person going to worship. These traces of ordinary life are very rare from so far back – which is why it must be treasured.’

Gloria Hunniford Television and radio presenter
St Mark’s Church, 56 Brownstown Road, Portadown, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland

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‘My favourite church has to be St Mark’s in the centre of Portadown, the town in which I was born and raised. My daughter Caron was christened at St Mark’s and my sister’s funeral was held there. While I was growing up St Mark’s was the hub of social life in my community: a popular Northern Irish saying claims that you can spend a whole week in Northern Ireland on just one Sunday, and given that I would visit St Mark’s no less than five times every Sunday, this was certainly true for me!

‘However, despite all the time I spent there in my youth, it is only since I have returned in recent years that I have realised how beautiful St Mark’s is, and how privileged I was to spend so much of my childhood in such a wonderful building.’

David Cameron Prime Minister
1. All Saints Church, Church Lane, Spelsbury, Oxfordshire

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‘There are so many wonderful churches in my constituency, but I do have two favourite ones. The first is from a purely personal point of view. It is All Saints at Spelsbury, where my family sometimes worship when we are at home in Oxfordshire. I have a very special memory of my late son Ivan’s christening there. Another church I have great affection for in my constituency is St Mary the Virgin in Witney. I have the honour of being one of the Patrons for the Appeal for Restoration and Renewal, and have been so impressed by the hard work of dedicated and enthusiastic parishioners and clergy for this appeal.

2. St Mary the Virgin Church, Church Green, Witney, Oxfordshire

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‘St Mary is one of the oldest buildings in Witney and one of the biggest in West Oxfordshire. Its origins go back to Norman times, but the present building is mostly 13th century. It stands on Church Green near the town centre, and its spire is a landmark for many miles around. The church does tremendous work to support the community and is an important part of Witney life.’

Kirsty Wark Journalist and television presenter
New Laigh Kirk, John Dickie Street, Kilmarnock, Scotland

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‘It was an important place in the life of my family, and although I am not religious, it is a building that I associate with my sense of Scottishness. It is beautifully proportioned and unadorned, and the graveyard is of historic importance.’

National Churches Trust: 020-7222 0605, www.nationalchurchestrust.org www.favouritechurches.org.uk

Do you have a favourite church? Let us know at the usual Bedford Street address or via email at letters@lady.co.uk



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