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4.6 out of 5 stars29
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 30 November 2009
Jenkin's book has afforded me many happy days of church wandering in counties afar from home. His one to five star system does allow the traveller - whose time and money are limited - to cherry pick the most outstanding church buildings in an area. Yes, Pevsner is more thorough, but it costs £32 per volume per county (or part of a county), and it would be difficult to pick out the best. Jenkin's maps are also very useful, and he likes to set the scene and setting.

Of course, everyone will disagree with some of his ratings. The Anglo-Saxon church of Escomb, Co Durham, ranks only 2*, for example, when it is one of the most outstanding chuches of the period in the entire country, still within its own walled enclosure.

I also use the Blue Guide Churches of Northern (or Southern) England (out of print but obtainable used on Amazon) as a complement to Jenkins. A slightly different selection, and architecturally more detailed.

The hardback copy of Jenkins is rather heavy, even when travelling by car. If the paperback copy is durable, it is probably better, though without some of the photographs I guess.

So whether you are looking for Saxon long and short work, Norman zigzag, Early English lancets, decorated ogees, perpendicular fan-vaults, Easter sepulchres, Elizabethan funerary monuments, Gothick revival or Victorian masterpieces, Jenkins can guide you on your pilgrim way.
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on 10 January 2000
This is a super book, a comprehensive guide to what, despite one's prejudices, probably are among the best of England's churches. Each entry paints a church in fairly broad brushstrokes, giving major details and the odd little anecdote. Jenkins admits that he only visited about 2000 churches, on the recommendations of others, to narrow down to his 1000. This is, I suppose, as good a way of doing it as any; of course, it all depends on whom you ask. In common with most people I know who've got it, I've enjoyed reading the entries for churches I know, and have found very little to disagree with (the stuff about witchcraft under Ufford still seems a little unlikely). The book would be less useful for planning a visit to a new church, and would, in any case, be rather large to carry. Inevitably, the reader will find something missing, a church or two that they feel should be included. Jenkins' 50-odd Suffolk churches include most of my personal Top 30, but not all of them. I can't understand how he could have missed Westhall and Badingham, for instance; he must have not visited them. But that's okay; if his Suffolk churches were the same as mine, then I might as well give up now. Less useful is the star system, with which everyone seems to disagree. He seems to go for grandeur and triumphalism rather than integrity and beauty; which, of course, he has every right to do. That may explain how Stoke-by-Nayland gets more stars than Blythburgh or Ufford, an otherwise inconceivable decision. Another plus-point is that his agnostic ex-Anglican eyes are not fooled by the 19th century rewriting of English church history; he knows that the puritans are not to be blamed for everything. In short, this immense book is a must for anyone even vaguely interested in English churches and their history.
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on 28 December 1999
Extremely comprehensive review of its subject. The author's subjectivity, though inevitable, can be irritating. Many worthy contenders for inclusion presumably ommitted due to lack of access on day of author's visit. Given the book's title, this seems a pity. Nevertheless, a splendid tome and lovely to dip into.
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It goes without saying that the structures featured in this book are not England’s thousand best churches. They are Simon Jenkins’s choice of the best thousand churches in England. He writes, “The English churches contained in this book … embody England’s ‘other’ story, the history of a people mostly living far from London, far from commerce, court and parliament … Preparing this list has been a personal odyssey … Old churches have survived best by being part of the country least affected by industry or suburbanisation.” This betrays prejudices with which I cannot agree.

But I do wholeheartedly approve his contention that churches are “a dispersed gallery of vernacular art, especially that of the Middle Ages, without equal anywhere in the world. This book is intended as a catalogue of that gallery. I have lost count of the number of church guides which assert, ‘this building is not a museum, it is a place of worship.’ I disagree. A church is a museum, and should be proud of the fact.” At last, someone with the guts to say what I have too often thought!

With regard to his choices for inclusion, Jenkins says that had an original shortlist of 2,500, a list derived from secondary sources! He visited them all and chose what he thought were the best. But from my own personal experience as a dedicated church crawler, there are many stupendous churches to be seen outside of the secondary literature. I am not so sure either of Jenkins’s axiom that old is best. (Victorian churches are now becoming more appreciated, and even twentieth-century ones are gaining adherents through the proselytization of the likes of Jonathan Meades.) What this means for Jenkins’s one-thousand is that, of Roman Catholic churches, there are few “since almost all are post-Reformation … the same applies to Non-conformist chapels, few of which are accessible.”

This touches on another point, for he was surely right to leave out those churches that he could not gain entry to after a thirty-minute attempt. Jenkins has some excellent words to say about locked churches (at Honeychurch in Devon he writes, “The sign on the door says simply ‘This door is never locked.’ It should be the motto of the Church of England”), but equally excellent advice that visitors should pay for their experience when visiting them.

Jenkins’s twenty-two page introduction follows a concise ride through the ages of church construction, ornamentation, destruction, dereliction, and reconsideration. He ends with suggestions for the future: some good (modern wall paintings), some bad (removing Victorian stained glass). The vast bulk of the book, though, consists in the edifices themselves, listed by county. (There is some inconsistency here: for example, he uses the post-1974 boundaries for Oxfordshire but not for Warwickshire.) Each county has a brief introduction and a map. Taking the first county (Bedfordshire) as an example, the fourteen churches are described in varying lengths of prose from two paragraphs (Woburn St Mary) to seven (Cockayne Hatley). But there is a notable geographical imbalance overall. Why does Shropshire have only eighteen churches in the thousand but Somerset has fifty-two? (I have church-crawled both counties.) Whilst Somerset perpendicular is rightly praised, the variety of styles and good workmanship to be seen in Shropshire is equally worthy of coverage.

It should of course be noted that Jenkins’s is a national survey. The Pevsners and other county surveys will have more detail, but they will also often lack Jenkins’s combination of keen observation and literary accomplishment. Yet this is not a readably readable book: entry after entry blurs. Rather, it is a book of reference. There are, no doubt, a few errors too. For example, he calls St Mark’s in Bristol as “now the only church in England that belongs to a local authority” (what about St James’s at Okehampton?)

All in all, though, Jenkins’s is an impressive survey. The book ends with welcome indices of both artists and places. The evocative photographs come from the ‘Country Life’ archive.
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on 13 January 2000
We spent two enjoyable days revisiting the haunts of her youth with my 87 year-old mother-in-law;the detail and opinionated nature of the "reviews" interested us all and encouraged us to seek out churches unknown. This is Pevsner's heir with more punch.
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on 3 November 2010
I have an interest in English churches, especially Saxon and round churches. Living in Northamptonshire, we have 3 national treasures in the county. The write up for Earls Barton's magnificent Saxon tower (c AD970) shows that Simon Jenkins has never visited the village. "Nestled against a council estate" is his description. What rubbish. It is not! He gives it just 3 stars when there is so much to see and marval at. The write up for Brixworth's Saxon church(c AD670) has Brixworth in the Nene Valley, which it is not. Errors like this really make me shudder. The write up for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre paints a dreary town of Northampton, something I get fed up of reading about. Northampton is no more dreary than any other town and has some gems well above the average town. I would not buy this book based upon my extensive local knowledge of Northamptonshire churches.
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on 29 April 2000
THIS BOOK HAS BEEEN A CONSTANT SOUCE OF PLEASURE SINCE I PURCHASED IT. THE BOOK WILL BE THE START OF MANY A WEEK-END BREAK AND OFFERS A GOOD REFERENCE TO VISITING CHURCHES IS MANY PARTS OF THE COUNTRY. Any book can be critisised for missing some churches out these churches may not figure in the broad brush picture the author paints. Some feed back to the author could be appreciated. good value. Here's to the next 1,000, this is assuming the author can manage it
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on 7 March 2011
Our family enjoys exploring the many parish churches in England, and this book provides a wonderful background of information for the author's selected 1,000 best churches. His historical and architectural descriptions are well researched and written in straight-forward language that adds value to our visits. This book is a must have for those who love these beautiful historical buildings.
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on 19 November 2015
an accurate and informative compilation of the fine churches of england and used by many as a guide to visit them. Each paragraph is to the point and factual, easy to read and takes you to some amazing places. Englands thousand best houses will take you on a similar journey. Well worth having
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on 17 April 2012
A superb source of information, detail, anecdotes and cracking photos covering the single most important element of our historic built environment. If you want to know about church architecture and history you have to have this book. Simon Jenkins is thoroughly, and enjoyably, readable.
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