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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a wonderful book: a feast for the eye and a constant spur to visit such and such a church if ever we find ourselves in ....... Every page is a visual temptation.
Betjeman's lengthy original introduction, some 75 pages, is reproduced in full, a real delight for the knowledge and sensibility displayed there, but also for the characteristic 'voice' which made him as much a national treasure as the buildings he so loved. The entries have been substantially updated and reduced in number.

The volume is laid out by counties of England, with Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands each having their separate sections. There is a glossary of architectural and relevant ecclesiastical terms and indexes of place and of artist/architect. Each county entry is prefaced by a short essay on characteristics of the local architecture and a large map with major towns and all referenced churches clearly indicated. The individual entries give OS and GPS references, dates, architects where known and key elements of interest. Churches of particular interest are denoted by a single or double star, inevitably a matter of personal taste, but books such as this demand such individual choices.

Given the considerable size (almost 900 pages) and weight (2.3kgs), this is NOT a field guide: as I have suggested above, this whets the appetite and allows plans to be made if holidaying or visiting a particular area. And the number of churches referenced (over 2500) makes it unlikely that one would ever be too far from somewhere interesting.

However, its inclusivity (despite the reductions) highlights difficult compromises: after one or two fairly random dips into it, I have to acknowledge that I wish more had been written about a number of churches I know, perhaps at the expense of some less interesting ones with which I'm also acquainted. For example, my local parish church is pleasant and attractive, with an interesting and substantial memorial to the workmen killed in the Bramhope railway tunnel disaster in its grounds. But I think I would have sacrificed it for more detailed and wide-ranging information about, say, Beverley St Mary's: no mention is made of the ceiling decoration of nave and chancel, other than that they are painted, nor of some beautiful corbels. (The Nave ceiling is ultramarine with gold stars, while the chancel is spanned by images of the kings of England, such as one might find in a medieval manuscript.) There is a corbel representing a lamb and a brother showing a rabbit. All delightful! Such details might open the eyes of the visitor a little more, or tempt the armchair traveller into greater determination to make a well-deserved visit, though, admittedly, perhaps at the expense of Otley!

This book's nearest rival, Simon Jenkins', says more about fewer churches (including those details I refer to at Beverley) but with far fewer (16) and far less sumptuous illustrations. In Bedfordshire, to take one example, Jenkins writes about 14 churches compared to 30 in the Betjeman. Jenkins' Bedford St Paul is given about 300 words: Betjeman's, approx 120. The Betjeman guide is more academic in tone, Jenkins more evocative, though not always successfully. He also gives snippets of historical background to add 'colour' to the place. Value judgements obviously vary too: the first church in the Betjeman Bedfordshire entry, Bedford St Mary, is given fewer than 25 words of description but one star, a high rating in that volume: Jenkins completely ignores it. Jenkins admires Cockayne Hatley for 1 1/2 pages but you won't find it in the Collins guide. (It sounds interesting!) The Betjeman/Surman glossary is far superior to Jenkins'. But for 'field' use, while I could just about force the latest paperback Mr Jenkins into my jacket pocket, the Collins guide is far too overweight ever to stray from home. Of course, Jenkins does not venture beyond the boundaries of England, an important consideration, one would have thought, for many.

Forced to choose one, I'd stick with Sir John/Surman. Were I a prospective purchaser in a bookshop, I would have the two volumes side by side to compare and simply try to work out which best suited my needs and preferences. Ideally, I'd have both!

What is certain is that this is a wonderful book which will give pleasure and some instruction for years. (Incidentally, I note the dj advertises a 'Betjemann's Best British Churches' app: had I an appropriate phone I'd be very tempted by that as one hasn't always planned so carefully ahead in one's travels and some version of this book in one's pocket would be very useful! Inexpensive Kindle version, anyone!!)

PS. There seem to be two paperback versions of Jenkin's book available, the one I reference dated 2009 and one which is dated 2000/2 which is larger in size and has many more illustrations than I mention, and in colour too. A nice edition. Unfortunately, the Betjeman / Jenkins dilemma is made no easier by this fact as the paper quality is better (to take the improved illustrations), and the weight and size of the book significantly greater. This is no pocket guide either!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Though of course best known for his poetry, the late Sir John Betjeman's great passion was for churches. This abiding fascination for Britain's wonderful heritage of parish churches, with their often delightful fusions of architectural style, led to the first edition in 1958 of the classic Collins Guide To English Parish Churches, containing brief descriptions of some 4,500 of the best of them. The guide has been revised several times over the years, this latest version rigorously updated by Richard Surman who also took many of the photographs. This new version - for the 21st century, 'the age of satellite navigation and precise mapping' - contains very precise locations for each of the churches featured.

The book has 3 radical departures from previous editions:
1. There is a significantly stronger pictorial element, with hundreds of full colour photographs, some of full- and two-page size;
2. This has necessitated a considerable reduction in the number of entries, using for selection primarily the simple star rating system that JB had introduced for the 1968 edition, but also including some churches for the first time, as well as a number of notable Roman Catholic churches, chosen for their 'outstanding historical, architectural or historical merit.';
2. There is a new section for Scotland's churches.

The layout of the guide is organised first by country, then alphabetically by county, with detailed maps showing the church locations at-a-glance. Also included is Betjeman's own Introduction, here running to some 66 pages incorporating some beautiful photographs.

Most of us will be familiar with some or many of the churches in this guide. For each church there is a short descriptive entry highlighting the main points of interest. These few extracts, about some of those I know myself, should give a flavour of those descriptive entries:

* Brompton Oratory RC: 'Unmistakable in Knightsbridge. Rome comes to London.The Baroque building by H. Gribble in 1880-96, was modelled on The Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in Rome, and is second only in size to Westminster Cathedral ...'
* Grasmere St Oswald: 'The rough, massive old church has a notable two-tier arcade ... The resulting jungle of black beams is an object lesson in elementary building, ingenious and almost indescribable except by Wordsworth, who had a shot at most things, and declared that the roof was upheld: 'By naked rafters intricately crossed / Like leafless underboughs, mid some thick grove / All withered by the depths of shade above ...'
Iona St Oran's Chapel: 'Of note is the early Norman doorway, with chunky dogtooth carving, and, inside, a well-carved 15th century wall recess. John Smith, a celebrated Scottish leader of the Labour Party is buried here; his epitaph reads 'An Honest Man's The Noblest Work Of God.' ...'
* Kingston-Upon-Hull Holy Trinity: 'Look up in the crossing, and there are good painted ceiling panels and lierne vaulting. At the W. is a fine 14th century marble carved font where William Wilberforce, leader of the anti-slave trade movement was baptised ...'
* Millport Cathedral of the Isles: 'A world away from the nearby coastal conurbations of the Firth Of Clyde is William Butterfield's 1851 church for George Boyle, 6th Earl of Glasgow ... The tall slender spire 123 feet high, gives the impression of a large building, but the church is in fact small, the nave being some 20 by 40 feet ...'
* Patrington St Patrick: 'The Queen of Holderness' is celebrated as a church of exceptional Decorated Gothic. The church is cruciform with double-sided transepts, the central tower being crowned by an open corona from which rises a lofty spire ... In the crossing are animated corbels depicting villagers, monks and animals ...'
* Whitby St Mary: 'Near the abbey ruins on a hill above the old town, St Mary's looks down on the harbour. The church was built to resist coastal storms, and looks like it, with a squat tower, heavy dark walls and an assembly of external stairs and extensions ... The great rectangular nave is filled with box pews and galleries rising almost to the roof, all centred on the high pulpit and reading desk, attached to which are two enormous ear trumpets for a Georgian incumbent's wife ...'

This beautifully produced breeze-block of a book - it is getting on for A4 size, contains 896 pages, including a helpful glossary and index, and weighs a hefty 2.25 kgs. or so - will not quite fit into most pockets, but will serve as a valuable and handy(ish) guide to many of our best 'hidden gems and national treasures'. And, guided by its contents, you really don't need to be an 'expert' on ecclesiastical architecture to appreciate what's all around us.

I can also recommend for those who don't already know of it Richard Taylor's book How To Read A Church, which will considerably enhance your enjoyment of church visits.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a beautiful tome crammed with quality coloured photographs of churches, graveyards, engravings, carvings and so much more. The book is divided into counties - there are separate sections for churches in Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands - and each section begins with a map of the county highlighting the more notable churches graded either a one star or two star by Betjeman. Some of the churches mentioned date from over a thousand years; the first edition of this book was printed in 1958 and has been updated to include Sat Nav and OS references which are very useful and at the same time, made me think how could we ever begin to explain what these things are to the parishioners of just a hundred years ago.

The preface to each county contains a brief history of the area and explains how changes over time affected the local population, transport, trade, existing churches and how, in some cases, resulted in the building of new churches. The glossary is very good, it explains all the different terminology used in the architecture of a church and I was particularly fascinated by the drawings of the various types of arches - round-headed ones are Norman, lancet are early English and middle-pointed are Gothic.

Betjeman's introduction is wonderful, he describes the changes within the church century by century and explains how the social and economic conditions of each period influenced the growth and neglect of buildings in different parts of the country; the boom in industry and trade would prompt wealthy merchants to rebuild their parish churches and the technological advances gave rise, in some cases, to architectural meddling. Betjeman describes with irony how the Victorians "renewed everything old", but "...the little weather-beaten hamlet church" had been spared as "....subsequent generations had neither the energy nor the money to destroy". The introduction also contains various short biographies about particular architects, church dignitaries and other notable people whose work resulted in the most magnificent buildings - Gilbert Scott the architect of Liverpool Anglican cathedral who was awarded the commission at the age of 21 is mentioned.

Betjeman describes the growth in the mid 19th century of 'Dissenters' and Non-Conformists in the vastly populated industrialised areas ... "Methodists and Baptists were building chapels all over the rapidly growing town .....often, ugly little churches were built of brick in brand new suburbs ...... the crowded misery of back streets, disease and gnawing poverty'.

Betjeman's passion for churches is evident in his narrative - apparently he would go 'church-hunting' as a young boy - and the many beautiful photographs in the book reveal the brilliance of the architecture, the skill of stonemasons, carpenters and other craftsmen.
There is a wealth of information in this book, Betjeman explains how the parish church is situated in the oldest part of the village and would be surrounded by the oldest houses where an inn would also be established close by. Betjeman also reveals the social heirachy of death and burial; the more splendid graves nearest the church would be those of wealthy merchants and farmers who were "not entitled to an armorial monument on the walls inside the church". There's an abundance of gorgeous photographs to accompany all of the subjects mentioned in the book.

Another section in the book explains the trends over time of church design, epitaphs (one local blacksmith had " ..my coal is spent, my iron's gone, My nails are drove, my work is done".) , engravings and building materials - "Rubble or uneven flints were not considered beautiful until the 19th century. People were ashamed of them and wished to see their churches smooth... the Saxons have even gone so far as to imitate in stone the decorative effects of wooden construction".

It is difficult to write a review worthy of such a good book, it really is quite exceptional - there are 896 pages to savour - it is packed with history and not at all high-brow or religious in tone. Finally, I would just like to add that if you have ever marvelled at the magnificence of an old church, felt insignificant and humbled by its age and presence, wondered why that design, what were the people who built it like, how did they live, what prompted its build etc then this is the book for you.
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on 21 July 2011
The Collins Guide to English Parish Churches, of which this is the latest and much updated version, first appeared in 1958 and represented the greatest product of John Betjeman's love of churches. It was quirky, but it made a start on rehabilitating Victorian churches and was clearly a labour of love for Betjeman and his collaborators, most of whom were eminent in the field and knew their areas of the country very well. It was a reference work which I used a lot in my youth.

More recently there have been several good guides to churches, most notably Simon Jenkins's 1,000 Best and Robert Harbison's Daily Telegraph Guide, which I find stimulating even if I often disagree with him. But even on a crowded bookshelf there is room for this new edition of Collins. Those responsible, most notably Richard Surman who is an expert on photographing churches, have gone for a much more glossy approach, on good art paper and with splendid pictures. They have drastically trimmed the original list, to no great disadvantage I feel, given that many of the original entries were monosyllabic and rather uninformative. But they have included some Roman Catholic churches, quite rightly as the best of these stand comparison with those of the Anglican tradition built since 1830. And they have also strayed beyond England, which may be helpful to those of us who are more familiar with the bibliography on English churches.

There are now brief details of all the churches listed, and a slightly peculiar 'starring' system which will probably not provoke as much disagreement as Simon Jenkins's. Betjeman's splendid original introduction has been retained, and is itself valuable.

Strongly recommended, especially at the Amazon price.
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on 1 March 2013
I've always loved photographing and looking inside churches during walks in the countryside but have little knowledge of the architecture behind them.

This book should remedy my shortcoming in this area. It is packed with wonderful photographs and information on a vast number of churches divided into counties. There is also a 77 page introduction by Sir John which explains their history and structure.

I intend to make full use of it to improve my knowledge of our countries churches. It will be a very useful addition to our National Trust books and guides on other aspects of our heritage.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is described as "A beautiful and practical up-to-date guide to over two thousand of Britain's best parish churches." I wouldn't argue with "beautiful" and "up-to-date" but I think "practical guide" is misleading. I would infer from that description that I could walk around looking at churches with the book in my hand to consult as and when needed. For a start, it is much too big and heavy for that. Secondly, it covers over 2000 churches so it cannot go into great detail about each.

It is not so much a guide as a planner. If you know you are visiting a district, you can look up which churches to visit. It will give you precise map references with instructions on how to use them, plus guidelines on how to locate churches using satnavs and mobile phones. The descriptions give you a pointer as to what to look for, but if you want detail you will need to use the church's own guide.

As a manual on how to look at churches, it is invaluable. Betjeman's introduction is indeed a thorough introduction to the subject, in beautiful lucid prose that conveys his deep love for churches, humble or exalted. There is also an illustrated glossary of terms that will help you identify architectural features. Added to all this, it is illustrated by hundreds (literally) of beautiful photographs.

As far as the content is concerned, in his introduction, Betjeman mentions the outside elements of churches, their grave yards and settings. As far as I could see, there is little coverage of these features in the text - no mention, for example, of the fantastically ancient yew tree in the graveyard at Much Marcle which makes that church so much more interesting than many of its peers. Not having read earlier editions, I don't know if this is down to Betjeman or Richard Surman.

To get back to my original gripe - this book would have been so much more accessible and useful (and portable!) if it could have been published in sections as part of a boxed set. I don't know if doing that would have had insuperable cost issues, but it is not cheap in its present format. For that reason I shall only be giving it four stars instead of five.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For the last thousand years we have been building churches in this country. As fashions and religious taste have changed so new structures were built in the new style, and older structures sometimes altered to move with the times. As a result we have an incredibly rich and diverse architectural heritage in every town and village in the country.

With this delightful tome, that renowned guardian of classical architecture John Betjeman sought to give a ready guide to the most interesting churches and their unique features. For almost every church in the land does have something unique that is of interest and sets it apart from the rest. The book is divided into geographical area, and churches organised in each section alphabetically by the name of the town or village in which they reside. Inevitably there are churches missing, the book is huge as it is, to include every church in the land would make it truly unwieldy. Each included church has a short paragraph detailing a short history and important features.

Despite being quite thorough and quite beautifully written, I notice that each description of churches I know well always seems to leave out one or two important features. This is a good thing though, as it means you have a reason to visit the church to find out the full story rather than just read the book!

The production is quite sumptuous, hard back with good quality paper. Each page is illustrated with one or two superb new photos of one of the churches described. The photography is as good as the text, and makes this quite a special book.

Too unwieldy to be a pocket guide when out and about, it is a good reference for planning trips. It is also a good read if not planning a trip, and a fascinating treasure trove of information regarding those buildings which for so long have been a part of the fabric of the land.

An excellent book, five stars all round.

PS - for any one else who like me didn't understand the rather pretentious comment on the front cover from the TLS, a `vade mecum' is a handbook or guide intended to be carried at all times.
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VINE VOICEon 8 August 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very well presented and entertaining guide to parish churches with beautiful photographs. It begins with a preface to the new edition which summarises changes made from previous editions. There then follows the original delightful introduction from the first compilation detailing the history of the parish church by Sir John Betjemen which I surprised myself by reading all the way through. The churches are grouped by county with a short introduction and a county map.
The book brought back many memories of my own childhood experience as a church goer and family holidays around the UK where visiting churches was always part and parcel of the experience. My parents had similar books which they kept in the back of the car and referred to frequently to find places of interest to visit because of course you don't have to pay to go into a church! This is definitely a book for the car as it is way too heavy to cart around in the back of a rucksack. I would also need to pack a map as the google map references and sat nav details, while helpful for many would be no use to me on the road.
I have thoroughly enjoyed browsing through this book (I found the glossary very useful too) and found many familiar names and places. I must admit a slight curiosity as to the churches omitted from previous editions to make way for more pictures and the inclusion of Scottish churches. In addition I wonder why some churches warrant the inclusion of more than one photograph when so many have no picture at all.
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VINE VOICEon 26 August 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was really surprised when this book arrived - it is really heavy! When I unpacked it I found out why. There are nearly 900 pages packed full with informative text, great photographs and useful maps. This is a reference work to dip into if you are inclined (as I am) to visit churches of architectural magnificence. It helps with my own locale and with areas I might visit. The only reason it doesn't receive 5 stars from me is that despite its quality and the extensive coverage, I would have like pictures of all the churches (even if these were small thumbnails).
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VINE VOICEon 26 July 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
You don't have to be religious to enjoy the beauty of churches, this country is sprinkled with some lovely old ones, the question is, just where can they be found, well this updated edition tells you. There are plenty of county maps with the places marked, showing where they are all situated. This arm breaking tome is absolutely full of wonderful, breathtaking, glossy photograph's depicting the best of these churches, both inside and out. Not every church has an accompanying photo, but there are short descriptions of each. There is a very good introduction from John Betjeman at the beginning, which is very helpful historically and also a glossary at the back. You woudn't want to lug this book about with you on your sightseeing tours, much too cumbersome, but there is a helpful information page describing how to locate them all with OS coordinates, sat navs and Google etc. This tome is best enjoyed as a book to dip into and savour, it is a sumptious and delightful way of passing the time if you are interested in these beautiful old buildings that grace the countryside of Britain.
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