TRAVEL AND HERITAGE NEWS
New data reveals the nation's 'five star churches' and top counties for church heritage
Cumbria is best for national history - Norfolk for church interiors - Suffolk for stained glass - Cornwall for wildlife spotting - London for ‘five-star churches’
Study by Explorechurches.org features 2,000 churches across 77 counties
Data shows what is special about church heritage in different regions and puts our churches firmly on the map as major tourist attractions
England’s ‘five-star churches’ and the best counties to explore historic churches have been revealed, following an analysis of 2,000 churches by church tourism website explorechurches.org.
Churches were analysed across eight different categories; interiors, stained glass, churchyards, atmosphere, wildlife, national history, monuments and social history. The counties that are home to the highest percentage of churches in each of these categories are revealed to provide hotspots for church tourism. Visitor facilities were also examined to determine, for the first time, the county that has the highest percentage of ‘five-star churches’, and therefore offering the best overall visitor experience.
The analysis follows the National Churches Trust’s poll of 2,037 British people, conducted by ComRes in September 2018, which shows 49 percent of British people visited a church in the last year.
Top reasons for visiting a church building, chapel, or meeting house were: to attend a life event, such as a wedding, funeral or baptism (24 percent); for tourism (22 percent) for religious activity (11 percent).
Almost a quarter of British people said they would be more inclined to visit a church as a leisure activity or tourist attraction if there were better visitor friendly facilities (23 percent), with 20 percent saying they would visit for a cultural event such as a concert, performance or exhibition and 19 percent saying they would visit if they knew in advance that the door of the buildings was unlocked for visitors.
5 STAR CHURCHES
GREATER LONDON: MOST VISITOR FRIENDLY What makes a church ‘5 star’? Visitor-centred facilities such as parking, refreshment and toilets have been deemed as key features of a 5 star church. Bringing churches closer in line with other major tourist and leisure attractions, this rating helps visitors know what to expect if planning a visit, from a practical point of view.
Greater London scores the highest when it comes to visitor experience, with more than half (56 percent) of churches included in the study being accessible by public transport and providing parking, refreshments and toilets. Yorkshire was the second most visitor friendly (49 percent), followed by Surrey (38 percent). Churches in this category are commended for smoothly combining historically rich surroundings with modern day facilities.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
NORFOLK: TOP FOR INTERIORS Norfolk is joint first with Shropshire for the county with the highest percentage of churches with stunning interiors; including furniture, embroidered altar cloths, art, sculptures, carvings in wood and stone and ancient and modern wall and ceiling paintings. Nearly all (96 percent) of its churches are recognised for their interior features, followed by Somerset (94 percent), and Oxfordshire (93 percent).
SUFFOLK: STUNNING FOR STAINED GLASS Suffolk joins Cornwall and Cumbria in the top three counties in England for stained glass windows, with 72 percent of its churches, the highest in the country, being recognised for the people they depict, the stories they tell and their famous designers from pre-Raphaelites to modern day artists.
WILDLIFE / CHURCHYARDS / ATMOSPHERE
CORNWALL: WONDERFUL FOR WILDLIFE Cornwall is the top place for discovering wildlife in church grounds, with almost half (49 percent) of its churches either having wildflower meadows, unmown areas of the churchyard to encourage native species or being recognized as sites of special scientific interest. Lincolnshire is the second-best county (48 percent) for its wildlife friendly churches followed by Cumbria (42 percent).
SHROPSHIRE: MOST CHARMING CHURCHYARDS Shropshire is the top county for exploring churchyards with 96 percent listing them as significant features, followed by Warwickshire (84 per cent) and Somerset (82 percent). Its churchyards are considered keepers of community heritage; a rich resource for seeking out family history and other historic information from gravestones.
CUMBRIA: AMAZING ATMOSPHERE Cumbria has the highest percentage of churches offering ‘atmospheric’ or ‘other-wordly’ surroundings (78 percent), followed by Cornwall, which is the second best county (69 percent). Often small and rural, these churches are sometimes referred to as the ‘thin places,’ a term used by Celts and Christians.
CUMBRIA: BEST FOR NATIONAL HISTORY Cumbria is the top county for churches with links to our national heritage with over half (54 percent) stating a famous connection or association with a national event, followed closely by Greater London which reported 53 per cent of its churches had national links.
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE: MARVELOUS MONUMENTS Northamptonshire has the highest percentage of church monuments (77 percent), followed by Warwickshire (66 per cent), Shropshire (61 per cent), and Suffolk (59 percent). It is recognised for being home to both large, detailed and glorious monuments, as well as those that are quirky and unique. Monuments include architectural or sculptural memorials made to remember individuals and historic events and often display fine stone carving and other artistic characteristics.
NORFOLK: SOCIAL HISTORY HOTSPOT Norfolk has the highest percentage of churches, both old or new, which 63 percent considered keepers of community history, with links to stories about people, activities and events throughout the years. Cumbria and Greater London follow closely with 61 percent of its churches revealing more about our social history.