Book Review: A Church Near You. An Introduction to Anglican Churches from Cumbria to Cornwall

OHCT Trustee Nicola Coldstream recommends to those who enjoy church crawling Denis Dunstone’s latest book  A Church Near You. An Introduction to Anglican Churches from Cumbria to Cornwall. 

A Church Near You. An Introduction to Anglican Churches from Cumbria to Cornwall. By Denis Dunstone

This book is a labour of love by Denis Dunstone, who has donated all the proceeds to the Churches Conservation Trust and the National Churches Trust in support of their work. Members of the latter will have read his article in the Trust’s Annual Review 2022-2023, complete with tips on how to order it.

Under lockdown conditions Dunstone visited and made colour sketches of churches in nineteen regions, from which he selected the buildings illustrated here. The Introduction clearly sets out the geographical and structural limits of what follows: he discusses Anglican churches built before 1700, covering only England and Monmouthshire, and concentrates on exterior views. He does not include interior fittings of any sort. The material is arranged thematically and to some extent chronologically, starting with very early churches before launching into towers, plans, what Dunstone calls enhancement, by which he means stylistic developments in the later middle ages, and then doorways. He finishes with a chapter titled ‘Casualties’, which encompasses examples of destruction by anything from the Reformation to the weather. Finally there is a useful index of the buildings shown. The text is accompanied by the most prominent and significant part of the book, which is Dunstone’s own delightful sketches.

Dunstone does not pretend to be authoritative – indeed, his assertion that a church exterior is a better guide to the history of a building than its interior is questionable to say the least – but his apparently rather haphazard organisation works well. You not only get a rough guide to architectural development rather on the I-Spy principle, but it puts full emphasis on the illustrations, which are mostly but not all in watercolour. Dunstone does not isolate a building but often sets it within the landscape of its churchyard, which provides atmospheric and effective context. His colouring if anything enhances the actual hue of a roof, tower or porch, but this enlivens the pages. The black-and-white sketches are equally striking, not to say covetable: I was particularly taken by a charming depiction of John Betjeman’s favourite church, Inglesham, just across the river from Lechlade. It evokes all the deceptive simplicity of the exterior (but inadvertently underlines the point that interiors are just as significant, as anyone knows who has visited Inglesham).

This is a book for browsing, enjoying and encouraging people to go church crawling. Dunstone could not have chosen a better way to help beleaguered buildings.

A Church Near You. An Introduction to Anglican Churches from Cumbria to Cornwall,  Denis Dunstone (Umbria Press) June 2023  ISBN -13 978-1-910074-45-9, Hardcover £19.39..

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