Simon Jenkins,Paul Barker, England's Thousand Best Churches Review

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ah56's review of Simon Jenkins,Paul Barker, England's Thousand Best Churches


Simon Jenkins,Paul Barker, England's Thousand Best...

Written on: 07/01/2005 by ah56 (1 review written)

Good Points
Informs you about many, many churches you wouldn't otherwise have known about; provides large amounts of knowledgeable and erudite information about them; provides an engaging challenge to see how many you can visit! Beautifully produced by the publishers, with excellent page layout, design; very good photographs; good summary maps.

Bad Points
Some absolutely glaring omissions considering the book purports to name the thousand best churches in England; a number of historical and factual errors; some of the entries end anticlimatically on some minor, semi-relevant point.

General Comments
Simon Jenkins,Paul Barker, England's Thousand Best Churches - This is, overall, an outstanding book. It provides a very impressive account of a thousand of the best churches in England. Without this book, I would not even have been aware of most of them, despite my love of medieval churches.

Jenkins obviously knows his stuff. He writes in a manner which is knowledgeable and erudite, yet accessible to the non-specialist. There is a wealth of fascinating detail, and a wealth too of often well-argued, pithy viewpoints.

Unfortunately, there is a serious flaw. The astute amongst you will have noted that above I praised it for giving a thousand of the best English churches. However, it purports to do more than that: it purports to give the thousand best. And this it plainly doesn't do.

How could Jenkins have missed out Pickering [North Yorkshire] and Duxford [Cambridgeshire] which both have some of the best medieval wall paintings in the country? Any true list of the thousand best would have included them. And what about the lovely Norman church at Eglington [Northumberland]? (Indeed, Jenkins seems to severely underrate Northumberland as a county, judging from the paucity of entries there).

There are other major omissions. No place is found for St Denys' church, York, despite the excellent medieval stained glass there. Nor is there a mention of Cheddar church [Somerset] with its splendid medieval roof and its outstanding medieval pulpit. The list of unfair omissions goes on and on.

And, indeed, it would be fair to say that several of those included seem to be a little out of their depth. Goathurst [Somerset], Downholme [North Yorkshire] and St, Margaret's, Lothbury [City of London] are all nice churches, but are they among the thousand best in the country? This reviewer, for one, thinks not.

Another flaw is the historical and factual errors which creep in: the book would have benefited from a good sub-editor/proof reader. Thus, Henry VI was not killed when he was deposed in 1461, but only a decade later; the tower at All Saints Pavement [York] is not medieval but a nineteenth-century copy; Adel is officially inside the Leeds city boundary and not outside it; and so on.

However, the undoubted merits of the book are further boosted by the superb treatment by the publishers: excellent page layout, font, and design, together with first-class photographs included in abundance.

Finally, of course, the book provides list chasers such as myself the opportunity to see how many of the 1000 churches we can visit over the years. A worthy challenge indeed!

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