Several of you have mentioned to me an interest in more local history at the moment – particularly if daily walks have involved a stroll round the outside of a church. I must admit it helps if there are plenty of historic looking kings and queens decorating corbels etc. So with that in mind my post today is where to find information online about churches which suits me nicely as I am trying to put together a guide to my own parish church. Gardeners do not fear – I shall still be meandering through the history of garden plants.
First check to see if the church has its own website. If it does you may find that there is some information about the church in question freely available online. Usually I would say that checking to see whether the church has a guide is a good starting point but that will have to wait until the doors are open again. Of course, if you know a churchwarden or officer of the church they may be able to help as may local history groups who are usually keen to share their knowledge.
The Victoria County History (VCH) began in 1899 as a national project to write the history of every county in England. It is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to Queen Victoria. The idea was to create a complete history of each of county, looking at parishes and towns. Parts of various county histories are available online – my interest originated with the fact that the majority of medieval religious houses are covered by the VCH and are freely available at https://www.british-history.ac.uk which may also be a source of information about your parish church depending on its age and location. There are usually also copies of county histories in local libraries which isn’t very helpful at the moment.
Parish churches that aren’t medieval required an Act of Parliament or an Order in Council from the seventeenth century onwards. These may be searched for in the London Gazette: https://www.thegazette.co.uk – which has a very helpful search facility. In addition to that there is a search facility online for the Lambeth Palace Library https://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/searchcollections or you can try to find the plan of your church in their extensive collection for the Incorporated Church Building Society.
And that should be enough to get you started. I should warn you though that it won’t be long before you’re hooked!
Inevitably there are several books that you might consider – again I would usually suggest the library- at the moment many libraries are offering temporary online access to their e-materials even if you are not registered as they recognise that we may all be running out of reading matter:
Bettey, J H. (1987) Church and Parish: an introduction for local historians. Batsford.
Friar, Stephen. A Companion to the English Parish Church
Tate, W.E. The Parish Chest