This article published in the Leicestershire Magazine March 2011
We probably pass one every day without a second look. They are usually the oldest structure in every village, town and city. They are supposed to be welcoming to visitors – but many are now locked and hardly used. They are of course our church buildings.
For Chris Jones from Littlethorpe they have become something of a passion and he has visited and photographed over 150 of the parish churches in Leicestershire & Rutland in the last fifteen months.
The original intention was to complete photography of just the exteriors but Chris quickly realized that the interiors should also be completed especially as so many were locked and they had some amazing interiors and monuments hidden inside.
With discussion with Leicester and Peterborough Diocese he began to complete the interiors and built a website so people can see these great buildings with text and Chris’s excellent photography. The site is now attracting over 1,000 visits a week, has been featured in the press and the photography has led to him setting up LeicesterPhoto Design where he now completes commercial photography and web design.
So why does Chris do it?
“I am not sure exactly when or why I had the idea of completing this, but once the idea had formed I did some research and found that no one had completed a thorough photographic journal of Leicestershire and Rutland’s churches to a detailed level and then put it all online. “
Once Chris had started he found that there were other individuals completing other counties throughout England and it was clear there was much interest out there for information on these buildings.
“The site has changed from its early start, I have now added much more information with nearby walks, PDF downloads, interactive maps and links to the Diocese and other organizations. Most importantly I do differentiate between those churches that are locked and those that are not. I want people to explore these churches as they are great places to visit with their history and architecture and also of course centres of religious life for the communities for centuries”
Chris does not agree with locked churches, and although he understands why people keep them locked he believes they should be open at the minimum every weekend;
“These are community buildings and should be open for local people and wider public to visit for whatever reason, a locked church is more likely to be broken into than one that is open – fact. Even the church insurers prefer their churches unlocked than locked.”
Chris of course has his favorite churches and updates the ‘Top Twenty’ once a year but what of his all time favorite church?
“The Top twenty I pick for their all round features and items of interest, but my favorite church is not listed as it is locked and it is the small church at Cranoe, it does not really have any great monuments, neither is it especially ancient but its setting on the side of a hill and its pretty appearance make up for that.”
Another favorite is Kings Norton with its Georgian interior and fantastic setting. So how does a church get added?
“Its very time consuming. Organising access to a few churches in one area takes considerable time, then there is the travel out, perhaps an hour taking the pictures and then the processing which can take two hours due to the techniques I use. Then there is the research for text which can take perhaps another 2 hours and then finally adding it to the website and creating the PDF probably another hour”.
With each church taking 7-8 hours and sometimes adding 2 churches per week it takes commitment to keep going.
“I have had to slow down on the updates lately as I have needed to concentrate on the commercial side and really put my energies on getting LeicesterPhoto up and running, but hopefully I can get back to two updates per week soon”.
As to financing the project his photographs have been purchased to be used in historical books, new home booklets and of course private individuals buying prints and calenders.
“The site is not there to generate an income, but any sales go to supporting the project which really has become a showcase for my work – without the church site the business side may never have started”
So what next for Chris and how long before all the churches in Leicestershire and Rutland are complete?
“I will have all of them photographed by 2012 so late 2012 the churches should all be online. I am looking at producing some booklets with other local organizations and once all the churches are completed a photo book. I was also involved with the ‘Treasures Unlocked’ project in 2010 with Leicester Diocese which hopefully will be going ahead again in 2011 ”.
Is there any message you want to give people about the churches and why they should visit?
“I hope that the site gives them the information to visit these churches for themselves and explore the local history all around them, some of them have fantastic stories and instead of travelling miles to visit a crowded English Heritage or National Trust site, just sit and relax in one of our wonderful local churches and admire the architecture, the amazing monuments and the local history that these buildings have to offer”.