I always promised myself that when I retired I would undertake several projects. One was to visit all the Anglican cathedrals in England and Wales and the second was to explore and photograph churches in my home county of Wiltshire. For four years I was unable to do either of these tasks as I was looking after my mother. Since 2005, my friend Mollie Mitford and I have driven around much of Wiltshire exploring country lanes and finding many church buildings hidden away from the motorist’s eyes. We have found the second smallest parish church in regular use in England, that’s at Fifield Bavant in South Wilts, and two of the three parish churches in England that have both a west tower and a crossing tower with a spire, those being at Purton and Wanborough, the third such church is situated in Ormskirk, Lancashire. I visited there last April, thus completing a clean sweep of those three unusual church buildings.
This Summer we set out to find and photograph more churches in preparation for my talk to the Society in November and in addition to those we found last year, which numbered 20 in total, we added a further 36 to the list. On one day alone we visited 8 churches, starting with Maiden Bradley, then moving on to Mere and enjoying lunch beside Kingston Deverell Parish Church. After lunch we drove to Longbridge Deverell, Sutton Veny, which has a very fine Victorian church plus the original church, now a ruin, followed by the Norman building at Tytherington, the collegiate church at Heytesbury and finishing the day at Bishopstrow, on the outskirts of Warminster.
Of course, not all churches are open, some remain firmly locked. Others, you can find the key resting beneath the front porch of the neighbouring house, such as at Old Dilton, near Westbury. The church at Old Dilton is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, an organisation that looks after over 300 places of worship in the country. Old Dilton retains its box pews and gallery plus a 2 decker pulpit and is well worth visiting. Leigh Delamere is another Wiltshire church looked after by the CCT, and it was that building which we visited, as a Society, last July. Out of 56 churches visited during the last 2 years, we have found only 10 locked, which is quite understandable in these days.
I have found that there always something of interest in each church visited. It may be the stained glass or an interesting tombstone in the churchyard or a particular architectural feature. I can honestly say there are few churches in this county I would consider to be ‘boring’. The Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust have published an excellent book entitled ‘Parish Churches of Wiltshire: A Guide’. This is an excellent publication giving a great deal of information and interesting details about all the parish churches to be found in the county and this book plus Nicholas Pevsner’s ‘The Buildings of England – Wiltshire’ have enabled me to enjoy driving around the county finding interesting towns and villages and their places of worship.