Book Review: ‘Cathedrals of Britain: North of England & Scotland’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Cathedrals of Britain: North of England & Scotland

Editor: Bernadette Fallon

No. of Pages: 122

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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In her introduction to this volume, the author observes that ‘Cathedrals provide a continuous link to the living past…They are places of worship and prayer…but also…they are places to stand and stare and marvel’. It is a fair assessment of the book’s content.

An Acknowledgments section is placed after the Contents page. In it the author thanks ‘…Everybody who generously gave their time, experience and support to this book’, before listing the individuals and organisations who contributed to the volume. An eight-page Introduction follows. This provides historical and ecclesiastical background to the material contained within the eight Chapters which form the majority of the volume. Each Chapter focuses on one specific cathedral. Within the specific Chapter, subheadings are used to provide details about the specific structure and to highlight various little ‘oddities’ which are unique to the edifice. Although the volume is nominally about a specific structure, at the end of each chapter a ‘…Where to go and what to do’ section appears. This provides additional information about the surrounding district and of any attractions which might be of interest to a visitor. A Glossary placed after the last Chapter (Number Eight: Aberdeen) clarifies the various ecclesiastical, architectural and historical terms which appear within the volume. It is in turn followed by a section titled Further Reading. In the absence of a designated Bibliography, this appears to function in that role. An Index completes the volume. Black and White photographs from a variety of sources are used to illustrate salient points within each Chapter. The Contents page and the Index carry no acknowledgement of their existence. The volume contains no Maps, a detail which could reduce its value to intending ‘Day Trippers’ and to international visitors unfamiliar with both British geography and public transport systems. Although the volume contains numerous Quotes (that by George Cavendish on page 65 being but one example), these are not referenced, reducing the volume’s value as an  historical source.

The author concludes her Introduction to this work with the words ‘Let us take you on a marvellous journey…’ As an invitation it has no peer and (the previously-noted ‘faults’ notwithstanding), for this reviewer the ‘journey’ was indeed ‘marvellous’. This is a delightful, well-written and easily-readable volume. It is definitely ‘Enjoyable’. For that the author is to be commended.

Due to its subject and the accessibility of the structures discussed within it, this volume should have wide appeal. Despite the lack of maps, the previously-mentioned ‘Day Tripping’ fraternity and international visitors could no doubt find it to be a useful souvenir of a visit or visits that they may have made to any of the Cathedrals that the volume mentions. Some might even care to use it as a ‘guide’ and attempt to ‘collect’ them all. Readers with an interest in ‘British’ architecture in general, and religious structures in particular, may also find it of interest. Readers interested in the more unusual aspects of British architecture and even folk-lore may also find it of interest. Due to the unusual items appearing within its pages, the volume may also be a useful reference book for pub-trivia quizzes. Those seeking a ‘fun’ read on a wet afternoon could also do worse than give this volume their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent: I have given this volume an 8.

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Book Review: ‘Cathedrals of Britain: North of England & Scotland’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train

Editor: Murray Naylor

No. of Pages: 215

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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In the motor-vehicle dominated Twenty-first Century, the idea of travelling by train to a location with the expressed intention of viewing a Church is, for many people, ludicrous and ‘So Nineteenth Century’. No-one does that anymore; the motor vehicle is so much faster. For many, trains are ‘quaint’ and only to be used to commute to and from work.  Murray Naylor begs to differ.

In this well written and very-readable volume, the reader is taken through the length and breadth of England in pursuit of Church of England (Anglican) churches large and small. There are approximately 16000 such establishments within England’s borders, and of these the author has chosen thirty-two. In choosing these, he states ‘Some are great abbeys or priories…while others are…of no particular distinction but which provided a special interest for me’. To be chosen however, these churches had to fit certain specific criteria. The author wanted to use London as his base and, through the use of standard, scheduled railway services, make rail journeys over as wide a spread of England as he could. He also wanted to get to within 15 miles of each location by train, the remainder of the journey being made using either taxi or bus. With a single exception (that of Milton Abbey) these criteria were met, and the result is part railway narrative, part tourist guide, part history book and part picture book. When combined together the result is impressive.

An Acknowledgements section prefaces the book, with the author thanking those who assisted in its creation. This is followed by a Foreword by the Bishop of Carlisle, then a six-page List of Illustrations. A Summary of Railway Notes section then uses a single sentence format to précis the larger Railway Notes sections which appear within each chapter. An Author’s Note following the Summary of Railway Notes details the reasons for the book’s creation. A Preface (subtitled The Dissolution) is next. This provides an historical background to the creation of the Church of England and the Monarchy’s role within it. Finally, a two-page section titled The Journey provides helpful rail-related information for any reader wishing to visit the churches described within the volume. These sections are in turn followed by the 16 Chapters that comprise the main part of the book. These Chapters replicate England’s geographical regions (South East, Yorkshire, East Midlands etc.). Each Chapter is prefaced by a section titled Getting There. This provides clear rail-based instructions for a reader to reach the locations described within that Chapter. This section is followed by a Railway Notes section in which the author gives a ‘Presentation of information appropriate to railways…’  Sometimes a second Railway Notes section is also placed at the chapter’s end. The individual regions are subdivided into counties (Devon, Northumberland, Suffolk etc.). The chosen church or churches within that county are then described.

At the start of each descriptive section, two short passages précis the structure’s importance, physical location or other salient detail, together with its ‘Points of Note’ (windows, arches etc.). A more detailed description and history then follows.  An Epilogue is placed after the Chapters. Within it the author muses about the future of both the Churches within the book and the national railway network. A one-page Bibliography follows with an Index completing the volume. For unknown reasons, a map and an advertisement for the volume’s companion work are placed after the Index. Numerous colour photographs are provided, together with a small number of black and white images. Clear, well drawn, and easily interpreted maps appear throughout the work.

This reviewer’s only criticism of this book concerns the absence of a Glossary. As not every reader will be English, Anglican or an Architect, providing a list of the various Architectural and ‘Church’ terms used throughout the volume would have been helpful.

It is probable this volume will have wide appeal. At its simplest, and as an informative Tour Guide, it will appeal to the ‘Day Tripper’ with an interest in English history, who wants to travel by train and to see something different. Historians with an interest in Mediaeval and Tudor England, the English Monarchy and the evolution of the Church of England are likely to find this volume of interest. Architectural Historians may also find it of use. Those readers with a more general interest in the Kings of England, their times and tragedies may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 9.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’