A new campaign is being launched to highlight the beauty and history of the churches of Northamptonshire.
2018: The Year of Northamptonshire Churches is aiming to celebrate the historic churches of the county, and to inspire local people and tourists to discover these unique and diverse places of worship.
The campaign has been funded by Allchurches Trust – one of the UK’s largest grant-making trusts – and is being run by ‘Northamptonshire: Britain’s Best Surprise’ – an initiative launched in 2017 to promote tourism in the area, as well as to strengthen the county’s local economy and communities. Last year the focus was on the Year of the Northamptonshire Country House, but in 2018 it is switching to that of the county’s churches.
Kate Dent, PR for the Campaign, states that “Northamptonshire is blessed with an extraordinary number of remarkable and beautiful church buildings in its villages and towns. From Brixworth – the largest remaining 9th century church of its type in Europe – to Ninian Comper’s 20th century masterpiece of St Mary’s in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire boasts some of the most glorious churches in England in every architectural style: gothic, baroque, renaissance and Victorian.”
“Its churches are also rich in history. Royal Fotheringhay is associated with Richard III and Mary, Queen of Scots … and Ashby St Ledger with the Gunpowder Plot.”
2018: The Year of Northamptonshire Churches is being presented to the public on Tuesday 27th March at another historical location – St Mary’s Church in Great Brington, where the great-great-great grandfather of George Washington is buried. The campaign will be launched by Earl Spencer, the Reverend Richard Coles, James Lowther – Chairman of M&C Saatchi – and Simon Jenkins – author of England’s Thousand Best Churches – who says that “Northampton’s churches are among the finest in the land”.
Another figure launching the event will be James Miller – Deputy Lieutenant of Northamptonshire – who has written detailed descriptions of 100 of the county’s most stunning and historic churches on the ‘Northamptonshire: Britain’s Best Surprise’ website. This site (http://www.northamptonshiresurprise.com/year-of-the-churches/) also highlights a number of unique church trails in the area – from ‘Sculpture’ and ‘Stained Glass’ to the area’s links with the USA (‘Americans in Churches’). The website will also provide an opportunity for any church in the county to register and advertise events on there for free.
For James Miller, the campaign is long overdue. “If such churches were in Tuscany, tourists would beat a track to their doors,” he says. Reverend Richard Coles is also happy to give his full support, stating that “Northamptonshire’s spires are the finest in England – from the showpieces of Kings Sutton and Higham Ferrers to the solid broaches of Ringstead and Broughton”. Earl Spencer – “a man who is so proud of this underappreciated county” – agrees with him: “Northamptonshire is a gem of a county, with a rich heritage that, frankly, demands to be celebrated … the glorious churches scattered through Northamptonshire are a match for anywhere in England”.
It is also hoped that the campaign will encourage more volunteers to come forward to help care for the county’s churches – and James Lowther believes that 2018: The Year of Northamptonshire Churches will signal the start of a true renaissance for the area. “Last year we showed that our historic houses are the finest in the country. This year, we demonstrate, beyond contradiction, that our churches are equally extraordinary and exceptional,” he says. “And we’ve only just begun. We will continue to reveal our hidden treasures, until no-one is in any doubt that Northamptonshire is a jewel in the country’s crown that cannot be missed. Truly Britain’s Best Surprise!”
But as the Reverend Stephen Trott, Rural Dean of Brixworth, states, there is also a higher purpose for such a campaign: “The more these extraordinary places are visited, the more visitors (will) discover a place where prayer has been valid – a place where it is still right to pray, to worship, and to experience the presence of God – either alone or in company with a congregation celebrating God’s goodness. The building itself provides a bridge between the secular outside and the sacred within”.
For more information on 2018: The Year of Northamptonshire Churches, please visit http://www.northamptonshiresurprise.com/year-of-the-churches/.