FOR the novelist Jilly Cooper, it is All Saints', Bisley, in
Gloucestershire, built from "Labrador-yellow Cotswold stone", and
with a spire that guided bomber pilots back home during the Second
For Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, it is St Mary
Magdalene's, Doncaster, said to be the church where Robin Hood and
Maid Marian, fellow believers in redistribution, were married.
For Sir Patrick Stewart, the actor, it is Holy Trinity,
Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's resting place, where he finds
"comfort, calm, and inspiration".
Sixty prominent public figures were asked to mark the 60th
anniversary of the National Churches Trust (NCT) by naming their
favourite church; and their choices were revealed on Tuesday at an
event held in St Bride's, Fleet Street, in London. As well as
celebrating the Trust's anniversary, the wide-ranging list showed
how strong a place the UK's 47,000 churches, chapels, and meeting
houses have in the life of the nation.
Many of the 60 mentioned that a particular church had played an
important part in the life of their family. The Prime Minister,
David Cameron, chose All Saints', Spelsbury, where his son, Ivan,
was baptised (Ivan died in 2009, aged six).
The Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist
Church, chose Otley Methodist Church, West Yorkshire, which
received him after his conversion as a "raw" teenager. Libby
Purves, the journalist and broadcaster, described St Peter's,
Westleton, in Suffolk ("it has a beautiful, white bareness about
it, like an upturned boat"), where her son's funeral was held:
"extraordinarily beautiful, in spite of everything".
Others shared discoveries about the history of their favourite
church, or legends attached to it: the choristers at Holy Trinity,
Cookham, claims the comedian Timmy Mallett, say they can smell an
anchoress who was bricked into her cell there for 12 years to pray
for Henry II.
Jilly Cooper revealed that Thomas Keble, the parish priest of
All Saints', Bisley, pulled down the staircases that enabled rich
families to ascend to the gallery without mixing with the workers
Two Quaker meeting houses were nominated. Professor Dame Jocelyn
Bell Burnell, an astrophysicist, chose Brigflatts Friends Meeting
House in Cumbria, built in 1674. It reminded her, she said, of
lines from T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets ("You are not here
to verify. . . "). The broadcaster Huw Edwards held that, "in a
sane world", Capel Als Chapel in Llanelli - "a great example of the
confident, ambitious, high-quality chapel designs which typified
the late Victorian period" - would be granted the highest listed
A large number of the churches nominated were in London: both
Joanna Lumley and Giles Coren chose St Bride's, Fleet Street.
Suffolk was also popular: the writer Emma Freud said that Holy
Trinity, Blythburgh, inspired the Blessing of the Animals service
in The Vicar of Dibley.
Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, chose St
Endellion in North Cornwall: "The mixture of rock and space always
gives me the feeling of sea-light, of something wide, ungraspable;
very much a North Cornwall and West Wales and West of Ireland
feeling, opening out on to a deep and broad horizon. An appropriate
sensation for a church, I think."
Since 1953, the National Churches Trust has made more than
12,000 grants and loans, worth more than £85 million in today's
money, to pay for urgent repairs and the installation of modern
facilities in places of worship.
A service celebrating the Trust's 60th anniversary will be held
at Westminster Abbey on 28 No- vember. If your church has received
either a National Churches Trust or a Historic Churches
Preservation Trust grant since 1953, please contact
email@example.com as the NCT would like a
representative of your church to attend.
Members of the public can nominate their own favourite church,
and see details of all 60 of the churches chosen, at www.favouritechurches.org.uk.