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Trust that supports churches marks its 60th anniversary

19 July 2013


Cotswolds: choice of Jilly Cooper: All Saints', Bisley, Gloucestershire

Cotswolds: choice of Jilly Cooper: All Saints', Bisley, Gloucestershire

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 World War.

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 below.

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 status.

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 info@nationalchurchestrust.org 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.

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