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From the archive: Roger Bannister runs to save England’s historic churches

06 March 2018

Sir Roger Bannister, the Olympic athlete, died on Saturday, aged 88. In the 1950s, he took part in a series of relays to raise money for the Historic Churches Preservation Trust. This report was published on the front page of the Church Times on 5 December, 1952

Runner up to the Archbishop: Olympic Games runner, Roger Bannister, arrives at St. Martin-in-the-Fields with the first gifts for the Historic Churches Preservation Trust. He presents them to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher

Runner up to the Archbishop: Olympic Games runner, Roger Bannister, arrives at St. Martin-in-the-Fields with the first gifts for the Historic Churches...

Athletes begin a ten years’ race to save England’s historic churches

The Historic Churches Preservation Trust appeal was inaugurated last Monday, when a relay of runners carried the first contributions from the Mansion House to St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The Archbishop of Canterbury was waiting to receive them.

The first runner was Mr. Hamilton Kerr, a Member of Parliament, who once represented Oxford in the half-mile. He received from the Lord. Mayor of London, Sir Rupert De la Bere, a red dispatch-box containing his gift. From the Mansion House the dispatchbox was taken to St. Mary-le-Bow, and then on to St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Bride’s, Fleet-street, St. Dunstan-in-the-West, St. Clement Danes, and St. Mary-le-Strand. Gifts on behalf of each of these churches were placed in the box as it changed hands.

Handbells and hooters

Five of the seven runners had represented Great Britain in the Olympic Games, one — Mr. Vernon Morgan — as long ago as 1928. Mr. Alan Pennington, who ran from St. Dunstan’s, Fleetstreet, was given a musical welcome at St. Clement Danes. Canon John Douglas’s renowned handbell ringers from St. Michael Royal, Dowgate Hill, were there to receive him.

The last runner, Mr. Roger Bannister, who competed in the fifteen-hundred metres race at Helsinki this year, ran the whole length of the Strand. Bus drivers “hooted” their encouragement; office workers and Christmas shoppers stood on the kerb-side, as interested spectators of a novel inauguration.

At the service in St. Martin’s, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that year by year Churchpeople had raised very large sums to preserve their churches; probably once in every generation every parish in the country had had to carry through a major work of costly repair. Then in 1939 the whole of this unceasing process stopped dead, and the ravages of time, weather, beetle and rot increased.

In the year 1948 it became possible to restart on a general scale the work of repair, and it at once became clear that this was more than a local problem. A careful and exhaustive scrutiny by a first-class committee, set up by the Church Assembly, found that to retrieve the loss of the war years, to overcome arrears and to establish these historic churches in good repair would require, over a period of ten years, a sum of £4,000,000. This was over and above what the parishes were doing for themselves. There were eight thousand churches over four hundred years old. Presuming that of the total of sixteen thousand churches in the country, only ten thousand could be called “ historic,” four million pounds meant, on an average, a grant of only £400 to each one of these churches.

The Primate strongly asserted that the appeal deserved to be answered not only by individuals, but by every kind of body and institution which represented the national life.

Awaiting judgment of posterity

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Simmonds) said that if Churchpeople tailed now in their object, that failure would be disastrous. A heavy responsibility lay on them all. “We are not slow to express grief and indignation at the profane manner in which our churches were mutilated in the sixteenth and, even more, in the seventeenth centuries; we are apt to condemn, perhaps too hastily, some of the later restoration which has disfigured noble buildings. But there are sins of omission just as there are sins of commission. If we, by our present neglect, allowed historic churches to fall into irretrievable ruin, then it is we whom the judgment of posterity will rightly condemn.”

£136,068 for a start

The total so far received or promised is £136,068. The Pilgrim Trust has decided to give £100,000 to the Trust in ten annual instalments of £ 10,000 each.

All contributions to the appeal fund should be sent to the Secretary, Historic Churches Preservation Trust, Fulham Palace, London, S.W.6.


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