Cataloguing and describing all artefacts, furnishings and fittings in a historic church is no quick job! Many churches are hundreds of years old and have gathered monuments, donations of books and all kinds of things, from candlesticks to old tablecloths throughout the centuries. Trying to pin point a creator, date of creation or even vague provenance for these things is hard work and often feels like a stab in the dark, due to lack of documentation and knowledge.
The Churches Conservation Trust has over 350 churches across England and is looking to create an up-to-date and consistent inventory for all the Chattels (including furniture and fittings) across the entirety of their sites. A daunting project! It had to start somewhere though and it was my job to complete a ‘pilot project’ for four churches in the North region of the CCT (with the full Nationwide project due to start in Summer 2017). The four churches were York: Holy Trinity, Harewood: All Saints, Allerton Mauleverer: St. Martin’s and Cowthorpe: St. Michael’s.
On the 4th December 2015 – a cold time of year to chose to spend a lot of time in churches without heating!! – Chloe Meredith the Churches Conservation Trust’s project manager came to York to brief a team of individuals ready to start the project, including Rachel Morley, Estate officer for the South East region of the CCT. Two placement students: Laura Saretsky and Georgina Pike, and two CCT volunteers: Frances Murray and Sam Hawksford-White, joined me in my enthusiasm to get stuck in and start the project rolling!
After an introduction to the spreadsheet, the importance of the project and to safe object handling techniques we were ready to start.
Please flick through this Flickr stream to see images of the team recording items in York: Holy Trinity and Harewood: All Saints and continue reading below for details on each church.
York: Holy Trinity church Goodramgate
This church, hidden away behind a row of medieval houses in the city of York, is famous for its box pews. It contains a total of 99 items which have been recorded in the Chattels database over four days
The church, unlike the other CCT churches on the pilot project receives over 60,000 visitors a year and has a constant volunteer presence and active friends group.
The most difficult things to tackle were the almost inaccessible monuments and benefaction boards, which were difficult to measure. In addition to this it was impossible to measure the bells as there are no steps!
It was lovely having visitors around while we worked and some of them showed an interest in what we were up to.
Harewood: All Saints
All Saints church is situated in the grounds of Harewood house. A very beautiful setting and large, spacious church. There were fewer artefacts and objects in this building but a lot more memorial plaques which all needed transcribing. A total of 68 objects were recorded over four days. No items were particularly challenging in this building to record but it was a difficult place to spend any length of time. There was nowhere to warm up, no loo and nowhere nearby for refreshments. Furthermore with Harewood house being closed for winter, access was quite difficult and we had to make sure we left the site before getting locked in!!!
Allerton Mauleverer: St. Martin’s
Visitors to this church will find it open throughout the year and whenever we visited we found more people had signed the book. An interesting building with fantastic artefacts inside, it sits in the grounds of Allerton Park. There were 66 items to record here and again there were inaccessible items on the walls and bells in the tower space. A clock mechanism was recorded on the original inventory but we did not get chance to locate this.
It took us three days to complete the inventory but would probably have taken two had we not forgotten the keys to the vestry on one occasion!!
Happily on one visit we met a lovely gentleman who really wanted to get into another church owned by the CCT (Leeds: St. John’s) which is unfortunately not open everyday. We managed to liaise and organise a time to be on site to open it at a time that suited him.
Cowthorpe: St. Michael’s
This was one of the most enjoyable churches to record due to the local key holders who made us feel very welcome, brought us hot drinks and refreshments while we worked and let us warm up and use the toilet in their cottage!! Brilliant people. Our thanks go out to Anthony and Val! Cowthorpe is opened daily by local key holders and receives many visitors.
There were 63 items in this church which were recorded over two days. Again the tower was not accessed due to inaccessibility, but there are three working bells up there which have recently been serviced.
Overall this project answered a lot of questions in terms of timescale and expense for the project. We had a few supplies to purchase and food to buy. After proper training, a thorough project plan and a larger team I would anticipate that each church could take three full days. Working in warmer weather would certainly help this timeframe!!
Investigating the churches and artefacts however opened our eyes to some objects which are suffering from poor preservation which can hopefully, with the help of the records be dealt with in the future.
After typing up the documents, my work is now complete. I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly and really miss getting out and about to the different churches. I’ll have to find a new project to occupy my time!