The Year of Northamptonshire Churches has been launched by Earl Spencer and Reverend Richard Coles to drive more visitors and increase the recruitment of church volunteers.
The campaign is the brainchild of the ‘Northamptonshire: Britain’s Best Surprise‘ campaign, an initiative launched in 2017 to promote the county.
The tourism drive, which hopes to put the county’s top 100 churches on the map, was launched yesterday (Tuesday, March 27) at St Mary’s Church in Great Brington.
Lord Spencer told the Chronicle & Echo that he is always passionate about getting behind Northamptonshire. “It’s very important to me that people know about this place because there are so many people that just drift through Northamptonshire, whether it’s on the motorway or by train, but we have so much to offer to people when they come and visit here. It really is at the heart of England and it’s got so many things.
“Particularly, today we are celebrating churches and I didn’t know before this campaign started quite how many fantastic churches we have - those with stories, with great architecture contain great pieces of art. These are village meeting points, you know, but they’re worth much more than that.
“They are a part of our collective memory as a county and I think it’s wonderful that they are being shared more openly with the public.”
Bosses behind the campaign, who also include Deputy Lieutenants, James Lowther and James Miller, hope to create a lasting legacy and have created a website containing an online treasury of descriptions for 100 churches as well as visitor information, details of worship and services - and it is hoped that more volunteers will be recruited to help care for the county’s churches over the longer term.
Upon asking whether the church has always played in his life, Lord Spencer said: “I’m not an intensely religious person but I believe the church is fundamental to every community really and they still matter enormously emotionally, I think, to people who live around them.
“Each village knows it’s own church whether it’s just from the outside, but we are trying to do with this campaign is open them up so people can appreciate the county of Northamptonshire through it’s most historic buildings.
Its Year of Churches builds on last year’s focus on historic houses, which attracted increased visitor numbers to historic houses countywide against a backdrop of declining numbers elsewhere in the country.
He said communities should try and save them from disrepair. “I think a lot of churches have disappeared, in fact in the next door village here in Little Brington the church has gone, there’s just a spire left.
“And now, I think every community has a duty to try and preserve these churches because they’ve meant so much to past generations for hundreds of years.”
Speakers on the day talked highly of county churches boasting an array of architectural styles, including gothic, baroque, renaissance and Victorian.
Reverend Richard Coles vicar of Finedon said: “Northamptonshire, traditionally the county of squires and spires, may be low on squires nowadays (though there are a few), but its spires endure, the finest in England, from the showpieces of Kings Sutton and Higham Ferrers to the solid broaches of Ringstead and Broughton.
“The towers aren’t bad either, think of Earls Barton’s Saxon strapwork and Titchmarsh’s perpendicular splendour. And the churches they dignify are stuffed with treasures, from the Greene tombs at Lowick to the soaring neo-Gothic of Comper at Wellingborough.
“As the temporary custodian of one of the county’s finest churches I commend them all, in their variety and loveliness.”
For more information, visit: www.northamptonshiresurprise.com