Naughty Nuns and Great Expectations

29 Mar 2011


The tiny church in Warwickshire where Shakespeare may have got married, a Buckinghamshire church with a wall painting featuring a headless St George, and the church in Imber village in the Army’s training area on Salisbury Plain are just some of our unusual and enchanting historic churches that will be opening their doors to visitors this Easter.

Our Chairman, Loyd Grossman said: 'Our Easter openings offer a chance to rediscover and enjoy these ancient, special places. Not only are they national treasures they are also important community assets which can provide free spaces for everyone to enjoy and use. By encouraging people to enjoy and make use of historic churches, putting them back at the heart of community life, we will ensure their survival for future generations.'

Easter openings provide an opportunity for local people to explore and enjoy these ancient buildings, including those such as Imber which can only be seen on special occasions, and discover how they can be used by communities today.

Highlights from the Easter openings

St Giles’, Imber (Wiltshire)

The 13th-century church that once served the village which now forms part of the Army training ground on Salisbury Plain. Special access to the public: Good Friday: 1pm-4pm; Easter Saturday: 10am-4pm; Sunday 11am-5pm; Easter Monday 10am-4pm.

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All Saints', Billesley, (Warwickshire)

Recent research suggests that All Saints' may be where Shakespeare got married in 1582. Recently reopened following major repairs, this tiny church, set in a wooded churchyard, dates back to the 11th-century.

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St Mary’s, Higham, (Kent)

St Mary’s served the village where Dickens lived and worked in later life. His second daughter, Kate, was married to the brother of Victorian author Wilkie Collins in the church. Standing opposite was a Benedictine Nunnery whose residents are locally known as the ‘naughty nuns’ due to their notorious reputation, which was only enhanced by the arrival in 1508 of Higham’s new vicar, Edward Steroper, who caused two of them to become pregnant.

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St James, Cooling, (Kent)

Another Dickens connection - set in a desolate position, with marshes stretching north to the Thames estuary, St James’ is believed to have provided inspiration for the setting for Pip’s encounter with the convict Magwitch in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

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St Lawrence, Broughton (Buckinghamshire)

Hidden within the outskirts of Milton Keynes, this church is brimming with exquisitely detailed Medieval wallpaintings. Most notable is the image of St George killing the dragon - St George has been headless since the ceiling was lowered in the 15th-century.

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St Werburgh, Warburton, (Greater Manchester)

A survivor of plague, famine, politics and war, this evocative church is now a haven of peace between the river and the ship canal. The fabulous interior, visibly changed by the ages, includes Jacobean woodwork. (Not open on Good Friday)

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St Swithun’s, Worcester (Worcestershire)

Will be holding a special service of readings and music for Eastertide on Saturday 30 April. This is a chance to soak up the atmosphere of an almost unaltered example of early Georgian church architecture and hear the sonorous tones of the recently restored 1795 Gray brothers organ – a sleeping beauty awakened.

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All Saints, Cambridge (Cambridgeshire)

Standing opposite the gates of Jesus College, All Saints' is notable as much for its majestic interior as for its soaring spire – a prominent Cambridge landmark. Designed by G F Bodley and built 1863-70, the church’s painted wall and ceiling decorations of remarkable scale and beauty were executed by the Leach Studio, Morris & Co and others. The fine glass in the east window is by Morris & Co to a design by Burne-Jones, Ford Maddox Brown and William Morris himself.

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Old St Stephen's, Fylingdales (North Yorkshire)

This church stands like a sentinel over looking s over Robin Hood’s Bay. At the west end of the church can be found the remains of the maiden’s garlands which used to hang from the ceiling until they decayed. These were traditionally carried in the funeral procession of a young unmarried girl. This practice has ancient roots and references to it can be found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet where the priest speaking of the dead Ophelia says: ‘Yet here she is allow’d her virgin crants; Her maiden strewments and the bringing home; Of bell and burial."" (Crants means garlands). The last occasion at Fylingdales was in 1859.

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All Saints', Saltfleetby (Lincolnshire)

The church is known as the leaning tower of Lincolnshire as its tall square tower leans dramatically away from nave below. Inside, it is furnished with a beautiful 15th-century carved screen. Close by and set in magnificent isolation is the huge early Medieval church of Skidbrooke St Botolph. It is bare, empty, mysterious and amazingly atmospheric. These two are some of the fourteen churches which are part of the new ArChWay Project, which aims to develop churches around Louth as a resource for local artists and arts groups and to open visitors’ eyes to the amazing original art - carvings, wall paintings and stained glass, within the buildings.

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All Saints, Little Somborne (Hampshire)

Close to rail and motorway access, yet still isolated, this tiny church is the burial place of WWI aviation pioneer Sir Thomas Sopwith (who also played in goal on the winning ice hockey squad during the first ever European championships on 1910).

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