Newly published by Pen & Sword books, England’s Historic Churches by Train by Murray Naylor recounts the history and describes the principal features of thirty-two of England’s most beautiful ancient churches, and indicates how they can be reached by rail. The journeys take in the great medieval abbeys at Tewkesbury, Selby and Hexham; the less well-known priories at Cartmel and Great Malvern, and other grand churches severely reduced after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, notably at Bridlington and Christchurch; Boston’s iconic ‘Stump’, the starting point for many emigrants to America in the 17th Century; the crooked-spired church at Chesterfield; and many more. In parallel, Mr Naylor offers his observations on how the railways have developed since the early 1800s and how they might develop in the future.

England’s Historic Churches by Train is the sequel to Murray Naylor’s England’s Cathedrals by Train. Both books are available from the Pen & Sword website.

Here, Murray Naylor describes ten of his favourite churches for ChurchDays.

Holy Trinity, Long Melford, Suffolk

Set deep in rural Suffolk close to where Constable painted many of his landscapes, Holy Trinity Church epitomises the manner in which local families, grown prosperous on wool trading, first developed and then maintained their local churches. The present building, completed in 1496, contains family chapels and chantries and the care lavished on the building by dynastic involvement is readily apparent. The visitor can discover several interesting features: in the north aisle a tiny section of glass depicting three hares each with two ears but with only three between them said to signify the Holy Trinity. Close by is a window showing a Duchess of Norfolk, said to be the image used for the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland. The Lady Chapel at the east end, a feature more usually associated with cathedrals, is highly praised for its construction.

 Holy Trinity Church is open between 10am and 6pm.

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Selby Abbey, North Yorkshire

Selby Abbey has probably suffered more disasters than most of its contemporary churches in its eight hundred years. Whether or not the abbey participated in the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace uprising against Henry VIII, it was nonetheless dissolved two years later to become a parish church. Later the civil war of 1642 brought further upheaval while a partial tower collapse in 1690 and a fire in 1906 which gutted much of the interior, caused further problems. Today, lovingly maintained the church contains a number of features of interest including the Norman pillars in the nave, reference in the quire to the Abbey’s High Stewards, an ancient office recently re-introduced, and a window in the south transept recording the original grant of land for the abbey in 1069, showing, amongst others, William the Conqueror and Queen Matilda. 

The Abbey is open to visitors daily from 9am-4pm, there is a coffee shop on site and the Abbey holds various events throughout the year.

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Beverley Minster, East Riding of Yorkshire

Dominating the flat East Yorkshire country the Minster is thought by many to be the most celebrated non-cathedral church in England. Started in the thirteenth century from the east end with the chancel and the transepts built first, the nave and west end followed early in the next century. There is so much to see – the ‘musical figures’ on the nave pillars; the plaque commemorating St John of Beverley; the Snetzler organ, the Percy family tombs by the high altar and the Revd John Coltman’s chair – all contained in this most magnificent church. The great religious buildings of North East England – including York, Ripon, Beverley and Southwell – all prospered under the patronage of the archbishops of York in the first centuries of the second millennium.

The Minster is open most days, but visitors should check the website to make sure. Members of staff are almost always avaliable to answer questions, and there is a shop on site.

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St Paul, Jarrow, Tyne and Wear

One of Christianity’s most acclaimed shrines with close links to the Venerable Bede, a devout man of great learning who wrote books of biblical commentary detailing the lives of the early saints. The original church was dedicated in 685 and the dedication stone is mounted above the chancel arch. The middle window on the south side of the chancel is thought to be the oldest Saxon stained glass in Europe although it may originally have been cast for the monks’ refectory. Surrounded by the ruins of earlier monastic buildings and situated within sight and sound of the industries bordering the nearby river Tyne, St Paul’s is an oasis of calm in an otherwise frenetic world. Its simplicity and history speak for themselves.

The church is open Monday-Saturday from 11am-3pm, all visitors are welcome.

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Cartmel Priory, Cumbria

The area immediately to the north of Morecambe Bay was the focus for many attacks by Scots raiding parties early in the fourteenth century. The Norman priory at Cartmel, constructed mainly in the early years of the previous century, was often disrupted by such attacks, while Henry VIII’s Reformation later reduced the priory to today’s church and a gate house, now the local museum. A unique feature is the positioning of the belfry which, when constructed, was placed diagonally to the base of the tower. William Marshall, a man of humble origins, later to become Earl Marshall of England and an adviser to several Plantagenet kings, is still commemorated in
the church. (Picture courtesy of Alexander P Kapp, Creative Commons License) 

The church is open from 9am to 5:30pm. Admission is free, but a guided tour is available for a small fee.

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Great Malvern Priory, Worcestershire

The priory stands half way up the east side of the Malvern Hills and dominates all around it. Whether viewed from outside or from within it presents a most pleasing spectacle. A first priory was recorded in 1085 but today’s church was developed around 1440; however, those who built it had little time to enjoy the results before the purges of Henry VIII’s Reformation early in the next century. Look for the masons’ marks scratched on some of the nave columns, the squints in the west window which allowed those unable to enter the church to observe what was happening and a wonderfully expressive misericord in the quire stalls showing a woman having her boots removed by her husband!

Services are held every day, and the church welcomes visitors to services and to explore the church from 9am-5pm.

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Bath Abbey, Bath

A place of worship for a thousand years which has in its time been a cathedral and an abbey and which today is a magnificent parish church. Bath’s history stretches back to the Romans and today’s church reflects many of the historical events which have taken place there since. Look for the vaulted roof, the west end facade which includes angels climbing ladders to heaven, the window in St Alphege’s chapel showing the crowning of King Edgar (picture to the right), the first king of a partly united England in 973 and, following damage in 1942, four modern statues by the east window depicting the men in whose time occurred the most important historical events in the life of this great church.

The Abbey is open for visitors every day, and donations are welcome.

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Wimborne Minster, Dorset

An Anglican church still styling itself a Minster, the Norman church at Wimborne has several interesting features: a western and a central tower, a tomb placed inside a wall and a Grenadier ‘quarter jack’ which emerges every quarter hour to strike two bells. In 1318 Edward II declared the church to be a Royal Peculiar absolving it from diocesan control and placing it under the authority of the Crown. This order was rescinded in 1846 but today the church is overseen by twelve governors who choose the rector. The quire stalls include a number of misericord tip up seats which allowed monks required to stand for long periods during worship, to surreptitiously rest their limbs. The Rector’s stall is carved with a fine image of a ‘Green Man’.

The Minster is open to the public on Mondays-Saturdays from 9:30am to 5:30pm, and on Sundays for morning service and in the afternoon from 2:30pm-5:30pm.

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St Cross, Winchester, Hampshire

The church and alms house at St Cross are situated adjacent to the river Itchen just to the south of Winchester. The original Hospital of St Cross was founded by Henry of Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror around 1132 and is probably England’s oldest charitable institution. Today the hospital accommodates twenty-five brothers who process to church wearing robes and floppy ‘trencher’ hats. The church, covering several architectural periods, is beautifully proportioned and well described although there is no guidebook. There has been speculation that St Cross might have provided the idea for Trollope’s book The Warden. (Picture
courtesy of Jim Champion, Creative Commons License)

It is a privite site, but visitors are welcome and tickets can be obtained from the Porter's Lodge.

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St Botolph, Boston, Lincolnshire

Amongst the largest of parish churches in England with one of the tallest towers, St Botolph’s – affectionately known as ‘The Stump’ - has always been a beacon for those travelling the Lincolnshire Fens or sailing the treacherous waters of the Wash. St Botolph is thought to have founded a church in Boston in the seventh century while the present building was begun in 1309. The early seventeenth century saw the emigration of any Bostonians to America and a window in the north aisle records the Revd John Cotton bidding farewell to those about to leave for Massachusetts; he himself followed in 1633. The interior is light and airy and includes many interesting features including explanations as to why the church is allegedly ‘built on wool’ and the coincidence of series of familiar numbers in everyday use, which crop up in the church’s statistics.

The church is open Monday-Saturday 8:30am-4pm, and from 7:30am on Sundays. Visitors are able to climb 'The Stump' during the tower experience tour.

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