Anniversary guide project launched by Suffolk Historic Churches Trust

A 50th anniversary celebration project has brought together every available Suffolk church guide online and now free to view.

The Suffolk Historic Churches Trust, which was founded almost exactly 50 years ago in December 1973, has assembled as many of the guides to the county’s glorious legacy of churches as possible.

As part of the trust’s anniversary celebrations, it has brought together the guides on its website – Incidentally, it also includes a further link to the Round Tower Churches Society website – so raising the profile of the county’s 38 round tower churches.

“This is very exciting and has been a huge project,” said the trust’s Rachel Sloane. “As far as we have been able to confirm, we are the first county to have such an offering: every church guide online and available free to all,” she added.

The trust has tried to trace the authors of the church guides wherever possible. Finally we should pay tribute to those who took such painstaking care in their time to write these guides. Some of the authors were amateur antiquarians and many are eminent scholars. We salute you!

The Society was represented at a cathedral service to mark the Suffolk trust’s anniversary. The choral evensong on Sunday, September 17 at Bury St Edmunds included representatives of 300 churches across the county.

The Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Clare, Countess of Euston and the High Sheriff Mark Pendlington were among the guests. The Society’s chairman, Stuart Bowell, and membership secretary Nick Wiggin represented the Society. The Rt Rev Martin Seeley, who was installed as the 11th Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich in June 2015, addressed a packed cathedral.

Bishop Martin, who will also be the 2024 president of the Suffolk Show, was joined by Bishop Peter Collins, the Roman Catholic Bishop of East Anglia, and the Dean, the Very Rev Joe Hawes.

The service included a video message from Griff Rhys Jones and a special song, composed by Andy Rayner for the jubilee celebrations.

In the service booklet, the first 50 years of the trust was outlined. “The post-Second World War years were a tough time for church buildings and many churches in Suffolk had fallen into disrepair, sometimes to the point of ruination.” Canon Fitch, of Brandon, warned of the dilapidation of the county’s churches. At the same time, Hugh FitzRoy, 11th Duke of Grafton, and patron of the Suffolk Preservation Society, encouraged the foundation of a new body to help upkeep the county’s churches and chapels. In December 1973, the trust came into being.

Initially, local authorities were invited to help. In 1982, Judith Foord came up with the idea of the Bike Ride, which became a huge success and was later adopted throughout the country. Today, the Ride & Strike raises around £200,000 in one day – half to the local church and the balance to fund grants for the county’s 600 churches.

Photograph by Stuart Bowell, taken in 2017, of Bruisyard, St Peter – one of the 38 churches listed in the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust’s new on-line guide.