Building on Church History: The Church in London
The Diocese of London Lambeth Palace Library King's College London The Open University

Resource Guide: How to write a church and parish history

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This guide explains how to write a church and parish history. Finding out about the history of a church and parish can be a rewarding experience. You might gain fascinating insights into your own religious heritage or you may find out more about aspects of the history of a locality. Historically, the Diocese of London has been an important part of a multicultural and multi-faith city, and the stories behind its congregations and buildings will be exciting to investigate.

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What might a church and parish history explore?

  • People. The stories of individuals can give life to church and parish histories. London's churches have, of course, had their fair share of fascinating characters, coming from all walks of life. London 's clergy have been made up by a whole range of people, covering all ranges of the spectrum between the inspiring and the sluggish, virtuous and roguish, conventional and eccentric! London's lay people – the men and women in the pew – were an important part of the story of every parish; and many were active and key people in the life of local communities.
  • Buildings. Buildings are fascinating both in terms of architecture and also because of the clues they give us about the people who worshipped in them. London's ecclesiastical skyline is synonymous with names such as Wren, Hawkesmoor, and Butterfield. Within the Diocese of London can be found a rich range of church architecture: from the English Baroque designs of the eighteenth century, to the Gothic revival exteriors of the nineteenth, to the distinctive spatial dynamics of the modernist buildings of the last century. The interiors of London's churches are also well worth investigation: the arrangements and furnishings of church buildings can give useful insights into a past congregation's (or the founder's!) vision of God.
  • Community. Historically, far from being inward-looking institutions, many parish churches have been a hub for the local community. Many have taken a central role in the education of children and young adults, especially through day and Sunday schools. Until relatively recently the parish church oversaw the lifecycle of much of the local population; a place for services marking births, marriages and deaths. Many parish churches also played a vital role in the social life of the local community, organising welfare distribution, charitable endeavours and cultural events.

appeal for funds

An appeal for funds for the building of a Chancel at St. Mary’s, Dartmouth Park Hill (Image courtesy of the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library).

The Guide

Finding out about a church and parish can be rewarding; however, it can also present a range of challenges. Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start your investigations and which resources to use. It can be that libraries and archives appear confusing, or even intimidating.

This guide will explain how you might begin your research and introduce you to the range of sources that are available to you. London has no shortage of excellent libraries and archives, and this guide will advise you on how to get the best out of them.


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