Robert Piggott

A Place for Worship? Heritage and Religiosity in England

“Heritage Studies has often focused on the implications of tourism for heritage sites. However, the vast majority of sites considered in planning terms as ‘heritage assets’ are in the hands of private owners or managed by voluntary organisations and are not necessarily primarily thought of by them as sites of tourism. My research examines the management of a specific type of heritage asset and looks at the experiences of those negotiating within the legal framework of the system of heritage protection, as well as the development of the system itself.”

Houghton Conquest Church, Beds. one of the many grant-aided repair schemes for listed places of worship funded by a combination of public, private and philanthropic effort that have taken place across the country in the last twenty years © Robert Piggott
Houghton Conquest Church, Beds. one of the many grant-aided repair schemes for listed places of worship funded by a combination of public, private and philanthropic effort that have taken place across the country in the last twenty years © Robert Piggott

In 2014, as part of the celebrations marking their centenary, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese published 100 Years, 100 Treasures. Contained within its pages are short illustrated descriptions of some of the works of devotional art, liturgical objects, and artefacts to be found in Suffolk’s Anglican churches. These span the centuries and include the Saxon cross shaft at St Botoloph’s Iken, as well as the 21st century Stations of the Cross in Bury St Edmunds St John. Some are lavish works of art, like the 19th century roof at Huntingfield St Mary, others are less ornate, like the 15th century sacring bell at Hawstead All Saints, rung to mark the elevation of the Host in the celebration of Mass. These objects can be seen as valuable evidence of centuries of political, social and theological change. They, and the buildings that house them, are tangible expressions of changing beliefs and practices, providing evidence of the past and linking communities with their ancestors.

Besides places of worship, we might, then, have cause to think of England’s listed churches (and the listed buildings belonging to other faiths and denominations) as something like a network of museums. But, unlike most museums, they were not founded for the display of objects, but rather as places for religious communities to worship God. Because of their active use, their management falls to small groups of volunteers, who are no doubt conscious that they are guarding treasures, but are also concerned with the basic needs of visitors to the church, whilst having their own plans for the future of the building. Developing these plans can be a complicated process. As listed buildings, proposed changes to the building are subject to a multi-stage system of permission, involving consultations with various interested parties. However, as listed buildings, they can also often count on the support of non-departmental public bodies and philanthropic organisations in the form of grant aid when carrying out repairs necessitated by the age of the structure.

My research examines the effects of the legal protection of listed places of worship in England on the organisations that are responsible for the day-to-day management of the buildings. My focus is on the experiences of members of the Church of England’s Parochial Church Councils (the committees responsible for the maintenance of the church building and the finances of the parish) in obtaining Faculty (permission granted by the Diocese) for proposed alterations, and for grant aid for proposed repairs. In tandem, I will be examining the development and organisation of, and the motives for the work carried out by, non-departmental public bodies active in the conservation of historic places of worship.

Biography

I received a BA in Sociology from the University of York in 2001, returning there to complete an MA in Sociology of Contemporary Culture in 2004. In 2008 I began working for English Heritage, where I became interested in the management and conservation of historic places of worship. During my time at English Heritage, and with their support, I completed two Certificates of Education with the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education, the first in the Conservation of Historic Buildings, and the second in Archaeology. I am based at the University of Huddersfield.

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Supervisors: Professor Barry Doyle, University of Huddersfield, and Dr Neil Armstrong, Teesside University

 

 

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