London's 100 Best Churches An Illustrated Guide by Leigh Hatts, Canterbury Press, August 2010 £14.99
This is an essential book for anyone interested in London's churches. Leigh Hatts' earlier book: 'London City Churches', beautifully illustrated by Paul Middleton and Leigh Hatts was so popular, it has sold out (I hope they reprint soon). This new book focuses on many more churches across the capital - from the City to the outer boroughs, among them Kingston and Deptford. While most are Anglican, there are 17 Catholic ones here, as well as a Lutheran, Baptist and Methodist chapel.
Hatts devotes two pages to each, accompanied by a picture or two and a brief historic outline. Writing beautifully he manages to describe the essence of each place in a few lines. St Mary's, Holly Place, is where Charles Dickens and Edward Landseer came for the funeral of artist Clarkson Stanfield (whose son wrote Sweet Sacrament Divine). General de Gaulle always sat here in the front row during World War Two. Graham Greene was married here and Ian Richardson and Alec McCowen were ushers here when Judi Dench and Michael Williams (who lived up the hill) arrived on foot for their wedding.
The term 'night on the tiles' comes from a five day party held for Henry VIII at St Ethledreda's, Holborn Circus. This entry also mentions the legendary Fr Kit Cunningham who, until his retirement in 2008, was rector for 32 years and started the Westminster Record diocesan newspaper.
Hatts visits the modern French Church in Leicester Square with its murals by Jacque Cocteau, who worked here for nine days in 1959. He started each day by lighting a candle and talking to the Saints as he created their images. He told Our Lady: "Oh you most beautiful of women, loveliest of Gods creatures, you were the best loved,. So I want you to be my best piece of work too. .. I am drawing you with light strokes .. You are the yet unfinished work of Grace."
This is the sort of book you will want to return to again and again. Many churches that you will search for are there. There are also some notable omissions. I suppose it must have been difficult to only select a hundred. So I hope Leigh Hatts writes a second volume soon - perhaps including one of the Quaker Meeting Houses, the Italian Church in Clerkenwell, and one or more of London's very popular Polish churches.
Speaking in support of the Sunday Telegraph's Save Our Churches campaign. musician Jools Holland said: "Churches are the spiritual background to our whole country. Churches aren't touchy-feely headphones and flatscreens experience, they are real life. They are where our ancestors lie."
For more information, or to buy the book, see: www.londons100bestchurches.co.uk/
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