Church History

An informal look at the history of the Christian church from an English perspective.

Scout & Guide HQ
Temporarily suspended.
  • Leaders:
  • Peter Hatfield - 01695 424880
  • Brian Farrimond

The Church History Team are taking a well-earned break.  Watch this space for any future endeavours.

See Group Posts below for information on and photos of past Series.

When a Series is running ……

The Talks are at Scout & Guide HQ and the entrance cost is £2.00 including refreshments.

The Visits are by coach, and arrangements and costs are announced in advance.

Last Updated on January 14, 2024

Medieval Cathedrals of  England – 2022 Series

Speakers:     Brian Farrimond – Peter Gateley – Peter Hatfield

Anglo Saxon Timeline  can be accessed on this link.

March 22, 2022 –  Talk  – Westminster Abbey – Part 1

Westminster Abbey

On the site of a Saxon monastery, a large new building in the Norman style was ordered by King Edward the Confessor some time after 1042 and consecrated in 1065.  The building has been renewed and embellished over the years and is now largely a magnificent gothic structure, based on the major rebuild carried out under Henry III, which started in 1245.

In Part 1 we will look mainly at the western parts of this large and important building, along with its nearby associated claustral adjuncts.

April 26, 2022  – Talk – Westminster Abbey – Part 2

Edward the Confessor envisaged the new church as a place for his burial and since that time the majority of English kings and queens have been buried here.  Since the days of King Harold and William the Conqueror, in 1066, it has also been the location of the coronation of British monarchs, as well as many royal weddings.

Part 2 will cover the eastern section of the Abbey and the more far-flung buildings around the former royal palace of Westminster, associated with the abbey over many years.

May 24, 2022  – Visit – Lancaster Cathedral and Lancaster Priory.

Formerly known as the Priory Church of St Mary, Lancaster Priory is now the parish church for the city of Lancaster but began as a Benedictine priory established in 1094, though remnants of a Saxon church have also been found on Castle Hill.  The original priory church has been much enlarged, starting in 1360, and was completely remodeled in the Perpendicular Gothic style from 1431 onwards.  The church underwent a restoration as early as 1558.  Today it is a Grade 1 listed building.

The Roman Catholic cathedral church of St Peter was a parish church up to 1924, it is now the seat of the diocese of Lancaster.  The present Neo-Gothic building replaced a mission established in 1798 and was built between 1857 and 1859 to a design by the eminent Gothic revival architect EG Paley, a later baptistry was designed by Austin and Paley.  The notable tower and spire rise to a height of 73m (240ft). The cathedral is listed as a Grade 2* building.

August 16, 2022 – Visit – Beverley Minster and St Mary’s Church.

Beverley Minster 2. from SW

The coach excursion to Beverley, in Yorkshire’s East Riding has been rearranged for Tuesday 16 August.

Our main aim will be to enjoy the medieval glories of Beverley Minster, a former abbey church that is larger than one third of all English Cathedrals.

The coach will collect us at Four Lane Ends Mission at 9 o’clock and we should arrive in Beverley in time to disperse and find somewhere for a quick lunch. At 2 o’clock we will re-assemble at the West door of the Minster to begin our visit. If time allows, over lunch, the wonderful St Mary’s church is also worth looking into.

We would be leaving Beverley around 3.30 and arriving back around 6.30, depending ontraffic.

The cost of this trip will be £33.00p per person. If you would like to join us for thisvisit, please contact Peter Gateley on 07518 685807.

Situated over in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Beverley Minster is now one of the largest parish churches in the UK, being larger than a third of all English cathedrals.  This Gothic masterpiece, with double transepts, is the latest church on this site, originally  based on a monastery founded in the 8th century.  There are elements of Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic all of the highest architectural quality and unified into an harmonious composition by the continuous vaulting from one end to the other.

St Mary’s was established in the 12th century as a daughter church of the Minster.  Although some sections of 12th and 13th century work remain, the church was more-or-less totally rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style from the late 13th century up to the 1340s.  There was another major phase of rebuilding, this time in the Perpendicular style, after the central tower collapsed in 1520.  Like the Minster this church is also classed as a Grade 1 listed building.

Last Updated on November 6, 2022

English Medieval Cathedrals 2021 series

As you know, from looking at the 2020 programme, things did not go as planned last season.  At present (3rd February 2021) it is still impossible to say when meetings in the usual venue will be able to resume.  As soon as there is any clear news of when we can resume, there will be a notification via Beacon.

Of the planned sessions for 2020 only the presentations for Canterbury and Rochester actually took place.  Assuming we can start again some time this Summer it is planned that we continue from where we left off, with the presentations on Chichester Cathedral, St Alban’s, St Paul’s and finally Westminster Abbey.  We don’t expect that the two planned visits, to Lancaster and to Beverley, will take place in 2021, but should be able to proceed in 2022, if there is still continuing interest by that point!

After these four presentations all the major medieval English cathedrals will have been covered.  However, all the Peters have been discussing possible subjects for 2022 and beyond, for example there are other cathedrals, more-recent foundations in England as well as ancient cathedrals in Wales and Scotland.  Another possible route would be the great store of remains of medieval abbeys and other religious houses, or surviving large medieval churches and minsters, no decisions are yet made.

In the meantime we look forward to seeing you all again for the Chichester Cathedral presentation, whenever that may be, and hope that you are staying safe and well.

Peter, Peter and Pete

Last Updated on February 4, 2021

St Alban’s Cathedral, Hertfordshire

The Cathedral Church of Saint Alban, Saint Alban’s, Hertfordshire, 23 November 2021

Although we are not currently meeting for talks by the three Peters, we can see a taster of what is to come once lock-down is over.

In 731, the Venerable Bede had this to say: ‘A beautiful church worthy of Alban’s martyrdom was built, where sick folk are healed and frequent miracles take place to this day’

Nothing remains of the chapel built where Alban was martyred in 209, but he was executed for sheltering the Christian priest Amphibalus, so Christian worship was taking place in and around the city of Verulamium by that time. The earliest church was destroyed by Saxons in 586. Offa is said to have founded a double Benedictine monastery in 793, replacing the building of Bede’s time. This later building was, in turn, sacked by Danes around 890, after which the monastery hit hard times and there was no abbot between 920 and the 970s. However, Abbot Ealdred began to rebuild in 1005, but this work stalled under the pressure of Viking raids from 1016 onwards.

In 1077 when Paul of Caen was appointed the first Norman abbot, by his uncle Lanfranc Archbishop of Canterbury, he set about building a new church straight away, starting with the crossing tower. There was no good building stone near the site, only flints, so some stone was imported from Caen but the major part of the building was constructed from Roman tiles, found in abundance in the nearby ruins of Verulamium.

Today, the crossing tower, two western bays of the chancel and the transepts survive from the late 11th century. Eastern parts of the nave and much of the north arcade and aisle are also Norman work, of the 12th century, and four Western bays of the nave are Early English from the early 13th century, the presbytery, and retro-choir date from a mid-13th century rebuild and the Lady Chapel from the late 13th and early 14th century. The south arcade and aisle of the nave were rebuilt in the mid-14th century, documented 15th century work has been mainly replaced under later (Victorian) restorations.

After the dissolution of the abbey in 1539, practically all the claustral buildings were demolished for their building materials and the main church abandoned and neglected. In 1553 the citizens of St Albans bought the old abbey to use as their parish church, but repair and maintenance of such a large ancient building was beyond the means of the parishioners and by 1832 the main building was reported to be in a sad state of disrepair. But from 1871 remedial work was done under Sir G.G. Scott: to the nave clerestorey, the South aisle roof, stonework of the Lady Chapel and the structure of the crossing tower, but funds ran out after his death in 1878. This laid the way open for a local lawyer, Lord Grimthorpe, also an amateur theologian and an amateur architect to step in. He was a wealthy man and overall spent £130.000 of his fortune on his own ‘improvements’ and repairs to the structure, mainly in a version of Victorian Gothic. The whole West front was replaced by him and the roof heightened to a steeper pitch and well as other restorations throughout the structure. There is a carved portrait of him, represented as St Matthew, in the West porch.

The see and bishopric of Saint Alban’s was inaugurated in 1877 and the old Abbey church became the cathedral, whilst also remaining the parish church, dedicated to St Alban.

Last Updated on May 23, 2021

November 26th 2019 – mid-break meeting

Prior to starting on our exploration of medieval cathedrals of the South and South-east of England in January 2020, there will be a mid-break meeting at the Scout Hut at the usual time of 14.00 on Tuesday 26th November.

This will give the opportunity for a brief preview of the 2020 programme, including the nationally historically important Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

As a holiday treat we will whisk you abroad to look at eight medieval French cathedrals, although separated by relatively short distance we will be able to see some of the differences between English and French Gothic, as well as show regional differences within the large geographical extent of France itself.

Speakers: Peter Goodrich, Peter Hatfield and Peter Gateley

Last Updated on February 9, 2022

English Medieval Cathedrals – 2019 series

English Medieval Cathedrals of the South West

A series of six indoor meetings, looking at ‘Cathedrals of the south-western parts of England’ + two coach trips (not to SW England!).


22 January – a talk about Winchester Cathedral


26 February – a talk about Salisbury Cathedral


26 March – a visit to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral


23 April – talks about Bath Abbey and Truro Cathedral

Bath Abbey Timeline

Truro Cathedral Timeline

28th May – a visit to Selby Abbey and Sherburn Church, Yorkshire

25th June – a talk, about Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral Timeline

23 July – a talk, about Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral Timeline

27 August – a talk, about Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral Timeline


Last Updated on September 12, 2019

English Medieval Cathedrals – 2018 series

English Medieval Cathedrals, from the Wash to the River Severn

Speakers: Peter Goodrich, Peter Gateley and Peter Hatfield

23rd January Norwich Cathedral talk. Norwich Cathedral timeline
27th March Ely Cathedral talk. Ely Cathedral timeline
24th April Peterborough Cathedral talk. Peterborough Cathedral Timeline
1st May Visit to Manchester Cathedral and other historic buildings. Details
22nd May Gloucester Cathedral talk. Gloucester Cathedral Timeline
26th June Visit to Furness Abbey and Swarthmoor Hall by coach
24th July Oxford Christ Church Cathedral talk. Oxford Cathedral timeline

Last Updated on February 9, 2022

English Medieval Cathedrals – 2016-17 series

English Medieval Cathedrals in the North and Midlands

Speakers: Peter Goodrich, Peter Gateley and Peter Hatfield

English medieval cathedrals are widely admired both at home and abroad as both architectural masterpieces and touchstones of English History. Their stylistic diversity is remarkable reflecting their longevity and origins. Some cathedrals are descendants of former abbeys, others purpose built as cathedrals, all have seen major changes over the past millennium, and all continue to serve their primary purpose of providing a regional seat (cathedra is the Latin word for the Bishop’s throne) for the local Bishop or in the case of Canterbury and York, for the Archbishop. The series of talks covered their Anglo-Saxon origins, the impact of Viking raids and occupation, the Norman conquest and the English Reformation.

The introductory talk on 25th October 2016 reviewed all those cathedrals (ten in all) which are included in the monthly talks, briefly covering their differences, special features and their local impact.

Subsequent sessions explained the development of floor plans, internal and external features, the evolution of the Gothic style and the archaic terminology used to describe their key parts, all accompanied by illustrations. We visited the origins of the Christian church from Roman times and the establishment of dioceses in the Saxon period and looked at surviving examples of Saxon church architecture.

The following four meetings showcased the northern cathedrals: Durham Cathedral, York Minster, Carlisle Cathedral, Ripon Cathedral and Chester Cathedral showing their origins, history and examining in detail their magnificent architectural features, stained glass and furnishings. This was also a visit to Chester Cathedral to illustrate many of the points made during the talks.

We concluded the series with the great cathedrals in the midlands: Lincoln, Southwell, Worcester, Lichfield and Hereford, with a second cathedral visit to Lichfield.

Programme of Talks, English Medieval Cathedrals: North and Midlands

All talks were held at 2.00-4.00pm on the fourth Tuesday of the month in the Scout and Guide HQ (large room), with breaks for coffee and discussion.

1. Introductory Talk – October 25th 2016

North of England

2. Durham Cathedral – November 22nd 2016. View the Durham Cathedral time line.
3. York Minster – January 24th 2017. View the York Minster time line.
4. Carlisle and Ripon Cathedrals – February 28th 2017. View the Carlisle and Ripon time lines.
5. Chester Cathedral (Visit) March 28th 2017. View the Chester Cathedral time line.


6. Lincoln Cathedral – April 25th 2017. View the Lincoln Cathedral time line.
7. Southwell Minster – May 23th 2017. View the Southwell Minster time line.
8. Lichfield Cathedral (Visit) – June 27th 2017.
9. Worcester Cathedral – July 25th 2017. View the Worcester Cathedral time line.
10. Hereford Cathedral – August 22nd 2017. View the Hereford Cathedral Timeline.

 The Speakers:

Peter Goodrich is a former Canon of the Liverpool Diocese with a keen interest in Anglo Saxon church history.

Peter Hatfield is a retired architect who specialised in ecclesiastical work and was a Cathedral Architect.

Peter Gateley has had a lifelong interest in the history of architecture and last year presented a well received short course to U3A.

Last Updated on December 11, 2017