Church guides

The story of how 2,000 church guides, representing 1,000 years of architecture, found its way into the collections of the RIBA.

Church guides from West Riding, Yorkshire. © Wilson Yau / RIBA, British Architectural Library

It would take many visits and perhaps a lifetime to be able to assemble a similar collection of 2,000 church guides that were donated by Dr Andrew Gray on behalf of the Heraldry Society to the British Architectural Library  at the RIBA in March 2011. This act of generosity added 75kg and 2.4m (8 feet and 4 inches) of unique material to the RIBA's collections.

What's special about these guides?

The contents of this special collection, mostly from Great Britain and dating predominantly from the 20th century, vary from glossy booklets to more humble photocopied leaflets. Each guide encapsulates the desire of an individual church or parish to communicate the history and activities of their building and community to their own congregations or the wider public. Available to any visitor to the Library, this collection contains a wealth of information on hundreds of historic churches from St Winifred in rural Branscombe in Devon to St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London, buildings which represent over a millennium of religious architecture in Great Britain.

Jeremy Crumplin, RIBA, listing the church guides, 2013.

Jeremy Crumplin, RIBA, listing the church guides in the
British Architectural Library, 2013.

Discovering more about architecture through the collections

The Library’s collections are constantly growing and our space for them grows a bit slower! But our catalogue team work hard to ensure the public and RIBA members can access the 4 million items. In 2013, RIBA staff member Jeremy Crumplin completed the listing ( by county)  of these church guides o n the  online catalogue .

The value of these guides is not just what information they contain by themselves; it is when they are combined with the other four million items in the RIBA’s collections that their research potential is fully realised. A visit to the top floor of the RIBA’s headquarters at  66 Portland Place  includes views of the spire of  All Saints Margaret Street , a church designed by Royal Gold Medal-winner  William Butterfield  and completed in 1859. The RIBA holds original journal articles about this Gothic Revival structure dating from its construction and to recent restorations, photographs of the completed building from the 19th and 20th century and drawings relating to the design of a proposed school for the church. And now, also available is a church guide combining information about the architecture of the building with verses from the Bible.

Photograph (1950s) and print (1853) of All Saints, Margaret Street, (left and centre) and section drawing for All Saints' School, Margaret Street (right). © RIBA, British Architectural Library Church guides being packed and transported to the RIBA by staff from the British Architectural Library (Jonathan Ridsdale and Michael Duckworth, 2011) Display of church guides from West Riding, Yorkshire. © Wilson Yau / RIBA, British Architectural Library Church guides from West Riding, Yorkshire. © Wilson Yau / RIBA, British Architectural Library