Places of Worship in Britain and Ireland, 1829-1929

Places of Worship in Britain and Ireland, 1829-1929, edited by architectural historians Dr Paul Barnwell and Dr Mark Smith, is the latest instalment of the Rewley House Studies in the Historic Environment series.

This book is the seventh in a series on Places of Worship in Britain and Ireland, which will ultimately extend from prehistoric times to the twenty-first century.

The period covered by this volume extends from the final act of Catholic emancipation in 1829 to the failure of the reform of the English Book of Common Prayer and the creation of the modern Church of Scotland a century later. It is one of extraordinary expansion in church and chapel building, driven by unprecedented population growth, changes in the pattern of settlement, and a huge increase in religious plurality partly caused by the arrival of refugees from religious persecution elsewhere in Europe.

In many places the number of places of worship was also increased by competitive building, each denomination seeking to make itself visible in an attempt to preserve or enhance its following.

The earlier part of the period is dominated by revolutionary changes in church practice, planning and architectural style initiated in the Church of England by the Oxford Movement and the Ecclesiological Society. Their effects came to be felt far beyond the Church of England, in places as diverse as the Irish Roman Catholic Church and, later, the Scottish Presbyterian Churches.

The dominant architectural style was Gothic, seen by many as synonymous with Christianity.

At the start of the period, A. W. N. Pugin and the Ecclesiologists adopted a narrow, prescriptive, view of ‘correctness’, but by the last quarter of the nineteenth century there was a proliferation of models, often interpretated more freely. Although other styles (particularly Classical in nonconformist Wales, and ‘oriental’ for synagogues) were used, it was only towards the end of the period that the supremacy of Gothic significantly waned.

The century covered by this book is one of religious and architectural complexity. But it is also one of vitality, excitement, inventiveness and creativity. And it remains important because, in many ways, and for many people, it still influences our understanding of what a place of worship should look like.

Readers can order the book for £35 post free (regular price £50) by emailing the publisher, Shaun Tyas (, stating that they have seen the offer in this Newsletter.

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Image: Geoff Brandwood

Published 26 August 2022