The Beautiful Churches of Rural England

Doomsday is approaching for many rural English churches.

The Church of England has warned that dozens of churches will become redundant within 10 years unless it can attract new members.

Most of the beautiful churches in our selection are Grade I listed buildings chosen from several counties across England.

For added atmosphere, consider playing the British patriotic hymn “I Vow to Thee, My Country”, a poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice set to music by Gustav Holst.

Bedfordshire

Dating from the 12th century and made of coursed limestone rubble with ashlar dressings, the Church of All Saints, Riseley is designated a Grade I listed building.

Paired belfry windows, embattled parapets, crocketed pinnacles, and gargoyles give the 15th-century tower a classic gothic appearance.

Church of All Saints, Riseley, Bedfordshire. Credit Deni Bokej
Church of All Saints, Riseley, Bedfordshire. Credit Deni Bokej

Mostly 13th-century with various later details and reworkings, the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Salford is constructed of coursed rubble, a mixture of limestone and ironstone, and ashlar dressings.

Replacing an earlier tower, the gable of this Grade I-listed building is surmounted by a distinctive 19th-century bell-cote of heavy timbers topped with a spirelet.

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Salford, Bedfordshire. Credit Philip Jeffrey
Church of St Mary the Virgin, Salford, Bedfordshire. Credit Philip Jeffrey

Cheshire

English architectural historian, writer and TV broadcaster, Alec Clifton-Taylor includes St Mary and All Saints Church in Great Budworth in his list of ‘best’ English parish churches.

Mostly of the English Gothic style, with the older north transept of Decorated Gothic, a reference to a priest in Great Budworth dates back to the 11th century.

The oldest part of the present Grade I-listed church is the 14th-century Lady Chapel—a traditional British term for a chapel dedicated to “Our Lady”, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St Mary and All Saints Church, Great Budworth, Cheshire. Credit Joopercoopers
St Mary and All Saints Church, Great Budworth, Cheshire. Credit Joopercoopers

Originally built during the reign of Edward III in the 14th century, St Lawrence’s Church in Over Peover was later rebuilt in brick in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Round windows and arched bell-windows with pilasters characterize the tower’s three stages, whereas the south chapel has two bays, three buttresses surmounted by gargoyles, and a battlemented parapet.

During the Second World War, General George Patton and his staff worshipped in the church while stationed in the village at Peover Hall.

St Lawrence's Church, Over Peover, Cheshire. Credit Peter I. Vardy
St Lawrence’s Church, Over Peover, Cheshire. Credit Peter I. Vardy

Cornwall

Known as the Cathedral of the Moor, the Church of St Nonna is the second largest church on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.

Stood in the village of Alternun, meaning “altar of Nonn”, the Grade I-listed church is dedicated to Saint Non (or Nonna), who was the mother of St David, the patron saint of Wales.

Largely 15th-century English Gothic in style, it is known for its fine Norman font and fine old woodwork dating to 1684.

Church of St Nonna, Altarnun, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Church of St Nonna, Altarnun, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Of Norman origin with 15th-century additions, the Grade I-listed St Clarus’s Church at St Cleer is constructed of granite rubble with a slate roof and crested ridge tiles over the nave and chancel.

Saint Clarus was an Englishman who traveled to Cornwall to preach to local inhabitants in the 8th century.

Founding the church of St Cleer, he lived a saintly life until a local chieftainess fell in love with him.

Although he fled to France to escape her advances and continue an isolated saintly life, the spurned woman had him pursued and murdered.

St Clarus's Church, St Cleer, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St Clarus’s Church, St Cleer, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Cumbria

Although dating from about 1500 in its present form, the materials from earlier churches have been incorporated into the Grade I-listed St. Andrew’s Church at Sedbergh.

Constructed in rubble stone with sandstone quoins and dressings, the three-stage tower features an embattled parapet with pinnacles at each corner.

The churchyard is said to contain a yew tree under which English Dissenter George Fox preached the Christain awakening from which came the Quaker movement.

Poet, American loyalist, and Anglican missionary to colonial South Carolina, Revd. Charles Woodmason is said to be buried here in an unmarked grave.

St. Andrew's, Sedbergh, Cumbria. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
St. Andrew’s, Sedbergh, Cumbria. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Constructed of rubble stone with a slate roof, the Grade I-listed St Michael and All Angels Church at Hawkshead was first established in the 12th century and extended in about 1300.

The tower features a doorway on the west side, with a two-light window above, a small window and a clock face on the south side, louvred bell openings with straight heads, and an embattled parapet with corner pinnacles.

St Michael and All Angels Church at Hawkshead, Cumbria. Credit Anne Roberts, flickr
St Michael and All Angels Church at Hawkshead, Cumbria. Credit Anne Roberts, flickr

Derbyshire

Dating from the 14th century and having a heritage designation of “Grade II*”, St Mary the Virgin’s Church at Newton Solney was restored between 1880 and 1882.

Recessed behind battlements atop the tower having narrow slit bell-openings on three sides, the octagonal stone spire features tall gabled lucarnes.

St Mary the Virgin's Church, Newton Solney, Derbyshire. Credit Gammock
St Mary the Virgin’s Church, Newton Solney, Derbyshire. Credit Gammock

Mostly 14th- and 15-century, but dating from the 11th century, St Michael’s Church at Breaston is a  Grade I listed parish church.

Some restoration work was completed in 1871 by noted English architect Robert Evans, with pews and choir stalls replaced, flooring and tiling work to aisles and re-leaded roof.

St Michael's Church, Breaston, Derbyshire. Credit Russ Hamer
St Michael’s Church, Breaston, Derbyshire. Credit Russ Hamer

Devon

Known as the Cathedral of the Moor due to its 120-ft tower and large seating capacity for such a small village, the Church of Saint Pancras was originally built in the 14th century in late gothic style.

Proceeds from the local tin-mining industry paid for several extensions over the years.

Saint Pancras Church, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Saint Pancras Church, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Legend has it that St Brannock’s Church in Braunton was founded by Saint Brannock in the 6th-century who was told in a dream to look for “a sow and piglets” and that should be the site to build a church.

Designated Grade I, the present church dates from the 13th century and has been described by historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as “one of the most interesting, and also one of the most puzzling in North Devon”.

St Brannock's Church, Braunton, Devon. Credit Dietmar Rabich
St Brannock’s Church, Braunton, Devon. Credit Dietmar Rabich

Dorset

Described as “one of the most exciting parish churches in the county”, St Mary’s in Puddletown’s has 12th-century origins—parts of the tower date from 1180–1200, and the 12th-century font has a notable tapering beaker shape, with diapering depicting crossing stems and Acanthus leaves.

Puddletown village provided the inspiration for the fictional settlement of Weatherbury in his novel Far from the Madding Crowd.

St Mary the Virgin's church, Puddletown, Dorset. Credit PaleCloudedWhite
St Mary the Virgin’s church, Puddletown, Dorset. Credit PaleCloudedWhite

Named after the statue of St Michael which still exists from the earliest structure in Norman times, this was Thomas Hardy’s local church and where he was baptised.

Stinsford is the original ‘Mellstock’ of Hardy’s novels Under the Greenwood Tree and Jude the Obscure.

Hardy truly left his heart in Stinsford, which is buried alongside the graves of his first and second wives.

St Michael's church, Stinsford, Dorset. Credit Martinevans123
St Michael’s church, Stinsford, Dorset. Credit Martinevans123

Essex

Standing for nearly 1,200 years in the little village of Greensted-juxta-Ongar in Essex, Greensted Church is the oldest wooden church in the world.

Dated to the mid-9th century, the oak walls are often classified as remnants of a palisade church or a kind of early stave church.

Church of St Andrew, Greensted, Essex. Credit Acabashi
Church of St Andrew, Greensted, Essex. Credit Acabashi

All Saints Church at Rickling is a 13th-century flint church known for its intricate screen and pulpit and designated as a Grade I listed building.

The chancel, south aisle, and west tower were built in 1340 and later alterations made in the 15th, 16th, and 19th centuries.

All Saints' parish church, Rickling, Essex. Credit Acabashi
All Saints’ parish church, Rickling, Essex. Credit Acabashi

Gloucestershire

Chipping Campden’s medieval gothic church of St James’s features extravagant monuments to local wealthy wool merchants hoping to ensure a place in heaven thanks to their largesse.

Standing 120 ft tall, the tower dates from around 1500.

St James's Church, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St James’s Church, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

With a nave thought to be from Saxon times, a 12th-century chancel and 16th-century tower, St Michael’s Church in the Cotswold village of Duntisbourne Rouse is designated Grade I for exceptional interest and international importance.

St Michael's Church, Duntisbourne Rouse, Gloucestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze
St Michael’s Church, Duntisbourne Rouse, Gloucestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze

Still visible on the south wall of St Michael and All Angels parish church in Stanton is evidence of stone benches for the old and infirm, dating from when most of the congregation stood during the parts of the service that did not require kneeling.

Featuring columns from about 1200, early English Gothic pointed arches, and 15th-century font, porch and parvise, the church is designated Grade I.

St Michael and All Angels parish church, Stanton, Gloucestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze
St Michael and All Angels parish church, Stanton, Gloucestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze

Hampshire

Notable for its variety of architecture, the Church of St Lawrence in Alton, was also the site for the concluding action of one of the most savage encounters of the English Civil War (1642 – 1651).

Designated a Grade I listed building, repeated additions and extensions down the centuries have resulted in an amalgam of architectural styles, ranging from early Norman and early English to Perpendicular and Tudor.

Church of St Lawrence, Alton, Hampshire. Credit Ericoides
Church of St Lawrence, Alton, Hampshire. Credit Ericoides

Dating from the 12th century, Binsted’s Holy Cross parish church consists of stone walls, a tiled roof, and stone-slated porch and is designated Grade I.

Holy Cross parish church, Binsted, Hampshire. Credit Mike Cattell
Holy Cross parish church, Binsted, Hampshire. Credit Mike Cattell

Recorded in the Domesday Book under the name Cilbodentune, the parish church of St Mary the Less at Chilbolton in Hampshire dates back to the 12th century, on the site of an earlier wooden church.

Church of St Mary the Less, Chilbolton, Hampshire. Credit Andrew Mathewson
Church of St Mary the Less, Chilbolton, Hampshire. Credit Andrew Mathewson

St Mary’s Church at Breamore is noted for its Anglos-Saxon rood—the large crucifix above the entrance to the chancel of a medieval church.

St Mary's Church, Breamore, Hampshire. Credit Plumbago
St Mary’s Church, Breamore, Hampshire. Credit Plumbago

Lancashire

Protected as Scheduled Monuments, three well-preserved Anglo-Saxon crosses in the churchyard are evidence of a church existing on the site from before the Norman Conquest of England.

Dating from the 13th century and designated Grade I  by English Heritage, the current Church of St Mary and All Saints in Whalley was constructed from sandstone rubble with a stone slate roof.

The ancient parish church of St. Mary and All Saints at Whalley in Lancashire. Credit Craig Thornber
The ancient parish church of St. Mary and All Saints at Whalley in Lancashire. Credit Craig Thornber

Monks from Fountains Abbey had the Church of St Mary le Ghyll in Barnoldswick built in about 1160 to replace an older church on the same site.

Designated as Grade I, the stone and slate-roofed structure has a tower with diagonal buttresses and a stair turret.

St Mary le Ghyll, Barnoldswick, Lancashire. Credit Tim Green
St Mary le Ghyll, Barnoldswick, Lancashire. Credit Tim Green

Lincolnshire

Built on a hillside overlooking the Vale of Belvoir, the Church of All Saints at Barrowby suffered damage to stained glass windows and its rood screen during Henry VIII’s suppression of the monasteries.

Constructed from limestone ashlar and ironstone with a Westmorland and Welsh slate roof,  its tower is of Decorated style with six bells and an octagonal spire containing two tiers of lucarnes.

Church of All Saints, Barrowby, Lincolnshire. Credit Russ Hamer
Church of All Saints, Barrowby, Lincolnshire. Credit Russ Hamer

Greatford’s church dedicated to St Thomas Becket of Canterbury is built in the Early English style, and is Grade I listed.

St Thomas Becket parish church, Greatford, Lincolnshire. Credit Julian Dowse
St Thomas Becket parish church, Greatford, Lincolnshire. Credit Julian Dowse

Norfolk

Dominating the Market Place and surrounding area, the 98 ft tower of St Michael and All Angels parish church has a small spire on top that can be seen for miles around.

A fine example of Gothic architecture of the Decorated style, the nave, aisles, and chancel were built in the 13th century with the tower added in the 14th.

St Michael & All Angels, Aylsham, Norfolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St Michael & All Angels, Aylsham, Norfolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

One of 125 existing round-tower churches in Norfolk, St Mary’s Church at Burnham Deepdale houses a Norman font.

St Mary's Church at Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St Mary’s Church at Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Northamptonshire

Dating from about 1300, the Grade I Church of St Nicholas in Stanford-on-Avon is built from squared coursed limestone, lias and granite with ashlar dressings and slate roof.

It contains the oldest metal organ pipes surviving in Britain.

Church of St Nicholas, Stanford-on-Avon, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Church of St Nicholas, Stanford-on-Avon, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Built from ashlar, coursed limestone rubble and ironstone, the Church of St Edmund at Warkton has 12th-century origins with the tower added in the 15th century.

The 4-stage tower has plinth clasping buttresses, a quatrefoil frieze with gargoyles, and castellated parapet with corner pinnacles.

Church of St Edmund at Warkton, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Church of St Edmund at Warkton, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Staffordshire

Containing the tombs of four Bishops of Lichfield, the 13th-century Holy Trinity church in Eccleshall is Grade I listed.

Showing two phases of English Gotic architecture, the tower is 13th-century Early English for most of its height, with the upper section of 15th-century Perpendicular style.

Holy Trinity church, Eccleshall, Staffordshire
Holy Trinity church, Eccleshall, Staffordshire

A church has stood on the site of All Saints’ parish church in Alrewas since at least 822AD, although construction of the current Grade I-listed structure was mainly from the 13th, 14th, 16th, and 19th centuries.

Believed to be made of timber, the original building was from a time when Alrewas was a flourishing settlement owned by Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia.

Replacing the simple wooden church with one of local stone, parts of the later Norman structure are still visible in the tower doorway, the north aisle door and the heavy rough hewn pieces of masonry in the north wall.

All Saints' parish church, Alrewas, Staffordshire. Credit Bs0u10e01
All Saints’ parish church, Alrewas, Staffordshire. Credit Bs0u10e01

Suffolk

Considered to be one of Suffolk’s finest churches, the parish church of Southwold is dedicated to St Edmund and renowned for its East Anglian flushwork, especially that of the tower.

Narrowly missed by a German bomb during World War II, the explosion destroyed nearby houses blew out most of the churches 15th-century stained glass windows.

St Edmund's Church, Southwold, Suffolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St Edmund’s Church, Southwold, Suffolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

One of 38 existing round-tower churches in Suffolk, the 13-century St. Andrew’s Church in Bramfield has a separate 12th-century tower standing in the church grounds—the only example of its kind in the county.

Both the church and the tower are Grade I listed buildings.

St Andrew's Church, Bramfield, Suffolk. Credit Bernd Jatzwauk
St Andrew’s Church, Bramfield, Suffolk. Credit Bernd Jatzwauk

Sussex

Dating from the 12th century and made from Sussex Marble, the font is the oldest part of the Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick.

With a 13th-century tower, and most of the remaining structure dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, the church is designated Grade I in historical importance.

Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick, West Sussex. Credit Martinking73
Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick, West Sussex. Credit Martinking73

Built in the 1370s, the GradeI-listed St Andrew’s parish church in Alfriston is known as the “Cathedral of the Downs”.

Thought to be the site of a pre-Christian place of worship, the church sits on a small, flint-walled mound in the middle of the village green.

St Andrew's parish church, Alfriston, East Sussex. Credit David Iliff
St Andrew’s parish church, Alfriston, East Sussex. Credit David Iliff

Surrey

Built during Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods, records show that St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Godalming was a redevelopment of a prior Anglo-Saxon church.

Made from the local hard sandstone, the church has two integrated medieval chapels and is designated Grade I.

St Peter and St Paul's Church, Godalming, Surrey. Credit Hassocks5489
St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Godalming, Surrey. Credit Hassocks5489

Dating back to the year 1250, All Saints’ parish church in Warlingham is built of flint rubble with stone dressings and is designated Grade II*.

Local vicars maintain that long-serving Archbishop Cranmer began experimenting with the first Book of Common Prayer at this church.

All Saints' parish church, Warlingham, Surrey
All Saints’ parish church, Warlingham, Surrey

Warwickshire

Under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust as a Grade II* listed building, St John the Baptist church in Avon Dassett is a redundant church no longer used for regular worship.

Built in 1868 on the site of an earlier Norman church, the north wall of the chancel has a recess containing a 13th-century stone coffin with a lid.

St John the Baptist church in Avon Dassett, Warwickshire. Credit Steve Daniels
St John the Baptist church in Avon Dassett, Warwickshire. Credit Steve Daniels

St Leonard’s Church in Spernall is another example of a redundant church no longer used for service but of architectural and historical significance.

Under the care of a registered charity called “Friends of Friendless Churches” as a Grade II* listed building, much of the structure dates from the 12th century, although work continued until 1844.

St Leonard's parish church, Spernall, Warwickshire
St Leonard’s parish church, Spernall, Warwickshire

Wiltshire

Standing close to “Old Sarnum”, the earliest settlement of Salisbury, St Lawrence’s church in Stratford-sub-Castle is a Grade I listed building thought to have used much of the stone from abandoned buildings at the settlement during the 13th century.

Restored in various stages during the 20th century, the church was said to have been consecrated in 1326.

St Lawrence's church, Stratford-sub-Castle, Wiltshire. Credit Ashley Pomeroy
St Lawrence’s church, Stratford-sub-Castle, Wiltshire. Credit Ashley Pomeroy

Dedicated to a Norman saint, the Church of St Cyriac in Lacock is a 14th-century building designated Grade I and having Norman origins.

Prospering as an important market town on the Bath, Somerset sheep-droving route to London, substantial local tax revenues enabled the more extensive 15th-century rebuild that we see today.

The Church of St Cyriac, Lacock, Wiltshire. Credit WJournalist
The Church of St Cyriac, Lacock, Wiltshire. Credit WJournalist

Worcestershire

Built in the 13th-century, the parish Church of St. John the Baptist reveals a close connection of the Sandys family who owned the manor at Wickhamford village with the American colonists.

Penelope Washington, whose mother married Sir Samuel Sandys and moved to the Manor House, is buried in the church and was a distant relative of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America.

St John the Baptist Church, Wickhamford, Worcestershire. Credit Philip Halling
St John the Baptist Church, Wickhamford, Worcestershire. Credit Philip Halling

St Peter’s Church in the village of Pirton, Worcestershire is a Grade I listed building thanks largely to its timber-framed tower—the only example in Worcestershire of a tower with aisles.

St Peter's Church, Pirton, Worcestershire. Credit David Evans, flickr
St Peter’s Church, Pirton, Worcestershire. Credit David Evans, flickr

Yorkshire

Corner pinnacle and gargoyles decorate the tower of All Saints’ parish church in Kirk Deighton, and an octagonal spire rises 100 ft.

Dating from the 11th century and mentioned in the Domesday book—the manuscript record of King William the Conqueror’s “Great Survey”—the church underwent restoration in 1849 and is a Grade I listed building.

All Saints' parish church, Kirk Deighton, North Yorkshire. Credit Tim Green
All Saints’ parish church, Kirk Deighton, North Yorkshire. Credit Tim Green

Built in the 13th and 14th centuries and restored in 1843 and again in 1913, All Saints’ Church in the village of Roos is designated Grade I.

All Saints' Church in Roos, East Riding of Yorkshire
All Saints’ Church in Roos, East Riding of Yorkshire
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