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Recording the Past for the Future: How Church Recorders Could Help You

On Sunday 29th May, St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Fenstanton welcomed a new addition, a book.  This was no ordinary book though; produced over four years this was a comprehensive, illustrated record of the church building.

The beautiful book was created by volunteers from the Huntingdon Church Recording Group. 

Church Recording was first introduced in 1973 as part of a NADFAS initiative (now called The Arts Society) and has since grown into a fascinating activity for thousands of volunteers. Its principal aim is to produce a comprehensive record in order to help promote, recognise, preserve and protect a church or other religious building - ‘Recording the Past for the Future’. [Picture Right: The Church Record is presented by Pat Hamilton to Rev Rosie Tallowin.]

Church recorders work as a team. They research and document all items within the church i.e. Memorials, Metalwork, Stonework, Woodwork, Textiles, Paintings, Library, Windows and Miscellaneous, which includes the organ. For each item there is generally a detailed description, photograph and history. Around 2,000 Church Records have been completed nationally.

The Huntingdon Church Recording Group began in 2002 at the suggestion of the then Lady Hemingford.  Twelve enthusiastic volunteers began with All Saints Church, Brington, completing its Record in 2007. A highlight was the North door, which an expert declared to be contemporary with the surrounding stonework and thus dating from circa 1330.

Eleven volunteers moved on to All Saints Church, Huntingdon completing this in November 2010. Here, the c.1200 font is said to have come from the demolished St John's, Huntingdon and to have been that in which Oliver Cromwell was baptised. It was installed in All Saints in 1927, having previously been in the garden of a nearby building. [Picture Left: Example of the content of the Fenstanton book]

In May 2011 it was the turn of All Saints Church, St. Ives. Eighteen volunteers began the recording of this large church which has had its share of bad luck over the years. The spire has been rebuilt three times: twice following the disasters of the great gales of 1741 and an aeroplane crash in 1918, the latter devastating the whole of the West end. Among its many interesting objects is a stunning portable altar showing the icon ‘Mother of God of the Sign from Kursk’, chosen to be part of the Treasures of Ely exhibition in Ely Cathedral in 1971. How and when it came to be in the church still remains a mystery despite the best efforts of the Recorders to solve it.  

The completed Record for All Saints St. Ives was presented in April 2015. At about the same time, a smaller group of eleven volunteers started recording St Peter & St Paul’s Church Fenstanton, to coincide with the tercentenary celebrations of the famous landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, who is memorialized within the church and buried in the churchyard.

The church also has another famous associate, namely John Howland, a pilgrim father who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. His father, Henry Howland, is memorialised within the church and buried in the churchyard. Much Howland memorabilia is present, including a copy of the Mayflower Compact of 1620, making the church a popular destination for Americans visitors. The Fenstanton Record was completed late in 2019.  Earlier that year, the group began recording St Andrews Church, Swavesey. Like many projects, Church Recording was put on hold due to Covid in 2020 and 2021.

The nature of Church Recording has seen many changes over the years, not least technological ones. Today’s Records are produced and distributed digitally and physical copies are now only given to the church and Local Record Office.  However, the biggest change has come recently.

The Church Recording Society (CRS)

Late in 2019, following a rebrand and impact review on its volunteering activities, The Arts Society announced that it would no longer support Church Recording at a National Level. The requirement to support it at a local level would become optional.  As a direct result of this, a new charity, The Church Recording Society (CRS), was set up by a body of church recording volunteers at the end of 2020.  It is to be member owned and member run and will develop Church Recording in a way church recorders think best.  It will ensure the continuation and growth of Church Recording, providing an umbrella and a forum for its members, a place to share information and ideas, and a link with outside bodies with similar involvement in things ecclesiastical and heritage. 

[Picture below: Huntingdon Church Recorders]


Find out more about Church Recording

  • If you would like to find out more about Church Recording, whether you would like to volunteer to be a recorder or suggest your church as a focus, please visit the website to find your nearest group.
  • For the St Ives/ Huntingdon area, contact details are in the volunteer section of The Arts Society Huntingdonshire website -


Text written by Pat Hamilton, Huntingdon Church Recording Group, with minor edits by Holly Isted, Historic Church Buildings Support Officer for the Diocese of Ely.


Page last updated: Thursday 21st July 2022 9:27 AM
First published on: 21st July 2022
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