One of the most impressive features of the landscape is the distant glimpse of a church tower or spire, outlined against the sky and the horizon. In our urban areas the churches reach high above the roofscape and, despite dating in some cases back to the Middle Ages, compete with some of the most modern office and apartment blocks for the prize of being the tallest building in town. In our rural areas they are the great focus of villages and the agricultural landscape, providing witness to the centuries over which people have worked the land. They are also a great friend to the traveller, for they are easy destinations to head towards and provide a comforting promise of nearby rest and refreshment in the village pub.
Steeplechasing is now mostly associated with National Hunt horse racing, but traditionally it was a term used to describe any form of cross country sporting pursuit. Whether on foot or horseback, the ‘race’ was to be the first to reach the churches whose steeples were visible. So, steeplechasing is still something which can be done today – by car, by walking or by bike. Visiting the tallest churches in our own locality, county or region is an interesting way of exploring local histories and communities. Finding the tallest church towers or spires isn’t always easy, though, as the measured heights aren’t necessarily known or recorded.
So where are the record places in your own locality? In the West Midlands of England, a ‘steeplechase’ across the region’s six ceremonial counties in search of the tallest church towers and steeples would take in the following record places.
Herefordshire. St.Peter’s, Peterchurch has a spire that is 56.7m in height. This rural village sits in the “Golden Valley” of south west Herefordshire, 15km west of Hereford, and the church dates back to Norman times. The original spire was half removed in 1949 for safety reasons, but was replaced in 1972 with a spire built in fibreglass (Grid Reference SO34523854).
Shropshire. St Mary’s, St. Mary’s Place, Shrewsbury was founded before the 13th century. The spire, which is 42m high, was added to the existing West Tower in the late 15th century. The church became redundant in 1987 and is now managed by the Churches Conservation Trust (Grid Reference SJ49251264).
Staffordshire. Staffordshire’s tallest is the 76.8m high central spire of Lichfield Cathedral. The cathedral, dedicated to St Chad, the first Bishop of Mercia, has its origins in 669AD, but the present cathedral was constructed in the years following 1195 AD. The central spire was rebuilt in the late 17th century (Grid Reference SK11500970).
Warwickshire. The county’s tallest spire is at St Gregory’s, Mill Lane, Tredington, 3km north of Shipston-on Stour, and is 64m high. The church dates from the 10th century but is mostly 12th-14th century, while the unusual octagonal spire dates from the 15th century (Grid Reference SP25924357).
West Midlands. The ceremonial county of the West Midlands, which includes the seven metropolitan boroughs of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry, has the tallest spire in the region. The 90m spire of the original Coventry cathedral, built in the 14th century and dedicated to St. Michael, made it the 7th tallest church in the UK. Although the cathedral was destroyed by bombing in 1940, the tower, spire and part of the outer wall remain, sited alongside the modern Coventry Cathedral (Grid Reference SP33607900).
Worcestershire. Worcestershire’s tallest is the 62m tower of Worcester Cathedral. It is the third tower on the cathedral (the first fell down, and the second was taken down for safety reasons!), and was completed in 1374, although the origins of the cathedral are the Worcester Priory on the same site, dating from 680AD (Grid Reference SO85005450)
The tallest churches of the West Midlands are a diverse variety of cathedrals and parish churches, therefore. But where would you have to go to visit the tallest in the UK? Salisbury Cathedral, in Wiltshire has the tallest spire of all at 123m (Grid ReferenceSO14262951), while the tallest parish church is St James Church in Louth (Lincolnshire) whose spire is 89.9m tall (Grid Reference TF32668739.
The Must Get Out More Question !
Where are the tallest church towers/spires in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The Answer to the Last Question
Where in the UK is the oldest football ground in the world which is still in use?
(Hint- it isn’t a club ground in the main professional leagues in the UK!)
The oldest football ground in the world which is still in use is in Chapeltown, Lancashire, which is 5km north of Bolton in Greater Manchester. The pitch is opposite the Chetham Arms pub on High Street and is now part of the Tower Community Centre. Games were played as early as 1856, and it became the home of Turton FC from 1871. The pitch was taken over by Old Boltonians AFC in 1952. (Grid Reference SD73401580)
The Record Locations
You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk