Where do I begin …how on earth do I review this magnificent and comprehensive book in a few words?

It is, let me stress from the outset, the book I have always wanted to read on the church in 18th century Britain. For it not only covers the history of the  fabulous new builds that took place during this century, and developments in architectural trends, with enough architectural plans to satisfy even me, but it also details the life of the church and churchgoers from cradle to grave, see the Funeral Ticket of Mrs Mary Thomas,below:

and the author writes in great and easily digested detail on how the church operated on a daily basis.

The author is a noted expert on the Anglican Church in the 18th century,and one of his earlier books is a favourite of mine, shown below, but I hesitated to reckoned it to you fearing it was of specialist interest only.

Not so with this latest book newly published by the ever excellent Yale.

This is a block buster of a book, comprehensively and beautifully illustrated and very well written. Its only down side is its massive weight (I’m very glad I and it delivered and didn’t have to carry it home, my apologies my local independent bookseller).

It concentrates on the Anglican church and its life within these magnificent buildings, but does include chapters on Catholic chapels,Dissenting chapels, churches in the United States,country house chapels, such as the one at Stoneleigh,whose magnificent plaster ceiling is shown below:

and the Gothick revival chapel at The Vyne, in Hampshire,both places Jane Austen knew well.

This book is invaluable, for references to the Church in Jane Austens works abound,and if you ever wanted to know more of country house chapels the parish churhces or even the architects she mentions, then this is the book for you.

The chapel at Southerton in Mansfield Park was most surely based on the cool Palladainism of the chapel at Stoneleigh,whereas Fanny Price’s sympathies were mor in tune with ancient structures.  The cover shows St Georges Parish Church,  Hanover Square the church where the ever fashionably-minded Mary Crawford imagines Fanny and Henry Crawford will marry…

I am at your service and Henry’s, at an hour’s notice. I should like the scheme, and we would make a little circuit, and shew you Everingham in our way, and perhaps you would not mind passing through London, and seeing the inside of St. George’s, Hanover Square. Only keep your cousin Edmund from me at such a time: I should not like to be tempted.
Mansfield Park, Chapter 43

The book even makes mention of one of Jane Austin’s possibly less favoured architects, the architect appointed by Robert Ferrars friend, Lord Coutland, Joseph Bonomi:

“For my own part,” said he, “I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them. And I protest, if I had any money to spare, I should buy a little land and build one myself, within a short distance of London, where I might drive myself down at any time, and collect a few friends about me, and be happy. I advise everybody who is going to build, to build a cottage. My friend Lord Courtland came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice, and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi’s. I was to decide on the best of them. ‘My dear Courtland,’ said I, immediately throwing them all into the fire, ‘do not adopt either of them, but by all means build a cottage.’ And that, I fancy, will be the end of it.
Sense and Sesnibility, Chapter 36.

The book is massive – just under 800 pages- and very heavy,and comes with a CD ROM of documentation of the design and construction histories of 272 ecclesiastical buildings. An elegant solution to space constraints.

It is however packed, simply packed, with fascinating information, about the church, the churches,the people who commissioned them and built them,and the lives of the congregation and priests within the churches themselves.

I highly recommend it to anyone interested in finding out more about the Church in Jane Austen’s day, its buildings and its operation, for she was  so intimately connected to it, through her own family and through the lives of her imagined character. This book clears up many misunderstandings or puzzles arising from her works. I would urge you to buy it or seek a view of it in your nearest library.