Book Review: Tiny Churches by Dixe Wills

Tiny Churches|Dixe Wills:

Your guide to the prettiest little churches in Britain

Tiny Churches by Dixe Wills may be a small book but it’s packed with 60 detailed descriptions of some of Britain’s prettiest and most interesting tiny churches.

As a result of some extensive research, Wills has included some real historical treasures in this collection. All of which are just waiting to be discovered in this definitive guide to tiny churches.

From St Boniface Kirk in Papa Westray at the very tip of Scotland to Our Lady & St Anne’s in Widemouth Bay at the bottom of England – there’s bound to be a tiny church near you.

Inspired, or rather reminded during a trip to Canada as to the abundance of historic architecture in Britain, Wills caught the ‘tiny church’ bug and returned home to catalogue a few of his favourites. Many of these churches have remained guarded secrets by the locals.

The result is ‘Tiny Churches’. An informative guide that really has to be either kept in your car or in your cemetery visiting kit! Of course, not every tiny church in Britain is included. We patiently wait ‘Tiny Churches Vol. 2’ Dixe if you’re reading this! What has been included, however, is enough to want to get you exploring and discovering these buildings for yourself.

A few teasers…

My main problem is that I LOVE churches so it was probably just as hard for me to choose a few of my favourites as it was for Wills. However, there are a few gems that have got me itching to go and visit them – specifically added to my list because of Wills’ description.

I will, however, hold my hands up now and admit I’ve not visited the majority of the churches in Wills’ book yet.

St Oswald’s, Widford, Oxfordshire (pg 130)

A short description of this little church at Widford gives a brief yet detailed history of this little known gem. St Oswald’s was formerly part of a village, now long gone but like many of the churches that feature in this book, it has a long and interesting history. It’s nice to see that Wills has written these descriptions in a lighthearted manner rather than bog the reader down with to many dry facts.

There are particular items of note – medieval wall paintings (dating from around 1340), a mosaic floor and that the surrounding fields are awlays filled with cattle.

A vital piece of information for any walker petrified of these beasts!

There is also a brief – mentioned by only 10 words – yet the tantalizing description of the graveyard hinting that there are gravestones of interest within the churchyard.

I did come across this video on YouTube by Coxwold Churches which has a fantastic 5 minutes on St Oswald’s. Take a peek, and see what you think. Fast forward to around the 2:20 mark.

St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent (pg 74)

My next favourite is St Thomas Becket in Fairfield. Almost russet in colour, this magnificent tiny church lies within Romney Marsh, on the very banks of some of the waterways here in fact.

Wills’ description does him credit and it is because of such entries that this book deserves a positive review.

Little anecdotes such as having to locate the key to the church on the wall of a house name ‘Beckets’ prior to visiting or that parishioners had on occasion been forced to use a boat and row over to the church for services are things that you want to read in a guide.

It’s details like this that make your potential visit even more exciting. The accompanying photos for this entry have definitely put it in my ‘Top 10’.

The whitewashed box pews edged in black, and an appearance in recent BBC dramas Parade’s End and Great Expectations definitely helped it on the way too!

St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent ac church mentioned in Dixe Willis 'Tiny Churches'.  Original image attributed to Theromney
St Thomas Becket, Rumney Marsh via the

St Beuno’s, Culbone, Somerset (pg 26)

And finally St Beuno’s, pronounced ‘Bayno’. Nestled in a tiny clearing in the woods, lies what has been classified as the smallest complete parish church in Britain. It measures a mere 35ft by 12ft. This church holds great potential. From the image accompanying this entry in the book, the graveyard is sure to hold some interesting gravestones! Another to add to my list for 2020.

I’m also interested to see the seating for ’33 people’ as well as the tiny bells within this tiny church.

Again, there’s a short video on You Tube for St Beuno’s, only about 2 minutes long and well worth a look if you’re interested.

Other Teasers Include All Saints, Shorehampton where you can see a whole gallery of medieval paintings. St Mary’s, Lead near Tadcaster that boasts five grave slabs that have been set into the floor of the nave and are covered in heraldic inscriptions and the Old Church of St Mary the Virgin at Preston Candover where there are two funeral biers.

Overall Thoughts…

If you’re after a guide that packs a punch and delivers while leaving out the waffle then Tiny Churches by Dixe Wills is it. Wills’ sense of humor appears throughout the book. I often found myself quietly smiling at some of the one-liners used, especially in the introduction believe it or not.

Entries are accompanied by the latest public transport information – I strongly suggest you double-check any travel plans beforehand. You’ll also find OS Landranger Map references. Handy if you are planning on incorporating a tiny church into a walk.

This is definitely a book for any taphophile, architecture historian or walker. There really is something for everyone. Yes, read it cover to cover, but my bet is you’ll thumb through it on a Friday night looking for your next tiny adventure. Just be ready to head out the front door first thing Saturday morning!

If you’re into all things tiny then you may also enjoy some other titles by Dixe Wills keeping in the same theme.

Tiny Britain Dixe Wills
Tiny Castles Dixe Wills

I've been researching the macabre world of body snatching since 2005 when I looked at the topic in depth for my Under Grad dissertation. Since then, I've been absolutely fascinated by this often forgotten side of Britain's history.

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