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New Data reveals Norfolk as a top county for church heritage

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England’s ‘five-star churches’ and the best counties to explore historic churches have been revealed, following an analysis of 2,000 churches across 77 counties by the National Churches Trust’s church tourism website

Churches were analysed across eight different categories;

  • Interiors
  • stained glass
  • churchyards
  • atmosphere
  • wildlife
  • national history
  • monuments and
  • social history.

The counties that are home to the highest percentage of churches in each of these categories are revealed to provide hotspots for church tourism. Visitor facilities were also examined to determine, for the first time, the county that has the highest percentage of ‘five-star churches’, and therefore offering the best overall visitor experience.

The latest data will not only help tourists locate the best destinations for exploring churches in England, but will also put churches in line with other leisure facilities as tourism destinations in their own right.

ComRes Visiting Churches Poll
The analysis follows the National Churches Trust’s poll of 2,037 British people, conducted by ComRes in September 2018, which shows that 49 per cent of British adults visited a church, chapel or meeting house in the last year. That is equivalent to 25 million people.

24 percent said they had visited a church building, chapel, or meeting house to attend a life event, such as a wedding, funeral or baptism, 22 percent had visited for tourism and 11 percent for religious activity such as Mass, a worship service or prayer.

Eight percent said they had visited to find a quiet space to escape the hustle and bustle or to light a candle.

Wales and the South West of England had the highest percentage of people visiting a church, both at 56 percent, with the West Midlands (38 percent) and Scotland (36 percent) the lowest percentages.

Almost a quarter of British people said they would be more inclined to visit a church as a leisure activity or tourist attraction if there were better visitor friendly facilities such as accessible toilets, a café or nearby parking (23 percent) with 20 percent saying that cultural events including concerts or exhibitions would attract them.

19 percent said they would be more inclined to visit if they knew in advance that the building was open. 12 percent said that an onsite welcome and a guided tour would be a draw.

Bettany Hughes, Vice President of The National Churches Trust, which runs the website, said:

“Our analysis will help tourists and visitors discover the amazing heritage of churches and chapels. We hope it will encourage more people to become passionate about these tremendous buildings packed with memories of human life often dating back over 1,000 years.

“As well as signposting the best architecture, stained glass, and history, our data also includes information on visitor facilities, which allows us to suggest which churches are ‘five star’ attractions.

“Our study shows that churches and chapels offer a tremendous range of unique experiences for visitors including tower climbing, wildlife spotting and even live music. There really is something for everyone.”

5 Star Churches

Greater London: Most Visitor Friendly
What makes a church ‘5 star’? Visitor-centred facilities such as parking, refreshment and toilets have been deemed as key features of a 5 star church. Bringing churches closer in line with other major tourist and leisure attractions, this rating helps visitors know what to expect if planning a visit, from a practical point of view.

Greater London scores the highest when it comes to visitor experience, with more than half (56 percent) of churches included in the study being accessible by public transport and providing parking, refreshments and toilets. Yorkshire was the second most visitor friendly (49 percent), followed by Surrey (38 percent). Churches in this category are commended for smoothly combining historically rich surroundings with modern day facilities.

Art & Architecture

Norfolk: Top for interiors
Norfolk is joint first with Shropshire for the county with the highest percentage of churches with stunning interiors; including furniture, embroidered altar cloths, art, sculptures, carvings in wood and stone and ancient and modern wall and ceiling paintings. Nearly all (96 percent) of its churches are recognised for their interior features, followed by Somerset (94 percent), and Oxfordshire (93 percent).

Suffolk: Stunning for stained glass
Suffolk joins Cornwall and Cumbria in the top three counties in England for stained glass windows, with 72 percent of its churches, the highest in the country, being recognised for the people they depict, the stories they tell and their famous designers from pre-Raphaelites to modern day artists.

Wildlife / Churchyards / Atmosphere

Cornwall: Wonderful for Wildlife
Cornwall is the top place for discovering wildlife in church grounds, with almost half (49 percent) of its churches either having wildflower meadows, unmown areas of the churchyard to encourage native species or being recognized as sites of special scientific interest. Lincolnshire is the second-best county (48 percent) for its wildlife friendly churches followed by Cumbria (42 percent).

Shropshire: Most charming Churchyards
Shropshire is the top county for exploring churchyards with 96 percent listing them as significant features, followed by Warwickshire (84 per cent) and Somerset (82 percent). Its churchyards are considered keepers of community heritage; a rich resource for seeking out family history and other historic information from gravestones.

Cumbria: Amazing Atmosphere
Cumbria has the highest percentage of churches offering ‘atmospheric’ or ‘other-wordly’ surroundings (78 percent), followed by Cornwall, which is the second best county (69 percent). Often small and rural, these churches are sometimes referred to as the ‘thin places,’ a term used by Celts and Christians.

National History

Cumbria: Best for National History
Cumbria is the top county for churches with links to our national heritage with over half (54 percent) stating a famous connection or association with a national event, followed closely by Greater London which reported 53 per cent of its churches had national links.

Northamptonshire: Marvellous Monuments
Northamptonshire has the highest percentage of church monuments (77 percent), followed by Warwickshire (66 per cent), Shropshire (61 per cent), and Suffolk (59 percent). It is recognised for being home to both large, detailed and glorious monuments, as well as those that are quirky and unique. Monuments include architectural or sculptural memorials made to remember individuals and historic events and often display fine stone carving and other artistic characteristics.

Norfolk: Social History Hotspot
Norfolk has the highest percentage of churches, both old or new, which 63 percent considered keepers of community history, with links to stories about people, activities and events throughout the years. Cumbria and Greater London follow closely with 61 percent of its churches revealing more about our social history.

See the images below for inforgraphs of this data.

The poll of 2,037 adults in Britain was conducted by ComRes, a member of the British Polling Council, on behalf of the National Churches Trust in September 2018. Full data table is available here

About the National Churches Trust

The National Churches Trust is the leading national independent charity concerned with the protection and welfare of churches, chapels and meeting houses throughout the United Kingdom. For more information visit


ExploreChurches, from the National Churches Trust, is a resource for visitors and churches, supporting and promoting a beautiful collection of fascinating places to visit. For more information visit