Visiting Churches, Taking Photographs, Drawing Monuments

And Other Such Stuff

Visiting the Church and Obtaining Permission

The majority of parish churches in Britain as well as in France are open during the day although the times of opening and closing do vary; however, visiting between 11.00 am and 4.00 p.m. should find the great majority open. There is a local French church which has different opening hours on different days and even that changes with the months; however that is the exception rather than the rule for churches. I must add that in contrast this is not the case for French shops whose opening times are somewhat arbitrary!  Some churches are kept locked: sometimes there appears to be a good reason for this, other times there does not. For example, there are a series of churches along the same country road in Devon which are part of a team benefice; three are kept open but one is locked. It seems that the team clergy would like to keep all churches open but the parochial church council of the church in question prefers to keep it locked. Incidentally, it is the least interesting church of the series.

At one time it used to be said that the key was kept somewhere in the porch, on top of a notice board or behind a seat for example. This may well have been for cleaners, flower arrangers and others who had regular business in the church. I have only ever come this once: I had walked several miles to a small country church in Devon only to find it locked. I tossed my rather heavy walking stick onto a seat in the porch in frustration and to my surprise the key fell to the floor; it mush have been secreted under the seat. This is not advising you to attack the fixtures and fittings in the porch with  stick. On another occasion I wrote to the vicar of a church in Hampshire asking for permission to visit the church; this however turned out a 'redundent' church, as they used to be called at the time, but the post office very efficiently, as always, delivered my letter to the church's key holder. This person wrote to me and asked me to telephone him for an appointment. This I did, indicating the day I would like to visit and  this caretaker rather curiously gave me his address and said that a key would be available under a large stone on the door step at 10.00 o'clock. I arrived early, as I always do, looked under the large stone but found no key. I rang the door bell but there was no answer. I sat in my car outside the house but the door did not open and no one arrived. At 10.00 o'clock I walked up the short drive, lifted the stone and there was the key.

However you do not have to hunt the key as many locked church have a notice board at the gate or in the porch giving the name, address or telephone number of the key holder. The house is often very near the church so always take a mobile phone. In every case case I have found the key holders more than happy to help. Sometimes they go along with you and are always very pleasant if, at sometimes, rather garrulous. Of course they are keeping a watch on you but often will give you interesting information about the church.

If you are planning a special journey to visit a church it is always advisable to write, telephone or e-mail to the vicar, rector or whoever is in charge of the church to ask if and when the church is open and if it is not who is the key holder. It is wise to mention the purpose of your visit. Always write in good time as with large teams of parishes the post office may not know where to deliver your letter immediately. The vicar of a small village may not longer live in the vicarge and the rector of Microtown may no longer exist. Always state clearly that your photographs are for personal or academic use and never for personal gain orcommercial purposes. If they really are for a commercial purpose do state this as there may, quite reasonable, be some financial arrangement involved . The contact details are now very often on the internet and very often on a site called A Church Near You. These normally give an e-mail address of the vicar, rector, priest-in-church or other contact for the church in question. However the internet is not always as up to date as we should like it to be and if your e-mail receives no reply and has not bounced back it may be that there is no one at the other end because the church is in interregnum. If you then write to the church you letter may well be delivered to the right person as the post office and postmen and women have more initiative and intelligence than the internet!

Even if you are not planning a special journey and you know the church is kept open, it is always polite to ask the church authorities for permission to take photographs anyway. I have never to date been refused this. Cathedrals and some large churches, such as Tewkesbury Abbey, have a help desk where you may ask for permission. For a cathedral you write to the Dean: he's in charge and will pass on your letter to the head verger, publicity officer or whoever deals with such letters. Some cathedrals charge an entry fee, some charge a fee for photography (and give you a stick on badge!) but these are not only variable but curious. Sometimes there is an extra charge for tripods while sometimes they are not allowed at all during certain times; this is quite reasonable when the large churches have a large number of visitors. Sometimes flash is reasonably subject to certain restrictions.

I have once been refused permission in a cathedral and that was by Durham but they have now changed their rather unfortunate policy in this matter. Yes, you could obtain permission before their recent enlightenment but you had to ask for this in writing beforehand, the cost was restrictively high, the time you could spend severely limited, you were not allowed to include members of staff or children in your photographs, and you were not allowed to use either flash or tripod.   This is mentioned on the Durham page. Westminster Abbey does not allow photography (they want to sell you their own large collection of photographs!) but I probably could not afford to visit this most expensive church anyway. I think St Paul's Cathedral does not allow photography but Amanda did take large number and presumably wrote for and was given permission.

Photographing Monuments

   Church Monuments are difficult to photograph: earthquakes aside the monument is highly unlikely to move but you might. Because church interior are often on the dark side you may well need a long exposure to allow enough light through the lens into the camera. The are three way of controlling this:

1. Shutter speed 2. Aperture of the lens 3. Film speed - or on a digital camera, effective film speed

  Shutter speed tells you how long the shutter is open; it should rather be called shutter time. On the more professional cameras you can set this at anything from 1/8000 second to 30 seconds or even minutes or hours if you control this yourself. The longer time the shutter is open (confusingly a long shutter speed) the more light enters the camera. Ideal for church interiors? Yes, but if you hand hold the camera on anything more than 1/50 sec you will get 'camera shake', unless you have a steady hand. So the camera will need supporting on a fixed surface - or you can use a tripod. Both of these can be limiting, of course.

  Aperture tells you how wide the lens is open which is controlled by a clever diaphragm. This  is given by those F numbers but, confusingly, the small the number the wider the aperture. This is because it's a ratio and this actually does make sense but I will not go into that here. The wider aperture the more light enters the camera. So problem solved for photographing in bad light: just use a wide aperture?  Sorry, no that won't work either: you didn't really expect it to. The problem here is that the wider the aperture the smaller the depth of field. This is if you focus on something it tells you how far behind and in from of that something, things will still be in focus. This can be solved by taking photographs with the subject as flat as possible. By that I mean do no photograph an effigy from the feet looking towards the head for if you have set the focus on the feet, the head will be out of focus; so take it from the side.
  You can see the effect of small apertures like this. If you need reading glass try looking at text without them: it's blurred, out of focus. Now make a tiny aperture with your index finger and thumb and try again: suddenly you can read it. A good technique if you forget your specs although you might look rather eccentric. Although someone might offer to buy you some spectacles!

   Film speed. This tells you how fast or slow this film is, meaning that a fast film will need less light to expose it correctly than a slow film. So you will be able to set a shorter exposure on your camera than with a slow film. Film speed was set by an ASA number: most films were 80, 200, or 400 ASA, not at all a big range. You can also 'push' films to a higher rating if you're a crack hand in the dark room. Will this help? By now you will expect there will be a trade off: the bigger the ASA number, the grainier the photograph will look. It was only the most sophisticated cameras which allowed you to remove one film and then insert another and then swap it for the original again.

   Help is on its way. On digital cameras it is possible to adjust to 'speed' or sensitivity of the film sensor, pushing it up to 25,000 and beyond. A trade off? As you push the speed up the result becomes 'noisier' but the effect is most quite acceptable and I regularly push up the speed. For small images this works very well indeed.

   Flash. This would seem to solve all the problems but not as easily as you might think or hope. First of all the usual flash on the camera with give a flat, washed out photograph but there another problem reminiscent of depth of field, as defined above. Any light will produce increasingly dimmer and dimmer illumination with distance; yes, you can see that light bulb way over there but I will hardly illuminate you surroundings in the dark. Flash behave in the same way of course.

   The other problem

   1. My old Agfa camera which must be half a century old and which cost me £10! The rings round the lens from the bottom up are:- 1. This controls the aperture and is set on f8. The controls the shutter speed, which is set on 1/60 of a second. 3. This seems to repeat the aperture number  and work with the focusing ring 4. As you turn the ring to the diamond shaped marker to set the number of feet (yes feet remember) the lens with focus on, say, 1.6 feet as in the photograph. If you follow the lines down from the f numbers they will show you how much in front and behind the subject will be in focus. Almost nothing ar f2.8  but better as the aperture gets small toward f22.  The range is small at close focusing range but improve dramaticall with distance.

   Notice how the background is blurred in the photograph as i used a large aperture and focused close up.

  2. Yes like that but smaller...much smaller.

  3. 35 mm film cassettes with speeds from 200 to what was then a whopping 1600 ASA.

The Aperture

You can just about see the iris diaphragm through the lens of this (not my) Leica. I had to turn the camera green to make this possible And here's whay it looks like in close up. Top: Diagrams of how it works.
Bottom: As ever, nature got there fist and it's all, unlike the earlier cameras, automatic!

Do it yourself. At night turn off the lights and look in a mirror -  the iris open and produces a large pupil; now turn the lights on - and the iris closes and produces a small pupil.
As you get older the process becomes slower.

Saving & Corruption: A Warning

My great-grandma was quite a feisty girl

Some years ago
I took a large number of photographs in York Minster and Worcester Cathedral, uploaded them to my computer then compressed and reduced them for this site, where they remain. I then saved the photographs from these two cathedrals and several other places onto a disc as was then the procedure. I saved all of the photographs I had taken elsewhere onto a seies of discs too. When USB keys arrived, I transferred all the material from these discs to several keys, the latter being smaller, much more convenient and, I believe, less prone to problems. All of the photographs on the discs were accessible except those from York and Worcester: this particular disc had become corrupted for no reason that I could ascertain and all the photographs were lost. This particular disc was made by Phillips while all of the others were made by other companies and were fine.

I wrote to Kodak about this problem, asking them what was the best way to store photographs. They replied that digital images were actually prone to failure as my series on the Philip's disc had failed and, futhermore, technology is advancing so quickly that stored material that one has today may no longer be accesible on a device of tomorrow. We have all seen this, of course: programs that ran on an earlier version of Windows will not run on a later version. Kodk's advice was to print the photographs on photographic paper and store them in the dark at an even temperature. This sounds sound advice as we can still look at our Victorian ancestors in photographs taken well over a century ago. Even a photograph which has faded, stained and cracked can be restored at least somewhat by an experienced amateur and even be restored to its original form by an expert. Whereas my photographs from York and Worcester are lost and gone forever.

The cynical amongst you will say that Kodak was trying to sell me lots of their photographic paper. However they were, as I have shown, quite right

Sound recordings have a similar story: I like the folk recording made by Moe Ash of Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houton and others recorded in the mid 1940's and recently a batch of the metal masters were discovered which are as clear today as when they were recorded. How long do casette tapes last and who invented them I wonder?

Digital photograph of the monument to Prince William of Hatfied taken in York Minster a few years ago.

In Praise of Digital Cameras

Church monuments are difficult to photograph and churches are difficult places in which to take photographs: digital cameras have made life a good deal easier for the church interior photographer.

A good quality film camera can, in my experience, takes a far better photograph than an equivalent digital camera but there are many problems. Churches are often dark and the monuments often in even darker corners. If you have loaded your camera with a 400 ASA film, you're in trouble straight away. You can open your lens to full aperture (causing loss of depth of field) but the exposure time is still too long to hand hold the camera so you have to resort to a tripod, which limits your choices of camera position. You can change to faster films, if your camera allows it, or 'force' the film on development but this needs considerable experience - as well as a dark room. Or you can use flash. A flash, either built in or a separate flash gun on the camera, gives a flat, washed out look to the photograph with harsh shadows and if you attempt to take a photograph with some depths the light from the flash falls off rapidly with distance giving a very unsatisfactory appearance. You can use multiple flash of course but you do need a lot of experience and a lot of equipment.

Of course with film photography you will never know what you have recorded on the film until you have developed it.

The first digital cameras - which appeared in the 1990's if I remember correctly - were basic and expensive: I neither wanted not could afford one. But progress has been amazing. There is no problem with film speed: my camera will go to an effective film speed of 25,000; some will go even higher, so you can take photographs almost in the dark. Quality deteriorated using these high figures but even this is getting better. You can see on the camera's screen exactly how the photographs will turn out so no waiting in the dark room. You can used multiple flash and see exactly what the result will be at once. You can hold the camera at, say, a high angle without looking through the viewfinder and see on the screen what you have captured. Some cameras have fold out screens so you can see what you will capture even  before you take the photograph.

All of this you can attempt with a film camera but 'blind' camera work is often disappointing. Multiple trial photographs of the same subject leads to using a considerable amount of film, with the additional cost.

Do not with a digital camera forget to charge your battery or better still take a spare.


    Pencil drawing is an excellent method for producing good accurate rendering of church monuments while in the church. This is what the etchers such as Charles Stothard and Thomas Hollis used to do all those years ago to obtain preliminary drawings for their finished work. I use a series of pencils from hard to soft with which it is possible to produce clear lines and good shading. High lights can be added by using a plastic eraser to lighten the shaded area. But pencil drawings, no matter how fine they look, do not reproduce well on the internet.

    Pen and ink drawings are ideal for this purpose and reproduce very well indeed; the can even be made to look rather like an etching. I executed this drawing of Prince William of Hatfield, young son of King Edward III by copying an etching by Charles Stothard. How he produced his original drawing is a mystery!

   My drawing was executed by using a series of Rotring pens (which used to be used by architects) on a special paper called CS10 which was manufactured by Frisk. The pens have a tubular nib which is best used perpendicular  to the paper and can be used with Indian Ink. They do give very fine results indeed. The pens are still available although very expensive now; they can also be infuriating: the pens, especially the fine ones used in the drawing are apt to block from time to time. Shaking them often unblocks them but there is a danger of a blot of ink ending up on yours nearly finished drawing or, perhaps even worse, on the floor. Be careful not to lose your temper with the pen: violent shaking can result in the nib hitting the desk and then you might as well throw the pen in the bin.

  Fisk CS10 paper, unlike the confounded yet wonderful pens, was truly magic. It had a hard surface which sort of went right through to the back so that you could correct a mistake, remove a blot and, especially useful, gently scratch the line with a scalpel to make it less black which made the drawing, as may be seen, resemble an etching. If you removed an error there would be still a usable drawing surface below. The surface itself takes a fine line without it spreading: some papers are almost like drawing on blotting paper in this respect. I used to scratch out with a number 15 Swann-Morton blade, then use an ink eraser or stick and finally polish the paper with a pencil eraser.

Alas, Frisk ceased production of CS10 paper years ago, so long ago that I have not been able to fine a photograph of the drawing pad on the internet. They continued making a board for a few years but that too is now no longer produced. I do have a few - very few - sheets left but after that? I have never found a replacement to CS 10; art dealers have sold me what they told me was an equivalent but it never was and would not do what the old magic paper used to do.

Swann-Morton scalpel handle and detachable blade. You can buy 'disposable' all in one scalpels but they don't feel as robust. With these  the handle is tough and will last for ever; the blades are carbon-steel and very sharp but will blunt. But you have to inset and remove the blade so great care must be taken. I hold the blade in its foil container to do this and use it as a cover all the time. Some people use forceps but they just do not have the control, in my view.


Intaglio Printing

     The earliest illustrations of church monuments were produced by intaglio printing; these are also the most beautiful. This, of course, was well before the invention of photographs and the first stage involved drawing by pencil the monument in the church, a very difficult task in itself and I greatly admire the artists who undertook this skillful work. The image is then transferred onto a metal plate by creating a number of lines cut into this plate, the various tones being created by varying the depth of the line and by cross hatching. There are other methods and one of these will be briefly mentioned below. The plate is then inked and passed though a press producing a print. The plate is then cleaned and another print made although eventually the plate will begin to show signs of wear. Different artists may be involved in the different processes of this work.

    Can you see a problem here? The image on the plate has to be reversed otherwise the resulting print will itself be reversed. However there are ways around this problem, obviously, but I won't describe the minutia here. Two methods of producing the plate will be described below


     In this process
the lines are cut into the metal plate (a steel plate in the example shown) directly by using a tool called a burin. The depth of the line is controlled simply by engraving it more deeply. This is very skillful work and very lengthy, taking days, weeks or months to complete a plate. Woe betide you should you make a mistake: you just do not! However the results are truely magnificent: look at the engraving of King Henry IV and his Queen, Joan of Navarre on the right. Here the drawing was executed by architect Edward Blore which was a major achieving in itself and if you are familiar with this monument you will, like I am, baffled by how on earth he managed to do it! As is sometimes the case the another hand carried out the engraving: here it was John Henry Le Keux. I certainly admire the skill of these Victorian gentlemen.

   I have never attempted engraving and, because I  do not have the skill to do so nor the time to develop that skill nor a master to teach me, certainly never will. I have tried to use a burin on a cupper plate which was easy enough but to execute a full detailed plate is certainly another matter.

   The plate then has to be printed and the is dealt with in etching below. Etching was introduced because the process is speeder than engraving and this is now described below.


    The term etching strictly refers to the process of cutting a line in a copper plate by a chemical process; the end result, often called simply etchings, are prints.

      In this process the copper plate again has lined cut into it like engraving but the process is very different. The copper plate is cleaned and covered with a ground, a waxy like substance that is melted onto the plate lying on a hot plate. The back of the plate will probably already be covered in a resistant layer but, if not, a ground is painted on. The ground is to prevent the etchant liquid - often nitric acid or a similar material - from beginning to dissolve the copper.

     Then the drawing is transferred to the plate - remembering to reverse it - so that there is a fairly simple line drawing on top of the ground.  The ground is then scratched away using an etching needle, in a series of lines and cross hatching. Unlike in engraving you cannot make the lines deeper at this stage. Drawing like this on the plate is called needling.

    When ready the plate is immersed in the etching agent - usually nitric acid or ferric chloride - for a measured length of times - several minutes - and then removed. It is then  washed and examined. If you want the lines deeper to give a stronger line on the forthcoming print the other lines are stopped out by painting a liquid varnish over these lines. The plate is then returned to the etchant bath and again left for several minutes but this times the etchant will only bite into the lines which have not been stopped out. This process may be repeated several times etching deeper and deeper lines. This process require a good deal of experience  to acquire the necessary skill.

    The plate is then removed from the bath, washed and the ground removed by a solvent. Hopefully we are now ready to print but the plate could be reground again and re-etched or the line could be deepened by an engraving technique or even lessened by careful scraping and sanding.

      Initially the copper plated is inked: the aim is to cover all of the plate with ink and especially to force the ink into all of the etched lines on the plate. Etching ink is very thick and this work is carried out with the copper plate placed on a heated bed. Black ink is shown here but all colours are available. You can also produce coloured prints with different coloured inks but this is beyond the scope of this short article and certainly well beyond my skill! This is very messy work!

     Next you wipe the ink off again! Well, not all of it just that which is on the surface of the plate and not in the etched lines, obviously. This is a difficult procedure as if any ink is left on the surface you will end up with a dirty looking background when you come to produce the first print: and then you will have to wipe all of the ink off the plate and start all over again.

     Now you are ready to print the plate: the copper plate in laid on the bed of the etching press, which is special press rather like an old
fashioned mangle, protecting the bed with clean paper to avoid any ink marks. This is covered by the dampened paper, by a protective paper layer and a series of thick blankets to even the pressure from the rollers You turn the wheel and the bed with the plate and the paper passes between two rollers.



The Artists

     Charles Alfred Stothard

     George Hollis (1793-1842) & Thomas Hollis (1818-43) Father and son who began work on what was to be a continuation of Charles Stothard's Monumental Effigies of Great Britain in 1839, following the premature death of the latter. George is described as an engraver and his son, Thomas, as a painter and draughsman. Initially Thomas executed the drawings while his father made the etching plates. George died in 1842 so then Thomas continued the work alone, executing the original drawings as well as making the plates. Unfotunately Thomas died  of tuberculosis the following year  at the early age of twenty-five so the work was never completed.

   Their work was published by the same publisher as was the work of Charles Stothard.