Researching the history of the Church in the British Isles

The superb Norman doorway of Kilpeck Church (Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record) This section gives an overview of sources for all types of ecclesiastical buildings. You might like to start here and then look at the page for the specific type you are researching.

Most British cathedrals and parish churches were founded so early that documentation is scanty. Also where churches have been completely rebuilt, the standing fabric may give little idea of its earliest date or form. So we need to look at the context. The dedication, site, burial rights, relationship with other churches in the area and who was responsible for maintenance of the fabric may provide clues. (See early sources and churches.)

However, in later periods churches, cathedrals and the more obvious monastic remains tend to be well-documented. In addition to specifically ecclesiastical sources, general sources for local history seldom fail to mention them, for example:


More good news is that historic churches, cathedrals and abbeys have been popular subjects for artists, amateur and professional, for several centuries. There are thousands of paintings,sketches and engravings housed in national and local repositories. See images for the type of material available, and archives for locations of collections. Image finder gives links to online image databases.

Sources for the clergy

Information on the clergy is increasingly available online. The Clergy of the Church of England Database aims to document the careers of all Church of England clergymen between 1540 and 1835. Biographical lists of the bishops, archdeacons and cathedral clergy of England and Wales from 1066 to 1857 can be found in Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae and subsequently in Crockford's Clerical Directory.

Many of the English clergy attended the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, so brief details of them can be found in college records amalgamated and sorted alphabetically in the published volumes of Alumni Oxonienses and Alumni Cantabriensis. J. Foster (ed.), Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1714(1891) is now online.