Session 3 – Churches

Religious Buildings in the Urban Landscape

This week we talked about religious buildings in the urban landscape. We began the session with a visit to Highfield Church, where we looked at how changes in the stucture of the building could offer clues relating to the changes in the local community that the church served. In this case the church showed signs of constant expansion during the late Victorian period as the city of Southamptons suburbs grew. We then came back to the lab and looked at how different religious buildings offer different insights into the changing nature of urban societies and the built environments that they inhabit. Finally we introduced some of the resources and skills neccessary in order to create or modify a record in a local Historical Environment Record. This is an excellent way of contributing to the archaeologial record for an area.   


Presentation Notes

Slide 2) St. Nicholas’ church, Little Horwood,  © Copyright Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Slide 3) Religious buildings within an urban context can take many forms and can occur in a range of contexts. The nature of a religious building can tell us a great deal about the communities which it served. Furthermore, in the fabric of religious buildings we are often able to identify and to track the changes and developments which characterise urban history.

The following presentation will look at a range of religious buildings in Southampton. It will particularly focus on buildings in the northern suburbs of Bassett, Highfield, Portswood and St Denys. These buildings each highlight a different way in which the study of church buildings can reveal the history of the neighbourhoods within which they are situated.

Slide 4) Our first example is All Saints Church on Winchester Road in Bassett. This church is an excellent example of a ‘Tin Tabernacle’ church which could be ordered from a catalogue from the mid 19th Century onwards. This example is thought to date from the turn of the century.  The materials used in the construction of this church (primarily galvanised corrugated iron) mean this style of church is quintessentially industrial in nature.  They were relatively cheap to produce and as such regularly served the needs of rapidly the rapid expansions and shifts in population which characterised the industrial revolution and expansion of the British Empire. In this case the church is thought to have been built to cater to the spiritual needs of the workers from the nearby brickworks.

For more information you might look at this very comprehensive page:

Slide 5) The Building has changed but the institution remains. Since the 1970s All Saints Church has been in this building. It maintains many of the social characteristics of the original 19th Century institution and incorporates a dual function as a social space and a church.

Slide 6) this Primitive Methodist Chapel in St. Denys tells us a great deal about the communities who lived in this area during the 19th century. Primitive Methodism was a religion with its origins in the potteries of the Midlands and found popularity within working class communities. Chapels were often built with donations and subscriptions from the congregation and can often be found within the communities they served.  It is believed that the community which built this chapel existed for a considerable time prior to the construction of this chapel.

Slide 7)  St. Boniface Church Catholic in Shirley was built in 1927. It is remarkable for its ornate style (described in the Southampton HER as being ‘neo-byzantine’) and for the fact that it is built entirely from brick. This is an apt choice of material considering the predominance of brick production in Hampshire. The presence of a Catholic church of this magnitude is testament to the religious mix which has characterised Southampton during the 20th Century.

Slide 8) Another view of St. Boniface Church

Slide 9) St Denys Church is Anglican and was built in 1867 to cater to the growing suburban population of Southampton. The church accommodated 7-800 people and was built to alleviate overcrowding at Highfield church which to this point had served the entire area. The church is a good example of Victorian civic architecture and was designed by George Gilbert Scott, the architect responsible for Kings Cross station in London. This church represents a striking contrast to the modest Methodist chapel nearby (slide 5) and demonstrates the profound differences in religious practice in this area in the late 19th Century

Slide 10) Internal views of St Denys Chruch

Slide 11) The Victory Centre Gospel church on Portswood High street is a recent addition to Southampton’s religious landscape. It was once the Broadway theatre. Built in 1930 the theatre soon found a new use as an ABC Cinema before becoming a Bingo hall from the 1960s. the re-use of this building as a church is testament to the fact that changes in religious practice are still capable of impacting upon the urban landscape. This phase of the buildings use will inevitably impact upon the fabric of the building and will be a lasting reminder of this phase of Southampton’s history.

Slide 12) The ABC Cinema during the mid 1960s

Slide 13) Internal view of the building today

Slide 14) This building formerly known as Swaythling Methodist Church on Burgess Road is now a multi-church partnership known as 286. It was built in 1931 as part of the re-development (and expansion) of much of suburban Southampton led by architect Herbert Collins. The building was designed by Collins in the Methodist ‘Central Hall’ style and was supposed to offer a range of social activities as well as religious services. The main hall was equipped to operate as a cinema!

The church fulfils much the same function as it always has done. However, the church is no longer exclusively Methodist and is shared with other religious groups.

Slide 15) An interior view of the main hall, note the vast scale of the space and also the range of international flags which reflect the cosmopolitan nature of the current congregation.

Slide 16) The current Methodist congregation now meet in this smaller hall within the same complex. The use of these buildings remains essentially unchanged but the religious character of the community has altered. These subtle changes in use are evident at present but are the kind of details which are quickly lost, highlighting the need for on-going documentation.

Slide 17) Re-use of St Lukes Church in Bevois Valley as a Gurdwara in 1983 reflected changes which had taken place in the balance of populations in nearby St. Marys and Newtown. These changes will leave their marks on the material of these buildings and may give archaeologists of the future clues as to how Southampton’s population developed during this period. It is interesting to consider what the fate of this building might have been had it not been re-used as a communal and religious space.

Slide 18) Gurdwara Nanaksar, also in Bevois Valley provides a striking reminder of the change in character which the religious architecture of Southampton underwent during the 20th century. Whilst these buildings are likely to leave a significant impression on the architectural record it is important to remember that the Sikh community for many years relied upon the use of less dramatic buildings such as the large townhouse which now houses the nearby University of the 3rd Age.  Archaeologically speaking this is a story reminiscent of the development of Primitive Methodist chapel and provides a vivid reminder that we should look beyond the buildings themselves when we consider the religious history of a city.

Slide 19) A Mosque being built on Portswood Road represents the formation of a new phase in the development of religious architecture in Southampton.

Here are the presentation notes as a document that you can download:


Recording a Church

Building recording is often one of the major activities for an archaeologist working with standing buildings. The programme of work on a building/complex and the setting of that building/complex can include:

  • Character
  • History
  • Dating
  • Form
  • Development

The outputs of a building survey should take the form of a set of drawings, an archive and a report.

Introduction to Standards and Guidance in Archaeological Practice (ISGAP) has good advice on what form a building survey should take.


Submitting a record to a HER

How does the HER work?

Gilman and Newman’s site Informing the Future of the Past has guidelines for people who work with HERs and is very useful as a general manual.

Informing the Future of the Past:

Is there already a record?

To find out what is already on the HER, visit the Heritage Gateway as this links to all of the HER’s in England.

Heritage Gateway:

Is the HER the right place to submit my data?

English Heritage has selection guides, which will help to identify whether the site that you have collected information on is suitable for the HER.

English Heritage Selection Guides:

You can submit to the HER directly via the local authority under which the monument/building falls, or you can submit to OASIS.  OASIS is a project that aims to be the primary means for reporting archaeological fieldwork. The OASIS feeds information to the HERs, the NMR Excavation Index, and to the AIP, which is a project that is reviewing the kinds of archaeological fieldwork that has taken place in England.  OASIS also collects Grey Literature (which is literature such as archaeological reports that are not easily searchable on the internet) for archaeological fieldwork, and this is available through the ADS’s Unpublished Fieldwork Reports pages.

There is also the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), which has a database of portable antiquities. You can submit objects that you have recorded to this site, as long as they are over 300 years old and are not from an archaeological investigation on a site.


NMR Excavation Index:


ADS Unpublished Fieldwork Reports:

Portable Antiquities Scheme:

Filling in the HER

What should I include in the description?

Most local authorities will have a standard form to fill in for an admission to the HER they manage.  These are the core fields recommended by Informing the Future of the Past (IFP) for a monument record:

  • HER number: a number which uniquely identifies the monument record in the HER
  • Other identifiers: reference numbers for the monument in external records, for example Scheduled Monument (SM) number
  • Monument name: a descriptive name by which the monument can be identified
  • Monument type: an index to the type or character of the monument represented on the site
  • Evidence: physical or documentary evidence for the existence of the monument
  • Period/date: the maximum and minimum dates/periods of the monument being described
  • Grid reference: an OS grid co-ordinate locating the monument
  • Administrative unit: the administrative area in which the monument falls, for example county/district/parish
  • Description: a text description about the monument
  • Monument status: a reference to any protection status that the monument has, for example II* Listed
  • Event number: monuments should be linked to relevant event records
  • Source number: all monuments should have at least one link to a source record.

Lancashire County Council has a very comprehensive guide to how to fill in a HER record.  They recommend that you need to find out the following information:

  • Where the site is
  • What the site looks like
  • What you think it might be
  • What its date may be
  • Who recorded it and when

Lancashire County Council HER Guidance:

Where the site is

Provide a National Grid Reference (NGR) for the site.  There are lots of different ways to find a NGR, most maps will give you guidance at the bottom of how to do this. If you know other information about the site, such as the postcode, or the latitude and longitude (which can be found by putting a pin into Google Maps), then you can use the Grid Reference Finder to create the NGR for you.

Google Maps:

Grid Reference Finder:

Say what the site is called, with an address. Be as specific as possible. Do not say ‘near to Burley’, but do say ‘200m north of the Ringwood Road junction with Pound Lane and The Cross’.

Give a brief summary of the site. ‘A large stone, possibly a boundary marker.’

The name and the summary is what most people will read, so these combined should tell someone what the site is.

What the site looks like

Give a description of the site. This should be descriptive, but not give information about interpretation yet. Be as brief as possible, but it is better to give a description than to make an assumption about the function of something. So ‘large piece of flint’ is better than ‘boundary stone’.

Lancashire CC suggests asking these questions for this section: Is the site part of a wider landscape or complex of features (such as a bell pit in a coal mining area)? Is it in good condition or ruined? Is there any active erosion or other threat?

Think about what evidence you have for this site. Did you find it on a map, or did you find it when out walking? This will affect how you describe it. ‘Find location’ or ‘Documentary Evidence’. If it is documentary evidence, then say here what the document was.

What you think it might be

This is your opportunity to give an interpretation of the site. If you give an interpretation, try to also say how you came to this conclusion.  Try to use the standardised vocabulary from the thesauri for your description.

Here is the example from the Lancashire CC page:

‘The stone is situated between the Aardvark Fell estate and that of Beeswax Fold. It has no hinge holes or other indications that it may have been used as a gate post, nor is it tall enough for this. It seems most probable that it represents a former boundary stone. The Beeswax estate was established about 1825 (Smith, A, 2001 ‘ History of Anglezarke’ p.23) so the stone must post-date this.’

What its date may be

This may be a single date, a range of dates, or a description. i.e. 1932, 1914-18, Bronze Age.

You may find for this part that the HER record form that you are filling in has standardised fields which comply with the local authority’s HER database. This is where the standardised vocabularies from the thesauri described later in this resource sheet come in useful.  Usual fields are ‘Type’, ‘Period’ and ‘Date’.

To find out additional information about a site, such as whether it is listed or not, a good place to start is often the online GIS for a local authority. In the instance of Southampton City Council, there is an online GIS map, where you will find bomb crater maps, listed buildings, conservation areas, areas of archaeological significance, etc.

Southampton City Council online map:

The National Heritage List for England has all buildings that are listed in England, so check here for listed information.

National Heritage List for England:

Who recorded it and when

Tell the local authority who you are, and when this site was recorded. The information does not go into the HER normally.


It is also very useful if you can provide some photographs of the site to accompany the record.

Example Monument Report

Provided by the Lancashire CC.

Site Number 1
Name 100m east of Winkley Barn, Aardvark Fell, Anglezarke Moor
Summary Large stone, possibly a boundary marker
NGR SD 6379718218 (GPS)
Description Large grey stone, c.1m high and 30cm square, standing alone on the edge of a field 100m south east of Winkley Barn. The west face has the initials ‘AF’ carved deeply near the top, and the east face has the initials ‘BF’. Site seen during walk. The stone is situated between the Aardvark Fell estate and that of Beeswax Fold. It has no hinge holes or other indications that it may have been used as a gate post, nor is it tall enough for this. It seems most probable that it represents a former boundary stone. The Beeswax estate was established about 1825 (Smith, A, 2001 ‘History of Anglezarke’ p.23) so the stone must post-date this.
Type Boundary Stone
Period Post Medieval
Date Post 1825
Evidence Structure
Recorder & Date A A Aardvark, 99 Marsupial Street, Accrington, AC1 2XY
T. 0123 456789 E.
Recorded 3 July 2004
Photos OLY8765.jpg, OLY7654.jpg

Monument Report Exercise

Try to complete your own HER record for Highfield Church. Begin at the Highfield Church website:

HER number: a number which uniquely identifies the site record in the HER

[This will be given to the record once it has been added to the HER.]

Monument name: a descriptive name by which the site can be identified

Monument summary: a description of the site

Grid reference: an OS grid co-ordinate locating the site

Description: a text description about the site. Try to use as much standardised vocabulary as you can

Monument type: an index to the type or character of the monument represented on the site

Evidence: physical or documentary evidence for the existence of the site

Period and/or date: the maximum and minimum dates/periods of the site being described

Administrative unit: the administrative area in which the site falls, for example county/district/parish

Monument status: a reference to any protection status that the site has, for example II* Listed

Data Standards and Glossaries for HERs

English Heritage has an index of thesauri for National Monuments Record, which you should use to create a record of a building.

English Heritage National Monuments Record Thesauri:

The thesauri that you are likely to find most useful are the Monument Types list, the Building Materials list, the mda’s Archaeological Objects list, and FISH.  FISH is the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage, and is a vocabulary managed by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA). It has two major standards MIDAS and INSCRIPTION. MIDAS is a  INSCRIPTION is a collection of lists of words that are for the standardisation of inventory databases. If you are creating a database for an archaeological project, you will find it very useful.



MIDAS has words like ‘Condition Date –The date when an assessment of the condition of a Heritage Asset was made.’ And ‘Production Method – The primary means used to manufacture an artefact.’


INSCRIPTION includes lots of different types of wordlists:

  • Simple wordlists which are useful to classify a site. Such as ‘Good – all or nearly all features of interest are well preserved for the period they represent. No sign of active damage.’
  • Hierarchical which are organised into a hierarchy, such as ‘excavation’ à ‘open area excavation’ à ‘trial trench’.
  • Complex which are list with lots of components, such as ‘post medieval’ à ‘default minimum date: 1540’ and ‘default maximum date: 1900’.
  • Thesauri which support different types of relationship so that terms can be hierarchical and related to other terms, such as ‘barrow’ being a broad term for ‘round barrow’, or ‘football ground’ and ‘football pitch’ being related terms.

Each thesaurus has a slightly different configuration and convention. All of the thesauri through the EH NMR Thesauri site use the following abbreviations:

Use Preferred Term
UF Use For
SN Scope Note
CL Class name
BT Broad Term
NT Narrow Term
RT Related Term

These make a lot more sense when you see them next to the record itself.  For example, the thesaurus class for RELIGIOUS RITUAL AND FUNERARY terms has the following record for a ‘Font’:

UF Submersion Font
SN A vessel, usually made of stone, which contains the consecrated water for baptism. Use a broader monument type if possible.

In the Font example, a Subversion Font should also be referred to with the term Font. The Scope Note gives us more information, telling us that the Font is a vessel made of stone, containing water for baptism. The Class Name is RELIGIOUS RITUAL AND FUNERARY, so that we remember which class the term falls under. The Related Term is BAPTISTERY.

Informing the Future of the Past also has a very good index of online data standards.

Informing the Future of the Past Data Standards:

Download the worksheet for HER: