Church locations

The physical location of the church building is actually one of the most important pieces of basic information. This is because different sources can describe them in different ways. Over time place names can change, as can street names, also the dedication can change as can the name of the denomination. So the physical location is an ideal way of describing a particular church at a given date.

OS Grid references

We are using Ordnance Survey grid references (latitude/longitude for Ireland) to record church locations, and this is used to interface to online maps to show where the church is or was located. Initially we used the resolution that many of you may be familiar with that has references in the format SD371271. However this is only precise to 100 metres, and this resulted in some churches being indicated on maps on the wrong side of the road, which caused some confusion. So now we are using grid references at a higher resolution e.g. SD3711027160. This could be viewed as being too precise as you could use it to locate your ancestor's pew rather than just the church building. But it has a useful side effect in that we can make slight variations in the exact grid reference when a church closes and another subsequently open in the same building and thus use the exact grid reference to uniquely identify a particular church.

There are actually three types of church location held in the database.

How do we find a grid reference?

For approximate grid references we can use the traditional techniques of looking it up on a printed Ordnance Survey map. For online maps we can use anumber of techniques according to the provider to work out the relevant grid reference. There are some hints about doing this, but over time they change the map user interface and so the place that you need to look on the screen can also change. You may also find area specific mapping systems such as Mario for modern Lancashire.

So to make it simpler we've provided that ability to show a current church location marked ona Google map. You can drag and drop the marker on the screen to a new location when a a bubble will appear on which you can click either an approximate or precise location to enter a dialogue to report it to us. As you move the marker a faint cross appears beneath it, and this needs to be positioned on the map at the location you want to describe. Use the zoom controls to get a better view of the area, and for buildings that still exist the satellite image option makes it quite easy to see exactly where the building is.

How can we see which churches need an exact location?

If you are wanting to help with a particular area it makes things much easier if we can exclude all the churches for which we have an exact location and just leave the rest. You can do this using the advanced search bar above the list of results from a basic search, or from the screen showing churches in an area plotted on a Google map. Just select the box under the magnifying glass symbol to the left of the search bar and click 'New search'.

Existing churches

A couple of techniques are useful for current churches. If you have a post code for the church then this can be used in a search on Streetmaps to get an approximate location.

If you know the name of the street, and this only has one church on it, then the Magic site is useful in this case. This goes to the level of individual buildings, and churches seem to have a bold outline with the characters PW against them.

In both cases search the database for the church and go to the individual page for it. Links to the various online maps are available on that page.

Closed churches

If the buildings still exist the most basic technique is to walk down the street and work out where they are. Old churches usuually have a distinctive appearance which helps, but it is not always clear about the denomination. Look for a stone in the building which may still contain a name describing what it was built as. Do be aware that the names of the denominations have frequently changed over time.

Old maps are a very useful way to help discover where churches were located, but frequently they do not contain as much detail as you would like and you need to look at maps taken at date when your church was in use. Go for a map with the largest scale available as this is most likely to contain the information that you need. You may find that somebody has published large scale maps on Cd for your county. However mapping depends on the amount of free space on the paper to add detail. Much more detail can be added in rural areas than can be fitted on in towns and cities. So out in the countryside it may say 'Wesleyean Methodist church', but in teh twon it may be just 'Methodist chapel' or even just 'Chapel' and you are not any clearer about which one it might be. If you do a lot of research to find out all the churches in town, and there was only one on that street then it is a reasonable assumption that you have found it.

The oldmaps website is one of the sources you can try. The scale is not large enough in towns to leave room for the name of many of them, but they seem to have used a bold marker to indicate such buildings.


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[Last updated: Wednesday, 20-Jul-2011 15:32:23 BST - Phil Stringer]