Item of Interest: The Incorporated Church Building Society.

This month’s Item of Interest post was written by Vida Milovanovic (Archives Assistant) and celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Incorporated Church Building Society and its connection with Lambeth Palace Library.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS) and to mark the occasion, a new publication ‘Free Seats for All’ by Gill Hedley will be launched on behalf of the National Churches Trust.

As the repository of the ICBS archive, Lambeth Palace Library is proud to showcase the collection and explore the history of the organisation.

Founded in 1818, the ICBS was the principal voluntary Society for promoting the building, enlargement, re-seating, and restoration of Anglican Churches throughout England and Wales. Set up by lay church-members, in response to a huge increase and redistribution in the population and because of a lack of state aid, ICBS was the foremost Society in building and restoring churches throughout the most active period of church building since the Middle Ages.

Image 1
ICBS 7232
St Mary Fishponds, Stapleton, Bristol
Alterations and additions, plan dated August 15, 1871.

A parallel initiative subsequently resulted in the government granting a million pounds towards the building of new churches under the guidance of the Church Building Commission.

The Society was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1828. Whilst it did not build churches, it donated generous grants of up to £500 towards new buildings and, perhaps more importantly, as many parish churches were in a state of disrepair and could not offer accommodation for the poor, supported the restoration and enlargement of existing churches. From 1830 onwards, state aid weakened, and the Society increasingly began to donate money towards the building of new churches. The extra accommodation built was designed and constructed on the principle that it was to be available free of charge so that it was suitable for the poor. The administration of the society was transferred in 1982 to the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, which has now been succeeded by the National Churches Trust.

Image 2
ICBS 7972
Holy Trinity, Ingham, Norfolk
Lithograph from The Building News from July 21, 1876 with groundplan, elevations and interior view.

The Society required building request applications to be submitted in a consistent and uniform fashion, with drawings and plans of the proposed work. As a result of such strict guidelines, a wealth of records pertaining to individual churches were created and, as a consequence, a voluminous archive collection was born.

Image 4
ICBS 7878
Plan of parish church of St Nicholas, Romersham, 1877, featuring floor tiles in colourful detail.

The ICBS archive includes over 15,000 files relating to applications by parishes for grants from the Society. Catalogue details are accessible online. The earliest file dates from 1818 and the latest from 1982. Individual files may include application forms, correspondence, plans, building specifications, engravings or artists’ impressions, certificates of satisfactory completion, parochial subscription lists, parish magazines, and from 1867 onwards, photographs. The files include over 12,000 plans, accessible online via the Library’s image database. The Library also holds a series of minute books, dating between 1818-1989, numbered 1-36, and additional volumes, numbered 37-42, including a volume relating to the foundation of the Society. The volumes record the proceedings of the ICBS committees and its Annual General Meetings.

Image 3
ICBS 3686
Lithographic print of the exterior view of St Matthew’s Church in the parish of Lyncombe and Widcombe, Somerset, dated 1847.

Since becoming available, the records of the Incorporated Church Building Society have been extremely popular with our readers and the collection continues to be one of the most heavily consulted. The ICBS archive documents the work of numerous architects in building new churches and also enlarging and altering existing structures, including some of the most prominent practitioners of their day. Some researchers are interested in the work of particular architects or architectural trends, but the archive constitutes a source on the built heritage of thousands of communities throughout England and Wales, and many enquiries are from local historians interested in a particular church.


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