Sir John Betjeman once remarked that English cathedrals demonstrated "the supreme art of enclosing space". As a renowned lover of ecclesiastical architecture, he also lamented their neglect. In the preface to one of his many books on buildings, he wrote: "we accept the collapse of the fabrics of our old churches... because we are convinced we must save money".
Today, the late poet laureate will be smiling happily from his resting place in the tiny church of St Enodoc in Cornwall. English Heritage has announced plans to award £2.1m for restoration work to some of the most majestic cathedrals in the land. From crumbling masonry at Peterborough to water seepage at Coventry, some of the country's most awe-inspiring places of worship have been battling weather and the ravages of time. Thanks to the grants, Peterborough will now get £51,500 to help with its walls; Coventry wins £49,000. The biggest awards, of £250,000, go to cathedrals at Lichfield, Lincoln and St Edmundsbury in Suffolk.
Though the cash sounds relatively paltry, the project will be a lifesaver for the threatened jewels in our ecclesiastical crown. English Heritage has been ploughing money into our cathedrals since the early 1990s, when a survey revealed a huge backlog of major repairs that could not be funded. So far, the guardian of some of England's most important buildings has, in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation, awarded almost £50m to our cathedrals.
Dr Simon Thurley, English Heritage chief executive, says it is a small price to pay: "Cathedrals are the princes of English buildings – imposing, stately, even terrifying. A huge amount of work has to go into securing this grandeur and majesty for generations to come. The grants announced today will go some way to helping the custodians of these titans in this task."
Of England's 61 cathedrals, from the smallest at Derby to London's gargantuan St Paul's, a total of 28 will receive cash. All are pictured on these pages. But which is which? Readers who reckon they might be able to tell their Rochester from their Ripon are invited to enter our competition to win one of six copies of a heart-warmingly appropriate hardback prize: The Best Loved Poems of John Betjeman, with a foreword by Barry Humphries. See below for competition details.
The competition is now closed
Six readers chosen at random from those who submitted correct entries will each receive a copy of The Best Loved Poems of John Betjeman, published by John Murray (RRP £9.99). Winners will be informed by email before Friday 22 February.
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