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Inspiring - East Anglia's stunning churches in pictures, paintings and photos

PUBLISHED: 19:00 07 November 2019

Binham Priory, lithograph, by John Piper, 1981, features in Peter Tolhurst's new book Brilliant Beacons

Binham Priory, lithograph, by John Piper, 1981, features in Peter Tolhurst's new book Brilliant Beacons

John Piper

The glorious churches of East Anglia, as seen through the eyes of artists, are the stars of a lavish new book

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Our medieval churches are one of the wonders of the world and have been celebrated for centuries. Now a new book reveals how artists from JW Turner to John Piper and John Sell Cotman to Gerard Stamp have responded to them

From great abbeys to remote country churches and from stark ruins to exquisite interiors every page of Brilliant Beacons, Portraits of East Anglian Churches, is a celebration of the churches, through artists'eyes,

The 250 pictures include oil paintings, watercolours, prints, drawings and photographs.

They have been collected by Peter Tolhurst, of Norwich, who said the book draws on his lifelong fascination with the art, architecture and history of country churches.

The Tower, West Walton, by Leonard Squirrell, watercolour 1936,  features in Peter Tolhurst's new book Brilliant BeaconsThe Tower, West Walton, by Leonard Squirrell, watercolour 1936, features in Peter Tolhurst's new book Brilliant Beacons

"My personal favourites must include Cley and Hales, but especially Thompson for its atmosphere and unspoilt interior, even though its not in the book!" said Peter, who used to work as a council conservation officer.

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Alongside the pictures are the stories of how they came about - the sketching tours of Norfolk which saw John Sell Cotman produce more than 400 etchings for his 1818 book Architectural Antiquities of Norfolk.

"The results are not simply a unique record of the county's rich ecclesiastical heritage," said Peter. "He seldom drew churches in their entirety, choosing rather to fix his gaze on some feature - a boldly carved Norman doorway, a richly ornamented porch or weathered monastic gatehouse - that epitomised the whole." Another of the artists, Robert Ladbrooke, drew all 677 Norfolk churches in the early 19th century.

Godwick Deserted Village, photograph by Simon Denison, 1997, features in Peter Tolhurst's book Brilliant BeaconsGodwick Deserted Village, photograph by Simon Denison, 1997, features in Peter Tolhurst's book Brilliant Beacons

Artists are still mesmerised by the churches and Brilliant Beacons includes exquisite 21st century drawings, paintings and photography. These are artist-eye views of the dramatic landmarks of the Fens, the sheltering solidity of thatched and round-towered rural churches, stark ruins with lace-like stone tracery piercing wild skies, and treasured community hubs. Peter has spent the past 25 years producing books celebrating the literature, art, architecture and history of East Anglia. He set up Black Dog Books to publish his own East Anglia: A Literary Pilgrimage and went on to publish writers including Elspeth Barker and Ronald Blythe. He also wrote three very successful volumes of Norfolk Parish Treasures, collating a wealth of information on the art, history and wildlife of every parish in the county.

Brilliant Beacons, Portraits of East Anglian Churches, by Peter Tolhurst, is published in hardback by Black Dog books for £30 and available from local bookshops and at blackdogbooks.co.uk

Salthouse Light II, watercolour, by Gerard Stamp, 2012,  features in Peter Tolhurst's book Brilliant BeaconsSalthouse Light II, watercolour, by Gerard Stamp, 2012, features in Peter Tolhurst's book Brilliant Beacons

Peter Tolhurst will be signing copies of Brilliant Beacons at Holt Bookshop on Saturday November 9, 11am-1pm.

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