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Our place in historyOur place in history - Religious buildings

Key questions

  • How can religious buildings provide clues to what the local area was like in the past?
  • What is the significance of religious buildings and their position in local history over time?

Key concepts

  • Place
  • Human processes
  • Space

How can religious buildings provide clues to what the local area was like in the past?

Religious buildings have been part of both the urban and rural landscape in the UK for centuries and consequently they can provide important clues as to what the local area was like in the past.

Religious buildings are frequently at the centre of our communities and have had this role for many years.

What is the significance of religious buildings and their position in local history over time?

The first recorded Christian church in the UK was built in Glastonbury between AD63 and AD64. However, the oldest church currently in use is St. Martin's church in Canterbury which dates from before AD597. In the 12th and 13th centuries the church was the main focus of community life and many churches in England date from this period. Today there are around 16,000 churches in England and 43 cathedrals (see the Church of England website for more information). For more information on Christianity, visit the Religion and Ethics section of the BBC website.

Islam was not legal in the UK until 1812, but Muslims were present in the UK before this. It is thought that during the 18th century, some sailors who worked for the British East India Company settled in port towns with local wives. Due to immigration to the UK from former colonies, such as India and Pakistan, the number of Muslims grew quickly from the 1950s with large Muslim populations developing in many towns and cities (see the Wikipedia entry on Islam in the UK for more details). It is thought that the first Mosque was established at 2 Glynrhondda Street, Cathays, Cardiff, in 1860. However, The Shah Jahan mosque, built by a Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner in Woking in 1889 was, until the late 1960s, the main focal point for the London Muslim community. (see the Shah Jahan Mosque website and the British Muslim Heritage website for more information). Today there are over 1500 mosques in the UK and London is the city with the greatest number of mosques outside Turkey. For more information on Islam, visit the Religion and Ethics section of the BBC website.

The first Jewish synagogue was built in Bayswater in 1879. It is thought that early architects designed synagogues to look like Christian churches so that they would not draw attention. It is thought that there are approximately 300 synagogues in England today. For more information about Judaism, visit the Religion and Ethics section of the BBC website.

Buddhism first found its way into Britain in the 19th century through translations of scriptures from the east. In 1879 Sir Edwin Arnold compiled an epic poem, The Light of Asia, describing the Buddha's life. Wat Buddhapadipa was built in Richmond, London in 1965 and was the first Buddhist temple in the UK. In 1976, it was moved to Wimbledon (see the website of the Buddhapadipa Temple). For more information on Buddhism visit the Religion and Ethics section of the BBC website.

The first Hindu temple in Britain was built in Slough. Although the idea to build this temple came about in 1963, it wasn't until 1981 that it idea became a reality. Today, there are approximately 180 Hindu temples throughout the UK. For more information on Hinduism, visit the Religion and Ethics section of the BBC website.

Seventy nine Sinclair Road is a Georgian terrace in Shepherd's Bush, London and, from 1940 was Britain's first Sikh Gurdwara. Today there are over 200 Sikh temples in the UK with over 25% of them being located in London. For more information on Sikhism, visit the Religion and Ethics section of the BBC website.

As of the last census in 2001, there were 42 million Christians, 1.6 million Muslims, 0.5 million Hindus, 0.3 million Sikhs, 0.2 million Jews and 0.1 million Buddhists in the UK. Nine million people were noted as having ‘no religion'.

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Starter

Exploring religious buildings

Religious buildings can tell us a lot about our local history.

Think about a religious building in your local area. It can be a church, temple, mosque, synagogue or any other type of religious building that you have been into. What aspects of it teach us about the history of our local area?

Discuss your thoughts with your partner and then with the rest of your class.

Now have a look at the website for St Mary's Church, a Church of England church in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

When was the church first built?

What has been added to the church since that time?

Now look at this website about the same church and write down five facts that the website teaches you about the history of the church and the town of Chipping Norton.

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Our religious building through time

Your teacher will provide you with a historical plan of a religious building in your local area. Your task is to use the plan to make a model of what you think the building might have looked like in the past. The PowerPoint presentation provides further information about the task.

Before you start, think about the following things:

  • How old is the building?
  • How might the building have been changed structurally over time?
  • How do you think the use of the building might have changed over time?
  • What material is the building made from and has this changed?
  • What materials are you going to use to make your model?

When you have built your model, add some labels. You can label the key features of the building, but also try to add some additional information about the place of the building in the history of your local area. Your answers to the questions above will help you.

You could also research additional information for your model. Why not visit the building in your spare time, or do some Internet research. You might find the British History Online website helpful.

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Plenary

Futures thinking

How have people's attitudes to religion changed over time?

How do you think they will change in the future?

What do you think will be the role and importance of your local religious buildings in the future?

Have a think about the three questions above and discuss them in small groups. Make sure you are able to justify your opinions.

Do you think that religious buildings will be able to give us as many clues about local history in the future?

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