John E Vigar MA FSA Scot FRSA

Location: Swaffham, Norfolk
About me...

I`ve been a professional historian and speaker for over 40 years, visiting diverse groups across the UK and beyond. For much of that time I also taught at the University of Kent as well as for the WEA and Denman College.
My specialist subject is ecclesiology – the study of church architecture and associated topics, but I love all types of historic buildings as you will see from my list of lectures. I`m keen to bring them to life through a series of amusing and accessible presentation, and after one of my lectures you`ll never see history as a dull and dry subject again!

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About his Talks...

All lectures are Powerpoint and I bring my own laptop and projector. All you need to provide are a screen, or white wall, a small table and an extension lead.

All lectures are available (if required) by virtual delivery via ZOOM.

Fee:

Fee: £80 plus travel.   Zoom fee £60

My Contact Details:
Phone:

07962 368062

Bedrooms, Banquets and Balls – the history of the English Country House

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Bedrooms, Banquets and Balls.

This off-beat and amusing look at the development of the English Country House takes as its starting point the medieval Hall-House and follows architectural tastes and fashions to the mid twentieth century. It looks at the architecture of the houses, their furnishings and the way in which the rooms were used in different periods. We also hear about the people who lived in these buildings – many of them eccentric and memorable – and discover the ways in which their whims fashioned the houses we see today. We will hear about exploding cakes, tight mistresses and exotic princes. Some of the houses included in the lecture are open to the public, but several private homes offer a different vision.

 

Leave no stone unturned – the lives and burial places of the famous and infamous.

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Leave No Stone Unturned.

This lecture looks at the burial places of the famous and infamous and uses their gravestones or memorials as a starting place for an investigation into their lives.Subjects range from Florence Nightingale to Jerome K Jerome and all sorts in between. It is a lively and amusing presentation with portraits, houses, churches and objects helping us to explore the theme of social history. As well as the well-known subjects, John Vigar has added some people who he feels should be better known – and each of the people in the lecture has a story to tell!

 

 

Britain with Betjeman – English architecture as seen through the eyes of our Poet Laureate.

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Britain with Betjeman – English architecture as seen through the eyes of our Poet Laureate.

John Betjeman is best known as the twentieth century’s most popular Poet Laureate. His verses were easy to understand and encouraged people to read poetry for the first time. Yet his work as a writer and commentator on English architecture both old and modern had, arguably, more impact on our perception of the built heritage than almost anyone else. This illustrated lecture introduces us to the architectural writings and opinions of John Betjeman, discussing the history of the buildings he used as examples and exploring structures as diverse as churches, houses and pleasure piers. A man who made the unpopular fashionable and who was a pioneer in the subject of the sociological impact of buildings, John Betjeman was a popular but controversial figure. His work at the Architectural Review and his idea for a series of Architecturally-based guides should be as well known as his poetry, and it is a reflection on today’s society that they are so often eclipsed by his more popular verse.

 

Kent Churches – an in-depth study of 1500 years of religious heritage.

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Exploring Kent Churches.

Kent is the birthplace of Christianity in England. Long before St Augustine arrived in AD597 it had experienced the first wave of Roman Christianity and the church of St Martin in Canterbury is the oldest parish church in England that has been in continuous use since then. Kent has over 500 parish churches which, between them, show the architectural development of a period of over 1500 years and this lecture takes a chronological journey through the surviving evidence. It looks at the architectural differences brought about by varied building materials; the importance of location; financial and artistic influences, and includes many churches that are little known or visited, as well as the more familiar buildings. This lecture lends itself to a study day, or to a day-long tour to follow it up. These can be lead by John Vigar and often include visits to churches that are normally difficult of access and off the beaten track. John Vigar is the author of the standard work on Kent Churches.

 

Sussex Churches – a huge variety of ecclesiastical architecture in Downland Country.

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Sussex Churches – a huge variety of ecclesiastical architecture in Downland Country.

Although Sussex was relatively late in converting to Christianity it has, uniquely amongst southern counties, retained a large proportion of its earliest church buildings. Subsequent wealth and influences have not destroyed all that was there and the past really does peep out at the casual visitor. The lecture looks at the architectural history of Sussex churches, taking a chronological view from the early eleventh century to the twentieth. It illustrates a variety of buildings that are little known.

 

Curious Kent – follies and unusual stories from the Garden of England.

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Curious Kent.

We all remember an amusing story, or the thing we come across for the first time. Kent is full of unusual buildings and stories and this lecture introduces a selection of them. We learn about classical houses, follies, secret passages and eccentric men. Some of the subjects are well known, but the lecture will also introduce you to some little-known places and stimulate further research.Margate’s Shell Grotto, Hadlow Tower, Cobham Mausoleum and stained glass at Appledore are all covered in this unusual and amusing presentation.

 

Little known Treasures in Norfolk Churches.

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Little Known Treasures on  Norfolk Churches.

Norfolk is the finest county in England in which to study the medieval church. Over 650 medieval church buildings survive, the vast majority still in use. Many demonstrate the wealth of this part of the country in the pre-Reformation period with tall towers, light interiors and buildings that would accommodate thousands. This lecture looks at details to be found in these churches that might be missed by a casual visitor. Paintings, sculptures, stained glass and other features that might not be seen by the naked eye. Even the most visited church has secrets to discover. John Vigar has visited every medieval church in Norfolk and is on the Advisory Council of the Norfolk Churches Trust. He regularly leads tours for groups across the county and has an image catalogue of its churches running into hundreds of thousands of pictures.

 

The Church’s Restoration – How our old churches were rebuilt in the nineteenth century

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar  presents his talk The Church's Restoration - How our old churches were rebuilt in the nineteenth century.

The growth in population and the rise of nonconformity changed attitudes with regard to the use of the parish church in mid nineteenth century England. Work was needed to the structure of these ancient buildings to make them more comfortable and to increase seating accommodation within a framework of an increasing historical and liturgical awareness. If the parish church was not providing sufficient, comfortable, accommodation there was the risk of losing worshippers to nonconformist congregations or other Anglican churches. This lecture looks at the ways in which we expect a church to look today are a direct result of work carried out in the 19th century when box pews, three decker pulpits and an austerity today only met in nonconformist churches, were swept away to create a `Church of England interior`. Old photographs and prints are contrasted with the same views today. Misconceptions will be challenged and you will never look at a church in the same way again!

 

Churches in Retirement – The work of the Churches Conservation Trust and the Friends of Friendless Churches

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Churches in Retirement.

What happens to Anglican churches when they are no longer needed for their original purpose? Some are demolished; others are converted to houses, offices or shops. Yet there are a few that are so precious that none of these solutions is deemed suitable. Fifty years ago they would have been shut up and left to decay. The same might be true today had not a charity, The Friends of Friendless Churches, been established in 1957. It hoped struggling churches to keep their doors open and lobbied Parliament to establish a mechanism whereby important buildings could be saved. This led to the establishment of The Churches Conservation Trust in 1969. Today more than 400 churches in England and Wales are cared for by these two bodies – preserved for today and for future generations. They may not be used for worship but they are still very much community buildings. John Vigar is a Trustee of The Friends of Friendless Churches, which is now the government body for redundant churches in Wales. Until his retirement he worked for The Churches Conservation Trust in England, which makes him the ideal speaker on the subject.

 

Murder, Sex and Mayhem in English Churches

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Murder, Sex and Mayhem in  English Churches.

Like most people I enjoy the peace and serenity offered by our parish churches, but having visited and recorded over 12,000 of them I have found they also contain countless images of Murder, Sex and Mayhem. Medieval murals and stained glass depict the martyrdom of saints from home and abroad, and the grisliest of dooms. At a lower level may be found misericords showing whippings, wife beatings, and brawls. Finally there are many monuments and memorials that show scenes of murder and mayhem in goodly measure including stagecoach crashes, bridge collapses, falling trees, falling bridges, falling chimneys, shootings, stabbings, mine collapses, shipwrecks and explosions. This digital lecture will show a selection of images of murder and mayhem from across the country and explain both the stories behind them and their relevance to particular periods of history.

 

 

For Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals – our Christian rites of passage as displayed in Anglican churches

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk  For Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals.

This lecture is a stand alone title but follows on from John’s popular presentation `Murder, Sex and Mayhem in English Churches` in which he told the story of human tragedy and frailty as depicted in our parish churches. In `For Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals` he builds on this approach to show how pictures and objects in our churches introduce us to historic practices – many of which have been forgotten or superseded – surrounding the so-called `Rites of Passage`. Our first rite of passage – Baptism – is discovered via Holy Wells, fonts with their covers, canopies and chrismatories. The second rite of passage – Holy Matrimony – is inextricably linked to church porches, mazers and Church Ales. Our final rite of passage – the Funeral – is discussed though wall paintings of a sexton’s implements, huts to protect eighteenth century parsons at the graveside, and depictions of the last rites. The lecture uses illustrations including carvings, wall paintings, stained glass and objects to show a thousand years of depictions of the milestones in our human journey.

 

Crenels and Merlons – a thousand years of buildings with battlements

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Crenels and Marlons.

Battlements have been a feature of British architecture for over a thousand years.  Many of our iconic buildings feature them as an integral part of their design. Where would our medieval castles be without them – or our church towers? Yet for such a common architectural feature it is amazing how little they have been studied or the vast spread of their influence mapped. The medieval use of battlements, of course, was firmly grounded in defence. The crenels –the gaps – and the merlons – the uprights – were first employed to create safe places from which to fire on your attackers.  Very soon, though, they became a status symbol and only those on good terms with the Crown were allowed to put them on their houses. Medieval churches also embraced the fashion and the later in history the more decorative and less defensive they become. The pierced battlements of Gloucester Cathedral, for instance, could never be regarded as defensive. Throughout that period of history we call the gothic survival – the late Tudor and Stuart period when tradition fought against the Renaissance – battlements were still being used as if to maintain a link with the past. It is no wonder then that when the Gothick style became fashionable the long established battlements came into their own and were used on thousands of new buildings both functional and decorative. Landscaped gardens, too, used them with abandon but they also found a place in the landscape of the industrial revolution – on a Glaswegian factory! This lecture looks at the chronology of battlements and explores a selection of buildings both famous and obscure to tell the story of this traditional and quirky feature.

 

Superior Seats – the remarkable story of seating in churches.

Public Speaker in Norfolk John Vigar presents his talk Superior Seats

Nothing demonstrates the social history of England as well as the changes that have taken place in our parish churches over the last 1500 years. Alterations that did not purely represent gear changes in religious belief or ritual; they ably demonstrate the class structures to be found in the secular world.This lecture looks at the story of church seating through the centuries from the solid stone benches that made the `weak go to the wall` to the monumental private pews that still dominate some church interiors. Seating in churches is a much more varied subject then one might suspect. The medieval clergy originally had stalls and sedilia in the chancels of our churches, whilst the laity only occasionally had elaborate benches – the type of seat we associate with churches today – the bench or pew – only really dates from the nineteenth century. In this fascinating and ground breaking lecture we discover the periods when you couldn’t attend church without paying for your seat; when box pews went with your house; and how the clues are there to help us understand the most private aspect of  public worship.

 

A Chip off Queen Victoria’s Block.

Public Speaker in Norfolk  John Vigar presents his talk A Chip off Queen Victoria's Block

Queen Victoria is one of our best loved monarchs. Almost within touching distance of our own time her story is so familiar to us it seems unlikely that there is much new to discover. Victoria`s mother, the Duchess of Kent had already been married and widowed before her wedding to a son of George III. By her first husband she had a daughter, Feodora, who came to live in London when her mother remarried. At Kensington Palace she married the Prince of Hohenloe Langenberg. Their son, and Queen Victoria`s nephew, was Prince Victor Gleichen. After distinguished service in the British Navy he took up a career as a sculptor, working from his apartments in St James` Palace. Quickly becoming the Victorian sculptor of choice his work may be found in collections throughout Britain, and especially in the Royal Collection. Two of his children followed in their father’s footsteps. Feodora became an even more successful sculptor, exhibiting at the Royal Academy on more than a dozen occasions. Helena, an early suffragist who served on the Western Front during WWI was an accomplished artist. This lecture looks at Prince Victor and tells his remarkable story through his work and that of his daughters.

John E Vigar MA FSA Scot FRSA Contact Details:
Phone:

07962 368062