I’m much enjoying Richard Morris’s classic book Churches in the Landscape and have just reached this fascinating table. There’s quite a bit of speculation built into it, but the point is to explore the idea that a few “super-towns” (London, Winchester, Norwich, Lincoln, York) grew large enough pre-Conquest to develop an urban version of the church building boom in the eleventh century and before the firming up of the parochial system made such multiplication much more difficult. Towns which were smaller or grew later had fewer churches.
We have a little evidence of church building following attendance demands, but I wonder if we are seeing here an urban expression of the church as status symbol on a thegn-ly estate, so some of them could have quite small and almost private chapels.
But still, what a contrast with the “standard” 1:6000 ratio for urban parishes when I started out, let alone the much higher figures now emerging.
And of course it highlights the question of what the ministry and mission of the church will look like if it loses its population base and physical footprint (and to some extent therefore its stipendiary ministers).
The same question and challenge applies whether you consider social service or evangelistic conversion as the priority. It’s still very different if we are rather suddenly rather small.