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When Christopher Somerville, author of the The January Man, set out to explore Britain’s cathedrals, he found his fixed ideas shaken to the roots.
Starting out, he pictured cathedrals – Britain possesses over one hundred – as great unmoving bastions of tradition. But as he journeys among favourites old and new, he discovers buildings and communities that have been in constant upheaval for a thousand years. Here are stories of the monarchs and bishops who ordered the building of these massive but unstable structures, the masons whose genius brought them into being, the peasant labourers who erected (and died on) the scaffolding. We learn of rogue saints exploited by holy sinners, the pomp and prosperity that followed these ships of stone, the towns that grew up in their shadows, the impact of the Black Death, the Reformation and icon-smashing Puritanism, the revival brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and the hope and disillusion of two world wars.
Meeting believers and non-believers, architects and archaeologists, the cleaner who dusts the monuments and the mason who judges stone by its taste, we delve deep into the private lives and the uncertain future of these ever-voyaging Ships of Heaven.
Christopher Somerville is the walking correspondent of The Times. He is one of Britain’s most respected and prolific travel writers, with forty-two books, hundreds of newspaper articles and many TV and radio appearances to his name.
Julia Somerville is currently one of the presenters on the successful flagship consumer BBC One programme Rip Off Britain. She also presents Rip Off Britain spin off series Food, Holidays and Rip Off Britain: LIVE.
Julia Somerville began her career in broadcasting when she joined the BBC in 1972 as a sub-editor in the Radio Newsroom. She became a chief-sub and then a reporter and was made Labour Affairs Correspondent in 1981. In 1983 she was recruited by BBC Television News to present the Nine O’Clock News.
In 1987 Julia joined ITN. During the next 14 years she presented News at Ten, the Lunchtime News and launched the ITN News Channel. She left ITN in 2001.
She is currently Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Government Art Collection.