By Ishbel Beatty

AN° DOM 1673

Do you know where you can see this date? It is incised in stone in the porch above the main door of St Denis’ church, East Hatley, and only visible if you go into the porch and look up.

St Denis' church, East Hatley, Cambridgeshire – the newly cleaned Downing plaque, 13th April 2018. It's in the porch, above the door. Above the date is a cartouche of the arms of Sir George Downing, then owner of the estate of East Hatley.

The Downing plaque in St Denis’ church over the main door.

This is a precise date, for a precise purpose, like some of the gravestones around, but, apart from the church fabric, almost the only material object surviving from the village past.

Sir George Downing, 1623-84, was a minor politician, diplomat and several times a Member of Parliament (but not in Cambridgeshire).

His house in London gave its name to the street now best known for the Prime Minister’s residence. It was his fortune, following the death of the 3rd Sir George, grandson of the first, which led to the foundation of Downing College, Cambridge.

Interestingly, its date, 1673, is not obviously a significant Downing date – but it is the date of the Test Act, which stipulated only those taking Communion in a Church of England church could, as did Sir George, hold public office. Maybe, given his Puritan roots, he felt the need to make a public show of his credentials.

The plaque was cleaned in April 2018 by contractors working for the Friends of Friendless Churches as part of its initial refurbishment of the building’s interior. Since then, the FoFC has invested heavily in restoring the interior of the church, enabling it to be open every day from around 8.30 am to dusk to look round or for quiet contemplation.

Other pages on St Denis’ church…

…and on Hatley St George church:

First published in the Gamlingay Gazette and then on the original Hatley website, 2006; updated 3 July 2017 with additional material by Joyce Denby and again on 28th October 2022.