Words and photographs Peter Mann

4th December 2013 – FoFC’s e-mail agreeing to take on St Denis’.

When the Friends of Friendless Churches (FoFC) e-mailed on 4th December 2013 to say it ‘…would be willing to take the freehold of the Grade II* listed church of St Denis, East Hatley and safeguard it in perpetuity’, little did we expect it to take until November 2016 before South Cambridgeshire District Council was able to hand it over – SCDC had owned the building since 1985, it having last been used for worship in 1959.

FoFC’s e-mail (click the graphic) to David Bevan, SCDC Conservation Officer who ‘introduced’ FoFC to the Council, continued: ‘However this is necessarily a complicated process and there are a number of matters that fall to be dealt with before the conveyance can be effected.’

And of these ‘matters’, funding was the key issue, for although SCDC agreed a dowry for St Denis’ of £60,000 (see the appropriate SCDC meeting report of 20th March 2014), it fell slightly short of what FoFC was expecting.

However, local pledges amounting to £4,800, including £500 from Hatley Parish Council and a similar sum from Gamlingay and Hatley Parochial Church Council, gave FoFC the confidence to proceed with its desire to take on St Denis’.

We are very fortunate St Denis’ has been given over to FoFC, for it is the only organisation whose particular remit is to safeguard redundant churches – buildings which have been a constant in village communities, often for over 1,000 years.

In the beginning

Between 2002 and 2006 SCDC spent a considerable sum on saving the building – by 2002 it was enclosed in ivy and in a terrible state of repair, as recorded in our article Just how was St Denis’ saved?. Having done all that good work, then what? To SCDC, the building was a liability not an asset and was therefore keen to offload it.

Because of its location and lack of water, electricity and vehicle access, auctioning it was unlikely to produce a satisfactory outcome, so David Bevan approached charities known to take on churches.

None were interested except for the FoFC, whose main interest was to acquire an example of William Butterfield’s work; it’s debatable if Butterfield (1814-1900), the notable Victorian church architect, hadn’t restored St Denis’ in 1874 whether the FoFC would have been quite so keen. Thank goodness they were!

The FoFC’s first visit to St Denis’ on 26th November 2013.

The trustees of the FoFC visited St Denis’ on 26th November 2013 – as recorded in our photo (click on it for an enlargement). Those there were:

Rev’d Steven Rothwell (Gamlingay PCC), David Bevan (SCDC Conservation Officer), Richard Smith (FoFC), Roger Evans (Chairman FoFC), Howard Pool (FoFC), Peter Scott (FoFC Treasurer), Richard Halsey MBE (FoFC), Joyce Denby (local resident), Stephanie Norris (Project Architect, Purcell UK) SCDC Councillor Nick Wright, Matthew Saunders MBE (FoFC), County Councillor Sebastian Kindersley and Sir Paul Britton (FoFC).

The FoFC’s 2016 plans

Having acquired St Denis’ (only the building, not the graveyard, which remains consecrated) the Friends immediately announced its planned restoration work – initially this was be be any external repairs, reglazing (using salvaged stained glass) and providing a new floor to permit some chaperoned use of the interior.

The latter would include full retention of the medieval roof timbers which William Butterfield reused as ‘sleepers’ under the floor when he restored the church in 1874 – with glass panels to allow some of them to be seen.

Later, when funds permit, the FoFC will restore the interior to essentially as it was when Butterfield’s work was completed.

That’s for the future, of course.

The official handover by SCDC

St Denis' church East Hatley, Cambridgeshire – symbolic key given to the Friends of Friendless Churches at the handover ceremony of the church to FoFC by South Cambridgeshire District Council, the previous owners of the church on 11th July 2017.

The symbolic key given to the FoFC at the handover ceremony on 11th July 2017.

At 6.28 pm on a rather wet 11th July 2017, a symbolic key to the church was handed over by SCDC to the FoFC during a delightful ceremony organised by Hatley Parish Council to commemorate the occasion.

Naturally, speeches were given – Margot Eagle (Chairman of Hatley Parish Council at the time) gave the opening introduction, Sebastian Kindersley (then our District Councillor) thanked the many people who had made the handover to FoFC possible; Roger Evans, Chairman, Friends of Friendless Churches also thanked everyone – click here for our photo gallery of the occasion.

Since then, the FoFC has completed stage one of its restoration project – the new floor (with liftable hatches rather than glass to expose the medieval timbers underneath) and windows in the nave.

Still to come are stabilising the crumbly walls in the nave, new windows in the chancel, including a new stained glass window in the east wall, and restoring the tiling in the chancel to Butterfield’s 1874 design. [June 2022: St Denis’ re-skinnednew plaster gives new life to 800 year old church – brings the story up to date.]

Further information

In addition to the first link (to our main St Denis’ church page), we’ve included links to older articles detailing how the building went from a ruin its then owners (South Cambs District Council) wanted to demolish to its very bright future.

  • Flyer – A4, 2pp leaflet about St Denis’, October 2023.
  • Visitor guide leaflet – 39 things about St Denis’ / A5, 4 pp, October 2023.
  • 360° view – by Alex Brad, 360 Deaneries, 3rd July 2022. NB It opens to a Facebook page.
  • Video [1] – by Churches of the Past / June 2022. It captures the ambiance and atmosphere of St Denis’ – and the wildlife around the church.
  • Video [2] – by Village and Town History / September 2021. It puts St Denis’ in context with other historical events. It was made before the nave and chancel were given a new coat of plaster and lime wash in spring 2022.

Friends of Friendless Churches – the owners of St Denis’

“We are,” they say, “a very small charity which saves redundant historic churches.

“We now own nearly 60 former places of worship, half in England, half in Wales, which we preserve as peaceful spaces for visitors and the local community to enjoy. Most are medieval, and all of them are listed.”

To become a ‘Friend’, the annual individual membership is £30.00 and ‘Household’ £50.00; life membership is £1,000. Membership includes two, very informative 60+ page magazines each year about the FoFC’s activities in England and Wales – and much else.

Other Friends of Friendless churches

Of the 50+ Friends of Friendless Churches buildings in its care, these are the most local to Hatley – all worth visiting, of course: 

Visiting St Denis’ church, East Hatley

St Denis’ is open every day from around 8.30 am to dusk for anyone to look round, for quiet contemplation and for events – the space is ideal for an exhibition: if you would like to use the space, please contact keyholder Peter Mann: peter@buzzassociates.co.uk.

The address is

St Denis’ church
East Hatley
SG19 3JA

Grid reference

TL  28522 50513
Easting  528522
Northing  250513
Latitude  52.137977
Longitude  -0.123484
Grid reference link

Plus code  4VQG+5H Sandy

What three words  slightly.beanbag.pins

Website  St Denis’ church

There’s also…

Click here for our photo gallery of handing over St Denis’ church keys to the FoFC by SCDC in July 2017 – and other events.

Published on the original Hatley website, June 2017; updated with additional material on 1st October 2023.