Words and photographs Peter Mann
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 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 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) 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
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.
Visiting and things
The church is currently only open on request – contact Peter Mann; hopefully when all the restoration work has been completed, it can be kept open.
- St Denis’ East Hatley – 800 years old but no longer consecrated.
- Just how was St Denis’ saved? – by local determination… and being listed.
- It’s to be saved – the 2005 commitment by South Cambridgeshire District Council to restore not demolish St Denis’ church.
- The next chapter – the Friends of Friendless Churches’ first planning application (in 2017) to kick-start their project of restoring the interior of St Denis’.
- Photo gallery – celebrating handing over St Denis’ church keys to the Friends of Friendless Churches by South Cambridgeshire District Council in July 2017… and other events.
- St Denis’ in the news – press cuttings from our open days and evenings.
- Heritage Open Days festival 2019 – how it was for St Denis’ church.
- A little less of St Denis following the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in 2019.
- Who was St Denis? – more than just a 3rd-century Christian martyr.
- St Denis – flyer about the church – July 2017.
Friends of Friendless Churches
“We are,” they say, “a very small charity which saves redundant historic churches.
“We now own over 50 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.”
Annual individual membership is £42.00 / year (‘Household’ £63.00); it includes three, very informative 60+ page newsletters each year about the FoFC’s activities in England and Wales – and much else.
- Friends of Friendless Churches website.
- Join the FoFC – the best way to support its work.
- Follow the FoFC on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.
First published on the original Hatley website, November 2016; updated for this website 22nd January 2020. ▲