Words and photos by Peter Mann

St Denis' churchyard East Hatley, Cambridgeshire – Christmas morning 2018.

St Denis’ churchyard East Hatley, Cambridgeshire – Christmas morning 2018.

In 2017 the Friends of Friendless Churches (FoFC), the new owners of St Denis’ church, East Hatley, applied to South Cambs District Council for planning permission to replace the windows in the nave, replace the vestry door and make internal (including the floor) and external repairs – there were two applications, in May 2017 and August 2018.

At the Hatley Parish Council’s AGM on 16 May 2017, FoFC’s Richard Halsey thanked all who have been involved with the transfer, including the key holder, those who have contributed financially and those who help to maintain the grounds.

He said the surveyor’s reports have been completed, the restoration work is out for tender and the Trustees will review the tender responses at their next meeting in June [2017].

The main aim is to make the nave usable. Proposed work includes reglazing the windows in the nave with diamond-shaped glazing similar to those in Waresley church.

There will be a new door to the vestry but no further work is planned for the vestry at this time; measurements are to be taken and designs made for the chancel floor and the east window, matching William Butterfield’s original design of around 1870.

Stained glass of the same date has been identified in The London Stained Glass Repository. This could be used for an east window in the second phase of the renovation. [Subsequent investigation showed the window to be too big for the opening in St Denis’ east window.]

St Denis' church, East Hatley – work in progress during the first phase of the FoFC's restoration project, April 2018.  This is the new floor tiling and boards in the nave.

Work in progress during the first phase of the FoFC’s restoration project, April 2018 – the new floor tiling and boards in the nave over the medieval supporting beams.

A new floor will be laid but the section of the old floor timber will be retained as it originates from the church’s medieval roof (as shown in the ‘work in progress’ photo, left – all the medieval timbers were retained).

The question of public access and types of events that might be held will be considered in due course.

The FoFC would like to display the history of the church to include explanations of how it was built, keeping an area of the wall exposed to illustrate this. There is a list of documents in Downing College about the history which could be shown.

A new lock is needed for the south door, which will once again become the main door. No power will be installed – candles or a generator would be used when necessary.

They hope to complete the renovation work by the end of this summer, but will have to wait until the bats have vacated before works can start.

Richard confirmed the Trustees are seeking financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, although its scheme ends this summer. The FoFC can also approach the Big Lottery Fund but welcomes other suggestions on how funds might be raised.

He was asked whether FoFC owns and maintains only the building or also the grounds – he confirmed it is just the building; the grounds and graveyard are owned by the Gamlingay and Hatley Parochial Church Council.

St Denis' church East Hatley, Cambridgeshire – the crowded marquee at the handover of St Denis' to the FoFC by South Cambridgeshire District Council, the previous owners of the church – 11-7-17.

The crowded marquee at the handover of St Denis’ to the FoFC by SCDC on 11th July 2017.

He was also asked whether pews and other church furniture might be introduced – he said two rows of pews may be introduced of the Butterfield design as seen in the churches of Waresley and Tadlow.

Questions were raised regarding visitors to the site. He said it is possible the church will be open to the public on set days and for specific events. FoFC can provide guidance regarding access and parking details on their website to ensure minimal impact on residents.

The date for a handover ceremony is be discussed at the Trustees’ meeting in June and the Parish Council will be contacted. [It was held on 11th July 2017 – see photo above.]

Update – May 2018

Phase one of FoFC’s restoration has been completed:

  • The gates into the south porch have been refurbished.
  • The Downing plaque over the south door cleaned.
  • The nave has been almost entirely refloored with new tiling down the centre spine (with a mixture of old and new tiles); the pine boarding on the sides include several hatches – when lifted, they reveal the medieval beams underneath.
  • Also in the nave, windows now have glass in them – with diamond-shaped glazing.
  • There’s also a new oak external door to the vestry – complete with a slot for bats to enter and leave.

To complete the restoration, when funding permits, much more work is needed to prevent the internal walls from crumbling on touch and to restore the chancel, including a stained glass window in the east wall.

Update – 2021 and 2022

Phases two (2021) and three (2022) of FoFC’s work to restore St Denis’ church included:

  • Plaster consolidation and new windows in the chancel (2021).
  • Replastering sections of the nave and north wall of the chancel, rebuilding the reredos, repairing the sanctuary step with new tiles, filling in a hole in the wall by one of the windows, replacing some of the stones in the chancel arch, checking, cleaning and treating the roof timbers over the main doorway and making minor repairs to the roof (2022) – see St Denis’ re-skinned for more detail.

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 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.

Background articles

In addition to the second 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.
  • 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.

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.