Words and photos by Peter Mann
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 .
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.]
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.
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.]
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:
- Photo gallery – celebrating the handing over St Denis’ church keys to the FoFC by SCDC in July 2017 and other events.
- 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.
- FoFC’s acquisition – the Friends of Friendless Churches acquire St Denis’ church.
- St Denis’ re-skinned – new plaster gives new life to 800 year old church.
- 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.
- The Say rectors of East Hatley – They gave over 112 years of service to the parish.
- Flyer – A4, 2pp leaflet about St Denis’, September 2022.
- 360° view – by Alex Brad, 360 Deaneries, 3rd July 2022.
- Video  – by Churches of the Past / June 2022. It captures the ambiance and atmosphere of St Denis’ – and the wildlife around the church.
- Video  – 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.
- St Denis’ churchyard – a ‘living’ churchyard and nature reserve.
- Nature in the churchyard – the nature reserve at St Denis’ church.
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.
- Friends of Friendless Churches website.
- Join the FoFC – the best way to support its work.
- Follow the FoFC on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
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 (at some point) for concerts and other events. It will also be open for HOD 2022 (9th to 11th September, 11.00 am to 4.00 pm each day) for guided tours.
The address is
St Denis’ church
TL 28522 50513
Grid reference link
Plus code 4VQG+5H
What three words slightly.beanbag.pins
Published on the original Hatley website, June 2017; updated January and October 2020 and 7th September 2022. ▲