By Peter Mann

 St Denis' church East Hatley, Cambridgeshire – in February 2003 after all the ivy had been removed and showing what a terrible state it was in.  It took another two years before SCDC agreed it should be restored to a safe shell.

St Denis’, Feb 2003 – removing the ivy showed the terrible state it was in. It was 2005 before SCDC agreed to restore it to a ‘safe shell’.

Our Grade II* St Denis’ church in East Hatley is to be restored as a ‘safe shell’.  If all goes according to plan, work will be completed by late November 2005.

The intention is to arrest the deterioration of the church, make it watertight and protect its fabric.  In turn this will allow the safety fencing to be removed and full access to the churchyard reopened.  The church itself will not be open.

The total cost is expected to be just under £151,000 – £61,000 will come from English Heritage, £2,000 from the Hatley precept to SCDC and the balance from South Cambridgeshire District Council.

At a meeting on 9 June 2005, the SCDC Cabinet accepted the recommendation of its Conservation Advisory Group that the tender for £151,000 for the church to be made safe with a clay tile roof be accepted, rather than an alternative tender for £110,000 for it to be repaired with a corrugated iron roof.  Hatley Parish Council’s contribution was conditional on the roof being tiled rather than covered in iron sheets.  The Group’s recommendation was accepted – so although more expensive, tiles have won the day.

St Denis' church East Hatley, Cambridgeshire – in 2002 before the ivy was removed. Practically everything on the inside had been ripped out – there was no glass in the windows and the whole building was in great danger of collapse.

St Denis’ in 2002 enclosed in ivy. Practically everything on the inside had been ripped out – no glass in the windows and the whole building was in great danger of collapse.

It also means an end to the £7,000 per year ratepayers are being charged for the scaffolding and fencing around the church – since 2002 it has cost ratepayers £30,000 for removing the ivy (left, in January 2003, when it enclosed the church), the subsequent hire of scaffolding and security fencing (although this did not prevent tiles stored in the porch from being stolen) and reports from a structural engineer and an architect.

Just what will happen to the church after this is unknown – work to find a viable new community use must now commence, involving Hatley Parish Council and local people to explore options for the use of the building.  [NB  Since this was written (in 2005), the Friends of Friendless Churches acquired the church in late 2016 – see our report FoFC’s acquisitionThe Friends of Friendless Churches acquire St Denis’ church.]

Credit for having got this far, after over 40 years of neglect, must go to SCDC’s Nick Grimshaw, who, as the Council’s relatively new Conservation Manager, has championed our cause most admirably, and, of course to the Cabinet members of SCDC for reaching what must have been a difficult decision in the current financial climate for the Council.


The background to this saga can be found in his report to the SCDC Conservation Advisory Group on 8 June (see link below).  As a matter of record, the details of the decision taken by the Cabinet on 9 June 2005 to fund the repairs are as follows:

Decision :

Taken at item 4 in the absence of Councillor SGM Kindersley [who had declared an interest].

The Conservation, Sustainability and Community Planning Portfolio Holder reported on the tenders received for re-roofing and general repair works to arrest the deterioration of former St Denis Church, owned by the Council.

The tenders were higher than hoped, but Councillor Mrs Healey felt that, as demolition was not an option in view of the listing at Grade II*, it was necessary to proceed in order to take advantage of the English Heritage grant offer of £61,000.  In addition, Hatley Parish Council had offered £2,000 towards a clay tile roof.

The Council had a fund established for this purpose but there should be the clear understanding that the Council would not spend any more money on the building.

Some Members favoured allowing the building to fall down, or even demolishing it as it was of no practical use, and were concerned at how the expenditure would look at this time to applicants for small grants.

However, the Council’s responsibility for the safety of people visiting the graveyard around the building was considered paramount, and other applicants would not be affected as the expenditure would be met from the historic buildings preservation fund.

Indeed, if the Council did not repair this historic building, in the highest category of the Council’s own buildings at risk register, it would be difficult to put pressure on other owners to restore their property.

In addition, it was thought that once the building was safe it might be possible to transfer ownership to another body.

The Conservation Manager reported that the lowest tenderer would need to be interviewed, but that the architect was satisfied that the specification had been followed.  He agreed to ask the architect to remove the day-works figure and have any extra items priced.

Councillor Mrs D P Roberts proposed, seconded by Councillor Dr D R Bard, that a decision be deferred for enquiries of the commercial sector on the prospects for the building’s use and for an application to English Heritage to demolish.

The Conservation Manager advised that that, although no formal application to demolish had been made, discussions had indicated that consent would be unlikely in the building’s present condition.

The proposal to defer was LOST.  Cabinet then



To authorise officers to let a contract to implement first phase repair works at former St Denis Church, East Hatley including replacement clay tiles, at a works cost of £129,662; funded by grant support from English Heritage, Hatley Parish Council and the Historic Buildings Preservation Fund;


That no further expenditure be incurred by the Council on former St Denis Church.

Further information

As the previous owners of St Denis’ church (the building, not the graveyard), SCDC has numerous documents and reports – available via its website, but as of January 2020, searching for ‘St Denis’ church East Hatley’ no longer produces any relevant results.

Fortunately, we had already copied the links to he main documents listed below – they go directly to the SCDC website but can take ages to appear; if they come up in HTML code with a yellow background, it’s because the SCDC server is on a ‘go slow’… one can but try again (and again)!

Background articles

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:

Listed buildings

Buildings are graded to show their relative architectural or historic interest:

  • Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest.
  • Grade II* are particularly important buildings of more than special interest.
  • Grade II are of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them.

Listing currently protects 500,000 or so buildings, of which the majority – over 90% – are Grade II. Grade I and II* buildings may be eligible for English Heritage grants for urgent major repairs.

English Heritage has a National Heritage List for England on its website – put your postcode into the search box or use this link to go directly to East Hatley.

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.


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.

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 2005; updated for this website 22nd Jan 2020 and 4th Oct 2020.