Test and photos by Peter Mann
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 Historic England, £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.
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.**
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:
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 Historic England 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 Historic England 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 Historic England, Hatley Parish Council and the Historic Buildings Preservation Fund;
That no further expenditure be incurred by the Council on former St Denis’ church.
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)!
- 2002 to 2012 SCDC’s records on St Denis’ church – details, history, decisions and meetings from 2002 to 2012.
- 2003 SCDC results of architect’s investigation – 28th May 2003.
- 2004 Minutes of the SCDC Scrutiny Committee meeting, 11th March 2004 (see item four on page three).
- 2004 SCDC report to arrest deterioration – 15th September 2004.
- 2005 SCDC report to arrest deterioration – 9th March 2005.
- 2005 SCDC Appendix / tender – 7th June 2005.
- 2005 SCDC report on the tenders – 8th June 2005.
- 2005 SCDC Appendix / tender approval – 9th June 2005.
- 2005 Historic building recording – December 2005 [4 MB file].
- 2012 Briefing for Local Management Group – 11th May 2012.
- 2012 The future of St Denis’: the relevant pages of SCDC’s Portfolio Holder’s meeting report – 18th December 2012 (start on page four).
- 2014 SCDC agree to give St Denis’ church to the Friends of Friendless Churches – 20th March 2014.
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:
- St Denis’ East Hatley – 800 years old but no longer consecrated.
- Just how was St Denis’ saved? – by local determination… and being listed.
- FoFC’s acquisition – the Friends of Friendless Churches acquire St Denis’ church.
- The next chapter – a reminder of how the process of restoring St Denis’ church began.
- 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. NB It opens to a Facebook page.
- 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.
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 a Historic England grant.
- SCDC has information on its website relating to listed buildings – the link will take you to a ‘listed buildings’ search result.
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.
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) 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
** Since this article was written…
Since the article was written (in 2005), the Friends of Friendless Churches acquired St Denis’ (the building but not the graveyard) in late 2016 – see our report on FoFC’s acquisition. It is entirely thanks to their interest, enthusiasm and (in 2022) replastering the nave, St Denis’ is now open every day.
Published on the original Hatley website, June 2005; updated on 22nd January 2020 and 7th September 2022. ▲