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English medieval church restored to beauty after being abandoned for over 50 years

A medieval church dating back to the 13th century is reopening after an impressive campaign led by The Friends of Friendless Churches to restore it.

Aerial shot of the Church of St Denis in East Hadley – photo by Ben Greenhalgh
/ The Friends of Friendless Churches

Located in East Hatley, Cambridgeshire, St Denis dates to 1217, with much of the surviving medieval elements coming from the 14th century. The long history of the church includes renovations done in the 17th and 19th centuries, but gradually it fell in to disrepair and as the cost of repairs couldn’t be met, St. Denis was abandoned in 1961 in favour of a new church.

St Denis in 2003 – Photo by Buzz Associates

South Cambridgeshire District Council took the church into ownership in 1985. By this point, the building had been stripped, with even the floor-boards had gone. The Council preserved the site as a nature reserve and it is currently home to cave spiders, bats and great crested newts.

A £130,000 package of restoration work from 2005-06 saw the walls and roof repaired. Funded by South Cambridgeshire District Council, English Heritage and Hatley Parish Council, the work left the church wind and watertight, but not safe to use on a regular basis. In late 2016 the building was transferred to the Friends of Friendless Churches. The transfer came with a £60,000 grant from the Council to fund work to restore the church to useable condition.

St Denis, East Hatley, phase I finished. Photo by Buzz Associates

The first phase of work, which began in February of this year, sought to make the church weather-proof and safe for public access. This included replacing broken and missing roof-tiles, fixing cracks and open joints in masonry, and restoring floors and windows. New glazing has been installed in the nave windows and black-powder coated metal guards installed on the outside.

In the nave, tongue and groove floor-boards have been laid with three inspection hatches, so that the medieval timbers beneath can be seen. The central walkway to the nave has been and re-tiled with some salvaged, some new tiles. In the choir-stalls area of the chancel, an entire new floor structure has been created and new floor-boards installed. The York stone edging to tiled walkway and the tiled chancel step have both been repaired and restored.

The church interior after phase I – Photo by Buzz Associates

The restoration work will continue with glazing to the chancel, installing a stained-glass window and other repairs to internal walls and the ceiling. The aim is to collaborate with the local community to bring this building back into use.

As part of the Heritage Open Days festival, the church will be open from 10 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 4 pm Thursday 13 to Sunday 16 September.

The Friends of Friendless Churches, established in 1957, is a charity that campaigns for and rescues redundant historic churches threatened by demolition and decay across Wales and England. Click here to visit their website or follow them on Twitter @friendschurches

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