Help for 12th century gem
The North Bedfordshire Church of St Mary, Shelton is a gem. It dates from the 12th century and remains almost entirely as it was when built, with no subsequent alterations.
There are medieval pews, wall paintings, and 16th century windows with glaziers' markings.
The Trust awarded St Mary's a grant of £12,000 in 2022 to replace the entire surface water drainage system - everything from gutters and downpipes, to drains and soakaways. For centuries all that existed to remove the rainwater were medieval gargoyles.
The work which the Trust helped fund is now complete, and has been put to the test with heavy autumn rain.
PCC Secretary Heather Wells explains: " The builders were brilliant and re-covered and grassed over all the ditches that had to be dug for the drains. The drains themselves now look as if they had always been there.
"The water now runs away from the building so it no longer penetrates the walls, damaging the interior lime plaster and the medieval wall paintings. The church itself also feels less damp and therefore not as chilly, so we will be eternally grateful for the Trust's help."
St Mary's is one of twenty churches that was awarded a grant in 2021-22.
Government help for church repairs
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has announced that the Government’s Listed Places of Worship Grants Scheme will be extended for three years to 31 March 2025.
Grants cover the cost of VAT on repairs to listed buildings in use as places of worship.
Applications may be made in respect of repairs to the fabric of the building and include associated professional fees, as well as repairs to turret clocks, bells, and pipe organs.
This can make a very significant reduction in overall costs and is good news for any listed church engaged in or about to embark on repairs or restoration.
Battlements and notorious vicar
The Trust's Annual Meeting in July 2023 was held at St John's Cockayne Hatley - one of the most easterly churches in Bedfordshire.
It's a beautiful church in an isolated spot and the highlight of the building is surely the extensive array of beautifully carved 18th century Flemish woodwork in the Chancel and Nave. The ornately carved interior woodwork includes canons' stalls, screens and confessional boxes. It was bought up from ruined abbeys in Belgium following the Napoleonic Wars and shipped over to England after the Battle of Waterloo.
We were given an excellent talk on the history of St John's church and had an opportunity to see the repair work that the Trust helped to fund, namely repairs to the parapets.
After the meeting we had the most delicious afternoon tea followed by sung evensong at nearby All Saints' Church, Sutton. It has a colourful history - notably a notorious vicar in the 19th century. It required a new Act of Parliament to get him sacked. Read more in Trust News.
In praise of Church Tours
Dr Stephen Jury joined our North Herts church tour.
“Around 30 of us met at Ware railway station and got to know each other while working out how to use the car park pay machine, but before long we arrived at the very pretty village of Great Amwell where the church of St John the Baptist is nestled deep in a leafy lane,” says Stephen.
This small ancient church is one of a few still with its Norman apse. From the churchyard you can see the New River Canal – developed in 1613 to take fresh water to London.
Next was St James’s, Stanstead Abbotts (owned by the Churches Conservation Trust). The splendid three decker pulpit is so lofty that the preacher can see right into the old box pews and there is, rather surprisingly, a beautiful blue modern stained glass window by Denny.
On then to St Dunstan’s, Hunsdon which boasts a huge timber porch – possibly the oldest in the county and a splendid carved wooden Jacobean screen. By now it was time for a splendid pub lunch at the Bull in Much Hadham with excellent food- well organised too, in feeding a large group promptly.
At St Andrew’s Much Hadham- largely built from 1225-1550. Sculptor Sir Henry Moore was a local resident as was Edward Tudor, whose son became Henry VII.
Stephen explains: “I was most impressed by seeing two Henry Moore sculptures at the church entrance, and very fine needlework in the Millennial panel. It measures about 1 metre across and features the life of the village. The hassocks on display also display extremely fine stitchcraft."
The day ended with a visit to St Mary’s in Ware- a large church in typical Herts style made of flint, with battlements. Of note is the very decorated 14th C font. Stephen explains: “ St Mary’s, unusually, runs as an ecumenical parish accommodating the Roman Catholic congregation and C of E. The church was undergoing extensive restoration work and we received an excellent presentation about the history and how the heritage is being preserved. We enjoyed further hospitality with an excellent afternoon tea. I look forward to the next BHHCT Church Tour.”