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Visitor information

location

East Hatley
Sandy
Cambridgeshire
SG19 3JA

OS Reference

TL 285 505

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Contact the office for access details: email us / call us: 0207 236 3934 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm)

info

The churchyard is still owned by the parish. It is open for burials, and has been designated a Local Nature Reserve and a County Wildlife Site.

The nave is the oldest surviving part of St Denis's. It was built in 1217 using field-stones.

The church was extended and elaborated in the 1300s. It was restored in the 1870s by renowned Victorian architect, William Butterfield before being abandoned in 1961. For over forty years, it languished, was swallowed up by vegetation, and seemed like it would soon be lost forever…

History

St Denis’s is a Grade II* listed church. The earliest fabric dates to 1217, but much of the surviving medieval elements are from the 14th century. In 1661, Sir George Downing bought East Hatley from the Castells. A large, finely carved cartouche dated 1673 over the main entrance is the only trace of Downing at the church. This is because in 1874, architect William Butterfield was commissioned to restore the church. A lot of what you see to date comes from Butterfield’s restoration, showing his High Victorian fondness for polychromatic stone and brickwork.

Gradually, the church fell into disrepair and, as the cost of repairs couldn’t be met, St Denis’s was abandoned in 1961. Worshippers decamped to a small, heated pre-fab church, which was partially furnished with fittings from the old church. St Denis’s retains its 19th-century font, and ghosts of the pulpit and reredos.

South Cambridgeshire District Council took the church into ownership in 1985. By this point, the building had been stripped – 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.

In 2005-06, £130,000 worth of vital repairs were undertaken. This work, funded by South Cambridgeshire District Council, English Heritage and Hatley Parish Council, left the church wind and watertight, but not safe to use on a regular basis.

In late 2016, the church was transferred into our ownership. The transfer came with a  £60,000 grant from the Council to fund work to restore the building to usable condition.

To that end, we’ve restored the floors and glazing, and stabilised the plaster-work in the chancel. There is, however, more to be done.

St Denis's, East Hatley, Cambridgeshire
St Denis's, East Hatley, Cambridgeshire

Highlights

  • Interesting and beautiful cobbles and pebbles with which the walls are constructed
  • Downing cartouche of 1673 over the south door
  • Butterfield font to the west end
  • Hatches in the nave floor revealing recycled medieval roof timbers as floor joists
  • Mason’s marks on the stone plinth of the pulpit
  • Victorian “tortoise” stove
  • 14th-century Gothic niches with traces of red paint on either side of the chancel arch
  •  Butterfield’s tiled decoration the chancel with muted colours
  • Warped plasterwork at high-level following the decades of dereliction
  • Rescued fragments of 19th-century stained glass in the new chancel windows

Further reading

Please use these links if you would like to know more about the church and the surrounding area

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