St Denis's church was built from field-stones in the 13th century. In 1874, architect William Butterfield was commissioned to restore the church. A lot of what you see today 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. This grant covered half of the costs to restore the glazing in the nave, and re-instate floorboards, so it would be possible to walk through the building.
In 2020, we spent a further £91,843.49 stabilising heavily degraded Butterfield scheme of paint and tiles in the chancel, and reinstating the north and south windows. We were delighted to be able to incorporate some 19th-century glass fragments, including an angel's face, that blew out of the windows whilst it was derelict, but were kept safe in a neighbour's shed.
In 2022, we returned and spent £61,784.58 restoring the plaster in the nave.
The repairs in 2020 and 2022 were 80% funded by the Government's Culture Recovery Fund. We are so grateful for this financial support, which helped tremendously in getting St Denis's re-opened.
Our next task at St Denis's is to reinstate a stained glass window in the east window, and repair the surrounding stonework. We are also on the lookout for some Butterfield pews - just a few - to put in the nave. If you know of any that are in search of a home, please do get in touch.
You can read lots more about St Denis's and the neighbouring church of St George on the parish website.
St Denis's is open daily now, thanks in no small part to the Heritage Heroes of Hatley, Peter Mann and Joyce Denby. Thank you so much for all you do, Peter and Joyce.
The judges said, 'This is a delightful and heart-warming project. St Denis’ Church was closed and stripped out in the 1960s, and left to become almost derelict, smothered in ivy and structurally unsafe. Taken on by the Friends of Friendless Churches and with strong community support, it has finally received the attention it deserved. The Church has been transformed, given new life and added value for the local community. We found the enthusiasm from and engagement with the local community particularly inspiring, and hope the Church will be used for many events now that is has been brought back to life from the very brink.'
What a journey this little church has been on. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has helped it along the way, especially Stephanie (architect), Peter, Joyce, Nicola and Sebastian (local volunteers), Lodge & Son (contractor), Hirst Conservation (conservators).