Cambridgeshire Churches

East Hatley, St Denys

the path to East Hatley...

We've not come across many ruined churches in Cambridgeshire so far - once made redundant, most churches seem either to have been pulled down for their stone or turned into houses. The lucky few were taken over by the Redundant Churches Fund, who do a wonderful job of keeping the buildings alive.

St Denys suffered neither the first two fates, nor enjoyed the third. When the church was finally declared redundant in 1980 (the last service had been in 1959) the building was simply abandoned, and is now slowly crumbling into the soil. Some effort is being made to keep it standing, since when we visited the east wall was covered in scaffolding, but I don't see why they bother.

In some senses it's an end in keeping with a long, sad story. The earliest record of a church here is from 1217, though there was almost certainly a one here earlier than that. The present nave still has elements from about 1300, but the medieval church had become ruinous by the 19th century - the tower had fallen, the bell had cracked and the whole thing was unsafe.

East Hatley in it's Iron Prison

East Hatley seems to have been declining in population since the Middle Ages, with only a brief reverse between 1841 and 1871. The church was rebuilt by Butterfield (see Tadlow for more of his work) in 1874 to serve its resurgent community, but almost immediately the population started to fall away again. The rest, as they say, is history. [Mark adds: The fencing is unsightly, maybe they are making it safe so it can be removed? Or perhaps someone has bought it and will make it into a splendid house. I think I'd rather see the place in use, or decidedly ruined - off with that roof!]

The graveyard is still used, and it has been designated as a nature reserve. We visited on a warm spring day, and the grass was studded with cowslips and bluebells. It is a lovely place, and now that the humans have moved out I imagine the shell of St Denys must make a wonderful home for bats and owls. Ivy will grow up the walls and let fall the roof, then trees will populate the sanctuary. A gentle death for a building, I think.

St Denys is unsafe and therefore surrounded by metal fences - the
graveyard is always accessible, however

| | about us | | | | ©2009 Ben Colburn & Mark Ynys-Mon