“Bringing the Chancel Back to Life!”
It’s over forty years since the chancel of St Mary’s was bricked up and left to decay. Holes in the roof had let in water and damaged the interior. The roof was repaired but the money ran out. An unusual solution was chosen, building a wall separating the two parts of the church. And so it has stayed to this day.
But the villagers of Bletsoe haven’t taken no for an answer. Since the 1988, a group dedicated to preserving and restoring the church building – the Friends of St Mary Bletsoe – has led fundraising efforts working with the church congregation to bring St Mary’s back to best condition. After twenty-five years of improvement to the ‘open’ part of the building, attention turned to the derelict chancel, the ruined vestry and the east window.
Church architects drew up plans which were priced. We had to get over the shock of seeing a bill of around £250,000 to restore the building, provide a kitchen and a toilet (key requirements for regular and occasional users of the building). This would make the reclaimed space available for both the church congregation and the wider community of Bletsoe and beyond. We are very grateful to 20 grant-giving organisations (after 65 applications) and over 65 mostly local people whose donations will make this happen.
The brochure illustrates the original full scheme which has had to be phased due to fund-raising problems in a highly competitive field. The new lobby and new heating system for the whole church are postponed for a later phase.
Work began at the church on 19 March 2018. Progress reports are posted here.
We will keep you up to date with the various community projects being set up in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund which has generously supported the restoration project.
– archaeological recording of the chancel and drainage schemes
– a video of the project made by media students at Sharnbrook Academy
– tours of site (so far ‘before’ and on the Fete weekend)
– recovering and recording historic headstones in the churchyard
– assembling an on-line village historic archive of pictures and other records