Hand drawn architects west elevation of St. Bartholomew’s by William Pite dated 1897Be Careful What You Wish For (Part 1)

Martin & Mandy

For many years Mandy and I have imagined our dream home. We both wanted something unusual - to rescue a building at risk and we found that in Layston Church. We have worked for nearly 22 years building our IT Company up from the ground, and have finally found ourselves in a position where we might be able to realise our dream.

After a couple of years of being involved with St. Bartholomew’s we had a rather nasty shock. It seems that not everyone in Buntingford knew that the building was at risk and had been up for sale. We had been working away at this project in various ways for some time and we kept running into people at St. Bartholomew’s, all of whom were fantastically supportive of what we were doing. However, with a couple of somewhat inaccurate articles in the local press, we found ourselves at a council meeting that was being publicised as a public meeting to ‘save the church’. We sat quietly while everybody had their say, as that was what they’d come to do and it was important that we listened and took notice. Then I was asked to speak and I hope that I addressed these points and put people’s minds at rest regarding our intentions towards the church.

For Mandy and I this has little to do with walking dogs up a country lane or picnicking in the churchyard, both activities which have gone on for years and will no doubt continue to do so for many more. It has everything to do with helping St. Bartholomew’s survive for another 300 years after our guardianship. There have been many custodians of this building over the years as it has changed and blossomed, and Mandy and I hope td join that list of names and help preserve and love a building, that clearly has a warm local history, in the past, now, and hopefully in the future. Here follows our recollection of what’s happened on our journey so far which we hope you all enjoy.

We both hunted long and hard for the ideal location for us to love and cherish. Most of the time we came across buildings with horrific problems that made them impossible for us to deal with, or buildings that were too far away from our business for us to live in.

By chance, in May 2007, I came across St. Bartholomew’s on the Church of England web site among the redundant churches, a small number of words describing a ruined church in Buntingford just up the A10 - Grade II* listed with all the problems that go with that, but promising to have the history as well.

The next weekend we set off for one of our drives visiting historic buildings. Mandy did not know about St. Bartholomew’s but I had it programmed into my sat nav as a place to go to if we are passing. By chance we end up near the A10 and I’m fiddling with the sat nav and asking it for places nearby to visit and SG9 9EZ pops up and off we go.

It’s the middle of summer and the countryside is full of life, the trees are heavy with leaves and it’s a warm summer afternoon as we drive towards the primary school in Buntingford. I park the car and we walk up The Causeway with its archway of trees and greenery. Mandy still has no idea where we are going - it’s just a walk in the country as far as she is concerned. The lane twists and turns and the trees open out into fields on the left and later to a house on the right. On the left I can see the top of the spire of St. Bartholomew’s, but Mandy does not notice it peeping out of the treetops.

We turn the corner again and the trees envelop us with the greenery, the birds twitter to each other and rabbits hop across the path. We arrive at the common ground at the start of the approach to St. Bartholomew’s and through the avenue of lime trees, we can see in the distance, the porch of the church. Mandy now realises where we are and the existence of the church, hiding in the overgrown graveyard, dawns upon her. She stands there looking and digesting the tranquillity of the scene, the peace and quiet, the stillness and the ruin. She’s lost for words.

We walk down the avenue of limes towards the porch and past the overgrown graveyard with its grass and nettles over a meter high. The trees open up and we see the church, nestled in the northern corner of the site, missing it’s roof, doors secured with steel but missing it’s windows, quietly waiting for someone to love it. We walk round the site and clamber through the grass and nettles, and find Elizabeth’s memorial, looking neglected, under the yew tree, a lost memory to a past existence.

The Chancel is locked but has windows, and we strain to see the memorials inside. The Nave is overgrown and wild with brambles, which reach way above head height. We spend time walking round the site, finding things like the trig mark on the corner of the tower and the flint and clunch patchwork on the base, along with graffiti in the porch dating back to the 18th century. The day is fine and we follow the paths east into the fields, passing walkers and their dogs, in the hot summer afternoon. The odd plane flies overhead but the place could not be further from our busy world.

Monday morning I pick the phone up to the agent listed on the web site. “You’re in luck,” they say, “We are just about to issue a Private Treaty for St.Published Version Bartholomew’s - details in the post to you”. Weeks go by and nothing happens, something I’ve learnt to accept these days, but new to me then. While we wait we go back to Buntingford to look at the Town, by chance the local Town Hall is open and it’s a ‘Meet the Police Day’. We have lunch in a local pub and decide to see what the local policeman has to say about the Town. He tells us about the three pieces of crime in the last six weeks and struggles to identify any real activity to report to us. We meet a few of the local Town Councillors and the whole day is a very pleasant experience.

During that summer we visit the Town often - we come to a Saturday carnival, the High Street is alive with people and stalls but The Causeway and St. Bartholomew’s are still stuck in a time warp. Finally the end of summer arrives, the Causeway is completely different, and its character has changed with the changing of the season. The green that was there before has now given way to the branches and wood of the autumn, but the grass and nettles still dominate the graveyard. The Church still waits patiently for a benefactor to rain down TLC upon it, and with the postman in September comes the Private Treaty.