Any One For Gardening? (Part 3)

Martin & Mandy

So after our success in the Private Treaty we are allowed the keys to the church, as we have a number of people who need to visit - after signing paperwork that makes us promise not to move in (??) and take up residence we are given a normal looking yale key for the padlock and a stunning medieval lock key which opens the chancel door.

The weekend arrives and we hot foot it over to Layston, open the door and we are inside - but this time without an estate agent or anybody else, we have time to look and enjoy the memorials and we strain to read the inscriptions on some of them, and wonder what the Latin means on one. We realise that there are memorials for several generations of the Butt family.

The graveyard is completely overgrown by this stage with two metre high grass and nettles everywhere, and a couple of paths cutting through the site. Inside the Nave Inside the Nave the brambles have taken over and it’s a thick dense matting of weeds and nettles completely covering the area, but we fight our way across to the base of the tower.

The base of the tower is a two story high room with a stunning oak boarded roof, a couple of memorials on the wall and some picture frames that once held some kind of canvas paintings. On the floor there is a metal plate that had been pulled away from the corner where there is a small archway leading to the base of a spiral staircase.

The stairs are narrow and wind up to the first room with its’ oak floor and winch frame used to lift bells, here we find evidence of why the door had been pulled off - beer cans and fag ends litter the floor. Along with the diocese we arranged to have a new gate fitted to prevent people going up there any more, as the potential for them burning the tower down with a discarded cigarette end is quite high!

The ceiling is the floor of the bell chamber and on the walls there are four tin panels with the Lords prayer printed on them. There are two windows visible that look out over the graveyards, both have graffiti around them along with pigeon nests and droppings. The graffiti is nothing like the spray can graffiti of the present day - it’s small hand carved works of art with dates like 1730 and 1860 against names of people that could be past church wardens or workmen for the bell frame perhaps.

West View of Layston ChurchWe move back to the spiral and up to the bell chamber with it’s bell frame and bells - as we go up the staircase tightens even more. The ceiling of this room has a pair of oak cross beams and then a lined sloped roof with a tiny door that opens out onto the roof. The bell frame is designed for five bells but actually has three bells and two spaces. The bells look great, so with a bit of climbing around and careful maneuvering we managed to get them to strike gently, and they sound great as well. More grubbing around and a close look at the markings on the bells and I realise that one is cast by a bell founder called Chapman and the other two are by a chap called James Butler. These two look really interesting - normally bells have a year of manufacture cast onto them but these two have a date on each one and the date is the same, 20th March 1633. The place is oozing history but it’s clearly going to need some detective work to figure out what it all means.

We go back down the spiral and out into the Nave again, one sure thing is that a spot of gardening would be a good idea, so we can see the church for the weeds so to speak, especially as the next stage of the process is to draw up more definitive plans for the building for submission to the the local council as a planning application.

While all this is going on the diocese are following up on some more paperwork. The Estate agents had more than 300 buyers express an interest in the Private Treaty and they had in excess of 30 people actually visit on the open days, this all resulted in 9 submissions for the Private Treaty.

Now that the Treaty has been completed the Church needs to give people who did not want to buy the building a chance to voice their views and this is done by a Pastoral Scheme.

So one weekend mid February when Mandy & I arrive at the Church for gardening duty we see that there is a notice attached to the front door giving details of the scheme for all to see.Any One For Gardening? (Part 3) I call the case officer mentioned on the notice and he tells me about the meeting, the advert in the local paper that the Church has placed, and the posting of a flyer on the Council noticeboard outside the Town Hall in Buntingford. After a little bit of consideration we decide to submit a representation in support of our plan to the Church Commissioners.

We wait for the closing date of the notice which is six weeks away, and then receive a phone call - there have only been three submissions - all supporting the scheme - one from our English Heritage case officer, one from the Vicar at St Peter’s in Buntingford and the one from Mandy and I... So during the six weeks when the notice has been up in full sight of anyone walking past the church, and presumably on the Town Hall noticeboard (although we weren’t checking that at the time), nobody has objected.

The next open day at St Bartholomew’s will be between 10am and 3pm on Sunday 18th of October. As before the Chancel with it’s memorials will be open and you can see the proposed plans for the conversion and ask any questions you may have.