Exciting past leads to an exciting future at Holy Trinity Hildersham
Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2016
After the unexpected and exciting discovery of an Anglo-Saxon burial site, Holy Trinity Hildersham, Cambridgeshire, has completed a project to make the church accessible and welcoming to visitors.
The project, to provide plumbing, build an accessible lavatory in a new North Porch, and install a kitchenette in the North Tower, was launched in 2012 with the title ‘It’s Our Turn Now’. In 2014, the National Churches Trust awarded a £5,000 Community Grant towards the project.
Before the building work proper could begin, the project hit an unexpected hurdle. An initial archaeological survey in February 2015 discovered four skeletons, evidence of an Anglo-Saxon burial ground.
Complete excavations revealed 32 graves, transforming Hildersham’s understanding of its past. The graves have been dated to around 900 AD, when there was a settlement next to the existing church wall. It is thought that these early villagers worshipped on the site of the current church, and that their burial ground has been built on by the succeeding residents.
Each grave was cut into the chalk ground around the individual body shape. A cast taken of the smallest grave, of a two and a half year old child, is on display in the church. The detail of the cradle-like structure is such that a face can be made out.
However, the ‘It’s Our Turn Now’ project couldn’t continue without the removal and re-interment of the skeletons. So, in May 2015, the Rev Dr Julie Norris, Priest in Charge of Holy Trinity, led a re-interment service on the site of the original Anglo-Saxon village.
It’s Our Turn Now
After the re-interment, work restarted July 2015. A new concrete floor and walls were encased with flint work walls using traditional craft skills. Building restoration and stonemasonry contractor Brown and Ralph Ltd of Cambridge matched the existing flint patterns to ensure that the new build would blend into the nine hundred year old building.
The building works were completed in January 2016. The church is now able to provide hospitality for its visitors, whether they come for community events, family occasions, or to view the stunning Victorian chancel wall paintings and stained glass by Clayton and Bell. In the past the church has had to rely on bringing in water carriers and hiring portable toilets for events.
Looking to the future
Since the facilities have been open, the church has hosted a Lent course, a film showing of ‘The Theory of Everything’, Café Church, monthly Hildersham Lectures, choir practice, primary school visits, and regular history and art group visits. In the future the church plans to hold a community Heritage Day, an outdoor performance of Hamlet, an a cappella concert, and a youth theatre group.
The National Churches Trust grant was, according to Cathy Myer, churchwarden of Holy Trinity, the difference between “pressing the start button and waiting”. Holy Trinity also appreciated the encouragement and support from the National Churches Trust that gave them the confidence to go ahead.
“There is no occasion when we don’t recognise the value of the project.” (Cathy Myer, churchwarden)
The official opening of the new facilities takes place on Sunday 1 May 2016 when Hildersham Church Heritage Day will celebrate the rich legacy of the past and look forward to the future. A day of tours and activities will culminate in Evensong led by the Very Rev Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely Cathedral.
Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, said: “I’m delighted that our grant has enabled the church to become a social space for the whole community, and I wish them a successful opening celebration next month.
Our Community Grants are designed to let churches become social hubs and we are grateful to all of our supporters who allow our work to continue.
As with so many of the UK’s churches, Holy Trinity Hildersham has a fascinating past and I hope that local people and visitors from far and wide will take the opportunity to discover its rich history in the future.”
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Since January 2015, we have helped UK churches and chapels by providing funding to community and repair projects through Partnership and WREN grants totalling £2,158,941.
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Thank you to Holy Trinity for sharing some of their photographs.