It is now ten years since a group of us came together in an attempt to restore the Old Church Tower at Long Marston. A Grade 11* listed building, situated in its small churchyard with a few gravestones, it is surrounded by sombre old yews and dominated by a gigantic lime tree. On one side is the remains of a moat whish once surrounded the long lost Manor of Long Marston and adjacent is a 16th century thatched cottage.
The history of the church tower and its lost church is worthy of a whole article in itself but as this is the tenth anniversary of the restoration, newcomers to the villages may like to know how we approached the task and in a later article, some background about the lost church itself.
Up until 2001 the old tower was disintegrating; pieces of masonry were falling down, the glass in the windows was smashed. The small churchyard was being used as a dumping ground for people’s rubbish. The structure was infested with ivy and the roof leaked as some of the lead had been stripped. The building had been taken over by jackdaws and feral pigeons. It was a sad sight, abandoned, neglected and unloved! Equally important, it was dangerous. Some action was needed urgently.
A small group of locals came together to form a task force to seek advice, help and funding. The Parochial Church Council had no funds for such a large task but the Diocese of St Albans needed to be approached in order for us to take on this project. This they agreed. Several grant giving organisations were then approached but whilst sympathetic, the message from them all was the same- we had to demonstrate that we could raise funds ourselves, so called pump priming funds, before they would consider any requests.
Through a series of events including dinners, concerts and notably Tea at the Tower we raised sufficient funds to go back to the organisations to review their attitude to our request. Incidentally Tea at the Tower became such a popular event that it continued annually long after the Tower had been restored; some of us would dearly like to resurrect this. Any offers; most of us getting old we need younger input?
Dacorum, Hertfordshire Landfill Partnership and English Heritage all then agreed to help us. We were able to engage an architect to carry out a feasibility study and then organise the work to be done.
The work included building a new parapet with water chutes and a new lead roof. An internal ladder had to be constructed to get access to the roof and old belfry. Festoons of ivy had to be removed from the walls and lintels replaced and the windows meshed over to prevent birds getting access. Before any of this could be done years of pigeon poo had to be dug out and removed. This was almost four foot deep and was considered toxic and had to be carried out by a team wearing protective clothing.
With a final six coats of limewash the work was completed all for a sum of £47,000! If we had known this figure at the outset I doubt if any of us would have contemplated the idea of taking on this project. However although a lot of hard work it generated a lot of fun and great camaraderie. The final result is that the Old Tower is secure for centuries to come.
Article by John Noakes.