St Mary’s Church, Clophill, Bedfordshire
A simple ruin has become a focus for events and communities demonstrating how patience, imagination and partnerships can help find solutions for long-term Heritage at Risk cases. Taking an innovative approach, the building of ‘eco-lodges’ next to the site has provided both an income stream and a warden preventing the anti-social behaviour that used to plague the site.
Where: Clophill, Bedfordshire
Years on register: 1998–2014
An abandoned and vulnerable site
The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Clophill, Bedfordshire was listed in 1961 at Grade II* and also as a scheduled monument. The church foundation is believed to date from the 10th century and it was probably re-built around 1350. The large perpendicular windows were added into the nave around 1450.
Improvements were made in the early 19th century, with a west gallery added in 1814 and a new east end to the chancel in 1819. In the 1840s a new church was built in the centre of the village to accommodate a growing population and the old church was abandoned. In the mid-20th century the lead was stolen from the roof and the church subsequently fell into ruin.
How we made a difference
Over the years it became a focal point for vandalism, anti-social behaviour and graffiti. Historic England worked closely with the Clophill Heritage Trust providing legal advice, officer support, improving community relations and working with police and heritage crime officers to resolve these problems. In addition we grant aided the stabilisation of the ruins, the conservation of the spiral stair and the installation of the viewing platform. This fed into a wider project by the Clophill Heritage Trust which saw the erection of eco-lodges which helps support a sustainable future for the site as a whole and the provision of a warden which provides a constant presence on site.
Community focus and innovation
The Clophill Heritage Trust continues to develop and deliver new initiatives and events at the site. The latest project to conserve and protect cleared gravestones and the churchyard wall has resulted in a Poetry and Peace Path, which will open on Remembrance Sunday, 11 November, this year - the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day 1918.
The path involves young people from the area in creating poems about Greensand Country. An annual Peace Poetry competition for the local school will ensure that the act of Remembrance continues year on year.
This year the Trust’s founder Ali Bradbury was awarded a British Empire Medal for her work in raising £1.5 million pounds, which has allowed the trust to consolidate the monument with its beautiful viewing tower and enchanting space and views.
Events and activities at Clophill Eco Lodges run throughout the year.
Friends' donations play a vital part in enabling the trust to continue their work to preserve, improve and encourage the appreciation of the ancient monument of St Mary’s Old Church, as well as the youth support and education provided by the trust.