Many of you will know that there are two churches on the St John the Evangelist site adjacent to the Uxbridge Road. The New Church is clearly visible from the road but tucked behind are the remnants of the Old Church, which was built in 1632 and vacated in 1850 in favour of the newly built church. Two churches on one site are very rare in Britain and a brick built Old Church of this era is also an uncommon occurrence.
The Old Church is steeped in history. For example it is the resting place for a former prime minister, The Earl of Aberdeen whose many efforts and successes including determining the border between Canada and the U.S.A.
For many years the vacated partially demolished church was left to decay and some will remember the entire church completely covered in ivy. There were plans to complete the demolition but when the news reached English Heritage they made a large grant, which was supported by a grant from Harrow Heritage and many donations from local people, to enable the ivy to be removed, a structural survey to be completed and the necessary repairs to be undertaken to stabilise and secure the Old Church; this amounted to nearly £250,000.
Under the careful tutelage of Dr. Freddie Hicks a Working Group was formed to oversee the renovation. The Works were completed in the late 1990’s and The Old Church was able to be opened for visitors. A debt of gratitude is owed to Dr Hicks and the team for their sterling efforts which certainly saved the Old Church from complete ruin.
Following these major works routine maintenance took place but following the death of Dr. Hicks the Working Group was effectively disbanded. Visitors continued to visit regularly, during the summer months and in relatively large numbers from then to this day. The Old Church will be opened once again in 2016 from April onwards on a Saturday and all are welcome.
The Old Church is in need of a major renovation and a bold scheme is being formulated to completely transform the ruin into an effective working building for the use of the whole community.
The Revd Matthew Stone took up his position as Rector in 2014 and amongst many papers he noticed a Quinquennial Inspection (QI) Report dated March 2012 for the Old Church, and observed none of its recommendations to undertake essential repairs had been carried out. In November 2014 the Rector considered it was time to explore what action could be taken to address the issues arising from the latest QI Report and possibly to seek a longer term solution. Mr. Rex Holmes was approached to Chair a revitalised Old Church Working Group.
The new Old Church Working Group members included Sylvia Daniels, Graham Denman, Rex Holmes (Chair), Ian Mackie MBE (who later agreed to act as Honorary Treasurer), Mick Oliver (a former member of the original group), the Revd. Matthew Stone and John Williams (Chair of the Stanmore Society). Later Elizabeth Bowen and Peter Williams joined the group.
A meeting was held with Caroe and Partners, the consulting architects, in December 2014 and the committee first met on 18th January 2015.
Subsequent to the Working Group meeting a steeplejack was commissioned to remove all the extraneous foliage growing from the walls and take a digitised photographic record. The Morton Partnership were commissioned to carry out a Structural Survey—which fortunately concluded that although many cracks had appeared the overall integrity of the building was secure to allow visitors to attend the Old Church. The ladder to the Bell Tower was checked and signed off and new harnesses were bought.
The works indentified on the latest Q.I. were costed by an approved contractor and amounted to £60,000. The funds inherited from the previous Working Group amounted to £4000.
The initial meeting identified that addressing Q.I. issues was like “putting a finger in the dyke” and could go on infinitum but would not arrest the long term destruction of the Old Church.
It was agreed, therefore, to look at a more sustainable solution to arrest the decline. A new roof was proposed together with other Works to make the Old Church a usable building, essentially a revitalised community building.
Various design solutions were considered. The current proposal is for new timber beamed roof to sit below the restored parapet. Thus giving the impression from the outside that a roof was not present. This proposal has been designed by a specialist contractor. To accompany this, an innovative heating and electrical system is proposed to keep the operational costs low.
On 13th March 2015 a meeting was held with senior members of English Heritage—now Historic England, Harrow Council Conservation and Planning Department, the DAC, Caroe and Partners and members of The Working Group. At the meeting the general design principles were presented and the response was positively received from English Heritage.
The Scheme was worked up and a Design Brief was produced.
Peter Williams, a member of the Working Group and a local Artist ( it was he that painted the mural in the entrance to the Bernay’s Institute), produced a wonderful set of Artist’s Impressions of how the Old Church could look. These are now displayed in the New Church.
A local Professional Quantity Surveyor firm was commissioned and an exercise was carried out by Paul Coyne of JSW Consultants from nearby Pynnacles Close. He took the design brief and various sketches and the Q.I. and produced a Cost Plan to cover the cost of the complete renovation. These costs amounted to £1.7million based on costs as at August 2015
A second meeting was held with Caroe and Partners, an additional facility in the spare ground to the north east corner to include a kitchen, food preparation area and toilet facilities was added.
A meeting was held with Harrow Museum in July 2015 who have since confirmed their intention to form a partnership with the Old Church Working Group so they can use the Old Church as an outreach historic centre for the Stanmore Area. This is vital for us in seeking Grant Money from HLF and to ensure usage from the Museum following renovation.
A meeting of 24th September 2015 with Harrow Conservation and Historic England (H.E.) was declared a pre-planning Meeting and was only held at no cost to the Old Church as a result of pressure being put on Harrow Council by Marilyn Aston local councillor.
The conclusion of the meeting was that both parties would only formally comment if an Options Appraisal was produced. This Appraisal would include outline plans for the redevelopment, intended usage of the building and viability of the scheme. The Options Appraisal would need to be approved by H.E., Harrow and the DAC and possibly by other interested parties.
The Working Group, who had met on several occasions during 2015 to discuss the relevant issues, held their last meeting on 27th September 2015 to discuss the implications of the meeting with Historic England and Harrow Conservation on 24th September 2015. At this Working Group meeting it was agreed to pursue an Options Appraisal.
It was also agreed that, following advice from Tessa Hilder of the Architectural Fund, that to pursue a full capital grant a Trust would need to be formed. This Trust which would be formally constituted and operate on a long lease from the Diocese, would apply for a capital grant, oversee the construction Works and to manage and maintain the completed renovated building.
The production and approval of the Options Appraisal and other supporting documents was seen as the only way to proceed and that no further progress could be made without its existence.
It was calculated that costs to produce an Options Appraisal and the supplementary documentation would be in the region of £10,000. Money which was well beyond the current finances of the Working Group.
The only way to produce the Options Appraisal was to seek a grant and in October 2015 Graham Denman and Rex Holmes made an Initial Enquiry referred to as an Expression of Interest to Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
A response from HLF was received on 22nd October and called for further information.
In December, we received assurances from The Stanmore Society to use the renovated building for their meetings and events.
A meeting was held on 19th January 2015 between Graham Denman, Rev. Stone and Rex Holmes and response to HLF was formulated and sent to HLF, a reply to which is anticipated shortly. Hopefully this will enable us to proceed with a Start-up Grant Application.
Chairman of the Old Church Working Group