Medieval Stevenage church reopens after £1million renovation unearths archaeological trove

PUBLISHED: 10:52 15 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:09 15 September 2020

St Nicholas Church, which has a 900-year-old tower and 14th century spire, is the oldest building in Stevenage. Picture: Trevor Coultart Photography

St Nicholas Church, which has a 900-year-old tower and 14th century spire, is the oldest building in Stevenage. Picture: Trevor Coultart Photography

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A Grade I listed church - the oldest building in Stevenage - has officially reopened following a £1million renovation which took more than a year to complete.

The old floor had been breaking up and was becoming unsafe. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave BrownThe old floor had been breaking up and was becoming unsafe. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave Brown

The works at Rectory Lane’s St Nicholas Church, which has a 900-year-old tower and 14th century spire, included a new stone floor with underfloor heating, upgraded lighting, a meeting room for children and a more flexible layout.

The church closed in June last year and the congregation instead met at The Leys School in Stevenage for Sunday services.

A new stone floor was laid, with underfloor heating. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave BrownA new stone floor was laid, with underfloor heating. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave Brown

The works were due to finish in February, but archaeological finds – including four crypts and hundreds of bones – and the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant delays.

In June, rector at the church, Reverend Dave Brown, also announced a £30,000 shortfall in the £1,050,000 needed to pay for the renovation, but parishioners plugged the funding gap and the Right Reverend Michael Beasley, Bishop of Hertford, officially reopened the church on Saturday.

A crypt was uncovered near the font. If the nearby ledger slab and the vault are associated, the remains within the vault are of George and Alice Crouch, Benjamin and Mary Kingman and the Kingman children. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave BrownA crypt was uncovered near the font. If the nearby ledger slab and the vault are associated, the remains within the vault are of George and Alice Crouch, Benjamin and Mary Kingman and the Kingman children. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave Brown

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A bequest from local man Bob Hawkes covered £688,000 of the total cost, with grants and other donations also contributing.

An anthropomorphic - body-shaped - coffin was discovered beneath the ledger stone in the centre of the church. Dated on stylistic grounds to circa 1290-1320, this type of coffin was popular from the 9th century. The remains are of an older male, possibly the rector Gerald de Standon who died in 1314, or his predecessor
Henry Borham. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave BrownAn anthropomorphic - body-shaped - coffin was discovered beneath the ledger stone in the centre of the church. Dated on stylistic grounds to circa 1290-1320, this type of coffin was popular from the 9th century. The remains are of an older male, possibly the rector Gerald de Standon who died in 1314, or his predecessor Henry Borham. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave Brown

Reverend Brown said: “Our aim was to equip the building for work and mission for the next 100 years while enhancing its beauty, history and heritage.

“The church family was growing, so we needed more seating space for our regular Sunday congregation. Our children’s groups were crammed in unsuitable areas and needed better facilities, and we also needed a créche.

Hundreds of bones were discovered during the renovation, including someone's upper and lower jaw and part of someone's skull. The reason for the two holes in the skull remains a mystery. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave BrownHundreds of bones were discovered during the renovation, including someone's upper and lower jaw and part of someone's skull. The reason for the two holes in the skull remains a mystery. Picture courtesy of Reverend Dave Brown

“The floor was breaking up and becoming unsafe, and the lighting was poor, making the church dull and dreary.

“We also wanted the flexibility to use the building to host more community events.

Reverend Dave Brown says they are absolutely delighted with the completed renovation. Picture: Trevor Coultart PhotographyReverend Dave Brown says they are absolutely delighted with the completed renovation. Picture: Trevor Coultart Photography

“We are incredibly grateful to all those who have supported this project financially, however big or small their donation, and we are absolutely delighted with the results.”

COVID-19 safety measures mean the church is operating at less than a third capacity, with those at services social distancing and sitting in household bubbles. They must also wear face coverings and there is no congregational singing. To attend a service, a booking form is posted each week on St Nicholas Church’s Facebook page, where the service is also live streamed.


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