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THE STORY OF HOW St. NICHOLAS CHURCH BECAME MADE REDUNDANT

By Mr. A. J. Orange

Reprinted from the Jubilee Edition of the Church Magazine, June 1977, price 6p.

Finding that the burden of maintaining the fabric of our two lovely churches was becoming more and more onerous, the Parochial Church Council applied for permission to close St. Nicholas as a ‘safe ruin’ in 1971.

It appears that during a three-year ‘waiting period’ the Redundant Churches Uses Committee (Ely) had to try to find some suitable alternate use for the church.

Late in 193, I was told that if no such use could be found, or in the absence of sufficient historical or architectural interest in the church to warrant its retention, then another body, The Redundant Churches Advisory Board, could either offer a redundant church for sale or even demolish it. Whether or not this information was true I do not know.

The mere contemplation of either of these courses being taken with regard to St. Nicholas grieved me deeply.

I decided that something had to be done as soon as possible – but what?

I gave this matter much thought and concluded that a museum (urgently required in the village) would be, in my opinion, a suitable alternate use. In November 1973, with the threat of redundancy in the offing, I in my capacity as Chairman of the Feltwell (Historical and Archaeological) Society, formally applied to the Redundant Churches Uses Committee at Ely for permission to use the church for that purpose.

That Committee considered the application but when I was advised that not only was the Society to pay rent and rates but also keep the church in good repair it was impossible for us to proceed. On 11th January, 1974, the P.C.C. made a formal application for a Declaration of Redundancy.

On 10th May, 1974, six of the eight members of the Redundant Churches Fund (hereinafter called the Fund) were due to call at St. Nicholas to make an inspection.

Having got wind of this, I contrived to ‘just happen’ to call at the Church to look round it (tongue primly in cheek!)

I managed to arrive just as they were leaving their chauffeur-driven limousines. My informant was also there and I was duly introduced. I told these gentlemen the history of the Church and drew their attention to the Saxon, Norman and Medieval architectural features (even down to such detail as the comparison between keeled-lobed piers of the South Arcade with the polygonal piers of the (later) North Arcade).

I am pleased to say that when they left they appeared to be enthusiastic about the church.

Time passes very slowly when waiting for a Committee decision but when one is dealing with for or five separate Committees time appears to stand still.

I was therefore some what relieved in November 1974 to be advised by the Redundant Churches Uses Committee that they had sent a formal report to the Church Commissioners with their recommendation that St. Nicholas should be vested in the Redundant Churches Fund.

In the meantime I had been advised that the 1840 Holdich Organ was ‘a little gem’. During 1975, I managed to find an organ builder who was prepared to restore the organ in due course.

Since May, 1974, I have been in close touch with the ‘Fund’ and the Diocesan Architect, reporting all damage by vandals (8 years old!), storms, etc and during the ‘waiting period’ the Fund not only paid for all repairs but also undertook to pay for the restoration of the organ.

On 17th September, 1975, H.M. The Queen ‘confirmed a scheme made by the Church Commissioners providing for St. Nicholas Church, Feltwell to be vested in the Redundant Churches Fund.

THE CHURCH WOULD NOW BE SAVED FOR POSTERITY

Since then I have tried in vain to have the tower restored to its former glory. The Fund are not permitted to build, merely to repair and maintain. However, should we be able to raise sufficient funds, by Wills or otherwise (and it would take something like 15 per head of Feltwell’s present population to cover this) the Fund would raise no objection to its rebuilding!

In 1977 I tried (in vain again) to have the Church lighted by electricity 0 nevertheless, we now have 10 ‘points’ round the church for emergency lighting, a concealed light in the remains of the tower, a light in the porch and an electric blower unit on the organ.

During April six new (clear glass) clerestory windows were fitted and the Church lime-washed.

Since then a small handful of members of the Society (and a few non-members) under the leadership of Mrs M. Baker, worked tremendously hard, scrubbing, polishing, repairing furniture and gates in readiness for the Society’s ‘Songs of Praise and Organ Recital’ which took place on Jubilee Day.

Repairs to the outer wall of the North Aisle and several other jobs remain outstanding.

To clarify the present position

The Feltwell (A&H) Society are caretakers of the church and local agents for the Fund.

Any donations towards the Redundant Churches Fund may be sent to me and will be gratefully received.

The Church will NOT be used as a Museum although the Society may be able to stage exhibitions, etc, in the Church from time to time.

In 1974/5 at the request of the P.C.C. permission was obtained for funerals to pass through the Church.

The Church may not be used for any ‘religious activity’ without the prior consent of the Bishop of Ely.

We hope to have an annual Patronal Festival on St. Nicholas Day (6th December).

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