By Terry Warburton: Appeal Director and Chairman of All Saints Church Fabric Committee in Leighton Buzzard
‘The finest church in the county’. Not my words but those of John Betjeman whose interests in churches and fine architecture were well known and respected.
He clearly rated All Saints very highly, as indeed did Simon Jenkins in his book England’s Thousand Best Churches, and a 2004 readers’ survey in a national newspaper put All Saints in the top 100 of their favourite churches.
Leighton Buzzard’s ancient church of All Saints has stood in the centre of the town for more than 700 years. Before that, another church, probably Saxon, occupied the same ground. It is a long time. It has survived everything from civil war to fire and come through as magnificent as ever, still the most important building in our town. But feeling its age.
About 14 years ago a chance inspection revealed problems with the massive tower which supports the spire. It was cracking.
A thorough inspection by a specialist architect and a structural engineer produced a worrying report on its condition. The architect was asked to look at the rest of the building too and out of this came a seven phase programme of repair – essential if All Saints was to continue in use.
For 13 years we have slogged away trying to raise money to pay for each phase, and with help from people in the town and with grants from bodies such as the Beds and Herts Historic Churches Trust, more than £1m has been raised and spent.
The tower has been strengthened so that the bells can ring again, the walls, roofs and windows in the chancel, transepts, the west and the south side have been repaired. The heating is now updated and working properly. We are getting there.
In the next few months it is hoped to start work on the north nave – that part of the building just past the main door. The battlements need rebuilding as they are loose, nine of the windows require restoration and re-leading.
There is stone in the walls to be replaced and cement removed. It will cost about £250,000. The problem is, we have raised £200,000, but the gap must be bridged to complete this phase.
Even in these recessionary times £50,000 is not a lot, perhaps a day’s work for some footballers, but it is a chasm for us after so many years appealing for help. But we go on in hope.
After this there is the small chapel to restore and then we will have completed the external restoration, securing Leighton Buzzard’s heart, perhaps for another 800 years.
Google “All Saints Preservation Trust” for details of the work done and how you can support us.
Or write to us at 30 Hockliffe Street, Leighton Buzzard LU7 1HJ. We need our friends to stick with us to see this job through.