Although the church dates from the 13th century it was largely rebuilt in 1885 following a serious fire with only the chancel arch and fine bellcote surviving.  Over the years the church has been well maintained with the most recent major repairs being the renovation of the roof and re-hanging of the bell in 1993, and a complete rewiring in 1995.  It was around this time that the then PCC started to give thought to the church monuments – the historic memorials and listed tombs.  A report was commissioned from Richard Marsh of Bristol in 1996 which concluded that several of the monuments were at serious risk.  The cost of the work was way beyond the resources of the Parish and it was certainly not Diocesan policy to divert funds to this type of conservation.  Nevertheless, encouraged by reports that the Heritage Lottery Fund had supported a number of church restoration projects the PCC submitted an application in 1997.  Sadly it was unsuccessful and the plans were put to one side.   Ten years on in 2007 the Quinquennial Report on the church structure once again highlighted the poor state of the monuments and the risk that some could soon be beyond repair.  So with the advice of the church architect, the PCC agreed to consider a programme of conservation. The option to remove the memorials and to dismantle the tombs at greatest risk was also considered. This would have effectively destroyed an important piece of our heritage and the opportunities it offered for learning and interpretation about our history.  This option was rejected by the PCC and the decision was taken in April 2008 to initiate a project to conserve the memorials and tombs, provided that the funding could be raised largely from external donors.  This was because the PCC felt that the village was already at full stretch fundraising for the fixed costs of maintaining the church and that it was unreasonable to ask for more for a project which many would classify as desirable rather than essential.


PCC members David Adams and Alan Young agreed to look at the possibilities.  . An initial assessment from a conservator which updated the 1996 Richard Marsh report put the costs of the work to both memorials and tombs at around £15-20,000.  We started with the South Gloucestershire Council who were certainly keen to see the work done but could offer no grants. However they suggested talking to Jonathan MacKechnie-Jarvis at Church House in Gloucester.  Jonathan proved to be a great source of advice and encouragement and had produced a comprehensive guide to fundraising for such projects.  We were soon in touch with the Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust who gave us further encouragement – and a cheque for £2000 to help us on the way.  We then started to give serious consideration to making a bid to The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).  The “Your Heritage” scheme for grants up to £50,000 seemed a good place to start.  The HLF had greatly simplified the application process over the years and it was now possible to submit a short “pre-application” on-line for an initial assessment which would be given within 10 days.  This was submitted in August 2008 requesting a grant of around £8000. Less than 10 days later we had a response:  yes, this was the type of project the HLF could support and that £8000 seemed reasonable. That was the easy part.  Not surprisingly, the main application was much more detailed but the HLF could not have been more helpful with a dedicated project officer and many helpful and informative documents to provide guidance.  It was clear that the project would need to go beyond “conservation” and be linked to an initiative which would help to satisfy the increasing demand for safe access to heritage items in and around churches, especially in rural areas where many come to appreciate the countryside and learn about village communities.  We decided to do this through an archival and historical display in the church, through an expanded village website and through links to local schools and groups.  At this stage, in October 2008 we decided to form a Project Team.  David Adams would be the overall Project Coordinator and lead on fundraising with Alan Young as his Deputy, Michael Horgan agreed to be the Treasurer, Sally Young would look after PR, Christine Gryspeerdt would research the history of the monuments and Carolyn Adams would look after volunteering opportunities.


In November 2008 we visited St Marys Church in Painswick where a similar but much larger project was underway.  The Project Team there was very helpful and we came away with much good advice.  The next step was to start some serious research into the families commemorated on the memorials and tombs and in December 2008 we met with local historian Gwynne Stock who had through painstaking work recorded identifiable inscriptions on all the tombs.  Shortly afterwards, Ann Ballard, a local genealogist, joined the team.

By the end of 2008 we had raised nearly £6000 with grants from the Francis Coales Charitable Foundation, the St Andrew’s Conservation Trust, the Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust, the Woburn Trust and the Tormarton and West Littleton PC.  In December 2008 we submitted an application for funding to the Church Buildings Council who responded positively but required a full updated conservation report before making a decision.  The good news was they would help us with the cost of the report.  This was completed in April 2009 but came with the bad news that based on this updated report the work would now cost in the order of £36,000.  Fortunately, we were still working on the HLF bid.  We discussed this new development with our HLF project officer who seemed confident that our project could qualify for increased funding provided our partnership programmes could demonstrate the wider benefits of community involvement.  We were confident that they could as we had already received a number of promising responses, notably from Marshfield Primary School who were keen to use the project to meet a number of curriculum requirements.  Others keen to be involved were the Marshfield and District Local History Society, the Avon Branch of the Ramblers’ Association, the Cotswold AONB Voluntary Wardens and a church recording group from a local NADFAS branch.


The summer of 2009 was taken up with refining the HLF bid and seeking other sources of funding.  One promising lead was the Landfill Communities Fund which we pursued through the Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust who have a landfill site near Pucklechurch.  In August 2009 we submitted our bid to the HLF, almost a year to the day from our first contact.  The bid was now for £16,500 or 31% of the total project cost.  Success with the HLF would be the key to other donors supporting the project.  We waited nervously but not for too long.  In early October,  the call came through from the HLF to say that we had been awarded £16,500.  In the coming weeks we were offered up to £15,000 by the  Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust, £5000 from the Leche Trust, £5000 from the Church Buildings Council and £1000 from the William and Jane Morris Fund.  We were almost there.  In May 2010 we received £500 from the Allchurches Trust.


In early 2010 the church architect, Paul Richold of Architecton in Bristol, started work on the specification which would form the basis for the tender document.  In this he was greatly helped by Maurice Wayne, a retired chartered surveyor who lives in the village and has a great interest in the village church.  The offer to tender went out to 4 firms in early April and on the 17 May it was agreed to accept the tender from Nimbus Conservation in Frome.


We had been giving much thought as how best to meet our objective to provide an archival and historical display in the church;  to record the project in a form that would be useful to those who wished to learn about the history and conservation techniques both now and in the future. Peter Ballard from Marshfield had joined us as a photographer so we were not going to be short of material, but we were concerned about the prospect of large display boards in the church spoiling the setting.  We had already decided to expand the village website but what we really needed was a dedicated site that would both record progress step by step and provide a lasting historical record.  In early April, we were delighted when Alan Creighton, a skilled web designer who lives in the village, offered to both construct and maintain the dedicated site on which you are reading this.


Thanks to the hard work of the Project Team, the excellent support from our partners and the generosity of our donors the project is going ahead.   We never thought that the work would be underway just over 2 years after the PCC first gave serious thought to trying once again to conserve the important monuments at St James’s Church. 


You can now follow progress and learn more on other parts of the site.