A VILLAGE church that has served its rural community for almost a millennium has reopened two years after it was devastated by fire.
The wooden tower and vestry at the Grade II* St Andrew’s, Timsbury, in the Test Valley, Hampshire, were destroyed in the fire. One of the bells smashed the stone font as it fell, before melting. The prompt attendance of the fire service, and the efforts of parishioners arriving for Sunday-morning worship, meant that the church’s eastern end was saved, and several precious items, including a rare chained Elizabethan Bible. The repair bill was estimated at £250,000.
The Rector, Canon Steve Pittis, said that there was “a real desire to get things going again”. A site meeting was held “just a day or so later, and plans started from there. Our intention right from the outset was restoring what is, in part, a Norman building, to its splendour; but also to have a place for modern usage.
“The western end is now open; so we have a meeting area with chairs, and a small kitchenette, which we didn’t have before.” And the church now has “a splendid and very efficient digital organ, the cost of which was less than a replacement pipe organ.
“There were one or two raised eyebrows about that, but it is much more functional, and it makes a better sound. And it meant that money saved could go towards the improvements, like a beautiful Purbeck floor, which enhances the volume of our singing. We have also improved the heating and lighting systems.”
Previously unknown wall-paintings were uncovered, including a Tudor rose.
During what Canon Pittis called “the time of exile”, the congregation met in a variety of locations, from the village hall to a tea room. “Inevitably, some of the older folk who would only come to a church building, and weren’t that mobile, didn’t come so regularly, but the core of the congregation still met weekly,” he said.
“There was a real sense of togetherness and bonding. We began to see that the church building was significant, but the church as people was even more significant.”
The restored building was first used three weeks ago; and, last Sunday, the Bishop of Southampton, the Rt Revd Jonathan Frost, led the congregation, which included some of the fire crew, in a service of rededication. “It was primarily a theme of celebration,” Canon Pittis said, “celebrating God’s goodness to us, restoration, and resurrection.”
The technical property claims manager at Ecclesiastical, Sarah Cox, said: “This was one of the more challenging church-fire claims we have seen in recent years . . . because of the building’s historic significance — some of the church dates back to the 11th century — and also the degree of devastation suffered.”
She went on: “It is rare that an insurance company gets to feel and be a part of a community, and we are so grateful to St Andrew’s for their inclusive approach.”