£1m conservation work begins on Hertfordshire church

The entire nave roof was in danger of collapse, and emergency supports were quickly installed.

Repair work has begun at St Leonard’s Church, a 12th-century Grade I-listed building in the village of Flamstead, Hertfordshire, after three years of fundraising. The building is home to several priceless medieval wall paintings and Tudor monuments.

St Leonard’s was constructed in 1120 AD. Its arches and pillars bear engravings termed ‘medieval graffiti’, which range from simple initials to enigmatic symbols. The church is also home to a memorial dedicated to Sir Bartholomew Fowke, who was Head of the Household to Queen Elizabeth I.

Grade I-listed St Leonard’s Church, Flamstead. PHOTO: Andrew Lambourne.

St Leonard’s is especially remarkable for its series of medieval wall paintings, which had been covered up with white-wash plaster during the Reformation, and were only rediscovered in the 1930s. The artist is believed also to have painted the murals at St Albans Cathedral.

However, an inspection of the church in 2017 revealed the extensive decay of the 15th-century timber roof structure, as a result of water leaks.  The entire nave roof was in danger of collapse, and emergency supports were quickly installed.

To fund the conservation work, villagers formed the Flamstead Heritage Project, and in the course of three years raised more than a quarter of a million pounds in funding from local people, organisations, and heritage trusts.

In March 2020, it was announced that the National Lottery Heritage Fund would donate three quarters of a million pounds to the restoration.

In 2017, emergency supports were placed to hold up the rotten oak beams, which were last repaired in 1791. PHOTO: Andrew Lambourne.

Project Director of Flamstead Heritage Project Andrew Lambourne said: ‘Thanks to Lottery players, the National Lottery Heritage Fund will support the project, and the building will be saved so its heritage can be shared with many more people.’

The condition of each beam and rafter will be assessed in order to determine which parts can be saved, and the degraded stonework windows will then be replaced. 

With the work due to be completed in September, there are plans next for the wall paintings to be professionally cleaned and restored.