SPECIAL FEATURE: Maintaining Long Sutton’s church for future generations
It’s easy to spot Long Sutton’s St Mary’s Church from the A17 by its significant spire - reported to be the tallest wooden spire in Europe.
It was also the site of dramatic scenes in 2002 when the golden cockerel that sits atop the weather vane on the spire, was brought crashing down during a storm as Father Jonathan Sibley was conducting Sunday service.
The weather vane was left precariously hanging from the spire. Luckily, no one was injured in the incident.
Before it was restored and put back up, the cockerel was taken to nearby schools and children were invited to jump over it, and a time capsule was created.
Once put back in its proper place, along with the new time capsule, and with the help of architects Buttress, the children could later say they had ‘jumped over the cockerel that sits on top of the church.’
The incident is just one of the interesting stories and features that attracts visitors and worshippers from near and far.
We want to keep the church going for future generations and in 2020 we will celebrate its 850th anniversary. We are planning a significant celebration and we thought a good section of the year is to choose some time around the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and the birthday of St Mary, the patron saint (Sept 8).
St Mary’s Parish Church has stood on its site since 1170, and is steeped in history.
“We have a footprint of about 25,000 people coming to the church each year,” said Mr Sibley.
“We want to keep the church going for future generations and in 2020 we will celebrate its 850th anniversary.
“We are planning a significant celebration and we thought a good section of the year is to choose some time around the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and the birthday of St Mary, the patron saint (Sept 8).”
To tie in with the anniversary celebrations, a number of improvements are planned to the church, including a new kitchenette, toilets and an upgrade of the heating system.
The improvements are estimated to cost about £180,000.
Mr Sibley said: “The boiler was put in in 1960 and was second hand at the time. Each year we wonder if it is going to make it this year. It is intermittent and you lose a lot of heat.
“The new system will have two wall-mounted boilers which, together, will give over 100 per cent efficiency.”
The proposed improvements have been drawn up with the help of official architects Buttress.
Just inside the south entrance to the church is currently an area that is used as a meeting room for various groups. It is also where drinks and refreshments are provided during events such as the current flower festival, which runs until Monday (May 7).
The aim is for this area to be turned into a kitchenette. A small row of Victorian pews that are currently in the space will be removed and some of those repositioned to allow for the changes.
“We would like to turn this into a welcome room. We have used it for meetings and concerts but we do not even have a water tap here so we are bringing water in with an urn and at the end of the day taking out the surplus hot water so it is not good for health and safety.
“We thought we would make it into a nice area with a servery and kitchen unit and some nicer seating.”
After consulting with the Diocesan Advisory Council, which oversees any decisions on proposals to changes in church buildings, the plan is to create a new meeting room in the current choir vestry room.
A toilet is planned to be built in the north porch which will have disabled access and a baby changing facility and another toilet near the meeting room.
At the moment, the only toilets are situated in the church hall opposite.
Already £20,000 has been allocated to help improve the heating at the church and there will be a big push to help fund the improvements.
“We will apply for an English lottery grant and to the National Churches Trust,” Mr Sibley added.
“We have been awarded the community champions by the Co-op and 10 per cent from the flower festival will go towards the works.
“Our treasurer Geoff Palmer of Three Counties Running Club did two sponsored half marathons. We have a fashion show planned and upcoming talks.”
Among those planned to give a talk at the church is TV’s Time Team’s Francis Pryor, a respected archeologist who lives in Sutton St James.
He is best known for his discovery of Flag Fen at Peterborough.
Other plans for the 2020 celebrations include an open day, key speakers, performances by Act II and involvement by Peele Community College.