St Andrew’s Barrow Hill – the unique Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin church is unlikely to be reopened after services there were suspended around the outbreak of Covid. The sad task of trying to find a use for the contents and secure the future of the historic organ and the stained-glass windows is already being pursued.
This historic building – it’s the first real collaboration of Parker and Unwin (who both later went on to ‘greater things’) – has an almost complete interior. What will happen to the building is now in some doubt, but most of the interior fittings are likely be dispersed or sold, if closure is confirmed.
The proposal to close St Andrew’s was first discussed at an open meeting in January 2019. Almost four years into the formal process, no decision has yet been made to officially close it, or about its future. If and when the process has been completed, and the closure is finally approved, it will be disposed of according to Church of England rules and could be given to a trust or community group rather than being sold.
In reality it is unlikely to reopen. Despite a sustained effort some years ago English Heritage refused to list the church. More recently efforts have been made to establish some form of multi-use heritage and community facility, but these have unfortunately failed.
Some items are destined to go to the Garden City Museum at Letchworth (it’s the community Parker and Unwin went on to design), others retained locally. The latter includes the bell (back to the school it originally came from at Barrow Hill) and cast iron (at Staveley works) ‘Last Supper’ plaque to Barrow Hill Memorial Hall.
Efforts will be made to find a new home for the historic organ. The future of the stained glass and memorials will also be considered.
All this underlines just how much local heritage assets are at risk from changes in use, demographics and financial considerations.
Now the building is without congregation after serving Barrow Hill since its opening in 1895. This community has also lost its remaining Methodist Church, but fortunately an active group is currently working to get the nearby Memorial Hall back up and running as a community asset. Here a Heritage Lottery funded community archive is currently being established. A small collection of more personal items has been rescued from the church. These include a few hymn books, prayer books, a kneeler and other small items relating to the church. There’s also some of the original floor tiles saved during alterations to the building some years ago.
As mentioned, if St Andrew’s is to be disposed of by the Church of England a strict process will be followed. There is also some hope that, as a key building in the Barrow Hill Conservation Area and its listing by the Borough Council as a heritage asset, it will receive some protection from demolition or unsympathetic alteration.
There’s more about St Andrew’s church by following the links below.
To read an article by Hugh Ellis about the possible removal of some items from the church for safe-keeping see his blog at the Town and Country Planning Association; https://tcpa.org.uk/icons-tears-and-hope-in-barrow-hill/