Bell Tower Heritage Lottery Fund Rescue

Onwards and Upwards!

Work is underway using Heritage Lottery Funding for repairs on the bell tower of the Priory Church in Dunstable.

It was revealed that the ancient building, with important historical connections to Henry VIII, won a bid for £71,900 in January. Now work is underway with stonemasons at work repairing the parapets.

Lodge & Sons, historic building restoration, stonemasons Nick Hilliard and Stuart Thompson are at work in all weathers preparing the Bath stone and putting it in place. “We’re examining the old and reusing or replacing to keep the new looking in keeping with the original,” said Nick.

Hilary Jackson, Church Warden who led the bell tower HLF bid said: “It is exciting to know that this important work is underway. There has been much work behind the scenes to get to this stage, but people can now see that it has started. We hope to involve various community groups along the way as the project progresses - this may include the chance to meet the stonemasons and hear about their work.

“Grants were also received from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Historic Churches Trust, the All Churches Trust and ChurchCare. The Priory Church is extremely grateful for the financial support given.”

Meanwhile, the Dunstable Priory 2020 Vision project, to make the interior of the church more user-friendly for wider community groups to meet outside of services, is still on-going. The team is now awaiting the arrival of the new Rector who will be critical to the next stages of fund-raising.

Kathy Riley who is co-ordinating the Dunstable Priory 2020 campaign added: “This work on the tower is an important first step in securing the fabric of the building. The 2020 plan is to put the 1,000-year-old The Priory back in the centre of life in Dunstable. To this end, we are hosting a meeting of all the newly appointed councillors from Central Beds Council to ensure they fully understand the significance The Priory has in the local community.”

The Priory Church of St Peter, which was founded in 1132, is steeped in history and the building is Grade I listed, part of only 2.5% of buildings in England which are listed in this category and described by Historic England as of exceptional interest.

During its 900-plus years, the church has taken many forms and been adapted to suit the needs of the town, from the original Augustinian Priory founded by Henry I through the formation of the Church of England, reformation, restoration and into more modern times.

It has been more than just a place of worship; the building has served as a community venue throughout this time and played an important role in several historical events.

>The original Norman building formed the shape of a cross; however, two western towers were lost in a storm in 1222.

> The Priory oversaw tournaments attended by Edward I in 1279 and 1280, and Edward III in 1329 & the country’s last old-style tournament took place in Dunstable in 1349.

> The annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, the court of which took place in the Lady Chapel on 10th May 1533. Henry’s desire for a divorce had led to the country’s permanent break with the Catholic church.

Source: JM 10 Sep 2019

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