St Peter & St Paul


This large grade I, fourteenth-century village church currently lacks even basic facilities – no WC, kitchen or even running water. The proposals involve the addition of a catering kitchen within the base of the tower; a large meeting room at the west end with folding glass doors opening into the nave; a welcome space in the south aisle; and WCs and vestry to the north. Two stairs lead to a gallery over the meeting room providing additional seating and dramatic views of the church, with three smaller, glazed rooms to south, west and north. A new lighting scheme is proposed, along with underfloor heating. The architectural language is unashamedly modern; while this may not be to everyone’s taste, the design attempts to reconcile the needs of the worshipping community with the historic nature of its building in an elegant manner that speaks of its time.

Architects visualisation of St Peter & St Paul Church Bassingbourn
St Paul and St Peter Bassingbourn architects 3d visualisation

Achieving permission for the scheme was not at all straightforward. As with many such projects, the proposals raised the question of what a church building ‘is good for’, what it ‘should be’. While many of the concerns raised were at the level of practical detail, behind that detail lie important theological and heritage questions; how we respond to those questions can animate sharply different positions of different parties.

Feelings are strongly held on all sides, but it is a privilege to be involved in projects such as this. That strength of feeling shows how important heritage such as this is – to all in the community, regardless of whether they attend the church. Heritage, however, does not lie primarily in the physical fabric, but in the nexus – literally the binding together – of that fabric and the people that animate it; that is what is implied in the evocative term ‘living building’. 

Architects cutaway floor plan of St Peter and St Paul Church Bassingbourn

In the long term, the disengagement of a community from its church building would be as disastrous for the physical fabric as for the community. It is hugely encouraging, therefore, that since the approval, discussions have been ongoing with the broader community to refine the scheme – the images shown here do not reflect the subsequent amendments to the scheme.

The comprehensive and very readable judgment is available from the Ecclesiastical Law Association website. Alongside the arguments of the case, this also contains an excellent section on the history of pews in churches (pp. 39–42).

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