Our heritage includes anything transmitted from our ancestors or past ages, especially historic buildings or the natural environmental.
When we talk about our heritage what we refer to is all the influences on us from our literature, our national institutions, our dress, our understanding of our history and even our weather, but the most obvious clue as to who we are is the evidence of our country’s architecture. Good or bad our architecture is a reflection of the age and a kind of interpretation of the contemporary collective mood.
In Harborough we have an outstanding building example, the parish church of St. Dionysius, with its imposing grandeur, east facing nave and its steeple reaching towards the sky, is a perfect example of the changing views of an earlier age. The church and all it stands for now represents the current stage of its evolving heritage.
What’s so special about St. Dionysius Church?
The church of St. Dionysius is primarily a religious building but, of course, it is also a civic building and an historic one too. Could we imagine Harborough today without St. Dionysius? In his authoritative guide to Buildings of England, Professor Sir Nikolaus Prevsner dates the lower part of the church steeple from about 1300AD and rates the steeple as ‘one of the finest in England’. The steeple he says shows us ‘how broaches can be handled without imparting any heaviness to the outline and proportion of a spire. The broaches implement the transition from our four-sided section of the tower to the eight-sided section of the spire. Part of the present church building dates from at least 1300AD and has had a series of additions to it since. It is thought there was a chapel on the site in about 1200AD. The only visible fragments of the chapel remain in the lower part of the present chancel arch. The West church doorway entrance from the High Street marks the position of the base of one side of the tower; starting in about 1300AD. Prevsner estimates that it took about ten or twenty years to build to the level of the top of the bell openings in the tower. The tower and spire are of grey ashlar limestone, whereas the rest of the church stone is golden ironstone. The other parts of the church, the nave, aisles and chancel, date mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries. The surviving parts of the nave and aisles from the 14th century are not always visible. Of particular note, is the fine window stone which is in the Perpendicular style except in the chancel where the windows are in the earlier Decorative style.
A curiosity inside the church is the Royal Coat of Arms over the tower arch which dates from 1660AD and was erected at the Restoration of Charles II over the chancel arch. It replaced an earlier one that was probably destroyed during the Civil War. It is likely this was an attempt by the towns’ residents to curry favour with the King after the disruptions of the Civil War when the town had largely sided with the Parliamentarians. Indeed at the Battle of Naseby 5000 Royalists prisoners were taken by the Parliamentarians many of whom were corralled overnight in the Harborough Chapel, as St. Dionysius Church was then known.
Who are The Friends Committee?
You may imagine the Committee of The Friends of St. Dionysius Church as a collection of old buffers. We yes, we are in part but we have housewives, a school governor and a retired scholar on the committee too. The chief officer of ‘Save the Children’ gets a salary of over £168,000, more than the Prime Minister; our Chairman is very happy to get a bit less than zero (and other committee members bear some of our out of pocket expenses themselves. So we are a genuine (and registered) charity, which operates practically without overheads. We publish our accounts once every year and we hold an annual general meeting to discuss our activities, the accounts and receive comments from local supporters. The committee meets about once every six weeks to discuss ways of raising money for the upkeep of the fabric of St. Dionysius Church.
All requests by the Church Council for financial help have to be submitted in writing to the Friends’ Secretary. The Friends’ Committee will then confirm that the request conforms with the Friends’ Constitution before any funds are transferred to the Church Council. Occasionally their requests do not conform and are returned without our help.
Our annual Newsletter has been replaced by our ‘Window’ forwarding news and information of forthcoming fundraising events, social gatherings, outings etc., to all our supporters. Delivery is principally by email or post between 5-7 times a year.
How does the Harborough District Council come into this?
The District Council does not provide a penny for the upkeep of St. Dionysius Church so the maintenance needs of the church, which are ongoing, must be met by local donors and a few other supporters, The Friends’ Committee is separate from the Church Council and does not support the normal church running costs. It concentrates its efforts on the upkeep and safety of the fabric of the church which is also an important civic building for the enjoyment of the whole community and the many visitors as well as for churchgoers.
How do we hope to preserve St. Dionysius Church in good condition?
The Church Council commissions reports from architects, engineers, builders and building professionals to address particular issues in connection with the upkeep and improvement of the church building fabric. The Friends’ Committee examines proposals and plans to see if resources to fund the work in total or in part are applicable. The Church Council operate on the principle of ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, and with many people using the building and regular inspections in the more obscure parts, this is generally possible.
By law the church building has to be inspected by a suitably qualified person every five years. This was carried out most recently in July 2019.
What do we do to raise funds for the church?
· Social events and concerts in the church
· Coffee mornings in alternative venues
· Trips to places of interest, and so on
We hope to be a charity that is appreciated in the town by providing some ‘social cement’ where people can meet to talk in a relaxed enjoyable atmosphere as well as achieving our principal fundraising goal of £5,000 per year.
We are thankful too for the many supporter advertisements from local businesses and professional services.
How does one join or stay in touch with the activities of the Friends?
You can get in touch or leave comments at any time by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To become a donor, application forms are available from Committee members, or from the table just inside the church’s High Street west door.
To date we have raised over £84,000 – £63,000 of which has been used within our constitutional brief to maintain our Grade I listed Heritage building in reasonable condition.
The Friends are indebted to the Late Andrew Orton for compiling and presenting this extensive work.