Long, long ago – in 2003 – Edlesborough Parish Council initiated a feasibility study to floodlight our medieval church of St. Mary the Virgin, up on the hill, where it has been keeping vigil for more than 800 years, overlooking our ancient village nestling at the foot of the Chiltern Hills. The floodlights would provide a warm welcome for the community and visitors alike, to be seen from miles around.
It seemed like a very good idea!
Unfortunately there were a great many obstacles put in the way over the years and the project was deferred, to be included in the proposed village plan, finally published in 2008. The EDaN Project was born, chaired by Alan Williams. Many volunteer groups were formed within the parish to work through ‘wish lists’ submitted in a questionnaire and at various public meetings. Amongst these groups was the Beautification Team, who adopted the floodlighting scheme, together with many other projects, including the three pictorial village signs, ten sponsored flower boxes and the planting of 10,000 daffodil bulbs.
Preliminary discussions took place between the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), who own the church, the Parish Council and the Beautification Team. There were many bridges to cross, including local consultation, environmental issues, approvals from the Wildlife and Countryside Act, security, suitability and archaeology, all prior to submitting a planning application.
These issues were finally addressed, including three bat-watching stakeouts, with the Beautification Team joining forces with North Bucks Bat Group (NBBG). No more than six bats were observed roosting within and outside the church on these occasions – brown long-eared and pipistrelles. (Incidentally ... do you know that you can tell the difference between mouse and bat droppings by rubbing them between your fingers, if you feel so inclined? Bat droppings crumble, mouse poo doesn’t!).
The Parish Council put aside £5000 towards the project and the Beautification Team added £2000 to this by organising a village Firewalk on the green. Villagers were keen to see the church lit and willing to burn their feet for the privilege! £1000 was also donated to Keech Cottage Children’s Hospice from this event. By 2010 the team was ready to progress to the next stage – the application for planning.
However, we needed consent from the CCT to apply for planning permission .... this was not forthcoming.
The owners now wanted an organisation formed which would commit long-term to the church and confirm that the building would eventually be open all day, every day. More volunteers came forward and the Friends of the Church on the Hill was formed in 2012 – introducing the Edlesborough Festival, heritage days and various other events, all supported by the Beautification Team.
During this time the Parish Council donated another £1000 towards the project - the cost of the floodlights had increased as we were now installing LED lighting, more expensive to purchase but far cheaper to run.
In 2014 a further survey by the NBBG and our own team of volunteers established that there had been no increase in the bat population but the outcome was that the whole of the chancel area must be protected with a dark envelope to prevent light spillage to the roost exit - hence the lack of floodlights at the north east end of the church facing the village centre.
A church plan has been submitted to the CCT for approval, detailing future projects for their consideration; this also prioritises conservation issues thought relevant by the Friends for possible inclusion in the CCT’s budget.
The overgrown scrub in the churchyard is now being tackled – lately with considerable help from the Community Payback Workers. Future projects include improvement of sight-lines to the church so that its beauty can be appreciated from afar, as in days gone by, to attract more visitors to discover its hidden beauty within, also to provide public access to the top of the tower, offering spectacular views in every direction.
The Friends’ team have established a website and facebook page and a regular cleaning programme is in operation.
All these new ventures satisfied the CCT and at long last they gave permission for the Parish Council to apply for planning permission.
We are lucky to have on board the Friends’ team Doug Oughton and George Crutcher who, with their expertise, helped this stage to run smoothly and in April 2015 planning was finally approved - the only proviso being the presence of archaeologists on site during the trenching for cables and bases to support the lights, followed by their report of any findings.
In October volunteers, plus welcome manpower from the Community Payback Workers, installed the five concrete pads linked by underground cables and made good the site - completed during one amazingly hot and sunny weekend, so a very clean dig! We did unearth the remains of an elderly lady in her shallow, unmarked grave whilst trenching, who was reburied with due reverence.
Following this, local contractor Tony Ambrose installed the floodlights, protective cages and metering. The lights operate from dusk until 10.30 every evening and the power for these will be paid for by Edlesborough Parish Council.
Finally.... on Saturday 14th November the floodlights were illuminated. The Parish Council, Beautification Team and Friends of the Church on the Hill braved the elements, together with an amazingly large turnout of local folk to celebrate the lighting of this magnificent building. Our MP, Rt. Hon. John Bercow, pulled 11-year old Rebecca Howells’ winning ticket from the drum and she had the honour of pushing the ‘big red switch’. Over £300 was raised on the night for the BBC’s Children in Need Appeal.
We have a majestic landmark of which to be proud, now bathed in light for all to enjoy.
pp EDaN Beautification and Friends of the Church on the Hill Teams
Floodlighting Edlesborough Church : The Saga! was published on February 9, 2016