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Street Parish Church refurbishment

From Church Building issue 89

Sitting in the shadow of Glastonbury few people realise that the history of the little parish church of Street predates its more illustrious neighbours across the river Brue, writes Revd John Greed and Angela M W Dudley. It is a church with a Celtic heritage, with evidence of occupation in the late Iron Age and Roman periods, though little is known of this time. There has been a small church or chapel on the site since 512, and in 680 the land at "Lantocai" was granted by Winchester : Glastonbury. Other than a suggested monastic hermitage on Glastonbury Tor in the late fifth or early sixth century, the site at Street is the only known Christian site associated with Glastonbury with evidence of pre-Anglo-Saxon origins and became one of the first possessions of the Anglo-Saxon Monastery.

The present church began life in 1270 and was dedicated to St. Gildas, only being rededicated to the Holy Trinity some time after the Reformation. The earliest part of the building is thought to be the 13th
century chancel, while the nave, south porch and tower appear to date from the 15th century. Throughout its long history, the church of the Holy Trinity has undergone many changes. In order to cope with the growing numbers of worshippers, a north aisle was added with a faculty being granted in May 1826. John Ralphs, a surveyor from Warminster, was responsible for the design (rather than the normal diocesan surveyor or church architect), and his services may be attributed to the fact that the patronage had by now passed from Glastonbury Abbey to the Marquis of Bath at Longleat. During the building's enlargement, not completed until February 1834, ". . . . the remains of an ancient chapel or hermitage were found. ...", but unfortunately, the construction of the aisle saw the destruction of an original doorway on the north wall of the nave, which Glynne referred to as ". ... a curious doorway which, if genuine, appears to be of very early date being very high and very narrow.. . ." Later, in 1843, ". . . . the interior of the Church of Street was rearranged and beautified according to the designs of Benjamin Ferrey, Esquire, of Bedford Street, London, diocesan architect" The work was comprehensive, involving new plastered ceilings, new roofs, stone parapets and new windows. The south porch, which had been recently used as the vestry, was reinstated with a new vestry constructed on the south side of the chancel, while the chancel was given a tiled floor and stained glass was inserted into the windows. New pews, complete with kneeling stools, books boards & ornamental ends, were ". . . arranged according to ancient order.. .." and the ".. . .unsightly pews in the chancel.. ." were replaced with open seats. A new pulpit and reading desk were added, the walls painted with text and the font relined in lead - it seems that little went unchanged.

With the growing leather and shoe industry within the vicinity, the parish of Street began to change dramatically as trade developed. This change brought about a dramatic increase in the population and the new housing for this explosion of people forced the development of the emerging town away from the parish church. In order to continue to meet the spiritual needs of this expanding community, a mission church was built in the heart of the then new development, which meant that, over time, the old church became isolated and in part neglected. However, in 1905 a new organ was installed and in 1947 the church was again restored and redecorated, with some of the pews now being removed to make way for the font's repositioning. Since then, little has changed within the church, except that the congregation has got smaller and needs have changed.

On the other hand, in the last two decades, the area around the Parish Church of Holy Trinity has been regenerated with new housing and two large school and college complexes - Crispin School and Strode College. Rather sadly this was in stark contrast to the church building, which then stood as a cold, dark, dingy and virtually uninhabited monument to an old faith; its aging congregation suffering conditions even more outdated than themselves. The message this gave to the hundreds of young people, who passed every day on their way to school and college, was simply that Christianity was irrelevant to their generation and the 21st century.

In 1996 the church was left a legacy, which was the catalyst that motivated the Parochial Church Council (PCC) to seek to envision a new life for Holy Trinity Church. The desire of the incumbent (backed wholeheartedly by the PCC) was to bring this simple parish church back to life again.

In order to accomplish this, it was seen as necessary that the church should be inviting to the young people who pass it by. Conversations with the school governors and the headmaster indicated that there would be some interest in using the church for assemblies and for music and drama studies It was also felt important that the church be seen as a central resource far the wider community of Street.

With this in mind it was felt that the chancel should be formed into an intimate Lady Chapel suitable for small communion services and quiet prayer and contemplation, while the nave of the church could be completely remodelled to accommodate in comfort all the uses that would bring this simple church to life again, restoring it from a museum of a bygone religious activity, to a of vital living faith in Jesus Christ.

Resulting from initial advice sought in 1998 and a feasibility design instigated in 2000, full design proposals undertaken by Chedburn Ltd of Bath with an application put to the Advisory Committee in 2002. Having gained Full Faculty approval in March 2003, together with endorsements from amenity societies such as the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and English Heritage (EH). tenders were sought from five Building Contractors in the region, all with past experience of conservation and traditional construction techniques, with Cowlin Construction, of Wincanton, being awarded the contract.

In the spring of 2003, work commenced on the complete removal of the 19th century suspended timber floor of the chancel, nave and the North Aisle. This in turn allowed full access to the preserved archaeology beneath. Under the direction of Alan Graham, BA MIFA, investigations revealed the remains of the north wall of the medieval nave and the discovery of an early, narrow opening to the chancel, together with foundations pre-dating the construction of the medieval church - suggesting Norman origins. Burial vaults and the remnants of a lias slab floor were also present, while over two-thirds of the nave area the medieval floor surface remains undisturbed beneath.

Work progressed throughout 2003, with the normal surprises, setbacks and sudden design changes that all conservation work entails, resulting in a new experience of space probably unseen through the church's history. The new oak-boarded floor created a level finish throughout the chancel, nave and north aisle, removing sloping sections of aisle, and the majority of steps, plinths and trip-hazards that existed before.

The provision of an uninterrupted floor, complete with underfloor heating, a new lighting and sound system, and the removal of the fixed pews has given a flexibility that was essential for the building once again to serve the community that surrounds it. New furniture, consisting of 200 comfortable chairs (both moveable and stackable) and specialist designed altar table, altar rails, lectern and priest chairs by a local craftsman Richard Donkersley, fill the church and stand out against the new colour scheme of the walls and ceiling. The new lighting system further enhances the space, giving a feeling a warmth and welcome to all who enter.

There is still work to be completed. The south porch is to be refurbished, with a new, more welcoming door, new lighting, heating and display furniture. This will help to make the building a more approachable place, rather than the fortress that it can seem on a dull wet day from the outside.

Since the completion of the main phase of the work last winter, the church has been vibrating with new life. A monthly "Sunrise" event for the under-eights and their parents has grown and developed. There have been regular concerts throughout the year, and also a celebration of marriage during St Valentine's weekend that included a display of wedding dresses down the century, a musical evening on love and marriage, and special services that included the renewal of marriage vows. "TrinityFest" was held throughout the period
from Ascension to Trinity Sunday. This festival of the arts and worship included music of many kinds, dance, a flower festival, and a three-day children's festival - during which the church was turned into a Big Top. The services were rich in variety, including Songs of Praise and liturgies drawn from the communities of Taize and Iona.

Little of the above could have been accomplished in the building as it was before the reordering, nor could the life, laughter and fun be enjoyed by people of every age if the open space had not been created.

The refurbishing has been well received by the regular congregation and the local community and the vision of bringing the life of Christ further into the community is only just beginning; yet, we believe that through the grace of God it will now flourish and grow.
The nave before refurbishment
The new floor under construction
The nave after refurbishment