Before 2013, the churchyard and tower was owned and maintained by Thundridge Parochial Church Council (PCC). In the 1980s and 1990s the PCC were able to work with the Hertfordshire Buildings Preservation trust and other bodies and secure funding, including from the Diocesan Board of Finance, to carry out repairs and combat the effects of vandalism and antisocial behaviour which at that time was at its height, requiring police presence at key times of year such as Halloween and creating a challenging negative view of the site. Eventually the PCC decided that this situation was unsustainable as it was diverting too many resources from the parish church of St Mary’s.
In 2013 the site was formally ‘closed’ under Church of England legislation and the site vested in the care of the St Albans Diocesan Board of Finance for an initial use-seeking period of 2 years, within which time the Board’s Closed Churches Uses Committee (CCUC) had the task of finding a suitable, sustainable and viable future use for the tower.
In 2018 the Diocese wrote to Thundridge Parish Council stating their mission must be to the mission and ministry of the Church, which has no mandate or funding to maintain heritage buildings as amenities or tourist facilities. They set out an intention of investigating ‘sensitive residential conversion’, to which the Parish council strongly objected and, in subsequent correspondence, clarified that if the Parish Council could not offer a ‘viable, costed alternative proposal’ that ‘an application for demolition will be the only other option available unless an individual or organisation comes forward with a formal commitment to the site’
The challenges of developing the site are considerable, including arranging access & services, dealing with disused burial grounds and structural remains of the church, the constraints of the site being a scheduled monument, the constraints of the Grade listing of the tower, and dealing with adverse publicity. Planning permission would require the support of heritage and statutory bodies likely to be sceptical of the conversions impact to public access and future potential of an important heritage site.
Demolition is also not an easy option, however no-one should be complacent about this. According to the statutory process, every effort must be shown to have been made to find an alternative use for a closed church, but if one is not found then it can be argued that demolition is a valid last resort. Again, quoting from correspondence with the Diocese “We have been assured that the tower and its site are held in high regard locally. It is very disappointing that this has not translated into any willingness to take any formal responsibility for the site.” Continuing apathy and failure to act makes a strong case for the tower not in reality being valued by anyone, despite protestations to the contrary, and hence demolition becoming the only long term option.
It is in this context that in February 2019, 27 people attended an inaugural meeting of the Thundridge Old Church Action Group at the Feathers, with apologies from a further 11, led by Cllr Clive Brigden from the Parish Council.
In March 2019 the Parish Council considered the possibility of setting up an affiliated community managed trust, however they quickly concluded that this would overcommit available funds and resources and no further steps would be taken with this suggestion.
Since then, a small group of TOCAG volunteers have continued to work with Historic England and the Diocese to try and create the conditions by which ownership and management of the site can be transferred to a permanent and sustainable solution.
TOCAG is in the process of applying to become a Charitable Incorporate Organisation (CIO), with constitution as follows
To preserve for the benefit of the residents of the parish of Thundridge and the general public, the grade II listed tower and graveyard of St Mary and All Saints’ Church by conserving and maintaining them in sound condition with public access and removing the threat of demolition by creating conditions by which ownership can be transferred from the Diocese of St Albans. To research and advance the education of the public in all aspects of the church’s history, the scheduled monument within which it is sited, known as Thundridgebury medieval moated enclosure, the immediate environs including the 16C remains of Thundridgebury House, the managed landscape and Registered Park and Garden of Youngsbury and the unspoiled historic surrounding River Rib valley. To promote the preservation and maintenance of the same locality as a green and recreational space to the benefit of the environment and the health and welfare of the public
TOCAGs plans for 2023 are developed in more depth here however, they can be summarised as follows
Once the costs of bringing the tower into good repair are known, the next phase of development is anticipated to include