Beds, Herts & Bucks

Fire-damaged Royston church refit 'will take years'

Fire at St John the Baptist Church, Royston Image copyright BCH Road Policing
Image caption Many firefighters tackled the blaze when it broke out in the early morning on 9 December

A "nomadic" parish will use a local school for Easter services while work continues to rebuild its church after a devastating fire.

St John the Baptist church in Royston, Hertfordshire, was built at a similar time as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris in the 13th Century.

New pictures show how the blaze - in December - destroyed much of the church's medieval roof and bell tower.

The Reverend Heidi Huntley hopes it will be reopen by Christmas 2020.

At its height, 25 firefighters were called in to tackle the blaze which ravaged interior woodwork, the roof and tower when it broke out on 9 December.

Image copyright Arun Kataria
Image caption Much of the roof of the church was gutted by fire in December

After an investigation, police ruled out arson after fears that lead had been stolen from the roof proved unfounded.

Expert assessors are now involved in removing pews and boxing up valuable items in order to allow the roof damage to be examined from the inside.

The 13th Century building remains closed off and shrouded in scaffolding.

Worshippers are now meeting in a local school on Sundays, the town hall on Saturdays and the Methodist church on Wednesdays for activities.

Image copyright Arun Kataria
Image caption The charred wooden beams in the ceiling
Image copyright Arun Kataria
Image caption Stained glass window panes were damaged

Much of the repair work will be covered by insurance, with residents also raising more than £26,000 to help the restoration.

Ms Huntley said the internal structure of the bell tower had been destroyed, and there was significant smoke and water damage throughout.

Stained glass window panes had melted in the heat, she said.

Ms Huntley added that - like Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which caught fire on Monday - St John the Baptist was 850 years old.

"This has been a place of worship for centuries - you can feel the prayers in the walls, that sense of holiness," she said.

"People who don't even go to church regularly will appreciate the peace and tranquillity of these spaces - that is what makes them so special.

"It is a valuable quiet space for the local community, but we also want to bring it up to the 21st Century."

Image copyright Arun Kataria
Image caption Scaffolding still shrouds the 13th Century church four months on

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