RESIDENTS of Bradfield village have been restricted from accessing graves in case of a “catastrophic failure”.
Families whose relatives are buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard have been told that some graves will be fenced off because the roof is at risk of collapsing.
The last service was held at the church – where the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa Matthews (née Middleton) were christened – in 2014, after it became too costly to maintain and proved too large for church needs.
At the time, parishoners were told that the church could be sold to Bradfield College to help fund the construction of a new church at the site of St Peter’s, Bradfield Southend.
On hearing that the churchyard may be closed off until a buyer was secured, a resident said: “It has caused a lot of upset and now it could be three years that we can’t go to graves.”
Pastoral and committees secretary for the Diocese of Oxford, Petronella Spivey, said that the roof was in an “incredibly precarious” condition and “in danger of the whole lot of tiles falling off the building”.
She added that a strong wind or heavy snow storm could lead to a catastrophe.
“Fencing would be put up to keep people safe and away from the catastrophic failure,” she said.
“Once the church is closed there will be no going behind the fence.
“We can’t take the risk of anyone being hurt.
“The inside of the church is safe. You just have to get there.”
The Archdeacon of Berkshire, Olivia Graham, said: “We believe it goes back to when the roof was put on.
“We believe some of the tiles were put on upside down.
“If it had been constructed properly in the first place, we wouldn’t now have this problem.
“It keeps me awake at night thinking that it could have happened.”
Mrs Spiney said that the fencing would be sold to a potential buyer and the decision to keep it would lie with them.
The land is the responsibility of the PCC, which would ask a buyer if they would like to purchase any land and which areas would not be available.
“Even if it’s in their garden, they may not move recognised graves or those still being tended and not dig anything up,” Mrs Spivey said.
“They may apply for permission to move old graves to the edge of the churchyard. That will be advertised and if anyone comes forward then they can’t do that.”
The diocese has been in talks with Bradfield College to take over the building.
The bursar of Bradfield College, Paddy Burrowes, said: “At the moment our view is we want to do what works best for the community and for the church.
“We have talked about this before. We have no interest in moving anything or using the outside space.
“We want the place to look amazing and have no desire to move anything.”
St Andrew’s dates back to the 14th century but was remodelled in French Gothic-style by George Gilbert Scott in the 1840s.
The work was paid for by the Rev Thomas Stevens, who founded Bradfield College in 1850 to provide choristers for his new church.
The Grade II-listed church was marketed online for offers in excess of £500,000 in July this year.
Speaking at a meeting over the future of the building last Wednesday, one resident said: “I think it’s quite upsetting that word got out that the church was on Rightmove, then removed and then put back on again.
“That’s really not nice when you live down there.”
See the Newbury Weekly News for a report on the sale process for the building.