St Martin’s, Ruislip

Father Simon Evans

New Life for an Old Building

One of the aspects of being Vicar of St Martin’s which both excites me and fills me with a certain amount of awe is that of being the custodian (a task shared with others) of the most ancient building in our community: a building which has been in continuous use for the best part of a thousand years. Of course, over the centuries it has changed and developed: parts of it have been replaced, re-shaped, knocked-down, added-to, adapted, redecorated, enhanced and modernised. St Martin’s remains the most beautiful and interesting structure in Ruislip. As Eileen Bowlt told us in the April edition of the Town Crier, the monuments within it and around it bear testimony to some of the particularly notable individuals and families that have lived here before us. In fact, the church building can be read as a record of the story of Ruislip and of the ways in which the historical events of the nation impacted upon the lives of those who lived here in centuries gone by.

Within St Martin’s Church there is evidence of the Norman era when the Manor of Ruislip was owned by the Benedictine Abbey of Bec in Normandy; of the piety of people who lived here during the Medieval centuries; of the changes that took place during the sixteenth century Reformation period; of the Civil War and the role of Mary Bankes, née Hawtrey, in the defence of Corfe Castle in Dorset; of the Victorians and their restoration of the building and its furnishings that accompanied a spiritual revival in the Church of England; of the impact of the First and Second World Wars and the devastating loss of the lives of so many young men from this community; of recent adaptations and improvements as well as the care with which it is maintained by those who love and use it today.

Again and again I have found that as well as the large and varied congregations who worship in St Martin’s Sunday by Sunday and day by day, there are countless people who love to go in during the week and experience the unique atmosphere of stillness and otherness which is almost tangible, especially when there’s nothing in particular going on. I am constantly heartened and encouraged by those who, even though churchgoing is not part of their routine, love and care about St Martin’s Church and tell me how important it is to them. Conversely, I’m also amazed by the number of people I encounter who tell me they’ve lived here for years and yet have never been through the door! When they do enter for the first time, people are often amazed by what they find! St Martin’s Church is generally open all day every day so that the people of our community can go in, enjoy it and experience what they discover within it.

I am grateful to have been invited to write this article for the Town Crier because just now we face a particular challenge. In her last quinquennial inspection our architect reported that we can no longer postpone the re-roofing of the north and south aisles. The copper with which they are covered has now perished to the point where water is getting in and may cause serious damage to the timbers. At the same time the lighting and sound systems have reached the end of their effective lives. The Parochial Church Council has built up reserves over recent years and we are hoping to be successful with a grant application but the bulk of the funding for these projects will have to be raised locally. The congregation of St Martin’s has recently launched the New Life Project which is aiming to raise £100,000 this year towards the overall cost, probably in the region of £250,000. If you would like to contribute in some way to equipping our beautiful parish church for the next phase of its life we’d be delighted to hear from you.

Generally, the people of St Martin’s try to keep the focus of regular fundraising on humanitarian need and I am frequently struck by the generosity with which I see so many responding to all kinds of charitable causes. Every so often though, we have to give attention to the historic building with which we have been entrusted and which has stood at the heart of our community for so many centuries. I hope we can ensure that it will continue to be here, equipped to be a place of welcome that will be of service to all who live both locally and further afield.*

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