Bride-to-be in race to repair Huntingdonshire church after wall collapses throwing wedding in doubt

While the rest of the region will this week begin to get to grips with the hosepipe ban announcement, the congregation of St John the Baptist Church in Woodhurst has been working out how to find up to �40,000 to repair the damage caused by drought.

The 12th century church wall collapsed between Sunday, March 4, and Tuesday, March 6, after nearby trees soaked up the water from the clay soil, which retracted, causing the walls to move and crack.

Annabel Armstrong, 39, and Neil Farbon, 40, who are due to be married at the church in mid-May, are determined that their ceremony will go ahead at the church – even if it means wedding guests swapping floral hats for hard hats.

Annabel told The Hunts Post: “I have spoken to one of my close friends and she said ‘It’s fine, we’ll just get more flowers and decorate.’

“I have said that we are definitely getting married here. We live and farm in Woodhurst, and Neil’s family has been here since 1958, so it has very strong ties for us. It’s very important to me that we get married in the church – or at least outside and have the church as a backdrop.”

The bride-to-be received a phone call to tell her about the collapse.

“I was working at home when I took a call from one of the church wardens,” she said. “She had received a very panicked message that the church had fallen down. My fianc� is the church treasurer, and the warden was looking for a bit of moral support.

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“I rang Neil and said ‘Get back here, we have to see what’s going on’.

“We walked up to the churchyard and there was a big pile of flint and stone and a gaping gash in the church.

“My heart hit my boots. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to laugh or cry.

“We have been together for 16 years and got engaged in May last year, so I had been waiting for quite a long time. We have been planning the wedding for almost a year, so for this to happen now is horrendous.”

Annabel is a chartered surveyor and is used to dealing with properties and insurance claims.

“I, at least, knew it was fixable,” she said, “and I can try to use my professional background to get everyone motivated and make sure it doesn’t get any worse.”

The Diocese of Ely sent an architect who estimated the repairs would cost between �30,000 and �40,000. It is unclear if the damage will be covered by insurance.

In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, the couple had already decided to ask guests to make a donation to the church repair fund, instead of buying gifts.

The condition of a wall had been a concern since autumn last year, when a routine inspection showed some bulging.

Plans to start removing the trees had been approved by Huntingdonshire District Council.