WORK got under way at St Lawrence Church in Alton on Monday as part of a major project to repair the damage caused by Death Watch Beetle.

A Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £31,400 enabled an investigation to be carried out 18 months ago and the funding body has promised a further £203,000 for repairs.

The work is supported by Alton Town Council, East Hampshire District Council, Hampshire County Council, the Hampshire and Islands Historic Churches Trust and the National Churches Trust. But more donations are need to complete restoration work.

St Lawrence is one of four churches in the Parish of the Resurrection, which is also contributing.

It will be “business as usual” at St Lawrence, according to church warden Tim Codling, but the “significant” work will take until September to complete.

It will include restoring roof timbers in the beetle-damaged nave and hand-cut oak shakes on the spire to replace cedar shingles. Improved roof ventilation will reduce condensation and diminish the chances of fresh beetle infestations.

Mr Codling said: “The structure is on the English Heritage at risk register and the repairs are essential to preserve it for the future.”

St Lawrence Church was consecrated in 1080, making it easily the oldest building in Alton. It is Grade I Listed and has many notable features, including a stone font from the Saxon or Norman period. The original Norman structure was enlarged in the 15th Century and three unusual mediaeval paintings are on one of the pillars in the nave.

The church was famously the site of a Civil War battle in 1643 when a Royalist force retreated inside the building, where its commander, Colonel Boles, was killed along with many of his troops. Damage from the battle is clearly visible on the entrance doors and musket balls are still embedded in the door and a pillar.

In later years, naturalist Gilbert White had associations with the church and Jane Austen’s brother was the curate. Jane herself attended the baptisms of her niece and nephew there.

For more than 960 years the church has been the place where people are baptised and confirmed, couples get married, deaths are marked and lives celebrated. It is also the venue for concerts, regular school use, and the annual series of eight organ concerts organised by the Alton Organ Society.

The original contractor for the repair programme went into administration just as funding was granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Fresh tenders were obtained but the cost of repairs increased significantly. The church is now appealing for £49,000, to complete the work. Applications have been made for further grants, but these are unlikely to provide all the money required.

St Lawrence congregations will be asked to contribute at a gift day on May 28, and an appeal is also being made to other individuals and businesses to contribute to saving this important building.

The public will be able to sponsor the new oak shakes for the spire and inscribe their names on the back of them. They can also send cheques to The Parish of the Resurrection or give cash at The Parish Office, on Church Street, call 01420 83234, or e-mail [email protected].