Restoring a church during the COVID pandemic

In 2019 the National Churches Trust awarded St James Church, Leckhampstead, Berkshire a £15000 Cornerstone grant towards a major five year project to restore the church.  COVID restrictions caused severe disruption to work and costs increased.  Church warden, Michelle Martin explains how the Friends of the National Churches Trust came to the rescue.

Photo: John Lord

St James Church is an usual but beautiful Victorian building designed by S.S. Teulon in brick and flint, which contains artefacts from all ages including an eleventh century font, fourteenth century bell, Jacobean pulpit and Georgian altar rails.  However, many other critical elements were showing their age and needed urgent attention.

Our Five Year Plan

In 2015 a five year plan was developed. Stage 1, the restoration of the front porch and boundary wall was successfully completed in 2017.  Fundraising for Stage 2, the Roof Appeal, commenced in June 2018 and £220,000 was raised by the end of 2019.  Initially we were just looking at replacement of the roof but as the project progressed it became clear it had to include the repair of the stained-glass windows and an upgrade to the lighting.

Steel support beam added

This stage was finished in May 2021, requiring additional funds of £40,000.  The National Churches Grant was the final grant received and enabled us to reach our target. As a result, we have been able to re-tile the roof, make the building weather-proof, improve the roof insulation, and resolve the structural movement in the roof and walls.  The church is now no longer on the National ‘Heritage at Risk’ register.

The Friends Vote Grant rescued us

The project was by no means “textbook”.  Covid happened just after the scaffolding was erected in March 2019 and as the roof was taken off tile by tile, first a bat appeared, and then more and more problems were revealed – rotten beams, leaks, decayed brickwork, and damaged guttering, to name but a few.  Work was put on pause, but the costs kept on running.  The National Churches Trust came to the rescue again in helping us when we received a Friends Vote grant to cover Covid costs and an additional grant to help fund additional work, such as the repair of the trusses supporting the tower to stop it falling down.  We are so grateful to the Friends of the National Churches Trust for voting for us, these grants made all the difference, enabling us to start the project and then helping us finish the work.  Some contingency was included in the scope of work, but a pandemic was definitely not one of the scenarios accounted for. 

The reality is that managing projects of this size is very stressful at times from design and faculty application, fundraising, through to building works, project management and sign-off.  There was no magic formula, just the tireless hard work, commitment, energy and support of the PCC and the Fundraising Committee, and all those who supported us including Trusts, donors, the community and all who worked on the project with us. Leckhampstead is only a small village of about 300 and we were lucky to be able to build a team of volunteers to organise local fundraising, research grants, develop grant application writing skills, manage budgets and projects, and develop good working relationships with architects, builders, and specialist craft-people.

Fundraising is a continuous challenge

St James is like many small churches and has many costs both running costs (clergy costs, energy bills, and insurance) and capital costs (building works and repairs). With lower congregations and donations, ageing buildings, increased regulation, and higher costs, fundraising is a continuous challenge.  Normally pre-Covid most of our annual church running costs were funded from regular worshipper donations and local fundraising and we hope this will resume in the coming months.  Our reserves were used up in the building work and so future capital projects will need to be entirely funded through Trust donations and grants.   Post-Covid, it is a similar but different world, with the fundraising landscape no easier. 

We are now commencing Stage 3, the installation of an efficient heating system, flexible seating, and additional facilities, which is planned to start in 2022. It continues to be a journey of peaks and troughs and many false horizons, with unexpected problems requiring creative solutions, the odd moment of despair but in the end sighs of relief combined with triumphant highs. 

We thank Michelle for her insight into what it has been like to manage a church building project through a pandemic. More information can be found on the St James website.

Grade II Listed Anglican Church rejoices at new acoustic secondary glazing installation

Selectaglaze are a member of our Professional Trades Directory. They have recently installed 47 secondary glazing units to several large gothic arched stained-glass windows in St Philips Church, Wolverhampton for noise insulation and thermal insulation.

St Philip’s is a Grade II Listed Anglican Church in the Penn Fields Conservation Area, 3.5km south-west of the centre of Wolverhampton. In the early 19th century, Penn Fields was predominantly rural. As suburban life started to develop and progressively move west, the population increased gradually. The nearby village church of St Bartholomew could not accommodate the numbers of new churchgoers; therefore, an acre of land was given, in Penn Fields, to build a new church.

St Philip’s was built in 1858 in a Victorian Gothic style designed by Wolverhampton architects Griffin and Weller. Constructed with rock-faced stone with ashlar dressings under tiled roofs and with stunning original stained-glass windows, the church is the focal point of the village. The first vicar, Reverend William Dalton invested £3000 in exchange for the patronage and was licensed as Perpetual Curate of the Church in October 1859. The suburb grew during the early 20th century, with further domestic buildings and the extension of the church grounds to the west to form a vast graveyard.

Complete refurbishment of the church

In 1991 Wolverhampton Borough Council made St Philip’s (Penn Fields) a Conservation Area with the church forming its centrepiece. In 1996 as part of a large internal modelling project, the Church was divided to increase the multi-functionality of the building. Worship is undertaken on the upper floor, with the ground functioning as an events space.

Architects Brownhill Hayward Brown and Main Contractor Croft Construction in charge of a complete internal refurbishment of the Church in 2020.

The original large gothic arched church windows, which could not be replaced, required a solution to raise their thermal efficiency so that community activities downstairs, like children’s groups could take place in a comfortable environment.

Furthermore, it was imperative that noise egress on the ground floor, which had internal and external facing windows was kept to a minimum, so as not to disturb those worshiping on the upper floor.

A solution to reduce noise levels and create thermal insulation

Brownhill Hayward Brown got in touch with Selectaglaze to explore treatment options that would complement the church windows and be effective in preventing noise ingress and egress and thermal insulation. In addition, access to the primary windows for ongoing maintenance and cleaning was required.

Selectaglaze secondary glazing installed with standard glass can markedly reduce noise levels by up to 45dB and higher if thicker glass is used. Furthermore, secondary glazing placed in front of stained-glass panels can incorporate anti-reflective glass to preserve clarity.

The church windows are very large and together with the obscure shaping of the stone reveals on the ground floor, the installations initially looked challenging, but when Selectaglaze visited St Philip’s to survey it was found that a simpler solution could be implemented. The window reveals were deep enough to accept the standard fixing method, creating a cavity between the primary and secondary glazing to meet the required acoustic and thermal reductions. The arched windows on the first floor were bolstered by wooden frames but could still be modified with the same solution to the windows on the ground floor.

Selectaglaze installed 34 units to 11 openings, a combination of 11 Series 10 slimline horizontal sliding units and 23 Series 46 slimline fixed light units. Fixed light secondary glazing can be joined together with other products such as horizontal sliding units as over lights or side lights – best for arched windows as they can be shaped or curved to a full circle.

Reduction in heating costs

For the four stone openings on the ground floor, three Series 46 fixed lights were transom coupled to a Series 10 horizonal sliding unit. The horizontal slider was fitted in the lower half of the reveal for access to clean the primary windows, with the fixed lights coupled above to follow the tracery of the beautiful original gothic arches.  The community space has now been made more thermally insulated with the addition of secondary glazing and they should start to see a reduction in heating costs, with less heat escaping and the draughts eliminated.

A similar solution was installed in the Church space on the first floor within five wooden reveals. Series 46 fixed lights were transom coupled side by side above a Series 10 horizontal slider in each window opening with a good cavity to reduce noise egress. Events on the ground floor can happen at the same time as church services, without disturbing prayer.

“Aesthetically it all looks excellent, the thermal glazing on the external window does seem to make the community rooms considerably warmer when heated, as we have held small business meetings in them, however the acoustic glazing awaits fully testing its effectiveness as and when COVID restrictions allow.” Peter Smith, Vicar of St Philip’s Church.

Selectaglaze is a specialist designer, manufacturer, and installer of bespoke secondary glazing systems across the UK. Selectaglaze seeks to provide their customers with the best in class product and service to meet all challenges, which is achieved by a process of continual improvements. Selectaglaze has the widest range of secondary glazing units providing a vast range of solutions for projects.

Sign up  for monthly Selectaglaze e-bulletins, with recent updates, new blogposts and events.

Discovering Art in a Churchyard

In 2001, Mary Blanche noticed that some of the older headstones in the churchyard of her local parish church St. John the Baptist, Reedham, Norfolk were deteriorating. She wanted to record these stones for future generations before more were lost due to erosion and delamination. In special guest blog, Mary writes about her findings which are featured in her new book entitled ‘Discovering Art in a Churchyard’.

“I have often felt when folk visit churches, they marvel at the architectural features, glass, memorials and rood screens, but often overlook the churchyards. If only they knew how much artwork there is to be discovered.

Just before the first COVID-19 lockdown, I began to photograph many of these old headstones at St John the Baptist churchyard. They were so beautifully sculpted by stonemasons of the past, some as many as two centuries ago and my interest was truly captured.

Great symbolism

I learnt much about the meaning of the symbolisms of the flowers and leaves, angels and trumpets sculpted with such artistic input. This headstone of a man, who died in 1885, shows a sculpted rope, indicating his binding connection with God. In the circle, a wreath of roses represents beauty and virtue.

I noticed that Headstones in this particular churchyard before 1858 all had the same shape, with slightly arched tops. It was also a popular time for angels and they have been sculpted in various ways.

Quality of the stone

From the beginning of the 1800’s draped urns started to appear. No sculpted flowers, bouquets, willow trees or palms during this period. What was striking and significant was the quality of the stone. Far superior than many of the later headstones. They definitely are the survivors, even though they were the oldest in this churchyard.

After 1890, Stonemasons began to sculpt the soft-flowing Art Nouveau style onto headstones as shown on the image below, left. It was a new beginning and an exciting time ahead.

As the Art Deco period emerged, the Stonemasons used that style to decorate headstones with sleek, simplistic lines and lots of sharp edges; even carved roses lost their soft shapes. See image below, right.

Works of Art

As I examined the headstones, I felt, there was some competition going on between stonemasons. And why not; that’s the way to learn and expand your skills. 

On the left we see a large passion flower. The five stamens – the five wounds of Christ on the Cross. The ten petals – the ten faithful apostles with the whipping of Christ represented by the tendrils. A work of art; the lichen make it even more beautiful!

One of the most beautifully sculpted Headstones and one of my favourites is this one which reminds me of one of the sayings of Jesus: ‘I am the Vine; you are the branches’ John 15:5

Enhancements from nature

There is also a natural artistry to be found on the headstones. Over the years nature has provided the headstones with many different colours in the form of lichens.  The most common is the yellow lichen but there are reds, orange, green and whites. On some of the stones it looks as if a painter has been cleaning his brushes on the stone, and this shows even more after rain and in the sun.

I hope, that my churchyard findings may inspire you to have a wander round a churchyard, wherever that may be – at home, on a visit or a holiday, as all churchyards have an abundance of art to show us with the work of stonemasons of the past.”

Details on how to buy “Discovering Art in a Churchyard’, can be found on Mary’s website https://www.maryblanche.co.uk

Churches are treasure houses of history. Learn what to look for, discover the meaning behind objects and architectural features and uncover their historical significance on our church tourism website ExploreChurches

The oldest steeple jack in Britain?

Peter Harknett is a steeple jack of great renown working in the counties of Sussex Hampshire and Surrey. An active Octogenarian, he has spent half his life sitting in a Bosun’s chair dangling repairing and restoring churches.

Until the lockdown in 2020 , Peter could be found assailing heights, far and wide. 

Simon Smith of W L West and Sons Ltd shares with us just a few snippets of the life of Peter, probably Britain’s oldest steeplejack, and the joy he gets from working on some of the tallest steeples in the land.

Masters of their trade

Steeple jacking really came into being  in the 16th century where travelling acrobats with their poles and ropes with no fear for heights started to carry out the work. To advertise how brave they were,  they would swing off a church spire for the amusement of local people and found there was more money in repair work than in performing. 

Steeple jacks are a fearless bunch of highly skilled workers who are masters in lead , copper, iron and timber  and masters in using ropes, levers and cantilevers and use their own specialised jargon.  

Scaling tall buildings using ladders and ropes using the Bosun Chair rather than erecting expensive scaffolding can save a huge amount of money on church spire repairs.

Perils of the job

Peter joined Bertram Mills Circus as a rigger after his National Service.  One of his first  jobs after leaving the circus to become self-employed was fixing a Gothic school tower in Surrey  which needed re-slating.  

He recalls working on the top corner bobbing in the wind when a gust caught him and the safety ‘Fall Rope’ he tied wrapped round his leg because it was getting in the way!

The gust of wind knocked him against he building and he fell over eighteen feet and the manilla rope rubbed across his shin and rubbed into the bone.  His first aid kit was a bit of old rag and insulation tape! Then back up the ladder and back to work on the Bosun Chair.

Peter’s red ladder, as shown, was an impressive sight indeed!

Oak shakes can last over 80 years

Timber roofing tiles have been around since pre Roman times and they are still very common in parts of Europe for roofs in Austria and Germany.

Peter is a leading authority on oak shakes for church spires. A shake is cleft from a roundel cross cut from a log into a disc.  They are cleaned flat so they sit well on the spire.   Using a three layer tile constructions they are nailed to a sarking board.  

Oak is very durable and can last well over 80 years if laid up correctly.  It is also very hard and off-putting to woodpeckers, birds that can easily destroy a wooden shingle spire.

Peter used to cleft his own shakes from roundels we cut in our yard but now he works with a family firm called Rapold GmbH and Co  based in Bad Reichenhall in Bavaria.  We now distribute these hand cleft oak shakes for all manner of church and building cladding.

Peter, a pipe smoker, is a great raconteur, with a wicked sense of humour to this day – ask him the off items of ladies’ underwear he has retrieved off weathervanes!

Until recently he used to cycle round the square steeple at the very top of Guilford Cathedral – no safety nets. 

“Every day is a school day,” Peter often remarks and he loves sharing his knowledge with others. What a boon to all of us involved  in conservation and restoration.

This lovely insight into Peter’s work has been provided to us by Simon Smith of W L West and Sons Ltd, timber merchants who specialise in church steeple repair and restoration. They are also a member of our Professional Trades Directory which contains over 200 companies, all experts in their own field of work. More details can be found on our website.

Churches – where people seek to do good.

In a special guest post, Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, Priest at Holy Trinity church, Sloane Square, London, shares with us his views on the church as a place where people have always and continue to, do good within their communities.

‘Yea because of the house of the Lord our God : I will seek to do thee good’ Psalm 122, Verse 9

“I have a desk in church. Sometimes I wonder, especially if I ever glance across a bank statement in the midst of my work, whether this is wicked of me. Would Christ come in today and over turn my desk for a furtive look at my online banking app?

I hope not – for I am not alone in my appropriation of God’s house but instead am surrounded by legacies of this building’s rich and varied use. The high altar stands in front of its rich marble reredos as a statement of the centrality of sacrament rendered in stone and in the corner behind me boxes of toys and books sit as testament to the role of new life in inheriting and learning the ancient faith in their new generation.

Brass plaques and stained glass speak, in rich Victorian prose, of lives lived in august splendour and next to them temporary notices about hand wash and distancing whisper of the strange confines of the lives we must needs live now.

All of these are, I suppose, marks of people. All these fixtures and fittings were planned and paid for, used and loved, wept over and celebrated, by creatures of flesh and blood.

Living stones

It has been a worryingly popular false dichotomy circulating of late which would suggest that people and buildings represent an ‘either/or’. That either the building or the people are ‘The Church’. Of course it is more complex than that. The church is a building, but one quite unlike any other: that is to say it is living stones. It is a building shaped entirely by people; by their hopes, their grief, their prayers. By people, and by their relationship with their God.

Holy Trinity church, Sloane Square, London

Our churches, therefore, are monuments to interconnectedness. To the idea that – to quote the priest-poet who had oversight of perhaps our nation’s most famous church, St Paul’s – ‘no man is an island, entire of himself’. Rather, we are linked by our history, common human tragedies and joys, and by an incarnational faith, which undergirds the whole. ‘Because of the house of the Lord our God : I will seek to do thee good’: that vision of the church is one that grounds it in relationship and community. The house of God is a sermon on ‘love thy neighbour’ wrought in brick and mortar.

Many churches seek to do good to their communities. I look from my desk in church today, cold though it is and in the midst of this lockdown, which for so many had proved more bitter than any flurry of winter snow, I see a house where people have long sought to do good. The very walls seem patched together with memorials- some to my taste, others less so- but all to those who sought to do good. There are less explicit memorials here too: the slight wearing of a pillar, its stone gently touched each week by one who loved its specific place, the shallow trough in the paving where the gate bolt has dragged for well over a century- a gash in the stone itself standing testament to gates open and welcomes extended.

Small ordinary goodnesses

Despite our present situation, it is a house where people still seek to do good today: lavatories are open as a clean and safe place for those who spend their day on the streets, a collection for our local foodbank is ready to be delivered, careful preparations are underway for a funeral, so that the dead might be commended to the eternal with the love by which they were known whilst alive. Small, ordinary goodnesses perhaps- but ones to which it is ever more important that we cling in times as drear as these.

Our church is very typical in this regard. It aspires to be a house of good because it is first and foremost a house of prayer and across the nation I see and hear of churches doing exactly the same, each and every day. As we seek to rebuild our society, seek to be more aware of where it is we might do good, the houses of the Lord our God- and the people who make them what they are- will be as important as ever. When I leave my cold desk in a moment I shall pray for them all just before I leave, and for all those- the National Churches Trust in particular- who support them.”

We thank Fergus for sharing his thoughts. Thousands of churches and chapels across the the UK currently seek to do good work within their communities, as documented in our House Of Good report produced last year which highlighted the social and economic value of church buildings.

As well as being a clergyman, Fergus is also author of ‘A Field Guide to the English Clergy,’ a Best Book of the Year for The TimesMail on Sunday and BBC History. More information available at One World Publications.

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