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.

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.

Churches are a photographer’s dream

In a guest post, Julian Guffogg shares with us the joy and excitement he gets from photographing churches and the treasures hidden within their walls, be it the stained glass of an East Window, a delicately carved memorial or intricately carved stonework. Julian’s photo library is available to view on Flickr and Geograph.

“As a child both my parents were religious, so we attended church every Sunday. As I grew up. I was expected to attend every week until I was a teenager. To me, church was somewhat boring, usually cold with hard seats and lots of old people! And of course there was the musty smell that only churches seem to possess.

Occasionally we would make a trip to Tewkesbury Abbey and it was always impressive with the incense, ceremony, and the wonderful organ music.

Over the years my faith waned, and I would sometimes pop into churches as a tourist on holiday, but it was not until I started participating in the Geograph project (whose aim is to photograph something in each of the 1 km squares as seen on ordnance survey maps)  that I started looking more closely and photographing churches.

The challenge of getting inside

Most were easy to photograph from the outside, but the problem was getting inside and finding the points of interest. The challenge was intensified by the fact that many churches were locked; usually a keyholder could be found, but this was not case for all of them.

At first my interest was in monuments, especially those from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, usually showing a kneeling couple either side of a prayer desk dressed in their finery complete with ruffs and hats. Often they were shown holding a skull – what did that mean? Below the couple there were often whole rows of kneeling children, boys facing one way, girls facing the other, and even swaddled babies at their feet.

Quite often these monuments were brightly coloured and had strange Latin inscriptions (unfortunately I did not do Latin at school) and also coats of arms. A good example of this is at Saint Mary’s church, Bottesford in the Vale of Belvoir which has multiple monuments to the Earls and Dukes of Rutland.

One of my most memorable church visits was in Herefordshire. It was mid-December and there had been a lot of rain which had caused the River Wye to flood. I wanted to visit Holme Lacy church which is situated remotely, near to the river. When I turned off the main road to the access road to the church I was dismayed to find it was all flooded. Closer inspection showed that it was only a few inches deep and I could proceed with caution.

I finally arrived at the church and it was quite magical when I pushed open the door and stepped into the gloomy nave in silence. There was a wide south aisle and north transept, and at the end of the chancel was a gorgeous east window. There were also several excellent monuments from the eighteenth century complete with putti and flaming urns.

As time went by, I developed an interest in stained-glass, ranging from very old medieval glass to the most modern. I also perfected my photographic technique, as photographing some windows can be quite challenging. This is now my main interest and I have been lucky enough to photograph quite a lot of stained glass  – from the ancient windows at Canterbury (when I first saw these at the Cathedral I was in awe), to the windows of Coventry Cathedral from the 1960s.

Many stained glass windows have recurring religious subjects, and my religious education has proved helpful in understanding these scenes.

Visiting more churches

In 2015 I moved from Sussex to Lincolnshire and was able to visit more churches and take more pictures, especially of Lincoln Cathedral. The Cathedral has some very good roof bosses with highly detailed carvings. They are so high up they are difficult to see in detail, nevertheless, the artist who created them gave as much attention to detail as if they were at ground level.

Over time, one gets to recognise certain styles and periods of history, although I regard myself as still a novice. It is always inspiring to think of the work that has gone into these buildings, even the humblest church usually has an interesting history, and I can imagine the bands of stonemasons travelling round the country doing their work. Indeed I can sometimes recognise similar styles of work carried out by particular masons where those with a certain style to their work have visited.

It is great to know that the work is still being carried on by stonemasons today. At Lincoln Cathedral, and at others, there have been many new grotesques and figures added to the fabric.

COVID-19 has made it very hard to visit churches and cathedrals, but I intend to carry on adding to my photographic archive and posting images online as soon as I can. ” 

We thank Julian for allowing us to share this edited version of his article about visiting churches. Julian’s photo library is also available to view on Flickr and Geograph.

A Living Tradition

In a special guest post, Sarah Harrison, Executive Director of the Lettering Arts Centre, writes about how Britain’s tradition of memorial art and letter-carving is being kept alive.

As W.H. Auden wrote, “art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.” And the art of the memorial, with its powers to help assuage the sense of loss, is perhaps the most important way in which one generation can break bread with another.

Britain has an extraordinary tradition of memorial art and letter-carving and has been a pioneer of fine lettering for much of the last three centuries. The ancient art of the stone carver continues to be passed down to contemporary artists, who are designing and making joyful, creative memorials. Memorials by Artists is an affiliation of more than 75 of the UK’s foremost letter carvers under the auspices of the Lettering & Commemorative Arts Trust, a charity which champions Britain’s rich heritage in the art of lettering.  Founded in 1988 to help with the commissioning of beautifully lettered memorials, they guide clients to skilled artists across the UK who can design and create a memorial that is personal, unique and a work of art.

The skills of the master letter carver raise what can be a drab, semi-industrial product to the level of art. No machine can match the subtlety of the trained hand and eye in making the slight adjustments in spacing which bring an inscription to life. It is a form of ‘visual poetry’ as Dr Jonathan Foyle wrote in his article on letter carving in The Financial Times.

Every aspect of the memorial, the shape of the stone, the style and spacing of the inscription, the decoration and carving are elements which work together to make a single statement, at the heart of which is the inscription itself.

Reinvigorated by craftsmen

The skills required for letter carving are hard won – the design, drawing and layout of letters take years to master. The UK has led the world in this craft in the past century, since it was reinvigorated by craftsmen like Eric Gill (pictured below) under the influence of the calligrapher Edward Johnston. The artists on the Memorials by Artists register are rigorously selected, submitting their work to a panel of distinguished experts so that only the most talented are listed.  The advisors at the Lettering Arts Trust are familiar with all the artists’ works, so that they can match client with artist.

Eric_Gill_-_self_portrait

Once an artist has been selected, client and artist collaborate closely, often using photographs, favourite texts and reminiscences to inform the design of the memorial. One of the most important skills an experienced artist offers, is the ability to help the client whittle down the layers of memories to find the most important elements to inspire and inform the design.  This process should not be rushed and the best artists demonstrate enormous patience and sympathy. Over the ensuing months, clients will often visit the studio to see how the memorial is progressing. When it is completed, the finished work will be professionally installed at its chosen site.  This gentle and intimate process; the empathy between the artist and the client; the completion and installation help to bridge the emotional journey from grief to commemoration.

As one client wrote of her experience commissioning a memorial, “The artist’s workshop was a revelation, and I was able to take my time. I was immediately aware of the great quality of the artist’s work and his wide range of approaches, choice of material and use of lettering. Every time I visit my husband’s grave I feel happy – happy memories of getting him a headstone I love, and he would have loved and happy memories of the whole experience, that took part at the lowest time in my life.”

The Great War

Not all memorials are traditional headstones.  One family commissioned a memorial bench for their garden to commemorate family members who lost their lives in the Great War. They wrote to the artist, “I don’t know how to thank for your brilliance in producing such a magnificent memorial to the children’s forebears.  The seat and your matchless stone-cutting are things of real beauty which, God willing, the children and the generations that follow them will admire and wonder over.  Thank you so very much.”

To commission a memorial, please visit www.memorialsbyartists.co.uk email advice@letteringartstrust.org.uk telephone 01728 688 934

To find out more about the work of the Lettering Arts Trust, its programme of lettering exhibitions and education, please visit www.letteringartstrust.org.uk. The charity is a custodian of the ‘Art & Memory’ collection, a permanent collection of contemporary memorial art in five major sites – Birmingham, Bristol, Perthshire, Canterbury and Suffolk, the home of the Trust.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: