Church (and cathedral) crawling

by Niall Bird

So far on the Scholarship, we have visited an array of different historic buildings. Many of these have been of the secular type – a cottage, a mill perhaps or a large country house. But as 45% of all England’s Grade I Listed buildings are cathedrals and churches, a considerable number of visits have involved a Church of England or Catholic place of worship. These have ranged from the more modestly sized (the early 17th century Sexey’s Hospital chapel in Bruton for example, where we were grateful to the Warden for a very informative tour) to cathedrals of great scale such as Durham Cathedral, where we spent a week in May getting to grips with the various departments that contribute to the running of a cathedral foundation.

Whether large or small each ecclesiastical establishment requires a considerable amount of dedicated effort from clergy, lay members of staff and congregation to maintain, not just the building fabric, but also everything that takes place within, from church services to community events and charitable outreach. Church of England churches receive no direct funding from the state for their general upkeep and so rely on the generosity of the congregation and wider community as well as one-off grants to fund capital projects. A consistent theme emerged during our various visits about how churches remain engaged and relevant with society and crucially how this needs to be balanced with the often significant and historic fabric of the building.

As an introduction, we were grateful for the opportunity to shadow Catherine Cullis (the SPAB’s churches officer) on a series of visits to historic churches in north Kent in early April. Many of the churches were seeking to update their facilities in order to accommodate a more diverse range of uses. All were in the early stages of discussion about what additional amenities were needed to expand what the church offered, whether this required a physical addition to, or removal from, the existing fabric and finally in what form any new addition might take.


The interior of All Saints', Boughton Aluph in Kent, during a visit with Catherine Cullis

The interior of All Saints’, Boughton Aluph in Kent, during a visit with Catherine Cullis

After visits and discussions at three churches it rapidly became clear that even a modest addition (whether internal or external) could have a potentially sizeable impact on the existing character of a historic church building and so requires careful consideration to ensure a compatible, sensitive and ultimately positive solution.

Scholars with Andrew Townsend (architect and SPAB Scholar) discussing works to the roof at St. Mary's Barnsley, Gloucestershire

Scholars with Andrew Townsend (architect and SPAB Scholar) discussing works to the roof at St. Mary’s Barnsley, Gloucestershire

Maintenance and repair of what already exists was the theme of several instructive visits. One major area requiring regular maintenance and repair can often be the roof and a visit in late March with Andrew Townsend (Architect and SPAB Scholar) to St Mary’s in Barnsley, Gloucestershire presented an opportunity to view and discuss a re-roofing project in Cotswold stone slate. Existing slates were reused where possible and supplemented with new tiles from a local quarry all of which were secured with new aluminium nails. The new roof, carefully laid in diminishing courses, was fixed to oak batons, whilst oak counter batons provided a ventilation void above a breather membrane, with the original sarking boards retained below.

 Scaffold to the tower of St. Mary's Yarlington Somerset during repointing and stone repairs

Scaffold to the tower of St. Mary’s Yarlington Somerset during repointing and stone repairs

A more hands-on experience with Andrew Ziminski (SPAB Fellow) at Yarlington church in Somerset involved the removal of cementitious pointing from a 11th-century church tower (with later 14th-century additions) and replacement pointing in a carefully chosen lime mortar. Stone repair and replacement was also being carried out to the parapet.

Each year the Scholars are sent to a cathedral in the UK, either Church of England or Catholic. We spent time at Durham Cathedral, which is under the care of Chris Cotton (cathedral architect) whom kindly co-ordinated our visit in collaboration with Tom Billington (cathedral property and facilities manager). Over five days we benefitted from presentations from the various departments working behind the scenes to keep the Cathedral running smoothly. The role of the Chapter Clerk, finance, development, marketing, archaeology, architectural services and maintenance were all covered, providing a valuable insight into the complexities and challenges of co-ordinating a spiritual and commercial organisation of considerable size.

Durham Cathedral; the central tower from the cloisters

Durham Cathedral; the central tower from the cloisters

Continuing our introduction to the function of cathedrals, an afternoon of discussion about liturgical function with the Precentor of Hereford Cathedral Reverend Canon Andrew Piper provided a fascinating insight into the current workings of liturgy within the cathedral and how the building layout and detail all symbolically and practically contribute to specific rituals and process. This followed an earlier visit to Well’s Cathedral with former SPAB Scholar John Bucknall, who shed light on how the building was historically set-out in order to facilitate and provide a fitting setting for the liturgy; a ‘medieval powerhouse of mission’ as John described it.


Scholars with Chris Cotton (Durham Cathedral architect) at the base of the Galilee Chapel during a condition study

Scholars with Chris Cotton (Durham Cathedral architect) at the base of the Galilee Chapel during a condition study

Whilst many visits have focused on active churches it is invariably the case that, for various practical and financial reasons, churches sometimes fall out of use. The most significant and historically valuable (regardless of age) are often ‘vested’ or taken-on by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT). A day spent in Surrey and Sussex with Nicola Westbury (architect and SPAB Scholar) provided a valuable overview of the vesting process as well as visits to churches in the care of the Trust, all of which remain consecrated. One church, St Botolph’s, had only recently been vested and repaired under the direction of Nicola. The Horsham stone roof had been sensitively renewed, removal of plant growth and repair of exterior flint and pointing undertaken, interior decoration in limewash and repair to interior joinery carried out, all to bring the church into the best possible condition prior to its new life under the care of the CCT. The project was deservedly awarded a RIBA South East Regional Conservation Award.


St Botolph's Church, Sussex during a visit with Nicola Westbury (architect and SPAB Scholar) after repairs which were awarded a RIBA South East Award

St Botolph’s Church, Sussex during a visit with Nicola Westbury (architect and SPAB Scholar) after repairs which were awarded a RIBA South East Award

Overall, with all of the above experiences combined, the Scholarship so far has provided a rounded and invaluable in-sight to the function and care of churches and cathedrals large and small. We are all looking forward to further experiences and insights that we can ultimately apply during our future careers.


Wrack and ruin, revival and reuse

by Charlie Wellingham

All Souls Church in Bolton was consecrated in 1881, built for local textile mill owners Thomas and Nathaniel Greenhalgh, and is a classic example of the neo-Gothic style fashionable in this period of Victorian England. It was designed by Paley and Austin to dominate the townscape for miles around with its remarkable size, owing to the fact that it was required to seat a congregation of 800 worshippers at maximum occupancy. Sadly the industry that supported the workers of the congregation suffered badly throughout the late-20th century, and by the 1960s the Anglican Church was struggling to support such a large and underused building – finally the church was closed in 1986 and remained derelict for 25 years. An entire generation grew up in the shadows of this local landmark building having never seen its amazing interior.
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The 2014 SPAB Scholars and Fellows were very lucky to visit All Souls Bolton to discuss the ambitious reuse plans that have been developed in partnership by the Churches Conservation Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund; converting the nave of the church into a mixed-use community centre via the insertion of free-standing ‘pods’ to a contemporary design, whilst retaining the chancel intact for smaller scale Christian worship. The new pods have been devised to respect the original fabric (they do not touch the surrounding walls or ceiling at all), whilst creating a bold counterpoint to the historic building in both form and materiality.

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The most significant loss suffered in this adaptation is the removal of the original pews – and it was interesting to debate the impact of this on the character of the church. It clearly has a vast implication on the understanding of the space as it was designed for worship – but as this is agreed to no longer be a realistic future for the building, I would argue that their removal is justified; this one sacrifice paves the way for a new chapter of utility for this structure in the neighbourhood it was built to serve. I am a firm believer in the day-to-day use of our heritage buildings as the most enriching way for us to connect to our culture and history – rather than merely viewing them as an academically or aesthetically interesting artefact of a bygone age. It was fantastic to meet the design and construction teams who share these philosophies, and are working hard to realise them with such ambitious proposals.

Beyond the pods, an incredible team of craftspeople from Lambert & Walker conservation contractors are undertaking a full suite of repair works to ensure the derelict Victorian fabric is fit for 100 more years of service in its new community role. This includes re-laying the slate roof and lead gutters, and extensive conservation of the brick, stone and glass of the elevations in accordance with best practice principles. Alan Gardner, the highly experienced conservation surveyor overseeing the works to the historic fabric, explained to us that the project also sought to maximise the educational and outreach potential that the works could have within Bolton – establishing a sense of ownership within the community that would create true ‘sustainability’ and success. This ranges from open days for the public to technical days for professionals and a number of bursaries for young workers that have evolved into full apprenticeships and potential employment.

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Happily this atmosphere of collaboration and knowledge-sharing meant we Scholars and Fellows were able to muck in and learn some new skills as well! Thanks to Gareth for the joinery instruction, thanks to Ian for the lime mortar pointing guidance, and thanks to James for sharing his amazing stone carving skills. We look forward to visiting the finished project in future to see the local community enjoying their new facilities, and enjoying a new way to appreciate and connect with the built heritage and history that has stood silently amongst them for so long.
Hands On 01