|The Churches Conservation Trust
Catherine Cullis gives an update and describes recent conservation work at St Mary's Church, Shrewsbury, and All Saints Church, Langport.
|Boss from the 15th century chancel roof at All Saints, Langport.|
|It is a particular pleasure that the inaugural School meeting in 1998 of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation held its opening reception at the Trust's church of St. Mary, Shrewsbury, which many regard as the Trust's finest church.
The Churches Conservation Trust, formerly The Redundant Churches Fund, has now been in existence for 30 years. In that time it has evolved from being a small swashbuckling organization to become one of the country's largest and most significant contributors, not only to our built heritage but also to the continuing social, cultural and spiritual lives of the communities which the churches were built to serve. Today the Trust has 317 churches in its care widely scattered throughout England, 44% of which are listed Grade I and 37% Grade II*. The object of the Trust is "the preservation, in the interests of the nation and the Church of England, of churches and parts of churches of historic and archaeological interest or architectural quality vested in the Trust... together with their contents" (Pastoral Measure 1983). The Trust represents a working partnership between Church and State, a compact which is reflected in its objectives, funding and the method of appointment of its seven Trustees. It derives 70% of its statutory funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and 30% from the Church Commissioners, the latter proportion largely from the sale of sites of demolished redundant Anglican churches. It is also a registered charity which is expected to raise funds from local authorities, the National Lottery Fund and other government agencies, as well as charitable institutions and individuals in order to supplement its statutory grants. Increasingly, the Trust will come to depend on these other sources of financial support in order to fufil its objectives and to ensure that its churches are well presented and welcoming to visitors. The Trust is now funded in three yearly periods, (a welcome departure from the previous five yearly system) and in the current funding period which ends on 31st March 2000 will have received £10,629,000 from our sponsors.
The Trust does not select nor does it have the power of veto over the churches to be placed in its care. This is done by the Church Commissioners after a very full, sometimes lengthy, consultative process during which they seek advice from their specialist architectural advisers and, from the Trust, about the cost to the public purse of our preserving and maintaining a particular church. The separation of the decision making power means also that the Trust has no control over the number or the timing of the churches vested which makes financial planning and the programming of repairs exacting. The Trust operates under the terms of a Financial Memorandum with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which sets out the conditions under which grant in aid is made available.
The Trust is a small organization of 21 full time staff of whom three are employed as custodians for our churches at Shrewsbury, Leeds and York. For each church the Trust appoints a professional adviser to oversee programmes of repair which are managed by Caseworkers who are based in London. Five regionally based Field Officers visit the churches regularly and maintain our links with local communities. The Trust is exceptionally fortunate in the volunteer support which it inherits from local people who love their churches and continue to act as keyholders, tending them on a daily basis and who organise the events and occasional services which insure their continued role within the community.
The philosophy of repair which underlies the Trust's approach to its prime conservation objective follows closely the principles laid down by William Morris in his Manifesto for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, with its emphasis on repair rather than replacement, protection rather than restoration, good maintenance and housekeeping to withstand the effects of decay and respect for the changes that each generation has proudly brought to these buildings. Two recent example of our work exemplify our commitment to these principles.
St Mary's, Shrewsbury
The glass, which depicts the earthly genealogy of Christ is a common subject of the 14th century. The lowest tier contains, within niches, the kneeling figures of the donors and their two sons. Above this tier lies the sleeping figure of Jesse. From his loins springs a vine in the oval loops of which are Kings in the central and Prophets in the side lights, the vine terminating with Joseph and Mary and, above all a Crucifixion scene. The background of the window is a vivid red against which the figures are portrayed in strikingly vibrant colours and the white and yellow grape clusters and the green of the vine leaves produce an effect of great intensity and beauty.
This massive window is divided into eight lights with tracery above, each light being divided into six tiers below the springing line with one small panel above. The main panels are 965mm in height by 610mm wide. They contain not only mediaeval glass but also fine examples of 16th, 18th and 19th century work which vary considerably in thickness and thereby require lead carries of five different widths. The local red sandstone of the window is entirely 19th century.
As a preliminary to the conservation work the Trust first commissioned a detailed report on the condition of the glass from Mr. Alfred Fisher, FRMG, FRSA. This showed that many of the individual panes had become buckled and cracked, that there were severely eroded areas and that the lead carries had become weak. Our appointed architect, Mr. Stafford Holmes, RIBA, prepared a specification for the repair of the window, to which Mr. Fisher, as consultant, contributed the specialist conservation clauses. Against this document three of the country's leading glass conservation studios were invited to tender, all of which have gained the highest level of accreditation from the British Society of Master Glass Painters. The contract was awarded to Chapel Studio of Kings Langley acting as sub contractors to Treasure and Son Ltd. of Ludlow.
Once the glass was removed to Chapel Studio's workshop it was carefully photographed on a light table and two rubbings were taken of each panel, one to be an historical record and the other for use in the reglazing work. After the rubbings had been taken each panel was carefully dismantled, tests were undertaken to establish the stability of the paint, and then the glass was cleaned using deionised water. Where there was an accumulation of dirt glass fibre brushes were used to remove the surface crust. Simple cracks were repaired using the copper foil method to give a joint of between 1mm. and 1.5mm face width. More complex breakages were repaired using an epoxy resin adhesive. Heavily corroded pieces which had become very thin and areas which had been treated with resin were given a backing glass of 2mm thickness which had been matted and kiln formed to match the contours of the glass which were then sealed to the edges of the original glass with silicone. The glass was releaded in flat leads of the same face width as the original to maintain the five different sizes of leads. Once the releading was complete the panels were again checked for the stability of the paint. Finally, the glass was cemented into place.
An assessment of the condition of the 19th century iron ferramenta was undertaken by Stafford Holmes and it was decided that, because of their condition, these should be replaced with ones in a more long lasting material of identical section. Manganese bronze was selected. The same material was used for the internal bars to which the glass was tied by copper wires. The main contractor was responsible for remortaring the glass back into the stone window surround.
The stonework of the window was in remarkably good condition, the few repairs needed being undertaken in lime mortar. Although highly desirable aesthetically, it was decided that the glass was too important to risk damage and the guards were refixed with new ones made of stainless steel where it was not possible to reuse the old.
A full conservation and photographic record was made by Chapel Studio and, independently, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission photographed the glass for the Corpus Vitrarium Medi Aevii, images of which will be available through their website. The work undertaken has been done to the most exacting standards and has ensured the survival of this most remarkable glass for future generations to see and enjoy. The Trust would like to record its gratitude to all those involved in the work.
|The stainless steel flitch plates being fitted into the mains beams at All Saints, Langport.
All Saints, Langport
The roof, a magnificent piece of 15th century craftsmanship, is formed of five principal oak beams, of highly moulded section, with large decorative carved bosses at the ridge. It is subdivided into eight main bays by secondary and tertiary carved and moulded beams with further subdivision of the two eastern bays over the sanctuary. At the intersection of the beams is applied carved foliate decoration and beneath each main beam a brace terminates with a carved figure and above the moulded timber cornice are carved panels of bold designs. The roof is set to a shallow pitch of about 5 degrees and above the ceiling of oak boards are rafters, deck boards and a lead roof covering. Crenellated parapets rise above the walls and above the buttresses the string courses are punctuated by carved figures of grotesques, which rejoice in the local name of hunky punks.
Initial investigations by our advisers, Mr. Philip Hughes, RICS, and Miss Rebecca Harrison, RIBA, from a tower scaffold placed below the central beam had revealed the extent of repair that had been done in the 19th century. The bearing ends of each of the main beams had been replaced but, sadly, further fracturing had occurred as a result of the inherent weakness of the method of the beam end repair which was of a halved butt joint. On the advice of our structural engineer, Mr. jack Dawson CEng FIStructE, the roof structure was fully propped and a working platform provided beneath. Close inspection from the platform revealed not only the quality and beauty of the 15th century work but that the jointing of the beams indicated that the roof was constructed before the parapet stonework was built and that, consequently, the roof must have been dismantled in the 19th century to allow the beam ends to be renewed. The date of 1862 was cast into the roof lead but, unfortunately, documentary research provided no further illumination into the 19th century repairs.
Our professional advisers were invited to consider and advise the Trust on the repair solutions which might be adopted. These included the construction of a new roof structure from which the existing would be suspended, a solution which we later found had been adopted in the 19th century repair of the roof of the Lady Chapel. After very careful deliberation, including analysis of the cost of the different methods of repair, it was decided that the three main beams should be strengthened by the insertion of cranked stainless steel flitch plates in the tops connected to new oak and stainless steel ridge beams. The weight of the lead roof would be taken, and the intermediate beams below supported, by new oak rafters, spanning from ridge to wallplate. Listed Building Consent was required because of the increase in height (of approximately 75mm) of the roof covering which this method of repair necessitated but it also allowed, as an alteration, a welcome relief for this element of the repair from full rating for VAT.
Five contractors, especially selected for their experierice and skill in joinery repairs were invited to tender, the contract being awarded to J Layzell & Sons of Ilminster, and the sub contract for the leadwork to Dave Norris of Zeals.
Working under a temporary roof, the lead, boarding and applied decoration were carefully disassembled, all parts being labelled and stored and metal fixings were located and plotted. For both practical and visual reasons the decision was taken to jack the main beams into line as far as possible without causing damage. The main beams and central bosses had suffered extensive decay as a result of historic beetle activity but were, nonetheless, sprayed as a precautionary measure. Repairs were then carried out to the timbers themselves. The centre of the main beams were rebuilt to form the groove for the new flitch plates, and the original mortice and tenon joints at the ridge junction were reformed to their original dimensions. Air dried oak was used to repair the timbers and resin used to fix the repairs and the flitch plates to the main beams after they had been craned onto site and inserted manually into the grooves. New packing timbers were then scribed to the top of the beams and the new composite ridge beams were fitted. The wallplates and much of the other woodwork required comparatively minor repair and the composite ridge beams enabled the new oak rafters to be morticed, wedged and pegged in the traditional way. Ventilation was introduced at the ridge, and gutter linings were reformed and the length of the lead sheets reduced to accord with the latest recommended good practice. Finally, the stored decorated pieces were refixed.
The project brought together a significant and impressive range of skills and expertise combined with the use of traditional crafts and modern technology. The philosophical approach was designed to ensure that the structural integrity of each element was retained while seeking, as far as possible, to render the 20th century work reversible in its own right. Only time can judge the success of the operation and, in particular, the use of modern materials in this context. If the amount of painstaking thought and care that all involved contributed to the project is a measure of success, we are confident that the roof will survive for many centuries.
While conscious of, and without diminishing, its conservation objective the Trust is now widening its approach by actively promoting access to, and public awareness and understanding of its churches which we hope will encourage others to enjoy the beauty and significance of the buildings which we care for on behalf of the nation and the Church of England. In these aspects of our work we have a common goal with conservation departments of local authorities and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the many Conservation Officers throughout the country with whom we have established such excellent and beneficial working partnerships.
The Trusts Annual Review and Report, which costs £4 including postage and packing will be available from the Trust's offices at 89 Fleet Street, London EC4V 4DH from December. Free county leaflets and more general information can be obtained from the same address.
|Catherine Cullis is the Director of the Churches Conservation Trust.
Context 64 December 1999