Restoring the Church

Church Restoration Blog

Now that work on the church has actually started, it seems like a good time to create a new website section on the progress of this work.  The articles in this section are organised as a "blog", with the most recent articles displayed first (ie you need to scroll right down to the bottom, starting with "Church Restoration Background" if you want to read the whole blog from the beginning, in sequence).

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Today's the day!  (Wednesday, November 11).  After 5 long years the scaffolding is finally coming down from the turrets at the west end of the church.  For those of us on the west side of Cloudesley Square this is good news indeed!

Before turning to the appearance of the new, improved turrets themselves, here's what's been happening over the last month, illustrated as always by Danny's fine photos.

Work on the north aisle is well underway.  As with the south aisle, a temporary roof has been installed and the slates removed to reveal the rafters.  Once again this has revealed significant damage.  The damage to the wood is slightly less because the trees on this side are smaller and don't overhang the roof as much - note that the ends of the rafters where they meet the gutters are not rotted as much as they were on the south roof.  But the damage to stonework and brickwork is worse - probably because there is just more "weather" from the north.  Oddly, however, the pointing is in slightly better condition - perhaps it was carried out with better materials or skill.  The internal plaster beams are in a fairly sorry state, though.

North Aisle 1

 

Wood Damage 1

 

Brick and Stone damage 1

 

Beam Damage 1

 

Turning to the towers, here are some photos which Danny took at the top.  First, a view of the nave roof looking east.  This is in good condition - it was repaired in a major renovation project some years ago which, sadly, ran out of money! 

Nave Roof 1

 

Second, a photo of the original bell which is still there in the tower on the right.  Note that the interior walls of the tower are in quite a good condition, in contrast to the detailed stone carving on the outside which is badly weathered.

Bell in Right Tower

 

Jenny has unearthed the following amusing report about this bell from the Islington Gazette of 1857:

Islington Gazette 10 January 1857

Noisy “Ben” of Trinity

"Sir, I believe any subject connected with the Parish of Islington, finds a ready place in your columns, more particularly if the same is regarded by a number of parishioners as a positive nuisance, and one to be corrected. You must understand that there are two bells bearing the name of “Ben”, one is the fine toned “Big Ben of Westminster”, and the other, as above being a bell hung in the turret, of the Holy Trinity Church in Cloudesley Square, which is altogether un-musical and jarring to the ear as “Big Ben of Westminster" is pleasing. The nuisance is that the bell is tolled for half an hour on Sunday mornings, and the same length of time in the evenings, during which time any persons residing in the square, or immediate thereto, are compelled to shut all doors and windows to keep out as much as possible the horrible Dong! dong! dong! of this very noisy bell, which, by the way, is tolled by a very energetic person, who evidently prides himself in keeping pace with time, for I believe sometimes he “dongs” out 60 “dongs” in a minute. Should any person passing through the square at the time this bell is being tolled meet a friend, they cannot converse until they get a respectable distance away, or they could not hear themselves speak."

 

The turrets have been carefully wrapped in special (highly expensive!) stainless steel mesh which is then bolted either directly on to the stone or on to wooden battens running up the sides.  Sturdy blue tapes are then bound round the mesh for good measure.  The effect is undoubtedly far superior to the previous ugly plastic and will hopefully stabilise the turrets and protect passers-by from falling masonry until such time as funds are raised to carry out detailed restoration work on the external stonework.

Turret 1Middle of turret 1 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, here's the result.  This was the view from my bedroom window this morning with the sunlight glinting off the turrets.  What a difference!  I think they look great!  What does everyone else think (feel free to comment below)?

From Bedroom 1

 

Left Tower Scaffolding RemovalRight Tower in Sunlight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later Addition: And here's another photo, complete with rainbow, captured by Lawrence from No 9.

Rainbow Turret 1

Kevin Rogers has circulated this letter updating neighbours on progress at the church, as previously mentioned in "Breaking News".  The letter included details of a zoom talk to be given on Thursday 29th October and sure enough, this was delivered last night to a large and appreciative audience.

The Diocese have been approached to convert the crypt into an "Ossuary" or "Bone Library".  This will be a world-class facility for medical and historical research housing bone specimens from some 5000 skeletons!

Roger Bowdler from the Diocesan Advisory Committee gave us an entertaining and instructive talk about the history and present use of crypts in London churches.  The use of crypts for burials has gone in and out of fashion from medieval times up to 1854 when all city burials ceased.  Roger drew a distinction between the use of crypts for private burials as was the case at Holy Trinity versus "charnel vaults" containing thousands of bones and open to the public.  Only two of the latter still exist in the UK, one of which is the ossuary at St Leonards in Hythe, below.

Skulls - St Leonards Ossuary p1012857

St Martins Crypt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the 19th century London Commissioners Churches used crypts for burials.  St Martin's-in-the-Fields in 1915 was the first to convert to a secular use - in this case the popular cafe above.  Since then, many of these attractive spaces have been used in a variety of ways and Roger showed several examples.

Architects Bob Wilson and Joseph Edwards then presented their plans for Holy Trinity including an impressive 3D model.  There are 4 vaults and the existing 150 coffins will be tidied up and stored in the southernmost of these.  The other three will have shelving for specimens from elsewhere.  The existing entrance to the crypt at the south-west corner will now be an exit and there will be a new entrance created in the north-east corner where a number of other rooms and research facilities will be housed, as well as a lift.  The floor of the crypt will be lowered by about 30cm to remove traces of asbestos.  We were assured the crypt will have minimal impact on residents of the Square; very few researchers will be using it at any one time and there will be no noisy machinery.

Kevin and Rosie also updated us on progress with repairs to the rest of the church.  As we know, the south aisle is finished and work on the north aisle is well under way and should be complete by the end of January.  The really good news is that the turrets are being wrapped in a special stainless steel mesh supported by wooden battons.  This will support the turrets, prevent any bits of stone falling off, and most importantly will allow most of the ugly scaffolding on the West front to come down.  This is expected within a couple of weeks.  It is a "temporary" solution, likely to be in place for about 3 to 4 years, until funding for detailed restoration work is secured.

The Diocese also expect confirmation of funding to repair the internal ceiling of the nave.  This would start in March 2021 and last for about 4 months.  At that point, the whole of the internal space will be available for community use such as artists' studios and suchlike.  I suggested also painting the internal walls but there are no plans for this (yet!).

Kevin confirmed that the Diocese are adopting a more pragmatic, phased approach to the church restoration, with the emphasis in the short to medium term being on making the building stable, safe and sufficiently attractive to attract community use and generate a modest income.  The more ambitious long term vision presented at the St Andrews meeting two years ago, to remodel the interior and complete detailed restoration work, still stands, but will form part of a second phase.  Funding has not yet been obtained for this.  Talks with the YMCA have not progressed but the intention is still to find an "anchor tenant" and retain the fantastic uninterrupted central space promised by Ptolemy Dean at the meeting!

Hooray!  The scaffolding and shuttering has come down and for the first time in months we can see the south aisle of the church, extensively repaired and with a brand new roof.

Here's some photos showing the last stages of the restoration work.  Insulation is laid under the roof.  Then the internal beams are remoulded using a special template to shape the plaster into the required profile.

Insulation

Internal beam 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The valley gutter is lined with thick lead sheeting.  The gutter leads into hoppers which feed into brand new, high capacity cast iron drainpipes which were specially made for the church.  There are drainpipes at either end of the aisle, as before, plus two new ones in the middle.  Hopefully this will cope with all that rainfall and leaves - the main cause of the damage in the first place.

Gutter Lined With Lead

Downpipe6Downpipe3

 

The new slate tiles are laid on wooden battens above the rafters.  Each tile is broken in the traditional manner rather than cut.  And here's the result - a magnificent new roof!

New Tiles

Tiles EdgeTiles

 

The south aisle is now safe to enter and is already being used - for an exhibition based on the Tales From the Crypt research.  Here's a couple of interior shots.  The first shows panels from the exhibition, bathed in the light from the stained glass window.  The second is a close-up of the pristine new ceiling with the plaster beams painted to look like wood, just as Barry intended!

Interior 2 proc exhibition

 

 

 

 Interior 1 proc ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, some exterior photos: the new south aisle, the south porch - look at the detailing on the stonework of the arch - and a view of the roof from my bedroom window!

IMG 1104 proc

IMG 1105 procIMG 110 proc

 

Mid July, and the restoration work is well under way.  Here's some more photos from Danny (and a couple from Kevin) illustrating what's going on - as always, hover the cursor over the images to read the caption.  

First, more examples of damage, not just to timbers, but also to stone and brick:

Rotted TimberGutter DamageDamaged StoneRotted Stone

 

And here below are photos of some of the new materials.  The stone is mostly Bath Stone sourced and prepared by Wells Cathedral Stonemasons in Somerset.  It has the advantage of being a "freestone" meaning it is easily worked and can be sawn or "squared up" in any direction.  This is the same Bath stone as originally used by Barry, as the following extract from the Holy Trinity Vestry minutes of March 1971 makes clear (from a Holy Trinity Chronology prepared for the Diocese by Rebecca Preston - well worth consulting, incidentally - see also here - a wonderful source of information about how the church was built):

"The church is a fairly characteristic example of a good Commissioners’ Perpendicular, simple but not mean. The body of the building is of stock brick and the window tracery, string courses and turrets are of Bath stone."

The timber is mostly Douglas Pine, as noted in an earlier post.  The image below shows a Box Joint, usually used for joining beams at right angles but in this case used to extend the length of a single beam.

New Stone CroppedWedge DetailMortice and Tenon

 

Although most of the Gault Bricks (aka "Suffolk Whites") are in fairly good condition, the mortar is not, and a great deal of repointing is necessary.  Fullers are using special lime mortar (slaked lime with specially selected sand), for several reasons:

  • This is what was used originally, so it looks good and blends in well (look at the quality in the detail photo on the right!)
  • It is flexible so less likely to crack as the building moves (past repairs have used cement mortar, with unfortunate results as you can see in the picture with Danny's hand earlier)
  • The mortar allows to bricks to "breathe" - in other words water does not get trapped within the brickwork, leading inevitably to damage.

Wall Under RepairLime Mortar Detail Reduced

 

Here's some of the results.  The photo on the left shows repaired rafters - most of this work is completed.  A new gutter has been fitted and will be lined with lead.  In the middle of the gutter is a new "Catch Pit" for collecting debris so that the gutter does not get blocked up again and rainwater flows freely out of hoppers at the ends into drainpipes.  The catch pit will be lined with stainless steel (who will go up there and clean away the debris though I wonder?).

New Catch Pit in Gutter

Repaired Rafters and Gutter

 

Finally, here's a photo of a new section of stone inserted into the space where damaged stone has been removed.  Interestingly, the stone is bonded into place using adhesive, then finished off with mortar.  And below that, a great interior shot showing a new Purlin between the lower and upper rafters.  The black structure is one of Barry's moulded plaster beams which can be see apparently supporting the ceiling from the interior of the church.  These actually have wood inside them with plaster artfully moulded around the wood.  As I understand it, Fullers are using steel beams to lie alongside the plaster beams to give extra support.  I've seen them being winched up to the roof and they certainly look extremely sturdy!New Stone in Place Detail

 

New Purlin and Plaster Beam

 

 

 

We've received the following email from Kevin Rogers at the Diocese:

 

Dear Amanda, Florence and Nick,

Just to bring you up to speed. I hope this finds you and the other residents well during these very strange times.  

You will have seen a bit of activity on site this week. Fullers, in line with government guidance, have returned to the building site. Fullers will revise their programme and we will tell you more as we look at options.

One interesting recent discovery was realising that the area at the west which allowed the lowering of coffins to the crypt level was still in place but capped with a concrete slab. Some of the west and south scaffolding is resting on this and we may need to reconfigure both scaffoldings in the coming weeks.

For the moment the exhibition is on hold – we will look at ways in which this can be done as lockdown eases or as an open-air display. We are also looking at other ways we can share the progress on the roof.

With all good wishes,

Kevin


Kevin Rogers |  Head of Parish Property Support


Sure enough, Work on the church resumed in mid-May and Danny has sent some fascinating photos illustrating what is going on.  Here's a selection - more to come in later posts.  Hover the cursor over the images to see the captions.  We've also provided handy Wikipedia links to explain what may be unfamiliar architectural terms.

First, the main culprit for the damage.  Here's two photos of the Valley Gutter running the length of the aisle, which as Kevin has pointed out, was regularly blocked with leaves from the enormous London Planes overhanging the South aisle, causing water to leak into the church (These were cut back about a year ago, but they look pretty big again to me!).

Valley GutterExposed Timber Rafters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first repair task is to erect a temporary roof then remove the original slates - look at the size of them!  Some will be re-used but mostly they will be replaced with new ones of Welsh slate, mounted in special supports.

Slates

Scaffold Roof Protection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here's examples of the water damage, both to the end of the rafters and also to the Wall Plates which support them.  The wall plates are being completely replaced with massive timbers of Douglas Pine, chosen for its low moisture content to minimise warping in the years (centuries?) ahead.

Damaged Rafters

Water Damaged Wall Plates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More damage, including a huge hole in the Lath and Plaster interior ceiling.  This will also be replaced, on a second set of rafters below the upper ones.

Wood DamageExisting Damage Lath and Plaster Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the damaged timbers are carefully labelled so they can be faithfully repaired or reproduced  ... and structural repairs can begin, in this case to the Purlin Ends  (Purlins are the longitudinal beams which support the middles of each rafter).

Purloin End Repair

Recording Timbers Once Removed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fascinating isn't it?  Watch this space!

 

In February 2020 the London Diocese announced it had received funding of getting on for half a million pounds from Historic England to carry out urgent repairs to the church, starting with the aisle roofs.  You can read the announcement on the Diocese website, here.  Of course this is far from the estimated £6 million for a complete restoration, but additional funding is being sought from other sources, in particular the National Lottery Fund, and the Diocese sound fairly confident that this will materialise.

Kevin Rogers, Head of London Diocese Parish Property Support, is quoted as saying:

"We are hugely encouraged by Historic England's financial and technical support for the initial phase of critical repair.  This is the first key step to bringing Sir Charles Barry's magnificent building back into public benefit."

Danny Burns on Roof CroppedShortly afterwards. residents of the Square were delighted to receive this letter from Danny Burns (pictured) Site Manager with Fullers Builders Ltd, announcing that Fullers had been awarded the contract to carry out the repairs.

 

Fullers LogoFullers Awards

 

Fullers is a specialist building company established in 1872 and managed by the same Fullers family throughout their 150 year history.  They "specialise in the conservation, repair and restoration of buildings of historic interest" and have a reputation for "sympathetic repairs and high quality building conservation and repair." - sounds like just what we need!  Check out their website, here - its very encouraging, with beautiful artwork (puts our website to shame!).  The pictures of past projects are particularly interesting.  Danny has worked on a couple of churches - St Michaels and All Angels, Blackheath, and especially St Michaels, Highgate - whose interiors look just like how Holy Trinity must have been in its heyday - see below.

 

St Michaels NaveSt Michaels Highgate1 2 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure enough, scaffolding started going up at the end of February and within a few days the whole of the South aisle was enscased in sheeting, shuttering and a temporary roof.  Apparently the South aisle was on the point of collapse due to rain damage.  This will be tackled first, then the North aisle, then the West turrets, over an 18 week period according to Danny's letter (but see below!).  Residents were for a couple of days baffled to observe vast quantities of timber being delivered to the church but it transpired that this was nothing to do with the repairs - apparently the church is being used as a temporary depot for supplies to other churches in the area.

Then Coronavirus struck!!

The first sign was that painting of the shuttering (in an attractive shade of blue) stopped half way through.  Then all work ceased at the beginning of March.  Just before it did, we took up Danny's kind offer to contact him and he explained briefly what was going on and reiterated his willingness to keep us informed of progress if and when the work resumes (and he's been true to his word as you'll see in the next blog post!).  However, the need to maintain social distancing on the site means that the work will take longer than expected - Danny reckons two months for the South aisle alone,

The letter from Fullers stated "we will make every endeavour to avoid disrupting daily life in the Square".  Based on what we saw before lockdown, I (Nick) have been impressed with what I've seen of their work - as promised, there has been minimal disruption for residents and the site has remained very neat and tidy.  But feel free to add your own comments, questions or observations via "Add Comments" below. 

 

 

The planned restoration of Holy Trinity Church has been reported on extensively in this website.  Now it's actually started!  For the background to this long-anticipated development, please click on the links in the timeline below.

You will have seen the scaffolding rise on the south aisle of the church over the last few weeks. We understand that this work, funded by Historic England, is for emergency repairs to the South Aisle roof which was discovered to be at the point of collapse.  Further work to the North Aisle roof and the West Turrets is expected to follow.  The attached letter from the contractors, Fullers, has been circulated, estimating that the works will last for 18 weeks.  We understand that a formal announcement will soon be released by the Diocese about this work and the larger renovation project for which funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund is being sought. We understand that the Diocese are also hoping to host a residents update meeting about the proposed renovation of the church at some point in mid to late April (date TBD).

 

More details in subsequent articles - watch this space!