We have recently completed works to the spire of All Saint’s Church in Melbourn. This impressive thirteenth century parish church has a rich history, and has undergone many phases of repairs and alterations. Changes were made in the fifteenth century, for example, when the West tower was almost completely rebuilt, clerestorey added and chancel roof raised. In the nineteenth century the South porch was replaced. All Saint’s Church was now in need of further repairs, and our team were keen to help preserve this building’s history.
The most pressing issue was the leaking spire, which was beginning to cause some damage inside the church. After all the scaffolding was up, work could begin! The uneven and narrow spiral staircase was carefully maneuvered to get the team and tools up to the ringing room, bell chamber, and the spire itself.
After a demonstration of the bell ringing in action, the bells were disconnected so that we could replace the windows and add a new dropped ceiling with added hatch in the ringing room. Our Site Manager also pointed out that this room housed an important part of the bells history: the old clock mechanism. This equipment shows how the chimes were created by the passing time, like a large scale music box.
Moving up a level, the bell chamber itself underwent a small transformation. The whole chamber was given a good clean, then a temporary floor was erected to give access to the beams. Two dragon beams were replaced, to add support to the spire, as well as the rafter beams, lay boards and 60% of the plate wall. A waterproof, breathable, white membrane was then laid over the new beams, to prevent further leaks. The wooden ring and timber at the crossing of the four beams that you can see below form the base of the spire.
Up the spiral staircase again takes us to the spire, where significant changes were made to the church. Careful work on the beams and joinery formed the base of the spire, which was rebuilt, bolstered and reclad.
All of the old lead sheets were removed to be recast. During this process, we found a number of lead sheets of great historical interest, and learned that the church had acted as a base for soldiers during WW2. Soldiers positioned on the church spire had carved graffiti into the lead, leaving us with an invaluable series of names, dates and quotations from this period in history. These sheets were saved, while the rest were combined with new lead, recast and sent back to the church to be carefully replaced. Below, the words ‘we are all friends’ can (just about) be seen etched into the surface of the lead, along with the names of some of the soldiers positioned at the church in 1941.
The new cedar shingles are certainly the most eye catching of all the work done to the church. With the lead replaced, three layers of shingles were added to the base of the spire, creating a secure casing and preventing any more leaks in the future.
We were keen to follow old building methods when it came to adding the shingles, and hand carved the edges of the corner shingles rather than encasing them with cedar ridge caps. This reflects the history of the spire, creates a seamless finish, and will continue look effective as the wood ages and changes colour.
The church also needed some external work, as some of the gargoyles were causing problems.
More specifically, the old gutters had been causing problems, as the 3 inch drainage holes were frequently becoming blocked. To solve this issue, we rerouted ten of the outlets around the church, and opened the drainage holes to a more manageable 8 inch diameter. Our team also carefully repositioned a number of gargoyles. The gargoyles had contained curved pipes, but these were altered to straight ones, giving the water an extra few inches projection away from the church wall. By rerouting these outlets and opening the drain holes, water will drain quickly and dispel away from the church wall, preventing any further damage.
We’ve learned a lot about All Saint’s Church over the last few months, uncovering its unique history and seeing some interesting old building methods up close. Our team are very proud to have helped to preserve this Church’s past and keep it safe for the future.