Sunday, 16 January 2011

St Mary's appeal

St Mary's, Ludgershall

Our ancient church needs your help!

Problems began in earnest on 24 March 2010 when vandals stole much of the lead from the roof of the nave, leaving the timber work open to the elements. With local help and volunteers the roof was quickly made weather-proof - for the time being at least.

But trouble had started much earlier and its consequences are widespread.

Since the building was last refurbished in 1889 the lead has been carefully patched whenever leaks have been detected. Unfortunately these and other repairs have not been successful in keeping water out. Even as the vandals were at work, an alarming report was being completed for the Parochial Church Council. This showed that the whole lead roof needs to be replaced.

The chancel roof is tiled but is not fully accessible. We hope that further inspection will show that it is in better shape. With advice from the diocese a new church architect has been chosen. Richard Oxley of Henley has an international reputation for restoration. As it happens he recently restored the windmill at Brill. He has experience of working with English Heritage whose help we shall need on this major project.

Several times in the past 20 years attempts have been made to treat the death watch beetle in the roof. This has not been successful because of the leaks of the lead roof.

Evidence of the infestation is widespread - for example the brown stains on the walls. Some of the structural timbers have been weakened as a result and earlier repairs need to be made good. It will not be known, until an invasive structural survey is completed, just how extensive these repairs need to be.

The good news is that we may be permitted to replace the lead on the main roof with a surface treated stainless steel substitute.This would look the same and be just as effective but it should not encourage the vandals to return.

Significant damage is being caused by water coming from below too. The stonework is marked by surface crystal growth, deposited by the dampness leaching out the heart of the stone. The disused Victorian underfloor heating ducts no longer keep the foundations dry, and sometimes contain standing water. They also serve as a very damp and unsuitable conduit for electric cables.

The church floor is seriously affected. The wood blocks are damp (from below) and infested by worm (from above). The Victorian tiles are worn and cracked. The access grills and vents of the old heating system are redundant and a source of safety trips. The impervious rendering of the interior walls is coming away because of the damp.

The external stonework is heavily eroded in places and the cut stone needs serious attention. The walls themselves have been re-pointed over the years, but often with strong cement mortar that traps moisture and ultimately destroys the softer limestone. This is particularly evident on the south face of the porch.

How much will it cost and how long will it take to put all this right? The building is listed Grade 1 and we can do nothing without the blessing and permission of the Diocese and English Heritage. Guided by Richard Oxley an application has been made (June 2010).

Priorities, in order, are further investigations, the external proofing of the building and drainage, the internal work such as the floor. We hope for first stage permission and some support from English Heritage by November 2010.

The cost may be £250,000, rising to £400,000 depending on the findings of the further investigations. We need significant help from English Heritage - and other contributions large and small.

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