What’s been happening up on the scaffolding?

Some people in our congregation, or locals passing by in the past few months might have been wondering what’s been happening with the scaffolding on the side of the church building. Why is it there? What needs fixed? Should we be worried?

Our church warden Tim Murray went up there a couple of weeks ago to find out more, and he reports back below.

“Ever since the scaffolding went up on the side of the building, I’ve been keen to go up and have a look. It’s the sort of thing that a church warden should be doing, isn’t it? And it looked like fun. There aren’t many opportunities to get a birds’ eye view from the church roof.

I also wanted to see what we’ve been spending a lot of money on. The scaffolding first went up in May to fix the buttresses, which was paid for as part of the grant we received from the National Lottery’s COVID recovery fund. The buttresses – as I’ve learned – are these big pillar type things on the outside of the church wall, and basically hold the whole thing up. The stones on the tops of the buttresses needed repaired, and the stoneworkers did a good job of fixing these up (see the picture below, looking nice and new).

But while they were up there doing the buttresses, they discovered that the tops of the windows (the ‘window heads’) also needed fixing. The brickwork was starting to erode and was in danger of starting to fall off. So we had to find some more money to fix these as well, because it made sense to do it while the scaffolding was up. The picture below gives you an idea of how they repaired the window heads.

When I climbed the scaffolding the other week, I was shown round by Paul, a friendly stoneworker from County Durham, down in London as part of a team working on our windows. It’s a specialist job, repairing old buildings like ours. When St Paul’s was built in 1878, the bricks were stuck together with a lime mixture, which is porous and lets water out. But since then, the brickwork has been touched up all over with cement, which is not porous, so when the water needs to escape, it comes through the bricks. And over time, this leads to erosion, and the bricks crumble away.

This is what happened to the window heads, Paul told me. So when they’ve been repairing the arches, the team have been using a special lime mixture, something like what would have been originally used to build the church. They’ve taken away the crumbling bricks and remodelled the window arches in a way that will not erode quickly and will last for many years to come. The picture below shows a completed window head, looking good!

I was impressed with the work, and the specialist skills involved in repairing Victorian buildings like ours. And it was fun to have a look north of the church from a much higher vantage point. Now that the scaffolding has gone, I won’t get the chance to do this again for a while, hopefully a long time, because we’re all hoping that these are the last major repairs to the church for years!

One final shoutout: thanks to STS for all the stonework and for Open Gates Management for managing the project (and the COVID recovery grant) for us.”


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