You may remember reading about the removal of our clock so that it could be taken away for a full restoration by A.James of Saffron Walden. I've just been informed that the restoration work is finished, and that the clock face and hands have now been re-fitted on the tower.
The first photograph below shows the clock face and hands back in place on our (almost fully restored) tower - brilliant timing as the scaffolding is due to come down in a few days time.
Observant readers will notice that the clock face is now black, with gold lettering (when it was removed, the face was blue). Research has discovered that black was the original colour, so as this is part of a Heritage driven restoration project, the opportunity was taken to restore the clock to it's original 'look'.
The main part of any clock is the mechanism - the bit that very few people ever see. This has also undergone a full restoration and is safely stored in the church, waiting for the clock chamber to be ready for its re-installation.
Once the scaffold is down, and the bell (still being restored) is re-installed, the clock can finally start telling and chiming the time for the people of Shefford again.
For some time now we have been talking about how we could make our visitors experience more welcoming, so a new entrance lobby was included in the 'grand plan'.
As you can see, the existing entrance lobby is a wooden box with no windows - a dark and unwelcoming space to enter through. By providing a set of inner doors, it did control draughts though.
So, this week, we've taken the first steps in re-modelling this vital 'first impreshions' space. With a big hammer by the looks of it!
The lobby has been removed, as has the wooden box running down from the bell chamber above, which encased the original steel cables and weights to power the clock (before the more modern electrical winding sytem was installed).
Oh, and whilst all this is going on, we are having our new lighting installed!
We are hoping to be able to re-use some of the wood for a couple of projects we have in mind, but what is the new lobby going to look like?
You'll just have to wait and see...
On Friday February 15th, I was invited to 'go up the tower' to take a look at the work that has been done on our Historic tower. I'm happy to report that the work is nearing completion, and appears to have been done to an extraordinarily high standard.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, All Churches Trust, the Beds & Herts Historic Churches Trust, the Francis Coales Charitable Foundation, and the Steel Charitable Trust.
Seeing the beautiful stonework 'in the flesh' was a real privelege - even better than the photos I'd seen.
As the stonework is complete, our builders are now concentrating on the rendering.
The walls have had to be cut back in many places to give a roughly level surface, then stainless steel mesh has been fixed using 100mm screws where they could be made to hold. In some places, the walls were too friable for the screws to hold properly, so stainless steel 'spirals' were inserted and glued into drilled holes, then bent over to anchor the mesh.
The mesh acts as an anchor for the lime render - two coats are applied. The first is pressed firmly into the mesh so that it squeezes through, making a strong bond.
The parapet of the tower is made of brick, which, although sound, did not look right above the new stonework and lime render. It is therefore being rendered to make it tie -in visually with the rest of the tower. The upper stringer course (bottom edge of the parapet) has had lead flashing applied, as removing it to replace it with new stone would probably have resulted in the parapet being damaged to the point of needing to be rebuilt.
The lower stringer course has been completely replaced with new stone.
An interesting bit of history was uncovered when the old render was removed - the top south west corner, just below the parapet appears to have had substantial repairs. Two horizontal concrete ring beams were found which seem to have been put in to tie that corner of the tower together. We have no records of when or why this was done. Whoever did the work was not too bothered about accurate measurements though - the tower is significantly 'fatter' on that corner, adding an additional challenge for our builders.
The use of (reinforced) concrete would indicate a fairly recent repair, although the re-bar used appears to be wrought iron bars produced by a blacksmith; certainly nothing like modern re-bar! - The last major restoration of the tower happened just after the First World War when horses and therefore blacksmiths were the order of the day, so this may have happened then.
The picture below (pre-dating this visit), shows the iron reinforcing bars uncovered. They have been removed to prevent any future rust damage - the corner has now been properly rebuilt with overlapping stone quoins; the adjacent voids being filled with brick and lime mortar.
Residents of Shefford may be aware that we have had a bees nest in the west face of the tower for several years - the scaffolding has allowed us to see the opening to the (abandoned) nest for the first time.
The scaffolding is scheduled to be taken down early in March, so we have around three weeks to finish everything that needs to be done from it. In addition to finishing all of the rendering, the restored clock face and and hands need to be re-fitted, and the flashing between the east face of the tower and the north chancel roof needs to be re-worked.
So, the 'big reveal' should be done before Easter!
Thanks to the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund, All Churches Trust, the Beds & Herts Historic Churches Trust, the Francis Coales Charitable Foundation, and the Steel Charitable Trust the new stone windows in our historic Tower are now complete.
As all of the work is largely hidden behind the Monarflex sheeting that the scaffolding is wrapped in, we thought you'd like a sneak peek at what's been going on.
The individual stones were cut off-site using templates produced by our builder. Producing the individual stone components involved a mixture of machine and hand cutting/carving, producing pieces of stone that weighed up to 250KG (a quarter of a ton)!
Each stone had a hole bored in it to allow a 'Lewis Pin' to be inserted. This traditional device, used by the ancient Egyptians, gives a quick and secure anchorage, allowing the stones to be lifted using an electric winch.
The Lewis Pin before inserting into the bored hole in the stone.
Once inserted, the winch hook is attached to the large iron ring on the top of the tool which splays the legs of the pin outwards in the hole, gripping it firmly.
With each stone weighing up to 250KG, moving them into position required some ingenuity - a skateboard provided a practical solution.
Building the windows required the old, badly weathered stones to be removed one at a time (from the bottom upwards), and replaced with the new Clipsham stone sections. The combination of their weight, and the fact that they were being inserted into slots, rather than just built up on top of each other as would be the case with a new-build, meant that this was a very time consuming process. The picture above shows one of the new cill sections in place with the new frames and tracery being constructed above it.
Here you can see the original stone still in place at the top of the window, with the new stone gradually being built up from below. The centre tracery was held in place with timber whilst the lime mortar joining the stones cured.
The first window nearing completion...
The first window completed, just waiting for the new hood sections to be delivered and fitted. Only three more to go...
The hood (made from a harder stone to resist weathering) was fitted, completing the first of the four new windows.
Thanks to the generosity of the Robert Lucas Trust, our bell is being professionally restored as part of our Tower Restoration project.
The bell performs two key functions at St Michaels; the first is to give our clock a voice, chiming on the quarter, half and full hours (though this stops automatically between 10pm and 8am so as not to annoy our neighbours). The second is to allow us to announce the start of worship by pulling on a bell-rope in the entrance lobby.
Both of these functions involved a hammer being struck against the outside rim of the bell which has gradually worn the metal away, to a point that the bell was at risk of fracturing.
So, the bell is being restored, replacing the metal lost through the hammer-strikes over many years, and repairing the large chunk that you can clearly see is missing from the rim.
The work is being undertaken by John Taylor & Co at their Loughborough bell foundry - there is an inscription on the bell "R.Taylor St Neots Fecit 1808" (Fecit is Latin for 'made in'). Taylors bell foundry re-located from St Neots to Loughborough in 1839.
An excerpt from their website reads "[The Company] continues a line of bell founding which has been unbroken since the middle of the 14th Century [around the time that St Michael's Church was built we believe], when Johannes de Stafford was active only 10 miles from the site of the present foundry.
From 1784 the business was operated by members of the Taylor family, and in 1839 it moved to its present position in Loughborough, and is now proud to operate the largest bell foundry in the world."
Another Inscription on the opposite side of the bell has the name of 'William Green Churchwarden'. We do not have any records of this period, so don't currently know if William Green was one of our Churchwardens or not, so this gives us another little research project to do!
There is a cast iron hasp inside the top of the bell, from which the currently unused clapper hangs - as the bell is made from an alloy that is basically bronze, the joint between these two metals is a potential failure point, so the hasp may be removed as part of the restoration.
The bell was hung from two rolled steel joists which spanned the entire width of the bell/clock chamber, making it difficult to access the clock mechanism (positioned on the far side of the RSJs) for maintenance and adjustment. The plan now is to suspend the restored bell from a wooden bell frame which will allow easier and safer access to the clock mechanism, and may involve the original clapper coming back into use.
The first job was to remove the (currently unused) clapper from inside the bell.
Next the bell and its headstock were lifted up from the supporting beams with a chain block (winch).
Once clear of the supporting beams, a second winch was used to pull the bell over the hatch in the floor of the bell chamber.
From there, the bell was winched all the way down to the ground - here's a short video of part of that happening...
The bell was lowered onto a trolley so that it could be moved outside
It was then wheeled around to the car park for loading into the van...
It took 3 guys to lift it into the van. You can clearly see a sizeable chip in the rim of the bell.
After the rendering was removed from the upper part of our tower, it became clear why the render had become so unstable - iron nails had been used to anchor the render to the masonry. Over time, the nails had corroded. When iron corrodes (rusts), it expands, and this has resulted in the render breaking up and separating from the masonry behind it.
Stainless steel mesh, attached with stainless steel screws (or stainless steel 'spirals' bonded in where the screws will not hold) will be used to anchor the new render when it is applied.
But, before that, a much bigger job has to be completed - replacing the damaged stonework. This is probably the most expensive single element of our tower restoration, and will almost certainly be the most striking visual improvement.
The new stonework is now being installed, and to avoid the rapid deterioration suffered by the original stone (Clunch - a relatively cheap, but fragile stone) we are replacing it with Clipsham Stone. Similar in appearance to Clunch (when new at least!), Clipsham is of a higher quality and should last as stone is supposed to.
Below we are delighted to show you some photos of the new stonework which is being skillfuly installed - not easy to see from the ground with the scaffolding shrouded with debris netting.
Utterly gorgeous stonework. Speaks for itself doesn't it?
We continue to remember and to be eternally grateful for all of the funding bodies that have made this possible. Work of this quality comes at enormous cost, but should last for many generations.
We can't wait (though, like you, we'll have to!) to see how amazing the tower looks when fully restored...
Source: Patricia Goulding (Churchwarden)
Date: 9th November 2018
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