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Norfolk church in national award

A round tower Norfolk church is a finalist in a national conservation award.

The judges of the 2019 John Betjeman Award for excellence in conservation have just visited St Nicholas, West Lexham, which completed a £250,000 restoration project on January 29 this year.

St Nicholas was one of 23 entries for the annual award by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. It was selected by the judges with three other churches at Grasmere, Cumbria; Tiverton, Devon and Dodington, Somerset.

The John Betjeman Award, which is open to all places of worship and all denominations in England and Wales, seeks to recognise the highest standards of repair and conservation.

Mr Niels Olesen, treasurer of West Lexham parochial church council, was delighted that St Nicholas is a finalist in this prestigious award. “We’ve had tremendous help from so many organisations and groups. We were fortunate to obtain a maximum grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund,” he added.

A grant of £1,000 from the Round Tower Churches Society and also an award from the Norfolk Churches Trust were also greatly appreciated.

Major restoration was necessary because water damage to the chalk and flint walls threatened the church and also the tower, he explained. As part of the project, some work carried out in the early 1990s had to be replaced because in the tower, cement render was found to be causing more water damage and trapping moisture in the walls. “If it had not been removed, the tower itself may eventually have crumbled,” said Mr Olesen.
And the builders, S & L Restoration also used a traditional material, hot lime mortar, for much of the repair work.

Also the steel bands, which had been tied around the tower in the earlier restoration work, have now been removed. In 1993, the tower was at risk of collapse from extensive cracks.

Mr Olesen said that the architects, Norwich-based Nicholas Warns, helped to transform the church into a gleaming success especially since the tower has been whitewashed. Architect Dominico D’Alessarndo, who took on responsibility for the project three years ago on his second day with the practice, was thrilled that the project has been recognised in this national award.

The winner will be announced, and the award presented, at the SPAB members’ meeting at Boxley Abbey, Maidstone, Kent, on July 13.

Photograph: Dominico D’Alessandro, Nicholas Warns Architects.

Lottery award for south Norfolk church

A round tower church in south Norfolk with five bells dating from the early 1600s has been awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.
St Michael’s Church, Aslacton, near Long Stratton, has received £73,200 to carry out further repairs to the tower.

Line drawing of St Michael’s, Aslacton, which dates from 1957.

In 2012, the bells were silenced when a large crack appeared in the tower, which may date from Saxon times.
In response, the Aslacton Tower Repair Fund campaigners raised £15,000 to carry out initial repairs. The Round Tower Churches Society awarded £500 in 2012 for initial survey work when it was asked to help.
The ringing peal of bells were all cast by William Brend, of Norwich, and include some dated 604, two in 1607 and one in 1614. It is thought that there are only two full sets in Norfolk cast by Brend, which have survived. The other is relatively nearby at Thurton.
Although Aslacton was recorded in Domesday Book’s Great Survey of 1086, there is no specific reference to the church, which has a 53ft-high round tower.
However, it includes many typical Saxon features including belfry openings with flint jambs and double triangular headed openings, and a blocked flint framed west door.
When further structural damage was identified, the parochial church council led efforts to secure further funding to complete repairs and to make the church and tower weather-proof.
Norfolk Churches Tours, which marks its golden jubilee season in 2019, visited St Michael’s in 2009. Some of these details have been taken from the church leaflet written by Lyn Stilgoe, who is one of the guides.

Lottery grant won by Breckland church

A round tower church in the heart of Breckland has been awarded £100,000 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

St Peter’s Church, Merton, near Watton, will also repair its nave roof with zinc – having twice been the victim of lead thieves in the past eight years.

The latest grant will enable the church to be used as a local meeting place and for seminars, workshops and concerts to be held. A number of initiatives to promote the church’s heritage and history will also be undertaken.

St Peter’s Church, Merton
St Peter’s Church, Merton

The grant has been welcomed by the Round Tower Churches Society, which offered financial help for urgent repairs immediately after an estimated £2,000 of lead was stolen in August 2015. The chairman, Stuart Bowell, wrote to the Eastern Daily Press after that 2015 theft, explaining that the total repair cost was likely to be around £25,000.

St Peter’s stands on raised ground overlooking the lake and Merton Hall. It has been closely associated with the de Grey family and their ancestors, who have been lord of the manor from the Norman Conquest.

The society gave £500 to the church in 2015 and members were given a guided tour of St Peter’s two years ago.

Since the society’s formation in 1973, it has now given almost £200,000 in grants to round tower churches. The overwhelming majority of more than 180 round churches include 124 in Norfolk, 38 in Suffolk and half a dozen in Cambridgeshire.

More help for round tower churches

Grants worth almost £60,000 have been awarded by the Norfolk Churches Trust to safeguard heritage places of worship. And four round tower churches have also received a total of £3,800 at its latest quarterly meeting.

St Michael’s Church, Stockton, near Beccles, was given £1,000 for repairs to a buttress, which indirectly supports the round tower. The north buttress, which has started to pull away, needs repair and re-pointing.

Two other round tower churches were helped including St Mary’s at West Somerton, near Yarmouth, which gets £2,000 towards major electrical works. After inspection of the electrical system, including the pew-based heating, which dates from the 1950s, it has been replaced.

St Nicholas, Bradwell, near Yarmouth, received £300 towards rainwater goods. A £500 grant to St Peter’s Church, Haveringland, near Norwich, for window repairs, was agreed.

A total of 14 grants have been made by the trust at its March meeting to fund urgent restoration work at churches across the county. The biggest award of £15,000 was made to St Mary’s Church, North Tuddenham, near Dereham, to help prevent possible collapse of the tower.

It awarded £10,000 to St Lawrence, Harpley, near King’s Lynn, to replace its porch roof, which will protect one of the country’s finest carved medieval doors. The total repair bill, including other works, stands at more than £87,000.

Other major awards include £5,000 for St Margaret’s Church, Kirstead, near Loddon, where the chancel roof needs urgent action.

Repairs to conserve a remarkable east chancel window at All Saints, Scottow, near Norwich, will cost £19,000. It awarded £7,000 towards the work. Gaps between the glass and stonework have allowed rain to enter, which is adding to the problems and the window remains in imminent danger of collapsing in a strong wind.

A post-war church in Norwich, St Francis, Heartsease, receives £4,000. It faces a repair bill of £11,500 for extra underpinning to the church and for insulation of a flat roof.

Others awards

St Mary’s, Narford, near Swaffham, £3,500 for repairs to the porch.

Thanks for latest grant help

Three churches awarded a total of £6,000 in additional grants have thanked the society.
Nigel Boldero, of St Peter’s Church, Haveringland, awarded £4,000, said: “That’s great news, many thanks.”
Churchwarden Verily Borthwick, of St Mary’s Church, Burnham Deepdale, wrote: “This is wonderful news. Thank you to the society very much indeed for this very generous increase to the promised grant.”
The RTCS originally awarded £1,000 but added a further £1,000 at its latest grants’ committee.
“We are in the process of applying for further grants and of obtaining quotations from roofing contractors. Once again, many thanks,” wrote Mrs Borthwick.
A letter of thanks was sent to grants’ officer Nick Wiggin on behalf of St Margaret’s Church, Syleham. A further grant of £1,000 was very welcome.
“We have been very encouraged by the response to our appeal, and this further gift will certainly enable us to go ahead this year.”
“Please thanks the society for its most generous support; we on the PCC are so very grateful,” said Mrs Mary Lewis, treasurer and churchwarden.