Lottery grant boost for round tower church in Essex

A unique 20th century fresco can now be conserved at one of the six round tower churches in Essex – thanks to a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The £135,000 grant will also enable repair of the spire at St Leonard, Broomfield, which has been under attack from birds including woodpeckers. They have left holes in the cedar shingles, which have also enabled squirrels to cause further damage.

The church and community have also raised about £70,000 towards the cost of the repairs, which are expected to start in April 2022, according to associate minister, the Rev Diana Garfield.

The conservation of Rosemary Rutherford’s unique fresco, which was created during the second world war, is one of the main objectives. Anne Haward, who wrote a history of the church, said that the tower contains the only true fresco in an English church. Christ stilling the Storm was painted by Rosemary Rutherford, the artist daughter of the then vicar in 1943 when on leave from war service. Her brother helped mix the fresh plaster and traditional techniques were followed as far as possible.

Also known for her work in stained glass, the chancel has four windows, dating between 1954 and 1960, designed by Rosemary Rutherford.

The National Lottery grant will also enable other work to be carried out including the replacement of the golden weathervane. However, the priority is conserving St Mary’s tower, which houses the ring of six bells and the 15th century spire. The oldest bells are from the reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1580 and James I in 1613 but it is thought that the tradition of ringing may date from 1482 or during the reign of Edward IV.

The spire has been badly damaged by water ingress because the timbers, which are underneath the wood tile shingles, have started to rot. As a result, they soon will not be able to support the church bells.

The shingles have been damaged by birds, which have been probing for insects, and thus allow the squirrels to get into the spire and tower.

The church launched an appeal on its website which includes a link to a JustGiving page.

Another major part of the plan will include a Rutherford Trail to explore the fresco and stained-glass windows.