Roof raised at St Mary, Beachamwell, in just six weeks

A six-week programme has completed the crucial re-roofing of St Mary’s, Beachamwell – months after the church was destroyed by fire.

With the nave and chancel re-thatched, the church is now protected from the extremes of weather and the final phase of interior restoration can be planned for next year.

The church, which is in the heart of the village on the green, has been transformed from a fire-torn shell since the first oak roof trusses arrived on Monday, October 16.

A long-established Norfolk timber specialists, English Brothers, of Walton Highway, near Wisbech, made each of the half-tonne trusses from French oak to fit the precise dimensions and to match the different widths of the nave and chancel. It took a month longer than originally anticipated to make the trusses, each 100mm by 150mm (four inches by six inches) but the builders have since made rapid progress to enable the thatchers to start on Monday, November 6.

A Liebherr crane, from the Bowthorpe, Norwich depot of Crowland Cranes, capable of lifting a maximum 60 tonnes and with 48m (145ft) reach made easy work of lifting the trusses into place. It certainly towered over the church, which now has its weathervane, made in 2020, back in place.

Once the 32 oak trusses, weighing a total of 16 tonnes, were craned into place over three days, the team led by Stephen Miles, of S & L Restoration, could start covering the roof.

A protective fire “blanket” or membrane, which cost around £40,000, now covers the roof trusses. As the devastating fire was caused by a spark to the thatched nave roof on Wednesday, February 2, 2022, this additional precaution should protect the church in future.

Under the supervision of third generation thatcher Jamie Lloyd, the bundles of reed – incidentally sourced from Hungary – were soon back on the roof. It was planned to complete the thatching by the end of November. Incidentally, his grandfather last re-thatched the chancel at St Mary’s. Mr Lloyd’s Anglia Thatching Co, which is based at Mattishall, will be re-creating the original “stepped” design, which was last seen on the church in the early years of the 20th century.

Church warden Peter Berendt, who has led the project team from the start, said that the next phase of the work would include replacement of the windows and the interior decoration of the church. As the walls are recovered, initial estimates suggest that some 60 tonnes of material and plaster will be needed. In addition, this will take some considerable time to dry through the spring and summer months.

A further improvement for access to the church will be made too by providing a ramp. In the past, the steep drop into the church was always a challenge especially for those organising a funeral service, explained Mr Berendt.

At the trusses were lifted into place, the vicar, the Rev Ian Mack, said: “It is amazing to see this happening today and to know that the roof will be pack on this building by Christmas.” The Rev Mack, who was ordained in 2020, after retiring as a GP, has yet the lead a service in St Mary,’s.

The churchwardens decided to carry out some additional repair work to the tower utilising the scaffolding, which was already in place. Although the church was fully insured, this extra work was not covered. St Mary’s asked for funds, which was forthcoming – including several generous anonymous donations.

As reported in The Round Tower (September 2022), some of the tower’s stonework including flints and lime mortar were repaired or refreshed at a cost of about £12,000. The tower roof was also very slightly enlarged by about 100mm or four inches to ensure that rainwater, which had caused earlier damage to the stonework and lime mortar, could be thrown clear.

The Round Tower Churches Society and the Norfolk Churches Trust each awarded £5,000 towards this extra work. The RTCS had originally granted £3,000 in 2020 towards the re-thatching. However, a series of accidents and mishaps prevented the re-thatching – and then, of course, the February 2 fire destroyed the church.

Donations towards uninsured repairs and works can still be made online to – Beachamwell PCC. Sort code 20 28 20. Account: 10157295. Please include a reference/ name/donation.

Photograph: Thatchers Miles Gray and Tom Lloyd, of Anglia Thatching Co, of Mattishall, pictured on the roof by Tony Walsh.

Re-thatching in 1950 cost £300!

Friday, July 11, 1950 – Eastern Daily Press – “Plans to re-thatch Beechamwell Church.”

About three years ago plans were drawn up by the Beechamwell Church Council for the re-thatching of the Church of St Mary, and enough money has now been raised to have the work started. The cost was estimated at about £300 and fetes and various other events have raised over £100. There has also been a donation of £100 to the fund by a local man.