Historic Churches 2021

8 BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 28 TH ANNUAL EDITION TRADITIONAL LIME FINISHES and their importance for the future of our churches Ashley Courtney M OST IF not all of our rural churches are cold and damp and are no place to linger after a church service or event. Is this not a great pity, and have we not become so accustomed to this that we think it was ever thus? After all, what do we expect – if churches are built of solid masonry walls, isn’t the only fix to install better heating? However, having carried out many quinquennial inspections to over 40 medieval rural churches in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, I have come to realise that all the churches I look after are missing a vital component of their constructional make-up - their traditional external lime finishes. Being in East Anglia the local building stones were either of poor quality or non-existent. As a result it was not possible to face a rubble wall both sides with ashlar masonry, with tight regular joints, limewashed both inside and out, as might ideally be the case. Instead, churches were built with rubble walls comprising local field stone and flint and any offcuts of poor stone that they could get hold of, plastered and limewashed internally, and again, vitally, plastered and limewashed externally. The clue is really in that word ‘rubble’ when you think about it; what self-respecting high status building such as a church would present itself as a rubble wall? Unfortunately this term has become confused and is used all too loosely, and I am sure there are some cobbled walls that were meant to be left unfinished externally (not to mention knapped flint). And, of course, the Victorians have not helped with their predilection to strip plasters and leave the rubble exposed, both inside as well as out. To complicate matters further they would very often reface the exterior again in field stones to maintain the look of an ‘honestly’ built wall. Another confusing term is perhaps 'render' itself as this usually refers to the outside and might imply a thick finish, whereas, historically, plaster is applicable both inside and out and need not, I believe, imply a thick finish. The removal of the original external finishes from medieval rubble walls has done untold damage to the fabric of our churches and while it may have eliminated one maintenance burden, I believe it has created even more serious ones for churchwardens to constantly deal with. It has also left delicate rubble walling exposed to the elements, allowing water to penetrate much more deeply into the walls. In turn they remain saturated for longer with all the attendant knock- on effects to the internal environment and stress on fragile historic fittings. There seems to be an assumption that renders on church walls are the exception rather than the rule, but nine times out of ten I have found clear evidence that St Andrew’s, West Dereham with the rendering of its chancel recently completed (All photos unless otherwise credited: Ashley Courtney) ‘…Knock off all old plastering from the exterior, repair and point the exterior rubble walling in mortar made with Smith’s ashes, make good all rubble walling and build new rubble walling with pebbles, flints, and Casterton stone to correspond, cut out all clunch stonework and decayed lias from the exterior of walls and make good with pebbles, cut flints, carrstone, and ashlar as the architect may direct. No clunch to be built into the exterior of any wall.’ From the 1876 specification for work at Holy Trinity’s, Haddenham, Cambridgeshire