Historic Churches 2021

BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 28 TH ANNUAL EDITION 9 renders and limewash finishes had been applied in the past. Many of the traces that are left probably date from 17th and 18th century repairs, but nevertheless I am convinced that these builders understood the need and were simply renewing a decayed render. After all, would not a lime render be considered as a sacrificial coat requiring repair from time to time? The following are typical examples where we found evidence of medieval external finishes and illustrate the signs to look for. ST ANDREW’S CHURCH, WEST DEREHAM, NORFOLK This is a Grade I church with a Norman round tower. The chancel, nave and tower are built of a local conglomerate ironstone called ferricrete (not to be confused with carstone), but its 15th century belfry is brick. Windows are built of clunch, a soft stone used extensively in Cambridgeshire, where it was quarried, and weatherings are in a harder Lincolnshire limestone. Somehow the south porch remains correctly plastered, and recently renewed. Evidence on site that the church was plastered is scant, admittedly, although areas of mortar on the chancel would suggest this. However, it is the secondary evidence that is conclusive to my mind: in the engraving by John Cotman, and then subsequently in a watercolour by his son, the tower and nave are shown rendered. Later drawings of the chancel, made for the Church Commissioners, would indicate that this too was rendered. Interestingly, the chancel is shown with a traditional thatched roof, and of course without gutters – surely a rubble wall would have needed a covering for protection? As a result of not maintaining these finishes, St Andrew’s had to replace both of the impressive nave north windows in their entirety when one of them blew out; mercifully, it was at a time when Barrington clunch was available, so the authentic stone was chosen. The windows were also shelter coated given this is not a hard wearing stone, and after some ten years it clearly needs redoing if they are to last for centuries to come. Unfortunately, when the east window (patched up over many years) finally had to be replaced last year, Barrington clunch was no longer available (the quarry having been closed – the available clunch was an off-shoot of the cement works anyway). So, in the end, this was replaced in Hartham Park Bathstone. As for obtaining replacement ironstone these days, you can forget it. The need to recover the tower is urgent and pressing as the surface simply shales away. ST MARY’S, FELTWELL, NORFOLK Another very fine and much larger church is St Mary’s at Feltwell. Any render to the 14th-century chancel has been comprehensively removed, although there is a mysterious panel to the north elevation. However, the south aisle does retain evidence and, given the rubble construction, is it no wonder? As well as having a number of structural issues, the south aisle has peculiar staining on the inside as a result of salt movement spoiling the plaster. The impressive tower has constant flint falls and I am sure it must have been plastered originally, or at least have had a very full flat pointing The rubble walling of all but the porch of St Andrew’s, West Dereham is now exposed, but the engraving of the church by John Cotman clearly shows evidence of external finishes. The chronic condition of the masonry can be seen in the detail of the tower (below). Left: The south aisle at St Mary’s, Feltwell: although the clerestory is rendered, the masonry below is unprotected and its condition is poor. Evidence of an external render can be seen to the right of the east window. Right: After a partial fall of masonry at St Mary’s, a very old external rendered finish has been exposed, along with limewash.