This is a large and very grand church built when Norfolk was rich from the wool trade. The Perpendicular tower is 110 feet high and contains 8 bells, which are rung regularly. It has decorative flushwork on the buttresses and plinth and four pinnacles, in the form of statues, at the top. There are raised Georgian box pews at the rear of the nave and a marble monument to Edward Paston (1630) in the Chancel. The chancel is separated from the nave by the remains of the rood screen with painted panels of the apostles. The medieval font is carved to depict scenes from the Nativity through to the Ascension. There is some high quality Victorian and modern stained glass in the nave windows. It is listed Grade 1, meaning it is an internationally important building.
Lead up to Project
Ruth Brennan was appointed as architect shortly after the previous architect’s five yearly inspection report identified some serious structural problems with the tower. There was a large bulge under the belfry windows on the north side, and numerous cracks in the staircase turret. The decorative flint flushwork on the buttresses was so loose that pieces kept falling off, and were regularly collected by the churchwarden. Shortly after the inspection, the tower was cordoned off to protect members of the public from falling masonry.
The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant for further investigations and to prepare a specification for repairs. The PCC hired a cherry picker, so that a closer inspection of the tower could be made. It was easy to see then how bad the damage was – many years of rain and frost had loosened the flints and decayed the limestone dressings. The string courses were eaten away, allowing water to run down the walls and penetrate the flint walling, washing out the mortar. The flint facings started to part from the rubble core, and as they did so dust fell into the gap and wedged the facings further and further away, causing large hollow sections which are in danger of falling off.
The flushwork on the buttresses is of very shallow pieces of shaped flint, which are set in lime mortar. Over the years, the mortar has become friable and the flints are so loose they can be easily picked out by hand.
The cracks in the staircase turret were partly due to thermal movement, as well as dust wedging. The walls are very thin, so the walls now consist of several very high, thin, separate vertical pieces. It is possible to see daylight through the cracks from inside.
Further inspections were done of the south aisle roof, where the slates are loose, and the leaking rainwater guttering and downpipes.
Simon Rossi, of Rossi Long Consulting, prepared a structural engineer’s report and Ruth Brennan prepared a specification for the repairs. She also prepared a maintenance plan and an access audit. A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled the repairs to proceed.
Work on Site
Work started on the repairs in the Spring of 2013. Once the scaffolding was up, the whole of the tower could be examined at close quarters. Many areas of the flint facings were loose, and in danger of falling off. The buttresses were decorated with flushwork – knapped and squared flint – which had to be replaced in the same order in which they came out, to make sure they fitted. The loose flints were carefully removed and reset, using stainless steel fixings to support them and to prevent similar problems in the future. The steel was hidden within the masonry. The damaged limestone dressings were either refaced or renewed, depending on their condition.
The work also included reslating the south aisle roof, and repairing the rotten boards at the abutments. The stair turret had brick stitches inserted into the thin walls to tie the cracks together.