Lake District church restoration project wins SPAB award

Lake District church restoration project wins SPAB award

St Oswald's Church in Grasmere - resting place of William Wordsworth - has won the SPAB Sir John Betjeman Award for excellence in conservation at a place of worship

St Oswald's in Grasmere

The Grade-I listed St Oswald's Church, which dates back to the 13th century, was praised by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) for its environmentally sensitive approach to restoring its tower.

Sensitive conservation work to St Oswald’s Church tower and roof has won the SPAB’s John Betjeman Award for excellence in conservation at a place of worship.
 
The Grade-I listed church dates back to the 13th century and is famous for its association with the poet William Wordsworth who, along with his family, is buried in the churchyard.
 
The annual award honours the memory of church enthusiast and SPAB member Sir John Betjeman (who himself lifes buried in St Enodoc churchyard in north Cornwall) and is made for repairs of outstanding quality to the fabric of places of worship in England and Wales completed in the previous 18 months. Unusually, this  award is always made to the winning building rather than to the individuals involved. (This year’s John Betjeman Award attracted 24 entries from across England and Wales - a record number.)
 
In Great British Churches Betjeman describes St Oswald’s, Grasmere as a 'rough, massive old church' where the 'jungle of black beams is an object lesson in elementary building, ingenious and indescribable'..
 
 
The church prior to restoration and repainting
The renovation works
 
The tower of St Oswald’s was cement rendered in the 1920s, but this coating had blown, cracked and was falling onto the public highway.
 
The project involved removing the render and raking out of the cement ribbon pointing. Raking out was time-consuming as large sections of masonry had been rebuilt in the 1920s and bedded on cement mortar, which was compromising the breathability of the building. Tonnes of hot-lime mortar were needed to consolidate the structure and complete the harling (rough cast wall finish); for which the contractor cleverly adapted the scaffold to achieve a seamless finish.
 
Re-roofing the tower was an equally sympathetic undertaking. Replacements for the few broken tiles were Burlington Broughton Moor slates which, due to the large size required, were cut down from flagstones, hand-dressed, flame-finished and fixed with oak pegs.
 
The tower repairs at St Oswald’s were challenging, pioneering in the use of hot-lime mortars on this scale. Great care was taken by both architect (Crosby Granger Architects) and contractor (UK Restoration Services) to retain as much historic fabric as possible and repair in a truly like-for-like manner, showing exceptional attention to detail and execution.
 
The work was funded by the Parochial Church Council, Friends of St Oswald’s, sympathetic grant providers, generous individual contributions and great fundraising efforts from the local community.
 
A special feature of this project was the outreach activities. Scaffold tours were conducted throughout the works allowing members of the local community to access the tower roof and to see at first hand lime mortar works. A final tour was held so local people could see the finished results before the general public. 
 
Rachel Morley, SPAB judging panelist and director at Friends of Friendless Churches, says the work at St Oswald’s was 'extremely well-choreographed between client, contractor and architect and the attention to detail throughout was astonishing. Huge congratulations to the team at St Oswald’s, the very deserving winners of this year’s John Betjeman Award.'
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