Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Repairing Grantham church's spire

click photo to enlarge
On a recent visit to Grantham we went to see the parish church of St Wulfram where renovation work is being undertaken on its marvellous spire that sits on top of its beautiful tower. It is 282 feet from the ground to the tip of the octagonal stone needle, not the tallest such structure in the land, but by common consent, one of the best.When the finest parish church spires are being considered the Lincolnshire trio of Louth, Grantham and Brant Broughton are rarely absent, along with Nottinghamshire's Newark.

This spire dates from the medieval period. However, like most spires, it has undergone repairs on a number of occasions since it was first built. The inescapable fact is that every church spire is open to the full force of the weather. Wind, cold, heat and rain all take their toll of the stonework. In the case of St Wulfram's major rebuilding and restoration occurred in 1664, 1797, 1883 and 1945-7. It is now happening again. I read that the use of cast iron in the repairs of 1797 is one of the reasons that work needs doing now. Iron rusts and where it isn't separated from the stone by molten lead it can easily damage the stonework. £600,000 is being spent to take off the top 40 feet of the tower and repair it. That isn't going to be a quick job.

On our visit I looked up at the steel scaffolding on the west face of the tower and encasing the spire, at the nylon ropes, clamps, wooden planks and steel cables, aluminium ladders and reflected for a few moments. I'd recently read Ken Follett's "World Without End", a story about the fictitious town of Kingsbridge during the period of the Black Death. One of the main characters is engaged in building a tower and spire on a priory church, and the description of his labours on this task came back to me. As I looked at the scaffolding above I imagined all the metal replaced by wood, the nylon by hemp and further reflected that the means of working on such a structure today isn't too far removed from the methods of six or seven hundred years ago.

Incidentally, if you enlarge and look at the smaller photograph you'll see, on the left, the Beehive pub. In the tree nearby you'll also see the working beehive that makes this pub much visited by pub enthusiasts and unique among British public houses.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 140mm (210mm - 35mm equiv.) - cropped
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On