At least there’s one building in Croydon that gets its repairs done in a timely manner. DAVID MORGAN explains the reasons for the scaffolding around the former Parish Church which has a history going back a thousand years
If your lockdown exercise takes you into Old Town you may have seen the front of Croydon Minster, including the tower, surrounded by scaffolding and clad in protective sheeting.
The west door is protected by wooden panels with the narrow entrance passageway likened by one person as a reminder of the bible story about a camel and the eye of a needle.
“Something is going on up there,” is a regular comment, although for the passerby it is difficult to see exactly what that might be.
After the disastrous fire in 1867 to what was then known as Croydon Parish Church, the parishioners and local community assessed the extent of the damage. There were not too many positives to take from the tragedy. The interior of the church , with its fine memorials, monuments and windows, was ruined. The magnificent organ was lost. The one bright spot was that the tower was still standing.
The eminent Victorian architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, was commissioned to rebuild the church, with the project costing £35,000. Sir George’s fee was £1,200.
The company tasked to carry out the work was Doves of Islington. With the tower still standing, repairs to the stonework could be completed whilst positioning the new roof.
Today, much of the remaining stonework on the tower dates from the 15th Century, which is among the reasons why Croydon Minster is a Grade I-listed building.
Despite a programme of remediation and maintenance over the years, there comes a time when more drastic repair is needed. Pieces of the stonework, weathered by wind, rain and frost, had begun to fracture and break off. With the surface of some of the stones becoming pitted, the fixings for things such as drain pipes were in need of attention.
The churchwardens work exceptionally hard at monitoring and maintaining the building, one of the architectural treasures of the borough.
In the summer of 2020, there came an opportunity to complete many of the repairs in one large project, rather than the piecemeal approach which is usually necessary because of a lack of finance. As part of the government programme to kick-start the economy after the first lockdown, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced the Culture Recovery Fund.
Croydon Minster, as part of the major churches group in the Church of England, was asked to list what repairs to the building could be achieved if they had access to the fund. With the Church of England leading the bid, Croydon Minster was successful in receiving more than £200,000, enough to cover 80 per cent of the project costs.
The catch was that the successful bid would only come to fruition if the work could be finished by Easter 2021. With no time to waste, Stone Edge Conservation was appointed and they set to work in December.
They had to undertake brickwork and stone repairs to the tower, using like for like materials. They have had to overhaul or replace as necessary all rainwater goods. They were to replace the oak louvre windows in the belfry, and they were to include miscellaneous repairs in their project as they find them on the tower and the roof.
In this final category, fixings for the clock and windows high up on the tower have been replaced.
The churchwardens describe the project as “vital for preserving the future of the building”.
It is work that no one will really see unless you venture up the tower on a summer tour. Some of the replacement stone blocks have been eyed with curiosity as they have been placed in the secure compound before being hoisted aloft and cemented into position.
The stonemasons, glaziers and other specialists in the workforce have relished the opportunity to be part of the project. Only a limited number of companies are cleared for working on Grade I-listed buildings, so the experience that Stone Edge Conservation provide is vital.
If your daily exercise takes you past the Minster, you will see the scaffolding in place until the end of March. When it is removed, you will need to strain your neck to see the new louvres. As for the rest of the work you will have to wait until the church holds its Tower tours, when you can climb the steps and look out over the roof.
And the government’s generous grant only covers 80 per cent of the costs of the work. If anyone would like to make a contribution to the project there is a link on the Croydon Minster website.
- To read previous David Morgan articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here
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