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St Thomas the Apostle – battling the elements!

In January Stockport-based Aura Conservation Ltd were appointed to carry out the restoration of the Grade II listed 19th century parish church of St Thomas the Apostle in Heptonstall. The gothic style church stands alongside the ruin of the previous 13th century Church of St Thomas à Beckett with three adjacent churchyards.

The ancient church of this parish dedicated to St Thomas à Becket was a building in the Early English style built between 1256 and 1260. Later adaptations gave it two naves, two aisles and two chantry chapels as well as a tower. Following a storm in 1847 the west face of the tower fell away. Parts were dismantled and a great measure of repair took place in 1854 when the present church, St Thomas the Apostle, was completed at a cost of £7,000.

The new church is a building of stone in the Perpendicular late gothic style, consisting of a chancel with aisle, nave, aisles, south porch and an embattled western tower with pinnacles containing a clock and six bells, dating from 1600. Work on the internal re-ordering the church took place in the 1960’s.

Aura’s project commenced early this year in the height of winter and due to the church’s prominent location on the top of a hill, Aura undertook the project under extreme weather conditions. These conditions included persistent rainfall and high wind speed – indeed it is prolonged periods of such weather over time that has brought the church to its current state of deterioration.

Many churches that are between 150 to 200 years old are now reaching a state of deterioration – where roofing materials can no longer cope with this country’s persistent wet climate. For these churches, regular maintenance and patching up repairs are no longer enough, extensive conservation work and re-roofing is normally the only option.

The six month restoration project started with the external works. The roof of the church underwent a complete overhaul including removal of all of the existing rotting timber boarding and replacement with new boards. Then the existing fractured stone slates which may have been damaged by storms, rainfall and high winds – making them prone to slippage – were stripped off the roof and replaced with new stone slate, fixed to withstand extreme weather. Some of the existing slates were salvaged and the new slates matched the originals as far as possible.

Defective and friable mortar joints were raked out to the top of the tower’s four elevations and then re-pointed with a lime based mortar to match the original. Stone indenting was then carried out to the elevations.

Existing rainwater goods had been strained due to the amount of rainfall and had to be removed completely and replaced with a new system designed for a larger rainfall capacity. Existing timber louvers were also fully removed and replaced with brand new ones.

Internally, timber repairs and replacements were carried out to the bell tower and other specified areas. The roof access hatch was also removed and replaced with brand new.

Aura fought the elements to complete the project successfully and believe the church will now be able to do the same!

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