Welcome to our fifth Newsletter, well, I say fifth, but I did count the update on the works on the East Window as our fourth. The Friends of Shalfleet Church have now completed its first year, and many thanks to all those who set up a standing order last year, the subscriptions for the coming year have been received gratefully and will be put to good use over the coming months. It has been a difficult year for everyone, especially through the Covid lockdowns which have impacted on everyone’s life. The Friends Group is no exception and we have been unable to organise any working parties; this does not mean that we have not been doing any work over the last few months. The two Steves have done sterling work keeping the grass around the church and the access paths to the new churchyard cut. Henry, supported by others, has been working on the hedge on the southern side of the church and trimming some of the trees along Church Lane. Chloe has been working on clearing some of the brambles and undergrowth in the orchard area; this is an area that we hope to develop into a village resource in years to come. Steve has mown a path around the field in front of the Village Hall, both to help access to the orchard, but also to help with maintaining the hedges. These are the tasks that have been carried out individually or in pairs.
Many thanks to all those who have helped us with our maintenance work, both over the last few months and over the first year of the Friends Group. We are hoping to have a small working party (maximum 6) next weekend on 26th September – weather permitting of course. The main tasks will be weeding the new paths, clearing the drainage channels round the church as well as some more strimming and grass cutting. If there is time we will also try and do some trimming of hedges.
Of course, maintenance of the churchyard is only one of the activities for which the Friends Group provides support. Work on the East Window is progressing well after the rather slow start caused by the weddings last summer, the unsuitable weather during the Autumn and the Winter followed by the lockdown. As the lockdown was relaxed work restarted and we were able to visit the Wight Stonemasonry workshops in mid-August to see the progress of the work. I must say that I was very impressed, not only by the amount of work that had been completed, but also by the expertise and skill with which the work was being done. I had not really thought through the process of preparing the stones for installation, I had appreciated that there were different types of stone, Chicksgrove and Caen, being used for different parts of the window, but I had not fully realised the amount of craftsmanship that went into each block.
Initially templates are prepared for all the individual pieces that are required. Wherever possible existing stonework that is still in good condition is incorporated into the new window, so measurements need to be taken with great care. Each of the main components is constructed in two parts, an inside block and an outside block. These are then installed back to back, sometimes with new stone on one side and existing stone on the other. The electric saw is used to cut the stone into the correct block size, but from there onwards all work is carried out by hand. An air chisel is used to ‘rough out’ the shape, but all detailed work and final shaping is done the traditional way using a mallet and chisel. Wherever possible the block will be checked with the appropriate piece of stained glass to confirm that the carving has been done correctly.
Whilst the preparation and carving work was being carried out the stained glass had been removed to the Southern Lights workshop for evaluation and cleaning. Full renovation of the glass panes could not be completed until the stone blocks had been reinstalled in the church as the reconstructed panes need to be built to an exact template prior to installation. There is inevitably some damage to the panels when they are removed from the church. Unfortunately this had been exacerbated due to some no doubt well-meaning, but sub-standard, repair work done in the past. The use of modern mortars is not currently recommended and can cause longer term problems for the restoration process. It was also clear that, whilst the main fabric was in good condition, there had been a degree of settlement of the stonework over the years which had put pressure on the glass panes and resulted in distortion and damage. This will be corrected during the restoration process and highlights why accurate templates must be created before the larger panes can be fully reconstructed. to see them appearing from the wooden structures that had been installed to weatherproof the church over the preceding months. Extensive supports were required to ensure that the mullions were vertical and to provide support when the stonework was installed above them. The springers either side of the window were inslalled at the same time as the mullions, with the lower part of the quatrefoil surrounds being installed next. The discolouration in the stone is due to the stone being saturated with water. This is done to stop the lime mortar going off too quickly and resulting in a weaker joint.
Installation continued over the next few weeks as the windows gradually took shape and the skill of the craftsmen was seen to its full. As the stonework progressed higher it became clear that some small modifications in the carved blocks would be necessary, some additional blocks were also required as installation had shown it was not possible to use all the blocks that had originally been set aside for possible reuse.
We hope that the installation of the stonework will be completed within the next couple of weeks, the construction of accurate templates for the stained glass can then be commenced and we can get an estimate of the time required for completion of the work on the east window.
Finally, on a related issue, I would like to thank all those who took part in the annual Ride and Stride event earlier this month. This is a fundraising event for the Hampshire and IOW Historic Churches Trust who provided us with a substantial grant to help us with our renovation work. Several members of the Parish mounted their bikes and visited nine local churches, whilst others walked between the local churches. Well done to all who took part. If you would like to make a donation to support their work, this can be done via a Virgin Giving page.
You will hopefully see this message towards the bottom of the page.
Just press the ‘Donate’ button and follow the instructions.
As instructed, please make sure that you put the name of our church ‘St Michael the Archangel Shalfleet IOW’ in the Message box as we then get 50% of the funds back from the trust as a bonus.
I hope to meet up with you all again soon.
Fabric Trust Treasurer (22nd September 2020)