The Restoration of St Thomas’ Church
Conservation/Restoration Highly Commended 2010
Location: Newhey, Rochdale
Building Owner: PCC of St Thomas’ Church, Newhey
Architect: Lloyd Evans Prichard
Structural Engineer: Fred Tandy Associates
Main Contractor: Lambert Walker Conservation and Restoration Contractors
Joinery Company: Lambert Walker Conservation and Restoration Contractors
Wood Species: Douglas Fir
The Church was built in 1876 as a replica of Holy Trinity Church, Weston-super-Mare, which had been erected fifteen years previously. St Thomas’ is built with local pitched sandstone dressed with Bath limestone, giving it a clean and shining appearance during the day and a hint of translucence at night. Internally the church is lofty with slender proportions. The church fabric is made up of solid sandstone walls and timber trussed roofs with exposed soffit boarding to the underside and Welsh slates above.
A phase of repair work on the building has just come to an end following a disastrous arson attack which had destroyed large portions of the church fabric. The entire organ and organ loft were destroyed, along with the chancel and south transept roofs. There was also widespread smoke and heat damage throughout the rest of the church.
It was determined at the beginning that, although the organ loft had been so badly damaged that it required dismantling, there was probably quite a lot of material that could be saved and reused. This approach of salvaging and rebuilding as much material as possible naturally led us to the ‘restoration’ and repair of the east end and organ loft, rather than choosing to venture down the route of a new intervention.
The initial response was to call for new timbers throughout the East end of the church. However, after the second or third inspection it seemed the depth of charred timber was not as great as originally thought. It was decided to carry out trials on the main trusses in the chancel, planing down the charred surface to a level which would be acceptable both aesthetically and practically. The remaining depth of timber was checked by the structural engineer who confirmed that there was still sufficient enough timber to carry the loads from the roof as intended. Furthermore the engineer was satisfied that the existing trusses would still have the ability to withstand another fire, and another degree of charring. This enabled us to take the more purist conservation line and retain all the principal and secondary trusses in the chancel and transept. Repairs at the apex were necessary, so traditional timber lap joint repairs were carried out to all apexes that support the ridge beam. New purlins, rafters and soffit boarding were added in Douglas Fir, all to excellent standards.
The rest of the church under went a huge programme of repair and cleaning. The whole of the nave walls and ceiling were badly smoke and heat damaged and had to be stripped before new finishes could be applied. The decision to plane the roof trusses and leave them natural informed the rest of the structure. All the new timbers and boarding were left natural and oiled rather than heavily varnished as previous.
The project was fully completed in August 2009, and shows vividly the skill of the craftsmen who have restored this church to impressive standards.