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Looking Up at the West Window

Just in time?

The story of the recent renovations to St John The Baptist, Hawkchurch – with thanks to Angela Dudley and Jean Ransford for providing the information and pictures

Our lovely Church has stood since Norman times on a spot where there had probably been a Saxon church before it. Indeed, the name of the village is thought to derive from that Saxon church – Havoc’s Church, Havoc being a Saxon chap of some distinction we presume! During its long life it has undergone many changes (see the timeline diagram) and repairs. Today it still needs constant attention to keep the fabric sound.
Under Church Law, every five years the fabric of old churches has to be reviewed by a specialist architect, and they produce a Quinquennial Report detailing what needs to be done. Because our church is a grade 1 listed building, the architect must be a specialist in this type of building as well. The last review was carried out in 2016 and highlighted that the stonework holding the panels of the west window in the tower was in bad need of repair and there were problems with water ingress through the walls of the tower and elsewhere. The estimated costs (due to the building being grade 1 listed, requirements for scaffolding and so on) were prohibitive and it wasn’t until a very generous legacy was left to the church that it became possible to contemplate beginning the work.

The Original Plan

The original plan was to deal with the window problems, repoint the mortar work to stop the water getting in and to get the clock fixed. In addition, it was thought there would be enough funds to cover putting some much-needed facilities into the church. However, when the scaffolding was up, and the architect and surveyors were able to look at the building more closely, a new and serious problem became evident.

Not Good News

The upper sections of the buttresses on the west and south faces of the tower had been re-clad a long time ago but none of the cladding had been fixed in and was just held by the mortar that backed it. Over time a lot of the mortar had been washed away and there was nothing to hold the cladding in place. Some similar cladding, with the same problems, was evident on the south-eastern buttress as well. A structural engineer advised that the solution was to drill 117 holes, insert 8 mm thick stainless-steel bars in each one and bind them in place with specialised grout, in order to link the ham stone to the internal walls. 

This was a serious structural problem and the Parochial Church Council felt there was no choice but to proceed as the surveyor had advised. Once the steel pins were in place, a huge amount of a specialist lime-mix grout specifically formulated for our type of stone, was mixed to a consistency of double cream and gravity fed into the voids behind the buttress stones. Some areas of buttress took over 100 litres to fill the void, which reached right across the tower’s corners!

Wobbly West Window

The window is constructed of a stone surround and then a stone tracery that is carved to hold the stained-glass panels in place. This stonework was in a poor state and needed repair. The stonemason remover the tracery and found it was made of just two pieces of stone – an amazing piece of carving. Evidence of a fire in the tower was found during the work and it is thought that this predated earlier renovations to the window. There were some mismatches of panels and stonework and the stained glass was clearly from different periods. It was possible to see where some had been copied and a very small amount may be mediaeval in origin – possibly be from a window given to the church in 1456 by Abbot Helyer of Cerne. Some of the glass had been put in backwards in order to make it match and mirror its neighbour and this may indicate it came from a much larger window from elsewhere.

Timeline of expansion, rebuild and restoration of St John the Baptist Church.

Collapsing Clocks

When the two heavy cast-iron dial faces were disconnected and removed, they were found to be in a fairly precarious state, being held on the wall by just a few rusty cramps. Originally fixed with four cramps each, the west dial was being supported by just two and held back by the spindle of the mechanism. Both dials have been removed and cleaned, with the faces redecorated and the numerals and hands re-gilded and kiln fired. A new spindle has been fitted and the clock is now back in full working order.

The Missing E

While the scaffolding was up a lot of work was done to repair mortar and lead rainwater chutes. When up in the parapet the workmen found the E from the weathervane in the north aisle gutter. Now repaired and with the cockerel repainted with gold paint, we will know where the East is again!

Paying The Price

So, that phase of work is complete but there are still outstanding repairs from the Quinquennial Report to complete. These are repairs to the north and south gutters on the nave roof, where water penetration has been a problem for several years.
In addition to the essential repair work, the installation of a servery, disabled WC and improving access to the church is still an important part of the plan. These improvements to the church will encourage the wider community to use the church and make it a more attractive venue for hosting weddings and other events. Not only will this mean that it will become a real ‘community asset’ as churches were in days of yore, it will also enable us to derive an income from these activities which will help to fund future repairs.
Although the plans for the new facilities in the church have been drawn up, there is no longer funding to proceed with them. The additional cost of the repairs to the buttresses to make the tower safe was, of course, a priority.

The Buck Stops Here

As it is a grade 1 listed building, all repairs take longer and are inevitably more expensive than you might initially expect. While our church belongs to the Church of England, they do not pay for the upkeep of the building. Under Church Law, the Parochial Church Council, led by the Church Wardens, is responsible for gathering the funds to support the maintenance and repairs to the fabric of the church – as well as funding the running of the church, paying the bills and making a significant annual contribution to the Benefice (collection of parishes) for the clergy.

Where The Bucks Come From

Jean Ransford and Ruth Churchill are joint Church Wardens. Jean has been leading fundraising efforts for the church for many years and today is working as hard as ever. Some funds come from parishioners who make contributions to the church as cash pledges (which attract various tax benefits for both parties) or legacies(which can reduce inheritance tax). Other funds come from donations from visitors to the church and Friends of the church (who need not be parishioners but who pledge funds for the upkeep of the building). A significant amount of funding comes from events, often organised by Jean, that are held in the church or nearby. Finally, some funding comes from grants. Now this may seem straightforward but, read on, as not even this is simple for our particular church!

Being an Orphan Doesn't Help

While Hawkchurch is now in Devon (it started life as part of Dorset), the Diocese for the church is Salisbury. This creates an ‘orphan’ state, where the grant providing bodies will often say that they can’t fund anything because we are in the wrong place.

Ways to Help

So far around £105,000 has been spent on the repairs to the Tower, Window West and Clock. The proposed work on the toilet and servery needs further funds and the next quinquennial review of the church fabric is now only two years away. You can help keep this lovely building at the heart of our parish safe to use and enjoy by participating in events at the church, by becoming a Friend of St John’s or by donating through one of the various channels available. You don’t have to be a churchgoer to appreciate the church and all it offers to the community. Please help keep our namesake fit for the future!

Donate now

You can make a one-off donation now through the Just Giving page at   https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/stjohns-hawkchurch

Your donation can be anonymous or you can leave us a message – it’s up to you. Whatever you can give helps.

You can become a Friend of St John's

Friends of St John’s is a fund set up to help pay for routine maintenance and small scale repairs to the building. You can give as little or as much as you want and can pay monthly or annually. Contact Sue Cowling to find out how you can help.

Support our fund-raising events

Combine a little entertainment with your generosity and you will help us keep this beautiful building for future generations to enjoy. Come to the Christmas Tree Festival and see the amazing efforts from young and old. Check out our latest events to see what else is happening.

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