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St Mary’s Church Feltwell, Norfolk Urgent Appeal Launched As Extensive Roof Damage Revealed

Cambridge based Freeland Rees Roberts, the church architects of St Mary’s in Feltwell, Norfolk, have launched an urgent fundraising appeal, on behalf of the Parochial Church Council, to the local Norfolk community. The appeal follows the revelation of more severe structural roof problems at the medieval church. Despite major, on-going repairs to the church and English Heritage grants there is still a shortfall of some £40,000 to complete the repair work and to reinstate four wings to two of the angels carved into two roof trusses.

St Mary’s in Feltwell, Norfolk is a large parish church dating from a number of periods. Its overall character is medieval, but there have been major rebuildings and repairs in the past. Large elements date to the 14th, 15th and 19th centuries. The nave was remodelled in the late15th century, following a fire in 1494, when the present roof with its carved angel trusses was installed, together with a clerestory, to replace a much more steeply pitched roof, the outline of which can still be seen. This roof would have been covered in lead, but was replaced in 1830 with large random coursed Welsh slates – some of the slates are very unusual being two feet wide by four feet long.

The roof had also shown signs of spreading and timber ties were installed to the angel hammerbeams.

In 1861, a very large north aisle was built by architect Frederick Preedy. The original north aisle was demolished to make way for the arcade rebuild. Consequently the nave roof had to be temporarily propped, and further repairs carried out.

More recently, a problem with the nave roof came to light in 2005 when pieces of timber fell from the eastern most truss against the chancel arch. Local investigations were carried out and dry rot was discovered between the truss and the chancel wall. It was apparent that there had been extensive water ingress at this point. The rot was treated immediately, but it was clear that the slate roof covering was at the end of its life and needed recovering with a felt underlay and new battens. The abutment details were also deficient as there were no lead soakers or flashings.

Christine Parker and Eileen Gillians, the Church Wardens, commented: “Because the PCC lacked funds to commence the work straight away, with our architect we applied for a grant from English Heritage. A grant was provisionally approved in 2007, and this stipulated that further investigative work was required. This occurred in 2008. It was discovered that large timber scarf repairs would be required to the eastern most truss as well as to a truss in the north aisle. A grant was awarded, and the main works commenced this summer to reroof the nave, and north slope of the north aisle, and to carry out such repairs that the architects were aware of.”

Ashley Courtney, architect at Freeland Rees Roberts said: “An enormous temporary roof has been erected over the whole of the nave and north aisle, allowing the slate covering to be stripped. A bird-cage scaffold has also been erected internally to the nave and north aisle to allow us closer inspection of the roof timbers. On doing this, it has become apparent the old timbers are in a very poor state, and that many more repairs are required. Several of the truss ends, where they bear on the walls, have rotted away. The truss against the chancel arch had rotted away to such an extent that is has been necessary to lift it back to something like its original position. The next truss along is an angel truss, and the angel on the south side has had to be taken out and substantially repaired. Several other large scarf repairs have been necessary and this has required sourcing some large sections of air-dried oak. Fisher and Sons, the contractor carrying out the work, have skilled carpenters on site to carry out the repairs and they have had to employ a specialist carver to dress in new mouldings to match the originals.”

Joan Horan, Priest in Charge, said: “We have had such fantastic financial support over the last few years from parishioners and local community, the Friends of St Mary’s having raised £13,000 to date. We have also received a magnificent £164,000 from English Heritage through a combined scheme with the Heritage Lottery Fund, a very generous £10,000 from the Norfolk Churches Trust, £5,000 from the Garfield Weston Foundation and £500 from The All Churches Trust. However, the additional repair work will add nearly two months to the current repair programme and we need to appeal for more financial support and generosity from the local community and beyond as there are no further grants available. We need to raise an additional £40,000 for more vital roof repairs, including repairs to the angel trusses. The consequences of not getting this extra money could put the whole project at risk – not doing the timber work is not a good option, if we’re then putting a new roof over the rotten timbers. This roof, with its medieval angels, is historically significant. We need to ensure that the angels are restored to preserve the character of this significant Grade 1 listed building.”

Joan Horan concluded: “Any donation, large or small, will be very welcome. We would like to thank Freeland Rees Roberts Architects, who have launched this special appeal and for expertly directing the entire project and helping us secure English Heritage funding. Thank you everyone who has generously helped fundraise and who continues to help preserve our church for future generations.”

Finally a spokesperson from English Heritage quoted:

“English Heritage is already committed to contributing to the cost of the repairs to the roofs in this important fenland church. The parish now needs to find a further £40,000 to pay for the cost of additional repairs to the hammer beam roof which has been seriously damaged by death watch beetle. We fully support this appeal.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation by cheque, please make it payable to Feltwell PCC and post it to address 3 Barretts Lane, Feltwell, Norfolk IP26 4AP.

Donations by Paypal may be made on the Friends of St. Mary’s website

A Nostalgic Concert – A Tribute to Jim Reeves, Country Music and Hits from the 60’s is to be held on Saturday 11th July, 7.30 p.m. at Porter’s Barn, Old Methwold Road, Feltwell to help with funds. Tickets are £5 in advance, £6 on the door and are available from Chris Parker 01842 827152.

Details of future fundraising events may be found on the Friends website, including information and application forms for the village Yard Sale to be held on Saturday 8th August, 10 am – 2 pm and the Craft Fair to be held in Porters Barn on Sunday 11th October.

Further information on the history of St Mary’s may also be found on the excellent village website -

Freeland Rees Roberts Architects are responsible for the inspection and repair of well over 100 parish churches across East Anglia and the South East. Henry Freeland is Temple Bar’s historic buildings architect, architect of St Edmundsbury Cathedral Millennium Project and is architect to the fabric of King’s College Chapel and Guildford and Norwich Cathedrals. Henry and three architects in the practice, Director Jeremy Lander and Associates, Tania Gomez Duran and Iain Frearson, are all Architects Accredited in Building Conservation (AABC).


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