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Award-winning church spire maintains spirit of community

Re-roofing part or all of an English parish church is no mean feat given the expense, complexity and potential pitfalls of such a project.

However, for the parishioners of Holy Trinity Church in Blendworth, Hampshire, the task was carried out not only with a high degree of technical competence, but also with aplomb, as 100 parishioners each ‘bought’ an individually inscribed clay roof tile as part of the project’s fund-raising drive.
Indeed, church vicar the Rev Rosemary Donald laid her own tile to mark the end of the work, which saw Holy Trinity’s spire and tower repaired.

The church, a Listed building within a conservation area, was built in 1852 in the English Gothic style to the design of ecclesiastical architects Edward and William Habershon. Funded by the local gentry, Holy Trinity has an unusual clay plain tiled broach spire with lucarnes (small gables to the four sides). Presumably due to failure of the fixings, the spire had been retiled in 1927. However various elements were poorly executed and the hips inappropriately formed using small bonnets, resulting in virtually no side lap. Resultant water penetration rotted structural timbers and battens – the tiling was largely still in place thanks to the full Portland cement bedding.

The £210,000 project included repairing the timber structure and retiling the spire. It entailed tricky detailing and called for good contact between the roof tile manufacturer, architect and roofing contractor.

The established character of the spire is very much due to the qualities and colouring of handmade clay tiling, and there was considered no acceptable alternative to retiling in the same material. Sandtoft Roof Tiles was selected to produce the replacement clay tiles (Goxhill handmade Plain Tiles in Autumn Brown)
A cantilever scaffold was erected to protect the roofs below and allow architect The Hunt Partnership to identify the best design strategy. Once the full scaffold was up, measurements were taken and mock-ups produced by Sandtoft to assist in achieving good and acceptable shapes for the hip tiles.

The only way to tile the upper hips satisfactorily was to use large and small hip tiles to fully and ‘tightly’ lace with the plain tiling. To achieve this they had to correctly match the geometry of the hip and the complexities of lapping and bedding.

The spire is in an exposed position, with a clear view of the south coast. To counter the risk of ‘chatter’, tiles were spot bedded on lime mortar. Every tile was double fixed to 25x50mm battens using copper nails fixed on high performance breatheable membrane, and hips are secured at least twice with stainless steel screws and washers. All bedding and pointing is in lime mortar and ridges to the lucarnes wired down.

There is no evidence of how the broach hips were originally cloaked, but during the 1927 retiling they were finished with ‘flush’ lead rolls with tiny ‘wings’, which leaked. The recent re-roofing saw them mitred using substantial lead soakers which required considerable effort by the tilers to achieve a consistent line. Valleys are also mitred.

The lucarnes and broaches result in a complex roof shape, with acutely converging hips and valleys, and the tiling between required considerable thought by the tilers to achieve reasonable tile sizes and lapping. Adjacent broach slopes are at different pitches, so gauging had to be different to ensure tails lined through. The timber structure had distorted over the years due to decay and inevitable ‘flexing’, and combined with the original building tolerances there is significant variation to the four faces. It was very much a case of individually double cutting to fit. Skyline Roofing (Kingston) Ltd resourced the project with experienced tilers.
So interesting and successful was the project that the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) sent its Scholars to visit the church as part of their fieldwork. The Scholars, a group of young architects, building surveyors and structural engineers, undergo a unique nine month training programme in practical building conservation.

Holy Trinity Church, Blendworth, was named the winner in the Clay Roofing Awards 2008’s ‘Best Ecclesiastical Clay Roof’ category.

Email: emma@kimbercoms.info


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