Pre­serv­ing our her­itage

The Church of England - - Leader & Comment - Tommy Gee

As the Church of Eng­land continues to de­cline, con­cern in­creases over many of its an­cient build­ings. Who will main­tain the fab­ric if the Fab­ric Fund, if it ex­ists, is no longer suf­fi­cient as con­gre­ga­tions strug­gle to find the quota to pay the clergy, and to fund the dio­cese?

A wise land­lord will have a build­ing fund that is sus­tained by say 2½% pa of the cap­i­tal value of the build­ing. To fol­low that prece­dent would re­quire a mas­sive in­crease in a par­ish budget.

To take a lo­cal ex­am­ple, Wing­field is a small par­ish with a na­tion­ally im­por­tant me­dieval build­ing and com­petes for scarce money from big donors when tim­bers rot, roofs leak or walls crack. Donors want some lo­cal fi­nance and if that can­not be raised the Churches Con­ser­va­tion Trust may take over.

To date they have “moth­balled” 341 churches that merit their limited funds aided by 2,000 vol­un­teers. Red­grave and Bun­gay are lo­cal ex­am­ples.

To­day wealthy pa­trons are scarce, and as gov­ern­ments con­tinue to trim their sails the lo­cal com­mu­nity must con­tinue to be re­spon­si­ble.

In 1980 the Diss Ex­press re­ported that Wing­field Church had un­der­gone an im­por­tant and ma­jor restora­tion when a great deal was done (in­volv­ing mainly the re­moval of the old pews) at a cost of £1,078 plus lo­cal con­tri­bu­tions amount­ing to £703.

In 1983 with a to­tal of £3,000 in the Fab­ric Fund, mas­ter­minded by Bernard Welling­ham helped by Sheila Kent, the sec­ond ma­jor restora­tion was started. The 1990s brought more vi­tal work and for nearly 20 years the Church was swathed in plas­tic sheet­ing and scaf­fold­ing. Skilled car­pen­ters, glaziers, stone­ma­sons of the high­est stan­dard were brought in.

Ex­ten­sive restora­tion of the Great East Win­dow and north chan­cel win­dows with their me­dieval glass, which was sent to Wells Cathe­dral for ex­pert clean­ing and also 24 clerestory win­dows and as­so­ci­ated stone trac­ery, as well as the re­fur­bish­ment and re-leading of the Nave roofs was car­ried out.

A huge ef­fort of fundrais­ing went on with in­valu­able sup­port from the vil­lage and lo­cal people who con­trib­uted in to­tal some £30,000. The names of whom were un­til re­cently dis­played at the back of the Church.

Over 20 years nu­mer­ous per­sonal letters were writ­ten to donors, all over the world, par­tic­u­larly Amer­ica where the Wing­field fam­i­lies had come to­gether to form a so­ci­ety. Grants were sought and English Her­itage helped a great deal. At the end of it all over half a mil­lion pounds had been spent, the Church was prop­erly roofed, the glass saved, the in­te­rior was com­pletely re­fur­bished. But of course it is a work in progress to keep such a pre­cious old build­ing in good re­pair.

The Tower and the Bells were yet an­other story. The Tower struc­ture had to be strength­ened for the bells, cost­ing £81,000, but an age-old crack, said to be the re­sult of the foun­da­tions, re­mains and is mon­i­tored.

Over the years, how­ever, bolts had rusted and No 5 bell had cracked. With the re­mark­able help of the Suf­folk Guild of Ringers and vol­un­teers, the bells were re­fur­bished lo­cally at a cost of only £6,000. Clearly this was much less than would have been the case had the work been done by a con­trac­tor.

The main ex­pense was the heavy no 5 bell weigh­ing in at 9cwt 1qr and 9 lbs cast by the renowned Wm and Alice Brend of Nor­wich in 1602. This one we took to Cam­bridge on a small lorry to be welded us­ing a new tech­nol­ogy. All the bells and the frame weigh­ing sev­eral tons were low­ered us­ing a tiny Ja­panese elec­tric hoist, cleaned, wooden wheels re­paired and re­hung with new ropes and brightly coloured sal­lies.

A team of ringers trained and rang in the Mil­len­nium, through­out led and in­spired by one sur­viv­ing bell ringer, Betty Syrett of Wing­field Hall (now de­ceased).

So what does the fu­ture por­tend for Suf­folk? Top-down or­gan­i­sa­tion prices are pro­hib­i­tive, as we have seen with HS2. But will bot­tom-up lo­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity work – as it did be­fore? It is ef­fec­tive in a num­ber of parishes. The best hope might be to shift the bur­den to a new body that would be cre­ated out of the Churches Con­ser­va­tion Trust, ex­pand­ing its brief be­yond just re­dun­dant churches and mod­elled on The Na­tional Trust, one of Bri­tain’s suc­cess sto­ries.

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