St. Nicholas, Warwick

PUBLISHED: 09:22 17 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013

St. Nicholas, Warwick

St. Nicholas, Warwick

Appropriately this Christmas, the bells of St Nicholas, Warwick, will ring out again for the first time in three years. Tony Lennox reports.

If you live in Warwick, youll have noticed that the bells of St.Nicholas have been rather quiet lately. Its not for the want of willing bell ringers theyre as active as ever...elsewhere. Its more to do with some cowboy builders from the 18th Century.

It was they who appear to have cut a few corners when erecting the spire on St. Nicholas Church in the mid 1700s. Its perhaps unfair to lay the blame on them, says Robert Perkins, who co-ordinated the project to make safe the spire and raise the money to repair it. Clearly there have been attempts at various times in the past to remedy defects, but no-one can be quite sure as to the exact culprit.

Somewhere along the line, someone used iron structures to hold together the original local sandstone blocks. It was these early repairs which caused the spire, eventually, to become unsafe. Consulting engineer Fred Tandy said, after seeing the problem for the first time that it was the worst spire I have ever seen. The bell ringers were told to desist in January 2009; the fear being that vigorous campanolgy would bring the whole structure tumbling down.

This Christmas, after nearly three years, the scaffolding will come down and the bells will ring again. It will be the first time that the Rev Linda Duckers, the vicar of St. Nicholas, will have heard them. She arrived as the new incumbent in June 2010, right in the middle of the planning, fund raising and preparations for the project. It was an interesting time to take up my duties, to say the least, she says.

Over the last 18 months, Linda has been a frequent visitor to the spire, clambering 180 feet up ladders and scaffolding, even getting physically involved in repairs. Shes been great, says Jonathan Tye, one of the stonemasons employed on the project. Shes been up here in all weathers and has always been interested and encouraging.

The team of stonemasons, from Midland Conservation, have replaced many of the crumbling stones and window frames, as well as making safe and rebuilding. They had to completely dismantle and rebuild the top 30 levels of stone. Theyre no strangers to Warwickshires churches, having recently completed stone repair and replacement work at the countys oldest church in Wootton Wawen.

St.Nicholas Church, a Grade 1 listed building, was built to replace an earlier medieval church. Canalettos painting of Warwick Castle in 1748, clearly shows the spire of St. Nicholas in the background.

Robert Perkins, a retired solicitor and PCC member, has been responsible for the considerable task of making more than 50 grant applications to find the estimated 200,000 to fund the work. The whole project has been an enormous challenge for our church, particularly as it came at a time when we had no vicar following the retirement of Rev Roger Garratt, he says. I am immensely grateful to all those who have contributed financially and given their time and support. All our professionals have been first rate, and the skill and co-operation of the contractors staff and stonemasons has been outstanding.

While English Heritage provided large sums, considerable efforts were made to raise funds locally. St. Nicholas Church is historically Warwick Castles church. We received great assistance from Warwick Castle, in particularly with the planning and publicity and facilities for a fund raising dinner at the castle in the Great Hall, says Robert. We are incredibly grateful to the Castle and their staff for all the willing assistance they gave us, he adds.

Many generous donations were made by local businesses for an auction of promises at the dinner, which was attended by over 50 people. The bell ringers of St Nicholas and St Marys were also extremely active.

On Sunday, December 4, a Spire Open Day will take place, beginning with a service of thanksgiving at 10am, followed by an exhibition, bell ringing, and other events until 4 pm. All the contributing organisations and businesses are being invited.

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