Flamstead Heritage progress report

The Flamstead Heritage project was set up to save our beautiful 12th century village church from closure. Damp and deathwatch beetle had affected the roof timbers because the windows and walls were not weatherproof. Temporary repairs had to be made while we secured the funding to replace the outer roof, fix the timbers and restore the leaking windows. This essential work has now been completed thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, other funds and trusts, and local people and organisations. This website tells the story of our campaign to save St Leonard’s…

First, we needed to find out how serious things were. Using a birdcage scaffold, the architects, structural engineer, wood rot specialist and quantity surveyor were able to get up close to the medieval timbers. This gave a fascinating glimpse of the way the roof is put together, and enabled a detailed “resistograph” survey to be done. By measuring the resistance of each rafter and beam to a small drill, the survey identified which timbers had been most damaged by rot and beetle, and enabled a plan for repair and restoration to be drawn up.

The massive oak beams which support the roof last received major attention in 1791. Then, sections of rafters could just be taken out a refitted with new timber. During the restoration work, we conserved as much of the the original timber as possible due to our Grade I listing. This involved jointing in new wood as needed, and replacing rotten structural timbers where necessary.

To make sure the roof stayed safe while we raised funds, temporary supports were added to help better transfer the weight of the damaged spine of the roof and the weakened rafters onto the massive cross-beams as shown.

The spine timbers had been weakened by deathwatch beetle, and the ends of many of the rafters had been completely eaten away. The 1962 outer copper roof was also end-of-life and letting in water.

With the funding raised, we have been able to repair the timbers, replace the outer roof, and remove cement around the rafter ends so they can breathe. This was a major restoration project.

To make the building fully weatherproof, we had to remove Glass Reinforced Plastic facings which had been attached to the top row “clerestory” windows in the 1960s. The windows on the south side were then rebuilt in new stone, and re-glazed. Those on the north side were rebuilt a few years ago, following fund-raising by the Friends of St Leonard’s.

Cement rendering from the 1960s was replaced by lime mortar so that the walls can “breathe” again. The downpipes and rainwater dispersal have been upgraded to ensue they can cope with storm water and take it away from the building, to avoid damp.

All of this will help to dry out the environment inside the church.

Eliminating damp will protect the wall paintings which have survived in some cases since the 13th century. This important series of paintings can be cleaned and conserved once the moisture levels in the church have been reduced.

Restoring the “environmental envelope” of the building will also ensure that the roof timbers are no longer prone to attack from beetle or rot.

Coupled with the separately funded work to provide facilities and step-free access, we will have given St Leonard’s Church a new lease of life, hopefully for many centuries to come.

Before any major heritage project like this can be undertaken, permissions were required from the various bodies which oversee heritage and listed buildings. In our case this includes the Diocese, Historic England and Natural England. The Diocese grants a formal Faculty or permission for the work, and as a Condition of grant Historic England had requested a wall painting survey before the works started.

Two local companies helped us with that – First Reality and Plowman Craven. Both brought their skill and expertise to bear on the challenge of producing high resolution photographs of wall paintings some 10 metres above the ground and covering in some cases an area some 6 metres wide.

We also organised a final bat survey to update the surveys carried out in 2019, just to ensure that the church was not a maternity colony (it isn’t) and to provide the final information necessary for the report to Natural England requesting a licence to conduct the repair works to the roof subject to providing mitigations such as alternative roosting places for the bats, and ensuring that bats are not harmed as the roof is dismantled.

This work was conducted by Jones and Sons Environmental Services, who have constantly impressed us with their dedication and knowledge. Crawling around by torchlight looking for bat droppings, and then identifying them, is not everyone’s cup of tea!

Our Architect, Karen Butti from Thomas Ford and Partners, drew up detailed plans for the repairs in close consultation with Structural Engineer Clive Dawson from Hockley and Dawson. The costings were overseen at all stages by our experienced Quantity Surveyor Trevor Groom from Press and Starkey. We have an excellent Project Manager in James Mellish from JM Environmental, and equally excellent Interpretation Consultant Rachel Steward from Wild Play and Education. Our Activity Plan benefited from valuable advice provided by Claire Adler, and we are using Alis Templeton to advise on the Evaluation of engagement activities.

Our approach to funders including the National Lottery Heritage Fund presented a vision for transformation of the way the church as a heritage building serves the wider local community, as indeed it was designed to do when first built. Arts and culture, social events and opportunities to learn more about the heritage treasures are all on the plan. We are really excited by this vision, and you can learn more about it on our vision page.