Monday, 28 September 2015

Keep calm and carry on


There's a big 2 weeks ahead of me, culminating with a job which - if I get it wrong - will destroy the visual appearance of a vast and important, Grade 1 listed Georgian country house which is the apple of my client's eye, and has been since first seen in the 1970s, long before it was bought. I'd better not get it wrong, then.

The scaffold has come down from St Michael Without - the perch of the Peregrine seen so often here - but thankfully they have not yet begun to ring the ghastly bells. I am hoping that they will be forbidden to because of the lean in the spire, but I fear it is only a matter of time.

I first noticed the lean in the spire many years ago, when they re-built the top 6 feet of it plumb, putting a kink in it which accentuated the rest by comparison. Around a year ago, I noticed that the lean was getting worse, and wondered if anyone else had noticed. There is a lot of masonry to fall down into the busy streets below - hundreds of tons of it, in fact.

This is the third successive St Michael Without to be built on that site - the first was medieval and fell down of its own accord, the second was deliberately pulled down to build this one, and I daresay that it looked a lot better than this one. The 'Without' title refers to it being just outside the city walls, as in 'There was a green hill far away...'

Then a friend of mine got the contract to conserve and restore the tower, which has been done over the entire Summer. When the scaffold went up, I asked her what was causing the lean on the spire, and she told me it was the ferrous supporting structure on the inside, which had rusted over the years and pushed the joints apart in one direction. When iron rusts within a tight space, it expands a fraction, but this fraction is enough to actually split stone or, in this case, open the joints in which it is set, causing a worrying tilt.

I wondered how on earth they were going to correct the problem, and she said that it could not be corrected, only stabilised and halted. The only alternative would be to remove the iron structure and replace it with stainless steel. This would be an extremely risky business and the consequences of anything going wrong would be dire to say the least.

"What we are trying to avoid is bringing the whole tower down", was how she put it. A very British way of putting it.

17 comments:

  1. Isn't it Chesterfield that has the most horribly twisted tower; no doubt something to do with Wedgy's reign.

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  2. Destroy the appearance or only be noticeable to those who know? No pressure there then......

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  3. You've always got the sledgehammer you can turn to if you do.

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    1. A gun would be better. Anyway, I am temporarily let off the hook, just as I psyched myself up. Maybe later there will be more scaffold.

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  4. I often wonder about the crooked spire on Chesterfield church Tom - it is so crooked and yet has never fallen down (ditto the leaning tower of Pisa) - why?

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    1. Because it is timber framed and just twisted. The Pisa tower has been stabilised recently, and they could have corrected it at the same time, but didn't for fear of it losing its uniquely leaning quality, so beloved of tourists.

      They could not untwist Chesterfield anymore than they could untwist Rachel, so both of them remain uniquely unique and need no alteration.

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  5. The crooked spire at Chesterfield was made safe a couple of hundred years ago I believe. It is crooked because green wood was used. I think it is actually just sat on top of the tower and not attached. It will straighten when a virgin is married at the church, but who would want to "cure" such a famous landmark?

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    1. I like that about a virgin untwisting it.

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  6. Search as I might (a little), I cannot find a picture of that tower. Is it the very top of Beckford's tower?
    I think the fellow on the ladder is the essence of carrying on and then getting down.

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    1. It is one of the most photographed spires in Bath, but you don't need them - you've got mine. Plenty more where they came from...

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  7. Resurrect Blaster Bates he could drop it for you.
    I have never seen what good purpose or benefit there is to a spire. Surely the stone could be used to be of benefit to someone like a couple of micro breweries or more ?

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  8. Spires. I love them but they're a pretty strange idea when you think about it.

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