Saving the Church Tower

The church tower has needed substantial remedial work, related primarily to damp and to structural weaknesses. The problems were such that our beautiful Grade I listed building was added to the Heritage at Risk Register, as being in “poor” condition.   The costs of the works necessary will cost well over two hundred thousand pounds. A major award from the Heritage Lottery Fund in mid-2018 meant that work could be started.


The Problems with the Church Tower

There have been problems with dampness in the tower for years.  The dampness is causing deterioration of the timbers and beams and of the wall surfaces within the tower apartments.

A number of factors can contribute to the problems being encountered, through moisture entering the tower and not being removed: water ingress, via leaks in the roof or through masonry walls; lack of ventilation; unsuitable modern materials applied over old that seal in moisture; use of cement-based mortars; environmental factors.  The tower cannot be ‘waterproofed’ – in fact most church towers are damp.  The challenge is to manage the problem:  to keep the damp under control, to correct structural problems that have already arisen as a result of the damp, and to avoid the risk of more serious damage to the fabric of the building.

Several detailed inspections of the tower have identified the following issues, all of which require attention:

  • Cement pointing, which has been carried out in the past, doesn’t allow the stones to “breathe” and release moisture.  This contributes to the dampness showing on the interior walls of the tower, and to damage to the stonework: in freezing weather, the stone may fracture, and this is already happening. Also, some of this pointing is loose and can fall.
  • Stonework round the ventilation louvres is a further source of damp retention and water ingress, and needs attention.
  • Two apertures in the tower (ringing chamber south side , and bell chamber north side) have been closed in the past, so reducing the tower ventilation and contributing to the dampness. These apertures need to be reopened
  • The state of the wooden and steel beams supporting the vestry and ringing chamber ceilings is a concern.  These need repair or replacement.
  • Floorboards in the bell chamber are unsafe and need strengthening.
  • The ladder to the bell chamber is dangerous and needs replacing.
  • The vestry wall plaster needs to be removed and replaced by a new wall lining to create a more acceptable environment.
  • New windows that can be fixed open are needed in the ringing chamber and vestry.
  • The tower roof parapet needs to be repaired and the lead gutters need reconstruction.
  • Damaged plaster to the nave wall of the vestry needs repair.
  • The boiler room roof is asbestos and must be replaced.
  • The drainage around the tower needs improvement.
  • Lightning protection needs to be installed.
  • The condition of the wall painting on nave wall of tower needs assessment.

Consequences of Works not being carried out?

  • Decayed beams in the ringing chamber ceiling and vestry ceiling (supporting the ringing chamber floor) will continue to deteriorate and in time they will fail, with obvious and potentially dangerous consequences.
  • The tower rooms that are in regular use (the vestry and ringing chamber) will become progressively unpleasant and difficult to use (eg there is extensive green mould on the ringing chamber walls and, in the vestry, continual falls of plaster, rotting of the wooden fitments, etc.)
  • The plaster on the nave side of the vestry wall will continue to deteriorate with the likely eventual loss of the small wall painting there.
  • The ladder to the bell chamber doesn’t meet current safety standards and is dangerous.  If there were to be an accident and we hadn’t done work that the quinquennial report clearly said we should do, the insurers probably wouldn’t pay out.

Current status

Our Heritage Lottery Fund award required us to obtain further specialist reports, prepare a full schedule of works required, and obtain competitive tenders for the necessary works.

This was all done, as part of the HLF "Development Phase", for which we obtained a grant from the HLF of £10,568. We were subsequently awarded £109,300, in June 2018 for the Delivery Phase of our project, during which the works would be carried out.  These works are expected to be completed early in 2019.

When work started, the funds raised at this point were insufficient to complete all the scheduled works, but they ensured that the most critical work could be completed.  Fundaising necessarily had to continue.

The original fundraising target of £200,000 was set several years ago and it became clear that this figure was too low: the costs would exceed £200,000 and some contingency should be allowed for. A new target of £230,000 was set.  While the PCC (the Parochial Church Council of Amberley with North Stoke) has a cash reserve, it would have been very imprudent to have allocated all this to the present works.  The PCC must keep a reasonable reserve for on-going maintenance, and parts of the church other than the tower will soon need attention.  A new five-yearly "quinquennial" report on the church's fabric is due, and it is inevitable that this will identify works needed over the coming years.

The total funds raised to date include grants awarded by the Ian Foulerton Trust (£15,000), the Garfield Weston Foundation (£15,000), the Sussex Historic Churches Trust (£10,000) and he Headley Trust (£5,000).  The ACTnow team gratefully acknowledge these awards.  The balance of our income has come from events (53%) and from donations ((47%).  We are extemely grateful to all who have supported the ACTnow campaign.

Total raised:
Original target: £200,000. New target £230,000

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ACTnow, Simon's Lee, Rackham Road, Amberley, West Sussex BN18 9NR

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Bank: Barclays
Account name: PCC of Amberley
Account number: 13834387
Sort code:  20-98-74

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