Building Site Tour

That Tingle Factor on the Roof of the Church.

Perhaps with a cursory glance, we normally have to view our neighbourhood churches from ground level when either walking or driving past them. What a change it was therefore for a group of people with more than a passing interest in such buildings to be offered an opportunity to see their local church from a much higher vantage.

Back on the afternoon of 5th August, 2016, just such a chance was offered to the Church Wardens and Friends of St. Mary’s Church, Yelverton. With the scaffolding still in place for the restoration and repair work to the tower and the roof of the building, two groups of eight were given a carefully supervised tour of inspection.

The entire project was being undertaken by J.D. Hogg Ltd, of Thetford, a company specialising in the restoration of historical buildings, and the groups were individually guided by John Hogg, the company’s Managing Director, and Peter Barnes, the Site Foreman.

It was heartening to see the determination, one perhaps should say the courage, displayed by certain individuals in climbing ladders and negotiating the quite narrow gangways of scaffold boards to which they led. It was not such an easy thing to do, given that most of the participants may not have even climbed to the top of their domestic step ladders in recent years! Yet, there they were, climbing and exchanging light hearted quips along the way, which all added to the pleasure and excitement of the experience.

The determination of the climbers was duly rewarded when they literally came face to face with the work that had been done. There they were told about ‘lime putty’, a lime mortar mix consisting of three parts sand to one part of lime, which was used to plaster or ‘render’ the walls. It was explained how, depending on weather conditions, this sometimes had to be covered by hessian sacking to stop it going hard too quickly and ‘carbonating’.

The fine skills of the craftsmen could be seen on the tower walls in the setting of ‘knapped’ flints into the lime putty, a process called ‘galleting’, a common feature in Norfolk church architecture.

Discussion also ranged about the fabulous views from the tower to the knowledge and skills of past generations, to the precision of the stonemasons of Norwich Cathedral, the use of wooden scaffolding lashed together by ropes prior to our modern day use of steel, the ability to lift great weights of stone to lofty heights and the human cost of serious or fatal accidents that must have occurred in undertaking such work but which have generally faded into history.


When related thoughts turned back to their own church, there was evidence of previous restorations from small stone plaques left by the builders of a bygone age through to the inscription on the tower roof left over fifty years ago now, following the last major works undertaken in the mid 1960’s.


There were more technical terms to absorb in the restoration of the roof covering the nave and the chancel. Here the groups were told about the ‘mopstick’ of lead covering the apex of the roof, where, rather than coming to a point, the leaded ridge is given a small circular shape as if it has been moulded around a wooden broom handle. To some amusement, they were also informed about the thin strips of copper that were placed underneath damaged slates to signify that they needed replacing – the strips were called ‘tingles’.

Gratitude was extended to Mr. Hogg and Mr. Barnes for their time given to the visit and for the fine work that their company was achieving. All of this, together with the reconstruction of the roof’s gables and parts of the tower’s turrets, for which specially hand-made coping bricks were still being awaited, has only been made possible through charitable funding. Due to the award of £190,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, St. Mary’s Church has been made secure from the wind and the rain, to be used and enjoyed by future generations of its local families and friends. With completion of the project now imminent, there is a feel-good factor about how well it has gone. One could say, it’s enough to send a tingle down one’s spine; a tingle of joy and satisfaction at a job well done.

Brian Bugg


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