The church launched an appeal in 2007 for funds for urgent repairs, and for improvements to its facilities.
WHAT HAVE WE ACHIEVED SO FAR?
St Giles Church has been standing for 125 years but the structure is showing its age. When the church was inspected by the architect in 2005, she found that the nave roof was worn out, the roof of the Tower was leaking, causing rot in the timbers supporting the roof, and some of the stonework was badly damaged after being exposed to the weather for more than a century. The advice was that we couldn’t patch it up any longer: we needed a new roof on the tower and nave and extensive repairs to the timbers, stonework and leadwork.
The tower and the roof
Fund raising started straight away. The Church applied to English Heritage for a grant out of Lottery funds and we were delighted when they offered a substantial grant towards the cost of the repair work. The exploratory work carried out in 2007 revealed that the Tower roof was in a much worse state than had been thought.
The repair work began in July 2008. The old tiles were stripped off, new felt and battens were put in place and new tiles were laid on the roofs of the tower, the nave and the north-east porch. The leadwork was repaired or replaced where necessary to make St Giles watertight and ready for the next 125 years. In the tower the structural timbers have been repaired where they had been damaged by damp and a new dormer doorway has been built in oak to replace the old one. The gutters were sand blasted and repainted. A stonemason has restored or replaced individual stones on the outside of the tower and on the wall of the West gable end, since many of these had been eroded by the weather. He also carved a new gargoyle, so St Giles once again has a gargoyle on each corner of the tower. Finally the cockerel on the weather vane was restored and re-gilded.
Lady Vane Chapel
The Lady Vane Chapel in the South transept has been transformed. A new glazed oak screen, in memory of Edward and Jocelyn Earle, has been installed behind the choir stalls at the entrance to the chapel. The fine Rysbrack sculpture, carved as a memorial to Lord Barnard and his family who used to live at Fairlawne, has been cleaned and spotlights have been installed so that the memorial can be seen properly. The other memorial plaques have been cleaned. The whole area has been cleared and carpeted. The chapel provides a space for private prayer, for signing the registry at weddings or for meetings.
The Church floor
St Giles has a fine marble terrazzo floor, with complex designs mainly at the east end of the church around the altar. Terrazzo flooring is made up of small pieces of marble. This form of flooring was first developed in Venice in the fifteenth century as a way of using up small offcuts of marble. The technique has been greatly refined over the years. It provides a tough and attractive flooring. However over the years some cracks had appeared and the surface had become dull with accumulated dirt. The conservators who worked on the Lady Vane Chapel carried out discreet repairs to fill the cracks and where necessary replace missing pieces of marble in the aisle and chancel. The colours of the marble have re-emerged after cleaning. We hope to carry out further restoration work in the porch and inside the main door when funds allow.
The loose wooden blocks on the floor of the nave were cleaned and re-fixed securely in January 2019.
St Giles has a fine organ which was built by Lewis and Co, a leading firm of organ builders in the nineteenth century. It has a beautiful tone, the mechanism is virtually unchanged since it was built and it has a fine case. The diocesan organ adviser wrote about our organ:
“In thirty years as an organist…I have never come across such a wonderful instrument. Any church possessing an organ built by T. C. Lewis has a real gem for an instrument. The organs by Lewis are characteristic by their wide range of colour, superb build quality, and if money allows (in Shipbourne’s case) a superb case as well. While the organ needs a full-scale restoration, it still has a fantastic sound – all in all a really satisfying organ. You are so lucky to preside over such an instrument.”
Like the church, the organ is more than 100 years old. Bishops the organ builders stripped down the organ and carried out a thorough restoration in their workshops during 2010 so the organ is now in full working order.
In 2017 the three notable table tombs in the churchyard were carefully restored.
The north west porch
The iron gates at the entrance to the porch have been stripped, re-painted and re-mounted in position.
The lych gate
Extensive restoration work was undertaken in March 2018 on the handsome lych gate at the entrance to the churchyard. In particular, a new hard wood base plate has been inserted at ground level on each side of the lych gate, replacing the original timber which had become badly decayed.
WHAT ARE WE RAISING MONEY FOR NOW?
Sir Paul Britton has written about our plans for restoring the wall paintings in the chancel.
The Cazalets rebuilt St Giles’ church in 1881. The old church of the 1720s was too small and had become dilapidated. The Cazalets spent a lot of money on their new church, not just on the structure but also on the furnishings and decoration. Most of this was provided by a German firm, Mayer of Munich. Mayer’s covered the whole of the interior of the chancel with stencilled wall paintings, mostly of foliage and architectural decoration but including also the Commandments and the Creed. These have now become very dirty and faded. They have suffered badly from damp and from water damage caused by leaks in the chancel roof in the past. In their present state they rather let the interior of the church down. But they are important because much Victorian wall-painting was lost in the last century when it was deeply unfashionable and was often painted over: not many large-scale schemes like that at St Giles’ survive. The aim, if sufficient funds can be raised, is therefore to clean and conserve the paintings, including repainting those areas where there has been paint-loss. This will return the interior of the church, which is largely unaltered, to the splendour of 1881.
We are working with our architect to develop plans for the next phase of the restoration work. She has advised that there is further restoration work which is now urgent.
Exterior stonework: there are areas in poor condition, particularly on parts of the tower, the stair turret and the eastern gables. The damaged stones need to be replaced or repaired by a stonemason. Some re-pointing is needed. Much of the work is at a high level and will require scaffolding, which will be expensive.
External metalwork: some re-decoration is needed
Windows: stonework and glass repairs
Drainage: during the exceptionally wet winter of 2019/20, the crypt was flooded on several occasions to a depth of more than a foot. Work has been carried out to divert some of the storm water from the roof away from the crypt and to pump away any ground water which enters the crypt. The drainage system has been investigated and it has been established that the drain from the Cazalet crypt at the East end of the church has been blocked by silt. Further work is required to provide an effective solution for the longer term.
Walls surrounding the churchyard: some repairs and re-pointing are required and a section of wall at the north east corner of the churchyard needs to be re-built.
Underpinning work: the cracks in the walls of the Lady Vane Chapel (the south transept) indicate that there has been some subsidence. These have been observed over the last ten years and advice has been provided by a structural engineer and the church’s architect. Following advice by the Diocesan Advisory Council, the PCC decided not to underpin the walls, but a crack monitoring system was re-introduced in November 2015 on the advice of the church’s architect and civil engineer.
We have reviewed whether we should improve the church’s facilities and whether this could be done in a way which is sympathetic to the character of our wonderful church.
Following consultation with the church’s architect we completed two projects in March 2015. They were to:
fit casters to the base of the six rear pews on the south side of the aisle, so that they can be rolled forward, when required, to create a larger space at the rear of the church for social gatherings; and
install drawers or lockers at ground level below the seats in the font screen at the west end of the church, to provide additional storage space.
Fund raising continues
Generous grants from various grant making trusts and donations from many individuals have enabled us to complete the works described above. We are deeply grateful to all those who have provided such generous support.
We still need further funds to enable us to carry out the next steps in our restoration programme. We shall seek further grants and organise further fund raising events, but much of the funds we shall require will come from personal donations. If you would like to help, please send a cheque, payable to “St Giles Church Shipbourne”, to the Treasurer, Peter Sandland, 11 Ashburnham Road, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3DU, specifying that you would like your contribution to be used for the restoration appeal.