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Isleham St Andrews Church roof restoration

Ian Powys has been making a record of the restoration of the church roof. We will spread his account over this and another two or three issues but the next issue will be reserved for Gala Day. Ian writes Back on a cold February morning, with snow on the ground, G&H Scaffolders started work inside and outside Saint Andrew's Church. For years the small congregation has raised money, little by little coffee mornings, flower festivals, the Gala stand and latterly by the sale of resin casts of one of the 'angels' that fell from the roof back in 1998. At last, with the help of grants from English Heritage and East Cambridgeshire and donations from the Peyton families and Societies in America and elsewhere, work was able to start. It all had to be squeezed into a 'window' between early March and mid-May, by decree of English Nature who say there is a roost of pipistrelle bats in the church, though not a sign or a squeak has been seen or heard of a bat over the past three months.

The clerestory and roof were raised by Crystofer Peyton Backin 1495 and were last inspected and repaired four Hundred and sixty years later, in 1955. We know this Because a workman left his sandwich packet on one of the Beams, together with a bottle of Coke and  a copy of the Bury Free Press supplement on the Earls Court Motor Show,1955.

Scaffolding in place work started on the removal of the slates on 8th  March as the church architect, the contractors and members of the Parochial Church Council gathered on the north nave roof For a site meeting. Over the next days a 'fenblow' raged and nearly removed some of the plastic sheeting from the Scaffolding. But it was well fixed and after a few repairs the masons got to work repairing dodgy stonework along both nave parapets. In mid-March a team of specialist wood conservers arrived to examine, record and preserve the beams and carvings. They came up from Exeter, bringing with them many combined years of expertise on working in cathedral and church roofs in Britain and the United States. It has been a privilege not granted to many to be able to examine close up the intricate tracery, the carved angels and roof Bosses which have been up there since 1495.

The church roof Tiny details, never visible from the floor of the nave,were Carved into figures and faces-nothing but the best was good enough for the House of God for those 15th Century Craftsmen. For those of you who may want to have a reminder of the work, the 'Isleham Angel' which has been on sale in aid of church funds since 1998 is still available and we now have an 'Isleham Green Man' as well. Have a Look, those of you who surf the web, at

There are also two other wonderful grotesque masks Up in the roof and we have taken a mould of one of those as well as the 'Green Man' and will soon have copies for sale.

Inside the roof old rusted iron screws and nails, medieval, Victorian as well as some from 1955, were replaced by Stainless steel. Blocks were inserted between rafter and roof boards where subsidence had caused gaps(and leaks) to appear. Where damp and woodworm had caused carvings to become unstable, these were consolidated with Injections of epoxy resin.

Practically every beam up in the roof is peppered with bird shot .It does not seem that Cromwellian musketeers had Used the angels as targets, but rather that a succession of Vicars had called in local help to discourage pigeons!

Our grateful thanks to Ian for providing this feature on the Restoration of St Andrew's roof. His account, along with many photographs, will continue in the October issue of Your Informer.

It is hoped to have a DVD of the restoration work available for sale at the Isleham Gala.

Taken from the June 2004 Isleham Informer

Saint Andrew's - ISLEHAM

Restoration of the Church Roof - Part 2

As promised, here is the second and final part of the record made by Ian Powys of the restoration of the church roof. Ian writes...

Over the years in a building such as a church, which is heated only on a couple of days a week, there will inevitably be condensation, damp and resultant rotting of Timbers. These are conditions ideal for the Death Watch Beetle and there has been very wide infestation. However An inspection by a conservator at the end of March declared that there appears to be little or no evidence of active colonies. Let's hope the expert was right,for the beetle can have a life cycle of one year-when conditions are ideal (for the beetles) - or the larvae may lie dormant  for as long as ten years until hatching. By the end of March the masonry work had been almost completed. Both parapets needed considerable work.  Much of the stonework was in danger of falling on parishioners and we can ill afford casualties! The Cambridge Evening News were around to report on the work at the end of March,followed by the Newmarket Journal - much the same story in each. At the beginning of April the roofing specialists returned From Chelmsford. They began replacing all the lead work In the guttering and Forming and welding into place new rain chutes to carry water clear of the Walls. Rolls of lead weighing 98 kilos a piece were hauled upon to the narrow scaffolding platforms alongside the Nave parapets and there cut to shape and hammered into place in the stone work.

By 7th April, a month after the first slates started to come off, work began on replacing those on the north side of the nave roof,. Then came Easter and a great effort was planned to clean and decorate the nave and chancel ready for the Easter services. The roofing company from Chelmsford, who retained the key each evening so that they could start work as soon as they arrived in a morning, went home the Thursday night before Good Friday-with the key in their pocket! The only duplicate broke in the lock on Good Friday morning! Panic! One team got into the chancel using the vicar's key and began to dismantle the old 1670 s lock. No one had the phone number of the roofing company,but a diligent

Search of the Chelmsford commercial directories and phone calls to any likely candidates asking "Do you by  Any chance know a guy called Paul who is working on a church roof in Cambridgeshire?" Finally tracked him down and we drove down to collect the key - which has remained firmly in the village every weekend since!  Thank Heaven it was the Chelmsford lot who took the key, not the fellows from Exeter! On 16th April, relatives of both bride and groom and Tracy Audus, the bride herself - spent the day sweeping and dusting and decorating the internal scaffolding, mopping the nave floor and making ready for the Saturday wedding. On the Saturday, Brian Peyton, a descendant of the 15th Century Peytons, together with his mother and his Wife came to see what was being done. The Peyton Trust is giving a donation of £5,000 towards the work. All this time work continued on the replacing of the slates on the roof-with resultant inevitable showers of dust and grit onto, firstly the beams and carvings immediately below the roof then onto the plastic sheeted pews and organ below. By the beginning of May the wood Restorers were able to return to work. The company which took  the mould for the 'Isleham Angel' came to take another two moulds from the 'Green Man' and another figure, from which perhaps we intend to make copies for sale as souvenirs of the wonderful craftsmanship of those woodcarvers of five Hundred years ago. The original 1495 carving of the 'angel' has been restored to its rightful place, surmounting the coat of arms of the Peyton, Bernard and Lilling

Families way up in the southwestern corner of the roof. Because the wood work of the figure holding the coat of Arms was so rotten it has had to be strengthened with epoxy resin and secured with 3mm stainless steel threaded rod to the main beam. A small brass plate has been fixed alongside,reading:


With binoculars you will be able to make out the 'angel'  and maybe even the plaque, when all the scaffolding is down. By 11th May the wood conservers were onto their last task - the vacuum cleaning of the beams and carvings as well as the scaffolding floor to ensure that as little as possible of the dust and dirt fell to the nave floor when the internal scaffolding is finally taken down. They then left for Exeter on 13th Mayas G&H scaffolding began dismantling the Outer scaffolding. In lieu of a sandwich packet and a 1955 newspaper, we have left a 'Time Capsule' up in the roof, for the next team of restorers to find. In the capsule is a complete day-by-day diary of events, lists of the contractors, details of grants and donations and prints of many of the pictures of the work. Also included is a CD with a presentation in Microsoft Power Point of the progress of the work, inside and outside, from the raising to the dismantling of the scaffolding. The capsule and CD are secured with wires to the main beam above the large angel at the south east end of the Clerestory, up above the entrance to the Peyton Chapel. Hopefully someone in years to come will still be able to read Power Point. When we have all the 'raw material' and all the photographs which were taken by the restorers we intend to make a much more complete version of the work, probably on DVD, for sale to all the many Peytons and to others interested.