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CWO conserves largest Church Tower in Kent

3 Nov 11 Historic Buildings Contractor, Cathedral Works Organisation (CWO), and architects, Thomas Ford and Partners, have successfully completed conservation work to The Parish Church of Holy Trinity, Milton Regis, Kent.

One of three oldest churches in Kent, Holy Trinity was founded in the early 7th Century and is steeped in history. Tradition has it that St Sexburgha the founder of Minster Abbey on the Isle of Sheppey died in the church’s porch. Holy Trinity is now one of a small group of churches in Kent that retains substantial standing fabric from the 7th Century.

Boasting the largest tower in Kent and the third largest in England in girth, Holy Trinity’s tower was built between 1320 and 1340. However, the years had taken their toll when CWO began work on the project and the building was in need of urgent attention. An inspection by Thomas Ford & Partners highlighted a number of problems with the Tower including missing and decayed string courses, mouldings and buttress tables, which were letting water into the flint rubble walling.

In addition, many of the buttresses were also detaching themselves from the Tower, there were large areas of decayed pointing, and a significant number of the quoin stones were eroded. Large amounts of material were falling off the tower posing a health and safety risk. This was made worse because there were no downpipes and so the water off the tower roof saturated the walls at low level. With the building in distress English Heritage offered significant grant aid for its conservation and repair.

Following a stone by stone repair schedule for the tower prepared by Thomas Ford and Partners, CWO conserved and repaired the building, retaining as much historic fabric as was practical while ensuring the tower was left stable and structurally sound. The buttresses were reattached with stainless steel rods and a significant number of stones had to be replaced, while others where ever possible were mortar repaired. In addition, the belfry openings in particular were almost completely sand and cement repair and once this was removed no significant structural masonry survived. Instead of replacing large sections of string courses it was agreed to cover the most vulnerable with lead, which meant the historic fabric could be retained.

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A challenging part of the project was procuring the Kentish Rag stone in the size required. All the dressings apart from a small number of Caen Stone blocks were Kentish Rag. Generally Kentish Rag stone is blown out of the face of a quarry for use as construction hardcore. To source the stone in blocks large enough for the quoin stones and the high level cornice CWO had to select the stone block by block from quarries at West Malling where it was dug out. This avoided the tricky problem of agreeing a substitute stone. The work at Holy Trinity is probably the largest Church project to use Kentish Rag stone in recent years.

“We are very pleased with the conservation and repair of the Tower at Holy Trinity. It was essential to repair the Tower to conserve the building but also for health and safety reasons as materials were falling from the top of the tower. With a building of this age ongoing maintenance is key to conserving it. ” said Bernard Fagg, PCC, Holy Trinity Church.

CWO currently employs a team of 110 with offices in London and Chichester. CWO’s work includes restoration work on bridges, castles, churches, country walls, famous schools including Roedean and Christ’s Hospital, stately homes including Petworth House, Goodwood House and Wiston House, conservation of Memorial Crosses across the South, as well as restoration work for individuals on bay windows, fireplaces and patios.

More recently, CWO has gained a reputation as a historic buildings contractor due to its award-winning work on high-profile projects that include restoration work at The Monument in London and the Devereux Tower in the Tower of London, as well as the slightly unusual relocation and reconstruction of Temple Bar. Recent projects include Buckingham Palace, the Real Tennis Court at Hampton Court and the restoration and rebuilding of the St Lawrence Jewry Memorial Fountain for the City of London Corporation.

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