Cracks throughout the tower
St Mary’s Church, North Tuddenham, is a hidden treasure. This Grade I listed building, lying isolated among fields just off the A47 near Dereham, is treasured for its stained-glass windows, some with medieval glass, and its rood screens.
The ornate Victorian tiling on the walls of the nave and the Bevington windpipe organ also draw admirers from the visitors who experience the ‘Wow’ factor.
All this was in jeopardy back in 2019 when severe cracks were noticed in the vestry outside walls and in the two buttresses supporting the C14 tower. The stability of the tower had been of concern for many years, even decades, but finances had been the problem. The best estimate of the cost of repairs was recorded as a mammoth £385k. Where would we find this kind of money? All this during a time when Covid-19 was rife.
In 2020 Historic England were advised that the tower was in a precarious state with imminent collapse a reality. They stepped in with a conditional grant of £300k from their Emergency Fund, provided we could raise the remaining £85k. By the end of that year the remaining funds were secured from all the major church charities, including Norfolk Churches Trust. Despite initial problems with VAT recovery from the Listed Places of WorshipGrant Scheme, work was finally able to start in March 2021, over two years since the alarm was raised.
By now the cracks throughout the tower had become more and more extensive and the contractors admitted it would be a complex dangerous race against time before the buttresses collapsed.
After extensive supporting scaffolding had been erected and the treasured west window removed for restoration in February 2022, slowly but surely the walls and the buttresses were dismantled flint by flint and rebuilt. Strengthening wall ties were also necessary higher up the tower as there was still movement in the structure. By July this year, after numerous delays, the tower was standing proud again, but we still had to carry out concrete pinning of the foundations, anchoring the buttresses and improving the antiquated drainage system.
I am proud to report that the project will be complete in November. Relief!
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