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Updates from Alan Storkey, Churchwarden:

5 August 2021

After a lot of examination, the treatment of the drainage system on the South Side of the church has been worked out. The two pipes from the drains at the West end neat the tower were blocked with roots. My suspect is the leylandii tree, not the smaller rowan in the churchyard. That section is being replaced with modern plastic pipes. They go parallel to the wall, turn out at the porch and in a right angle across the entrance to the South Porch. There are things to note. Water comes into the church near the SW corner and the sink inside. Jim Lewis probably did it when he installed the sink unit inside. The water pipe must travel round and link up with the tap for watering flowers etc on the North Porch and I think the meter is somewhere in the grass near the wall, but haven’t found it. There is also a gas pipe which travels round from the meter near the gate on the road following, probably, the asphalt path. The drainage pipe goes under the gas pipe at SW of South Porch. An old gas pipe was dug up and has now been disposed of (although it may continue round the west end). The drainage then continues past the boiler house and across down to the SE corner.

Fortunately this section, and the flow from the south porch to the SE corner are clear and rodded and it seems best to keep this section on the old fired clay pipes, especially because it travels through an area of graves (and it is cheaper). It seems far enough away from the trees not to be root infested, but that must be watched. It can be all joined in a new pit in the SE corner allowing rodding both ways. The route across the front of the east end is about 2/3 feet from the wall and will also be replaced with modern plastic pipes and linked to the north channel down to the hole in the wall. The pipe at the east end had a section that had fallen and filled with debris and blocked as the exciting film of the drainage system showed, and there were the remains of an unfired earlier clay drain which was shallower. (We have one or two similar sections in the garden). The East drain is straight across and quite deep, because of the necessary accumulated fall in level to keep a good flow. The new sections of drain will be bedded in gravel, and in the photo it is being delivered. Excess earth will need distributing a bit, and we will need to redo the path round the west end which is used a lot. The gullies will be remade to take heavier flows of water well. Eventually there may need to be some kind of drainage solution to very heavy rainwater flows across the old pond area under the path and the Old Rectory Wall and into the head of the “Coton River”, as I call it, so that the wall is not destabilized. It shouldn’t be difficult.

Gravel delivery

30 July 2021

Just a note on some of the completed jobs. Here the abutment of the nave roof to the tower is done. Previously you could see daylight from inside the church. The tiles are interleaved with new soakers. (They do not soak anything.) The old ones were tin and these are lead and they are chased into the tower with lime mortar and then the coping tiles are placed over them. That will last – beautifully done. Ridge tiles are repointed and the whole of the nave roof is secure. The photo also show the design of the new hopper into the new straight down pipe allowing overflow in torrential rain, like the designs on the south side.

Abutment to tower

29 July 2021

NORTH PORCH

The North Porch, the normal entrance to the church, has been mended a number of times, but with only partial success. It is supported on some fine, carved oak timbers with descending corners which end at eye height. There has been a leak on the west side in heavy rain, which needs addressing and we have explored the roof under the lead. Let’s just describe the roof for future reference. The lead slopes are shallow – at the limit for lead. On the east side this has been addressed relatively recently with a big overlap. There is a bit of a problem with the lead flaking through contact with the tannin in the oak boards, but not for decades, and the membrane used does not seem to have had much effect. A pediment stone will need attention long term. It has a good abutment to the aisle wall, allowing movement, and is well finished to the porch, but with a small fall of lead to the pediment. The lead gutter at the side is small, but feeds well to the downpipe, now separated from the main pipe off the roof.

The west side is where the problem had been. It is caused by the lead dipping allowing water to feed back and rot the lowest plank. It has been temporally addressed by adding a thinner board to raise the lead and allow slightly more overlap on the lead edging into the gutter. The leak is cured immediately. The rotted board will be replaced. The ribs for the lead sheets are rather small, but do their job. In the longer term there may need to be changes. The lead abutment to the aisle wall is fixed and does not allow lead movement.

There is a drain pipe going from the small inspection chamber to the middle of the entrance of the porch, but it is covered by asphalt. We may uncover that against torrential rain.

The porch looks good, carrying a range of external stonework, pointing and stones and needs a cleaning and finishing inside and out to really sing.  

North porch roof

19 July 2021

There are a number of headings under which work is being done and issues considered and here is information for the archives and those lacking excitement in their lives.

NORTH AISLE DOWNPIPES

The nave roof has missing tiles repaired and it is cleared of moss. At either end it is rainproofed again. Water flows onto the copper north aisle roof and in heavy rain the flow is considerable. Previously, there have been problems with the flow off this roof into the downpipes. There are some repairs to the copper roof which are being undertaken and its meeting with the lead gutter is being made watertight, but the main change is to the downpipe east of the porch. Previously, the pipe came from the top gutter with an awkward turn to the wall. It met a small inflow from the east side of the North Porch and carried on down to the drain. With heavy rainfall the system was overwhelmed and rain poured over the walls. Now a new hopper is being made, like those on the south side, which discharges straight into the pipe, and goes down separate from the pipe off the porch roof. It should cope with heavy rain far better. The pipe on the west side of the porch goes straight down and is being retained, through the outflow from the porch roof (carrying far less water) is small and a problem. At the bottom a big gulley will collect the water and the drain will not have the previous u bend, but a straight bend to the north side drainage system. The downpipes are made of cast iron and will be reinstalled and painted.  A useful tip is that linseed oil is a very good cheap protection against rust.

GAS SUPPLY

The Gas meter is to the right of the main Church Gate, but where does it go? It seems to follow the tarmac path round to the east side of the south porch. Pietro did the detective work. It then does a funny move going past the porch, turning towards the church, then turning back towards the porch before coming up running along over the buried old boiler house and into the church to the heater is the SE aisle. From there it can be traced inside the Church to the other two heaters. The gas pipe seems to run under the iron grill running across the church to the heater at the west end of the North Aisle. It is not clear when or why the heater was taken out at the other end. There is a disgusting concrete job on the wall there which needs attention.

The gas pipe near the South porch is important for the routing of the new south side drainage system. Obviously, they must remain separate…. The gas pipe might also be important if a drain to the mains is needed for church toilets/kitchen facilities, because it might tend to follow the tarmac path to avoid graves.

GREEN HEATING

Churches need heating some of the year and with a model of much more frequent use the heating issue becomes more acute especially to address global warming issues. The building has thick walls, open windows in the tower, draughty doors, draughty windows, single glazed with lead and iron, stone and ironwork floor. In terms of traditional domestic insulation keeping the church warm is impossible. Moreover the newer heating techniques do not fit. Visually, you cannot install solar panels on the South Nave roof of a Grade One listed building (I think) or even on the flatter south aisle roof, although an expert opinion on that would be valued. Ground sourced heat pumps are out with so many graves, although air sourced heat pumps could possibly be put into the old boiler room area without any visual impact.

Nevertheless, the building does work quite well. It has a background temperature retained in the walls. Its use is normally for sitting in the pews which can be done with coats, woollies and other body warming techniques; they are fine for seven months of the year. We need, at some stage, a thorough heating assessment, linked to future use patterns, which will make the way we operate really green. Of course, communal heating in one building is usually cheaper than heating many individual houses. It may be that St Peter’s Church, like other Coton dwellings are better putting their money into a communal windpower unit on Madingley Rise than coming up with individual solutions.

SOUTH SIDE DRAINAGE SYSTEM AND A NEW FILM

As we have discussed before, the South Side Drainage System is a bit of a mess. Tree roots have got some of the pipes which need replacing, and given the three trees (including the millennium yew) that must be done with new pipes which the trees cannot, we hope, get inside. The pipe system is clay pipes abutting one another. Some repairs have been done in interlocking clay pipes and there is a blockage in the middle of the east end facing the village green as the pipe goes over to join the other system. Effectively replacing much of this system is an extra expense which we have incurred of c £4000, but it has to be done.

The route of the pipes will stay the same as at present, with possibly a pit at the SE corner to allow rodding out, though that is a bit difficult in relation to a grave stone which is not far away. Old gravestones are not necessarily close to remains. That will now be done over the next couple of weeks.

As part of the process we have acquired a new exciting film. If there is sufficient clamour we will try to have a showing in the village hall. It is an avant garde underground film of the drain routes from the downpipes to the final showdown outlet on the village green. Let me know if you want to see it. I haven’t viewed it yet, but it may be better than watching David Beckham sleep.

5 July 2021

Another area of repair in the church is this part of the north wall. The failed mortar has been thoroughly taken out back to a firm base and it has been refilled with hot lime mortar mixed with sharp sand which binds better and also looks better. Lime mortar is used rather than concrete, because the latter holds water in rather than allowing the wall to dry out. Here the wall has been pointed, and now it has been brushed back to a flush surface retailing all the old stones in the same position. That opens up the sharp sand giving a nice texture to the filling. The cause of the water damage was mainly the transition from the lead gutter at the bottom of the copper roof to the down pipe and that is being redone to get the water away more effectively in heavy downpours. This wall area is a mixture of fieldstones, dressed stone and cobbles reflecting the builds and rebuilds at different times. They blend well, I think.

Pointing the North Wall

29 June 2021

ST PETER’S CHURCH DRAINAGE.

This is merely an ordinary description of the church’s drainage, hardly a thrilling subject, but actually when you get into it a practical and interesting one. Keeping the building dry and drainage is the key to its survival and damp is the enemy. It has been surveyed with the help of a pressurized water firm pushing pipes through the drains to clear them and find out what is going on. The water pressure system is intriguing. Water under pressure can sever your leg or even cut steel. This uses one forward jet and a ring of backward jets enabling it to move silt and debris back down pipes and it has been highly effective. Let’s look at a number of points.

  1. Some thinking ahead a thousand years ago.

The church sits on a bit of a bump above the Village Green and what was the old pond. That prompts the obvious point that a thousand or so years ago clay was dug out lower down by hand and piled up before the church building took place in a bit of local landscaping so that there would not be a drainage problem, for water was coming down the Madingley Rise Hill to the village green and the two pumps. That was a good move. It must have involved tons of clay and required a long while to compact. It is complex to work out how much the terrain was altered, but it looks significant, especially since the church was built from the east end.  It had to take big heavy walls, and seems to have been a long term success. Basically, the church can drain away its water.

  1.   Gutters, Drains and Sewers.

The church must have survived for centuries well without gutters and drains, probably by getting rainwater away from the building fast in small ditches, but certainly with the Victorians gutters gathered water to pipes, drains and sewers. This post discusses only what happens underground. Basically, the church has two sewer systems, one on the north side (nearer the road) and another on the south side. Gullies from the pipes on each side flow into one system and away… that’s the theory.

  1. North Side Drainage and a success.

There are five gullies on the North Side of the church, one either side of the porch taking rainwater from the Nave and North Aisle, and three taking water from the Chancel. There are no collection gullies round the Tower. Water is thrown off through two long spouts from the Tower Parapets and the area of water generation there is smaller. There is a Catchpit alongside the Chancel to gain access to this system which is the main information point. The drain flows away from the church here down towards the Green. I had rodded this drain out a year or two back and then hit something which I thought was a soakaway pit beyond the graves, but I was wrong. We now know the drain goes right through to the pond/green wall and it has now been flushed through. Probably it has been blocked for a long while and this explains the build-up of damp under the Chancel leading to the internal flaking on the south chancel wall. If this is so, we have solved one of the major damp problems for the church. This is (probably) a big win. We need to check regularly after rain that the outflow is flowing and obviously keep the pipes and drains clear…

There are a few notes. There is a small pit near the North Porch. It was mended after WW2 because as John Lloyd pointed out there are Fletton bricks and relatively fresh concrete work. It has a branch line going to a potential drain near the porch entrance. The pipes are clay and may be weak in a few places. There is a long bend which comes out round the north porch and travels east.

  1. The Gullies.

The gullies below the drainpipes have rather lovely pot covers with holes, but they are inefficient, easily getting clogged. We are debating whether to be historic and retain them or more efficient and use a steel mesh, or perhaps both. Below the covers the drain does a U bend, a bit like your toilet, but the purpose is different. This allows silt to be gathered regularly before it goes down the pipe, but the bend also prevents a proper examination of the drains and so a section has been cut out of the top of each pipe to see what happens further along and to see where each pipe is going when that cannot be determined by the jetting. The section can be replaced, but we have to consider whether the U bend gulleys have had their day, alongside more strategic moves.

  1. The South Side Drainage..

The system on the South Side is a bit of a disaster. One problem is presented by one of the drains near the wall which has roots growing in it almost up to the church wall, with the nearest tree at least ten yards away, a tree drinking through a straw. The photo shows a root in a drain, in case you want to go there on holiday. Another drain west of the porch is blocked, and although the route round the south door can be guessed, it is not evident. It has to pass the sunk old boiler room and link up with the chancel drains. We think it now goes across the east end or travels cross country to the hole in the wall, but do not know because of a blockage. An earlier theory that it might travel across to the head of the brook in the Abbott’s garden has been abandoned, I think. This needs some further sorting out and expenditure. That’s about as far as we have got on drains. The next thrilling instalment will follow in a while and drain junkies can ask difficult questions.

Root in the drain

24 June 2021

For those who have not seen it, here is Robert Farron’s etching of 1881 showing  the Church and Pond and the shape of the pond. Presumably the dip in the bottom left corner threw off water in heavy rainfall. The outflow from the Church drainage system is clearly visible in the wall at the lower edge of the pond and the buttressing looks the same. Note barns to south of Church and cottages on the road.

Farron’s print of the church and pond in 1881

We had a discussion a few weeks back about the Village Pond and some fascinating stuff has emerged today. We have had a pressure water exploration of the Church drainage system, which I had been doubtful about, but which has proved its worth. I’ll explain that in another post. But part of what emerged was that the northern Church drainage system, which has probably been largely blocked for a long while, runs down and comes out on the Village Green where the pond used to be. I should have known that, because Robert Farron’s etching of Coton Pond in 1881 with five cows coming down for a drink shows the outlet quite clearly at the bottom end of the pond, along with space for the cows to walk down from the road end to take the waters. Obviously it made sense in Victorian times or earlier to run it straight into the pond. We’ve also known that springs come up from the clay slope down from Madingley rise to the two pumps on the Green, and as Kathleen points out, that was probably part of the founding of the Village. We also have water gathering on the road near the old pond in rainstorms. I have an unfinished painting of this process. We also know that the stream to Bin Brook starts beyond the wall in the Abbot’s garden. But today we also looked down the two slabs on the Green close to the road near the lowest point and there is a large square hole about two metres deep before you come to about half a metre of water. It’s not clear yet what link this hole has top anything else. You certainly would not want to drink the water at the pump. So that is some background on the pond and its sources. I can only include one photo per post and so you can look at the hole on the green – pitch and putt for the very old.

The hole on the Village Green

Another bit of completed work is the replacement of the fragmented South-East corner stone with new stone set in lime mortar. Obviously, it needs to weather down, but it is made more than good.

New South-East corner stone

There is a lot to report from the work on the Church. First, the wall at the South-West corner has been rebuilt using the existing fieldstones and masonry with a new top cornerstone. There is a slight indentation in the area which means that  the pediments will keep the water off the wall at the top more effectively. Ashley would like the fieldstones buried more fully into the mortar, but we are leaving them the way they are for now similar to the surrounding areas. It should be good for a century and more. Here’s a photo of the work before the pediment is finally replaced on it.

South-West corner

14 June 2021

This South West corner needs reforming. Again the Victorians might be partly to blame because cement mortar over lime mortar traps damp in and causes it to bulge, and the parapet was weak. One big piece of stone needs replacing. Here the guys are demolishing a couple of metres of the wall stone by stone. I failed to ask until now how the Church was built. It is a mixture of “clunch”, a local stone quite soft which is a long term problem, better quality stone from up the A1 and Fieldstones.

Most of the stones over most of the surface, especially of the tower, are fieldstones, and probably they were gathered fairly locally by the medieval ploughmen as they ploughed their acres, a chain by a furlong, around the local fields – the ridges can be seen in the fields we walk around Bin Brook. Possibly as they ploughed, they saw suitable stones, brought them back and dumped them by the Church for the builders to use, a great long term communal effort.  If you could get better, you used it but fieldstones let the work carry on. The wooden scaffolding around the medieval tower must have been there for decades and been a remarkable bit of engineering for the period.

The Architect, Ashley Courtney, says at best the stones should be mainly buried deep in the mortar, giving structural strength, and hardly visible, whereas a lot of ours are proud of the surface, but we work with what we’ve got. We will see how this rebuilt corner turns out. It is mixed with strong dressed stone areas, and is vastly strong for the load it is bearing in that corner.

Demolition SW corner
Demolition at South West Corner

10 June 2021

My earlier reporting of the solution to the problem under the choir stall was not quite accurate. There is a small trench cut out along the base of the wall and then transverse channels to the Victorian heating ducts all to allow air to circulate up beneath the pews. The wall will be lime washed a couple of times behind the pew to bind the surface better and the floor which had fallen will be rebased on new oak timbers, a big one going across all the channels and smaller ones sitting at right angles to the wall. The floor will be replaced with existing timbers, washed with turps and linseed oil to prevent dry rot, and located again at the proper level. The carpenter would prefer to replace some of the floorboards, but there is a bit of  a conflict between “preservation” and “restoration.” They’ve moved fast with the repairs and when I just went over the floor was back and they’ll be putting the choir stalls together again tomorrow and finished on that bit by Monday.

The oak choir stalls have been fixed for a hundred and fifty years or so, mainly by iron nails made by the local blacksmith, which do not give, and it is interesting with the seats out how you can see solutions which carpenters then worked out, which had their own problems. One was the link to the oak screen which we’ll discuss later in a separate post.

The main joiner had an interesting story. He was working on the Caldecote Church near Baldock and came across a lead plaque on the roof, probably unseen for ages, inscribed to Kathleen Morris 1736 who was the plumber responsible for the lead roof then…

Ventilation

7 June 2021

It’s not difficult to work out the problem here. The corner stone had done its five hundred years (?), has crumbled and needs replacing. Fortunately, the stones beside it are big, and prevent any sagging or cracking. It needs a piece of “Ancaster Weatherbed Lincolnshire Limestone” – near Grantham – hand-dressed to be keyed in with hot lime mortar which does not provided a moisture barrier. The East facing wall overlooking the Green is a lovely cream and otherwise OK. The replacement will be the same colour, as you can see if you look up the Ancaster Quarries on Google Earth maps. The photo shows the concrete skirt with a gully which goes round the church and we have partly cleared. The usefulness of this is a matter of debate. I’m not sure whether the Victorians did it or it was later, probably the latter. It may trap the damp and has cracks and other weaknesses, but it may move heavy rain into the drains faster, if clear and I am a bit nostalgic for it. We’re having a drain survey, which will look at the whole system and decisions will have to be made after that.

Corner stone
Corner stone

4 June 2021

This is a bit of a gloomy picture, but it shows what’s been going on under the choir stalls. The stonework has deteriorated on the inside and it is obviously damp, and the experts explain it like this. The Victorians (who seem responsible for a lot which goes wrong) put a five inch or so screed of concrete down across this area, and that traps damp in. It then comes up into the inside of the wall where in winter it results in flaking. The solution will be to open up a channel along the wall, fill it with bricks or something that breathes and allow a ventilation gap in the wood which is put back. The South Chancel Wall is about 34” thick and so losing 4” is not a structural problem. So that seems a solution to the problem that has grown there…

Choir stall floor
Choir Stall floor

The wall is interesting in that it contains one of the two Norman windows in the Church, very early, with two bigger more ornate windows, added later. The mixtures of work across nine hundred or so years is very complex, different stones, lots of great craftsmanship etc. Getting a piece of good quality stone over to Coton and shaped up in 1200 must have been demanding work. Most Cambridge stone comes from up the A1 near Stamford and area, but I don’t know where this is from. Some of it is called “Clunch”, and is a more local, softer stone.

3 June 2021

The north Side of the Nave has been thoroughly cleaned of moss and the tiles look good. The abutment between the tower and the roof has fallen through over the last year or so, so that skylight comes through inside. That will be replaced and thoroughly keyed into the Tower. Here’s a picture when the moss is half done.

Moss removed from the roof
Moss being removed from the roof

2 June 2021

This week, restoration work begins on St Peter’s Church and you might like to get a full sense of what is going on. It’s a Grade One Listed Building and very complicated…

We have been awarded a £20,000 grant by Historic England which will cover a number of essential repairs to the roofs, gutters and downpipes, stonework and choirstalls, and the investigation of the drainage system of soakaways. The work is being done by Betweentime who specialise in this kind of work.

Choir stalls
Choir stalls

I’ll report on the progress of these items as they are done. Today they are looking at why the choir stalls have dropped on the south side. (see photo.) Immediately some woodwork will need replacing, but there is also some flaking of the stonework under the seat against the wall, which is strange because there is not obvious cause on the clear external south wall, so the investigation is underway.

There are some other essential repairs not covered by the Grant, including work on the foot of the tower, electrical system, a bell support, stonework inside and outside, windows etc. They will cost, perhaps, another £15,000 to £20,000.

Then a more thorough repurposing of the building will need to take place. The aim is to move it over to almost daily use with a variety of activities and recorded material that suits a range of different groups and the layout of the Church. The medieval pew structure which will not change. These will include music, recorded concerts, autobiography talks, discussions, lectures, organ music and debates. These can start when we fully open up and gradually develop.

Then, as well, a full internal refurbishment of the Church, will be planned including removing the plaster and replacing it with lime plaster, redecorating, adding toilets and some more modern kit. A legacy from Kathleen Fowle will help that on its way.

So, a lot will be happening. Why not have a wander around the Church to get to know the building? It’s a thousand-year history lesson in itself and I’ll put up pictures and info as we go.

Alan Storkey, Churchwarden

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