Church work reveals mediaeval archeology

little driffield

little driffield

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Every five years each church belonging to the Church of England undergoes a detailed inspection. The report which follows includes an assessment of the church yard and its trees, the state of the church roof, drainage systems, the church windows, the woodwork inside the church and above all the state of the stonework, with reminders about insurance, health and safety matters, looking after the heating system, care of the bells and a host of other matters including annual maintenance. The report also indicates which items need immediate attention and which are not as urgent. Inevitably it is going to cost money.

St. Mary’s Church, Little Driffield had its last quinquennial inspection in mid 2010 and it soon became obvious that the fourteenth/fifteenth century church tower was in need of urgent attention and also the south wall. The tower was suffering not only from age but also from repairs and maintenance that had been superficially done over the past 200 years, sometimes with incorrect materials, especially cement and ferrous metal. This modern cement as opposed to lime mortar has caused the stonework to erode more rapidly than normal. The parapet and drainage around the top was in a very parlous state and the small pyramid on top of the tower needed attention.

Roger Gooch, left, and Mike Wynn outside St Mary's church, Little Driffield

Roger Gooch, left, and Mike Wynn outside St Mary's church, Little Driffield

The south wall has been suffering from damp for a long time due to the high level of the church yard outside and ineffective drains allowing water to soak into the wall. The interior of the church is three feet lower then the exterior ground level on the south side.

The church wardens read the report with some concern; then consulted the Parochial Church Council and church architect who wrote the report and agreed in 2012 to apply to English Heritage for a grant to undertake the repairs needed. Generations of our predecessors have carefully nurtured this Grade 2* building, it was now up to us to ensure this building was looked after and prepared for the rest of the twenty first century. The necessary forms were obtained from English Heritage, completed and returned to English Heritage by the end of June 2012. In September we heard that our application would be going forward for consideration. This was swiftly followed by an English Heritage architect inspecting the church and then on December 19th we were informed that our application had been successful.

The architects Ferrey and Mennim of York were duly appointed to the repair and restoration of St. Mary’s Church in early 2013. The P.C.C. had to raise funds to match the amount of grant from English Heritage so a fund raising committee was established and throughout 2013 events were organised ranging from bingo evenings, date in a diary, the sale of tea towels, the sale of a book about the 1890 restoration of the nave and chancel (see below), a garden party and Christmas Concert and most recently selling bacon butties at the Farmers’ Market. The congregation was asked to support the fund raising with donations. Many residents of Little Driffield contributed and a few local businesses gave donations. A number of local and national trusts were approached and we successfully raised a lot of money from the Wolfson Foundation, All Churches Trust, Garfield Weston Trust, Alan Evans Memorial Trust, Yorkshire Historic Churches Trust and our local Horace Taylor Trust. Without all this support the project would just not have been feasible.

In late May 2013 investigations took place with an inspection of the tower walls and tower roof, using a hydraulic platform; the drainage system and interior woodwork. This was followed by visits and reports on the windows, asbestos, bats and archaeology. Our architect drew up the plans and in November contractors visited in order to submit tenders. All the tenders were well in excess of the cost expected as a great deal more work had been found necessary than originally thought. This delayed our anticipated March/April start. English Heritage noted we had raised a substantial sum of money and stepped in to raise their grant. This was a real relief and meant work could go ahead, hoping to start late April. It was actually May 8th when work commenced with scaffolding being erected that week.

All the interior pews on the south side were taken out and rotten wood panelling removed to expose the south wall. The floor boarding and joists all needed replacing as there was a great deal of rot. The south wall was also exposed on the outside by digging a trench down to the interior floor level.

This digging revealed some interesting archaeology from the mediaeval period. The bases of a number of pillars were exposed; these originally carried arches, indicating St. Mary’s once had a south aisle (we know this from a report by Stukeley in 1740 who said “ … Little Driffield, where has been a large church with two rows of arches, but the side walls are now removed and built under those arches”, but now, here is the evidence for all to see. There was also the base of a mediaeval doorway which at an earlier mediaeval stage would have been part of a south porch that led into the south aisle. When the south aisle was pulled down the doorway was inserted into the ‘new’ south wall of the church. At a later stage the church wall was rebuilt and a new (third) south door built at a higher level and offset to the mediaeval door, using some of the old stonework. This in turn was blocked up by the Victorian architect, Temple Moore, in 1890 when a new (the present) north porch and door was built.

New drainage is to be inserted along the south wall of the church along with a new retaining wall and damp proofing to keep the old wall as dry as possible.

Much work is being done on the tower. Some repair and restoration was carried out in 1890 to the top of the tower but this now needs further work. The parapet will be extensively repaired and restored with new stone in places. Also, the tower walls have been pointed with modern cement at some stage but this has caused erosion of a lot of stonework, especially on the western face. Up to forty stones have to be removed from the tower and replaced. There is also much descaling of loose material needed and all joints are being raked out on the top half of the tower prior to the new stone being emplaced and repointed with lime mortar.

The pyramid at the top of the tower has been dismantled, repaired and reassembled using some new slates, new drainage to throw the water away from the tower walls and the weather vane ( a cockerel; St. Peter’s being a previous dedication of St. Mary’s Church) will be refurbished.

As of the end of June 2014 the work is ongoing, there is still much to be done. Visitors are welcome to come and have a look but please respect the exclusion zone. Services are still being held at 9.15 a.m. each week and everyone is welcome.

The book referred to above is entitled:

“The Restoration of St. Mary’s Church Little Driffield 1888 – 1890.

It is available in Sokells, Horsley and Dawson, Dee & Atkinson (Exchange Street), the Council Offices and Quicke & Clarke; also direct from the author, Mike Wynn. It costs £10 with all the profit going to the current repair and restoration.

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