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Heritage Fund Repair Project 2019-20

St John the Baptist Church Wilberfoss Restoration

The Grade 1 listed church received support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in September 2017 and the works started on site on 29th April 2019, completing on 28 August 2020. Heritage Fund uplifted their delivery stage grant to £217,800 in August 2020 in addition to the previous development stage grant of £32,800 for Chancel re-roofing, external repairs and associated works. The total value of the grant was a very generous sum, ie £250,600.

Richard Dunn the PCC Building Project Coordinator commented on the Award, saying “we were delighted to receive this support from National Lottery players. The church is a rare Grade 1 listed building and the roof to the Chancel was a major cause for concern”. Furthermore, he stated “It was a relief to be able to conserve and repair the Chancel roof and historic fabric and to have repaired a number of serious defects, to reduce risks to everyone using and visiting the church. We take our role as ‘custodians of the heritage’ very seriously and we were delighted that the National Lottery Heritage Fund agreed to support the project.”

In addition to crucial urgent re-roofing, associated works included partial rebuilding and the provision of new limestone coping stones to replace the inadequate copings and re-building the Nave East gable plus general maintenance to the building.

The developments and support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund will benefit the community as it will improve enjoyment and understanding of the architectural and archaeological heritage with the help of the new Guide Books, website, plus a social media presence. The church will also be hosting guided visits, in addition to ‘open church’ arrangements.

Richard Dunn, added: “The PCC believe that there are exciting opportunities for improving how people engage with heritage. Although the church is open to any visitors daily, there were previously no guidebooks or accessible on-line information about the history of the fourteenth century church, the former Priory layout circa 1153, the history and archaeology. The opportunity for improving appreciation of heritage is substantial. Prior to the 2019-20 project, most visitors were unaware of the rich history of the church and surrounding Priory archaeology. The project resolves this issue”


The excellent project Architect was Andrew Boyce at Ferry & Mennim who co- ordinated a very talented Project Team including Historic Property Restoration Ltd., the Main Contractor.

The project included the following very urgent works:

Stripping and recovering the Chancel roof with new and good quality salvaged Westmorland slates above a repaired and strengthened roof structure. This was the key reason for the project as the existing structure was found to be rotten and dangerous, especially near the east gable.


Rebuilding the defective, leaking, unstable and poor quality brick and render chancel gable with new excellent quality Tadcaster Magnesian limestone*. This work was essential to prevent the dilapidated east wall, roof and ceiling collapsing. The replacement gable was carefully built above the late 14th century stone walling, which needed extensive stabilisation and repairs to the core. The team also discovered that the top of the chancel wall was un-bonded and ‘moved’ when the masons started to rake out for repointing, so additional careful conservation work was required.

*It is interesting to note that Tadcaster stone was known in Roman times and the walls of Roman York (Eboracum) were all faced with magnesian limestone.


Rebuilding the nave east gable, including altering the roof structure and replacement of the rotten, unstable and defective Chancel arch. This work was necessary because the team discovered three old timber beams in the wall crudely and inadequately joined together. The wall above was fractured and unstable so full reconstruction was needed using handmade local bricks, blocks and lime render externally. It is interesting to note that the structural problems above the chancel arch could not be attended to previously without stripping part of the roof, under a temporary roof. The team concluded that the defects had been deteriorating for decades. If left unattended the wall above the chancel arch could have collapsed.


Repointing, masonry indent repairs and isolated ashlar renewals were carried out to the Chancel, South Aisle and Tower. The very talented HPR masons, used magnesian limestone, carefully hand-tooled, using techniques demonstrated to the Heritage Open Day attendees, some of which ‘tried their hand’ tooling and carving mason’s marks on stones used in the east gable – all of which were recorded in the Project Log-book for posterity.


Urgent timber repair works to the 1440’s South Aisle were undertaken to remedy dampness and timber decay. Pews to the east end of the south aisle were removed, together with part of the floor in the same area. New treated timber flooring and dado panelling was installed, to match existing. Some lime replastering was also undertaken to the south wall near the porch door.


The Contractors lowered the external ground levels, regrading paths and resetting headstones where necessary and replaced perimeter gullies and underground drainage to reduce rising and penetrating damp and improve wheelchair access to the church. Although this was the last phase of work, it was as crucial as fixing the chancel roof, because leaking drains were causing weaknesses to develop to the footings at the base of the main stone walls and extensive structural movement, which in turn was damaging windows.

To ensure that all the roofs drain away efficiently the team replaced or overhauled defective rainwater gutters and pipes.

Internally, following removal of the pews in the eastern half of the South Aisle stackable chairs were provided, together with full internal redecoration and the replacement of spotlights in the chancel with new energy efficient LED fittings.

A very important aspect of the project was to carefully repair and conserve several historic windows in the Chancel and South Aisle. Works were undertaken by the excellent team from Martin Johnson & Co at their York studio and on site, supervised by Phil Barrand – who previously served as an apprentice to Keith Barley, including on the stained glass east window to the South Aisle. The specialist team spent 6-8 weeks per window restoring and conserving the South Aisle window to the west of the porch, including forming an inward opening hopper vent, fixing three brass ‘saddle-bars’, copper ties and minimal glass replacement. More extensive works were required to the south window in the Chancel due to the poor condition and structural damage to the surrounding stonework.


Prior to the project starting there was a serious risk of partial collapse occurring to the chancel roof and ceiling. The Church was added to the Historic England At Risk Register in 2017 and subsequently removed from the list on completion.


Important achievements during the project included extensive public involvement and engagement, several Heritage events, talks, presentations and a Heritage Day in August 2019, including stone tooling by members of the public, under the supervision of Mick Teale, Site Manager from Historic Property Restoration Ltd.

Interesting facts to note post completion include the history of the Priory Church; the sarcophagi and grave covers, discovered during the excavations; the Medieval floor tiles; the Mass-Dial on the south wall of the south aisle; the re-assessement and re-dating of the Nave & Chancel (late 14th Century); and the dog-tooth piscina stones uncovered in several locations. For further reading please see the FAS Archaeology Report.

The PCC would like to thank the excellent Project Team, as follows:

Historic Property Restoration LtdMain Contractor**
Ferry & Mennim LtdArchitect
FAS HeritageArchaeologists
Mason ClarkStructural Engineers
Wold Ecology LtdEcologists
Martin Johnson & CoStained glass & window consevators
Assent Building Control LtdBuilding Control Approval Services
A1 Environmental Services LtdAsbestos Surveyors
Eurosafe/Tersus Consultancy LtdCDM (Health & Safety) Consultancy
Graham SmailesOrgan Specialist Services
JPS Media LtdWebsite Design & Development
Phil Wood Electrical Services LtdElectrical Services
Premier Design & Surveys LtdTopographic & measured surveys

** Special thanks to the HPR team including Mick & Ben Teale, Chris Webb, Paul Aldridge, Ben Walker, Gary Hayburn, Richard Thomas, Mark Kendal, Matthew Blakeley, Darron Deighton, Martin Thackeray, James Read & Stewart McKinstry

In addition the PCC would also like to express their sincere gratitude to all the project volunteers, for the hundreds of hours committed to the scheme and to everyone who has contributed financially or otherwise, including The Yorkshire Historic Churches Trust.

Finally, without the support of Heritage Fund this scheme could not have progressed so thank you to The National Lottery players.

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