Church tower to be rendered at cost of at least £200,000

St Oswald's church tower must be rendered - or fall down.

By Betsy Everett

The tower of the Grade 1 listed, 15th-Century, St Oswald’s Church in Askrigg will fall down without extensive repairs costing at least £200,000, the parish council has been told.

The work would involve external rendering to protect the tower from water getting in and causing further severe damage to the fabric.

“I’m afraid it’s either that or the tower falls down,” said MaryRose Kearney, chair of the church’s fabric committee.
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She added that about a third of the money would have to be raised by the church itself and the rest would hopefully come from grants.

In a letter informing the parish council of the need for the work, the Revd Dave Clark, vicar of the Upper Wensleydale benefice which includes St Oswald’s, said porous stonework and the use of the wrong mortar in 1992 – cement rather than lime –  had caused the ongoing problems.

The tower window with a rotten frame.

These included rotting woodwork, water running down the inside of the walls, unsafe conditions and the destruction of bell ropes which had recently been replaced “long before expected.”

“We have now reached the position where it is impossible not to take action if the tower is to remain usable,” he said.

The church had taken advice from the architects and stonemasons who said the work was urgent. The recommendation was to re-render the tower to prevent further water ingress.

“Before 1853 the tower would have been rendered with a lime wash, remnants of which can still be seen. When the rendering was removed stonework, which was not meant to be exposed, was open to the elements.”

Said Councillor Bruce Fawcett, chair of the parish council: “St Oswald’s is one of only two Grade 1 listed buildings in the parish and it needs looking after. If it was rendered before then personally I don’t think anything else can be done. It might look a bit odd for a few years but it will settle down and I don’t see there’s any alternative. You have our support for what you are proposing,” he said.

Mrs Kearney said the church would need a faculty from the diocese before applying for planning permission from the national park authority. Test patches of different coloured rendering would be applied before a decision was taken about which would blend in best with the stonework.

Deputy churchwarden Tony Hutchinson said anyone who wanted to see the damage inside the tower for themselves was welcome to visit, by arrangement.

Bellringers in a damp and decaying tower. Left to right, Malcolm Carruthers, Suzanne Wright, tower captain Kevin Sorsby, Louise Akid, Karen Jones and Tony Hutchinson.
Tony Hutchinson, deputy churchwarden, and Kevin Sorsby, tower captain, inspect the damp.