Major repairs to historic Askrigg church not over yet

Master craftsmen in St Oswald's, Askrigg, are, left to right, David Switalla, Matthew Hodgkinson, Theo Cadet and Luke Middleton.

By Betsy Everett

Major repair work costing thousands of pounds is underway at St Oswald’s Church in Askrigg. But the clock, the bell ropes, the organ, the damp-proofing, guttering and internal repairs are only part of the ongoing story.

The next challenge, repairing the tower at the west end of the Grade 1-listed, 15th century building, will cost nearly twice the £57,000 already committed or spent.

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MaryRose Kearney of the parochial church council’s fabric committee said the tower, which houses the bells, bell ropes and clock mechanism, has to be made impervious to damp. The work could cost in excess of £100,000 some of which may come in the form of a grant from Historic England’s ‘damp tower project.’ 

Last year at Easter three bell ropes broke and new ones have been on order for more than a year at a cost of around £2,500.

“There are now very few places making bell ropes so they are not at all easy to come by but we hope they’ll be in place before too long,” said MaryRose. “In the meantime Ripon Cathedral have very kindly loaned us ropes for special occasions such as weddings and major services, so we’re really very grateful for that.”

The church clock which has worked only erratically for several years, has also been repaired at a cost of £12,500. Although the new clock face, with a backboard recreated in one-inch thick marine ply, has been in place for around three weeks, more work is being done on the Victorian mechanism before it is fully restored.

Among the generous private donors have been Professor Cuchlaine King, a world-renowned geomorphologist, now living in Bainbridge, who herself was a bellringer at St Oswald’s for many years after her retirement some 30 years ago. The Elm House Trust has also contributed generously to the overall repair costs, including restoration of the organ, at around £12,000. That work is expected to be completed by October.

Meanwhile the outside south wall has been repointed, flashing and downpipes replaced and the interior south aisle completely restored and redecorated by Matthias Garn, master masons of York.

Craftsmen from the firm have cleaned and restored 13 marble monuments, some of which were in a dangerous condition, repaired four stone labels over the east window, one of which had fallen to the ground making a dint in the floor, re-plastered the walls and painted them with a mineral, breathable paint.

“The work Matthias Garn has done has been fantastic and has made a vast difference,” said MaryRose. “We have had many donations from the community and from visitors, applied for grants, and used a large sum of money that was held for us by the diocese from the sale of land some years ago. We were saving it for a rainy day, but the parochial church council decided the rainy days had come and we needed to act to preserve this beautiful building which is valued by the whole community.”

A £1,100 grant from All Churches Trust Ltd had also helped towards the building work.

Work on external and internal noticeboards has been carried out by Heather and Bernard Clarke of Brecon Bar.

Two of the ancient monuments cleaned and repaired.