Saxon church up for conservation award

A Norfolk church is a finalist in one of the country’s top conservation awards.

The judges of the 2019 John Betjeman Award for excellence in conservation have just visited St Nicholas, West Lexham, near Swaffham, which completed a £250,000 restoration project in January this year.

The round tower church of St Nicholas, thought to date from Saxon times, was one of 23 entries for the annual award from churches across England and Wales.

The judges of the award made by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings selected three finalists - churches at Grasmere, Cumbria; Tiverton, Devon and Dodington, Somerset.

The John Betjeman Award, which is open to all places of worship and all denominations, seeks to recognise the highest standards of repair and conservation.

Niels Olesen, treasurer of West Lexham parochial church council, said: "We've had tremendous help from so many organisations and groups. We were fortunate to obtain a maximum grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund."

The Round Tower Churches Society gave £1,000 in 2018 and the Norfolk Churches Trust awarded £7,000 in 2017 towards the project.

Most Read

Major restoration was necessary because water damage to the chalk and flint walls threatened the church and also the tower, he explained. As part of the project, some work carried out in the early 1990s had to be replaced because in the tower, cement render was found to be causing more water damage and trapping moisture in the walls.

"If it had not been removed, the tower itself may eventually have crumbled," said Mr Olesen.

Traditional materials including hot lime mortar were used for the repairs. The steel bands, which had been tied around the tower in the earlier restoration work in 1993, have now been removed.

Mr Olesen said that the architects, Norwich-based Nicholas Warns, helped to transform the church into a gleaming success especially since the tower has been whitewashed.

Architect Domenico D'Alessandro, who took on responsibility for the project three years ago on his second day with the practice was thrilled that the project has been recognised in this national award.

The result will be announced at SPAB's annual meeting on July 13 in Maidstone, Kent.