Medieval Church in Great Yarmouth

A mediaeval church, founded in 1101, and believed to be the countries largest parish church. In 1942 incendiary bombs burnt out the interior and the roofs: restoration was completed in 1960.

The church is owned and used by the Parochial Church Council principally for worship, but also for concerts, exhibitions, events and a cafe. The completed repairs have been appreciated by the congregation and local community. Part of the success of the project is that many will not have realised that work has been carried out.

The central tower was restored in 1863. The pinnacles and parapets were built and the walls re-faced. Iron bands and needles were built into the walls to secure the bell frame and the spire.

Much of the fire damage and the defects in the 1863 work were not addressed in 1960 due to post-war lack of funds. By the start of the current century it was plain that the tower was in need of major repairs.  In 2009, the PCC decided to address the defects.

A philosophy of conservative repair was followed, retaining historic material wherever possible. This was tempered by access considerations: the height of the tower below makes scaffolding complex and expensive and ideally the tower should not be scaffolded more frequently than every 50-75 years. Work carried out and fabric retained needed to match the lifespan of the scaffolding period.

The north elevation has some pre-1863 stonework. The east and west elevations are 1863 re-facings; the south elevation is largely a 1960 re-facing. The 1863 re-faced stone was mainly renewed, where ironwork was concentrated and the 1942 fire had weakened surfaces significantly. The two south pinnacles were in the poorest condition: these were dismantled to parapet level to renew defective material and to establish the extent of buried ironwork.  Based on these findings, the two north pinnacles were retained below the spirelets, with piece repairs only.

The repairs used lime mortars and grouts throughout, with new stonework matching the existing. Stainless steel was used for cramps and dowels between the stones and stainless steel restraining rods were built into the pinnacle spirelets.

Before work commenced there was a risk of collapse of the northern pinnacles and the parapets. Ironwork buried in the walls posed a significant threat. The project has removed these threats and provided sound fabric with a long-term prospect of survival.

There were unexpected findings of cruciform plates behind the outer wall face relating to the upper pins in the tower walls. Additional iron bands were found behind the stonework, being retained and protected at parapet level where not posing a threat to the building and removed at upper and belfry level where close inspection showed that rusting and damage had begun.

This has been a major project for the church and region on a significant monument, in a deprived part of the county. It has stretched the knowledge and capabilities of all concerned, the result has been a continuation of a high quality monument into the future.

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