INITIAL work to repair the tower of St Michael’s Parish Church in Lyme Regis has unveiled a “significant” problem that is expected to hike the £150,000 cost of the project.
Work is currently underway to repair the tower and porch of the parish church, which is suffering from water ingress.
A progress update was given to the congregation at Sunday’s harvest service, in which church warden Tim Bacon reported that work got off to a slow start, with scaffolders delayed and the contractors starting work a week later than planned.
He explained that the project required the removal of the failed pebble-dash render around the tower and porch, making good of the underlying stonework and then re-rendering the tower and porch with lime mortar.
The majority of the stonework is local blue lias limestone, which is poor quality stone and prone to crumbling.
To slow down this deterioration, the stone will be jointed and pointed with lime mortar and rendered with lime mortar. This layer will repel the majority of rain but also enable the stonework and render to ‘breathe’ and dry out when conditions allow.
The majority of pebble-dash rendering has now been removed. Only the top section and the east wall of the tower remain to be uncovered.
The west porch wall is in good condition but the north porch and tower walls were described by the church architect as “a bit crumbly” and will need making good before they are ready to be re-rendered.
The belfry turret stonework was also in poor condition and this is currently receiving attention in preparation for rendering.
The south wall of the tower and porch, and the west wall of the tower, were last rendered in the mid 1980s. Unfortunately, contractors at the time used unsuitable materials which have now failed.
Repairs to the stonework were made in cement, rather than lime mortar, and this will need to be removed before the walls are made good for re-rendering.
However, the main issue to be unveiled as the pebble-dash render has been removed is a layer of bitumen, which Mr Bacon said was “inexplicably” used to coat the south wall of tower and porch, and the west wall of the tower.
This was then covered in metal mesh, more bitumen and the cement-based pebble dash rendering.
Mr Bacon commented: “The bitumen layer cannot ‘breathe’ and will have to be removed before the underlying walls can be made good and the lime mortar rendering applied.
Time-consuming and expensive
“The church architect and contractors are considering how best to remove the bitumen but the most likely method will be to chisel it off by hand. This will be time-consuming and expensive – an unexpected cost not included in the contracted amount.
“The bitumen problem is a significant one and may very well use up the contingency sums put aside. When only three weeks into the project this discovery is very disappointing.”
Lyme Regis Town Council donated £40,000 towards the cost of the project and the church has had to raise the remaining funds itself, through donations, events and grant applications.
Before the unwelcome news of the bitumen layer, £25,000 was still needed to reach the £150,000 total project cost and further grant applications are being submitted.
Donations to Lyme Regis Parochial Church Council for the Tower Repair Fund will be very welcome and can be made subject to Gift Aid.
For further details, contact church treasurer Dawn Baker on 01297 443478.