In January 2020, St John’s embarked on an ambitious programme of improvements and repairs to the church. The improvements focussed firstly on improving the environment for our parishioners and secondly addressing urgent repairs to the church fabric.
A Warmer Church
St John’s can be very cold in winter. We replaced the old heating boiler with a pair of more cost-efficient new boilers. Unfortunately, the church was closed for most of last winter and there was little opportunity to test the system out. We also repaired the pew heaters and will ensure that they are turned on in good time this winter to supplement the main system through the Sunday Morning service. We have also reduced the height of the ceiling in the porch and added another set of doors in an effort to reduce draughts. We are looking for the right company to fit automatic closers to the doors.
A New Social Area
Last autumn we removed the remaining pews from the north and south aisles to make more space. We used the wood to rebuild and enlarge the servery and create bookshelves alongside the seated café area in the south aisle. The seated area is a great improvement considering we used to occupy the cramped area surrounding the old font. We have also installed a new lighting system throughout the church.
Repairs to the Fabric of the Building
St John’s is an extremely challenging building to keep in a good state of repair as the Cheshire sandstone quickly weathers and shales. Any work undertaken has to take account of the fact that the earliest parts of the church are over 900 years old.
We recently discovered that the water ingress through the west window was due to the incorrect installation of the glass a hundred and thirty years ago. Every panel of stained glass panel was removed to a workshop, throughly repaired, and then reinstalled.
A piece of plaster fell from the south aisle ceiling three years ago. The ceiling was made safe and St John’s was successful in obtaining a grant from the Culture Recovery Fund towards the cost of repairing the south aisle, south transept and Lady Chapel roofs. The work began in January 2020 and was completed in June. During the course of repairing the south transept ceiling we encountered a problem and as a consequence we knew that we had no choice but to repair the ceiling above the organ in the north transept. We were successful in obtaining a grant from the National Churches Trust towards the cost of these repairs.
Restoring the Ruins
Meanwhile, Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWAC) have been busy restoring the ruins and the collapsed tower adjacent to the church entrance. CWAC presently lease these from St John’s. A consequence of this work was the removal of the best of our sculptured stones from the Chapter House to the north aisle where they can now be viewed by the public for the first time in 130 years! I am in talks with the Major Churches Network to have these stones properly curated and displayed in a meaningful exhibition. However, before that work can start the north aisle roof will need to be repaired.
I am pleased to say that there are no plans to start the work soon. When the scaffolding over the organ is dismantled and the Lady Chapel brought back into use we will be able to enjoy some harmony and reflect on what we have achieved.