Friday, November 16, 2012
Working a dizzying 100ft from the ground, it is not a job that would suit everybody.
But stonemasons working on St Nicholas Minster, in Great Yarmouth, say restoring the 900-year-old church gives a unique buzz.
The five-strong team has had to haul more than 14 tons of stone to the top of the church, to replace balustrades damaged by bombers in the second world war.
And rusting ironwork is being replaced with steel, which cannot expand and cause the stone to crack.
Contractors Universal Stone say the £250,000 project is on track to complete next month, after hold-ups caused by high winds and rain at the seaside resort.
Work began in April this year.
John Briggs, site supervisor, said: “The weather’s not been good to us, but now the stone is flowing and it’s going quite well.
“We had to take the old balustrades down and with the height of the building it was a slow process.”
There are 64 stones on the parapet level alone - around 70ft off the ground - with each weighing around 200kg.
Each is intricately joined together with stainless steel dowels, painstakingly matching the original design of the church - founded in 1101 by Herbert de Losinga, the first Bishop of Norwich.
“When it was built you would have thought all the sides were the same,” explained Mr Briggs. “But it’s not. From a fixing perspective it’s how old work was.
“The building’s not exactly square.”
Original material is preserved when possible, but some was too damaged.
Two of the four finials - the top stones on the four pinnacles - were cracked and needed to be replaced, matched to expert moulds taken by draughtsmen.
Ancaster stone is sourced from Stamford, in Lincolnshire, and takes shape at Universal Stone’s yard in Wickford, Essex.
And workmen say it is an exciting time as the grand project - funded through the Repair Grants for Places of Worship scheme - nears completion.
“When the scaffolding comes down and you see what you’ve done, rising out of it, it’s a nice feeling,” said Mr Briggs. “I love my job.”
Work on the Grade 1 listed building has included the trefoil-decorated balustrades on the parapet and all four elevations, with the pinnacles at the top.
And Mr Briggs estimates the new stonework will easily last 300 years from when the project has finished, adding “It will see me out anyway!”