St Mary's, Chedzoy, Somerset

This fine, mainly 17th century church is especially noted for its Norman chancel, chancel arch and doorway. The east and west windows in the chancel date from the 13th century. The tower is also likely to date from the same building phase. The south wall of the nave contains two 15th century window lights. The church was extensively remodelled by William Butterfield in 1861. In the 1950s the lead roof was overlayed by a shallow pitched tiled roof. A hard, cementitious render was also applied at this time.

Works to St Mary The Virgin at Chedzoy again gave us the opportunity to carry out extensive mortar repairs to the delicate Ham stone tracery, hunky punks, quatrefoil panelling of the tower and mullions and tracery of the windows. In many places these elements had eroded so badly that they had to create an armature with stainless steel wire and resin to enable us to carry out repairs to the badly decayed Hamstone. Decaying Blue Lias was defrassed, pointed and further consolidated with a matched repair mortar.

As conservators we constantly have to face the dilemma of when to replace instead of repair stonework. Hamstone mullions are a case in point, because of easily eroded clay seams and awkwardly thin quarry bed thickness the majority of Hamstone now encountered is beyond conservation. In 90% of the cases that we have worked on, medieval masons through necessity fixed mullions in a vertical instead of a horizontal bedding plane which, over time, leads to the natural failure and literal splitting of the element. Repair is generally not suitable because of the shearing forces that would be exerted on the pins, dowels, mortars & resins that would have to be used.

Although we managed to save the original mullions at Chedzoy, simple replacement elements such as these are produced by our apprentices. At college they are taught to create near perfect pieces, (Ruskin would not have approved - perfection does not arise from the natural state of things). Although understandable in new works, this approach is not entirely appropriate in dealing with several hundred years of movement, tracery that no longer plumb with the cill, idiosyncratic medieval masonry and recent bad quality repairs. The greater challenge is in creating a replacement piece that fits perfectly, apparent for the apprentice and accordingly difficult to price