Thursday, 31 May 2018

St. Helen's Church - Maintenance Part IV

Evidence of severe structural movement

Having spent more than 2 years helping out with a wide variety of tasks at St. Helen’s church in Treeton – up on the roofs, out in the churchyard, clearing ivy and sweeping steps and paths – I have got to know the fabric of the church and its boundary walls very well.

The main entrance to St. Helen's churchyard on Front Street

In the 20 years that I have lived in Treeton, I only know of two occasions when masonry work has been carried out to the church – once when I was in Paraguay for several weeks when work was undertaken to the tower and another time when there were repairs to the main entrance steps.

The main entrance steps to St. Helen's church

I have not yet had an opportunity to meet the church architect but, with my background in the building restoration industry and possessing specialist skills in stone matching, I would be very interested to discuss how this Grade I Listed church could be best maintained; however, not being party to the process that decides what work should be done, I just continue to make my own observations of the changing condition of the church and its churchyard.

A general view of the retaining wall on Church Lane

As a geologist, I know the escarpment very well, having viewed it from afar and explored the various lanes and paths that cross it many times. I have particularly noticed the walls that stretch from Station Road to Washfield Lane, where the mainly Rotherham Red sandstone walls contains a high proportion of Treeton Rock 

A set of steps from Church Lane to St. Helen's church

Like St. Helen's church, many sections of the walls here had become thickly covered in ivy but, now that this has been cleared, it is much easier to observe and record any structural movement that may be taking place here - given the coal mining history of Treeton and its surrounds.

The retaining wall on Church Lane

To the rear entrance on Church Lane, a large tree occupying the churchyard here is on the verge of causing a structural failure to a retaining wall. Rotherham MBC have been informed of this many times by various parties and, in the past two years, a section of this wall has been displaced by more than 5 cm yet - unlike the interior of the church - no attempt has been made to monitor the movement here with any kind of tell-tale.

Structural movement at St. Helen's church

Friday, 25 May 2018

St. Helen's Church - Maintenance Part III

Day to day maintenance at St. Helen's churchyard

The spring of 2017 had started off in a busy manner, with my exploration of the Sheffield Round Walk and the villages of Norton, Grenoside and Green Moor and - throughout the summer – I continued with the removal of ivy, brambles, bindweed etc. from the boundary  walls and overgrown parts of St. Helen’s church in Treeton.

Cutting back a sycamore sapling

Set in the heart of the Conservation Area in Treeton, St. Helen’s churchyard forms an attractive green space but, with essential maintenance carried out mainly by a couple of elderly members of the diminishing congregation, large sections of the walls and adjoining areas had been untouched for several years, with ivy completely overwhelming them in places.

Removing ivy coming from the old rectory

As I had discovered when removing ivy from many of the standing gravestones and traditional graves, its roots and tendrils penetrate every crevice and it will embed itself into mortar joints of the boundary walls, where these are soft or are failing.

Cutting back ivy to the north boundary wall

With the various boundary walls now largely cleared, the condition of the masonry can now be better assessed and any necessary work undertaken if required - over the years, adjoining trees have displaced sections of wall to the extent that they are becoming unstable.

Cleaning the gate to the old rectory

Using only hand tools, the bulk of the ivy could be removed quite easily but the disposal of its foliage created its own problems. Without a wood shredder available, and the only space for the cuttings being a corner of the churchyard that was used for cleared leaves, a large sand bag proved to be an excellent means of moving them.

Renewed growth of a sycamore sapling

Although there is still the need to cut back or remove long established stumps of well-established sycamore and holly trees and there are parts of the churchyard that grow wild in the summer months, its overall appearance is much improved and its future management and maintenance should now be considerably easier. 

Removing ivy from the wall adjoining the Old Rectory

With some planning and careful management, there is scope to further develop the activities that have been undertaken at the church by children from St. Helen’s Primary School or to further investigate its potential as a Living Churchyard.

Ivy on the wall next to the steps to Church Lane

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

St. Helen's Church - Maintenance Part II

A cross in St. Helen's churchyard

In the autumn and winter months, the maintenance at St. Helen’s church is usually concerned with the essential cleaning of the roofs and rainwater goods, as well as the various steps and paths that form part of the public right of way that crosses the churchyard.

A large gravestone in St. Helen's churchyard

In spring and summer, it is the churchyard that needs the most attention and, as a closed churchyard, it is the responsibility of Rotherham MBC to maintain it – including the repair of paths, boundary and retaining walls and memorials – and to keep the trees monitored and the herbage under control.

Another large gravestone in St. Helen's churchyard

With local authority budgets for this kind of work now being cut to the bone, except for the occasional cutting of grass, their presence is rarely seen and the task of maintaining St. Helen’s churchyard falls on the remaining members of an increasingly elderly congregation.

A large gravestone before and after cleaning

Unsurprisingly, with no more than a handful of hours being spent on all of the tasks needed for the day to day maintenance of the church in any week, very many parts of the churchyard have become overgrown with brambles, sycamore saplings, bindweed and particularly ivy.

A plain cross in St. Helen's churchyard

The latter was left unrestrained to pervade most of the tombs, to take over large sections of the boundary walls and to grow over and completely obscure very many of the monuments and gravestones that are still left standing, as well as many of the trees.

A gravestone in St. Helen's churchyard

As I soon discovered, when I set out - armed with a pair of secateurs and a paint scraper - to clean one of the memorials that are near to the church porch, the roots and tendrils of ivy plants are incredibly invasive and often extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove from the crevices into which they have grown.

A wall and grave before and after cleaning

Nonetheless, with a bit of patience and care, the effort was soon rewarded by the unveiling of examples of fine letter cutting and stone carving that have been hidden for years. I found this very satisfying and, within a few weeks, I had cleaned most of the heavily overgrown graves throughout the churchyard.

A 20th century gravestone

St. Helen's Church - Maintenance Part I

The roof to the south aisle

When I was commissioned by the project archaeologist to undertake a survey of the external fabric of All Saints church in Pontefract back in 1999, prior to extensive restoration of the stonework to the tower, I thought that I was particularly suited to this kind of work.

The roof to the north aisle

Having developed the specialist skill of “stone matching” when working at Triton Building Restoration Ltd. – and subsequently creating the Triton Stone Library – my eyes are trained to detect the subtle differences in the colours and textures of various building stones that have been used in the construction and subsequent extension and repair of historic buildings.

Removing beech leaves and nuts

Following a brief encounter with a few archaeologists in Wath upon Dearne, when I discovered that All Saints church was used to introduce a variety of students and professionals to standing buildings archaeology, I was prompted to undertake a thorough survey of the building stones and construction history of St. Helen’s church in Treeton – where I live - which turned into an investigation of the mediaeval churches in South Yorkshire and the surrounding counties.

The lounge roof

My idea was to try and reconnect with the professionals who work with historic buildings like this, and I have since had various enquiries from churchwardens, architects and local history groups, who expressed great interest in the work that I was doing.

Beech leaves and nuts blocking a gutter to the vestry roof

Although no paid work has arisen from my efforts to date, except for a talk to Aston-cum-Aughton History Group that described my investigation of the mediaeval churches between Treeton and Harthill, having also encountered stonemasons and other tradesmen at work, it has provided me with a great insight into the problems and procedures that are associated with the maintenance and repair of Grade I Listed churches.

Views of the gutter on the south aisle

At St. Helen’s church, having thoroughly surveyed the fabric of the building and undertaken a comprehensive photographic record, I have attended their Coffee Mornings ever since. Intended primarily as an open social event for the community, it is the only time when day to day maintenance of the church is undertaken by members of the remaining congregation who are still both able and willing to do it.

A downpipe

I am not religious, but I like the way that the church still forms the core of a community that was devastated by the Coal Miners' Strike - and from which it is still feeling the effects - and I was soon involved with a wide variety of practical tasks that helped with its day to day maintenance.

A tile to the vestry roof that is in need of repair

Looking up at the village of Treeton from the River Rother, the ‘two-tone’ tower is seen to protrude from a clump of mature trees which shed very many leaves and nuts in autumn and various small branches in winter.

Assessing the condition of the fabric

Especially where the beech trees from the Old Rectory overhang the church roofs, the rainwater goods can soon become clogged and need to be cleaned regularly. At the age of 55, I was much more able to go up ladders and spiral staircases than most of the regular attendees of the church and so I have been unblocking the hopper heads, gutters, downpipes and removing the leaves and unwanted plants from various roofs ever since - as well as keeping my eye on its condition.

Removing an elder sapling

Monday, 14 May 2018

The Old Pump House at Green Moor

The Old Pump House at Green Moor

At the end of the field trip to Green Moor with the Sheffield U3A Geology Group, eight of us took advantage of a very rare opportunity to go down into the depths of the Old Pump House, which was provided by Barry Tylee – a Green Moor resident and Hunshelf Parish Council member.

Descending the shaft of the Old Pump House

The stone roofed pump house, which supplied drinking water to the village until 1951, is unusual in that the water is at the bottom of a 10 metre vertical shaft, followed by a 16 metre long tunnel. Although there isn't much to see when you get to the bottom, apart from the old wooden supports and the water pipe, it's an interesting example of engineering and it was appreciated by everyone who went down there.

A few views inside the Old Pump House at Green Moor

With space for only three people at a time, the rest of the group could spent the time waiting by looking at various display boards outside the pump house, taking in the views of the Don Valley from Ivy Millennium Green, reading the various information boards, further exploring this attractive and very well maintained part of the village or just enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

Views across the upper Don Valley from Ivy Millennium Green

For those of the group who had not had enough of seeing rocks for one day, specimens of ganister and iron nodules - which I had found during the cleaning of the rock face at the Green Moor Quarry RIGS - were left on a boulder in Ivy Millennium Green for them to examine.

Iron nodules and ganister

A Geology Field Trip in Green Moor

A well marked public footpath in Green Moor

After undertaking a preliminary reconnaissance of Green Moor, in preparation for a field trip with the Sheffield U3A Geology Group, I felt that the preparation for this event had gone well, especially since there was help from a local resident to explain the industrial history of the area.

A long stretch of stone walling built with Greenmoor Rock

On the day, our way to Green Moor from Wortley was blocked for essential works and, with a badly signposted road diversion then taking us all around the houses, we eventually turned up 10 minutes late at a designated meeting point that had become infested by wasps.

At the meeting place in Green Moor

Introducing the group to the physical characteristics of the Greenmoor Rock by examining nearby dry stone walling and roofing tiles - noting its thinly bedded and laminated nature - we briefly stopped at the new Stoneway Manor housing estate – where its history of Geological Conservation was briefly described.

The Old Pump House at Stoneway Manor

Moving westward along Green Moor Road, the old school provides a good example of the differential use of the Greenmoor Rock – with the infrequent massive beds of sandstone used for its dressings but with the basic walling using the thinly bedded stone. A little further along the road, there is a good opportunity to observe the geomorphology of the Don Valley where - strikingly - the gradient of the landscape reflects the dip of the underlying rocks.

Hunshelf Hall

Briefly pausing at Hunshelf Hall, where the Greenmoor Rock contrasts strongly with the Welsh slate that has been used to re-roof it a century later, the group continued along a surprisingly busy narrow lane to Don Hill Height – where there are good views of the escarpment, the steel making town of Stocksbridge and the Millstone Grit moors of the Peak District National Park.

Stopping to admire Hunshelf Hall and its fine eucalyptus trees

The old road stone quarries here are very impressive, with the very irregular bedding being emphasised and the poorly cemented Greenmoor Rock leaving distinctive orange coloured hollows. At the top of the quarry, the dry stone walling seamlessly merges with the natural rock.

The Greenmoor Rock at Don Hill Height

Having had a good look at this excellent exposure of Greenmoor Rock, the next stage of the walk provided an unexpected obstacle. In April, the paths along the escarpment are well defined but, in July, a large section of these were covered shoulder high in bracken.

Bracken at Don Hill Height

A path through this was soon found and the group stopped to discuss the geomorphology and landscape that we could see around us, especially the contrast between the bracken and gorse, which grows on acidic soils on the Greenmoor Rock, and the grass that grows on the shales.

Greenmoor Rock used as a building stone

Following an established path that runs along the escarpment, there are further examples of dry stone walling and the occasional agricultural building and several very large blocks of stone - with extremely fine ripple marks - can be seen at the Isle of Skye Quarry.

Blocks of ripple marked Greenmoor Rock at the Isle of Skye Quarry

The waymarker here couldn't be put to good use - due to the poor visibility on the day - and so we just carried on with our walk back down to the village, where we encountered a few Hebridean sheep and the remains of a trackway that was once used for transporting stone from the Isle of Skye quarry.

A waymaker in the Isle of Skye Quarry

Moving on to the Green Moor Delf quarry, which has now been designated as a RIGS (Regionally Important Geological Site), the rock exposure here provides an excellent example of large scale cross-bedding and foreset beds. Although actively managed by Hunshelf Parish Council, the rapid growth of vegetation at sites like these provides an ongoing problem of maintenance, which can lead to complete obliteration of exposures, as at Boston Park in Rotherham.

The Green Moor Delf Quarry

We finished off our walk at Ivy Millennium Green, where we took a late lunch break before exploring the Old Pump House, which was once used to provide essential water to the village of Green Moor - including descending down a ladder into its interior.

Ivy Millennium Green in Green Moor