Friends of the
Church of St Mary Magdalene Huntshaw
A hidden gem in rural North Devon
Thank you to Simon Jessop for the photograph
The repair work: our story
The Quinquennial Report from 2016 stated that essential repairs to the fabric of the church was required within five years. This was a massive challenge and in 2018 the Friends undertook to raise funds to meet the costs involved and to organise the work. Around £180,000 inclusive of VAT was required for the repairs and it was agreed that the work would be split into two phases. Phase 1 included the tower work, restoration of the west door and repairs to internal flooring in the nave and the vestry. After a successful round of fundraising, this phase was completed in December 2019 and our story of how we achieved this is outlined below.
So the first phase of the work was due to start on the 8th July. A successful round of fundraising allowed us to appoint contractors and to keep the architect happy. Scheduling the work had been difficult as we had to consider grant deadlines, a Faculty (special permission from the Diocese), the weather and bats. Even the location of the portaloo became an issue! We realised that we had little control over the weather but were confident that everything else would fall into place. So we were ready to go with a plan to carry out the work to the tower first. Imaging our dismay when the bat specialists found a maternity roost in the tower! Much as we loved our furry friends this was a big blow as the work could not go ahead until later in the year.
Undeterred and determined not to be beaten by the bats we started work on the interior of the church which consisted of replacing flooring beneath a pew platform at the rear of the chancel and in the vestry. Dave Belgrade was our man and he began work in earnest in late July. Within two days Dave had removed the floorboards of the vestry and the pew platform and cleared the debris beneath. An unexpected find beneath the pews was ventilation holes leading out to the south and north walls of the church. At some point the external wall ventilation grills had been covered over with rendering preventing air flow - hence the damp and decay. The rendering was removed and a "Smoke test" in which smoke was directed through the ventilation channels confirmed free flow of air once more. It is likely that a similar situation is affecting the other pew platforms in the church but nothing can be done about that at this stage.
The work to the vestry floor went smoothly and we seized the opportunity to change an ancient lock on the external vestry door allowing it to be opened for the first time in decades. We found lots of interesting things in the vestry including a locked iron chest (no key to be found) and old parish records and photographs. You can't see it in any of the photos but an old gas lamp still hangs from the ceiling and it originated from a local farmer's shippen. More on these finds later.
Restoration of the west door
On 17th August Dave began work on the restoration of the west door. The door is hundreds of years old but it is not the original door. It seems that many years ago an enthusiastic churchwarden, who considered himself to be a bit a DIY expert, decided to 'clean up the door' using a blow torch. The door caught fire and was reduced to a pile of ash!. Huntshaw folk overcame this disaster by acquiring a replacement door from a local church. It is not known why (or if) the local church actually had a spare door but nevertheless it was installed into the west tower at Huntshaw. As the original door frame had also been destroyed by the fire, the newly acquired door never fitted the opening properly causing it to wobble on its pintels. So for the last 80 years or so congregations have endured cold drafts to their rears.
Restoration of the old door involved removing it from the site. A new weatherproof frame was made and the external metalwork was repaired. The expense of commissioning new metalwork was avoided by enlisting the help of a retired blacksmith from Bideford who did clever things to the hinges and made new pintels. Hence the wobble disappeared. The door complete with a new lock was rehung and for the first time in many years it is now in use.
The pew platform before the work beg
The pew platform before the work beg
Photographs of the old pew platform, the foundations with the ventilation holes visible and the finished area which is now a flexible community space. Work to the vestry floor is also shown along with the open outer vestry door.
Photographs show the west door at different stages of repair.
Work to the tower was rescheduled to start on 1st October but once again we were thwarted by the bats. A solitary lesser horseshoe bat who should have flown long ago refused to go. He hung around for a further three weeks. We were grateful to the contractors, Kilbride Roofing Ltd for their patience during this time. Work finally got underway just as the stormy weather moved in. It took two weeks to corden off the work area, put health and safety measures in place and to put up the scaffolding. The west window was protected with plywood. At one point some of the scaffolding was blown down by a storm. However, during November when the weather had settled a little, Josh Kilbride and his team got to work. The tower roof was replaced with new woodwork and some new slates. As the building is listed we had to use Cornish slate which is in short supply thus more expensive. Where possible existing slates were re-used. A new and larger hatch door to the tower was put in which makes access easier. Despite all of the setbacks the work was completed by mid December and we were delighted with our new weatherproof tower roof.
Services and other activities continued as normal throughout all of the work.
Our grateful thanks go to the Coastal Recycling Community Fund, Devon Historic Churches Trust, the Bideford Bridge Trust and Allchurches Trust for providing grants to cover the cost of the work.
There remains much to do and the next phase of the project was due to take place in 2021 but Covid-19 stopped us. When the work goes ahead the roof of the north aisle and the chancel will be replaced, masonry repairs will be carried out and rainwater goods will be upgraded. Restoration of the three listed bells has been added to the project and preparatory work has taken place with almost half of the costs raised. Finally, we want to make the building energy efficient with the installation of solar panels on the south pitch of the north aisle (where they won't be visible from the ground). So the Friends are continuing to work behind the scenes in order to make our church into a safe, weatherproof and sustainable building that the whole community can enjoy.
Repair of the porch roof
With the support of the Culture Recovery Fund the storm-damaged porch was repaired. This included a new roof. It doesn't look any different than before as we had to use second-hand Cornish slate as instructed by the specialist architect. Some of the slate had to be sourced from Newton Abbot as it is not easy to come by.