West Mersea Parish Church Tower

By the late 1940s, the 11th century West Mersea church tower was in a very bad state. There were large holes in the stonework, where dozens of jackdaws nested. In 1951 local builder Clifford White & Co submitted an estimate for extensive repair work in the sum of £1,260 which was accepted, and work started in the autumn of that year. It involved taking off the roof and battlements, pouring cement grout into the stonework and casting a concrete ring round the top of the tower. A device for pouring this was made up by the plumbers in the yard and consisted of a funnel and a length of pipe.
A new roof was supported by steel girders, and a large baulk of timber was stood up to form the centre piece and support the weathervane. This timber was over 12 inches square by some 15 feet long and tapered at one end. It came from the old Tollesbury pier which was being demolished at the time. The pier had been breached during the war to prevent the Nazis using it to get ashore and capturing Tollesbury.

The old weathervane was taken down. It was far more elaborate than the one that's there now. It was much larger with a lot of scrollwork and was taken to the yard to be rebuilt. To replace it we had a flimsy scaffold two boards wide and no handrail. The ironwork was screwed to an upright spindle and there were four of us turning it on. When it came tight the 'N' was facing south and the 'S' north. It was decided it should be removed and given half a turn. I'm afraid my nerves got the better of me and I could see if we lost our balance we would have quite a fall so Hector Hewes took my place.

The battlements were rebuilt reusing the salvaged materials. The gargoyles which can still be seen today were cast in Clifford White's yard, in formwork made by the carpenters

Another part of the contract was to place RSJs under the belfry floor. This meant cutting through the 3 foot thick wall, casting concrete pads and sliding the RSJs into position from outside. Finally we repaired the stonework using septara, which I believe came from Harwich, and repointing the stonework all the way down.

My father Les Green was in charge of the works and I was serving my apprenticeship at the time and worked on the job throughout. Among others working on the job I remember Percy Green, Ron 'Charkey' D'wit, Sid Stoker, Jack Cudmore, Horace Mole and Hector Hewes. The architects were Duncan Clark and Beckett, and others dropped in from time to time.
The scaffolding was provided by Wm Brown of Ipswich and was aluminium tubular type. We had no crane or hoists to lift the steel girders and very heavy baulk of timber, only an 'Endless Chain' similar to those used in garages to lift our car engines, we mostly used ropes and wooden blocks.

All the old lead from the roof was placed by the wall next to the road for collection. It laid there for some time before collection but as far as is known none 'Walked'.

I had spent the previous two winters working on upper parts of the church. Previous to the tower we stripped out the valley between the two roofs running in an easterly direction from the tower, replaced the sole boards and the whole lot was lined out with asphalt by specialist. I know I should know my chancel from my nave but I don't. There was a skylight in the south facing roof passing daylight into the font area. The shaft is still in the roof space and you can see the oval patch in the ceiling where it has been sealed off. On the attached image from my postcard the skylight is clearly seen in the centre of the picture [ see RG11_229 below ]. Our natural light shafts in the museum are nothing new, the church had one many years earlier. During the previous winter to that we tackled the low pitched roof on the south side. It had been covered with peg tiles and the roof is far too low a pitch for them. Instead of pushing the water down the roof they were pushing it into the roof. The whole lot was a rotten soggy mess. We just chucked the peg tiles down and smashed them, they are now worth well over £1 each or far more if you can get them. I'm out of touch with prices nowadays. But even more shock horror, we covered the roof with asbestos sheeting which has now been removed and replaced with another more suitable material.

A few years ago when the tower was being repaired, I asked if I could go up and have a look at the work. An appointment was made and the men came along with me as they were very interested as to how and when the work was done. It was satisfying to see that the work was still in very good condition after some half a century of being battered by the elements.

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History of West Mersea Parish Church

Author: Ron Green
June 2019

Related Images

 West Mersea Church. Postcard by Hammond, Great Totham, mailed 10 October 1910.
 In front of the tower, near the top of the south-facing roof, can be seen the old skylight.  RG11_229RG11_229
West Mersea Church. Postcard by Hammond, Great Totham, mailed 10 October 1910.
In front of the tower, near the top of the south-facing roof, can be seen the old skylight.
Before October 1910
 Les Green and his son Ron Green on West Mersea Church tower during repairs in the winter of 1951/52. 
You can see the gable of Barclay's Bank below Ron's left arm and the rail.
 Ron says that an estimate for the church tower repairs of £1,260 was received from Messrs White ( Clifford White ) and accepted.  RG050100RG050100
Les Green and his son Ron Green on West Mersea Church tower during repairs in the winter of 1951/52. You can see the gable of Barclay's Bank below Ron's left arm and the rail.
Ron says that an estimate for the church tower repairs of £1,260 was received from Messrs White ( Clifford White ) and accepted.
cJan 1952
 Parish Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, West Mersea  TM1_6582TM1_6582
Parish Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, West Mersea
20 May 2007
ID: TXA00330
Source: Mersea Museum