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  Reprinted from Newsletter 151, dated 2019 spring

St John’s Church closed for year of work thanks to lottery grant Alan Fear

Congratulations to St John’s Church on being given a grant of £465,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the major refurbishment project, called Securing the Future.

  This means that the church will be closed for most of 2019, while the nave floor is underpinned and a up-to-date underfloor heating system installed. Modern glazed draught-resistant porches will be built at the west and south entrances.

  The church will also install multi-function lighting and audiovisual facilities to support a wide variety of activities, including concerts, productions and history and heritage displays. The catering capabilities will be improved to permit hosting proper hot meals as well as casual refreshments.

  St John’s is a living building, which has changed and evolved over the centuries along with the ever-changing town of Glastonbury. Through this time, the changing needs of the congregation and the town, as well as normal wear and tear and weathering, most recently requiring the restoration of the clerestory windows — the high windows nearly at roof level — are part of the continuing life of the fabric of the church.

The following addition to Newsletter 151 is from St John’s website:


Builders at work renewing St John’s Jim Nagel

Arrow shows where the nave floor collapsed in 2008 when the brick support beneath it gave way. Plywood sheets covered the hole for the next ten years. Photo was taken on March 1 looking westwards from the chancel. JN

Work is well underway on the year-long project — called Securing the Future — to renew the interior of St John’s church building.

  Strengthening the floor is the most fundamental task. For at least 20 years some areas have been known to be sinking. The area around the font has long been fenced off. In the centre of the nave, plywood sheets covered a section where the floor collapsed 10 years ago. Lifting the huge lias slabs showed they were supported by miniature brick walls standing on not much more than rubble from the Victorian renovation about 1850 (some of the rubble might even date from the collapse of the central tower about 1470). The slabs are four inches thick and were laid so tight together that perhaps they were holding one another up.

What has happened already

  Doing the job properly has meant clearing the entire space within the Grade I listed building. The pine pews have gone, sold at auction in January; the wooden flooring that was under the pews is also gone. Worn-out carpets are gone. The 1970s wood-and-glass porch inside the south door is gone.

  The huge elm sculptures — the Resurrection Christ and the Mother and Child — have been returned to the family of the sculptor, Ernst Blensdorf. All paintings have been removed from walls and put into storage. Chained copies of early printed Bibles have gone to the cathedral library. Abbot Whiting’s cope, which was displayed in the north transept for centuries, has a new home in the Abbey.

  The stone tomb that was under the cope has a new site in the north churchyard, and the carved marble tomb of John Camel migrated to a new place inside the church.

  The pipe organ is cocooned in plastic and plywood to protect it from dust; its keyboard and console are in a workshop being modernized. Sir George Gilbert Scott’s carved oak choir benches from 1850 are in the contractor’s workshop being refurbished during the building.

  The font has been moved from its former southwest location to a new place between the vestry and the high altar, where it will stand at floor level without the massive steps.

  A temporary plywood screen has been erected to separate the nave from the chancel (which had its floor renewed about 20 years ago). Plywood surrounds all the pillars to protect the stonework.

  All the ancient lias floor slabs, carefully numbered, have been lifted and stored while new supports are built for them.

What happens next

  Using scaffolding, all the high timbers will be inspected and cleaned. Wiring will be put in place for new lighting. The high parts of rendered walls will get a fresh coat of paint.

  Under the floor there never was a crypt, only a void of about two feet (the work is unlikely to disturb any archaeology). Into this void will go a layer of insulation — a glass material looking like lumps of coal — as well as electrical wiring, conduits for a state-of-the-art sound system, and energy-efficient underfloor heating.

  Then the numbered lias slabs will be replaced in exactly their old places. New stone slabs will pave the space where the pews were. The entire floor from the west door under the tower as far as the chancel step will be level.

  The pulpit is to be moved to the chancel step at the opposite side of the nave, one pillar east of its present location.

Who is doing the work

  The contractor for the job is Ellis & Co, a Somerset firm in its second generation that specializes in conservation of ancient buildings. The company’s recent nearby church renovations include Blagdon and Bradford-on-Avon. A generation ago Ken Ellis renewed the chancel floor at St John’s.

  The total cost of the 2019 work is around £700,000. Unlike in some countries, British churches get no government funding. St John’s is thankful for grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from Viridor Credits and from Glastonbury Conservation Society, as well as contributions and bequests from townspeople and the St John’s church family over many years.

  While the St John’s building is in the hands of the builders for almost all of 2019, the St John’s people will meet in the other two churches of the benefice: St Benedict’s in Glastonbury and St Mary’s in Meare.

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