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Fabric Action Group

Mike Taffs (leader) & David Richards

The Fabric Action Group is responsible for the maintenance of the church buildings i.e. the church itself and other buildings owned by the PCC. Tasks range from minor repairs to the management of major projects such as the replacement of the ringing chamber floor in 2002.

The Group appoints, with the approval of the Diocese, an Inspecting Architect who makes a full report on the fabric every five years.

Major Chancel work has now taken place and a report on the work will follow shortly.

Newsletter February 2013

The major project in 2002

Replacing the ringing chamber floor

The ringing chamber floor, before its repair in 2002, was supported on beams which were thought to be original and therefore about 600 years old. The ends of these beams, which were built into the walls of the tower were very damp and had almost rotted away. Over the years, beetles had also been busy eating the floor boards so the replacement of the whole floor was an urgent job and in the meantime, the bells could not be rung.

Dating the tower

It was an exciting project as it gave us the opportunity to date the tower with some certainty. Using the latest techniques in dendrochronology, a comparative process which uses growth ring patterns, Dr Bridge of the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory was able to establish a felling date between 1365 and 1376. As the beams were set into the tower during building this confirmed that the tower was built during the late 14th century.

How the work was carried out

The inside of the tower was completely filled with the scaffolding needed to haul heavy green oak up 60 feet to the ringing chamber. English Heritage insisted that as much as possible of the original structure be retained so, seen from below, the dark timbers are the originals and the light ones are the replacements. The work took six months to complete and then once again the bells rang out over Ashwell.

Fund raising

The fund raising effort was supported by the whole village and grants were given by The Friends of St Mary's, The National Churches Trust and The Beds and Herts Historic Churches Trust. The work cost £80,000 and was under the direction of Caroe and Partners.

A new beam weighing two tons
being wheeled into the church

Erecting the scaffolding in the tower

The Projects

Saving the medieval graffiti

What is the problem?
The problem is that white fluffy crystals are appearing on some of the stones. This 'fluff' is called efflorescence. If this efflorescence is allowed to continue the graffiti, in time would disappear and an extremely rare set of medieval inscriptions would be lost.
The problem is caused by water penetrating the stones. It is not possible to solve this by putting in a damp course as the walls are several feet thick.

What is being done?
In 1929 the block of stone showing Old St Paul's was removed and the cavity was lined with lead. As this stone has remained free from efflorescence for nearly 80 years, the same method is being tried again. A trial has been conducted on one stone and at the moment, English Heritage are considering whether to allow us to continue with the same method on the other stones.

Latest News from the Fabric Action Group

Restoration of the South Aisle and Lady Chapel

South Aisle exterior before restoration

South Aisle exterior after restoration

During 2008, a major restoration of the South Aisle and the Lady Chapel was undertaken, at a cost of over £170,000.

The main building material used in St Mary`s was clunch, which was both cheap and available locally. Clunch is a hard layer found in chalk beds, but is porous and is particularly vulnerable to acid rain. Much of this decayed stonework has now been replaced, including parts of the external buttresses and the parapet of the South Aisle. The disfigured mullions and jambs of the six large windows in the South Aisle and the Lady Chapel were also replaced and a great deal of restoration work was done on the ironwork. Many of the glass panes were replaced with special modern glass that matches the original as sensitively as possible. The remaining panes were cleaned with de-ionized water and then all the glass was re-leaded and weatherproofed with traditional leadlight cement. The internal plaster work was repaired and re-decorated using the correct traditional materials and repairs were made to the roof of the aisle.

Demolition of the old parapet.




Work on new parapet.

Lady Chapel window.

Work on Lady Chapel window.

South Aisle window interior

South Aisle window

Window repair

South Aisle interior while work was carried out.


Fordham Family Memorial Window

A significant addition has been made to the window in the south wall of the Lady Chapel. A stained glass heraldic panel has been inserted into this window to commemorate the contribution made to the life and work of St Mary`s over the last 250 years by the Fordham family of Odsey and Ashwell. The centre of the panel was originally made by Montague Fordham, who was born in Odsey and became a leading member of the Arts and Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century. The panel was designed by Lida Kindersley of the Cardozo-Kindersley workshops in Cambridge and was constructed and finished by David Whyman of Ashwell, a stained glass artist and craftsman.