Trade Secrets by All Saints

In an interview for Comment magazine, the philosopher/motorcycle mechanic Matthew Crawford points out how “the experience of seeing a direct effect of your actions in the world — agency — has become elusive for many people in the affluent West, despite our ever-expanding freedoms, maybe even because of them. Those who work in an office all day might find it hard to say exactly what the upshot of their actions has been at the end of the day. The chain of cause and effect can be a bit obscure. [Like how] our material possessions — our cars, our phones, our washing machines — have become opaque to us and unintelligible. Increasingly they are reliant on software that you can't see and they might be all sealed up. Your things don't invite your intervention; you can't tinker with them.

This encourages a kind of passivity and dependence. In that condition we are missing out on something that is really fundamental to being human, which is individual agency: being master of your own stuff.”

Crawford has discovered that if we want to overcome the anxieties of our distracted age, we’d do very well to knuckle down and learn a trade. Instead of the impulse to throw off the yoke of tradition and community, maybe there is a freedom to be found in immersing ourselves in communities with long experience in the material world. On that note, meet Guy Marsh, a conservator working on St Helen’s. 

 

So Guy, you’ve been working as a Conservator on our beautiful St Helen’s since March, can you tell us a little about what’s been filling your days up to now?

One of the largest jobs so far has been the raking out of the old mortar and the removal of old stone. In some parts of the church both the stone and the mortar were crumbling.  Altogether we removed over 300 bags of crumbling rubble from site!

Now the old stone had been removed, the holes left behind have been consolidated ready to receive the new stone.  Some of the new stones have now been fitted with grouting behind to hold everything in place.

Getting the exact colour of the mortar has also taken some time as different sand and dust mixtures were made up and left to dry.  It took a good few goes of different mixes before getting it just right but it’s details like this that mean the conservation is as good as it possibly can be.

 

It’s clear you have a real passion for what you do, how did you become a conservator?

I was over in Canada visiting a then girlfriend and was run over on a pedestrian crossing.  I used the compensation from the accident to retrain.  Originally I was a technical illustrator.

 

Why conservation in particular?

At the time I was doing historic education in schools, dressing up in period costumes etc. trying to install enthusiasm for history among school children.  As well as a lifetime’s interest in history, I have always been fascinated by architecture; conservation combined my love of both.

 

You’ve worked on some amazing buildings, is there one particular job that stands out as a career highlight?

It would have to be working at the Lady Chapel of St Mary’s church, Abergavenny on a wonderful collection of marble, alabaster, sandstone and limestone monuments.  Some were decorated beautifully with paint and gold, restoring these was a most satisfying job!

 

And what would you say has been the most enjoyable part of the working on St Helen’s so far?

Producing a mould and cast of decorative elements to be used as reference for recarving work. It’s wonderful to be able to restore this sort of detail.

 

What do you see as the significance of these buildings?

It’s about saving something of the past, keeping these buildings going for future generations.

 

What’s next for you at St Helen’s?

I will be continuing to fit new stone and grout in place, and lots and lots mortar repairs!

 

Where can you be found when you’re not restoring buildings?

I live in Devon and can generally be found out on my motorcycle or in my garden which I have redesigned to be a green tropical oasis.

 

Any life lessons from your work?

Don’t do it for too long! After 20 years of working as a conservator I’ve a bad back and sore knees!

A week in the life of the project / April 20th, 2018 by All Saints

Wrapped in mystery? Not at all! Our beautiful scaffolding hides a hive of activity. Here’s an insight into what the first fortnight on the St Helen’s project has seen so far.

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Monday

Since our incredible scaffold artwork went up, we’ve been thrilled by the response it’s had from passers-by. Easter is a busy time on the High Street and it’s wonderful to see so many shoppers stop to take in the scene.

Hiding beneath this eye-catching exterior are our contractors, Sally Strachey Historic Conservation. Fuelled with homemade cakes and regular supplies of tea and coffee, they have begun their careful work. Their 30 years of specialist stone restoration experience is already proving invaluable to St Helen’s as they uncover and focus on the initial stages of the project. Watch this space for more detail. 

 

Tuesday

Did you catch us on the Beeb? Kate Justice from BBC Hereford and Worcester’s ‘Pride of Place’ series came for an exclusive sneak-peak about the project at St Helen’s. It was a wonderful opportunity to share the vision for the site with our community and we hope those who heard it will feel intrigued enough to come and see it for themselves.

 

Wednesday

Blessed with a head for heights, our stone masons are used to their sky-high surroundings but for us at St Helen’s, it was a thrilling trip to the top of the site to see close at hand what repairs are needed. Guided by their expertise, it was fascinating to hear how the carbon deposits (black sooty bits) will be gently erased and how the stone indents will be cut by hand.

 

Thursday

This building has a fascinating past, and we have a clear vision for its future. Want to know what it is? Then check out the video we have created here: https://vimeo.com/257457010/481503f643

We’ll be sending it out across our social media as well as screening it on site for the public on our embedded high street TV.  

We’re pleased Worcester Civic Society, who proudly advocate for the protection of so many of the city’s historic buildings, plan to feature the St Helen’s project in their next newsletter. 

 

Friday

Jesus opened the door to heaven, so we’re trying to live by example. It’s not quite heaven, but the cake and coffee are divine at the St Helen’s pop-up cafe every Friday. It’s been so lovely to see the space being used socially and seeing friends catch up, or weary shoppers taking a break. We welcome all. 

Our St Helen’s Guides hosted a group of students from Worcester University, and two local historians, as they seek to study St Helen’s and add this wonderful and ancient building to their portfolios.

Finally, we met with another church seeking Heritage Lottery Funding to share our learning. It’s a privilege to help and encourage their efforts, something we hopefully engage with In the future.

Welcome to the St Helen's on the High Street blog by All Saints

Hello!

For those who have already followed us, a big thank you for your support. For those, who are new - welcome to the St Helen’s on the high street blog.

After months of applications, admin and prayers, we are excited to share the good news that work begins in earnest on Monday 12th February. The scaffolding will go up and centuries of damage to St Helen’s beautiful stonework will now be lovingly repaired. 

 

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What is St Helen’s on the high street?

Church isn’t something we go to, its family we belong to and absolutely everyone is welcome no matter what. From February 2018, you might see this inscribed on the beautiful artwork which will encase the scaffolding erected to repair St Helen’s. It’s a sentiment we care deeply about at All Saints. Family is community and that extends to the beautiful buildings we share with you in our city, Worcester.

Where is St Helen’s? Yes, you’ve passed it many times and maybe not noticed its crumbling splendour. Tucked up near the Cathedral end of the high street on Fish Street, is St Helen’s - a beautiful grade II listed church, believed to be the oldest in Worcester!

St Helen’s has always been a consecrated building, yet over the years it’s had a range of uses. Some know it as a Second World War Serviceman’s club and others will remember its use as the county’s Records Office. In 2002 it was returned to the care of All Saints church and we saw a chance to restore some of its former glory.

 

Why is St Helen’s being restored?

St Helen’s is a well used space, hosting our regular Sunday evening services and a weekly toddler group. As such, in 2016 we saw it was in a poor state of repair and rightly included on the ‘Heritage at Risk’ register. Not since the Victorian age has St Helen’s undergone any major restoration work!

Action was needed, and this is when our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (that’s HLF to those in the know) was made. Eighteen months ago, we received a grant from the HLF to tackle urgently needed stonework and other masonry related repairs to St Helen’s.

Once we had the funding awarded, we set to work with a series of detailed surveys and investigations. Leaving no nook or cranny uncovered, we created stone by stone drawings to support a detailed specification outlining the required restoration work. A beautiful building, full of beautiful details which all needed attention.

 

What work is being done at St Helen’s?

Crumbling stonework, eroding mortar, rusting iron clamps and leaking lead all need urgent attention. As do our problematic iron drainpipes, which will be taken down, restored and re-affixed.  Oh and did we mention, years of encrusted bird droppings need to be removed and deterrent netting installed. Any takers for that job?

Disappointingly when the contract went out for tender, the costs came in significantly higher than anticipated. As we had already applied for the maximum HLF grant available to us, this presented quite a problem. Thankfully, our architects worked hard to come up with a revised schedule of works which met the HLF budget available to us.

However, a significant shortfall in funding remains. In order to safeguard the future of the building entirely, we need further grants. This gap has been closed slightly with some generous pledges made by other grant awarding bodies – and to them, we are very grateful.

 

When does work at St Helen’s start?

Keep an eye on the site from 12th February, when our appointed contractors Sally Strachey Historic Conservation will begin with the scaffolding – which in itself is incredibly exciting. The building will be wrapped with innovative artwork designed by local artist Tracy Flynn and will make a real impact on the High Street. Look out for the screens showing something of our restoration project, the history of St Helen's and life inside the building.

Around the corner, our Fish Street scaffolding will allow us to thank those wonderful organisations who have helped fund our repairs while also offering local businesses the chance to advertise.


Who is St Helen’s for?

For us church is family, and absolutely everyone is welcome. We are committed to our Worcester community and we warmly extend an invite to you to join us. There are a few ways you can be part of St Helen’s:

Come and visit any Friday between 10–2pm where our trained guides will bring the lost history of St Helen’s to life.

Drop by for a coffee and relax in our cosy pop-up cafe – Fridays 10-2pm.

Join us for our reflective and spiritual evening service, 6.30pm every Sunday.

This is a truly exhilarating time. Not just in terms of restoration, but in the new ways we can serve our city by opening St Helen’s as a community space for all. We look forward to welcoming you soon.