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The Restoration of the Church of St Martin's, Waithe, Lincolnshire

Click on the photographs for a larger image.
St Martin's in the distance

St Martin's in the distance

The present day “village” of Waithe, Lincolnshire is now in fact just a few rather isolated houses, they have only a tenuous link with what must once have been a large and thriving agricultural community. By the time of the Doomsday survey of 1086 the county of Lincolnshire was, along with Norfolk, the most populous in England. The survey mentions the church and it seems that the present tower is a remnant from those troubled times. The first sight one often gets of the village church of St Martin’s is of the tower protruding from its skirt of trees. The most striking feature of this tower is its obvious late Saxon / early Norman origin in the shape of the double belfry opening. Each arch is created from a single piece of stone and as such is one of the simplest ways of introducing light into a building.
It was the sight of these ancient window openings (a number of years ago) that first drew me aside from the busy A16 road and into the lane to take a closer look. However a closer view was to lead to disappointment as I was met with a sight of dereliction and decay, the whole building was falling into disrepair and the tower opening in danger of collapse. However, one day whilst travelling past I noticed that the building was surrounded by scaffolding and my first thought was that it was being knocked down. However, venturing closer I was to discover, much to my surprise and delight that the renovation of the church was in progress! This was being undertaken (in 2005) by The Churches Conservation Trust.
Mention should be made here that this wasn’t the first restoration the church had undergone. It was in 1861 that the building was remodelled by the local architect James Fowler. He was also responsible for the fine church at Binbrook (1869) and the splendidly sited church at Wold Newton (1860) among many others in Lincolnshire. The cost of this earlier restoration was borne by the Haigh family and it is thanks to this Victorian philanthropy that St. Martin's church was still standing at all in 2005. I remember the first time I took a photo of  the Church, I had stood a few yards from the porch in the overgrown churchyard trying to get a decent shot whilst all the time a feeling of sadness seemed to hang in the air. You might think it odd to say so but it was almost as if the building was sharing its plight. I suppose after nearly one thousand years of service that it had the right to feel sad having now been sidelined and left to its own devices. It was at this point in 2005 with its chancel roof holed, many windows vandalised and much stonework crumbling away, that the Trust began its restoration survey.
St Martin's after restoration

St Martin's after restoration

Let the dog see the rabbit, as the saying goes! The first thing to do was to clear undergrowth and cut back trees to give a clear uninterrupted view of the building. Once inside it became clear that a colony of bats was in residence and a special licence was required to re-house them whilst the work was undertaken. Tons of guano and assorted debris needed to be removed before a full architectural survey could be completed. The survey showed all areas of the building required remedial work and this included all the roofs from the tower downwards, tower floors and stonework, bells and hanging frame; all stained glass needed repair or replacement and the whole interior needed to have an industrial clean.
View of Nave brickwork

View of Nave brickwork

The picture left shows an internal view of the nave with its banded brickwork which was part of the Fowler rebuilding of 1861, however the pointed arches are original 13th century work whilst the thin lancet windows were intended to reflect this same early English style of architecture. In the original building this part of the church may well have been finished in limestone and possibly rendered to allow murals to be painted onto the walls. Many restorers of the Victorian era stripped church walls back to the stone. Here Fowler's compromise of coloured brick and plain stone works very well.
The Chancel

The Chancel

The relative plainness of the nave hardly prepares one for the splendour, which awaits you in the chancel. It is in fact the tiles on the floor that go some way in preparing for the surprise that greets you when passing through the arch, which divides the nave from the chancel. Stepping through this arch, inserted into the lower section of the central tower, you enter the chancel, which is semicircular in form. Here the lower walls and floor are covered in tiles manufactured at the Minton factory. This second restoration has brought the colours back to life and preserved for us Fowler's original decorative scheme. The whole chancel has been  faithfully restored including the glasswork and as such presents a stunning spectacle rarely seen in a lowly country church.
The Minton Tiles

The Minton Tiles

All told the recent restoration cost approximately £350,000. We now have a building in which will be held concerts, exhibitions and open days for the village and, as the church is still consecrated, perhaps even a service of worship. Providing of course there are still people of faith who remember its original purpose.
Alter

Alter

Window

Window

Window

Window

Haigh Family Plaque 1861

Haigh Family Plaque 1861

Window

Window

Window

Window

Stonework

Stonework

Window

Window

Tower

Tower

Tower

Tower

Tower

Tower

Tower

Tower

Corner detail

Corner detail

Engish Hertitage, at the launch of it's 2007 Edition of Buildings at Risk announced that St Martin's had been removed from the list. It said -

"One notable success is the Church of St Martin in Waithe, Lincolnshire. This Grade I parish church, restored by the noted local James Fowler in 1861, boasts an 11th century central tower which may have Saxon origins, and elaborate patterned Minton tiles on the chancel floor and walls. The church is now redundant but because it is of great significance it has passed into the care of the Church's Conservation Trust. After careful repair it will be re-opened later this year." (2007)
Clink on the link to go to my other pages
Church Architecture and Stained Glass
The Creation Window - Chester Cathedral
St Martin's Waithe Lincolnshire (this page)
All Saints Walesby Lincolnshire
Visit the Waithe St. Martins Website at http://waithechurch.co.uk


© Peter Tappin Jan 2009

peter@tappin-family.org.uk
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