St Robert’s External Repairs – saving hidden heritage

Conchie & Co were brought in by heritage acredited building surveyors, Lewis Surveying Associates to help parishoners secure funds for urgent repair works to their Grade 2 listed parish church in Morpeth. The church interior had been beautifully restored after an earlier fire, but now the valuable heritage was being put at risk by water ingress and decaying masonry in the Victorian building.

Following an accidental fire in 2012, St Robert’s underwent a major internal restoration. This revealed previously unknown heritage assets: an altar rail designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott as a memorial to the fallen of WWI, and original painted wall surfaces (later covered with white paint) along with their design on a roll of linen. These complement the Grade 2 listed Early English gothic stone architecture and William Wailes stained glass in lancet windows.

Although the church is now lightly painted inside, but volunteers’ research discovered the original plan for the decoration on a linen roll and period postcards showing the ornate decoration in situ.  During a Heritage Open Days event, parishoners were delighted to meet the direct decendant of the interior designers, and she later sent an 1895 newspaper report about the grand unveiling which described in detail the designs and colours, essential in the days before newspapers could carry colour photographs:

 “deep tones of olive”, “delicate ornamentation of lilies”, “elaborate freise of exquisite design”, “sage green beautifully diapered with gold”, “Pompeian red, relieved with gold and emblems”, “the roof is painted a pale celestial blie, enriched with gold stars”

They conclude “Viewed as a whole the effect is magnificent and imposing, The entire work, which has taken about three months to do, has been designed and executed by Messers. Atkinson Brothers of Newcastle.”

Conchie & Co worked in a cross-disciplinary team to support the parishioners to successfully secure circa £200,000  from HLF’s Grants for Places of Worship scheme. Repairs to the roof, and sandstone walls and carvings will protect the built heritage and afford this active church community an unprecedented opportunity to engage themselves, other local people and visitors with the skills, perspectives and beauty so revealed.