St James’ Church is very fortunate to have such an old and beautiful church building (as signified by its Grade I listing) which has served the community of Finchampstead well for many years (see Church History). However, like all old buildings, it was gradually deteriorating and was badly in need of care and attention to enable it to continue providing a place of worship for the generations to come.
A decade of repair, maintenance, refurbishment and conservation commenced in 2000, and the following projects were completed:
2000 – Refurbishment and retiling of Apse roof
2002 – Outer wall footings & water drainage improved
2003 – Outer walls re-plastered
2004/5 – Tower bells removed and re-voiced
2005 – Organ console & organ pipes removed and re-furbished
In 2007 an appeal was launched to raise sufficient money to fund a major conservation project to preserve the internal and external fabric of the main church building, and by the middle of 2009 £550,000 had been raised to fund the required works. The church was closed on 2nd August 2009 and services temporarily relocated into the Church Centre whilst the conservation work took place. The priority was to conserve as much as possible of almost a millenium of history, whilst at the same time sensitively updating the building to serve the modern community. The church was re-opened to its congregation and officially rededicated by the Bishop of Oxford at a special service held on Palm Sunday, 28th March 2010. Fortunately, the project was completed on time and within budget!
To give you an idea of the scale of work undertaken, the following tasks were performed as part of the conservation project:
On the outside:
Roofs: Newly tiled nave and North Chapel roofs. We were able to use many of our own tiles, but used some reclaimed tiles from elsewhere, after having replaced the wooden batons. In addition, the tower roof had to be re-felted.
Re-pointing: The whole tower has been re-pointed and looks magnificent.
Paths: We have put down two York stone paths on the approach to the church for enhanced wheelchair and buggy access, as well as putting doen new slighly larger gravel elsewhere so that it is not brought into the church with the chance of damaging the new floor.
Gate: We have restored the main gate to the church, and replaced the gateposts.
Lighting: We have installed improved security lighting. The lighting outside the church now has a new lamppost, and other lanterns installed over the doors.
Handrail: A new handrail fitted beside the steps outside the 1590 door in order to allow entry and exit more safely, especially in an emergency.
On the inside:
Replacement plaster on most internal walls: This was necessary because the old plaster was of the wrong type and retained moisture. We could not paint over the old plaster. Most of the walls were taken back to the stonework; it was an eerie sight!
Redecoration: There has been redecoration throughout with breathable limewash paint in an appropriate off-white colour.
Newly constructed nave and north chapel floor with reclaimed tiles and oak board finish: The black and red tiled floor in the nave uses 70% of our original tiles but these have been supplemented by identical tiles from a church in High Wycombe which was renewing its own floor. The terracotta tiles in the North Chapel were reclaimed from a church in the north of England. The oak boarding is engineered oak, in a colour that matches the stonework. This colour sets offs the new pews to greater effect. The aged look of the floorboards is an attractive feature, as they look as though they have been down for centuries!
Grilles: Wrought iron grilles were installed under the pews for ventilation.
Stonework: There is a new stone floor in the sanctuary, replacing the carpet. There are new Portland stone steps up into the chancel from the nave and North Chapel.
New carpet in the chancel: Underneath the carpet are significant monuments which have been retained, but we are not permitted to walk on them, either by the diocese or English Heritage. The carpet colour was chosen to blend in with the stonework and to allow the eye to focus on the liturgical colours of the altar frontal. Matching carpet has also been laid in the vestry.
Floor levelled: The floor has been levelled from the porch door, right through to the chancel step and into the North Chapel. This has eradicated the step up into the pews, improving safety and disabled access.
New lathe and plaster ceiling in North Chapel: The ceiling was very fragile and needed expert repair. At one point, when the tiles were off the roof at the same time, the North Chapel was open to the sky!
Rewiring: New rewiring throughout – a considerable amount of it!
New sound system and recording facility: a much improved sound system with ability to relay services to the Church Centre.
Acoustics: The acoustics seem to have improved in the church, although this was not intended! It seems to be a benefit of all that has been done.
New lighting scheme for services and concerts: multiple ‘scene settings’ to capture the appropriate atmosphere for various services and events. In addition, we now have lighting behind the rafters in the roof in order to highlight the nave ceiling. The beautiful wooden ceiling in the chancel has been restored and is now lit to enhance its beauty. We have introduced spotlights to highlight various characteristics of the church: the font, the organm the tomb, the altar, the hatchment and other monuments.
New high-level, economic electric heaters: these are smarter and more powerful than the old radiant heaters introduced as an interim measure a few years ago when our under pew heating stopped working. These give out instance heat, as well as a warm glow. They are sited on the beams in such a way as to create minimal visual impact when not in use.
Restored stonework on the ancient windows: particulary in the North Chapel. Other stonework has been cleaned, most notably in the Transfiguration window behind the altar, with the white paint being stripped from the stonework.
New bespoke pews and chairs: These have a new design especially for our church. The gable end of each pew has an ‘arch shape’ in order to match the arch over the chancel. The four intersecting circles in the design (a quadrafoil) mimic the design of the altar rail. In the middle is the scallop shell, the emblem of St. James. The seating has been shaped for greater comfort. The kneelers have neen retained and have easier access, to encourage people to kneel when praying. Hymn books and service sheets can now be stored in the pocket without them falling off a narrow ledge! The choir pews have been fitted with up-stands for music.
Fire detection: A new fire detection system has been installed which will alert a central control.
Security: A new camera system has been installed both inside and outside the church for greatly increased security.
Matching woodwork for doors, cabinets and wardrobes: New doors from the north porch with glass windows to allow more light in and for people to see in if a service is taking place, cabinets in the North Chapel housing electrical equipment and altar frontals, more secure door to vestry with small window, new wardrobes in vestry for choir and clergy robes, window ledges for flower displays.
Monitors and screens: a new monitor installed above the organ console in North Chapel to enable people sat there to have full sight of the service. A monitor also been installed in the bell ringing chamber for use by bell-ringers during weddings.
Repairs to monuments: The Charles II hatchment (that used to sit on front of the organ before the ornamental pipes were fitted) is being restored and will return to the wall above the choir in the North Chapel. Boards with the Creed and Lord’s Prayer are being refurbished and will be re-hung in the vestry.
Ironmongery: bolt on the west door in the vestry replaced with magnificent new one. In addition we have replaced the old conglomeration of bolts on the 1590 door with a new one.
Organ: The organ blower motor has been re-sited in the vestry. This will be encased in a sound-proof box to make it much quieter.
Re-polishing: All other existing furniture and monuments have been lovingly fixed and polished by various members of the congregation.
There are many people to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for enabling us to complete the mammoth task of conserving our church building.
Firstly, we would like to thank the many people from both the church community, the wider community of Finchampstead and beyond who have freely given their time and money to raise more than £550,000 to bring this project to fruition.
We would also like to thank all those who served on the various committees that guided the project, and who organised and participated in the monumental operations to move out and back into the building.
Finally, we would like to thank the many skilled tradesmen and craftsmen to whom we entrusted our much loved building and who stripped the building back to bare stone and beams and put it all back together again, retaining the character of our building in the process. In particular we would like to thank the team from our main contractor Farr and Roberts, the team from Cliveden Conservation for the many hours of work put in restoring the stonework (in particular on the east window) and the team from ICS Church Furnishers who designed and produced handcrafted replacement wooden pews and chairs for the church.