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Feltwell's Faith in Flint Restored

The Story of a Tired Old Wall

By Sue Garland, Feltwell St Mary’s

It was a dark, dank January day in 2019 when I picked up the phone to The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB.) 

It was more out of desperation than any hope that they could offer us help.  St Mary’s PCC carry the responsibility for not only the church, churchyard and wall of St Mary’s, but also the churchyard and wall of the redundant church of St Nicholas.

We knew the wall was in a terrible and in some places dangerous state of repair, but had been quoted £38,000 for its repair and looking back that was probably a conservative estimate.

What were we to do? 

There is no way we could find that amount of money and we knew that the National Lottery Heritage Fund were very unlikely to fund a wall.  Hence the desperation.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Johnny Garlic – who doesn’t normally answer SPAB’s phones on a Monday – was exactly the person I needed.  I explained our predicament.

SPAB had just decided to make flint repairs one of their key objectives for 2019. Within ten days, Johnny had organised a site meeting with Chris Parker and myself, Tony Smith from The College of West Anglia, Maggie Goodall in charge of SPAB courses, John Lord our local Flint Knapper, Holly Isted, Ely Diocese Historic Buildings Officer and Edmund Lambert along whose boundary the wall stands.

Now we had become very used to people saying no to our ideas, "no because we couldn’t raise the money", "no because we didn’t have enough people", "no because we didn’t have the expertise".  Suddenly the 5th Feb 2019 was not a grey day. A bunch of people turned up who said YES.  Yes, we can help you, yes, we can do the majority of this using volunteers, yes, we can offer expertise.  You literally could have bowled us over.

That day they left us with a list of things to do.  We had to find £9,000 of funding to mend the wall on Hythe Road, considered too dangerous for volunteers, liaise with SPAB, appoint a Heritage Building Contractor, recruit volunteers to mend the rest of the wall and seek permission from the Diocese of Ely to carry out the work.

With all of this in place by April, we were able to begin with a small working party completing a trial panel on the wall.  Building students from the College of West Anglia completed a survey of the whole wall and we are proud owners of “The Book of the Wall” an extremely detailed document detailing materials as well as the condition of the wall.

Following this came a massive working party over four days in Sept 2019. SPAB sent volunteers, we recruited locals, provided food and accommodation for those who needed it. 

The Wellington fed those staying for two nights, people camped in St Mary’s Church and churchyard.  SPAB ran a delegate course in working with flint.  In all we had 63 volunteers coming from all corners of the country, including some very experienced architects and building contractors, SPAB Fellows and Scholars.  None of this cost us a penny.

However, the work was not completed in that time so we hoped to organise two more weekends in 2020.  But of course, we all know what happened next…

So, the next time we could meet and feel safe was July 2021. SPAB once more supported us in finding volunteers, the furthest came from Somerset this time, and we called our locals together once more.  More camping, more meals to provide and by now we had quite a reputation for cake – it seemed like kilos of it was consumed and all in temperatures of over 30 Celsius! 

Surely the wall was finished? NO!

It took another two days, this time with the sole help of our dream team of local people and on Saturday 30th October 2022, 120 coping stones were laid by the said dream team in one day. 

There has to be special mention of a guy called Jo Orsi.  He is a SPAB regional volunteer and has stood by us throughout this whole event.  He has been our go to for everything, he taught us skills, he sourced materials, he allayed our worries.  He has also told us that we haven’t yet finished, that there will always be work to be done! Without him though I’m not sure we could have begun.

So, what have we taken away from this gargantuan project? 

  • People like cake!
  • People are incredibly generous of their time and enthusiasm.
  • New friends.
  • The knowledge that we have collectively made a difference to an historic building in our community.
  • The knowledge that we have shown respect to the people who are buried in the churchyard.
  • Our community can pull together.
  • Many of us learnt new skills.
  • Memories of a great deal of fun and laughter.

And what of the Hythe Road stretch of wall? 

We managed to procure a grant of £9,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  We assume they supported us because we could prove that it was to be such a massive volunteer project and that it offered so much to our community.  You may have noticed as you pass by that that work is now complete.

People often ask us why we haven’t yet sorted the wall of St Mary’s in Bell Street.  My immediate feeling is there is much more complexity in doing this wall than repairing St Nicks, the truth being that we can’t use volunteers to do it because the work is on the edge of the road and we would have to involve traffic management.  It has to be done by a paid contractor.  

We do not have the money to do this at the moment, but it is on the list of priorities and we intend to run some fundraising events to support the repair of this wall; we know it looks a mess.  So, the next time you see a quiz night advertised, support us, some of the proceeds will be going towards the wall repair.

Finally, I want to give our sincere thanks to everyone who supported us in this venture.  That support came in many guises, be it the physical work of repairing the wall, expertise offered to us, people who made cakes and those who filled hundreds of rolls to feed the masses. 

Thank you, a hundred times.  We can now look on that part of our village with pride.  Our village mended the “Tired Old Wall.”


A brief summary of the project

Page last updated: Friday 11th February 2022 3:09 PM
First published on: 11th February 2022
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