GALLERY: The Bishop of Huntingdon shows he has a head for heights, as he shins up a ladder to admire medieval carvings
- Credit: Archant
THE Bishop of Huntingdon bravely climbed a 30-foot ladder this week to take a look at the unique medieval carved wooden demons discovered in the roof of St Clement’s Church at Outwell.
The Right Rev David Thomson declared he was both “excited and privileged” to join representatives of English Heritage and other conservators for a first close up look at the fifteenth century fine carvings.
“I am glad I braved the heights, and we are very grateful to English Heritage for supporting the project to conserve the carvings,” he said.
“When the work is complete, we will make this a church that people will want to visit, we will get lighting and interpretation boards, and it will be a destination.”
The 12 demons were discovered by Cambridge University medieval historian Dr Claire Daunton last year, and this week scaffolding went up in the church’s nave, so conservators could investigate the carvings, which each portray a demon and an apostle or saint.
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English Heritage has already promised a £230,000 grant to help fund preservation work on the carvings, which are of national importance, and for work on the church roof.
This week’s investigations have revealed that the carvings, dating from 1420-1440, are part of the nave roof structure, so they cannot be removed for conservation work to be carried out, as first planned.
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Church architect Richard Waite – who is also Sandringham church’s architect – explained: “We will have to do the work in situ, the carvings need cleaning, and then conserving, to stabilise them from death watch beetle damage. This is incredibly costly, and could not be done without English Heritage assistance.
“It has been a revelation to see the carvings so close, and see the fine detail. They are incredibly important, and one of the most exciting finds of my career. We have known the roof needs work for sometime, and discovering how important the demons are has made that work more urgent.
“It is likely to take a couple of years to restore the carvings and do work to the roof structure.
“The quality of the carving is most exciting, and finding it in a little country church is just wonderful.”
Timber conservationist Hugh Harrison added: “Discovering that the demons are part of the roof timbers means the conservation work will be more difficult. There is a huge amount of death watch beetle, and some of it is active, that is the worrying thing.
“The carvings are very high quality; they capture the character of the subject, rather than being just a stock figure.”
Architect Robert Parkinson from English Heritage said: “We are now a little closer to identifying the work that needs to be done, it has been a real treat to see the carvings. We will work with the church architect to draw up a strategy and a programme of work.”
The parish needs to raise £60,000 towards the conservation work, and the Friends of St Clement’s have raised £7,000 since January.
Church warden Ruth Saunders said: “The demons are unique and must be preserved, and we hope when the work is done, they will attract a lot of visitors.”
To join the Friends, pick up a membership leaflet in church or go to their website, www.stclementsoutwell.org.uk