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Work is at last starting on repairs to the Frowyk Chantry Chapel (not that it has been a chantry since Henry VIII’s time, when they put a stop to all that sort of thing, i.e. saying prayers for the souls of the great and good).

For the last couple of years the chapel has been closed since the subsidence has made the floor very uneven and unsafe. St. Giles Church now has permission to dismantle the Frowyk canopy tomb, initially down to the level of the knight on his chest tomb, to stop it destroying itself. For some time now stone fragments have cracked off parts of this important monument, due to pressures from the movement caused by underlying subsidence. It is part of the reason for the church being a Grade One Listed Building, and it needs repair and restoration.

The first step has been to work out just where the subsidence has occurred, and what voids there are below the floor of the chapel. If at all possible the constituent pieces of the tomb will be stored where the floor is sufficiently stable to take the weight. We have had a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey of the chapel floor, and the results have been forwarded to our Structural Engineer and also to our regular Builder who will dig trial holes to verify where the floor needs to be strengthened. This will also involve an archaeologist, in case the contents of graves are disturbed.

The next phase of work is to dismantle the rest of the Frowyk tomb and the small altar, and to lift up the floor covering (tiles and grave stones). As you can imagine, this is highly skilled and delicate work, especially as the stonework has been weakened by the stresses of the structural movement.

This will be followed by packing the voids and levelling up the underlying floor of the chapel, and compacting it to make a level surface on which the floor can be relayed. However the tomb space will be strengthened with a concrete raft on which the tomb can be re-assembled, no longer attached to the north wall of the chapel. Also the small altar will be rebuilt. Around the chapel is a mediaeval wooden screen, with delicate tracery in a late Gothic style. This will have to be supported somehow, while the floor on which it rests is taken up and levelled. At present it is sagging down at the north end, and the pieces of wood which form the tracery have become distorted out of position. The whole structure has to be gently eased into shape, avoiding cracking or breaking the ancient woodwork.
The firm that will attend to this part of the work has come to inspect the problem: they have worked in most of the ancient churches, chapels and cathedrals in the country. When they came in mid-March, they had been working on a job in Eton College; on a previous visit they had come from Cambridge, and at another time from Lincoln Cathedral. Mind you, the GPR surveyor said his last job had been to survey the whole of the floor of Exeter Cathedral. We local Mimms people tend to take St. Giles for granted, but it is rated as a historic building of great importance, and the craftsmen attending to these repairs work on the greatest structures in the land.

Phase 2 of the works may not start until the later Summer, but it is hoped that the work can be completed within this calendar year, not least so that we can reclaim VAT on the work: the opportunity to do this may well cease in April 2020, if the Government closes the scheme whereby Listed Places of Worship may reclaim VAT on repairs.

Which brings us to the money! Phase 1 (the removal of the tomb canopy and investigation of the floor and ground below) will cost around at least £15,000, maybe up to £20,000. Phase 2 is estimated, at this stage, as likely to cost up to about £90,000, including VAT (which we hope to reclaim) and fees. St. Giles has some resources, but by no means the whole cost, so we will apply for grants from a number of sources. In the past we have raised money locally (in 2007 there was a big fund-raising campaign), and we will be asking the local community for support once again. The amount raised locally might be a small proportion of the full costs, but it is important that we are seen to make some effort.

After all, whether you attend the church regularly or not, you may well want to get married there, or have your children baptised. And all residents have the right to be buried in the churchyard, while there is still space for that. We look at the church most days: it is an integral part of the village scene. So when someone asks for your support for these repairs, you will have some idea what it all entails.

St. Giles features in Simon Jenkins’ book ‘England’s 1,000 Best Churches’. The Frowyk tombs and the Chapel are famous, and much visited. We need to make sure they are maintained for us and for future generations to enjoy.

Mark Edwards and William Marsterson, Churchwardens