“An historic wartime fresco as centrepiece to a heritage project for learning, conservation and wellbeing”
It was all due to the woodpeckers!
Those peskily hungry birds that showed their appreciation of our carpenters’ hard work replacing damaged shingles on our historic spire by immediate fervent snacking on the new wood.
The destruction to the spire roof is best appreciated by photos taken internally demonstrating the light penetration.
The potential damage to the spire and the six bells it houses, plus our historic round tower with unique fresco, was immense.
By 2013 the PCC determined that something had to be done.
Fund raising commenced but, however successful we proved, the need to reach over £200,000 meant we knew we had to seek outside support as well. When COVID shut down all our efforts, and we had achieved £70,000 by then, an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was our salvation. They, very generously, gave us a grant of £135,000 on the condition we developed community involvement in the project; they were not prepared to fund just the restoration of a building.
Project Rutherford was conceived.
In determining how to create a community project out of a building restoration, we initially focused on the unique fresco that is housed within our ancient round tower. Created by the daughter of the then incumbent Rev’d. Rutherford, this beautiful work was clearly in danger of serious deterioration should the spire and tower not be restored. Appreciation of the other artistry of Rosemary Rutherford housed within the church, notably four stunning stained glass windows and a painting of the church following bomb damage during the war, suggested we might widen the focus to explore more of the work of this relatively unknown artist. In developing this theme, the project was expanded and refine to become:
An historic wartime fresco as centrepiece to a heritage project for learning, conservation and well-being
The project has three main foci:
1. Repair and restore the spire and tower: the building restoration is central to the preservation of Rosemary’s work and the historic ancient church which houses it.
2. Promote the work of Rosemary Rutherford: by collecting information and memorabilia about the artist to display in a semi-permanent exhibition within the church, and developing various activities to encourage both school children and interested individuals in the artistry.
3. Create a space for personal reflection and meditation: for the internal space of the tower to be upgraded for use by our campanologists and also for private prayer, using the unique fresco as the centrepiece to encourage a sense of wellbeing.
By April 2022 all the details were finalised and we were able to celebrate the launch of the project. Saturday 30th April proved a gloriously sunny afternoon for Rev’d. Carolyn to welcome 98 people to the formal launch of our Rutherford Project. It was lovely to see so many interested parties, particularly when we realised 70+ were not regular church members so the LHF aim of involving the local community and attracting individuals from outside was already being realised.
As people began to arrive a peal of bells rang out a warm greeting to our visitors, not only a joy to hear but also a clear indication as to the importance of our church spire.
Following Carolyn’s welcome, five speakers helped define the project, its aims and intentions, and how people could become engaged with it.
Initially, Rev’d. Diana introduced the project, explaining how it has evolved from being merely restoration work to a major community-centred project focusing on the works of Rosemary Rutherford. It is an interesting tale and, reflecting on what we had achieved since we started fundraising and where we are being encouraged to go. God’s hand clearly seemed to be behind our efforts.
Our architect, Penny Clements, then outlined exactly what building work would be undertaken to the tower and spire. The plans of this work were displayed in the church and made available for interested parties to examine throughout the work, which commenced immediately after the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
The building work involved exposing the ancient timbers in the spire, presenting an opportunity to examine them and determine their exact age. Our local historian, Neil Wiffen, managed to secure a grant from the Essex Society for Archaeology and History for this to be undertaken (our sincere thanks to this organisation), and was able to enlighten us to the nature of ‘dendrochronology’ and what exactly they hoped to find.
We were particularly delighted to have three members of Rosemary’s family present this afternoon: her niece Jenny Weston, and great niece and nephew, Naomi and John. Naomi’s account of her great-aunt’s life and work gave us a real flavour of the Rutherford family and the ‘person’ behind this skilled artist. Both this and Neil’s presentations were recorded so they are available to view for anyone interested.
Trudy then reiterated the aims and intention of the project, outlining exactly what would need to be done, and Diana concluded by stressing the importance of everyone’s support, indicating how they could get involved.
Following the talks, everyone was encouraged to explore the church, viewing the artist’s various works, the building plans, and the display of Rutherford photographs and materials that the Weston family had brought.
Blessed with such a sunny afternoon, it was a joy to appreciate the excellent cakes served so attractively by our catering team in the beauty of our tended churchyard. Our thanks go to our campanologists, all who supplied and served the refreshments, and those who care for the church surround. They all helped create a memorable welcome for our visitors, and the start of this important project.
Trudy April 2023