What is Project Rutherford?

St Mary’s church spire stands out above our village

Like many cedarwood shingle spires in the area, St Mary’s had become holed by woodpeckers.

Shingles that had been holed were each replaced, but the new ones were even more attractive.

“Those peskily hungry birds 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 from inside the spire.

The potential for damage to the six bells housed in the spire and the historic round tower with the unique fresco, was immense.

By 2013 the PCC determined that something had to be done

Over £200,000 was needed to completely re-shingle the spire. We had to seek outside support in addition to our own fundraising. A bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund was constructed. The project had to include community involvement as the HLF does not fund just the restoration of a building.

“An historic wartime fresco as centrepiece to a heritage project for learning, conservation and well-being.”

Project Rutherford was born, focusing on Rosemary Rutherford’s unique fresco inside the tower.

Outreach and community engagement led to the promotion of the life and works of Rosemary Rutherford through an exhibition, talks and trails.
For our talks & events, click here

The Project was officially launched at an event on 30th April 2022, to which local people, historians and art experts were invited. We were delighted that members of Rosemary’s family also came and have been able to lend first hand insight into Rosemary’s life throughout the project.

more about the project launch

Part of the spire with shingles removed, showing internal timbers.

St Mary’s church is a Grade II* listed building dating from the end of the 11th century. The tower was added to the church early in the 12th century and is one of only six round towers in Essex. With a 4½ metre (15ft) diameter, two-stories in height, it has a conical roof rising to an octagonal, wood-clad spire. On the ground floor are three round-headed Norman windows with Roman brick. The spire dates from the 15th century. Two of our six bells date from 1580 and 1613.

Building works commenced in June 2022. When the old shingles were removed from the spire, the timbers were found to be in a much worse state than anticipated. This was partly due to the great age of some, but also to the hasty repairs made after a bomb dropped in the churchyard in 1943. This led to delays and a considerable increase in costs.

Tower, spire and weather vane restored – 26th September 2023

The building works were finally completed, the newly gilded weathervane installed and the scaffolding removed in August 2023. The cedar shingles were replaced by riven oak shakes with stainless steel backing.

Much of the old hard cement render of the tower was replaced with lime mortar.

more about the building works

The exhibition at the back of the church, featuring the Life & Works of Rosemary Rutherford, was opened in March 2023.

more about the exhibition

The interior of the tower was redecorated and carpeted and the fresco cleaned and restored in November 2023. The area is now a quiet space for reflection and prayer as well as the bell ringing chamber.

more about the fresco
project meetings