Tuesday, 12 March 2013

All Saints Church, Leek 1887

It was interesting to read the account of the restoration work being carried out on the Nicholson Memorial by the Birmingham based company of stone mason. It is a pity that a building company with the right degree of expertise was not found locally. If it is a case of not having the right skills then it was not always the case. I recently came across an article written in the late 60s in the Six Towns Magazine on a diary of a Victorian Stonemason. The man in question was James Heath who was entrusted with the workers in his Leek based company to work on All Saints Church between 1885-7. All Saints Church is recognised as one of the glories of late Victorian architecture by no less an authority than the late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman. The church stands not as a monument to the genius of architect Norman Shaw but also to the application and skill of local craftsmen. The work of these local men is chronicled in Heath’s diary. He was a deeply religious man and he entered into the contract for the building of the church with a high degree of piety.

“ May God in his great mercy and wisdom help me to complete this work to his Glory, my honour, and everyone’s satisfaction” as he wrote on signing the contract. Heath was energetic and committed to the project sometimes walking from his home in Endon and staying on the site for 10 hours. The conditions were hard and the winter of 1885-6 was particularly gruelling. In March 1886 a portion of the church collapsed after a heavy thaw. He had difficulty with some of the workmen. One James Rhead was imprisoned for abandoning his wife and another was sacked for “ spending too long at the closet”. The central tower and the strain it placed on the building were a continual worry. In November 1886 his diary contain passages that Heath fears that the building is in danger of serious collapse. By March 1887 most of the structural work was completed and on the 24th a visit from the architect who is tremendously pleased with the quality of the work. Heath records modestly “ I am not worthy of such confidence”. When the church was finally consecrated heath wrote in touching terms

Monday 25th July 1887. Day beautifully fine. I go to Compton by 10.37-am train. I find them ready for the consecration service. The chancel is beautiful. 2-15 pm. The consecration service by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield, and a very imposing service it is, and a grand sermon by the Bishop. Thank God for permitting me to see and enjoy this day. Amen.

In the 19th century there was no need to seek the skills some distance away- they existed on our doorstep.