Builders at work renewing St John's
Work is well underway on the year-long project — called Securing the Future — to renew the interior of St John’s church building.
Strengthening the floor is the most fundamental task. For at least 20 years some areas have been known to be sinking. The area around the font has long been fenced off. In the centre of the nave, plywood sheets covered a section where the floor collapsed 10 years ago. Lifting the huge lias slabs showed they were supported by miniature brick walls standing on not much more than rubble from the Victorian renovation about 1850 (some of the rubble might even date from the collapse of the central tower about 1470). The slabs are four inches thick and were laid so tight together that perhaps they were holding one another up.
What has happened already
Doing the job properly has meant clearing the entire space within the Grade I listed building. The pine pews have gone, sold at auction in January; the wooden flooring that was under the pews is also gone. Worn-out carpets are gone. The 1970s wood-and-glass porch inside the south door is gone.
The huge elm sculptures — the Resurrection Christ and the Mother and Child — have been returned to the family of the sculptor, Ernst Blensdorf. All paintings have been removed from walls and put into storage. Chained copies of early printed Bibles have gone to the cathedral library. Abbot Whiting’s cope, which was displayed in the north transept for centuries, has a new home in the Abbey.
The stone tomb that was under the cope has a new site in the north churchyard, and the carved marble tomb of John Camel migrated to a new place inside the church.
The pipe organ is cocooned in plastic and plywood to protect it from dust; its keyboard and console are in a workshop being modernized. Sir George Gilbert Scott’s carved oak choir benches from 1850 are in the contractor’s workshop being refurbished during the building.
The font has been moved from its former southwest location to a new place between the vestry and the high altar, where it will stand at floor level without the massive steps.
A temporary plywood screen has been erected to separate the nave from the chancel (which had its floor renewed about 20 years ago). Plywood surrounds all the pillars to protect the stonework.
All the ancient lias floor slabs, carefully numbered, have been lifted and stored while new supports are built for them.
What happens next
Using scaffolding, all the high timbers will be inspected and cleaned. Wiring will be put in place for new lighting. The high parts of rendered walls will get a fresh coat of paint.
Under the floor there never was a crypt, only a void of about two feet (the work is unlikely to disturb any archaeology). Into this void will go a layer of insulation — a glass material looking like lumps of coal — as well as electrical wiring, conduits for a state-of-the-art sound system, and energy-efficient underfloor heating.
Then the numbered lias slabs will be replaced in exactly their old places. New stone slabs will pave the space where the pews were. The entire floor from the west door under the tower as far as the chancel step will be level.
The pulpit is to be moved to the chancel step at the opposite side of the nave, one pillar east of its present location.
Who is doing the work
The contractor for the job is Ellis & Co, a Somerset firm in its second generation that specializes in conservation of ancient buildings. The company’s recent nearby church renovations include Blagdon and Bradford-on-Avon.
The total cost of the work is around £700,000. Unlike in some countries, British churches get no government funding. St John’s is thankful for grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from Viridor Credits and from Glastonbury Conservation Society, as well as contributions and bequests from townspeople and the St John’s church family over many years.
News (Feb 28): St John’s is also thankful for a £20,000 grant from the Clark Foundation, announced today.
While the St John’s building is in the hands of the builders for almost all of 2019, the St John’s people will meet in the other two churches of the benefice: St Benedict’s in Glastonbury and St Mary’s in Meare. (See details of times elsewhere on this website.)