Spire Stabilisation Saves the Day
We were recently contracted by Churches in Wales to remove a precarious spire tip from the iconic Llanrhuddlad Church in Church Bay, Anglesey. The tip had moved on its bed around three courses down, and something had to be done before the winter weather set in. The removal or even installation of such large masonry units isn't necessarily seen to be within the capabilities of rope access, and many would have said that a scaffold would be necessary for such heavy work. As always though we were keen for the challenge, and designed a bespoke system to be able to use a chain hoist to winch the stones off the tip, and send them down to the ground via a roped lowering system.
As is often the case when we work on unstable spire tips, we worked on this project alongside conservation engineer David Wiggins, of Clach Conservation. We had a system in mind for stabilising the top once the tip was off, however David was there to have a closer look and sign off on any system, to ensure that we were leaving the spire in a stable state. So day one was getting access in place, and getting David to the business area for a closer look.
On arrival, we went inside the tower and spire to see what the best way of getting access in was. We were very surprised to find that the soffit of the spire was barely above the broaches, suggesting that the entire spire was of solid masonry construction. Neither we nor David had ever seen a spire like this before, and we spent a while wondering why someone would build a spire like that, before realising that it must have the capacity to hold an awful lot of water, and thus extra weight, if the pointing was less than optimal. Of course, this was the case, with the usual cementitious face pointing covering most of the spire, and much dampness seeping out from the various open areas where this cementitious pointing had failed.
Eventually, we got to the tip for a look, finding a corroded ferrous disk in the bed where the movement had happened - the usual culprit. Given the height of the soffit, this would affect our ability to install a tie down mechanism internally, so we did some testing to see what we could find, and confirmed that the spire was indeed solid, which meant that we could secure the tip by drilling down into the masonry below. David did the calculations and was happy, so left us to crack on.
Next morning, we installed our system for winching the stones off, and set about deconstructing the tip, course by course. The process was slow and steady, but we had two courses off by the end of the day, and were feeling optimistic about the final, smaller course. When this came off the following morning, we found that the tie down rod had completely corroded through where it met the ferrous disk. No wonder the tip had moved a bit!
We removed the disk and started making a cap out of ply board and lead. We were able to do most of the fabrication for this on the floor, but given that we had to drill down through the board to secure it to the tip, and what was left of the tip to the rest of the spire, we had to finish it off by welding some caps over the fixings in situ on top of the spire - again not a problem with rope access.
In the end we were very happy with the finished product, even if the welding was finished by torch light. We stripped it out and reported back to Churches in Wales, who were also very pleased with the result. The next chapter for this lovely little church is now in the planning stages, and hopefully we can find a suitable way to conserve and repair it, so that it can be enjoyed for years to come in the bay it gave a name to.