All Souls, Halifax
Even before it was declared redundant in 1977, All Souls looked a lost cause. Gilbert Scott had said the it was 'on the whole, my finest church' but Colonel Akroyd, who had built it as the centre piece of his remarkable village of Akroyd, had never sufficiently endowed it. The church was vast, with a tower and spire of cathedral proportions, and far beyond the resources of a small congregation.
An engineer's report had condemned the spire as dangerous and said that it must be dismantled. Once the church lost its dominant feature, the case for saving the church would evaporate altogether.
All Souls was a church of such outstanding quality, with magnificent fittings of every kind, that it was essential to preserve it intact. The Church Commissioners, however, had always been reluctant to vest urban churches in the Redundant Churches Fund and made it absolutely clear that they considered All Souls would impose an impossible burden on the resources of the fund. Attempts had been made to find alternative uses, but it as evident that nothing suitable was forthcoming.
The likelyhood loomed that there would be a major public enquiry, that a Dangerous Structures Notice would be served on the spire, that the spire would then be truncated and the church mutilated, and that rain would start pouring through the roof, resulting in a massive out break of dry rot. Even if we were ultimately victorious at a public inquiry, the church would have suffered so grievously during the waiting period that a large part of the artistic quality and integrity would have been lost.
SAVE therefore decided the only way forward was to establish a new independent trust to take on the task of urgent major repairs. The sums involved were colossal: over £0.5M for the spire and the roof.
Thanks to enthusiastic support from Jennifer Jenkins, the then chairman of the Historic Building Council, we were offered a very high level of grant toward the roof. As a result of nail sickness, the heavy Westmorland slates were regularly coming loose and crashing down with such force that they sliced through the lead gutters below. All Souls suffered like many Victorian churches from high, inaccessible valley gutters, which became clogged and allowed damp to seep into the building. Our architect, the appropriately name Donald Buttress, devised an ingenious means of resolving the problem. All Souls was given a new roof oversailing the upper parapets, throwing water directly on to the lower aisle roofs. We could not afford to retile the roof with Westmorland slates, but the sheer urgency of making the church watertight ruled this out anyway.
Donald Buttress' solution was to tile the roof with ridged composition tiles of a greenish grey hue, which from below looked remarkably similar to slates and blend very well with the stonework.
The main challenge was the stabilisation of the spire. We applied for a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund on the basis that its support alone could support the church. There was heated debate, but by the casting vote of the chairman we got our grant. Working with Arups as engineers, Donald Buttress designed an ingenious means of strengthening the spire in situ. The problem was that the spire was just a little too tall and too thin for its own good. The diocese's surveyors had said that 100-mph winds could topple it. We waited anxiously as reports came in of 97-mph gales in the Pennines but thankfully the spire remained firm.
The solution was to strengthen the spire from within by inserting a single skin of new brickwork all the way up to the top, and bolting the brick and stone together with stainless steel pins that would be invisible from the ground.
The work progressed well until it was discovered that the original iron braces inserted into the stonework by Scott had rusted very badly and expanded several inches, forcing the stonework upwards. Once the rusted ironwork was removed, the danger was that the tower would topple over. Arups worked out a method of cutting out the rusted iron in very small sections and strengthening it as they went along. Fears that the spire would have to be dismantled after all were allayed.
The All Souls Trust had taken a seven year lease on the church and virtually the whole of this time was spent on the repairs to the spire and the roof. At this point the trustees decided that the future of the church would best be secured by vesting it in the redundant churches fund. After some initial hesitation, the Church Commissioners agreed. The rest of the repairs, principally to the stone work were carried out on a rolling program over the next few years.
Had All Souls been lost, the Church authorities would undoubtedly have used it as precedent for arguing that that there were some churches which, however important, were simply too difficult or expensive to save. By setting up a trust for All Souls and carrying out the essential repairs, SAVE has demonstrated that even the most problematic redundant churches in the most difficult locations need not be a lost cause.
The Redundant Churches Fund is now called The Churches Conservation Trust. They can be contacted at 89 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH. Tel 020 7936 2285 Arup is a global organisation of consulting engineers, planners and project managers which works in all areas of the built environment.