Following the results of an alarming inspection of the church fabric in 2021, the Tysoe Parochial Church Council contracted Boden and Ward Ltd, specialist conservation stonemasons, to undertake essential conservation and repairs to parts of St Mary’s church. The state of the medieval tower’s stonework was of particular concern, and scaffolding was erected to the full height of the structure. Tysoe Heritage Research Group members saw the potential of this once-in-a-lifetime access, and with the agreement of the contractors and church authorities, and with suitable PPE and safety training, volunteers from THRG spent several months recording the tower, stone by stone.
The survey aimed to provide a record of the tower as it was in 2021, and to inform an analysis of its features and historic development.
Local archaeologist Richard Grove, of Heritage Services, undertook a drone survey to produce composite photographs of the faces of the tower, but tree cover on the west and north meant that traceable scale images were only obtained for the south and east faces. These needed to be checked from the scaffolding for detail. The THRG team devised several methods to record the west and north faces, ranging from composite images of photos with scales (very tedious and inaccurate – abandoned quite rapidly), drawing frames (reasonably accurate and user-friendly), and professional old school surveying with plumb-bobs, tapes and levels (a precision achieved by our one professional surveyor).
Although the scaffolding platforms enabled the survey to take place at all, it was a considerable challenge to knit together the individual drawings made from each platform of the ten 2m high lifts.
The parapets, top stage quoins and window surrounds are built with Guiting Stone quarried about 40 km from Tysoe, whereas the rest of the 12th century tower is constructed of local Hornton Stone. The top stage, now the bell chamber, is probably 15th century.
A series of much eroded corbels just below the top window stage would have supported an earlier, lower, roof structure.
The arches of the blocked windows of the earlier bell chamber are usually hidden behind the four clock faces. The conservation masons discovered fragments of the early window surrounds still in situ as they raked out the crumbling mortar. The narrow door inserted into the blocking over the nave roof is visible, as is the original steep nave roof line.
Water from the roof escapes through gargoyles above each window, while grotesques jut out from each corner. Five centuries of weathering has taken its toll on these, and some conservation was necessary to help them survive for centuries to come.
The scaffolding enabled the medieval gargoyles, grotesques and corbels to be recorded and compared with other medieval sculpture around the church (see the Sculpture Trail by John Hunt) .
The corbels which had supported the earlier roof were very eroded. This one (above), on the north face, was probably an heraldic shield, others may have been carved as masks
There are sculptures elsewhere on the tower, a row can be seen at the angle of the south face of the tower and the west end of the south aisle, again very eroded but showing a variety of grotesques masks and patterns.
Refurbishing the clock
The four clock faces were removed, which allowed the masons access to the stonework behind them, and an opportunity to refurbish them.
The clock faces had obscured the blocked windows, and we were able to record the sometimes scrappy blocking stonework
The Cumbria Clock Co. Ltd of Penrith worked on the clocks while Paintbox Ltd in Banbury, who donated their services, repainted the faces.
The tower’s last major repairs date back over a century to 1912, when scaffolding again rose to almost the full height of the structure.
The iron anchor plates may have been installed in this phase of the tower’s history. The effects of corrosion have brought out the blacksmith’s technique, showing how he bent and hammered the wrought iron
Later work was less professional, this complete and undamaged plate made in Longport, Stoke on Trent, sometime between 1937 and 1954 was found by the 2021 team stuffed into a gap in the crumbling stonework half way up the tower!
The Boden and Ward team were unfailingly generous and helpful during our incursions into their workplace, in particular masons Ben Richards, and father and son duo Dave and Matt Kaye
The Tysoe Heritage Research Group tower volunteers were:
Richard Grove (drone survey)
The recording was only possible through the support of:
Tysoe Parochial Church Council
Tysoe Church Wardens
Rev. George Heighton