In 2019, the first phase of the conservation and development of St Michael and All Angels was completed. The aim of this phase was to address the decay in the building that had led to it being added to the Historic Buildings at Risk register and to provide a safe, dry and warm base on which development of the building can take place.
This has been achieved by replacing the external drainage, replacing approximately two thirds of the rotting floor and installing a new heating system with underfloor heating fired by a gas boiler.
We are greatly indebted to the following trusts and foundations for providing grants to enable this phase to be completed:
At the same time, new seating has been installed to give flexibility of use of the space and provide more comfort. We are also greatly indebted to all those, too numerous to list here, who either purchased a new chair or purchased an old pew. A dedication board for the chairs purchased has been placed in the church.
The church used to be encircled with drainage gullies formed from engineering bricks. These were cracked and out of position so that the water from the roof downpipes did not drain away. The evacuation lines to take the water away from the church were not functioning and hence the north wall of the church was very wet and the inside was damp for most of the year. This led to degradation of the ancient stone columns and rotting of the wooden pew platforms and the base of the pews.
All the bricks were removed and a French drain was excavated all around the church. The disintegrating plastic downpipes were replaced by cast iron downpipes which were directly connected to the evacuation pipes. Slotted drainage pipes were laid in the base of the trench to catch any water migrating from the surrounding churchyard and connected separately to the evacuation pipes. The trenches were filled with gravel. The routes of the evacuation pipes were traced to the north and the south of the church. These were broken or blocked in many locations but it proved possible to repair them by local excavation, following which they were clear running.
Few artefacts were found during the excavations, which were conducted under a watching brief by our archaeologist. However, part of a foundation was found under east end of the chancel, another extending to the south from the third buttress on the south aisle and SE buttress had a reinforced foundation indicating there had been problems here in the past. More information can be read in Archaeological Report C . All the archaeological reports have been deposited with the Buckinghamshire Historic Environment Record.
The existing floor was a combination of tiled pavements and suspended wood pew platforms. The damp had rotted the joists supporting a number of the pew platforms as well as some of the floorboards. There were holes in the boards and an area had been cordoned off by our structural engineer until a marine plywood reinforcement was laid. The tiles in the pavements had come loose and had multiple trip hazards.
It was not possible to address all the floor due to the size of the church and the availability of funding. The areas were prioritised in terms of safety and those in worst condition were identified for replacement. Thanks to additional funding it was possible to replace all the areas in worst condition namely the South Aisle and Nave east of the crossing and all the North Aisle. This amounts to approximately two thirds of the floor area.
The floors were excavated and the detritus of the years removed along with all the rotting wood. The floors were rebuilt with a membrane and Glaspor insulation followed by the underfloor heating pipework and a limecrete slab. Finally, Ancaster Weatherbed stone paviours were laid in a pattern that delineated where the aisles had been. Electric and audio-visual conduits were laid in the floor together with floor mounted sockets. One ledger with the Raynolds brass was relocated adjacent to the chancel step and placed in the correct east-west orientation (it had been moved in Victorian times and placed in a north-south orientation). The result is a beautifully light and spacious church that is flexible in use and safe to traverse.
A few artefacts were found during the excavations but none of major significance. Four graves were discovered at the east end of the Nave and two medieval grave slabs were discovered at the east end of the North Aisle. The most interesting find was a foundation just to the west of the Chancel step that appeared to be in alignment with the foundation found to the east of the Chancel exterior. Together these indicate the existence of a pre-existing structure, probably a free-standing chapel that would have been built just before or during the reign of King Henry II (c.1133-1189). No existing structure dates to this time in the current Church stonework, the earliest of which dates to 1190. More information can be read in Archaeological Report D and Archaeological Report E. All the archaeological reports have been deposited with the Buckinghamshire Historic Environment Record.
A wet radiator system, of some age, provided some heat to the church but required at least 6 hours running to make any difference. It was fired by an old, inefficient oil boiler, which was expensive to run. The end vision is for heating to be provided by a renewable source, potentially ground source from an area adjacent to the churchyard, but this was not achievable at this time. It was therefore decided to replace the old radiators with a new system based on underfloor heating for the base load supplemented by radiators for boost heating. A new, efficient gas fired boiler was installed which is more economical and eco-friendly, fed by a new gas line run to the church from the A41 trunk road.
More information can be read in Archaeological Report F. All the archaeological reports have been deposited with the Buckinghamshire Historic Environment Record.
A number of the pews in the church had previously been removed as they were broken or rotten. The remaining pews were not in a good condition and were unstable. An investigation into their provenance found them to be made from cheap deal and mostly constructed on site by a local builder in the 1860s. Most of the pews in the aisles had rotten ends as they were hard against the walls. It was therefore decided to replace the pews with modern, stackable chairs in order to get rid of the rotting wood and provide flexibility to be able to clear the church or rearrange the chairs for different types of event.