The Tower – Public Meeting


WEDNESDAY 8TH MAY 2024  17:00                                                                                             



In attendance:   Rev Dave Clark, Vicar Upper Wensleydale Benefice

Andrew Boyce, retained Church Architect, from Ferrey & Minnem                                                                                                                                                                                       Peter Reynolds, Senior Listed Buildings Officer, Yorkshire Dales NP

Alena-Rose Douglas, Buildings Support Officer, Diocese of Leeds

Maria-Elena Calderon, Senior Building Conservation Advisor: Historic England

Professor Dr Liz Laycock, co-author of ‘Damp Towers Project’

Matthias Garn, Master Mason, Matthias Garn & Partners, York

PCC members from St Oswald’s Church

41 members of the public

Introduction by Rev Dave Clark

Rev Dave thanked everyone for their attendance and began by explaining the challenges that we were facing regarding the future of the tower.

It is a project of restoration and renovation that has excited the imagination, emotions and passion. This is understandable because it is a major community landmark with which we all have a particular relationship. The current building of stone has been on this site since the early 15th century and for the last 170 years the tower has looked as it does now, but for over 400 years before that it looked very different.

He introduced the panel of professional advisors and thanked them for giving of their time to be here, to explain the current situation and the proposed work that will help remedy it.

In 1853, the Parochial Church Council (PCC) of St Oswald’s Church applied for the ‘.. stone to be cleaned of lime wash and render’ as was the prevailing fashion of the time. Since that action, comments on water ingress and damp have been reported regularly in PCC minutes particularly since the 1920’s. The wooden floors are rotting, water runs down the walls, there is black mould and green algae on the walls and expensive bell ringing ropes are being replaced regularly as they are rotting in the ringing chamber. The situation will only get worse without intervention resulting in it no longer being safe to ring any bells at all from the tower. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Rev Dave said he hoped that this could be seen as a community challenge and not just a church one but for the last 10 years in particular, the PCC of St Oswald’s has been driving the project forward on behalf of the village and the wider community.         He explained that the project had been driven by constant referral to an extended team of professional advisors, that the research had been extensive and the team involved had been extremely diligent.

He then handed over to Maria-Elena Calderon from Historic England to explain the thinking behind using the traditional technology and techniques of lime mortar and render to reduce water ingress and to protect the stonework from further degradation.

Maria Elena Calderon, Historic England

Maria explained that she started her career as a buildings archaeologist and then moved into conservation specialising in the application of renders and lime and earth mortars. She spoke of the archaeological record across the millennia and across the globe, of buildings having been ‘rendered’ with a protective coating to preserve their physical structure. Most medieval European buildings had such a protective coating and church buildings were often brightly coloured with different pigments.                                   She referred to Wells Cathedral in this regard. She spoke of the history of our government becoming alarmed with revolution on the continent and the ‘Church Building Act’ which was introduced as a means of trying to pacify the people. At the same time a romanticized idea of what gothic architecture should look like was becoming increasingly popular. Companies began to promote their particular products which in turn suppressed local craftsmanship and traditional knowledge as to how best preserve the existing buildings. There was a break in the craft tradition. Many church buildings had lines drawn onto the render to draw attention to the stonework that lay behind it. This then developed into removing the render all together. She described it as a ‘pandemic of scraping’ which eventually became the norm. By the early 1900’s the memory of what the buildings used to look like was being lost and everyone expected to see old buildings without the render applied.

Despite the protective coat being removed our expectation is that our buildings will perform and when they no longer do we have over time accepted that this is just what old buildings are like: cold and damp. They are not performing properly because this is not how they were designed.

She used the image of a classic car with its panels removed in order that the owner could see what was underneath. That done, we would anticipate that the car would soon be suffering from rust.

Historic England have been researching in to this area and instigated the ‘Damp Towers Project’. Their advice is that we now need to reconsider the reapplication of render. She acknowledged that many might disagree with this decision but was pleased that so many people were at the meeting showing an interest in this tower.

Maria pointed out that the tower would look different but that the action was what was right for the building, what was historically accurate and with the onset of climate change buildings are going to have to be made increasingly resilient to wind driven rain.

Professor Dr Liz Laycock, Co-author of the Damp Towers Project, Sheffield Hallam University


Prof Laycock introduced herself as an academic of over 30 years with a speciality in geology. She reiterated Maria’s comments on climate change creating increased periods of extreme driving rain and that she had witnessed the effects of this already whilst working on the ‘Damp Towers Project’. This project began in 1989 and is now the longest running research project Historic England (formerly English Heritage) has ever embarked upon. As part of this research a series of walls were built for experimental purposes with different processes applied – cement repointing and different types of render.

Prof Laycock stated that the number one enemy of stone is water and that it is impossible to stop water affecting a building. Once water finds a way into a building the fabric begins to degrade and the process accelerates over time.

The research revealed that in historic buildings such as a tower it may take considerable time for such a problem to reveal itself. Interventions such as repointing can be done but is like a first aid sticking plaster – covering up the problem not solving it. A long term solution is required for the health of the building. An application of render will help decrease water penetration as well as increase the rate at which the walls can dry out. The evidence of green mould on the walls indicates a humidity level above 80%. This level is dangerous for the woodwork, detrimental to the stone and hazardous for the health of those using the building.

She realised that this would be a big change to how the tower will look but that it is what will be best for the building and asked those present to carefully consider the proposals made by those who have the best interests of the building at heart.

The meeting was then opened up for questions.

Question 1

Mr Tom Fawcett.

He wanted to know if the planting of Ivy around the base of the tower might be considered as a simple and cost effective solution. He was concerned about the proposed work spoiling the look of the tower.

Prof Laycock: some research has been done in this area and shown that in some instances it can act as a protective coating, however, the root systems of Ivy can cause problems below ground by drying out the foundations. She was concerned that the care and maintenance of such a response would be costly and labour intensive and that it would be difficult to direct and control its growth evenly around the tower. To have Ivy capable of reaching such height would result in an invasive root structure below ground.

Tom: Have you seen a building where Ivy was used?

Prof Laycock: Yes. Conisbrough Castle. Ivy was planted by the Victorians and it has significantly affected the foundations and the walls

Tom: If you’re going to render you’d better be sure that it does the job and I don’t think it will.

Question 2

Allen Kirkbride.

As Chairman of the Askrigg and Low Abbotside Parish Council Allen thanked the guest speakers for their contributions but was concerned that their knowledge of St Oswald’s was limited.

Askrigg became the first conservation area in the Yorkshire Dales and the parish council is proud of this recognition. The village appreciates that something needs doing but opinions vary on what that should be. From his research he was not convinced that rendering was the answer and would like more research to take place. Like Mr Fawcett, he was concerned as to how the tower would look once the work was completed. The team of advisors don’t live in the village and many of those present have lived in the village for generations and don’t want the appearance to change any more than it needs to.

Andrew Boyce: two concerns raised – visual and have we done the research?

Mr Boyce stated that his first inspection was conducted 10 years earlier and noticed considerable problems then. Some repairs had been made in the belfry with a concrete beam but that this was now disintegrating and causing further problems around it. Evidence of Stalactites shows large amounts of calcite present from running water. Severe decay is taking place. Mr Boyce stated that he was involved with over 150 church buildings in the Yorkshire area but that he had never seen a tower as bad as this one.

Visual: there is evidence all around the outside of the building that it was previously rendered – he had conducted a survey of the tower from a hoist and there is evidence there as well. He spoke of lots of examples in Wales where rendering is now the accepted response to such weather challenges and that Scotland had never stopped rendering their buildings.

Mr Kirkbride: pointed out that we’re not in Wales or Scotland … this is Yorkshire.       The problem seems to be originating in the top 6 feet of the tower.

Mr Boyce: suggested that water was coming in almost everywhere. His examination had revealed that over the years the stone had developed micro cracks into which water was now gaining access as well as the joints. The conclusion of the research is that rendering will help reduce this problem.

Question 3

Unidentified female member of the meeting

The lady was concerned about the colouring to be applied to the render and the discolouration that would inevitably take place as water comes out of the building. How many times would it have to be painted? She expressed concern that it would look like a lighthouse. How many of the 150 churches Mr Boyce is working with has he suggested be rendered?

Mr Boyce replied that he hadn’t personally suggested any be rendered but that he had never seen a tower as bad as this.

Lady: Why has it taken 10 years? Why have we not heard until now how bad it is?

Rev Dave explained that the church had done its best to explain the situation over the years through printed material and meetings. It has taken 10 years because the problem is so large that it has taken time to complete research, raise the necessary funding and pass all the required documentation and inspections from the various authorities.

Lady – was concerned that after spending £200k the work on the inside of the tower would still be required and more costs involved. Could we just point the tower and use the funds to complete the interior work at the same time? Concern again expressed over the visual impact of the render on the village.

Maria Calderon

If just the inside is dealt with then the problem will swiftly return – the work will have to be repeated at regular intervals. 10 or 20 years. She referred to Mr Kirkbride’s observation: it looks like the problem is just in the top 6 feet because that’s where we see it the most – that’s where the rain enters directly but moisture is coming in from all over the tower. She said she wouldn’t support this project unless she was convinced that the architect and the mason were going to use the right materials.                 Ref to Prof Laycock’s experiments: food colouring was used to identify where water was entering a structure. It didn’t enter through the Lime. It was entering through the cracks in the stone or the joint of the stone and the mortar. Over a large tower the places that water could enter could be hundreds of yards even miles of vulnerable joints. When it is rendered you have a joint at the top and the bottom and around any windows. The opportunity is significantly reduced.

She spoke of research conducted by David Wiggins in Kendal – the greater the area of the render the more opportunity there is for moisture to drain out. The lady referred to unsightly marks on the test patch this is because it’s a small area and all the moisture in the tower is trying to exit from that one place. Maria was encouraged by the interest from the community that there was in using the correct material.                    She reiterated that it wasn’t just their idea and that there are buildings demonstrating the principle and science backing it up. “If it’s done right it will be the best thing for this building.”

Prof Laycock used the image of a sausage machine – when the sausages are pulled gently they flow in one line. If they are pulled too swiftly they break and the material stays inside the machine. It is better if moisture is allowed to drain out steadily and evenly. It is like a Gore-Tex jacket – waterproof yet breathable. The aim is to cover the tower in its own Gore-Tex jacket. It is like when a wet sponge draws up more water than a dry one – we need to dry the tower out to reduce the ability of the structure to absorb moisture.

Question 4

Mr Bernard Percival.

Introduced himself as a local stone mason who helped to install the steel girders in the belfry. He expressed his observation that the water was entering through the louvre slats and then running down the wall. He thought it would be sensible to install a tray to prevent water from running down the mullions.

Andrew Boyce: Yes. Water will be entering through the louvre’s – they are there to let air in but keep some water out. He reiterated his observation that water is coming in from all over the tower.

Mr Percival. Water is coming in from the top and then running down the wall. Have you investigated the parapets?

Mr Boyce: Yes. They were repointed and rebuilt 10 years ago when the roof was re-leaded. He thought that water was coming in through the stonework because he has witnessed fine micro cracks bubbling – some water is coming through the louvre’s but most from elsewhere.

Mr Percival thought that the obvious should be dealt with first before the tower was ‘slathered’ with whatever would be put on it. He was concerned that frost would freeze water behind the substance and then remove it.

Prof Laycock agreed that certain cement renders were noted for doing just that. She spoke of differing rates of capillary action dependent upon the substance used and said that properly applied lime mortar was best in reducing this action. That is what will be used.


Peter Reynolds – Yorkshire National Park supported Prof Laycock. The current cement mortar is full of little cracks where water is getting in but unable to get out. Traditional lime pointing and render is self healing and where a micro crack appears over a short space of time it will ‘heal’ itself and the water will not penetrate. Water will be able to escape the fabric as lime is permeable. The cement pointing has done a lot of damage to the tower which needs addressing. The application of lime render will add an extra coat of protection.

Question 5

Jill Leslie

Will the lime render be matched up to the stone of the building?

Prof Laycock: The normal way forward is to take a sample of what was there before and match it. The original render has little speckles of ash, brick and ceramic in it and was very white. It was painted white so it would stand out like a beacon. The colour can be negotiated but the original render has lasted nearly 200 years which compared to modern building materials is very, very good.

Question 6

Suzanne Wright

Introduced herself as a Bell Ringer and a member of the church without an objection to the tower being rendered. She described the situation in the ringing room as ‘bad’ and ‘grim’. Water pours down the inside and the walls are green and disgusting.        How long will it take for the tower to dry out?

Prof Laycock: The drying process varies according to conditions. Sunshine, wind, the state of the wall, the render used, the stone it is applied to etc

Maria Calderon: It’s very hard to determine the time it will take but it will dry out – it will take time but it will dry out faster with render than with any other system.

Question 7

James Hodgson

Said it was good to see all the locals and experts doing their best for the church building. Seeing as how most of the bad weather comes from the West would it be an option to just render the West wall on its own?

Prof Laycock: Stated that there are always options to be considered and this is one of them. However, where a surface hasn’t been rendered it will be more vulnerable to water coming around its flanks. The tower will split the wind and cause a vortex so water will still hit the other sides even when the rain is coming from the West. If you render one side only you effectively move the vulnerability to another area.

Andrew Boyce: agreed with Prof Laycock and said that rendering one face would create a very large joint the full height of the tower that would be open to water penetration. This area of Yorkshire has high rainfall and high winds and the tower needs full protection from these elements.

Maria Calderon: The render is not just keeping the rain out it is helping it to dry out as well. Rendering one wall puts all the stress on that one face to do the work and you will be increasing the risk of failure – she wouldn’t recommend it.

Question 8

Allen Kirkbride

Do we have a 100% guarantee that this will work?

Maria: Do we have a 100% guarantee with anything

Unidentified person: ‘You’re playing with the church here’

Maria: ‘I’m not playing’

Alena-Rose Douglas

Rendering is an extreme option but we have an extreme situation here. The Diocese of Leeds has contributed grant money to this project because it believes in it. The work has been reviewed by a panel of experts who regularly review church building based projects. The diocese is happy with the research that has been done. The diocese is happy with the community consultation that has been done and happy with the way the project is progressing. She stated that the diocese were happy with the way the church family had been handling the situation and as a result they would like to use it as a case study for going forward and helping other churches in a similar situation. She indicated that there were a couple of local church buildings that were considering the same option. She reiterated that the project had been taken very seriously and that the team involved were doing ‘a really good job’

Unidentified person: Is this an experiment?

Alena: No not in any way. It has been done with other churches across the country. You’re not an experiment but you will be leading the way in the diocese and the diocese is grateful for that.

Question 9


If the render enables the building to dry out could we render it first and then remove it to retain how the building currently looks? Could the internal ventilation of the building be improved to help with air flow and damp reduction? What is the view of the National Park towards locals rendering their properties to keep the damp out?

Peter Reynolds: Applying render to a previously un-rendered building would have to go through the planning process. He said that covering up interesting features would be regrettable in his line of work but if the request was with preservation and conservation in mind and using the suitable materials then it should be supported in the future and he would like to see it supported more.

Maria pointed out that other National Parks were investigating just such a response.

Prof Laycock said that if the render was proving itself successful in drying out the building why would the process be reversed and its removal considered?

Andrew dealt with the issue of ventilation and pointed out that buildings such as St Oswald’s were difficult to ventilate effectively. Buildings of this size and age can take several days to warm up effectively – maintaining a constant temperature and adequate ventilation is not easy. It could be improved but on its own it would not be sufficient to prevent the growth of the algae on the walls.

Allen Kirkbride stated that although he was not in favour of rendering the tower he acknowledged that historically much of the village was rendered.

Rev Dave pointed out that ventilation ie draughts was usually not a problem when he was in the buildings in the Benefice – in fact there was usually plenty of such ventilation!

Andrew: “I meant deliberately encouraged”

Question 10

Anne Morgan

Expressed agreement that something needs to be done about ‘our lovely church tower’ but that there was concern over it being painted white or a bright colour. Is there a choice of colour?

Rev Dave commented that in the past church buildings were coloured white to stand out from all the other buildings and that communities would take pride in their church being cleaner and brighter than others in the district. He said that it was not the intention to have the tower coloured white. The final coat would be a different colour and an example of that colour can be seen on the North face of the tower. Choosing the colour has been a very difficult decision but professional advice was to not select anything that looked grey in colour as this would make the tower look as if it had been covered in cement. It will not be a ‘flat’ finish but follow the contours of the stonework.

He reiterated the scale of the decisions that have had to be made which is why the community had been encouraged to engage with the discussions during the lengthy process. The team involved have been trying hard to ensure that all the decisions have been taken after extensive consultation and advice in order that whatever work takes place it will have longevity. There will be essential ongoing maintenance which as a community we would have to consider together.

The process had been taken very seriously and the team understood how emotive it was but all decisions taken have been done in good faith for the future integrity of the tower.

Question 11

Peter Brooke

Peter began by appreciating that lots of thought and work had gone into the project but stated that he was against rendering because of the visual impact that this would have upon the village if anything changed to the appearance of the church. Any alterations should be done very carefully as none of us know what it looked like 150 years ago. He expressed concern over the conservation status of the village should the rendering go ahead. He stated his confidence in alternative procedures having been considered but felt that this idea was ‘madness’ and proposed a more staged and less intrusive approach to the problem. The proposals would create significant change and no one likes change. He finished by recommending that the diocese put the money in a savings account and move the work forward in stages.

Rev Dave thanked Peter and asked Peter Reynolds to respond to the comment on the conservation status of the area

Peter Reynolds: the impact on the conservation area had been fully assessed as part of the planning process and permission to proceed was granted in July 2019. The details were scrutinised and were open to public consultation. The Parish Council were also invited to comment upon the proposals. It will make a difference to the way the tower looks but this is a reversible form of development. If the decision was made to try repointing first the National Park would not and could not prevent this from taking place. A measured approach could be adopted if this was considered to be appropriate. Equally, the choice of colour could also be amended.

Rev Dave: What might be the advantages or disadvantages of proceeding in stages?  .

Peter Reynolds pointed out that just doing the pointing will not be enough. The science behind the render is sound and there are very real reasons as to why it is being proposed. Pointing alone might make some difference but it will not solve the issue of the damp.

Andrew Boyce drew attention to the Clerestory area of the building where repair work was completed by pointing alone but problems remain and there is evidence of water penetration in heavy rainfall. He concluded that the pointing on its own had not solved the problem and drew attention to the ‘Damp Tower Project’ which had identified the same.

Prof Laycock stated that pointing alone is not the optimum solution. She wished that she could say that it could be but the science says that rendering works. She understood why locals would want the stone work to remain uncovered but that the decision made had to be a head one over a heart one. The decision made must be made for the building to still be here in another 400 years. The team involved were trying to make the best decision based upon what we know now.

Rev Dave drew attention to the quote on the information sheet from Chris Wood, Head of Buildings Conservation and Research for Historic England.

‘Tests show that good quality pointing alone would not prevent water reaching the core after 2 or more days of continuous rain.’


Question 12

Jane Ritchie

Jane stated that she is the chairman of the ‘Elmhouse Trust’ which has agreed to support the project because they recognise the science behind the proposal and the enormous amount of hard work that has gone into getting it to this stage. She commented upon the difficulty there is in accepting change. Drawing attention to the decorative tiles underneath the East Window she pointed out that her family had paid for their creation and introduction and that an appeal was made to have them covered up which they then were. Years later the cover was removed and the tiles revealed once more. With a smile she said her personal preference was for the tower to be painted a dark blue or sky blue and pink. She reiterated the very hard work that the team had put in and that the community was most fortunate to have had the professional advice and expertise that it had working for them. She particularly recognised Mrs Maryrose Kearney for working so tirelessly to do her best for the next generation.

Question 13

Murray Leslie

Murray introduced himself as a retired architect with 40 years in the profession. He began by saying that conservation is like being a doctor in that you follow several key rules: do no harm, do nothing that is irreversible, ask others for advice and proceed slowly.                    He commended the team of advisors for having gone about this ‘extremely well.’

He suggested that if anyone was still in doubt about the merits of proceeding with applying render to the tower, to read the ‘Damp Tower Project’ report in full and see how other buildings in a similar situation had been treated. He said that he began by being unconvinced about rendering and would find the change alien but is now sure that what is being proposed is the right solution and that dampness will not be prevented in any other way. He suggested scraping the existing mortar out most thoroughly and then pointing the stone with an appropriate material.

He commended the team of professional advisors for their knowledge and expertise and for the time and effort that they have put into the project. This is the most likely solution to work and to save the tower.

Rev Dave thanked Murray and everyone who had contributed by asking questions.

Maria Calderon

Wanted to make one last comment regarding the colour. Historically there are hundreds of place names in England that derive from the word ‘White Church’ eg Whitchurch in Shropshire and Whitby which means ‘White Place’.

Rev Dave stated again that it was not the intention to leave the tower white.

He thanked everyone for being present and for the team of advisors who had travelled considerable distances to be with us. He concluded by stating that the team involved were trying to do their very best for the tower and for the community, both now and for generations to come.

Work would begin shortly as there is a short window of opportunity regarding the optimum weather and temperature for it to proceed successfully. Scaffolding would begin to appear and the tower would be covered for protection. The project had been approached with diligence and care, following the research that surrounded it. This is why it had taken so many years to get to this point. He hoped that everyone had had the opportunity to listen and to ask the questions that they had wanted to. If anyone wanted to discuss the situation further then he encouraged them to get in contact with him.

The meeting closed at 18:50