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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Somerset

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The face of the St Mary Magdalene tower.
© Strachey and Strachey
Reviving religious relics

St Mary Magdalene church in Chewton Mendip, Somerset, shares a common problem with churches throughout Christendom - dilapidation.

The "church tower appeal" is a common sight in newspapers and on village notice boards across the country. Without the appeals and donations, much of Britain's church architecture would simply erode away.

Churches are so often faced with a dilemma: whether to restore or replace.

At 38.43m (126ft) high, the tower of St Mary Magdalene church is one of the tallest in the country. The building's Anglo-Saxon heritage can be seen in the church annals where it was described as venerable - a building of religious reverence - even before William the Conqueror set foot on Hastings beach.

Detail of the figure of Christ on the face of the tower.
© Strachey and Strachey
Conservation work was carried out in the past on the rusting ironwork of its crown and pinnacles which had expanded, cracking the stonework.

Over the years, this remedial work gradually deteriorated to a point where, in January 2002, it was recognised that the work would have to be repeated.

The Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation is a professional body of architects that carry out regular surveys on buildings deemed to be at risk.

It was at this critical point that they stepped in. Every five years, England's churches are given an architectural survey to assess the condition of their structural fabric.

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