Heritage Lottery Project: To Celebrate Besthorpe’s Heritage and the Restoration of the Church’s Railings, Gates and Supporting Walls
Holy Trinity Church received £23,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in 2015 towards a £29,400 exciting project, to ‘Celebrate Besthorpe’s Heritage and the Restoration of the Church’s Railings, Gates and Supporting Walls’. Led by volunteers from the local community, the project focused on the celebration of the heritage of Besthorpe as seen through the history of the Grade 2 church, churchyard and village hall, triggered by the restoration of the exterior decorative Victorian railings and gates and churchyard walls, standing in the heart of the village’s conservation area. A further £3,750 was received from the Nottinghamshire Historic Churches Trust and the remaining £1,750 was raised from donations and fundrasing
The railings and gates have fallen into a bad state of repair, the HLF grant enabled us to employ specialist experts to repair the damage, and restore them to their original state. Work began in the Autumn 2015 anbe completed by Spring 2016
The project also enabled local people to discover the fascinating heritage and history of the site of the church and hall. We have recently finished a project to link the church and the hall to form Trinity Hall as the only community space in the village. Each of the buildings has been transformed and we will now be able to bring the exterior of the church up to the same standard.
During the Trinity Hall project, important archaeological finds were made of some of the foundations of the original 1535 church. Also found were some decorated 12century stones which were re-used in the foundations of the Victorian church. We were given permission by the Diocese to dig two inspection pits, under the supervision of the Diocesan Archaeologist, to investigate the archaeology further and volunteer diggers to helped with that on an Open Day as part of the Besthorpe Summer Fayre July 25th 2105.
Excavations at Besthorpe Church 2014-16
A major internal renovation project took place in Besthorpe Church in 2013-14 during the course of which the old slabbed floor was lifted and material below removed to accommodate a new underfloor heating system. When the upper courses of a substantial stone wall were located just below the slabs, the builders who were local called in Sam Gorin, a village resident who was also an archaeologist, to investigate.
It was already a matter of record that a stone church (chapel of ease to South Scarle) was in existence in 1535 and was subsequently recorded as being ruinous in the C18th. However no trace of this building had ever been seen in recent times and the date of its original construction was not known.
Preliminary work revealed that the builders had found a major stone wall running N-S approximately under the aisle of the Victorian (1834) church and clearance of demolition debris subsequently revealed traces of two walls running west from the N-S wall. The southern E-W wall was only visible on its north face as the rest lay under the altar step but the northern E-W wall was cleared and found to be approx. 0.50 metres wide. The area enclosed by the three walls was filled with demolition debris from preparation for the 1834 build.
Information on the discovery was transmitted to Nottinghamshire County Council’s Archaeology section and a team headed by Emily Gillott came to see the features and made a photographic record of them. The builders were given the green light to proceed but before they did Sam Gorin did further clearing and planned the features. From the demolition debris he recovered several loose pieces of decorated masonry and also revealed one piece built into the foundations on the inside of the N-S wall. The NE corner of the building was shown to have been underpinned by a small buttress of well-fitting masonry but excavation to any depth was restricted by permissions and the need to proceed with the restoration work. A sondage in the SE internal corner failed to reveal any evidence of floor levels.
The N-S wall was 0.50m wide sitting on a foundation 0.75m wide with the extra 0.25m on the external side. The internal dimensions were 4.40m N-S and the Victorian church wall was 2.20m west of the inside of the N-S stone foundations. (It should be noted that, unusually, the Victorian church was built on a N-S alignment with the altar in an apse to the south. Thus the earlier medieval remains, being on a traditional E-W alignment, were not covered by the newer walls.)
Following completion of the renovation works and after discussion with the Southwell Diocese archaeologist, Professor Chris Brooke, Besthorpe PCC decided to seek a faculty to excavate two trenches alongside the exterior wall of the Victorian church to investigate whether the two E-W walls seen inside extended out into the churchyard.
A faculty was granted to excavate two test pits each 1.5m N-S by 1.0m E-W to investigate the probable lines of the E-W walls recognised within the church. In July 2015 (to coincide with Besthorpe Church’s Heritage Open Day) the two trenches were opened and were successful in locating the walls and subsequently allowing clear evidence of construction to be seen and recorded at intervals over the following weeks.
Small extensions to south and north were made to the original trenches in terms of the need for access to the wall foundations. The northern wall turned out to have a maximum width of 1.05m (double that expected from evidence inside the church) and there was a maximum of 7 courses of masonry with an overall depth of 0.80m. Clay floor levels were located to the south of this wall ie inside the medieval church and their investigation required a small extension to the original cutting. In the southern trench the wall had a maximum width of 0.75m with 6 visible courses measuring 0.70m overall in depth. Small extensions to north and south allowed safe access to the features and also confirmed that there were no internal floor levels extant.
In part the extensions were needed as both trenches were by chance coincident with concrete soakaway drains from the Victorian church roof capped by slabs measuring 0.50m by 0.60m which hampered access to the earlier archaeology.
A sample of wall plaster was taken from the inner face of the north wall and two samples of charcoal were bagged from the clay floors. A small sherd of medieval pottery had been mortared into the rubble core of the north wall at a depth from the site datum of 0.60m. (Levels were taken below a datum established from the OS benchmark on the south face of the Victorian church porch).
North trench: the medieval wall was constructed of two main blocked faceswith a mortared rubble core. The north face was based on blocks creating a 0.05m plinth above the lowest course and survived to a height of 0.50m. The south (internal) face had 7 surviving courses and survived to a height of 0.55m. This internal face showed so me evidence of plasterwork. The mortared rubble core was uneven but at its maximum reached a height of 0.80m. The south face was exactly on the line expected from evidence obtained by the earlier excavations inside the Victorian church but the greater width (1.05m compared to 0.50m) could not be explained as the change occurred beneath the Victorian foundations/soakaway drain.
South trench: the medieval wall had evidently been considerably affected by the Victorian builders and appeared to have been totally removed at the western edge of our excavation. In the debris left by the builders a brick similar to those used in the 1834 construction had become embedded within a matrix of dislodged foundation material. The medieval wall survived better on its north face where 6 courses were noted, the bottom foundation stone measuring 0.15m deep. The base of the wall was 1.15m below datum and the top of the surviving masonry 0.35m below giving an extant height of 0.80m. The south face was only seen at lowest levels (1.05m below datum) but was clearly in situ and provided a width for the wall of 0.75m. As with the north wall there was a correspondence of alignment of the internal face with measurements projected from the excavations within the church but in this instance as the altar step had prevented access to the external face it was not possible to see whether the wall’s width had changed from inside the Victorian church to outside.
Currently (18/11/15) the site has not been backfilled but this will be happening soon.
Further work is scheduled in terms of a probe survey within the churchyard to see if any trace can be found of the two E-W walls extending to the west and, should evidence be found, possibly of a west wall too.
Sam Gorin wishes to record his thanks to Euan Kirrage who volunteered to assist with the dig on a number of sessions, Chris Brooke for advice and guidance as well as photographing the features, Emily Gillott and Lorraine Horsley from Nottinghamshire Archaeology Dept for providing training in recording and supply of equipment and Sue Butler and Rosie Smith (Besthorpe PCC) for supporting the project throughout. The report on the decorated stones and the accompanying illustrations by Peter Ryder were also much appreciated.
The other part of the project was to refurbish the Victorian railings gates and supporting walls of the churchyard. The work on the walls – scaping out the old mortar, reppinting and replacing damaged bricks, was undertaken by J.D Warrington and the railings and gates by Anwick Forge. After detailed examination it was decided to remove all the railings and gates. Some were refurbished but other were in such a bad state that they went off the their foundry to be recast.
Work has ben carried out to a very high standard and the repaired and restored railings were returned and installed in time for our Open Day on March 26th.
The work was dedicated by the Rev. Canon John Smith and an exhibition of photographs of the work in progress was on display together with exhibits from our village archives and the entries for our Heritage and Cupcake competitions. An Easter Egg Hunt and games and coffee and hotcross buns and an opportunity to see the archaeological dig, completed the day.
A huge thank you to everyone who participated in the project and for all who came to see what was going on.
Sue & Rosie
Churchwardens, Holy Trinity Church, Besthorpe