As the old ceiling plaster was taken down it became apparent that only its inherent strength after 275 years had been holding it in place: the laths were brittle and riddled with woodworm, and the main ceiling timbers so eaten by woodworm that over 30 have had to be replaced on all sides of the ceiling.
Current Restoration Work
All parts of the flat and curved nave ceiling have been removed except for a limited area around the central decoration (from which the chandelier hangs). A subframe is being fitted below the flat section of the nave to carry the new laths, which will also be fitted to all the curved sections of the ceiling. After the laths are nailed on this will enable an even and smooth coat of plaster to be fixed onto it, thinner and more flexible than the original. All pieces of newly exposed or newly fitted wood are being woodworm treated. The centre decoration, of 18th century plaster, has been fixed to major ceiling timbers, and it will be given minor repairs where necessary, but a surprise was that one of the lovely ceiling roses was not plaster but a wooden copy. The new ceiling plaster will be finished with a fine skim coat containing no horse hair. Plaster drying will be aided by keeping the church to a temperature of 16-18C for 4 weeks. Currently the temperature has varied between 15 and 20C. Bell ringing will be suspended during plastering as it gently rocks the roof and ceiling timbers. To our great relief the paint analysis has revealed that below the 1950s dark blue green paint was a coat of light Georgian blue, so the whole building will get a lift and look much lighter. After the plaster has had 12 months to cure and set hard new mineral wool insulation will be put in place.
As the removal of plaster was being completed a time capsule was found wedged between the ceiling and the west tower wall. It contained a letter dated May 1957 from the vicar to the Corporation and town of Congleton appealing for help in replacing the roof, the estimated cost being £1,100 (in 2014 we replaced their new roof at a cost of £237,000). Also in the envelope were copies of a “Thanksgiving and Thankoffering Service” held 16 months after the date of the appeal letter. On the envelope it is noted that the offering for the roof was £1626. A poster in the envelope advertising the service spelt the name of the preacher wrongly! Nevertheless the mayor and corporation attended, no doubt sitting in the Georgian pews built for them in 1742.
The next step will be to restore one north gallery window as a model for the method and costing of the restoration of all fourteen north and south gallery windows.