Nicholas Jacob Architects, a member of the National Churches Trust’s Professional Trades Directory, is expert in conserving, repairing and re-ordering churches.
With offices in Ipswich, Suffolk, and in central London, the practice has worked on a number of historic churches and, increasingly, is being commissioned to adapt them to meet the needs of the twenty-first century.
One of their recent projects, for St Edmund, King and Martyr church, Southwold, was typical: to create a flexible space to draw in the wider community.
St Edmund’s is one of Suffolk’s grandest parish churches, dating from the fifteenth century, and has a Grade I listing. N.J. Architects completely re-ordered the west end and added a gallery. New features include two toilets, kitchen, servery, shop, heating system and new lighting.
Churches are public spaces
"Because churches are public spaces, there is now a level of expectation. Certainly they need accessible toilets but, more and more, they also need to offer a level of hospitality,” says Pippa Jacob who won Young Church Architect or Surveyor of the Year for her work at Southwold in 2018.
“At St Edmund’s, the extra space has helped attract more people into the building which now hosts an extended Messy Church session for children, a summer toddler group, teas for tourists, post-service fellowship time, a summer theatre, evening groups and breakfast meetings.”
New areas were floored with hand-made brick pamments and salvaged Purbeck marble tiles, and limed oak was used for the joinery. The removal of a row of pews exposed fifteenth century tiles which were repaired and conserved in situ.
The practice is named after Pippa’s father, Nick Jacob, who founded it in 1996 and is an Architect Accredited in Building Conservation. Nick grew the practice and in 2017 he formed a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) with Shaun Soanes. Today the architectural team is 13 strong.
Recently Pippa has been working with the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust to convert a long-redundant church, St Clement, into an arts venue while conserving an ornate fifteenth century font, ledger slabs, marble memorials and brasses.
An earlier project was to save the crumbling tower of St Mary, Erwarton, where, according to legend, the heart of Anne Boleyn is buried. The tower was mainly constructed of bricks made from septaria, a clay dug up from river beds which is liable to corrode.
With excitement and some trepidation, Pippa went up in a cherry picker to inspect the damage: “The tower was incredibly unsafe and at risk of falling down. We worked out a way to save the historic fabric in close collaboration with structural engineers. It will now be safe for at least another 100 years.”
The COVID-19 lockdown has had an impact of the work of church architects, explains Pippa: “There has been a pause, but thankfully we can now carry out site visits with our updated Standard Operative Procedures. Some historic projects are on hold, but we do have a portfolio of work to complete. We are hoping that funders and clients will feel enough confidence to pursue projects in the future. It will be a waiting game."
"We’re aware that the CofE is taking a stringent view on building work, which is making life hard for small builders. Small parish churches, particularly, are among the sites that can most safely be worked on; much of the work being outdoor and with a lot of space.”
Church commissions, she says, are satisfying because of the dedication of everyone involved.
“The clients - the parochial church councils - are really passionate about the buildings. The contractors have years of experience and are master craftsmen who take enormous pride in what they do. These are projects that need, and get, exceptional care and attention.”
Profile written by Elena Curti.
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