New roof for St John the Baptist, Somersham

Published: Thursday, June 1, 2017


The National Churches Trust’s Grants Manager, Catherine Townsend, shares some of the lessons learnt during a recent project at one of our grantee churches.

St John the Baptist church, in Somersham, Cambridgeshire, was awarded a £5,000 National Churches Trust Partnership Grant in March 2017, on the recommendation of the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust, towards a project to strip and re-slate the chancel roof.

Ancient site of Christian worship

The fine Grade I listed rural church of St John the Baptist in Somersham is larger than in other local villages, possibly a legacy of the Bishop of Ely having his summer palace nearby when the church was built in the 13th century. The site has been used for Christian worship since the seventh century.

The chancel is the oldest part of the building and is a good example of the Early English style of Gothic architecture. Of particular interest is the nave roof, which has carved roof bosses in the shape of the heads of Richard II and his wife Ann of Bohemia, in whose reign the church was built. 

The project

In 2013 the Quinquennial Inspection Report drew attention to the state of the chancel roof. Over the next few years its condition worsened and became urgent due to the poor condition of the existing slate tiles, and previous substandard patching repairs. Water entry was damaging the internal fabric.

Despite another recent funding appeal that saw a project to install a toilet and refreshment area in 2013, the small congregation responded well to a new funding appeal. The church was also supported by grants from both the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust and the National Churches Trust.

Work gets underway

The church had been warned that when the old slates were removed some dust and dirt might descend into the chancel below, but what they did not anticipate was that the whole area would be covered in a thick layer of black grit.

Alan Draper, Churchwarden at St John the Baptist, said:

"The thin polythene sheets draped over the choir stalls sagged under the weight of the grit that had come down on them. Thank goodness that we had got the organ professionally covered, it would have been ruined if the grit had got into its pipes."

This happened in the lead up to Easter, so a small team of volunteers was mobilized to carry out a rapid clean up on Maundy Thursday in preparation for the Good Friday and Easter services. The vacuum cleaner clogged up almost instantly and brooms and shovels were required to sweep up and remove bucket loads of grit.

The parish now waits with trepidation to see how much more dirt will fall when the new slates are nailed into place. 

Lessons learnt

The roof repairs at St John the Baptist, Somersham, show the importance of planning for major works. Churches undergoing roof works should get delicate items, such as organs, covered professionally, and have strong sheets to collect debris.

Pipe organs have delicate internal workings which can be easily damaged. We suggest that you contact your organ builder ahead of a major building project for advice about protecting these instruments whilst works are in progress, and source strong sheets to collect debris.

Find out about the churches we have helped near you on our Grants Map. 

  • St John the Baptist, Somersham

  • Roof with the old slates removed

  • New slates are put into place

  • The new roof

  • Protection for the organ

  • Interior of St John the Baptist, Somersham