The roof will set you free

Gary Payne fixing the cross in place''w121206b
Gary Payne fixing the cross in place''w121206b

SURROUNDED by tarpaulin and scaffolding, there is little to suggest that stonemason Gary Payne is stood anywhere but on the ground, other than the fact he is adding the final touches to the pinnacle of one of Whitby’s tallest structures.

He is in fact stood on top of St John the Evangelist’s church on Baxtergate and has just installed the cross which will signal the completion of a £300,000 project to restore the church’s aging roof.

In addition to the cross, almost 12,000 new slate tiles have been installed to completely replace the roof and a large amount of the stone masonry has been restored to its original 1850 standard.

The project has taken place throughout the winter and has been made possible thanks to a series of grants and the generosity of the congregation and local residents.

Reverend Edwin Newlyn said: “English Heritage help to preserve what they see as relatively important churches.

“St John’s is important because of its context and it’s architecture so if English Heritage think the church is worthy they will give it grant aid.

“Those who are here do have to work hard, and the congregation do work hard to keep the show on the road from week to week.”

The largest grants received have been from the English Heritage Lottery fund and York Historic Churches Trust, but residents were also invited to etch their name into the church’s history by sponsoring a roof slate, which then has their name imprinted on it.

Over 150 people donated at least £10 to have their name engraved onto a slate and in doing so they have actually unknowingly continued a tradition that appears to have begun over 160 years ago when the church was first built.

Rev Newlyn added: “Interestingly, when the workmen took the old roof off they found a slate with a name and a date, so they did the same when they were putting the original roof on.”

The marking appears to say JIT 50, possibly referring to the identity of the engraver, with ‘50’ signifying the year 1850.

St John’s was consecrated on 28 June 1850 and is an example of the early-English style, with a report at the time stating it to be “a handsomely built edifice, the neatest in town and executed with consummate taste and judgement.”

Stonemason Gary Payne, of GPM Ripon Ltd, and his team became involved in the project when English Heritage selected their designs from a list of candidates.

The cross he has sculpted is based upon an earlier piece that was removed in the 1970s when it became unsafe.

No detailed images of the original existed and so some research was required.

Mr Payne said: “Whitby museum gave us a photograph of the church which didn’t give us much detail but it gave us some idea of how to work.

“We submitted three designs to English Heritage and they chose one that they felt was the closest to it.

“It’s fortunate that we can give something back to the church and it’s nice we were asked to do it.”

Architects Pearce Bottomley worked alongside GPM Ripon to ensure the success of the project and Mr Payne also reserved thanks for Sky Scaffolding, who installed the tarpaulin temporary roof to the project that has allowed work to continue in all weathers throughout the winter.

Work is expected to be complete by the middle of April, when St John’s new roof will be unveiled in all its glory.