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Lansallos Church - the current situation!

Many readers of this web site will have heard about the disastrous fire that severely damaged the beautiful, medieval Church of St Ildierna, Lansallos, on the afternoon of Saturday, 26th February this year (2005), and may be wondering what the future holds for this important part of Polperro ’ s heritage.

For centuries until more recent boundary changes, St Ildierna ’ s was the parish church for the part of Polperro that lies west of the River Pol, and many generations of local residents lie buried in the churchyard. It is still the last resting place for not a few Polperro people since Talland churchyard became full and closed for further interments. The present church was dedicated in 1321, but it replaced a Norman church which in turn had been built on the site of a Celtic chapel, the hermitage of St Salwys, who lived in the 9th century and after whom the village of Lansallos is named (Lan Salwys; “ lan ” is the Cornish word for a religious site, usually a chapel or hermitage). The Pentuan stone font at the west end of the church comes from the Norman church, while the nearby half of a granite Celtic font is thought perhaps to have been used by St Salwys in his chapel. It was found buried in a field at Highertown farm; we ’ d dearly like to find the other half!

It is believed that the blaze was started near to the organ by some local juveniles, the flames quickly rising to the roof of the Lady Chapel and, despite the wonderful efforts of firefighters from seven brigades, spreading to the roof of the chancel and nave. Fortunately, the wonderfully carved oak benches made between 1490 and 1520 survived intact. The organ, a very old armoire containing vestments, a medieval chest and other furniture and fittings were either destroyed or extensively damaged by the fire. Several stained glass windows had to be broken to gain access to the seat of the conflagration. The greatest damage was to the 15th century “ waggon ” ceilings with their associated carved oak beams, and said by experts to be the finest examples in Cornwall, which are badly burned.

Immediate action was taken by our builders, Darrock and Brown Ltd of Bodmin, to protect the interior from further damage from the weather by covering the roofs with plastic sheeting, and a temporary partition with a window has been installed to screen off the most badly damaged areas of the church so that visitors can still gain access and view the interior. Services are meanwhile continuing in the Sunday School, a little converted stone-built barn off the churchyard.

The cost of repairs and restoration are estimated to be at least £375,000, of which only some £292,000 will be covered by insurance. This leaves us with over £75,000 to find, a tall order for a congregation of just 30 in an almost completely rural parish with no shops or businesses other than farms - and a total population of just 165 people. However, there is a determination locally that the church will be fully rebuilt even if it takes time, and on 23rd April the Bishop Roy of St Germans launched a Fire Restoration Appeal. Thanks to the generosity of numerous people, including the Duchess of Cornwall and many others both local and visitors, the Appeal has so far reached £41,000, a very encouraging start. We shall also be seeking grants from several charities, such as the Cornwall Historic Churches Trust, which take an interest in old buildings.

Before the fire, we had already raised £31,000 to pay for the replacement of the lead roof of the tower, which was leaking due to age, and for repairs to be made to the tower’s masonry which was becoming unsafe in places. This work required the tower to be encased in scaffolding and a temporary white plastic “ tent ” placed over the top, which local fishermen say provided them with the best landmark on the coast for miles! This work has recently been completed and the plastic removed, so seafarers will have to resort to more traditional means of navigation.

Work on repairing the church after the fire has begun, and the process of cleaning and neutralising the acidic soot by pressure spraying with powdered sodium bicarbonate is finished. This was an unpleasant procedure which left every surface covered in a layer of mixed soot and bicarb, the latter being hygroscopic and attracting moisture from the air, thus causing damp to pervade the church. Thankfully, BCN Ltd, the contractors, have now started the final clean up and we are able to hold occasional services in the church again, though probably not during the winter due to the absence of heating. Meanwhile, Darrock and Brown Ltd have found a source of good, matching second hand Delabole slates and work has commenced to replace the damaged parts of the roofs, hopefully completing this job before the worst of the winter weather begins in earnest.

Closer inspection of the beams after cleaning has revealed that many of them may be reuseable; the ancient oak is as hard as nails and has been made even harder by the effects of heat, so that the charring is only shallow in many places.

We should be able to resume regular services in part of the church around next Easter and we will then face the slow, and no doubt expensive, task of repairing the burned-out Lady Chapel and restoring the carvings in the oak ceilings, many of which are reduced to charcoal. We understand that there is a process of chemical injection which can return charred wood to something approaching its original state. We will be taking advice not only from our church architect, Mrs Margaret Davies, who has done a remarkable job in planning and co-ordinating the restoration, but also from organisations such as English Heritage and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Our situation was made more difficult by the fact that the fire occurred whilst we were in an interregnum, which is “ church-speak ” for saying that our previous priest, the Revd Canon John Halkes, had retired and we were awaiting the arrival of a new incumbent. Happily, the Revd Louise Courtney, previously curate at St Keverne, was licensed and installed as our new priest-in-charge on 20th September and we are very pleased to welcome her into our community.

We are determined that the ancient and lovely Parish Church of St Ildierna will rise once again from the ashes and serve as the focal point for our community for many more years to come.

John Feesey, September 2005

LANSALLOS CHURCH FIRE APPEAL - FUND RAISING EVENTS

The following events are planned to help raise money for the Fire Appeal - and they will all be very enjoyable, too, so do come along if you can:

Saturday, 8th October: A “ Cornish Evening ” of local entertainment and refreshments hosted by our friends at St Michael ’ s Church, Newquay, at 7.30 pm in their church hall. St Michael ’ s was itself the victim of an arson attack a few years ago, and the congregation there has very kindly adopted our cause.

Tuesday, 15th November: Local historian Carole Vivian will give an illustrated talk at 7.30 pm in White Cross Village Hall, near Lanteglos Highway, entitled “ In Search of Smugglers ” , a fascinating insight into the history of smuggling in East Cornwall.

Friday, 25th November: An illustrated talk by Tony Foster at 7.30 pm in Lerryn Village Memorial Hall on “ Painting Everest ” . Admission £5 at the door, to include a free glass of wine.

Saturday, 26th November: Live music and dancing at the Punch Bowl Inn, Lanreath, starting at 8 pm. £7 a head to include a buffet supper. Come and banish those winter blues - dance the night away and help raise the roof!

To make a contribution

Fund raising continues meanwhile, and any contributions to “ The Lansallos Church Restoration Fund ” are welcome and should be sent to the Chairman of the Fire Appeal: Mr John Feesey, Tresquite Mill House, Peakswater, Lansallos, Looe, PL13 2QE. Why not buy a few new slates for the roof? For a contribution of £5 per slate your name will be entered in a book with the individual numbers of the slates you have bought, for display in the church once the restoration is complete. By completing the Gift Aid Certificate below, and enclosing it with your donation, you will also enable us to claim an extra 28 pence in the pound from the Inland Revenue, at no extra cost or trouble to yourself:

LANSALLOS CHURCH FIRE APPEAL - Gift Aid Certificate

Full Name............................................................................... Date...............................

Address...................................................................................

................................................................................................ Amount..........................

................................................................................................

Post Code............................ Signature..........................................

I am, a UK taxpayer intending tax to be reclaimed on the enclosed donation made under the Gift Aid Scheme (Cheques payable to: Lansallos Church Restoration Fund)

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