"THREE years ago," says the Rector of St Ann's Church, the Reverend Nigel Ashworth, "a small piece of stone fell from the tower. We decided we needed a survey doing, we got a team of abseilers in and they removed a dustbin full of material that was about to come down. It was clear that major work was needed and not just to the tower. The main roof was leaking very badly following poor repair work in the fifties."
Nigel Ashworth pauses with a smile.
"We knew things were bad when a wing fell off one of the angels at the east end. A sign perhaps, although one of my church friends says that that usually happens when the General Synod votes against women bishops?"
The result of that 'small piece of stone' is more than £700K's worth of work.
The clock will be working and for the first time since 1931 the St Ann's bell will ring in the hours
Maybe a bit of background is needed.
St Ann's is 300 years old and was designed by John Barker for the wealthy Lady Ann Bland. As with all churches there's been plenty of work done on the church throughout that time. Major work happened just shy of the 100th birthday when an unstable spire was dismantled and replaced with the section of the tower above the clock by an unknown architect - Thomas Harrison perhaps?
The external fabric was also fixed up by Paul Waterhouse, son of the more famous, Alfred, architect of the Town Hall, in 1908. This wasn't always done to the highest level of competence. Even worse was the rushed job of the 1950s that has resulted in many of the problems of 2011/12.
These changes have left St Ann's with a very distinctive and charming appearance.
The orginal church was built of local Collyhurst purple red sandstone. By the time that particularly flakey sandstone started to crumble, the quarry was exhausted so it was patched up by various types of rock including the very red Runcorn stone and in the present restoration, stone from near Matlock, Derbyshire.
Below is a gallery of pictures from up the tower and in amongst the workings. The architects involved are the wonderful Manchester firm of Buttress Fuller Allsop Williams, the restoration specialists.
I was taken around by Nigel Ashworth and James Beddow, the master mason overseeing the stonework on the church.
I envied them both.
I envied the way Nigel was carrying through a vision to preserve the fabric of the church for another two hundred years, and I envied James' ability to carve stone seemingly effortlessly. I envied them both the way they were leaving a mark on the city.
"The scaffolding will come down in time for 17 July 2012," says Nigel Ashworth, "when we celebrate our 300th anniversary with lots of events. The nave scaffolding might stay if I can find another £180K to go beyond stabilising the roof of the nave and really finishing it off.
"But the tower will be completely refurbished and the clock will be working. For the first time since 1931 the St Ann's Church bell will ring in the hours. It's very exciting."
You can follow Jonathan Schofield here @JonathSchofield
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