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Views vary of Dales church’s limewash render

04 November 2022

Upper Wensleydale Benefice

St Oswald’s clock tower, showing the test limewash patch

St Oswald’s clock tower, showing the test limewash patch

PLANS to cover the stone clock-tower of a 15th-century church with a limewashed render have been described as “desecration” by objectors.

The tower of the Grade I listed St Oswald’s, in the Wensleydale village of Askrigg, North Yorkshire, is suffering from penetrating damp that threatens woodwork in its bell chamber. Specialists have concluded that a lime-mortar render would protect the stonework, and planning permission was granted in 2019 after no objections were raised.

Last month, however, after a test patch with a bright white limewash finish was applied, there were loud protests. An online petition demanding a rethink has gathered more than 350 supporters. One villager, Peter Brooke, said that people were “appalled at what is viewed as an act of desecration that will blight not only the church, but the whole village”. He suggested that it would be like placing a lighthouse in the middle of the dale.

But the Vicar of Upper Wensleydale, the Revd David Clark, believes that the campaigners’ fears are misplaced. “The current patches do not represent the potential colour: they purely represent the texture of the finish,” he said. “You could have whatever colour you wish. The tower could probably stand for another hundred years, but the important thing is what’s happening inside to our bell-ringing chamber. If we don’t do something to stop the damp, it is going to collapse, or we will have to take the bells out.

“We are still in consultations to find what everyone can be happy with and still preserve the tower.” He is planning an open meeting at which the church’s architect and stonemason will answer questions.

Upper Wensleydale BeneficeMould in St Oswald’s clock tower

A spokesman for Leeds diocese said that a faculty had been granted after “rigorous processes of consultation. . . External rendering is a traditional process appropriate to an historic building.” Research had suggested that the tower been rendered until a mid-19th-century restoration.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, which granted the planning permission, said: “The careful choice of the final limewash colour would ensure the minimum amount of change to the appearance of the tower which would continue to blend into the general village landscape so there would be no harm to the Askrigg Conservation Area.”

Mr Brooke’s wife, Emma, who launched the online petition, said that hardly anyone in the village was aware of the project. “It does seem that they were trying to bring it in under the radar,” she said. “It’s not what the local people want. It’s going to be an absolute eyesore, completely out of keeping with the rest of the village.” Any coloured render would “ruin” the church, she said.

The petition calls for less intrusive measures, saying that an “independent expert” believes that the planned work is “completely overkill and doesn’t address the fundamental issue of moisture and ventilation”; the expert suggested using appropriate repointing.

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