Alex Coppock

A report on a recent Marches Regional SPAB day

by 27th Nov, 2013

Alex recently spoke at a meeting of the Marches Regional Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). You can read his thoughts on the meeting here. We thought it would be interesting to hear the thoughts of someone from Marches Regional SPAB on the day. This report of the group’s day out, which also included a visit to Wellbrook Manor, is by Alison Davies.

On Saturday 13 July we visited two contrasting buildings in Peterchurch village: the church and a manor house. They differed in most aspects – architecture, style, age, building materials, original purpose and scale. Yet the recent changes and repairs undertaken to these buildings suggest that they have one thing in common – they are no longer used for the purpose that they were originally built. So what happens to old buildings when their original purpose is no longer fully needed?

Our morning visit was to St Peter’s Church. The church is a grade I listed building, famed for its 1970s fibreglass replica spire. St Peter’s has undergone recent, award-winning re-ordering by Communion Architects. The project has brought new and old architecture together.

Our group received a slide-based presentation by Alex Coppock of Communion Architects about the philosophy behind the re-ordering, how the changes benefit this rural community. He included an array of “before” and “after” photographs.

Alex explained why there is a need for change. “National figures suggest that only 5% of people will regularly attend church. The sad truth is that the average weekly congregation for the vast majority of rural churches in Hereford Diocese is in single figures.” So what happens now to these vast spaces with such small numbers of people using them? Do we leave them as vacant buildings and let them decay or do we find additional uses for them?

And so the seed of thought was sown in Peterchurch and after much consultation, the PCC agreed to the re-ordering of the church to enable it to be used by the traditional congregation and also the wider community. It now provides facilities for a children’s centre, worship space for Anglican services, a community event space and a public library. The building has been reborn as a true community centre.

At St Peter’s the newly inserted oak architecture is sensitive to its environment and simplistic in nature. The building is now inviting, light, warm, clean. I came away thinking that we are considerate re-orderers. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past, when churches were partially or wholly demolished and history lost. Our changes respect the existing fabric of the building. If the day arrives when it needs further re-ordering, the 21st century work at St Peter’s is easily reversible.

St Peter’s and the philosophy behind its recent re-ordering is a fascinating tale, and one that is being considered and actioned in more and more Herefordshire churches. If weekly user numbers at this church have increased from 30 to 300, its architectural integrity is still intact and a community is transformed, the project’s success is unquestionable.

Following lunch at the local bistro, we walked through the village to visit Wellbrook Manor. The Manor is a Grade II* listed building and at its core are the substantial remains of a fine medieval hall house, dating from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century.

Wellbrook Manor was gifted to The Vivat Trust in July 2009. This organisation is a national buildings preservation trust that restores historic buildings and makes them available as self-catering holiday accommodation. The manor is undergoing restoration. Our guides for the day were Duncan James and Richard Morriss.

We gathered in the gardens, studying information sheets describing the manor’s surviving timber-framed arrangement and also showing what has been lost over time. Wellbrook is an example of a base cruck building, a distinct form associated with high status buildings. There are just nine of these buildings in the county of Herefordshire. It is of semi-aisled construction with arcade plates under the lower tier of purlins. The surviving structure includes the two-bay hall and three-bay, 2 storey upper (solar) crosswing. The lower bay or service wing has gone.

At 800 square feet, Wellbrook is much larger than the typical Herefordshire hall (which averages 400 – 500 square feet). In addition to its impressive size and its base cruck construction, its decorative detail in the form of quatrefoils in the framing reinforces the message that this was a very important building. It was suggested that a first floor double-ogee headed doorway which now leads into the modern extension of the house, may have originally led into a garderobe tower.

As always, our guides enthused about all aspects of the building.  It was easy to imagine the impressive interior of the hall before the first floor was inserted.

Houses of this size are often deemed unsuitable and simply too large for modern family life. The Vivat Trust are securing the building’s future; holiday makers can experience living in Wellbrook Manor and by paying to do so, they are contributing to the costs of maintaining this beautiful and historically important building.

Alison Davies