It can be seen for miles around, is featured on countless postcards and has become one of the most enduring symbols of Stratford to visitors from around the globe. However, Holy Trinity Church, the burial place of William Shakespeare, faces a bleak future if large amounts of money are not invested to keep it standing – and soon.
The 800-year-old church on the banks of the River Avon has been the subject of a five-yearly structural survey – known as the quinquennial report – which has found serious structural problems that will require an extensive and sustained programme of investment to put right. And that doesn’t mean that the church hasn’t been consistently repaired over the past 50 years – it has. The report has complimented Holy Trinity parishioners for their continued investment in the past to fund the upkeep of the building. But over the next 15 years it will cost around £4 million to carry out essential repairs.
The first priority is the church’s celebrated tower and spire – the landmark famous all over the world. The spire itself appears to be suffering from cracking throughout the stonework, which Ian Stainburn, the specialist architect who carried out the survey, believes will require a full and extensive inspection by a steeplejack.
“It is recommended that as soon as possible a competent firm of steeplejacks should be employed to carry out a close external inspection of the spire to ascertain the exact extent of vertical cracking, the condition of the vertical and horizontal mortar joints and the condition of the individual stone masonry units,” he said.
Following this inspection, appropriate remedial works can be recommended, which should also include appropriate work to the tower pinnacles. It is considered that this cracking is due to shrinkage/thermal movement and some cosmetic repairs will be required.
The base of the spire is built of brick arches. Major deterioration is also noted in this brickwork, originally six years ago, but again in the most recent report. “It is clear that the situation has worsened since 1995 and that repairs required, although similar in nature, will be more extensive,” added Mr Stainburn. Some of the cracking evident on the outside of the spire is also evident inside – although the report cannot say just how bad this may be.
The Rev Martin Gorick, vicar of Stratford, said that the repairs must be regarded a a matter of urgency: “There is no danger to the public, but we do need to press on with these repairs as soon as possible to make sure that the central landmark of Stratford is preserved for the future.
“We hope to do the repair work in a series of phases, taking the highest priority work first and gradually dealing with other key tasks.”
Mr Gorick said that the church is in the process of applying to English Heritage for a grant of £152,000 that will fund the inspection and repair work on the spire. This will be the first time that Holy Trinity has applied to a national body for funding. The last phase of repair work – which was carried out on the chancel parapet on the south side – was funded by the town trust and other benefactors. This year Holy Trinity will be required to send over £100,000 to the Coventry Diocese. The church’s annual income from visitors and parishioners is around £140,000, and with what is left of that going on general running costs of the church Mr Gorick makes the point that there is not much left to fund repairs.
Report by Duncan Smith
Stratford Herald – Thursday 23rd September 2004