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Rare evidence of Medieval timber shingle roof discovered at Grade I listed Church

— 27 Jul 2023


The roof slates prior to the work beginning


Inspecting the newly exposed medieval timber roof structure


Surviving sarking boards from underneath with wooden pegs for the fixing of shingles to the roof


Where sarking boards no longer survive, holes where pegs would have been are evident


Proposals for the repairs to the roof

1300 Grade 1 listed church roof repairs thumbnail

Records suggest that Grade I listed St Catherine's Church, Whitestone dates from sometime in the mid-thirteenth century. With a failing roof, urgent work was needed to rescue this charming and much-loved parish church. Jonathan Rhind Architects were approached by the PCC to gain Faculty approval for the works, put the project out to tender, appoint a contractor and oversee the contract.

Having achieved DAC approval, Corbel Conservation who are skilled contractors in historic building conservation, were swiftly appointed and started on site earlier in the year.

When the slates were removed it was discovered that there was an almost complete medieval timber roof structure underneath. Local experts Oakford Archaeology were quickly called in to conduct a report on this extremely exciting and rare find. The roof was originally clad in wooden shingles, as were many churches of this era, which were prone to blow off in inclement weather, and would have rotted much quicker than slate. These were replaced with slates in the 19th Century and by 2023, very few examples survive of this method of timber shingle roofing making it vital that the evidence is recorded prior to re-slating to help the archaeologists understand the development of this medieval construction technique.

The very rare survival of sarking boards in situ, with the evidence for their fixing and for successive phases of wooden shingles … is also highly significant. Here is an opportunity to record and understand the chronology, behaviour, design and original appearance of these roofs and to inform further research on the subject of Westcountry church roofs. Since fully understanding a building is an essential prerequisite of its proper maintenance and would be of possible advantage to the church community in the event of further repairs, this is not an opportunity that should be missed. Extract from The Wagon Roofs at Saint Catherine’s Church Whitestone, Devon by Oakford Archaeology.

With the timber structure exposed, it became apparent that more repairs were necessary, and Jonathan Rhind Architects have attended site to assess the historic timbers and produce schedules of repairs to ensure structural stability whilst saving as much historic fabric as possible.

Once the timber is repaired and the roof reslated in matching reclaimed  slate, the valley gutter will be re-laid in lead, rainwater goods repaired and replaced, stone copings repaired and repinned, as well as drainage channel repointing, internal decorative works and works to the tower.

The PCC, as custodians of this delightful village church, have been tirelessly fundraising for the works, to ensure St Catherine’s will survive for the benefit of the people living in the parish now and in the future. Jonathan Rhind Architects are delighted to have been able to bring our historic building experience to this project and contribute to the repair and rescue of this important church as well as being part of ensuring such an important discovery is documented.

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