Ancient Chapel Rescued by Recclesia

If English Heritage had existed in the 1700s, Wervin Chapel would almost certainly have been on the at risk register even then. Having stood since before the 1200s as a chapel of ease to the Abbey of St Werburgh’s in Chester, the chapel was deconsecrated in the eighteenth century and was very quickly robbed of much of its red sandstone fabric. As the building became ruinous and the neighbouring farm grew larger following enclosure, the chapel was given a new but somewhat less holy function as a cow shed. Its demise was brought another step closer during the Second World War, when anecdotal evidence suggests that some local boys in possession of grenades decided to spend an amusing afternoon blowing up what was left of the chancel.

The partially standing remains of the North and East elevations are designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Listed Building. Despite there being so little fabric still evident, English Heritage determined that the site was worthy of conservation work to prevent the total loss of the historic site. Masonry conservation specialists from Recclesia were called in to undertake the careful excavation, sorting and recording of the tumbled ruins in conjunction with an archaeologist. Following the extensive process of documenting the site, the objective was to conserve as found the sections of the chapel that were still standing and to uncover and consolidate what was left of the footings of the elevations. The intention was very much to ensure that the monument was not only stable and able to take weather, but that its original form could be read and understood by visitors.

To this end, the footings were excavated under archaeological watch and each stone found was carefully cleaned of soil, moss and root growth. A number of worked stones were uncovered, including several sections of the east window and a large kneeler stone from the east gable. Some remains of glazed floor tiles were also found fully intact during the dig. After carrying out a long inventory of material, Recclesia’s masons began consolidating the core of the standing stones and footings. The excavated stones were used to rebuild a section of the east elevation, meaning that all the unearthed original fabric was retained and reused. Hydraulic lime mortars were used with local sands to bed and point and larger gaps in the structure were galletted using excavated smaller stones, slates and tile. The standing walls were tested for water traps and carefully placed lime mortar was used to ensure that the structure was able to shed water as best it could as a defence against excessive weathering.

The results of the work are in line with the intentions of the plan to conserve the site as found. The remaining elevations have been conserved to a point at which the rate of decay has been significantly slowed and the layout of the original building is more readily apparent to anyone who looks at the site. Root growth and surface vegetation have been removed from the core and from the footings, reducing the risk of structural damage to the monument and below-ground damage to the archaeology of the site. The masonry itself has been given a fighting chance of survival thanks to the use of appropriately mixed and applied lime mortars, descaling of the friable surface and careful introduction of weather-shedding aids.

Without such work being commissioned by English Heritage, the historic remains of the chapel would certainly have been lost in no time at all. Thanks to careful work by Recclesia, the remains stand as a very clear marker of the history of the site and the local area.