CHOIR STALLS AND CANOPIES AT ST MARY’S NANTWICH
Earlier this year we were commissioned (by architects Donald Insall Associates) to repair and conserve the medieval choir stalls and canopies at St Mary’s Church , Nantwich.
These are a national treasure; the fine towering canopies of Cathedral quality dating from the 1380’s and the stalls, with their famous misericords from the mid 1400’s. Both had suffered historic damage and neglect followed by phases of necessary but largely insensitive repairs. The woodwork was candle-blacked and filthy with decades of accumulated dust, many carved pinnacles were missing and areas of turrets were on the verge of collapse.
This was furniture restoration on a grand scale.
The slow and painstaking cleaning very soon revealed traces of paint within the canopies, mostly yellow with some red which which confirmed that they were originally brightly decorated and had been stripped after the Reformation and later stained almost black in places when Victorian work was added. No pigment was found on the lower stalls and misericords.
As the cleaning processed, anything discovered lying detached within the fabric of the canopies or was loose and incomplete was recorded and removed to be repaired in our workshops. This included all twenty misericords which had been vandalized during the Civil War when the Church held Royalist prisoners and later had been very crudely repaired and reinstated. It was our task to make them operate smoothly again with the minimum of disturbance to the original seat ends, but a small amount of newly carved oak was needed to accomplish this and all the oak dowels and end blocks of the seats were replaced with work to the quadrants on the stalls themselves.
Here at Nantwich, as with so much conservation woodwork generally, much of our time was spent dealing with earlier failed repairs, improving on them and covering our tracks.
Our final task was to restore the Victorian floor of the stalls and install highly effective and safe LED floor lighting.
For this sensitive work St Mary’s Nantwich has been given Highly Commended status in the 2015 Betjeman Award, and naturally St Mary’s Church, Conservation Archtects Donald Insall Ass. and ourselves are delighted to be runners up to St Martin of Tours, Bilborough near Nottingham where Evelyn Gibb’s murals of 1946 are now restored to their former glory after having been concealed and defaced in the 1970’s.