Christ Church lies near the top of the hill in Hampstead, with a tall spire rising to a height of 185ft and visible from afar. Designed in 1852 by SW Dawkes to house the growing population of Hampstead, the church was constructed of ragstone masonry with ashlar Bath stone ashlar dressings in Early English neo-Gothic style. Never the most attractive of materials, a century of exposure to the elements, and to the depredations of London soot and cementitious repointing in the 1960’s, had rendered the ragstone dirty, scabrous and deeply unlovely. At the same time, the fulllength gutters between nave and aisles had been laid in asphalt and the roofs in grey welsh slates, and were all in poor condition. A Quinquennial inspection that we carried out in January 2015 drew attention to these defects, and the PCC was fortunate to receive a private donation to support a programme of comprehensive repairs.
A major contract of external repairs has now been completed and the appearance of the church has been transformed, like Cinderella. The rags(tones) have been restored to their pristine appearance, scrubbed clean with a good steam bath (Doff), the appearance of youth miraculously restored through plastic surgery (removal of cement pointing and repointing with lime pointing), and the decorative bands rendered beautiful with make-up (lime shelter-coating below the base of the spire). A cold dark grey appearance has been replaced by a warm creamy stone colour with immeasurable aesthetic gain. As a practice we think that the conservation of old buildings is too often treated as a purely technical discipline; we argue for the appreciation of architecture as form, material, texture, colour, harmony, contrast, the layering of old and new, the aesthetic of equal importance to the technical. The church was fully scaffolded to the base of the spire, whose condition was adequately good to leave alone, never having been repointed with damaging cement mortar. However, the stones of the decorative band below the spire had been built of defective stone that had suffered decay along a flaw in the bedding plane in several adjacent stones. The flaw was cut out and replaced by a single stone tying all the stones together, and the whole face of the parapet was lime sheltercoated. Elsewhere, the cement pointing was cut out and repointed with a lime mortar with a well graded gritty aggregate, laid flush with the eroded surface at the joint so as to match, as far as possible, the width of the original joint, and then scraped back with a trowel to expose the aggregate. This gives good protection, while also allowing the original appearance of the masonry to be revealed as far as is consistent with the degree of erosion. The church was extended by Ewan Christian in 1882 by the addition of a new north porch and an outer north aisle with three parallel gables. There are therefore valley gutters between each of the gables, as well as along the whole length of the nave on both sides. The latter, presumably originally of lead, had been relaid as sloping asphalt gutters when Ewan Christian added dormer windows along the inner slopes of the aisle roof. Given the lack of available height to accommodate the falls and drips required by lead roofing, we instead used a single ply roofing membrane having a 25 year guarantee. In practice a 50 year life can be expected, at which point the next external major repair programme will be due, and the church will be scaffolded, providing the opportunity to replace the membrane. In parallel with planning the external works we have also prepared proposals for a programme of improvements to the interior, in order to both serve the needs of the church better, and to improve the architectural appearance of the interior. The changes for use include the creation of a ramp at the entrance and an enlarged nave platform, paved with a decorative tiled floor. In order to make better use of the space the pews will be moved forward, adapting the length as required, thereby creating a wider communal space at the west end. The proposed changes to the internal appearance include the redecoration of the interior with light stone-coloured walls and a dark red dado, following the nineteenth century colour that survives behind a door at the west end of the church. All being well, the resulting changes should provide a fine balance between enhancing the original high Victorian qualities of the church, as well as allowing appropriate and flexible use for the present and for the future.