John Betjeman Award 2019 winner

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The Grade-I listed church dates to the 13th century and is most famous for its association with the poet William Wordsworth who, along with his family, is buried in the churchyard.

The annual award honours the memory of church enthusiast and SPAB member Sir John Betjeman and is made for outstanding repairs to the fabric of places of worship in England and Wales completed in the last 18 months. Importantly, the award is always made to the winning building rather than to individuals.

In Great British Churches Betjeman describes St Oswald’s, Grasmere as a “rough, massive old church” where the “jungle of black beams is an object lesson in elementary building, ingenious and indescribable”.

The award has gone from strength to strength. This year brought twenty-four entries. After lengthy discussion, the judges whittled the submissions down to a shortlist of four: St Peter’s, Tiverton, Devon; All Saints’, Dodington, Somerset; St Oswald’s, Grasmere, Cumbria and St Nicholas’s, West Lexham, Norfolk. At the end of the site visits, all five judges agreed that each shortlisted project was executed to the highest of conservation standards.

In Great British Churches Betjeman describes the award-winning St Oswald’s, Grasmere as a “rough, massive old church” where the “jungle of black beams is an object lesson in elementary building, ingenious and indescribable”. The tower of St Oswald’s was cement rendered in the 1920s. This coating had blown, cracked and was falling onto the public highway.


The project involved the removal of the render and raking out of the cement ribbon pointing. Raking out was time-consuming as large sections of masonry had been rebuilt in the 1920s and bedded on cement mortar which was compromising the breathability of the fabric. Tonnes of hot-lime mortar were needed to consolidate the structure and complete the harling; for which the contractor cleverly adapted the scaffold to achieve a seamless finish.

Re-roofing the tower was an equally sympathetic undertaking. Replacements for the few broken tiles were Burlington Broughton Moor slates which, due to the large size required, were cut down from flagstones, hand-dressed, flame-finished and fixed with oak pegs.

The tower repairs at St Oswald’s were challenging, pioneering in the use of hot-lime mortars on this scale and truly commendable. Great care was taken by both architect and contractor (Crosby Granger Architects and UK Restoration Services) to retain as much historic fabric as possible and repair in a truly like-for-like manner, showing exceptional attention to detail and execution.


A special part if this project was the outreach activities. Scaffold tours were conducted throughout the works allowing members of the local community to access the tower roof and see lime mortar works at first hand. A final tour was held so locals could see the end-result of the project.

A full account of the work at St Oswald’s church, and further information on the shortlisted entries will be available in the winter SPAB Magazine, available to members.

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