ALL SAINTS' CHURCH, DULWICH

GRADE 1     Restoration & new build

All Saints’ is a grade 1 listed church which, although only half-built to George Fellowes-Prynnes’ original design when funds ran out in 1891, is on an epic scale. Prynne used a palette of soft red brick contrasting with Bath stone. This ambitious project was beyond even the enthusiasm of the new parish of West Dulwich and never completed. Even so, the building is over 22m to the eaves and sits above a 5m tall crypt. Crowning the interior was his hallmark stone chancel screen. This magnificent building was devastated by fire in June 2000. The roof, windows, floors and leadwork were lost and brick and stone severely stressed. The architects were on site during the fire-fighting and were able to save some elements of fabric, such as major gables, but the damage was such that total demolition was considered. Early estimates put the re-instatement cost at £10m. Three challenges had to be faced: how to make the surviving fabric safe; how to salvage elements for potential future repair and how to conserve and repair the building.

 

Following surveys of surviving fabric, sometimes from the bucket of a crane for safety reasons, the decision was made to repair Prynne’s work where it survived and to contrast that with a modern insertion of new accommodation and replacement elements. The brick and stone interior of the chancel and Lady chapel, together with their timber vaulted ceilings were reinstated. The scarring arising from the loss of face of all brickwork and masonry in the nave and aisles was made safe and individual elements were replaced where the architectural line of the original design would otherwise have been compromised. Thus the bases of columns and pilasters were re-modelled but the strings, hoods and shafts

were de-frassed and left as a testament to the fire.

 

The damage caused by the fire was not just the obvious one of heat. More damage was done by the cycle of cooling from fire hoses and the saturation of the fabric, which stood open to the elements for four years. Contamination and dry rot were also concerns. Removing damp fabric and dealing with contamination came first followed by the preparation of detailed drawings showing proposed repairs for each area and stone. Techniques ranged from natural or cast stone replacement to mortar repairs. This work, which was fully described by the architects, was the subject of a fixed price subcontract.

 

Tenders were sought and work started. Subsequent frost damage had made sound stone friable and some large elements of repair had to be re-evaluated. This was a constant, though not unexpected, task for the architects requiring re-assessment of priorities and techniques as well as a close relationship with masons to ensure quality control and appropriate design decisions. The replacement of the chancel arch which suffered structural failure during construction cost additional money but the remainder of the repairs were brought in on budget. In total, some £800,000 was spent on masonry repairs alone.