The church of St Nicolas at Great Bookham has undergone many significant changes over the centuries. There have been substantial additions to the building, increasing the size and design of the church as the community around it developed. Despite enjoying such a long tradition and heritage, the most recent improvements are the result of an evaluation of all aspects of church life and the need to move with the times and meet the requirements of the 21st century parishioners.
Hidden behind a Victorian wooden screen The West Tower had become a largely unused area of the church. Formerly the main entrance, heat loss up the tower and through the doors had prompted the Victorians to build a wooden screen topped by curtains across the church but the chilly draughts had not improved.
Architects were invited to design a contemporary and appropriate screen that would fit perfectly into the arch to meet the current needs of the church without obscuring any of the original architecture. In addition new glass doors were planned to sit inside the existing wooden entrance doors to the church. An ecclesiastical glass specialist was engaged to meet the demanding technical specifications of the design.
To keep the visual impact of the glass screen to a minimum involved a technically difficult construction using vertical glass fins to stabilise the multi panel construction of the arch. The decision was taken to fix the panels of glass to the ancient stonework by using a series of glass clamps. This would minimise the impact on the ancient fabric of the walls, and be visually less intrusive. Within the screen an over-sized door, large enough to provide easy access into the church wheelchairs and coffins posed a separate technical challenge as the additional width impacted significantly on the weight. The door is an impressive 3000mm high and 1100mm wide - considerably bigger than average. Bespoke fixings were manufactured to take the weight of the door and give it lateral stability whilst at the same time offering minimal visual impact.
The new glass entrance doors also had to allow easy access to the church.
Most importantly for heat loss, all the glass had to fit perfectly around the ancient, hand-hewn stone corbels with no more than a 6mm gap at any point.
Glass expert Peter Hazeldean says, 'Accurate surveys in these situations are critical. A primary function of the glass installation is to minimise heat loss and the screen and doors must be manufactured to a very precise specification. The use of laser surveys combined with a templating cone precisely records every nuance of the stonework. . The resulting technical drawings provide sufficient detail for the glass to be manufactured to the exact shape of every corbel'.
As an added feature to make sure the glass truly represented the spirit of the church a small cross detail was added to the screens, taking the design from the embroidery of the altar cloth This was replicated in an applied manifestation in two rows across both the inner and outer screens.
The finished result is truly stunning, meeting all criteria to retain heat loss and in addition minimising the acoustic intrusion of the bells during the service. Since fitting the glass the West Tower is now in regular use, being the main access door to the church so parishioners enjoy the full glory of the aisle and the altar as they enter the building.
Without doubt this is a church that has embraced change and the mixture of styles, windows, timbers, stones and monuments from many different centuries sit comfortably in juxtaposition throughout the building. Today St Nicolas is 'an archetypical village church' very much at the heart of the community.
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