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Remains of Old Church of St Mary Magdalene

Case study: North Wootton, Nr. Sherborne (South West)

List entry numbers: 1003745 (scheduled monument) and 1303981 (listed building)

St Mary Magdalene’s tower building at risk, before decay started
Image from the Historic England Archive showing St Mary Magdalene's tower intact

Background and history

The west tower is all that remains of the medieval parish church of St Mary Magdalene, North Wootton. The church was built in the late 14th century or early 15th century. It was abandoned around 1883 when a new church was built elsewhere in the parish. The nave and chancel were demolished then. The tower is the only remaining structure and is listed grade II* and a scheduled monument.

The tower stood ruinous and roofless with standing walls for many decades. Significant ivy growth had established itself to such an extent that latterly the whole structure was covered in ivy. However, this also provided some protection to the wall tops and faces.

The ivy's substantial trunk had grown through the south west buttress. The buttress was pushed away from the main body of the tower. This caused significant cracking and instability to this corner. The ivy growth into the walls at higher levels allowed water to access the wall cores, causing further instability.

Important information about the tower's earlier form was found in old records. The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England survey (1952) and listed building description (1961) provided these. A low pyramidal roof covered with stone slates is described. In addition, the Historic England Archive holds interesting and useful early images. One shows the tower intact.

This documentary and photographic information was used to inform the reconstruction of the tower.

St Mary Magdalene’s tower building at risk, ivy growth begins to take hold
Image of the west tower from the Historic England Archive showing ivy growth beginning to take hold

Is it at risk?

The building is no longer at risk. It was on the Register from 1998 and was removed in 2015.

Until 2011 the tower was covered in substantial ivy growth which caused immense structural damage. The ivy was estimated to be at least 70 years old when it was removed.

Historic England engaged with the owners over a long period prior to its repair. Historic England offered much advice regarding the tower's repair. We also offered a grant to help with the costs.

St Mary Magdalene’s tower building at risk, before repairs
St Mary Magdalene's west tower before repairs

What's the current situation?

With advice from Historic England the owners had already removed much of the ivy and killed its roots by 2011. They then prepared a specification for its repair and tendered for costs. They could not afford to carry out the work themselves.

Historic England offered a grant of just under half of the repair costs. The building underwent comprehensive repairs in 2014/15, with the help of this Historic England grant.

Substantial structural repairs were carried out to the walls following removal of the embedded ivy roots. This included the rebuilding of the south west buttress and the insertion of threaded stainless steel anchors. The stonework of the walls was consolidated, grouted and repointed.

Evidence of the original roof form from historic images lead to the decision to re-roof the tower with a stone tiled roof. This will provide long term protection to the building. Following this work the building has been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.

The public will now have access to the outside of the building as part of the Historic England grant conditions.

St Mary Magdalene’s tower building at risk, the tower repaired
The repaired tower of St Mary Magdalene's. The public will now have access to the exterior of the building as part of the Historic England grant conditions
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