Reflecting on Sheerness Dockyard Church
Reviving History and Community Spirit at Sheerness Dockyard Church
The transformation of Sheerness Dockyard Church, a historical landmark with a rich maritime heritage on the Isle of Sheppey, has been unveiled.
After suffering extensive damage due to a fire in 2001, Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust commissioned a transformation of the 19th-century church to restore it to its former glory and transform it into a vibrant community hub.
A comprehensive restoration and conservation project was undertaken by Paye Stonework & Restoration, a specialist stonework contractor renowned for its expertise in heritage projects who were entrusted with the critical task of preserving and reviving the iconic church.
Unravelling the maritime heritage
The purpose of the Sheerness Dockyard Church restoration was twofold: to repair and restore the fire-damaged elements of the church and to repurpose the site as a hub for community activities and cultural events. The main objectives for Paye were to carefully dismantle and reconstruct the clock tower, repair the damaged parapet, reinstate the original profiles of the parapet stonework, and design and install a new cantilever staircase. Additionally, the team was responsible for repointing and repairing bricks, conducting mortar repairs to the stone, and replacing the grand, ionic capitals and columns.
Embarking on a revered mission
The project presented several unique challenges that required careful planning and innovative thinking. Working throughout the year with a long, detailed programme was a significant challenge, especially considering the sensitivity of some materials to temperature conditions. Paye’s masons had to contend with both extreme heat during a summer heatwave and cold temperatures during the winter. For example, the lime mortar used in the restoration should not be applied in temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius, requiring the team to protect the materials with hessian to ensure proper curing and setting.
Another substantial challenge was procuring the appropriate stone for the project. The selected sandstone from Northumberland had to undergo a four-stage process, including quarrying, cutting, and machine processing, which can take up to 16 weeks. Furthermore, Historic England required meticulous approval of material samples, as is common with heritage buildings. Paye worked closely with Martin Ashley Architects, the conservation architect, to secure approval for nearly 30 samples, ensuring compliance with heritage preservation standards.
Overcoming the elements
The successful reconstruction of the clock tower was a major accomplishment. The team dismantled the unsound tower to its base and meticulously reconstructed it, ensuring its stability and structural integrity. The damaged parapet was rebuilt using handmade bricks, reinstating the original detailing, and restoring the church’s grandeur.
An innovative aspect of the project was the design and installation of the new cantilever staircase. Paye designed the staircase using 3D modelling to visualise its structure, enabling precise cutting of the stonework, and ensuring a seamless fit during installation. Moreover, preserving the original staircase in the north vestibule and other historic details inside the church added an authentic touch to the restoration, providing visitors with a glimpse of the church’s history.
Architects and artisans unite
Effective collaboration between Paye and Martin Ashley Architects played a pivotal role in the project’s success. Their well-established relationship and mutual trust facilitated smooth communication and decision-making throughout the restoration process. As conservation specialists, they were relied upon to guide the client, contractor, and principal architect through the conservation aspects of the project, ensuring the preservation of the church’s heritage.
A lasting legacy
The Sheerness Dockyard Church has been successfully transformed into a thriving community hub. Thanks to careful restoration and conservation efforts, the iconic landmark now stands as a symbol of the region’s maritime history and serves as a vibrant gathering place for cultural events and community activities. Paye’s dedication to preserving historical structures and their expertise in traditional conservation skills have left a lasting legacy on this remarkable project.
The Sheerness Dockyard Church restoration project stands as a testament to the value of preserving heritage landmarks and revitalising them as community assets. Paye’s meticulous craftsmanship, innovative approach, and collaborative spirit were instrumental in breathing new life into this historical building.
As the church continues to serve as a hub of cultural and community activities, its enduring beauty and significance will be cherished by generations to come.