St John the Baptist’s Spire

I always see scaffolding as an opportunity for a column. It was hard to miss that which is currently in place around St John the Baptist’s Church in Hove so when I was there discussing the Impact History Project with local charity Impact Initiatives, it made sense to go for a climb at the same time.

Although not immediately obvious, the location of St John’s Church is of interest. The site straddles the boundary between two historic landholdings – the Goldsmid Estate (Adelaide Crescent, Palmeira Square, etc) and the Stanford Estate (the Avenues, etc). The owners of each, Isaac Lyon Goldsmid and William Stanford respectively, gave the necessary land to allow the project to go ahead.

Several types of stone were used in the construction of the landmark structure. Work began on the original Caen stone and knapped flint edifice in 1852. I was more interested this time though on the Bath stone spire that was added in around 1870. At 160ft, it is certainly the tallest in Hove and may well be the tallest in the whole city. Those proposed for All Saints and St Patrick’s nearby were never added after all.

In only having ever seen the spire from the pavement, I was fascinated to see it – touch it – from the top of the scaffolding. The small details are the best. One gargoyle, which appears tiny from the street, has hooves. Another has reptilian claws.

Nigel Rose from Universal Stone, a sub-contractor on the restoration project, showed me some of the damage that has been caused by the use of cement instead of lime in repairing the mortar joints between the pieces of Bath stone over the years. When water has unable to escape through the unwelcome cement joints, it has left through the stone instead – and caused decimation in the process. If lime had been used, the water would have been able to escape and the stone would have stayed in place. On this particular job, the mortar mix is three parts sharp sand to one part lime (NHL 3.5 in case you were wondering). Coal dust is added to darken it.

The Impact History Project culminates in an exhibition at the church which brings together memories and photographs of the building. It is being held at the St John’s Centre, part of the church, from 19th September for around two weeks. I can’t wait to learn more.