Prepare for the east end of Bath Abbey to disappear behind hoarding in about six weeks or so as building contractors Emery’s get down to the business of starting to lift memorial or ledger stones.
The local building firm has won a multi-million-pound contract to secure the unstable Abbey floor, install new heating – tapped from Bath’s thermal waters – and construct various new facilities for staff, choir and visitors.
It’s going to take several years to complete the job but the first area to be tackled – the east end – will mean moving the high altar and choir nearer to the congregation so work can begin behind the screens.
The Abbey is insisting that – though facilities may be restricted at times – it WILL be business as usual and they will even be continuing their Tower Tours.
A few years ago Emery’s were involved in a trial piece of work carried out to test the technique of injecting a liquid agent into the cavities that had formed amongst the thousands of burials under the floor.
It fills and hardens and so stabilises the floor. In doing the work they had taken up a fair few memorial or ledger stones which were relaid afterwards.
Many more stones lie beneath the nave pews and – now they will gradually be permanently removed – many more ledger stones will be seen for the first time in 150 years.
Emery’s initial work was watched by a young local man involved in writing a dissertation for a Master of Arts degree as part of his architectural studies.
Ian Parkes – now employed by Bath-based architectural firm Stride Treglown – based his thesis on an area of Abbey flooring. It was called “The Stone remains – Mapping Place at Bath Abbey.”
He was back in the building today to lead a tour of local people interested in hearing more about the ledger stones and what they told us of the Abbey and its social and spiritual history.
One of those in Ian’s group today was the Abbey’s Interpretation Officer, Dr Oliver Taylor. He and a grou of volunteers have been busy recording the details of all the ledger stones currently visible in the Abbey.
There will be many more to record as the pews are gradually removed. However, as the stones themselves will have to come up – so the floor can be stabilised – will they be going back where they were.