Plastic Is Not A Modern Idea (24 October 1975)
This has been called the Age of Plastics. And quite rightly, I think. When I was young, practically all those things now made of poly-this, that and the other, and of bakelite or some other ite, were made of wood or metal or both.
The only articles I remember which remotely resembled today’s plastics were those celluloid collars we had to wear on Sundays. Oh the struggles we had with those pestiferous collar studs, back and front. Today’s boys don’t know they’re born – in that respect at any rate.
Actually the word “plastic” is very ancient. It is Greek in origin, and it means anything that can be moulded. Thus, two of the oldest industries in the world, pottery-making and brick and tile making, are plastic industries, but everybody knows what we now mean by “plastics,” so why labour the point?
I must admit to some astonishment, however, when the Rector of the 800-year-old St. Mary’s Church, Bletchley, the Rev Harry Hedley, told me the other day that repairs to the outer fabric were now carried out in “plastic stone!”
Whatever next! I thought. I know of churches which at some time or other have been coated with what I take to be cement. But plastic stone …?
Yet there it is. And it plain to see if you stop to look, though I doubt if you would notice it otherwise. The material is rather greyer than the old stonework, feels harder and has an abrasive surface.
It seems to bond perfectly with the stone. It can be moulded to the original form of the stonework and even replace it where necessary.
By this means the battlements on the south side of St. Mary’s have been not only repaired and renewed but also raised back to what I suppose was the original straight horizontal line. Other areas have been dealt with similarly.
I found myself wondering whether eventually the whole of the stonework from tower top to wall base would be literally encased in this material. In other words, a plastic church.
As far as can be ascertained, the church was built in six stages over a period of 260 years. It was not pre-planned from the start. Each extension involved some demolition or alteration of what had gone before.
Building began about the year 1150 with the nave and a small chancel. In 1290 the chancel was rebuilt and enlarged to its present size.
By about 1300 the south aisle was added. Twenty years later, the lord of the manor’s chapel was built alongside the chancel, and a decade later, the north aisle was added. And around 1410 came the tower, the porch and an extension to the north aisle which brought it to the foot of the tower.
There were other, later developments, such as the re-pitching of the roof, but the church has remained substantially in its present form for the past 565 years. It is built of various kinds and sizes of stone and some of the oldest building seems to have weathered best.
But for years the tower in particular has been crumbling at an accelerating pace. Each high wind now produces a bucketful of fallen flakes around its base. And there are no wealthy lords of the manor left, like those who built the church.
A year ago a professional survey was made of all the outside work that needed to be done. A detailed schedule was drawn up and an estimate of the costs supplied. It amounted to £20,000. But that was a year ago and building costs have risen sharply since.
At the end of last year, money raised and saved over previous years for the fabric fund stood at £3,000. This year a grant of £500 has been received from the Bucks Historic Churches Fund, and this has been matched by a further £500 from the Milton Keynes Development Corporation’s Special Fund.
Individual donations totalling £760 have been made. Church organisations have raised £350 – and it takes a whole lot of mothers’ union coffee mornings and Sunday School efforts to raise that kind of money.
Two old milk churns have also been painted and made into big money boxes and placed inside the church door for the contributions of wedding parties and occasional visitors. From this source, £344 has been received.
That makes a grand total of £5,454. But of that total more than £5,250 has already been spent – more than £4,000 on stonework and £1,250 on re-glazing and re-leading windows.
Some of the window damage has been due to vandalism. Like the shameful vandalism that has destroyed a dozen grave crosses in the churchyard over the past three or four years.
Just as the money is coming in piecemeal, so the repair work is having to be done piecemeal. The churchgoers, as represented by the PCC, have made no grandiose public appeal. But it is obvious that a great deal more financial help is needed.
St Mary’s Church is the oldest and most beautiful building in Bletchley. The old Bletchley Urban Council recognised this when they deliberately planned all new surrounding development so as to provide as wide a view of it as possible. If only on those grounds, it must not be allowed to decay, even in these times of economic stress.