St. James’s Church, Bermondsey

Restoration of the weathervane and clock

St. James Church is a Waterloo Commission church building, opened in May 1829. The architect was James Savage, who modelled the church on Greek temples, designing galleries round three sides and a giant panelled door. John Betjeman described as 'probably the finest of the Waterloo churches' when he saved it from demolition in the 1960s. In 1965 it was extensively re-ordered internally with the aisles divided off to create separate rooms. The building houses an organ by JC Bishop, a painting of The Ascension, 8 bells (renewed in the 1990s), a closed-off paupers’ gallery and a large subterranean crypt.

HOLT’s restoration work focused upon the preservation of three key areas of the church tower: The structural integrity of the main clock bell and its clapper (which strikes on the hour), the four clock faces and, most strikingly, the eight-foot flying gilt dragon weathervane. The dragon is the symbol of the City of London and had not received any restoration since 1925. The restoration of the dragon involved first chemically stripping back the existing coatings to restore the surface to its original material. After this, the cracks in the dragon were repaired and the missing section was recreated. The dragon was then repainted in loose leaf gold. The restoration of the four clock faces included removing and repainting the hands of the clocks and their numerals, whilst the work on the clock bell consisted chiefly of checking and resecuring its wooden bracket and hammer.

St James’s church is the largest public building in the area, visible from both the Thames and the railway lines into and out of London Bridge station. It is home to a vibrant, multi-cultural Anglican congregation and an African congregation linked with Kensington Temple. With the rapid development of public space in Bermondsey, the church is required increasingly for use by the local community. The regilding of the clock enables the time to be better read from it and the restoration of St James’s dragon weathervane works to preserve an iconic element of the Bermondsey vista.

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