There is one building in the parish of Olveston which rises way above everything else – the tower of St Mary the Virgin. It is visible for miles around, particularly from the Severn, which is no coincidence as the river formed a serious boundary between Wales and England.
From the earliest days of Christendom, churches (and mosques) were built to impress the people. So they were BIG and HIGH. This was a sign of power and reinforced the belief in an Almighty God residing in Heaven above.
No one really knows when the church and its tower were originally built, but mid to late 12th century seems most likely. We do know, however, that following a fire caused by lightning in 1605 the majority collapsed only to be rebuilt within the space of a single year. One has to remember that there were no metalled roads anywhere in the region over which materials could be transported, as indeed they were. Nor was easily-assembled scaffolding available, at best wooden planks nailed together were the only means of raising men and materials up towards heaven.
And where did the money come from? Imagine constructing the church tower today; the cost would be around a million pounds. Some local dignitary obviously had lots of money and was prepared to invest in the church – perhaps as a way of “guaranteeing” his entrance to Heaven. But this information has been lost in the mists of time and poorly kept records.
Over the centuries various maintenance works have been carried out on the tower but recently it became obvious that not only was much of the decorative stonework failing, but so too were the foundations (or lack of them) to the circular side tower (the vice tower) up which the bell ringers access the very fine peal of 8 bells.
A detailed survey was carried out and then various specialist masonry contractors were approached so as to gain an idea of cost to repair. It turned out to be astronomical. Over £200,000.
St Mary’s itself diverted £37,000 from its own reserves to start the ball rolling.
It may seem quite straightforward to launch an appeal – not so in 2020. Charities which donate to this type of cause expect much more than plans and costings. They want to know that the community as a whole has an interest in the church and tower. In addition, they like local schools to be involved. The Parochial Church Council of St Mary’s, led by its Building Committee, was happily able to demonstrate participation by local people, businesses and students from the two primary schools. And so the fund raising appeal was underway, at first with carefully drafted appeals to the relevant charities, which were very successful, bringing the money raised by the end of 2019 to £165,000.
Then Covid 19 struck.
Virtually all charities diverted their dwindling funds to aid groups, individuals and worthy causes which were hardest hit by the pandemic.
A rethink was necessary. So, working on the principle that “charity begins at home” the Church Tower Appeal has been redirected towards the local community at large. There have been a series of published articles and targeted requests making people aware of the need to find another £40,000 before work can commence. So far the results have been promising with a further £17,000 raised but we still have a long way to go. If you feel you’d like to help, please contact the church treasurer Dr David Prothero at: firstname.lastname@example.org